Archive | September 2010

Qui est le mystérieux auteur de ces souhaits d’anniversaire?!

The week after my birthday, I received this text:

Happy Birthday Mademoiselle J! (sorry for the delay – just read your post)

Unfortunately I didn’t have this person’s number in my address book, so I wasn’t sure who he/she was. I thought about it that evening – who has my number and knows about the blog? And whose number wouldn’t I have saved? Perhaps someone who had shown me a room when I had the blog address in my email signature? Or someone from a conversation exchange who I forgot to add to my address book? I searched for the number in my email, but nothing showed up.

I had no idea – I could think of a couple of likely culprits, but their names were already in my phone.

So I replied with this the next day:

Thank you . . . I’m sorry but I don’t have your number saved in my phone. Who is this?

Yesterday I received this reply:

Re: Thank you . . . who is this?

Hi Mam’zelle J de Neuilly . . . Make an educated guess, as George Clooney would say in his ad for Nespresso! (I am not George though!!!) What about a new post for your blog: “who is this?” or, en francais “Qui est le mystérieux auteur de ces souhaits d’anniversaire?!”

I can’t wait reading such post! Who would you like it to be?

So, mysterious texter, here is the post.

As far as my educated guess goes – I’m pretty sure that you’re French because there were some slips in your English, and you also managed to do an acute accent over the first ‘e’ in mystérieux (I have no idea how people do this in texts – I probably need a French phone to do it), though you did forget the cedilla on the ‘c’ in français . . .

I also think you’re probably a man, because you wrote ‘le mystérieux’ instead of ‘la mystérieuse’.

As you see – I haven’t gotten far. I’m starting to think that it’s someone whose number I have, who is just using a second number to mess with my mind. Does anyone else out there have any ideas?

As for who I’d like it to be – George Clooney would have been nice :p


I later received this text:

As-tu trouvé?! [Mr Frog], Conversation Exchange @ Café Livres! Take care

Mr Frog (apologies to Petite Anglaise for stealing the name, but as he used it in his comment, I’m not sure I should reveal his true identity) and I did a Conversation Exchange back in early August. We met at a café between Chatelet and Hotel de Ville called Café Livres, where all of the walls are lined with bookshelves that people can borrow while they drink their coffees.

His English was excellent – by far the best of any of the people I’ve met through Conversation Exchanges so far – and he was a very entertaining conversationalist. I even found it quite easy to speak with him in French, which was a boost to my self-esteem as it happened days after my Mon français est un escargot moment.

Following the text confirming his identity (why didn’t I guess? I thought I already had his number! In hindsight it seems so obvious – no one else would have made the George Clooney job) we met up last night. As we sat in a small garden in the Marais, he told me that he had gotten me a birthday present, but that I needed to guess what it was based on our conversations so far, and what he knew about me from my blog.

I’m terrible at games like these – when I think about an easy present that someone would know that I’d love, it’s generally food, but I hadn’t written about this in my blog – and was shooting in the dark. Vegemite? An Eiffel tower keyring? A chocolate eclair? No.

Seeing my inability, he gave me another clue, “it starts with the letter L or B, and it’s the same in English and French.”

Now I was stumped – something about my life, in my blog, that started with L or B . . . “books, or livres?” I asked.

No. They were decent guesses, but not the right one. “Lingerie?” I asked.

He laughed and said no, and that I would have had to have been with him. It also would have sent a rather unusual message from a married man . . . but this is France!

In the end it was some English breakfast tea – the ‘L’ word was London or Londres and the ‘B’ word was Big Ben, the company that makes the tea. A perfect gift, considering the falling temperatures in Europe.

So merci Mr Frog! Now hopefully my parents will send me some Tim Tams that I can dunk into this tea . . .

Banking in Paris

Once my carte bleue (CB – debit card) arrived, I had no complaints about my bank. I no longer had to use Australian money – as soon as my hours increased I could live on euros alone!

Or so I thought.

Last month I tried to use my CB to buy Eurostar tickets online. I filled out the form and entered the code that the website had sent me via sms. Then the website told me my bank had refused the transaction. On a second try, the same thing happened. Resigned, I used my Aussie card.

Then, this month, I tried the Eurostar again. Declined. I tried to buy return tickets from London to Oxford. Declined. I tried to withdraw money from an ATM in Oxford. Declined. I tried to buy a sandwich at St Pancras using my card. Declined.

So I went to the bank two weeks ago to complain. I explained the problem, and the woman looked up my details. “How much were the Eurostar tickets?”


“Oh, you have reached your withdrawal limit,” she explained.

Apparently I could only withdraw €500 in a 30-day period. Don’t these people live in Paris? As of last Tuesday my rent is €450 a month. My monthly Navigo pass is €95.50. That’s my limit exceeded, before I even consider food, let alone fun.

Registering my expression, she admitted, “it is very small. We can increase it.”

She then escorted me upstairs to meet with Christophe, who had originally opened my account for me. I explained the problem to him and he did some magic typing on his computer. “I have changed the configuration of your account – now everything should work.”

He handed me his business card, “if you have any problems at all, please call me.”

I left very happy – dealing with my bank had been so easy! Oh, how things had changed once I was a customer.

Then, three days later, I tried to withdraw money. €200 was declined. €100 was declined. I needed an extra €150 in cash to pay my rent on Tuesday the 21st.

I went home and tried to call Christophe but only got his answering machine. After leaving a message (I really should script them in future – I’m not even sure what I said), I visited the BNP branch near my room in the 13th.

I explained the problem to the woman at the desk.

“And where do you hold your account?” she asked.

“It’s with BNP, but I opened it at another office,” I said.

“You need to go to your agency.”

And here I thought it would be like Australia or the UK, where I could go to any Westpac or Barclays branch and be served. But no – I would have to wait until Monday and go to the branch near BTL’s office.

Having consulted my friends over the weekend, who said I should be able to withdraw money in person from one of the bank tellers, I visited my branch on Monday and asked if I could withdraw €500 (although this was much more than I needed, I figured it would be sensible to have some extra cash for when I next had to pay rent, on October 1st).

“I’m sorry, but we don’t carry cash,” the girl at the desk said.

I frowned, “but I can’t use my carte bleue and I need to pay my rent tomorrow.”

“Do you have a carte bleue?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said again, “but I can’t use it.”

At this point a woman from the next desk came to help. I explained the situation as well as I could while she looked up my details.

“You have a meeting here on Thursday morning,” she said.

“Yes,” I acknowledged, “but that’s to change my address. And I need to pay my rent tomorrow – not Thursday.”

“Oh, how much is it?”

“€500,” I said.

“Okay,” she did some magic typing on her computer. “You will be able to withdraw €500 tomorrow.”

And I was! I paid my rent without hassle. On my Thursday meeting I told Christophe that I had been able to withdraw money without any trouble, and asked how much I could now withdraw in a 30-day period.

“€500 a day,” he said.

“Okay, but how much in 30 days?”

“You can withdraw €500 a day every day you like.”

Obviously I wouldn’t be able to do this for long, having only €409 remaining in my account, but it was nice to know that now I could spend my money as I pleased. I could empty it during the months I chose to go away, and be frugal during the other months. I left feeling like I had power over my income again.

Until yesterday, when I tried to withdraw another €200 to cover my October Navigo and the rest of my October rent.


Skeletons in the closet

Every Tuesday and Wednesday I visit Noisy-le-Grand to teach students at Groupama.

The office is huge, with several buildings attached by first-floor walkways which surround a large courtyard. This means that our students usually pick us up from reception and escort us back there after class.

Today Bruno, one of my elementary students, was walking me back to reception and he commented on how confusing the building was. I told him that, having been teaching there for over two months, I thought I was getting used to it.

“No, it’s very complicated,” he assured me, shaking his head. “Do you know that someone died?”

I gasped, “really?”

“Oh yes,” he nodded seriously. “They found the skeleton in one of the rooms.”

“No,” I grinned, knowing I’d been had.

“Yes,” he insisted, “it was a skeleton with a name-tag.”

I was so proud – he told a joke in English.

Rent scams

Moving day today! In honour of moving into my fourth and (hopefully) final room in Paris, here’s a post on rent scams:

When I was looking for accommodation in London at the end of 2007, I tried to organise a room before I left. A room off Piccadilly Circus was advertised at £46 a week – never having been to London before, I didn’t realise that this was too good to be true.

The person I was emailing had me fill out a tenancy application form and asked me to send the deposit and first month’s rent to her via Western Union. Having only lived at home, I didn’t realise that I needed to pay both the rent and a deposit and only paid the rent. She got quite aggressive when I hadn’t paid the rest and asked me to send the second payment to Nigeria. Now the alarm bells started flashing – I went back through the emails and something about the tone seemed a bit fishy, she had two different surnames and an Australian email address, none of the rental documentation she had sent through was actually official, and she refused to wait until I arrived in London to accept the second payment, claiming that she would be charged a £5000 fine if she didn’t have the deposit. I called the British Consulate in Australia and the Camden Council in London (I was a little worried that I’d be causing her grief if she was legit), who said they hadn’t heard about any fines like this. I told her this and made up a story about not coming to London after all, but she refused to refund the money I’d already paid and said her god would curse my family (all in uppercase. I don’t know if I’m being sensitive, but uppercase emails rub me the wrong way).

When I got to London, the street where the property was supposedly located wasn’t even residential.

Now I was quite lucky. True, I lost a little money, but I could have lost much more. And at least I figured it out before I left and had a bed at a hostel waiting when I arrived – I can’t imagine what it must be like for the people who show up at what they think is their new address with their suitcases in tow, only to discover that it isn’t there.

When I was looking for somewhere to live in Paris, I came across a number of ads like this, mostly in the Craigslist classifieds (that being said, there are also a number of good ads on Craigslist, so I’d still recommend it).

Here’s what to look out for:

  • Someone asking you to fill out a rental application based on photos they’ve sent you
  • Someone asking you to pay money before showing you the room
  • Someone saying they can’t show you the room because they’re away (ask whether they’ll be back before your moving date. Generally you don’t pay until the day you move in)
  • Lots of detail – many of the ads have realistic prices, but watch out for the replies they send to your inquiries. I generally have a sentence or two about my age, where I’m from, how long I need a room for and the work I’m doing, and ask when I can have a look at the room. The responses in these scams often contain several paragraphs of a life story that may include a sick relative, some sentences begging you to take good care of their home or only being interested in serious people, and a mention of sending you a rental application if you’re interested (which you should not be filling out until you have seen the room in person)
  • If in Paris, anyone advertising or emailing you about 22 Braque – I had three separate people use this address

The main thing to remember is not to pay any money by any means until you have physically seen the room – yes, some people may have unusual circumstances, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Attached are some of the emails I’ve received (including the original London ones) in case you want to get a feel for them.

Jessica Waller – Original London Scam

George Phillips – Paris

Various initial emails

Birthday festivities

I didn’t actually have any birthday plans. Having only been in France for a few months, no one knew when my birthday was, and because I’m currently renting someone’s bed while he sleeps on the couch, I didn’t think throwing a party was an option.

So when I went out for drinks after work, I didn’t feel any need to raise the fact.

There were six of us – four Aussies (myself, Louise, Julia and Andrew), an English girl (Imogen) and an American girl (Adrienne). After we had drinks and dinner, we decided to buy a few bottles of wine and relocate to Imogen’s flat.

I’m not entirely sure how, but the subject of IDs came up. As the four Aussies were from three different states, we all have different driver’s licences. Mine happens to have a large 09 – 86 on the back (September 1986).

Louise frowned as she looked at it, “wait a minute, it’s September now. When’s you’re birthday?”

I grinned sheepishly, “it’s today . . .”

Cue a chorus of ‘oh my gods’ and ‘how come you didn’t tell us?!’

After the birthday wishes were out of the way, we continued with our usual plan . . . or so I thought.

After buying some wine from a Monop’ we took the metro to Imogen’s place. One station before Imogen’s, Louise seemed to inhale and freeze with a big smile on her face, like she was about to say something.

After a few seconds I frowned – was there a problem?

Suddenly the group broke into song:

Happy birthday to you,

Happy birthday to you,

Happy birthday dear Jolie,

Happy birthday to you!

And then they did the same thing in French, at the top of their lungs! Everyone on the metro was looking at me and grinning as I turned an attractive shade of beetroot.

“Who knows another language?” Louise asked, “let’s see how red she’ll go!”

Luckily no one knew any other languages, so I was spared as we walked from the station to Imogen’s. At Imogen’s, the six of us hopped into the elevator (for those of you who have seen Parisian elevators, you will know it was a tight squeeze), noting that the sign said the elevator could fit up to 6 people, or 400kgs.

The elevator door closed, and the elevator started making a lot of noise. We all laughed and joked about how it was struggling, and continued with our slightly giddy, tipsy conversation.

After a couple of minutes, Imogen said, “hey guys? Does it feel like we’re moving?”

Everyone fell silent. No, it didn’t.

We looked at each other and laughed.

“Well at least we have wine,” Julia lifted the bag of bottles.

“Um, the doors aren’t opening,” Andrew said, after repeatedly pressing the button to open them.

We burst out laughing again.

“Be careful not to use up all the air!”

“Can you imagine trying to explain this in French over the intercom?”

Then, the doors opened slowly.

We looked out. We were still on the ground floor, about 30cms higher than we had been when we entered the elevator.

As we walked up six flights of stairs instead, I tried pressing the button to call the elevator on a couple of floors. There was no movement – we’d officially broken it (I blame Andrew – he must be at least 6’4″).

We spent the rest of the evening drinking red wine and talking, and I was even treated to an improvised birthday cake. The cake was a small, unsliced batch of brownies with a tea-light for a candle.

I think it was supposed to be a surprise, but as soon as I saw Adrienne walking around with tea-light I knew that something was up. And when Imogen asked if anyone had a lighter, I think everyone knew their cover was blown. Unfortunately none of us smoked, so we couldn’t find a lighter or matches. So Imogen, resourceful girl that she is, stuck a rolled up a post-it note in the toaster to create a flame.

As I blew out my candle and ate my piece of brownie, I felt touched that they had gone to such an effort to make the day special.

Women of a certain age . . .

This is my third time in Paris, and I have visited many other parts of France in the last few years. When I first travelled to France, in December 2006, I was universally referred to as Mademoiselle.

I loved the way it sounded. I felt chic, flirty, and like a woman, but a young woman.

Since I arrived this time, things have changed. Maybe it’s because I usually wear a suit to work. Maybe I’m just ageing at a depressing rate.

Now, people have started calling me Madame. Not everyone, but enough to make me start applying my Boots No.7 more generously morning and night.

Madame is supposed to be used for a woman who is married, for a woman who is older than you, or for a woman who has reached her late 20s/early 30s. It is a respecful term.

Older women still call me Mademoiselle. Men who approach me in the street call me Mademoiselle. But younger women, generally receptionists I talk to at work, alternate between the two titles.

What did I do to deserve this?! I appreciate the respect and everything, but have I lost my youthful glow? Is it time to exchange my shiny red stilettos for chunky and practical navy pumps? As I now have this title and am not married, should I resign myself to eternal spinsterhood?

I’m suddenly acutely aware that my biological clock is ticking.

(In case you’re wondering – I turned 24 today.)

Student feedback

Last Tuesday, six of my students finished their courses. At the end of each course, each student needs to complete a Fiche d’Appreciation – an appreciation form (in English – a feedback form).

The form consists of three tables:

Course Insufficient Satisfactory Very good Excellent Without Objection
Rhythm and duration of the course
Group consistency
Satisfaction compared to initial expectation
Communication of the objectives of the course


Pedagogy/ organisation Insufficient Satisfactory Very good Excellent Without Objection
Appropriateness of the materials for your professional needs
Appropriateness of the materials for your level
Variety of activities
Availability of the teacher (responding to questions, difficulties, etc.)


Subjects Insufficient Satisfactory Very good Excellent Without Objection
Professional vocabulary
General vocabulary
Oral expression
Oral comprehension

The tables are followed by these questions:

  • What did you particularly appreciate during the course?
  • What suggestions could you give to make the course more effective?
  • Have you progressed as you would have liked during this course? And, in which areas?
  • Any additional comments?
  • Have you put the skills you learned to use in your profession? How?

Last week I received four of the six fiches. Anne-François’s was lovely – she ticked ‘very good’ for every category except for rhythm and duration, which was ‘excellent’. The only comments were that she would have preferred not to do the course over the summer, because she missed lessons for holidays. Anne-François was the only one of my three upper-intermediates at class last week, so today I was still waiting for the others to send in their fiches. I wasn’t worried – it had always been my favourite class.

Next I received Sandra’s. It was okay – everything was ‘satisfactory’ with a ‘very good’ for rhythm and duration. She also commented that she appreciated the focus on vocabulary (vocab’s easy to work on – I have a piece of paper for vocabulary in each of my students’ files and write down new words every lesson. At the end of the lessons I quiz them – it’s a great way to use up a spare 5-10 minutes).

Unfortunately, Samya and Florence’s fiches weren’t very complimentary. The Pedagogy/Organisation section was all ‘satisfactory’, but the rest of the fiches alternated between ‘insufficient’ and ‘satisfactory’. Luckily I wasn’t blamed for this – due to each of them having holidays at different times, they both missed about half of their lessons and were not able to progress as much as they would have liked – but it still wasn’t very nice to receive. I decided to hold onto these ones until my meeting with Renée from BTL today, so I would have a chance to defend myself.

Today’s meeting was just titled ‘course feedback’, so I assumed it was a regular meeting that happened with new teachers when their first courses finished. However, when I saw that both Renée and Paul were meeting with me, I started to worry that I might be in trouble. Renée and Paul are BTL’s pedagogical coordinators.

They sat me in one of the classrooms and told me that a fiche had been sent in that had ‘insufficient’ marks on it. I felt myself blush – another one?!

Surprisingly, it was from Olivier. Sweet, quiet, polite Olivier, from my group of upper-intermediates, who always finished his work before the others, and never complained. Who always was the most active in discussions, and understood the listening activities on the first try. I never expected that he would have anything bad to say. Olivier, if you ever read this – you hurt me bad. :p

Paul explained that BTL calls students who have ticked ‘insufficient’ boxes, so they can get an explanation. He then outlined his conversation with Olivier to me:

  1. Olivier had complained about the level of the materials being too low and said that he finished before the others (I admitted this was true, but also said that I had inherited the book from a previous course. “Based on his level, it looks as though this was the right book for him,” Paul said as he flicked through the paperwork).
  2. He complained that we used the book too much.
  3. He said there was insufficient oral comprehension work. (“When I asked him if there was listening every lesson, he said yes,” Paul told me, “but he said that he wanted more.” To this I replied that halfway through the course I’d been asked to do more listening, and I’d started bringing in podcasts from outside the book, and told them about the different podcasts I’d been using, and what seemed to work well.)
  4. He said there was insufficient oral expression (“Again, when I asked him if there was listening every lesson, he said yes,” Paul told me, “but he said that he wanted more.”)

So I’m not really sure what I did wrong . . . luckily Paul and Renée seemed to be on my side.

Paul then took out another piece of paper, and explained that after a new teacher’s first two months, BTL emails some of our longer-term students for an informal review of the course.

(I discovered this last Wednesday when Joelle, one of my Groupama students, showed me an email she had received, looking rather concerned.

“BTL sent me this email,” she said, “and I did not want to respond until I showed it to you.”

I briefly looked at it – it was a short email in French, just asking Joelle for an opinion on the course. I told her that I didn’t know anything about it, and secretly wondered if another student of mine had complained.

“Just tell them that you think I’m wonderful,” I said with a laugh.

“Okay,” she nodded, “I will say that I love you, but I hate this book!” she pointed emphatically at her In Company, Intermediate.

“That’s fine,” I said, “because I didn’t choose it for you.”)

Paul had put the feedback onto one page. Four of my students had responded (Joelle wasn’t one of them), and everything they said was surprisingly lovely.

  • Marie-Maud (advanced student, mid to late 20s) – Jolie’s course corresponds with my needs, and she is perfectly attentive to all of them.
  • Stephane (upper-intermediate student, late 30s/early 40s) – the tone is positive and the pace well prepared, matching my requests. Jolie is a serious and likable teacher.
  • Latifa (elementary to pre-intermediate student, late 20s) – at present, I’m satisfied with Jolie’s English course. The contents of the course correspond with my needs and Jolie is always available to listen to my questions.
  • Bruno (elementary student, 50s?) – I am very satisfied with the manner in which my English course is unfolding. Jolie has proven that she has a lot of teaching skills. She has adapted her course to support my situation, my level and my needs. She reformulates her speech in different manners as many times as is necessary for me to understand, and is very patient and calm. She follows a process that responds to my speaking and listening needs, and brings exercises to fill my grammatical gaps. So, at this stage, I am very satisfied.

I left the meeting with a big smile, feeling honoured to have these people as my students.

London still

I lived in London from December 2007 to May 2009. It was an amazing experience: I travelled. I had my first ‘real’ job and I quickly built a reputation for being very good at it. I made close friends and we got drunk often. I fell in love, and I had my heart broken.

The reason I left was because I was exhausted – physically from working night-shift every other week; and emotionally from my first big breakup.

But after a couple of months back in Australia, I realised that I’d left before I was ready. I was restless – my soul hungered for adventure – I wanted to see things I’d never seen, to be swept away in a heady rush of adrenaline, to taste life itself.

Part of my struggle with Paris has been that I’ve been looking for another London. Interestingly, the same thing happened in my first months in London – I was searching for the thrill of a three month backpacking trip that I’d taken the year before. London didn’t end up being like that – it was different, and an incredible experience in its own right.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been coming to terms with the fact that Paris won’t be like London. I’m not going to find a share-house of expats with whom I can get drunk in the living room. But instead I find myself excited about to room I’m moving to next week in chic Neuilly-sur-Seine. I’m excited about writing being an important part of my life again – I have people I’ve never met reading my words, which motivates me to write more. I also really like my job – so maybe it’s okay to put my career on hold for a couple of years while I travel and teach.

And I’m excited about discovering more of Europe. I know I won’t have as much time to travel as I had in London, but Europe is dense and you can see a lot in a weekend. And I plan to put my month of holiday leave to good use.

I’m sure I’ll continue to swing up and down over the coming months – that’s Paris. London is steady, like an old friend. Paris is like a tempestuous lover, which means that sometime I’ll be buoyant with love for the city, and other times I’ll be bogged down by frustration and anxiety. But it’s all an experience – and isn’t that why I’m here?

Ever since I left London, it has felt like I left a piece of me behind. Now I think it’s time to move on.

London Still – The Waifs

Gare du Nord

I always get a small shiver of anticipation when I’m at Gare du Nord.

Gare du Nord

Until recently, I frequently changed metro lines at Gare du Nord – either when I was travelling to classes for looking at rooms. And even changing lines gave me that thrill.

Because Gare du Nord is large and light and busy. Because I can hear a mix of languages as tourists with suitcases and backpacks negotiate their way around poker-faced parisiens. Because I can hear the four-note chime before the SNCF announcements – one of the first sounds I remember from my first trip to France in December 2006.

Gare du Nord represents freedom and escape.

I can travel to France’s northern regions on the SNCF. I can voyage to Belgium and the UK on the Eurostar. And there are trains from Gare du Nord to Charles de Gaulle airport, which means the entire globe is within reach.

Whenever I’m at Gare du Nord I feel like I‘ve already left Paris – and even before I board the Eurostar, I feel like I’m no longer on French soil.

Gare du Nord represents possibility.

Don’t knock my Target undies!

During one of my unhappy moments in early July, I made a list of ‘things to make Paris easier’. One part of this list included rewards for doing things which I found difficult or had been avoiding (e.g.: having my first real conversation in French, working my first week over 20 hours, buying things in a French market, etc.).

A few weeks ago, I realised that I’d ticked a few things off the list and I hadn’t rewarded myself. Unfortunately I had no money. However, when I moved into my current abode and my money troubles eased, the wheels started turning . . . Travel? Yes, it’s a good reward, but I wanted something immediate. Cake? Certainly rewarding, but I wanted something that I could keep.

Finally I decided – French lingerie.

After I finished work, I headed to level 3 of the Galeries Lafayette for the first time. Level 3 was the floor for lingerie and ‘seductive fashion’. I walked around the beautiful and expensive store, admiring the lace and silk. I looked at the pretty and practical matching sets, as well as the more extravagant bustiers, garters and suspenders.

But, every time I saw something that I quite liked, I could see a pouting French sales assistant standing nearby with her arms crossed over her slender torso. Every designer had his/her own small section of the floor, and each section had a sales assistant guarding the treasures from the riff-raff.

I considered my outfit – a grey suit with a wine-coloured shirt. Perfectly acceptable. At least, it would have been if I wasn’t wearing flats and hadn’t lost enough weight to leave my pants hanging limply on my hips.

I slunk around the floor, pretending to look at stockings (is it just me, or does €31 for a pair of stockings seem to be a bit extravagant?) as I contemplated my next move. I couldn’t buy anything, I realised. Even if I didn’t approach the sales assistants, they would probably ask if I needed help. I could imagine answering in my bad French, not knowing the names of any of the garments I was interested in, or my European size.

The sales assistant’s eyes would narrow as she looked me up and down. And I knew that she would know that, not only was I not wearing designer underwear in the Galeries Lafayette, but I bought both pieces from Target and they didn’t even match.