Archive | January 2011

Le meilleur chocolat chaud à Paris? part deux

  • Fondue – melted cheese or chocolate into which bread or fruit is dipped
  • Derived from the verb fondre – to melt

After getting rather tipsy at The Frog and Princesse, Mr Frog and I went to Les Deux Magots, a café reputed for having the best hot chocolate in Paris.

After my experience at Café de la Paix, I was interested to see whether Les Deux Magots could deliver.

Les Deux Magots

We arrived around midnight and were greeted by an older, portly man in a black, three-piece suit with a white shirt and a silky bow-tie, who instructed us to sit “anywhere”. At this time on a Wednesday, there were only two other occupied tables.

Les Deux Magots

As we waited for our hot chocolate, I looked around the room. The café is brightly lit with rows of red leather booths bordered by white pillars. At the top of one of the central pillar sit Les Deux Magots, two Asian statues which have been there for over a century.

After starting as a drapery in 1813, then becoming a wine merchants by 1884, Les Deux Magots was refurbished and transformed into a café in 1914, and it became a haunt of many figures of the literary world – from Oscar Wilde to Ernest Hemmingway to moi!

Mr Frog was cruelly forcing me to speak in French when our chocolats chauds arrived. Our waiter lowered a tray holding two tea cups, two glasses of water, and a large china jug of hot chocolate.

I poured and inhaled, trying not to swoon as the chocolate oozed into my cup. I stirred it with my spoon and, like oil, the liquid held the pattern of the swirl as I took my first sip.

The chocolate invaded my mouth, clinging to every surface. I suddenly found myself thinking of my childhood Easters, when I would break up my largest Easter eggs in the same bowl and devour them, piece by piece, over the coming weeks. It tasted like I held melted them all and was drinking the result straight from the bowl. This beverage wasn’t like the milky concoctions you find at Starbucks – it was pure liquid chocolate. Fondue.

So, which chocolat chaud was better? It’s hard to say – they both had the same gooey texture, and rested on the back of my teaspoon rather than dripping off. Although they were both intense, the chocolate at Café de la Paix was darker – I needed two glasses of water to get through it. At Les Deux Magots, I easily managed with one. And I still think the hot chocolate at Café de la Paix would go very well over vanilla ice-cream, whereas I wouldn’t dream of diluting the one at Les Deux Magots with anything.

I suppose it depends on what you’re looking for – Café de la Paix was much larger and luxurious, and Les Deux Magots was more intimate. The service was more attentive at Café de la Paix, though that could have been due to the late hour at which we visited Les Deux Magots. And, at €7, Les Deux Magots is slightly better value for money. Let’s just say I’d be happy to try them both again.

Bad French Husbands

Denise is my last student on a Friday – 1:30-3:00. As I leave BTL right after her class, I sometimes see her on the phone or collecting her things on my way out.

Today I saw her on the phone, shopping bags in tow, on Boulevard Haussmann as I was walking to Saint Lazare. I waved with a smile, and she waved back and approached me.

“Hello! My husband is . . .” Denise paused as she searched for the word.

“Late?” I supplied.

“Yes – late! My husband is late!” she cried indignantly.

“Oh, he’s very bad!”

“Yes,” she nodded furiously, “very, very bad!”

Ahh . . . to be married to a French woman.

Happy Australia Day!

Okay, I know it was yesterday, so happy post-Australia Day!

Last night Mr Frog and I went to The Frog and Princess, where we drank two carafes of Australian cabernet, and every glass started with a toast to “Australie!” I felt very patriotic.

Afterwards we visited Les Deux Magots for a hot chocolate, which is now in the running to be the best hot chocolate in Paris . . . but more on that later.

So I leave Paris on February 26th and I’m opening the floor to you – what do you think I should do before I leave?

True, I am coming back a couple of times in my upcoming travels, but this is the last time I’ll be here for an extended period for who knows how long.

So, what should I do? If there’s anything on which you want the inside scoop, leave it in the comments and I’ll organise an outing and an entry before I leave.

Shopping online in France

€59 for this?! It's a folding chair!

So Bénédicte was in my room again. When I was in the UK over Christmas, she discovered that I had broken my chair.

After a long lecture upon my return, we put the subject to rest until the weekend before last. She had found the chair on the Maison Facile website, but it was out of stock when she visited the store. So she asked me if I could find one.

At €59, I was hoping to find it cheaper, but eventually just decided to order that one online. Last Wednesday the €65 transaction, including postage, went through without a hitch. On Thursday I received an email, titled Urgent! Your order No. TFQY708 (this was a little odd, considering that my order number was WHXA188).

It turned out the website was out of the chairs as well (you would think that this would be mentioned somewhere on the website, or that a notice would have popped up when I tried to buy it), and the email invited me to look at their other chairs.

This would not do. I emailed back, saying I don’t want another chair; I would simply like a refund of the €65. Please inform me of when this is possible.

As I hadn’t heard back the next day, I tried giving them a call. But it turns out that Maison Facile’s call centre has a 90 minute lunch break, so I’d have to wait.

Today, Monday, I still hadn’t received a reply, so I tried calling again.

Maison Facile,” a woman answered the phone.

Bonjour,” I answered, “I ordered an armchair last week and received an email saying that it was out of stock, so I would like to organise a refund.”

“Okay, do you have your order number?”

I gave her the one in the email I received, “TFQY708.”

After three tries (I usually avoid the phone – my French still leaves much to be desired), she found the order. “Ahh, you are Madame Martin?”

“. . . no.” I repeated the order number.

She tried again, “you are not Claude Martin? Because that is the name with this order.”

C’est bizarre,” I said, “because that is the number that was emailed to me.”

She searched again under my name, and found the order (the number was WHXA188 – clearly they’d been copying the same email to everyone who ordered this product). “Okay, you just need to send us an email saying that you want to cancel, and you will have a refund in 15-30 days.”

Slightly irritating since I ordered the chair less than a week ago and the money hasn’t even been taken from my account yet, but I’ll take what I can.

After sending my email, I tried another website: Multi-Affaires.

The chair was only €39 here, but the reason I originally chose Maison Facile is because I can’t see any way to actually buy the chair on Multi-Affaires. Check out the link– there’s a title, a picture, a price and a description, and even an icon that I can click to see my shopping cart, but no button to actually buy it.

If anyone else can figure out how to do it online, please let me know, because the call centre wasn’t much more helpful.

Allo?” a woman answered.

Bonjour,” I replied, “est-ce que c’est Multi-Affaires?”

Oui, how can I help you?”

“I’d like to order an armchair.”

“Okay, did you see it on the website?”

“Yes, it’s the fauteuil moon noir,” I said. After spelling it, she seemed to recognise the product.

“Do you have an order number?” she asked.

“No, I would like to order it now – I tried on the website, but it was impossible. There was no . . .” I paused as I searched for vocabulary, “logo to click.” Really don’t like the phone – gestures make life so much easier.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I have the website in front of me. There’s a title, a picture and a description, but no link to buy it,” I ran my cursor over the different parts of the page as if this would help her understand me.

“Okay, I will look.” She went quiet as she looked at the website. After a couple of minutes she said she would look into it and call me back.

An hour later and she still hasn’t.

I’m not impressed with French online shopping to date.

 

Update:

The next day they called me back to say that their website was broken, and they would contact me when it had been repaired. One week later, I called them to discover that not only was the website still not working, but the chair was out of stock.

So I’ve agreed to give Bénédicte money for the chair. She’s just adding up how much I owe her for the bed . . .

Good students

I was really fortunate with my first group of students.

I loved my Wednesdays at Groupama, my Thursdays at Natixis and Flammarion and my Monday mornings and Friday evenings at Société Générale so much that it didn’t matter that my Tuesdays were a bit bland.

But one by one, these students finished. And, although their replacements are lovely, there are only a few with whom I have a similar rapport.

Laurence is one of them – late 40s (maybe early 50s – her sons are a bit older than me), she is very friendly and has been working in my dream career for the last three decades . . . I just haven’t figured out how to get her to offer me a job yet. :p

And I absolutely love Denise. In her late 50s, she’s an elementary student so we can’t really converse in detail, but she’s so enthusiastic and gets so pleased with herself when she understands a new concept that I can’t help but leave her classes feeling on top of the world. She also bought me a box of chocolates last week after she came back from a two month break, but I don’t want you to think that swayed my opinion.

At the other end of the scale are Eugenia and Aline – on BTL’s thirty point scale they have scores of 28 and 28.5, so they are the most advanced students I’ve ever had. I get along with them well, but they’re such good friends that it’s usually more fun just to sit back and watch them talk.

So what do you do when you finish your course with a student you really like?

Valérie from Société Générale was my original favourite. A pre-intermediate to intermediate student, she worked with colleagues in London and used to avoid their calls because she had trouble with the accent (after listening to their messages several times, she would email back). Determined to be fluent, she had a great mind for grammar and progressed quickly. We talked about a lot as well – about work, her daughters, Jewish holidays, Paris and Oz. She had dark hair, dark eyes, olive skin, perfect teeth and dimples – when she smiled she was so beautiful that I knew she was one of those women that men would devote their lives to. When I think of a woman who embodies what a Goddess is, I think of her.

I would have loved to have stayed in contact with her, but I didn’t know how to approach her without seeming like a stalker, and I haven’t heard from her since we finished in October.

Then, on Wednesday, I had a lovely surprise. Marie-Maud, an advanced student, is finishing next week. She and I have a good rapport too – she’s quite young (I originally thought late 20s but have since discovered that she’s actually mid-30s – I hope I look that good in ten years!) so not only do we go off on tangents about our lives, but subjects extend as far as boys. When she was taking me back to reception after class last week, she said, “do you want to get a coffee some time before you leave Paris?”

“Sure!”

I know this sounds really juvenile, but yay – I made a new friend!

New job

So I have a new job.

No, I haven’t stopped teaching.

In summer, Renée forwarded an email from a former BTL teacher to the current BTL teachers – she knew someone who needed some help with a few hours of admin work a week, and said it might suit a teacher that needed to make extra money. I sent in my resumé, but never heard anything.

Yesterday, I received the reply: an email from Amanda, asking me to call her.

Flash forward to today: I finished my one BTL class for the day at 11:15 and didn’t have anything on until my private class at 3:00. So I decided to have a bath. I lathered on a green clay face mask while the water was running. I was about to hop in when my phone rang.

I ran to get it – it was Amanda. “Hull. . . ?” I answered, realising that my mask had stiffened and I could barely open my mouth.

“Hi Jolie? It’s Amanda,” she said as I frantically stretched my jaw to crack the clay.

“Hi,” I replied, sounding semi-normal.

We chatted about her situation, my abilities and my availabilities (as of next week I have Mondays and Thursdays off). “So, do you have any time this afternoon, or do you want to start next week?”

“I have a class at three, but I could meet you before then,” I said. We agreed to meet in an hour.

I took a marathon bath and jumped on the metro to Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre. Amanda ended up being a lovely American woman going through a divorce and needing help putting five years worth of bank statements into a spreadsheet.

Her apartment is beautiful – actually in the Palais Royal, the ceilings must have been at least twelve feet high. The rooms were large with moulded walls and hardwood floors and the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked the enclosed gardens of the Palais (fact of the day– Philippe-Egalitié opened the garden to the public but forbade the police. It thus became a place of liberty where artists and intellectuals gathered). It may be the largest apartment I’ve ever seen in Paris – I didn’t know that people actually lived in places like that!

The work was really simple, so I’m not sure if she really needs someone, but she seemed to be happy with the amount we got done. I’m not complaining – with this work and my private students, it looks like I’ll do quite well this month after all.

A tourist in Paris

Les Invalides

After yesterday’s class I realised that I don’t think I’ve visited the left bank since the weather got cold. Possibly not since my friend D visited in early October.

Even in Paris, most of the expats I know seem to get into a rut – the only places I seem to go now are Saint Lazare, Les Halles, Belleville and Neuilly. So I’ve started being a tourist again.

Yesterday I visited Les Invalides and paid my respects to the Eiffel Tower before wandering around the 15th (I stayed in the 15th on my first two trips to Paris and, as we approach the

Notre Dame

time of year when I was first introduced to this city, I’m constantly reminded of how she seduced me).

Today I went to the top of the Institute du Monde Arabe to enjoy the views of Paris and the Notre Dame, after which I strolled along the Seine. I looked through the windows of the restaurant boats, and a man offered me his hand to help me jump across a large puddle where the bank gets a bit low.

When I crossed Pont au Double, two rows

Skaters

of small, plastic cones lined the road and a group of boys were rollerblading. Their feet wove intricate patterns at incredible speeds – one of them was so talented he was basically dancing. As a crowd gathered, they started playing salsa and house music and, on a sunny, cloudless day, it felt like it was summer again. People meandered along the river and Paris seemed more relaxed than she has been in some time.

The sun started to set as I walked down Ile Saint Louis and window-shopped, stopping to stare at small glass figures and gourmet delights.

Hotel de Ville

I then headed to Hotel de Ville to watch people ice-skating on the rink they set up every winter. As the temperature dropped, people started to quicken their pace again, and I knew Monday was coming.

I swear – sometimes this city is so beautiful it makes me want to cry.

Defiance

Screw poverty.

I’m sick of going out with friends and drinking water while they have wine. I’m sick of eating out and making my meal choices based on what I can cover with two restaurant tickets. I’m sick of feeling like I’m missing out on part of the Paris experience because I never go to cafés. I’m sick of being hungry but not wanting to spend my money on food.

Screw that.

I’m going to spend everything I have. I’m going to eat good food, see amazing things and buy presents and souvenirs. I don’t care if my funds run out before I’m finished. I’ll couchsurf. I’ll hitchhike if I have to (just don’t tell my dad).

I’ve realised that if I do only end up with €600 this month, I could live on that. €450 for rent, €95.50 for my Navigo . . . that leaves me with restaurant tickets for food and €50 spending money. That’s do-able – but what’s the point?

I know these are selfish problems, and that there are people who have far less than me, and that I should be grateful, but I just seem to want more. If I didn’t want to travel, I’d be fine.

But I do. I want things. I have an insatiable urge to travel. I love to eat. And I’d really like to have some beautiful things to take home.

So screw being poor. I’m going to start indulging in luxuries again. Who cares if I run out of money in the process?

I’ll get it back when I have a real job.

 

Update:

I had a new private student start today! After a two hour class I went for a walk and bought myself a chocolate eclair, so I’m feeling much better.

I’ve also decided that, if I have any money left when I come back to Paris before flying home, I’m going to go to a bakery and buy one of every cake. :)

Self-doubt

I never thought this day would come. I’ve started doubting my English.

As you know, English has many varieties, the most common being British English and American English. I speak (and write) Australian English, which takes from both styles – I spell organisation with an ‘s’, and the past participle I use for ‘get’ is ‘gotten’.

The latter example has been giving me some strife.

In English we have a selection of perfect tenses (I have done, I have been doing, I had done). French doesn’t – they have the passé composé (their past simple) and the imparfait (similar to our past continuous, but the use is sometimes different. Please don’t make me explain – my English grammar is much better than my French grammar). In English we use the present perfect and present perfect continuous to connect an event that happened in the past or started in the past with the present.

The Present Perfect (the first one of these tenses that I teach) is tricky for two reasons:

1.      The French don’t have an equivalent tense

2.      It is structured in a similar way to their passé composé (auxiliary have + past participle), so elementary to intermediate students often use the Present Perfect instead of the Past Simple

So, when I teach the Present Perfect, I like to spread several exercises over a few weeks, getting them out of the way at the beginning of each class. These exercises include matching time expressions to the Present Perfect or the Past Simple, choosing the correct tense for different sentences, structuring questions in each tense, and completing a text with verbs in each tense. And, of course, an exercise with the infinitive, past simple and past participle of several irregular verbs.

So we have:*

be                    was/were         been

do                    did                   done

eat                   ate                   eaten

go                    went                 gone

know                knew                known

shut                  shut                  shut**

take                  took                 taken

And, of course:

get                   got                   gotten

Et cetera.

On the last one, most of my students say “get, got, got”. I used to correct them, saying that it should be “gotten”. Then I realised – it’s British English. I also used to correct “take a decision” (it’s “make a decision”, God damn it!), but then realised that that, too, was right.

One time I said, “gotten. You can say got, but only in British English.”

My students looked at me blankly. “What type of English are we learning?”

Now I grudgingly admit that it’s okay, but tell them that in American and Australian English it’s “gotten”, so they can use either and be correct. I also hold my tongue when I hear someone say they “took a decision”, and think I’ve become quite adept at pointing out differences between different styles of English when they arise.

Or so I thought. Last week I had two pre-intermediate doing the infinitive, past simple and past participle exercise, and we reached the verb “to hit”.

“Hit, hit, hitten,” my student said.

I couldn’t remember whether or not “hitten” was a word.

 

*Can I just say thank God my students have already been drilled in this at school. It comes back so quickly, even for elementary students. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to teach this from scratch.

**One student said “shit, shut, shut” for this one. I answered with a quick, “no – shut, shut, shut” and left it at that.

Irritation and (more) money concerns

I’m a bit annoyed with BTL.

When I resigned, Renée told me that BTL wouldn’t be giving me any new students, and that it was my job to try to get my current students to do more classes so they could finish by the time I left.

I get that – of course they don’t want to start new students with a teacher who will be leaving in another seven weeks (eek – I’d better start booking things!). But, excluding three students who were already finishing in January, the rest of my classes have between 18.5 and 57 hours left on their courses – there’s no way that they’ll be able to do all of that by the end of February. I’ve also floated the idea of extra classes to them, but most of my current classes are now group classes, it’s very difficult for them to organise a time when everyone’s free.

So I wasn’t expecting to get much work there. But I was hoping BTL would give me some intensives and replacement classes to tide me over.

No such luck – I went begging in the planning department last week and nothing’s come through.

This wouldn’t be so bad if BTL didn’t insist on a two-month notice period. I was budgeting for my trip based on having 80 hours of work in both January and February, which I doubt will be the case. Last week I had 11 hours. This week I have 11.5. Over the next two weeks I will have 13 and 9.5, making a grand total of 45 hours for the month.

This is less than I worked in July. So I can probably expect €600 for the month. Thank God for private students.

Basically, by writing a two-month notice period into our contracts and not giving us new classes, BTL is sentencing its teachers to two months of poverty before they finish.

And it’s not a great position to be in if you’re planning a trip around Europe immediately afterwards.