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Back in London

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and that Santa gave you everything you wanted (I’ve been without internet since the 26th, but now I’m back!).

So, I went to London for the holidays and, for the first time, I was struck by how foreign it felt.

At Kings Cross St Pancras I said “merci” to a woman. I also find myself saying “pardon” and wondering what I should have been saying instead. And at Morrisons I had to restrain myself from greeting the cashier with a cheerful “bonjour!

When I was grocery shopping I kept saying “Paris has this,” or “you wouldn’t see that in Paris,” or “things are so much better in Paris”. The cheese aisle and a half-baguette labelled as “French bread” were both low points, and I soon had to bite my tongue as I was even annoying myself.

All of the bakeries in Paris had Bûches de Noël on display.  None of the bakeries in London did.

I felt strangely out of place – could it be that now that I’d decided to leave Paris, I’d finally started feeling at home?

Tête de linotte

Definition:

1.       Etourdi, distrait.

2.       Personne sans mémoire.

Often derogatory, this expression is used for absentminded, dizzy or forgetful people. In English, a linotte is a linnet, which, according to Google, is a type of bird.

Guess who called me this?

On Thursday night I came clean to Bénédicte about my burnt bedding.

I quickly vacuumed the apartment before she got home, then tidied my room. I didn’t want her to catch me watching Friends in French before I confessed.

When she came in, she called out “bonsoir!” and I replied.

I waited for her to settle down a bit, staring at myself in the mirror, trying to busy myself with arranging papers and sorting my moisturisers, etc., into height order. I breathed deeply. My hands were shaking and my heart was beating heavily.

I didn’t think I could do it.

But I’d already said that I was going to in my comments! No turning back.

Bénédicte, je doit parler avec toi,” I said rather quickly.

Oui?” she stood in my doorway.

I took a deep breath, and continued, “I did something bad – something really stupid. Yesterday I forgot about the lights over my bed, and they’ve burnt the covers.”

Bénédicte gasped, then pursed her lips with a nod. “Okay. Show me.”

I nodded quickly and unfolded my bed from the wall, and showed her the blankets.

Oh la la!” she gasped (yes, some people actually do say this here, but it sounds more like “aww law law”).

“I’ll replace them, or give you the money, as you prefer,” I said as she inspected the damage.

“Do the lights still work?” she asked.

“Yes,” I demonstrated. What I hadn’t realised was that the lights had been burnt into the wooden frame of the bed, so now they can’t be replaced when needed.

Bénédicte noticed, and tested them. “I don’t know what to do about this,” she said after she tried unsuccessfully to take out the light bulbs, “elles sont completement crématisées!

She then looked at the blankets. “I don’t know where I got this,” she lifted the top one, “but I think it was quite cheap. This too,” she poked at the blackened doona cover. She then looked at the thick doona, with its deep, brown pits. “This was more expensive.”

“I’ll replace them,” I repeated.

She looked at me, “you need to pay attention – you are lucky that it wasn’t much worse.”

I nodded, “I know.”

“You’re very lucky.”

“I know.”

Bénédicte sighed and started to leave the room. At the doorway, she turned back with a hand on her hip. “Tu as une peu tête de linotte,” she said.

I know – I’m a bit of a featherbrain.

Bénédicte – help!!!

A few weeks ago I wrote about spilling nail-polish in the bathtub and was panicking about cleaning it up before Bénédicte got home.

As I’ve just made the biggest screw-up in any of the houses where I’ve lived, it might be time to tell you about Bénédicte, and maybe you’ll understand the reason for my panic.

Bénédicte is my flatmate, though the fact that she is also my landlady and I pay my rent to her means that our relationship is completely different to the relationships I’ve had with my former flat and housemates.

The apartment is hers. I never use the living room, and I feel uncomfortable using the kitchen when she has friends over. Although she has never spelt it out, the arrangement is very clear – this is her apartment and I am a guest.

This means I need to follow her rules. This is fine, though she seemed to assume that I would automatically know the rules without being told. For example, when I arrived I would wash my dishes and leave them on the sink to dry. A week or two later, she told me that I couldn’t do this because the cat’s water was on the sink, and she was too scared to climb up and drink it if there were things drying there.

Fair enough – don’t leave the dishes out. Still not sure how she expected me to know that.

Also, the bathroom. Here it seems to be very popular for people to have showers without curtains or doors. Bénédicte’s is essentially a large bathtub with a shower-head attached to the tap with a hose. This means the floor can get a little wet. I soon got a lecture about drying up the water after myself so she wouldn’t get mould and mushrooms. Again, fair enough – but with which towel?

Having had a couple of incidents like this, I was hoping to wait until we had a good relationship before I told her I broke the folding chair in my room (it made a strange noise when I sat, and when I tried to fold it flat again, one of the screws broke). I broke it in the first half of October. I still haven’t told her.

The week I got back from Croatia was a bad one – I arrived at 12:30am on a Sunday morning. When you leave the keys in the inside keyhole of our front door, no one can unlock it from the outside. When I got home, my key wouldn’t turn because hers was on the inside, so I had to ring the bell and wake her and her boyfriend up.

A few days later I (very stupidly, I know) left the stove on in the kitchen. In all honesty, it was on a low setting and I would have seen it the next time I went into the kitchen, and Bénédicte saw it about ten minutes later, but it was still pretty idiotic, and I got a talking-to about having to be more careful.

Then, in the same week, apparently some of my food was touching the back of the fridge, and this caused the fridge to leak onto the kitchen floor. Bénédicte was furious! Visibly trying to keep her voice down, she beckoned me to the kitchen and pointed to the fridge and to the floor and told me about how I had to pay attention, and how disgusting it was, and how I was creating so much more work for her when she did all of the cleaning, etc., etc.

That has been the low point to date. After she left I cleaned the entire apartment, and have tried to be on my best behaviour ever since.

I even thought it might be possible for us to have some sort of relationship, so that these things wouldn’t be such a big deal (because, let’s face it, I can be extremely absentminded, and it can be charming once you like me). Patrice, a guy I’ve been having Conversation Exchanges with for the last three weeks, suggested cooking her dinner once a week, so we could talk.

I went home happy, thinking about what a good idea it was and feeling optimistic about Bénédicte’s and my relationship. I set my things down in my room and turned on my laptop.

Bénédicte knocked and poked her head in. “I came into your room earlier and cleared this shelf for you, so you can use it for your things,” she said.

What? I raised my brows; she came into my room when I wasn’t home?

“And,” she continued, “I saw that you had a stain* on your desk and cleaned it for you. If you aren’t going to clean, you need to be careful, because that can damage the wood.”

“Okay,” I said and she left.

I felt violated. She went into my room when I wasn’t home. I only had one room in the apartment, and part of what I felt I was paying for was privacy.

No – I didn’t think a real relationship would be a possibility after all.

So, for the past three weeks we’ve been coasting along on a fairly neutral standing, and I was just waiting for the opportunity to tell her about the chair.

Then yesterday, she came home and knocked on my door, handing me my key.

I’d left it in the keyhole outside.

Okay . . . maybe I’d wait a couple more days before I told her about the chair.

But that was nothing, compared to what I did today. I can’t believe how stupid I was! Even for me, this was beyond . . . I don’t even know what it was beyond. I have no words.

I came home after work and my room smelt strange. I couldn’t figure out what it was – I smelt the curtains, the carpet, my clothes, but didn’t know where it was coming from. I sprayed around some air-freshener and opened my windows for 15 minutes, and promptly forgot about it.

Until I unfolded my bed for the evening.

My bed folds into a rectangular hole in the wall. At the top of this hole are two down lights that I usually turn on when I’m tucking myself in for the evening.

I didn’t turn them off before I left for work this morning.

The lights had been on all day, with the foot of my bed pressed against them.

And there are now two black holes in the foot of my bed.

The top blanket has been burned through, as has the top layer of my doona cover. The doona has two brown holes gouged out of it and the other side of the cover has two black circles. The fitted sheet and mattress protector underneath that have brown circles, and even the mattress has a mark.

Hole in my bedding - think she'll notice?

The smell was my bed burning.

I suppose I should be grateful I didn’t start a fire, but at the moment I’m panicking about what to do. Should I tell her now and risk being kicked out? Should I wait until I move out and risk losing my deposit (which I really need for my travel budget)? Should I buy new bedding and try to dispose of the old stuff discretely?

Please help!!!

And I still have to tell her about the chair.

 

*It was a glass ring. And I am a clean person, it had just been a busy week and I’d been out all Saturday, and hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

Time to go

On December 15th it will have been six months since I arrived in Paris.

And I feel ready to leave.

On November 17th my best friend in Australia emailed me to tell me she was getting married next May – I’m so happy for her, I think she and the guy are a great match and it’s nice to see her being taken care of after a few messy years. There was never any question about me going back for the wedding.

However, this has put a definite limit on my time in Europe. Some of the post-Paris plans I’d been tossing around included staying in Paris on a student’s visa and studying, or staying in Europe and teaching in Turkey and Italy for a few months each, and travelling in between.

Now that I’m definitely going back to Australia, I’m not sure I’ll have the finances for another return flight to Europe. This means that, if I want to travel while I’m here, I’ll have to stop teaching early.

The second reason for my decision is that I’m not sure how much more I can learn from teaching. Yes, I still enjoy it, but nearly all of my original students have finished, and I haven’t built the same rapport with many of the new ones. I’m also finding that I have fewer stories to tell – most of the things that happen are things that have happened before.

The third reason is related to my mantra. If I truly want to treat myself with love and respect, then I shouldn’t stay in a job that is no longer fulfilling because I think I should – if I was planning to do more teaching after Paris then I would have liked to have had a year’s experience under my belt, but now that I know I’ll be returning to Oz, I think I’ll get more enjoyment from travelling than teaching.

I also think that I deserve to have a career that I’m passionate about, and would rather focus on working on that when I get back home, and hopefully travel to gain more experience towards my career, rather than teach so I can travel (as a side note, one of the reasons I did the TEFL course was so I could travel, but it’s quite difficult to do when I live in Paris – the cost of living here eats up a lot of my salary, and I can be very frugal, and I also don’t have a lot of time to get away).

I’m quite happy with my decision – I’ve put quite a bit of thought into this, and it’s not a decision I made out of desperation in one of my mopey moments.

The only drawback is that it seems rather anti-climactic. I haven’t really had the big adventure for which I was looking. My French hasn’t improved that much (though BTL started giving us French lessons last week, so hopefully that will change). I also thought I’d be sucked into an incredibly French life here – chatting in French over hot chocolate or kir in cafés every afternoon, eating croissants for breakfast, going to sophisticated cocktail parties with my French friends – but although I have a couple of French friends and still do Conversation Exchanges every now and then, I still lead a largely Anglophone life. And I haven’t had an exhilarating romance with a fabulously wealthy and handsome Frenchman :p

That being said, I don’t regret anything I’ve done here – if anything I probably needed some quiet time to get back in touch with myself.

So at the end of the month I’m going to hand in my resignation and at the end of February (I need to give two-months’ notice) I’m going to head to Berlin, Budapest, Bucharest, Istanbul, Naples, Rome, Marseilles, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon, and who knows where else!

Freezing!

I am so cold.

I went outside today in long socks, jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt, a cotton turtleneck, a woolen jumper, a knee-length jacket, gloves, a scarf and a hat. I was freezing.

Earlier this evening, my friend Nathalie and I visited the Christmas market along the Champs-Élysées, where there happened to be four outdoor heaters spread along the street (not evenly, unfortunately). Every time we reached a heater we rushed to it, like moths to the flame, and stayed for a good 15 minutes until our hands and faces were warm again. Each time we reluctantly dragged ourselves away, knowing that if we didn’t we’d never leave.

I can’t believe it’s only November. Tomorrow the mercury is expected to drop to -6. I don’t know what I’m going to do in January and February. I already feel like the Michelin man in all of my clothes, and I already have four blankets on my bed.

That being said, there is one good thing about the cold weather . . .

Snow!

On Friday it snowed – beautiful, fluffy flakes that floated in the air like feathers. I gasped as I left the metro at Grands Boulevards and laughed to myself as I walked to my class in the 2nd arrondissement, ignoring strange looks from blasé Parisiens.

After class, some of the other teachers and I went to Belleville for Vietnamese, and the snow started again. I ran down Rue de Belleville with my arms outstretched, catching large flakes in my hands and trying to catch some of them in my mouth (this is surprisingly difficult).

Don’t laugh. I’m Australian. For me, snow is awesome and unusual.

Following my new mantra . . .

In keeping with the feeling beautiful part of my mantra, yesterday I bought some nail polish at Charles de Gaulle – Étoile.

What I’d forgotten was that I’m not very good at manicures (hence I haven’t tried since high school), and finished with some rather messy, deep-red nails. And my landlady, Bénédicte, didn’t seem to have any nail polish remover, so I couldn’t clean them up.

Not to worry – today I bought some remover. As I had a late cancellation this afternoon, I planned to do a bit of beautifying – I ran myself a bath, played some soft music and put on a face mask. While I was in the bath, I cleaned my botched nail job and decided to try again.

This time I’d forgotten about my clumsiness.

I opened the nail polish, pulled out the brush, and proceeded to drop the full bottle into the bath! Purple clouds billowed into the water. I panicked, stood and pulled the plug.

The water drained, and both the bath and I were marbled in a brownish purple.

I’m not too worried about me – a few days of aggressive exfoliation should sort me out, and it’s winter so I’m covered up anyway.

The bath is giving me some strife. Nail polish remover didn’t work!

I have four to five hours until Bénédicte gets home – help!

New mantra

When I went to London I was confident, vibrant and had a thirst for adventure. There were some rocky times, but I grew as I was over there, and all of these qualities were enhanced by the time I returned to Australia. I also developed a sense of acceptance of and appreciation for myself. One of the most flattering compliments I received when I returned was about how I’d “blossomed”.

Then, back in Oz, I couldn’t find a job. I applied continuously for work related to my experience and interests (publishing, editing, media and PR) for two months, and didn’t even get any interviews. I had a lot of free time and not much to do. And I began to panic. I began to criticise myself again. I started eating too much and doing too little. I lost my motivation, as well as my edge.

Thanks to my wonderful mother, I managed to get a three-month position in admin and then a contract in a communications/administration role. I loved the comms role – I was writing newsletters, reading news, learning about a new industry and also learning about graphic design. Unfortunately this role was gradually reduced to administration and, after ten months, I had very little to do. I spent most of my days having coffee breaks and photo-shopping my colleagues’ heads onto strange pictures (putting my boss onto Borat’s mankini-clad body was one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever done). I began to get restless and frustrated again, sometimes going to the gym twice a day just to shake off the feeling.

I decided to come to Paris.

Living in London, Paris and New York has always been a dream of mine. Having already done London, and wanting to see more of Europe, Paris was the next logical step. I’d also done an online TEFL course in 2009, so I was fairly confident I could find work.

I organised the visa, but the process took longer than expected, and by the time I left I was so anxious to escape from an increasingly mundane life that I didn’t take the time to appreciate the incredible step I was taking.

As regular readers will know, life in Paris hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing. Although getting set up was a bit of a challenge, what has worried me the most is that there are times when I still feel like I did when I was in Australia – frustrated. Impatient. Unfulfilled.

Yes, I frequently admire the beauty of this city. I enjoy my work. I love hanging out with the friends that I’ve made. But I seem to keep gravitating to a place of dissatisfaction. I’m almost half-way through my trip – when will the adventure start?

I think I’ve realised what the problem is: I stopped appreciating myself the way I used to. And this is making it difficult for me to be consistently grateful for this experience.

So here is my new mantra – I am a Goddess.

  1. I am beautiful and sexy. I strut my stuff as if every street is a catwalk with bright lights and one of those fans blowing my hair back from my face.
  2. I am confident. I make eye contact with and smile at people in the street. Someone having more knowledge or experience than me does not devalue my experience, and I know that my input is also of merit.
  3. I am present. I experience each moment completely, with all of my senses. I listen to and look at people. I wait for my students to find the answers in their own time. I am calm and patient, knowing that I can think about the next hour/class/day/event when it arrives.
  4. I take daily breaks from my head with meditation or exercise. Even if it’s just for five minutes (attainable goals, people!).
  5. Once a week I try something new.
  6. I appreciate myself for all that I am, and all that I want to be.

I’m publishing this online so that you can call me on it when I next complain about being moody, de-motivated and dissatisfied.

Does anyone else out there have lists like this and, if so, what’s on yours?

Blast from the past

In late June I was being interviewed for numerous TEFL positions. One of these was with a school called ICB.

When I arrived there were two or three people waiting outside the front door of the building, looking rather lost. An English guy and I started chatting about whether it was the right address and if we should try calling. Then we realised that, although the street number was above this door, the next door actually had ICB’s name and logo on the glass.

While we waited for the group interview to start, we talked about our respective experience – I’d just arrived in France and had no teaching experience, but had studied English at university as well as doing an online TEFL course. He’d been working in finance in Paris for six years and had lost his job in the economic crisis, and had been doing some private tuition since.

After the interview, we wished each other luck with the job, and went our separate ways.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw him as I walked to Pont de Neuilly metro station. I tried to make eye-contact, but he either didn’t see me or didn’t recognise me, so I didn’t go ahead with the approach.

And today, as I was walking home after my morning classes, we bumped into each other!

We shared an umbrella as we caught up on the past couple of months – he did get the job at ICB. Apparently the pay is also quite bad there and he’s only on a 60-hour a month contract, but he had already gotten a promotion (read, and extra €2 an hour).

“You know, I thought I saw you on the way to the metro a couple of weeks ago,” he said.

I laughed, “I know – I saw you but I wasn’t sure if you’d recognise me.”

“So are you living around here now?”

“Yeah, I actually live just on this street,” I motioned to the street behind us.

“Really? So do I! What number are you?”

“Number 3.”

“I’m 6.”

What are the odds?

See-Saw

Things are never boring here. I don’t think I’ve ever had a day when I was calm or blasé.

I have bad days, days when I feel so vulnerable that all I want to do is lose myself in a book on the RER, travel to the end of the line and then change directions and travel all the way back. Sometimes it’s an effort to get off the train and go to work.

The worst moments are when Bénédicte has company.Generally it’s fine – if she has people over, I close my door and stay out of their way. But when I’m feeling fragile, I curl up into a little ball feeling incredibly exiled and alone as I listen to periodic bursts of laughter in the living room.

In contrast, my high points are ridiculously high. I walk through the streets of Paris or ride the metro with a silly grin on my face. I leave a good class, have a great night, or think about how cool it is that I live in this incredible city, and suddenly I have a bounce in my step and I’m soaring through my day.

At these moments I want to love everything and everyone. I’m so eager to share this emotion that sometimes I’m seriously tempted to declare my love to any man with a nice smile.