11 April 2007

A Reverse Chronology of my Life

2007: Still working on it. Coming around to the New York concept.
2006: Split between a town too small and a city too large. Scotland and England were highlights.
2005: In January, a very difficult choice to make which led me into my first real year of adulthood. Not such a bad gig after all, except the poverty. Finally a "mistress of French studies."
2004: Six different thesis topics. Changed my tipping habits significantly. Loathed my host family and tried not to project the feeling on Nantes.
2003: The trip of a lifetime came to a climactic end. Graduate school atlernately sucked and rocked. Interested in a new boy--how far will this go?
2002: Friends hurting me and graduation. Off to Dijon and independence in my beloved country!
2001: Funerals and French classes. Stretching into a less critical and selfish person. Drama with dance.
2000: Sophomore year. Distinguishable from freshman year solely by virtue of not being a freshman anymore.
1999: Fall in Strasbourg, becoming an expert in European travel.
1998: Crying from the beauty of meeting new friends and the terribleness of leaving them. Depression and withdrawal ensued, along with 13 extra pounds. Freshman year of college came and the self-importance that accompanies it. Dance became exquisite torture, but at least I lost the 13 pounds.
1997: Graduated high school, FINALLY. Got myself the hell out of Dodge. Host families, high school redux, and headaches from living in French.
1996: Sucked. Became flag captain. Still sucked at dance.
1995: Sucked. Miss Amanda asked me when I suddenly became good at flags. Didn't realize I had.
1994: Sucked. Made the color guard/dance team, even though I sucked at both.
1993: Sucked. At least middle school is over. Dumped a friend and felt horrible about it.
1992: Sucked. Learning how to let the teasing roll off my back. Still not very good at it.
1991: Sucked. I pretty much hit my nadir here, because I hadn't learned to deal with the suckiness. One day were were growing "fast plants" in science class, and I had a full pot in my hand. I sat back, expecting my chair to be right underneath me. It was five feet back, and the pot, plant, dirt and I went sprawling on the floor. Everybody laughed at me, and I tried my hardest to laugh along. You can imagine what I would rather have done.
1990: Fifth grade camp was fun. Had a fight with a friend in class.
1989: I hated my fourth-grade teacher with a passion, the only one I ever really hated. She was really mean. She never asked me why I forged my parents' signature on my spelling homework. (It was because I've always been a good speller and the words were so easy that I didn't want to waste their time listening to me spell my ten weekly words. I only got one word wrong all year. Suck that, Mrs. Careklas!)
1988: Third and fourth grade. Don't remember much.
1987: Broke my shoulder for the second time. When our class paraded into the gym for the school Christmas concert, the sling anound my neck elicited "aww"s from the audience. I felt pretty important. Dad finally made me learn to ride a bike.
1986: Don't remember much. I think it was this summer that I started going to Girl Scout camp with Mom.
1985: I got assigned the letter "u" to write a sentence with, because I was the smartest kid in the class. In first grade when Katie arrived, I would never have that distinction again.
1984: Every morning when Amy walked over the Westerbecks' hill, I'd watch her through the window until she disappeared from sight. I wanted so much to know where she wasa going and to go with her. Of course, she was going to school, as I learned this year. I broke my right shoulder for the first time.
1983: The babysitter that stayed with us while Mom and Dad are on vacation taught me to tie my shoes bunny-ears style. When she got back, Mom tells me I'm doing it wrong. I learn to read, correctly.
1982: Apparently I had friends in preschool. Mom still remembers them. I don't.
1981: Can't say I remember much.
1980: Presumably, I started walking upright and forming words. Hot and ball seemed to be my favorites.
1979: I made an appearance in September, smack in the middle of Virgo season.

07 April 2007

Seventies Inferno!

Frenchy's cousins are visiting this week, and we spent the day trawling NY for the best "only in NY" moments. Saturday morning brunch, Brooklyn Industries, Guggenheim Museum, Belvedere Castle, the Pen-Top bar, burgers at the Meridian and views from Columbus Circle Mall were among the highlights.

We gave them the thorough Central Park introduction, (although sadly we missed the Easter Egg hunt by a few hours) and I was thrilled to see the return of one of my favorite New York institutions, Roller Disco!

The last time I saw this was in August when I had just arrived, and Frenchy whirled me through his take-no-prisoners version of showing me around. It probably took me until January to really figure out how to get anywhere. I'm only now putting together pieces of my mental Manhattan puzzle. In any case, I now know it's adjacent to the grand promenade near the south end. When I finally get my rollerblades (spring gift to myself), you'll know where to find me!

FavIcon Woes

I'm trying like the dickens to get this little guy up in my favicon spot. I love everybody's images that show up in my Favorites list, but I can't figure out how to do it. Before when I wanted to steal tricks for my layout I copied and pasted the relevant portion of other people's source code, changing details, but that isn't working this time. Even Blogger is no help in their hints forums, reeling off the nonsense of "save the file where you host your website." Isn't the whole point of Blogger that you don't have to host your own space? Graaarg.

Update: I did it! I had to sign up at www.myfavatar.com, and it generated the exact code I needed! Yay!

04 April 2007

Intercultural Annoyances

Today I was thinking about what annoyed me most when I lived in France, and what generally annoys Americans in France. Of course, the most obvious is the closing of shops between 12 and 2 and on Sundays. For working people or students, these are obviously the best times to get your errands done, but Protective Mother France makes sure you have your rest time.

What else did I come up with? The dog poop is always a big winner on the French-bashing forums. No one cleans it up or nudges their dog to a less-traveled portion of the sidewalk. I also remembered the infuriating tendancy to tune out contradicting opinions, which I characterize by saying "The French love to tell you what you think." And of course, I can't forget the old chestnut of teaching schoolkids to be sheep for the rest of their educational lives.

I used to say that there were certain things that French people did that drove me crazy, and that I probably wouldn't be able to live there all my life. Having been absent from these annoyances for a long time now, and having experienced some radically different cultures within the US, I started to wonder if they would still be annoying if I were to move back to France. For some reason, I think I might now have more patience for some of them.

To be fair, I asked Frenchy what things bother French people about Americans. Since he's so culturally conditioned to the US by now and since he's naturally laid-back anyway, he had a hard time thinking of many things that would be deal-breakers for Frogs in America. Here's the few he came up with.

  • Not having free health care baffles us. It's a basic human need. Why should you have to pay for it, and so much?
  • Many French girls don't like the way American girls talk. We call American girls "les ohmygawds," and for a reason.
  • The way you eat. Americans are constantly snacking. A bagel at 10, pretzels and M&Ms at 4. We're taught to wait until the next meal. Why can't you just wait?
  • And then guys will spend six hours at the gym, bulking up. No wonder--they have to work off all the pretzels! Do you really have to be the size of a linebacker to be attractive?
From there the conversation degenerated into a comparison of the relative merits of soccer versus the popular American sports, and of the various body types that permit excellence in each. (Pretty much all our conversations wind up about soccer.) In any case, neither of us could come up with more than six or seven things that drove us nuts about theother culture. In looking over the list now, I'm not even sure that any one by itself would really be a deal-breaker for me, making me move home in despair after a few years. The difficulty of navigating official French bureaucracy might drive a person over the edge, but fortunately that isn't a daily occurrence. Does this mean that American and French cultures are more compatible that I have previously thought, or does this mean we're both remarkably tolerant?

Food for thought. But not between meals, of course!

01 April 2007

La chance se provoque*

A weekend of tenseness has just terminated, and I can now say that I have passed one of the true New Yorker tests: the housing hunt. On Wednesday, we saw an apartment that was the Holy Grail of apartments: affordable, less than ten blocks away from two subway lines, in the same area we live in now, with plenty of light and closets, and did I say affordable? We put in an application as soon as possible.

We had prepared by gathering, for both of us, three months of bank statements, three paycheks, letters of employment, tax returns, social security cards, passports, copies of anything that would establish our solvency, and copied them in quadruplicate. And put them in very profssional-looking tan cardboard folders with binder clips to hold it all together. We figured that if we ever found our dream apartment, we could just hand a folder to the landlord on the spot and guarantee our spot at the head of the applicant line.

It sort of worked out like that. For this apartment, though, the super was showing us through, and we had to contact the landlord, whose office is in Manhattan. We had to get the application from him, fill it out and fax it back to him, with the supporting documents aforementioned. Reader, this fax came to twenty-two pages. And as everyone who has ever watched Office Space knows, fax machines are the work of Beelzebub and should be shunned. It took us three attempts at the ghetto copy shop downstairs to give up and go into the city to Frenchy's office. We tried again from there, with no success either. We then decided to drop the whole thing off at the agncy's office.

Being nine o'clock at night by now, we figured we had no chance of getting it to them that night. When we arrived at the building (and by the way, I easily outpaced Frenchy who normally walks like a maniac running away from a fire) the doorman had never heard of the company, and our hearts sunk. At that point a woman comes out of the elevator and says she works with the agent and she will deliver our package to him. La chance se provoque.

To ensure receipt, we also emailed our application as a pdf attachment the next morning. Had all of our attempts succeeded, this poor guy would have had no fewer than seven copies of our application. The guy confirmed (at 11 pm) that he had received a portion of the original faxes, and would reply to us with his decision on Friday or maybe Saturday.

Friday came and went. I kept my phone on all day. Saturday came and went. Hope started to wane. Nerves set in. This morning we got up and made French toast (trying to get rid of bread in the house for psycho pseudo-Jewish roommate who's not even in the country right now) and the phone rang. We were approved!

I'm not silly enough to rejoice before the deposit is paid and the keys in our hands, but--whew, big relief! What kind of realtor works until midnight on weekends but won't pick up his phone on weekdays?

*Luck come to he who helps himself