Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One of those days

There are days when the sun is shining, you’re maneuvering the roundabouts like a pro and parallel parking like it’s second nature. It seems the DJ has a list of all your favorite songs and you sing along in key (or at least there’s no one in the car to contradict you). You did a half-decent job at work and feel like you have a purpose in life.

And then there are the other days. Where the gray sky and fine drizzle are anything but romantic and the seventeenth century houses you pass on the way to the neighborhood grocery don’t inspire you at all. You wonder if you’ll ever have a job that’s stable and well-paid and related to anything you studied in school. And it takes ten minutes to park your tiny French car in a space that should accommodate an SUV.

I’ll join the bandwagon of other expats who are mood-swinging at the moment. I’m writing this on a good day, but the other day was a lousy one. A ten-minute conversation with a civil servant showed me that I might not get that tiny amount of government aid for this month where I’ve been working just mornings. Because my job has such a weird part-time status it might not be considered for this parental leave program. And I don’t know if I’ll get many hours in December as I’ve got this strange employment situation and I’m between two companies and just generally ARGHHH.

And I wonder if I really am fundamentally lazy. Should I go for training? To become what? And to be paid what? I just want someone to tell me what to do. That this is the right answer. But I know that we generally only see the decisions we’ve made as right or wrong way down the road. Part of me will always be jealous of my schoolmates who are doing what seem to be “fabulous” things. I think I just want to know that my next paycheck will be the same as the last one (or better). Can I really see myself doing this job, which can sometimes be rewarding, into my 60s? Will I be the boring fuddy-duddy English teacher recounting her glory days stories of America in the late 90s?

If someone out there has got a crystal ball, I’d like to borrow it for a year or two.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mrs. Clean

I’ve just lived what has to be one of the most humiliating experiences of my life in France. Basically being told that I’m a terrible housekeeper. A dirty person. And that I smell. No, not the last one, but they might as well have added that, as ashamed as I feel.

We met with the owners of our old apartment this afternoon to go over the rental contract and note any damage to the place. We already knew there were some repairs to be made, some pretty major, like the peeling paint and plaster in the bathroom caused by humidity in the shower. But when we arrived at the apartment I saw to my dismay that the wife was cleaning the windows, which I’d already cleaned. But apparently it wasn’t to their standards. She informed me that she’d spent two hours cleaning the windows and plastic frames around them leading to the balcony. I’ll admit it sparkles now. I’d simply used Windex and paper towels. That left traces. She did what all French women are apparently born knowing: initial cleaning with dish detergent, rinse with water and white vinegar then sort of squeegee to wipe it all. Ok, so now I know.

And now I know that to get the hard water off the shower head and cord you need to use warm white vinegar, not cold as I’d tried to do. Of course, she told me all this for my own good, you know, so that I won’t make the same mistakes in the future. The husband insinuated at one point that it just took elbow grease, and that apparently we hadn’t used enough.

Well, ok, there are worse things in life than learning you’re not the best housekeeper on the planet. Or that you won’t get nearly as much of your deposit back as you thought since those hours of cleaning they spent will be deducted. What really hurts is my pride. I think it’s worse because I’ve already felt down deep that I’m not up to par to these French housekeepers. The ones who spend hours ironing to perfection every week. Who have all these tricks up their sleeves for getting out carpet stains. Who seem to spend every waking moment chasing dust out of corners. I’d like to have a cleaner house, but I’d also like to check my email every day and relax a bit in front of the telly. Am I just fundamentally lazy?

At least my husband thinks they went a bit overboard, too. Good luck to the new tenant who will have to deal with the list of cleaning tasks the wife’s going to put inside the closet door. You can’t make this stuff up.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Watch that hand coordination! Mind you the video's about 3 weeks old now. The little star is from Grandma the Great.

The mother of all Ikea projects

So we’re now officially in the new place (and Internet back!), lots of boxes still unpacked. Frankly some of them probably have stuff I wouldn’t even miss. But can I really bring myself to throw that away? The new place is one and a half times bigger than the old and we’re enjoying that. But with all the boxes it’s still cluttered at the moment. A first it was even worse because the kitchen was woefully lacking in cabinets. There was only the cabinet for the sink, in fact. Seems to be a French thing that in apartments you equip your kitchen yourself. As in fridge, stove, you name it. How I would love to have one of the kitchen set-ups of any of my grad school apartments- stove, fridge, microwave, ample cabinet space- all built-in!

So once we got a tiny bit settled, my husband headed for Ikea to check out their furniture. I was imagining buying a China cabinet and us creating some kind of make-shift counter. He came back disenchanted with what they had and suggested we go back together the afternoon. But everybody and their brother had the same idea. Cars backed up waiting to get in the lot on this public holiday, November 11.
Once inside I pointed out some basic bookshelf type things that would at least help us store our pasta, etc. But husband had his own ideas (as usual) and showed me the real kitchen elements. Typical of us, we squabbled, I rolled my eyes, yada yada. Why does it always seem all the other couples are in perfect harmony when you and your mate are in near war mode? My pessimistic and melancholic side (my husband would say this is my only side) couldn’t help but imagine how sad it would be for someone to come back to Ikea after a break-up, remembering all the furniture they had bought together as a couple.

Sometimes it’s better just to let one person decide instead of creating a scene in a Swedish furniture store. So I decided to choose my battles and abandon my idea of cheap kitchen/storage solutions. So husband came home two days later with what seemed like 36 flat packages which we had to haul up in the elevator or stairs (for those which were too tall for the elevator, thank goodness we’re on the second floor and not the fourth). And together we assembled part of one cabinet once baby had gone to sleep. I have to say the common goal of kitchen storage helped us make up after the bickering. A few days later he industriously put together the rest of it, never mind the occasional outburst in French about where’s the putain (bad word!) screw? Et merde!

Now I’m happy to have storage and a little counter space again. And wondering how the heck we’re gonna get this out whenever we move.