petite anglaise

November 27, 2008

nique sa mère

Filed under: french touch, misc — petiteanglaise @ 11:49 am

‘Oh my God!’ I shriek as I flick through the TV channels and land on M6′s new reality show, its name displayed in the bottom corner of the screen with the ‘M’ of maman transformed into a girly pink heart. ‘This is totally my core subject for book2, I have to watch this, however dreadful it is…’ The Boy is washing up in our open plan kitchen, an undertaking which seems to involve more clanging and splashing and running of taps than is strictly necessary. I crank up the TV’s volume and reach for my laptop, curious to read about the ‘concept’ of the show.

Elles sont actives, dynamiques, autonomes … et mamans célibataires,’ reads the show’s blurb. So far, so good. Dynamic, independent working women, who are also single mums. I approve of the choice of positive adjectives and the word order of the sentences, which places their relationship status and motherhood last.

There are 1.76 million monoparental families in France, according to the INSEE statistics quoted by the programme’s producers. 85% of these families are headed up by a single mother. ‘But in a daily life whose rhythm is dictated by their work, their children and all the occupations of a single mother they have little time to devote to searching for their ideal man…’ I ponder for a moment what ‘all the occupations of a single mother’ might mean, trying to imagine what these tasks which are not work or childcare related might be, but draw a blank. Hopefully the show itself will enlighten me. Although I do hope the cameras won’t be allowed to peer inside the ladies’ bedside cabinets to contemplate their Rampant Rabbit collections.

Episode one introduces us to Caroline, Marie and Carine who are shown preparing meals for their children, driving them to school and contemplating their towering ironing piles with varying degrees of despair. It’s when they are asked to describe what they are looking for that I begin to want to throw things at the television screen. Pale, blonde and dreamy looking Marie professes to be looking for her own ‘modern fairy tale’. Short-haired brunette Caroline would like to meet her very own Mr Big. Heavily made-up Carine (whom The Boy immediately refers to as la cagole, and whose online profile describes her as having previously lived a life of luxury similar to Gabrielle Solis in Desperate Housewives) has simple needs: a man with the charm of Sean Connery or Robert De Niro, with a touch of Nicholas Cage.

The phrases ‘prince charmant‘ or ‘Knight in white armour’ aren’t actually bandied about, but they might as well be. The assumption is definitely that each is looking for a Mr Right and hoping to build something ‘serious’ and ‘durable’.

‘They should concentrate on just finding a guy they have some chemistry with, not obsessing about how it has to be du sérieux right from the outset,’ I say, half to The Boy, who has now joined me on the sofa, and half to the TV screen. ‘You don’t go into anything knowing what the outcome’s going to be. You start off casual. Otherwise it’s doomed in advance.’ I think back to when we met, in May 2007. We definitely started off casual. I didn’t take The Boy very seriously at all in the beginning. He was five years younger than me for a start. And I was hung up on someone else.

‘Of course,’ The Boy nods. ‘But, having said that, most of the girls on the online dating site where we met said they were looking for a prince charming. It wasn’t always true, in practise, but that’s definitely what they were telling themselves…’ I shoot him a sideways glance. I suspect The Boy was as guilty as the next guy of pretending to be a prince for an hour or two in order to charm his way into their lace underwear at the end of their first date but, as they say, ignorance is bliss.

Whatever their real aspirations and motivations (aside from wanting to become D-list celebs for fifteen minutes) the mamans are somewhat unlikely to find love in the reality TV show context, where their every word and movement is, no doubt, scripted in advance. The heavily edited version of events the audience will be presented with each week won’t exactly be trustworthy either. The whole thing is little more than a farce, entertaining and excruciating in equal measures.

In the first episode, for example, each maman hosted a picnic/barbecue to which ten hopeful suitors from all four corners of France (and a film crew) were invited. Not the most natural of dating situations, in my humble opinion, and it was moderately painful to watch the candidates compete for the attention of the mums, flirting outrageously, in some cases, in order to stand out from the crowd.

It soon became clear that the format was going to be reminiscent of ‘The Bachelor’. After a single day on their group date, peppered with a few brief tête-à-tête moments, the women were already being instructed to throw out three candidates. I couldn’t help thinking that in the real world, some of the men would have withdrawn themselves from the running spontaneously, but this did not happen. Clearly every male interviewed was in this competition to win, on principle, or failing that, to spend as much time in front of the TV cameras as possible.

I don’t know if will be able to bear to tune in for future episodes, but the mind boggles. Will the men be introduced to the women’s kids at some stage? Will they – in the case of the divorcees with kids – bring their own along? If a winner is selected who lives at the opposite end of the country, how will the logistics work? And, more importantly, will there be any more traditional Breton dancing? Or perhaps a trial by ironing?

The Boy’s suggestion – that the women simply audition their ten chosen men in the bedroom – earned him a withering stare. My tirade about how these poor, misguided women were likely to find that kissing Prince Charming will probably only mean they wind up with an extra mouth to feed and an even more voluminous ironing pile did not amuse The Boy, either, as he thought I might be implying he didn’t pull his weight in matters domestic.

But I rather liked The Boy’s suggestion for an alternative title for the show. It would make a fantastic French title for book two, if such a thing ever comes to pass.

February 6, 2006

scissor sisters

Filed under: city of light, french touch — petiteanglaise @ 11:27 pm

It is Saturday morning, and I am not yet sure whether I have a hangover. By rights I should: two G&Ts, a Kir Royal, a beer and a Cosmopolitan would normally be a toxic enough mixture to lay me low. Thankfully, as I open first one cautious eye, then another, exposure to light doesn’t herald in a searing headache. Nor does breakfast cereal cause any queasiness. This is fortunate, because there are few things worse than a trip to the hairdresser’s when one is suffering from mal au cheveux.

I apply foundation, not feeling brave enough to stare at myself in the mirror under fluorescent lights without it, and thank the lord for the absorbent powers of sushi rice. Taking a final long look at my hair, which perversely always looks particularly fetching the day I decide to have it cut, I wrap up warmly and hurry to the metro.

I rarely enjoy paying a visit to the hairdressers. It’s disappointment guaranteed. The only variable is the actual degree of that disappointment, which can vary from utter despair (the haircut inflicted on me days before the birth of Tadpole, which I describe as my “racoon with mange” look, little documented in the photo album) to a feeling of having been cheated (no difference discernible to the human eye, for the price of a mid-range digital camera). Scarred by past hairdressing misfortunes, I dread that final moment of truth when I must replace my glasses, hands trembling, and behold the results. Adopting my most convincing “oh, a pair of socks with polka dots on, that’s exactly what I wanted for Christmas” face., an expression which remains frozen in place until out of sight of the salon, where my bottom lip starts to wobble and then I crack, barely stifle a howl.

I give my name to fiftysomething facelift on the front desk, presumably the salon owner. She gives me a resentful glare when I confess I cannot recall the name of my hairdresser. I suspect she is worried about spoiling her perfect manicure by typing my name into the database. As I haven’t been back for eighteen months, having tried a couple of places on visits to the UK in the interim, I am not what you would call one of their esteemed regulars.

My colourist is called David. Something of a misnomer: Goliath would be more fitting. David boasts rippling muscles, and an all-over fake tan, the buttons of his white overalls straining to contain his hairless, brown hulk-like torso. His mouth looks oddly inflated, and I spend the next half-hour (€ 107) trying to work out whether he has had collagen injections, or just has a terminal pout. Unfortunately, David also has rather rough hands, and a tendency to pull each strand of hair painfully taut as he applies the white paste. I wince, quietly, and wager that the wealthy forty and fiftysomething ladies around me with their generous tips and insipid conversation about their next trip to Mauritius get somewhat gentler treatment. Thankfully I am permitted to keep my glasses on throughout this part of the proceedings so I escape the vapid chatter by burying my nose in a Japanese ghost story.

The time comes for rinsing, and I dare to hope that I might, at least, get a head massage. But no, instead David manhandles my scalp with his large, hulk-like hands, roughly applies a soin(€ 14) and disappears without a word, after twiddling a dial at the side of my reclining chair.

I sit and wait. And wait. Look at my watch. Cross and uncross my legs. Sigh. Begin to worry about the fact that I have left my handbag out of sight at the other side of the room. Wish I had my glasses. Wonder where the toilet is. And why there is a concealed rolling pin inside my chair, working its way up my back. Indeed, I am being massaged by a chair. A warning would have been nice. And although the feeling is soothing at the outset, it gets a little stale after twenty minutes have elapsed. And makes me painfully aware of my bladder.

A few more interminable minutes pass, and finally an apologetic junior appears to rinse off my conditioning treatment. David, it appears, does not do rinsing. The shower spurts into life; I cross my legs tightly.

Rinsed and turbaned, much relieved after a visit to the ladies’ room, I am ready to face the last hurdle: Jean-Francois, hairdresser extraordinaire. He claims to remember me, but allow me to remain inwardly sceptical. I am asked to stand, something I have only ever experienced in France. Ten snips later (€ 77) a junior is enlisted on blow drying duty. J-F dries the last few strands, and shows me how to do a zig-zaggedy parting.

I replace my glasses.

The results are surprisingly good. Goliath has done a decent job with the highlights – subtle, but not invisible – and J-F Superstar has at least respected my wishes, leaving my hair mid-length and layering the front, as instructed. So far, so good. I am escorted to the front desk to settle my bill. Studiously ignored by the surgery queen for a full five minutes while she tries to persuade my hairdresser to take more appointments, despite the fact that his last four clients have all complained about the long wait.

Finally, she deigns to turn to me, compliments David on the colour (causing me to wonder if maybe it is’t a bit too brassy, after all?) and calculates the grand total. I gulp. We are in digital camera territory and I am having a flashback to the last time I stood on this spot and vowed never to darken their doors again. How could I have forgotten?

But the worst is still to come. With a vinegary smile, like bile wouldn’t melt in her mouth, Madame Nip Tuck continues:

“Dis donc, vous en aviez besoin, hein?”

It is probably A Good Thing that I don’t have a pair of scissors to hand.

November 17, 2005

stirrups

Filed under: french touch — petiteanglaise @ 3:12 pm

I can hear the gynecologist talking on the phone in the next room. A personal call, judging by her cooing tones. Despite the fact that she is ten minutes late, that I am the only person in the tiny waiting room, sitting awkwardly on the overstuffed leather sofa, glancing at my watch periodically to see just how late back to work I am going to be, she is clearly not it any hurry to call me in. Classical music plays on invisible speakers, but does not have the desired soothing effect.

Finally, five minutes later, I am summoned in. I shake her hand, trying not to think about where it spends much of its time, and take a seat, opposite her desk.

“Now, remind me of your name,” she says, looking not nearly as bashful as she should, under the circumstances.

I comply, puzzled as to why she doesn’t have my notes in front of her. What does her secretary do all day? Blog?

“I seem to have misplaced your notes,” she continues, rising to paw through her filing cabinet half-heartedly, but apparently still drawing a blank.

I sigh, and refresh her memory as to the subject of our previous appointment, less than a month ago. Explanations out of the way, I am invited to strip naked (bottom half only) and take up the habitual position on my back, feet in stirrups.

My mother always told me that once you’ve had a baby, any inhibitions you used to have will disappear. I found this to be true during my pregnancy, largely because due to my burgeoning belly, I couldn’t actually get a clear view of what was going on down there anyway, but shortly afterwards, my inhibitions returned to haunt me with a vengeance.

Suffice to say that the snap of latex gloves being pulled on is not a sound I look forward to. Nor is the fact that French gynéco’s all seem to be rather fond of checking for breast lumps with their bare, cold hands, which is not dissimilar to being groped by a particularly inept sixteen year old boy.

Thirty seconds later it is all over, and when I return to my seat, a prescription awaits me. I pull out my cheque book and pen.

“Sixty five euros?” I ask, wondering if my memory can be serving me correctly.

“Oui, Madame, c’est exact,” comes the reply. Her nose is already in the next person’s file, signalling that I have been dismissed.

Inwardly fuming, I write my cheque. Sixty five euros for five minutes of her precious time. Sixty five euros to see a doctor who has misplaced my records, has no idea of my history, and yet feels qualified to make a snappy, thirty second diagnosis. Sixty five euros, all because she has a double-barrelled name and a tiny cabinet from whose windows you can almost, but not quite, make out the Louvre.

I mumble the usual niceties and take my leave, vowing never to cross her threshold again, even if she is within spitting distance of my office.

November 10, 2005

wrinkling my nose in distaste

Filed under: french touch, misc — petiteanglaise @ 10:44 pm

Three things offended my delicate sensibilities today. In the following order:

First, the grafitti in the lift which takes me into the bowels of the earth to catch my morning métro:

“Pas heureux chez nous? Allez donc crever de faim chez vous!”

Glad to see the spirit of fraternité is alive and kicking in the twenty first century.

Second, old greasy bum is back on a billboard near you (shameless recycling on the part of the Galéries Lafayette) and almost succeeded in putting me off my brioche.

Third, work. I don’t talk about work. It’s my new rule. But if I say I decided it might be prudent to revamp the CV today, that’s not really talking about work, is it?

July 27, 2005

bristling

Filed under: french touch, parting ways — petiteanglaise @ 12:59 pm

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that separating from someone you were not married to is actually more expensive than divorce.

Take France Telecom for example.

A couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that my phone number was still registered in Mr Frog’s name. As I have always harboured a burning, secret desire to see my name in print (even if it is only in the pages blanches), and didn’t particularly want to speak to any old flames or schoolfriends that might look up Mr Frog at some point in the future, I decided to have the entry amended.

The lady from France Telecom who explained the procedure to follow was uncharacteristically helpful. A fax, signed by Mr Frog, authorising a transfer of the line, plus a copy of my bank details was all that was required. A couple of days later, I noted that my name already appeared in the online phone directory.

That was fiendishly simple and efficient, for France, I thought to myself.

And then I received the first bill bearing my name.

€ 55.00 – Services ponctuels ou occasionnels (ouverture de ligne)

I phone France Telecom, to report what I am – in my misguided optimism – determined to see as an error. I haven’t just moved in, and I don’t have a new telephone number, so I can’t possibly be charged a “connection fee”, can I?

First, I explain my problem to the service clients in a calm, almost cheerful manner.

“But you were informed of the cost when you enquired as to what the procedure was to carry out the name change.” states the lady, voice dripping with boredom.

“No, absolutely not. I was informed of no such thing!” I splutter, suffering from an acute sense of humour failure.

My call is transferred to the service facturation, where I have the pleasure of starting my complaint all over again from the beginning, minus the cheerfulness.

The man ascertains that I have not changed my telephone number, and (pretends to) consult with a supervisor. When he returns, he tells me it is absolutely normal to have been charged in this way.

I am livid. “It’s daylight robbery,” I shout, trying desperately to think how to say “preposterous” in French, but making do with a forceful “c’est aberrant!”

Getting worked up like this makes no difference whatsoever to anything except my life expectancy, which is considerably shortened.

When he can get a word in edgeways, Mr France Telecom gleefully delivers his parting shot:

“There are some cases in which the transfer of a line is free. If a line is transferred between spouses, or if you were PACSé for example.”

I knew Mr Frog and I should have got married.

July 13, 2005

definition of frustration (#2)

Filed under: french touch — petiteanglaise @ 1:07 pm

I open the letterbox, and, to my surprise, pull out two identical envelopes, both containing train tickets. Upon closer inspection, I realise, with a sinking feeling, that they are duplicate tickets for the same journey.

I curse the SNCF and their wonderful, shiny, new website.

Later that day, I phone 3635 to see how the situation can be remedied. First, I am told that it has nothing to do with the SNCF whatsoever, as the website is run by another company, “Voyages SNCF”. Well I never! A French fonctionnaire merrily* shunting the responsibility for my problem onto another person/department/company. How novel.

I persist, undeterred, and manage to establish that although any complaints about the shortcomings of the website should be addressed to Voyages SNCF, to obtain reimbursement of my ticket, I simply need to take it to any station, before the date of travel.

This was yesterday. Date of travel being today. After which I would no longer be able to obtain a full refund of my € 100.

I resolve to spend my lunch hour in St Lazare station, the nearest mainline station to my office. As I approach the guichets grandes lignes, I am not a little relieved to note that there are only three or four people in each queue. This should be painless, I think to myself, idly wondering which sandwich I will by from Paul for lunch once I am done. A Dieppois? A fruit tart, to celebrate?

The employee listens patiently to my explanation, without interrupting, and when I have finished points silently to a very small sign: “Départs Normandie uniquement”.

I am not going to Normandy.

Nor can I strangle this man with my bare hands, because he is protected by bulletproof glass.

I make my way, stomach growling, to the opposite end of the station, where there is another sign marked “Billeterie Grandes Lignes“.

Oh. My. God.

Picture a large, windowless, dimly lit room with ticket desks lining three sides. The room was last refurbished circa 1960. The colour scheme is brown, on brown. There are fourteen desks, lining three sides of the room, of which only six are open. The queue zigzags back and forth across the centre of the room, in a decidedly orderly fashion for France, the irritated, overheated people having been shepherded into submission using barriers and red tape. I start to count how many irritated, overheated people must be served before it is my turn. I stop at 50, deciding, on balance, that I’d rather not know.

The time is 13.20; I left the office at 12.50.

Some people in the queue came prepared, and nibble on baguette sandwiches, or read books. I have no such means of sustenance or entertainment at my disposal, so I content myself with fuming inwardly at the number of SNCF employees who are milling about behind the ticket desks seemingly unoccupied; chatting, or just standing around with their arms folded, calmly surveying the mayhem, in full view of the people queuing. Hardly very tactful behaviour.

Occasionally, an employee comes on duty and deigns to sit down at one of the empty desks and pull up the blind to start work. But not before they have sauntered around the room at the speed of a snail and kissed both cheeks of every single fellow fonctionnairein the room.

For every blind that is pulled up, another is lowered, elsewhere in the room.

I finally reach the front of the queue at 14.02. A pleasant and efficient young gentleman with a ponytail refunds my ticket in seconds. I smile, pathetically grateful, as all along I had been imagining what I would do if once I got to the front of the queue, I was told that I was in the wrong place for refunds.

I arrive back at the office at 14.20, looking forward to consoling myself with a sandwich and a strawberry tart.

I see that my boss is back from lunch, looking pointedly at his watch, so I return to my desk, stomach still protesting, crestfallen, and consign my lunch to the recesses of a desk drawer.

At that precise moment in time, I would gladly have paid in excess of € 100 to be able to eat my fruit tart in peace.

*a figure of speech. There was nothing merry about the voice of my interlocuteur. Disinterested, slightly dim and very bored would all be more apt descriptions.

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