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You know those days where an over-priced scoop of ice cream is a necessity to keep on keeping on? There have been a lot of those lately. I am practically on a first-name basis with the sales help at my local Hediard on the corner of Rue Nicolo and Avenue Paul Doumer in the 16th arrondissement, and I have only lived here two weeks. The younger guy (don’t worry mom, his hair is far too long for me to take serious interest) is more generous than the lady. First, there was the day I went to my new university (Sciences Po) to complete registration. Then, there was the day where merely attempting to do household chores I was chased by two dogs.
First, because la rentrée, that great back-to-school-time-of-year, was rapidly approaching, Monday was the time to complete administrative formalities like paying tuition. One of the most frequent questions I received prior to leaving the U.S. for my current studies at Sciences Po was, “Oh, do you speak French?” I was asked this enough that I became tempted to retort, “No, only Chinese.” Yes, I speak French. Not perfectly, not eloquently, but I speak enough to get myself out of trouble (at least to date). This will be a successful year if at the end I speak enough to get into trouble. Monday afternoon, though, that childlike non-mastery of my fourth language worked to my advantage.
Most school administrative formalities can be completed by internet if you have a fully functioning French bank account. Merci HSBC, two weeks after arriving and opening this account (three branches later because it is August in France) I’m still waiting for basic things like a checkbook. Nevertheless, when the doors to the administrative offices opened at Sciences Po 1:30 p.m. Monday afternoon, I was about number seven in line. Of course with the office only half-staffed (because it is August in France) it took until about 2:15 for me to speak to a human-being and until about 4:45 to “resolve” matters.
By “resolve,” I mean that I had to resort to one of the few effective strategies for dealing with anything sluggish, bureaucratic, and totally unreasonable in France. Yes, that’s right. An entire reversion to my toddler days, tantrum time; I burst into tears and rambled on and on in my crap French until the condescending little man with no power finally got his superiors with the authority to process my papers and not just have me return the following day. Of course I still have no clue whether my student loans from the U.S. have been processed and whether I’ll have money to eat this year, but at least I now have my student ID card and confirmation of what others have told me—France is a country where you will be told: No. No. No. No. No. No. No. Yes. Persisting to that final yes, though, takes fortitude that might only be obtained from an over-priced scoop of Hediard ice cream (caramel).
Second, even though the apartment I am renting in the 16th is fully furnished, basic chores and basic purchases remain. Tuesday morning there was the laundry, which involved becoming acquainted with a resident of the building adjoining the Laundromat—a yappy little dog with three functional legs that was surprisingly territorial. Running across the square toward the flower store, I did not realize until my laundry was safely in the machine that I had been yelling in English, “Go away! Go away!” Naturally, to regain my courage, this justified going to Hediard, between wash cycles, for another scoop of ice cream (nougat, if anyone is keeping a score card).
In the afternoon, with the towels now clean, and having had a little exercise, I figured it might be important to have a shower curtain not covered in mold. Finding said “rideau de douche,” especially without spending all of the student loan money that I have yet to receive, had proven challenging. Searches at several stores in the quartier turned up nothing, so I decided to go to the BHV (Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville), the giant store on the métro 1 at the Hôtel de Ville stop where you can find anything: shower curtains galore, Oust air sanitizer, Brita water filter pitcher, and even that for which one would never search.
The BHV is a fair distance from my apartment at métro Passy, but worth the schlep for the hard-to-find. The métro was jam-packed, and when exiting a man approached me and I expected, as so frequently happens, to be asked for directions. When he instead started telling me he was a photographer and would I mind if he took my photograph, my creep-radar started going off. Some days I wish I did not understand as much French. Um. “Non. Désolée.” That answer must not have registered, though, because Monsieur le Creep then proceeded to follow me into the BHV up to the third floor where I started hiding behind shelves to finally lose this dog. Pity I had already had a scoop of ice cream, because otherwise that would have been the order of the day once I returned to my quartier. Home sweet home where the ice cream is nearby for those demanding Paris days….
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