20 August 2015

The five most important things I've learned from the French

France and I have been in a committed, albeit somewhat rocky, relationship for five years. Now our time together is coming to a bittersweet close. However, despite our impending breakup, I’ve learned at least five things in five years in France.

1. The customer is usually wrong and always tiresome.
Being a student and desperate for cash, I work as a supermarket cashier. Initially, I followed my preprogrammed praise-the-customer settings, à l’américaine. However, working alongside Froggies, I discovered this was unnecessarily exhausting. I’ve learned to respond to customers’ negativity and insults with unflinching dry sarcasm, or if I’m in the mood, open hostility.

2. Do not look both ways when crossing the street. Follow your gut.
I learned this one by watching Clumsy Girl traverse bustling downtown Parisian streets as if she were the only person around for miles. You’ll waste a lot of time waiting for cars to stop for you. If you emanate confidence as you cross rush-hour traffic, they’ll stop. They’ll be angry, but even impassioned Frogs won’t run you over out of spite. They hate paperwork.

3. Apologies are a sign of weakness.
Upon careful observation of Hasty Boy, I found that people treat him with authority because he never admits he’s wrong. Though he constitutes an extreme example, this can be generalized to the French population. Don’t expect that man who just bumped into you to excuse himself. And that pharmacist who made you wait an hour to drop off your prescription for pain medication following your wisdom tooth extraction, clearly she’s busy and doesn’t need to justify herself to you.

4.  Space expands as you add people to it. It’s like physics or something.
Forget how small your apartment is, you can make your party as big as you want. So people will sit on the floor, whatever  within the hour they’ll be too drunk to mind. You think you can’t fit twelve cashiers into a five-square-foot stronghold? You’d be wrong. You’re in a hurry but the tramcar looks too full? Just get in there, it’s amazing how much room opens up for you.

5. Finally, and most importantly, you can get away with murder if you pretend not to understand what people are saying.
I speak French fluently, but I use this often when I do or say something socially awkward, which occurs several times daily. Saying “Sorry, I think I misunderstood” or “Hang on, I believe I translated that incorrectly” will get you out of an uncomfortable situation in a pinch. I was a tad aggressive at Laser Quest the other night and ended up having my antagonized victim apologize to me when I insisted, “I’m not French, I don’t know what you’re saying!” Foreigners are naturally at a disadvantage here, so this just evens the playing field.

Though I’m sad to be leaving, I know I have a mission. It is my duty, nay, my moral obligation to impose these values upon the American people. I’m kind of like a missionary for French culture.

17 May 2015

My little army man

My little brother has spent the past few weeks in basic combat training at a military base in Missouri. After a high fever and an injury left him in the infirmary, he was forced to return home for a month to recuperate. On his first day back, he regaled us with tales of life in the most corrupt institution in the world.

One of their first lessons is the proper way to talk. Their vocabulary must not demonize the military. For example, in the army, you don’t steal anything. You acquire it. My brother tells us, “We didn’t steal that Humvee, we acquired it.”

His first meal with the U.S. Army is a very special learning experience. Privates are encouraged to “take their fill,” so naturally my brother takes the portion of a small giant. They’re only given two minutes to eat, however, and those who eat slowly are reprimanded by the drill sergeants: “You can taste your food later, private!”

Soon after lunch, the baby soldiers are sent on a grueling run. My brother feels ill from his large meal, but he soldiers on. Suddenly one of the boys in his platoon keels over and vomits his lunch onto the ground.

This has a sort of domino effect. Two more privates begin to throw up beside him. It’s at this moment that my brother’s stomach turns. He halts and heaves the contents of his stomach onto the dirt track. Behind him, half the platoon follows suit. He glances to the side and catches sight of three drill sergeants who have fallen to their knees, laughing hysterically.

Another lesson he has learned is solidarity. One day his drill sergeant bellows, “Who took my bolt cutters?”

My brother, straight-backed, shouts in the customary military fashion, “I believe they’re on my bed, drill sergeant.”

The sergeant orders him to go fetch them and to be quick about it. In the meantime, the rest of his platoon is instructed to do push-ups. As he darts up the stairs, he hears, “Waiting for you, battle buddy! Waiting for you, battle buddy!” They shout this in unison with every push-up.

Seized with panic, he picks up speed as he climbs six flights of stairs to retrieve the bolt cutters. His efficiency is rewarded with a sprained foot.

Stay in school, kids.

05 April 2015

My sweet fool of April

I come from a family whose primary value is the ability to spot an opportunity for a prank when one presents itself. My most recent victim was my dear friend V. this April Fool’s Day. It was really a joint effort on the part of myself, my polyamorous partner E., and E.’s partner M., both indispensable to my tale.

As I was born with the curse of being incapable of keeping a straight face while telling a lie, I relied on text messaging. In brief, I told my friend that I was quitting work and school to have babies with my lover. Organized chaos ensued.

I have punctuated, condensed, and translated our heated conversation into English (French below).

K: I want your opinion on something. Do you have a minute?
V: I’m listening.
K: Since I don’t have class anymore, E. thought it would be nice if we had babies together so that hers won’t be alone. I don’t like kids, but I love E. and want her to be happy, so I told her I would think about it. But I don’t know. Don’t worry, I’m not asking for your sperm!
V: I honestly think it’s a very bad idea. Your situation isn’t stable, and your relationship with E. isn’t serious enough to have a child.
K: But I’ll find a job soon, and I’m afraid she’ll leave me if I say no. Her baby will be important to her. If I have one too, it could guarantee me a place in her life. Plus, having a child in France would help with my citizenship request!
V: Well if she doesn’t give you a place in her life, it wasn’t made to last. Nothing’s stopping you from taking care of her child.
K: She promised to take care of everything if I do it. I already told her I would move in with her and her boyfriend in August. Of course it’s my choice whose sperm I would use, but her boyfriend agreed to help if I wanted because I don’t know many men.

He doesn’t respond for quite some time. He’s calling our friends, Clumsy Girl and Sex Tape Girl, to tell them I’ve lost my mind, as I would later discover. Unamused, they also flip and berate me for my joke.

V: You shouldn’t have a child or move in with her, it’s much too fast.
K: That’s all? Why? I’m ready. You’re one of my best friends and it’s important to me to have your support.
V: I’ll tell you what I think. You’ve been together four months, you haven’t met her family. She’ll meet yours soon, and I find it’s a bit early. Keep your apartment in case it goes badly. Finish your studies in the U.S. since you want to go back. See how it goes with her child before saying yes.

E. and I begin to tire of his calm, rational, lawyerly reactions. So we push a little harder.

K: I’ve met her mom and her sister, don’t worry! But she’s right, it’s the best time. If I leave work to take care of our children, I’ll have time to write and think about what I really want to do. I think I’ll stay in France because it’s impractical to leave with a baby. And it’s too late for the move, I’ve already sent a letter to my landlady.
V: You can’t do all this just for fear that she’ll leave you. You sent your letter too early, it’s bullshit.
K: But I love her, I want to make her happy. I was excited, I wanted to send it right away. E. helped me write it.
V: I understand that you love her, but you can’t just do whatever. This kind of thing should be thought out after many months. We’ll talk again later, I have work to do.
K: I thought about it for a few days, it’s what I want. You won’t be available anymore tonight?

He thinks he’s done with this and moving on. But he’s perturbed, unable to work, and returns shortly.

V: If you have a child, you’ll have to deal with it until the end even if your relationship ends while you’re pregnant, think about that.
K: I think I’ll be with her the rest of my life. And I’m not the only one thinking of having a child with her, we talked about it with M., and she’s already agreed. They’ve even merged their bank accounts and everything, I’m the only one that isn’t wholeheartedly in the relationship.
V: Is this an April fool?
K: Of course not. I want to be with her forever. She’s in a civil union with her boyfriend, and M. and I will be in one in a couple of months. We’re all moving in together in Bègles. I’m really lucky to have found these two amazing girls and to have the opportunity to be such a big part of their lives. I wish you’d be happy for me.
V: Go ahead.

On that angry note, he leaves me.

It’s only because I love him so dearly that I made him my fool. It’s what one should expect upon befriending a Mills.


Click to enlarge. If you so desire.

25 February 2015

The simple ones, they get you

I felt reasonably proud of myself when I landed an internship with EELV, a left-wing French political party. This, I thought, would allow me to begin networking within my dream field and to demonstrate my competence and intelligence.

Also my unbelievable stupidity, as it turns out.

So I’m finishing my archiving tasks, breaking down boxes that previously contained campaign documents. I gather a dozen or so broken boxes in my arms and head downstairs to deposit them in the recycling bin outside.

I push open the door and nudge it against the wall so it sticks, then step out to stuff the boxes into the overflowing bin. After a final glance to make sure they haven’t fallen, I turn to go back inside. And find the door closed against me.

No, I think desperately, shoving the door. No.

I frantically ring the other offices in the building – the municipal mediator, the Socialist Party, even the National Front. But of course everyone is out today.

My keys, coat, phone, and bag are all locked inside. I turn my back to the door and look out into the rain, weighing my options.

  1. Borrow a phone to call the attachée and reveal that I cannot be trusted alone.
  2. Use the borrowed phone to text my girlfriend to bring my duplicate apartment key and give up on life outside our love nest.
  3. Make a run for the law cabinet down the street, where the local EELV president runs his practice, and borrow his key.
At length, I decide to try the EELV president. To my dismay, however, his secretary informs me that he is out of the office. She suggests that I ask for the key directly at City Hall. This would be another three-minute dash in the rain, but it was a chance.

I leave the warm cabinet with the nice secretary and run down the cold, wet street to City Hall. At the entrance, three guards and a custodian gawk bewilderedly at me: soaked hair and clothes, smudged makeup, desperation in my eyes.

I explain my situation, my French breaking under pressure, and hope that one of the guards will direct me to the Key Department or something. But it
’s the custodian who comes to my rescue.

“It’s the office on Cours Maréchal Juin?” he asks.

“Yes!” I respond, suddenly bursting with optimism.

He informs me that he has that building key and tells me to wait while he fetches it. I nod, so relieved I forget to be embarrassed. When he returns, wearing a raincoat, he hands me a bright pink umbrella, and I have to restrain myself from hugging him.

This may or may not have spoiled my opportunity to prove my intelligence.

04 January 2015

The difficulties of a murder–suicide

Last year, I got into the habit of writing down certain things said by friends, family, and partners: statements and interactions I found ridiculous and/or humorous (low bar). I’ve compiled a list of these, decontextualized for comedic effect.

“I’ve been watching a lot of movies and reading a lot of books, and I’m pretty confident I can get out of the Louvre with a nice painting for my wall.”
“Can you please stop using my salt shakers to make holy water.”
– “You’re making my eye twitch.”
– “You’re making my balls hurt.”
– “Why are you naked?”
– “Because I wanted to be.”
“Is this okay? There’s no diamonds and shit.”
“It’s like, some people like almond milk. I’m disgusted with almond milk. It’s perfectly fine that other people like almond milk, but I hate almond milk.”
– “We should drive through Boone County!”
– “That’s in West Virginia.”
– “Well I’ll admit it’s a bit out of the way.”
“I wish you were here. It’s hard to do a murder–suicide without the whole family.”
– “You must be a terrible lover.”
– “Yeah, I know.”
“You’re a lying little shit.”
– “I need to buy some things for my rats.”
– “They like strychnine pellets.”
“Okay. I’m gonna go peel an egg.”

These people are why I require so few friends.