Thursday, August 03, 2006

Adventures in the Ile de France

When I recounted my July 31st (with Maylin and a good friend) to John, he remarked that he was a bit envious that I was having all these Parisian adventures while he was doing less adventuresome things in his office. Since he found it interesting, you may, too. I thought it was a great day, even though some parts of it were not too glamorous.

My friend needed a translator to renew her titre de sejour (equivalent to a green card) at the immigration office so I agreed to help. The office was kind of in the boonies compared to the one I usually go to (near Notre Dame). We actually had to take the train out of town to Nanterre. I presume one office isn't enough for all the foreign residents in Paris.

We had a very loud and clunky ride on an ancient train. Impossible to talk over all the noise. We exit the station and immediately see signs pointing to the office. My friend tells me she had followed those signs in the past and got completely lost. Turns out they were from an previous construction project -- detour signs that never got taken down. Okay -- lesson one, ignore yellow signs when no construction is apparent.

After passing the typical security checkpoint (complete with x-ray) at the entrance of the building, we make our way to the bureau. It is only 10:30 am and the line's already way out the door. I ask the security guard if I'm in the right line. Yes, I am. Darn -- this line, the line for just making an appointment to renew my friend's titre de sejour is about ten times as long as the line for the actual renewals. In the two and half hours of waiting...
- my friend and I chat away happily
- Maylin finishes the Cheerios I packed for her
- I run off to the convenience store inside the building to get more snacks (including Pringles) for Maylin
- she shares her chips with some other young children in exchange for their chocolate-covered cookies
- I complain about the length of the line with the children's mother (she explains about a new law I had never heard of -- I'll deal with that when John's company notifies me)
- Maylin and I use the restroom a couple of times (a man fills his water bottle in the ladies' room when there's a men's room just next door)
- we realize there's only one staff person dealing with our line, instead of the usual two, which isn't enough anyway
- we discover that about half of the people in line are waiting for nothing because they're trying to get appointments for their relatives which isn't allowed until a certain day a couple of weeks later (why not put up a sign at the beginning of the line?)
- Maylin finally warms up to the kids in the last fifteen minutes and starts playing with them
- we finally take our turn at the counter and get assigned an appointment for November(!) (with no choice of dates or times) which takes a total of two minutes. Welcome to French bureaucracy.

It's about 1 pm. Time for lunch! On the way towards the train station, we find a simple Turkish restaurant on a large commercial plaza surrounded by modern high-rise, office buildings. We eat our delicious, seven-euro (advertised for eight euros!) dishes outdoors in the perfect weather (I had a lamb kebab and my friend had the seasoned beef, both including salad, rice, fries, and pita bread). A great deal, perhaps because we're outside of Paris.

Afterwards, we take the escalator down to the trains and I glance over back to the plaza and see a large fixture of clothing on wheels roll quickly and hit a pole in the strong breeze. The merchant and I smile at each other in amusement.

We decide to do take advantage of the big summer sales and took the train to the large mall at La Defense where the Grande Arche is located (a modern version of the Arc de Triomphe on the other end of the Avenue Grande Armee). This particular station required us to use our tickets to exit, as well as enter. On the way out, a nice man with a large piece of luggage saw us with Maylin and her stroller and offered to get us in through the special gate (for handicapped passengers or passengers with bulky items) on his ticket so we wouldn't have to get ours out. He put his ticket in, we waited for a moment, and then he got bonked in the face from the doors which opened towards him because a woman was using the gate at the same time from the other direction. Poor guy. We all had a good chuckle.

My friend spotted a photo booth in the station and decided to have some pictures done for later use (we're always needing passport-size black and white photos for everything in France). Everything seemed to be going smoothly until the pictures came out. My friend's face got stretched horizontally. I never look good in those photo booth pictures because of the awkward lighting, but widening someone's face? That's just not nice. We decided to keep those crazy photos because no one's really going to look at them anyways.

At the Quatre Temps mall, we went into Sephora, a fragrance and cosmetics store which you'll find in larger cities in the States. I needed to find some more of my favorite shade of their generic lipstick. Although I couldn't find it because it seems the San Francisco Airport Sephora carries different ones (at least, with a different numbering system). I did find a shade that was even better. Maylin had the grandest time playing with all the makeup and clean-up materials. It was like a big science lab for her. She sampled different lipstick colors on her hand like we did, played with the brushes, washed off makeup with the cotton rounds and water provided, and tried on various perfums recommended by my friend. Then, there were all the different-colored, jewel-toned bath beads to touch. Pretty and fun!

At Zara, one of the affordable, trendy clothing stores, Maylin spotted all the cute shoes and brought them to me to try on. (The next day, she played "shoe store lady" at home and offered me all of my own sandals, neatly displayed on three of her little chairs.)

Bad signage led us astray a couple of times but we eventually found the family restroom where there was a little kid-sized toilet. My friend was waiting in a long line for the ladies' room and I thought it would be a shorter wait if she came and waited for us so I left Maylin for a moment to take a few steps towards the line to call to her. I immediately got reprimanded by a woman, possibly a nanny, in the lounge area of the family restroom. She said something about it not being safe to let my daugher go "pipi" all by herself. I got very angry at her for criticizing my parenting skills but my French didn't work too well at the moment so I didn't say much. Maylin wasn't even on the toilet yet. Plus, I was right there and the door was open. She immediately thought I was abandoning my child. Why are some people so quick to judge? Later, when I told John about what had happened, he reminded me that these criticisms are common in the French culture. I had forgotten about that, but this was my first personal experience. Hearing about someone else go through it and experiencing it first-hand is completely different.

Around 6 pm, we exited the mall and tried to get into the metro with Maylin sleeping in her stroller. We attempted one of the access gates I would normally use to get the stroller through, but it was broken and the agent on the intercom directed me to another gate next to a store that I couldn't find. I found another gate, pushed the button to talk to the agent, and got the same agent who said the right gate was still a little further. We walked some more, but found nothing. We gave up, went to the last gate, picked up Maylin, and folded up the stroller. As is usually the case, in the metro station, there were no elevators or escalators to be had so my sleeping girl and stroller had to be lifted over and over again. Great workout and inconvenience for mom.

That day was not too unusual. A little charm, a lot of hassles. C'est la vie!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That blog was kind of long so i didn't really read it. I just wanted to say that i bought 6 jars of Pop's Secret Sauce (you know for the tri-tip) and 2 jars of their Teriyaki sauce. We used both the teriyaki sauce marinades for Korean ribs... it was delicious. So I was wondering if you wanted a couple jars, and your flash card for the camera. Since you might not have a grill, you can broil tri-tip with similar results however it won't have the flame-broiled outside. How is that going anyway? you should blog about your camera and post a picture sometime.