Halley Knigge (Griffin)

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Paris is a great place to go to the movies. With more than 300 screens in 100 different movie theatres, you can see movies from anywhere in the world in their original languages with French subtitles (version originale, VO) or dubbed into French (version française, VF) on any night of the week. Depending on your mood, you can catch the newest Hollywood blockbuster – Pirates des Caraïbes, for example. I’d have expected American movies to have a delayed release in France, but Pirates actually comes out in Paris two full days before the U.S. release – grâce au fait that French theatres switch their movie schedules every Wednesday rather than Friday.

If you’re in the mood for something a little different, there are a few cinemas that show classic movies – like Orsen Welles’ “Touch of Evil” currently playing at the Filmothèque du Quartier Latin, or the Rocky Horror Picture show, which plays every Friday and Saturday near St. Michel. At the Cinémathèque Française members can check out and watch any film from the institute’s film vault in private viewing rooms. There are films from Nepal, China, Latin America, the U.K., Germany, Sweden and South Africa (among many others) playing at theatres all over the city. In Paris, you don’t have to trek down to the Grand Cinemas or art house theatres to find foreign, independent and documentary films. The six-screen chain theatre Gaumont Opéra just two blocks up the street from my apartment is currently playing Jesus Camp, a 2006 indie documentary from the U.S. about an Evangelical Christian summer camp in North Dakota.

Because people don’t really rent movies in France, the movie-watching culture is more of a cinema culture. There are a few pay-by-the-hour rental stores sprinkled throughout Paris, but for the most part, seeing a movie is a going out event. Because of the rare and inefficient rental options, movies play in theatres for much longer to give more people a chance to see them. Woody Allen’s 2005 film “Match Point” is still playing in two theatres in the city. Going to the movies in France is more like going to an actual theatre – the films are scheduled to begin 20 minutes after the advertised movie time to give moviegoers a chance to skip the commercials and previews to sit and have an espresso or sandwich in the movie theatres’ sit-down cafés.

While full-price movie tickets are always a bit steep, it’s easy to get around the prices. Everyone under 26 gets the discounted student ticket, and people with Navigo or Imagin’R métro passes often get discounts as well. Anyone can buy a movie pass, which gets you into as many movies as you have time to watch for a flat monthly rate – usually around 18 euro. The movie passes work for different groups of theatres, like Gaumont and Pathé or UGC, and as long as you make it to at least two movies a month (or upwards of four, like me), they are a fantastic deal. There are constant promotions and two-for-one tickets and during one weekend in March the French association of theatres sponsored the Printemps du Cinéma (Springtime of Cinema), where every showing was a flat 3,50 euro.

Not only is it easy and inexpensive to see movies in Paris, but the cinema culture is very single-friendly. There are always couples and groups, of course, but every screening is filled with a significant number of individuals. When I caught an afternoon matinee of “Marie Antoinette” last fall, the audience consisted of me, one couple and five single old ladies. At a showing of “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” I was surrounded by teary individual middle-aged men. When R and I saw the new Ninja Turtles movie it was us and a whole bunch of single university-aged guys. At a showing of Jesus Camp a few weeks ago I sat two seats down from a single French girl and we spent the whole movie making shocked faces at each other and left the theatre side-by-side shaking our heads in deep disturbance.

The only downside of seeing movies here is that while the biggest blockbusters open simultaneously across the world – Pirates of the Caribbean, Spiderman 3, Casino Royale – there are some movies that you just have to wait for. The movie Zodiac opened in France this past Wednesday – and I’ve been waiting for it since its March 2nd release in the U.S. The movie 28 Weeks Later opened a week ago in the U.S., but won’t make it to France until September 19th. I’ll be back in Seattle in September, but by that point I’ll probably have to wait four more months for the dvd release.

At the movies in Paris the singles bond together, the selection of films is amazing, the prices are reasonable and the French movie popcorn is delicious – but the absolute best thing about French cinema is the French audiences. There is nothing more amusing than seeing an American movie in a room full of Parisians. The audiences are so interactive, and love both American movies and laughing at Americans. When R and I saw Borat, we were almost more entertained by the audience than the movie itself. During the scene at the rodeo everyone was laughing so loudly that we could barely hear the dialogue. Jesus Camp was also an interesting experience, though the reactions were more of the “Tsk tsk America” variety than of amusement.

It’s also funny to watch how the French react to the American culture shown in films that they just can’t relate to. Last night a group of us went to see the hip-hop movie “Stomp the Yard” (oddly re-titled “Steppin’” for French audiences), and it was definitely a cultural experience to watch a movie about black fraternity step teams in a theatre full of Parisians. There was confused laughter through the entire fraternity pledge montage, but the scene that got the loudest laughs was a 10-second clip of a curvy girl walking away from the camera. None of us (a group of two Americans, two Canadians and an Australian) could figure out what the laughter was for. Our best guess was that because behinds just generally aren’t that curvy in France, the Parisians couldn’t understand why her hips would swivel that much as she sashayed across the screen.

• A few days ago I watched an American tourist pose for a picture that featured him licking the giant stone vagina of this statue in the jardin des Tuileries. The next day I walked by and found that the poor old girl had not only been molested, but graffitteed as well.


Though I wouldn’t exactly say that our “Free Parisian Exercise Group” has taken off, we have managed to cobble together a pretty cozy little group.

After six workouts we have a few regulars, a few regular drop-ins, a few people who say they’re coming each week and never show, and our routine down pat. Each Wednesday or Thursday R and I send out a group email for our workout list (our specially-created address is parisworkout@yahoo.fr) detailing the where and when of our next rendezvous.

Our group usually consists of me, Rachael, Taki from Japan, Daniel from Portugal and the occasional addition of Vincent from Sciences Po, Stéphanie from Paris, and Patrick from the U.S. Because we posted fliers all over the city and posted ads on Craig’s List and Expatriates, we’ve formed quite a diverse group – in nationality, age, occupation and fitness level. Rachael and I are students from Seattle, while Taki is a 30-something Japanese non-profit worker and UN volunteer. Daniel is also a 30-something Portuguese in Paris for work, while Vincent is a French student at Sciences Po. Patrick is a dad-aged American ex-pat. The conversation is the typical foreigners-in-Paris meld of French and English and whatever other language is thrown into the mix, depending on who shows up.

We started out holding meetings at 10h Sunday mornings…but when we kept getting apologetic emails from people telling us they just couldn’t get out of bed we pushed them back to 10h30. We also try to mix up the location, partly so we don’t get bored and partly because we have members who live all over the city. After meeting twice at Parc des Buttes Chaumonts, one at the Jardin des Tuileries, once at Parc Monceau and once in the Bois des Vincennes
we chose the Bois de Boulogne as this Sunday’s workout destination.

We always meet at a sortie du métro with the thought that it’s easier to gather our group before entering a large public park, and as I exited the metro this morning Taki was already waiting at the top, bouncing on the balls of his feet and stretching his arms. Since it had been pouring just half an hour earlier, we figured there would probably be a lot of no-shows. We waited for the usual 15 minutes, then headed into the bois (woods) for a two-man jog.

Since we have such a mix of physical abilities in the group – from a 21-year old girl training for a half-marathon to a business man wanting to “get back into shape,” it was at first a little tricky to figure out a workout that would be at the same time demanding enough and forgiving enough for everyone’s fitness level. After a month and a half of this, though, we’re all old pros. We start out with a 20 minute warm-up jog around whichever park we happen to be exercising in – we generally stay in a group for this, since we’re here to get exercise, not necessarily to work on honing our running splits. After jogging for a while we find a field or patch of grass, designate an area – Taki’s backpack to that skinny tree, for example, and take turns choosing exercises.

I usually take charge and jump right in with a set of lunges before Rachael assigns us “high knees” or the “football player jumping through tires exercise.” Daniel might choose grapevine runs before we move on to skipping, squatting, more lunging and kickboxing moves (as the only one who has ever taken a kickboxing class, I’m always in charge of teaching this portion). After maybe 20 minutes of exercises we do another 20-30 minute run. Sometimes we run for shorter intervals and do multiple breaks for exercises, and sometimes we just run. Once in a while we’ll email everyone to bring a few euro to the workout and have a group sandwich picnic after we’re done sweating.

Today Taki and I ran, did our exercises, ran some more, and then went out for lunch. It was just the two of us and I had no money, but as he said “You’re a student, I have a job, I should pay anyway,” so we stopped for some Japanese bento lunches on the way home.

Whether or not we’re actually pushing our bodies to their physical limits with our gratuit group d’exercice, we have a great time doing it. Everyone in the group benefits from meeting a group of people who they have no other connection to – how likely is that I, for example, would meet a 30-something Japanese humanitarian while studying abroad in Paris? There’s also something to be said for having so much fun that you can’t stop laughing – even through your third set of lunges.

And, a picture to remind you all that I’m in France:


Jean-Marie Le Pen is a sensitive subject for the French. To most of the population, he’s a dinosaur – a racist xenophobic extremist whose existence on the political scene is a disgrace to the country. But for a shocking 11 percent of the voting population, he’s a revolutionary – a martyr whose destiny is to make France French again.

Le Pen founded the Front National in 1972, a far-right political party that wants to return France to its traditional roots, distance the country from the European Union, reinstate the death penalty and basically deport all immigrants. Le Pen’s daughter Marine is a party executive and the popular pick for the FN’s candidate for the présidentielle once Jean-Marie leaves the scene. Because Jean-Marie is such a polarizing figure, Marine is seen as the hope for the future of the party. According to my vie politique professor, Marine is a much more dangerous figure than Jean-Marie, for just that reason. She’s softer, less extreme and was never convicted of negationism or accused of torturing POWs – and could potentially gain a lot of votes for the party.

Front National supporters parading in Paris:

As a political figure, Le Pen is a frightening extremist – and as a person, he is no less colorful. As a young man he was convicted of assault several times – mostly through membership in a group of law students whose main activity was beating up Communists. He’s been accused of using torture as an intelligence officer in the Algerian War by the newspaper Le Monde, but was unable to be tried because of an amnesty agreement and expired statutes of limitations. He was prosecuted and fined in 1999 for historical revisionism and Holocaust denial for statements about the supposed insignificance of the concentration camps in terms of World War II and for claiming that the Nazi occupation of France wasn’t actually so bad.

Le Pen is the black sheep of the French political family. He’s the butt of every joke, but behind the laughter is real fear – because he continues to gather enough support to be a real political power. The highlight of his political career was the 2002 présidentielle, in which he managed to defeat the Socialist party candidate (Lionel Jospin) who was expected to be a main contender, and go on to the second round of elections against Jacques Chirac. Although Le Pen’s short-lived success was due more in part to divisions among the leftist parties than to his own popularity, the two weeks between the first and second rounds of elections were filled with demonstrations, marches, protests, graffiti and posters against Le Pen. A popular slogan was “Vote for the crook, not the fascist.” Chirac went on to defeat Le Pen by a landslide in the second round, but France learned its lesson in 2002 and voter turn-out for the first round of the 2007 présidentielle was an impressive 85 percent.

May Day in France is both a national holiday and the date of the annual parade and rally of the Front National. Le Pen supporters from all over France were bussed into Paris this morning to participate in the parade, which took two hours to wind its way from St. Augustin in the 8ème to place de l’Opéra where Le Pen was to speak. Anna and I met at place de l’Opéra about half an hour before Le Pen was to appear, mainly out of morbid curiousity – we couldn’t wait to see “what kind of people” support Jean-Marie Le Pen. Based on his political platform, our general expectation was skinheads and rednecks – but the most frightening thing about the rally was just how many completely normal-looking people were present. There were adorable French moms with pearl earrings, YSL shirts and Longchamp purses pushing babies in strollers that had been decorated with FN and Le Pen signs and banners. There were cute old ladies perched on fold-up camping chairs wearing FN baseball caps. There were groups of attractive young guys wearing armbands and French flags as superhero capes. There were fluffy poodles wearing tricolor cocardes (cockades, or rosettes – these were a symbol of the French Revolution) and doggy tee shirts that read “Vite Le Pen, Vite!” The whole atmosphere was rather unsettling – there were hot dogs and balloons and tee shirts for sale, and the scene felt like a fun festival – except that we were all there to celebrate (or observe) a racist Holocaust-denying torturer.

We felt a little awkward standing in the middle of this fascist rally – on the one hand, we did not want anyone to think we’d ever support this lunatic, but on the other hand, we really didn’t want to get beat up by crazed FN supporters. Grateful that neither of us had accidentally dressed in red, white and blue, we opted to wander casually through the crowd taking pictures and gawking at Le Pen as he made his speech from the stage that had been set up for him in front of the Palais Garnier.

For reasons not completely clear to me or Anna, Jeanne d’Arc is a special symbol for Le Pen and the FN – the parade doubles as a celebration of both the FN and the exploits of Joan of Arc. From what we could gather, Le Pen sees himself as a kind of martyr as well, fighting for his beliefs as she did. It may also have something to do with the fact that she was persecuted by the English, and Le Pen, fighting to return France to its Frenchiest roots, is very wary of Anglo-Saxon intervention. In addition to the pro-FN and Le Pen tee shirts for sale all around the place, there was also quite a bit of anti-Sarkozy and anti-U.S. paraphernalia available for purchase. One red tee shirt featured an outline of the U.S. with the words état criminel (criminal state) written inside of it. Another one read simply, “Yankee go home.”

Sprinkled throughout his impassioned tribute to dear Jeanne d’Arc (who, by the way, I really don’t feel would be comfortable being associated with a fascist extremist) were tirades against each of the other presidential candidates. He led the crowd in loud booing of Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal, and started a cheer of Chirac en prison! Chirac en prison! He also spent a significant amount of time bemoaning the 2002 elections before moving on to rail against the results of the présidentielle 2007. After an hour of FN rallying, parading and speeches, Anna and I were ready to escape the chants of “LE PEN – LE PEN – LE PEN.” We snuck off down rue du Quatre Septembre feeling rather ill, but satisfied – curiosity-wise, at least.

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Being at Sciences Po between the two rounds of the French presidential election is like being thrust into a hub of political hyperactivity. The dueling Sarko and Ségo camps have hung up jeunes pour Ségolène Royal/Nicolas Sarkozy flags in penîche (main hall) and spend every free moment trying to turn another young French voter and professors have cancelled classes to go off and debate or campaign for their preferred candidates.

Actually, the mood has been electric since mid-February, when François Bayrou crept up from behind to challenge to two main contenders for the Élysée (the Palais de l’Élysée is the presidential residence – basically the French White House) and turned the fairly predictable election into something much more interesting.

The way the French présidentielle works is by a run-off system. Each political party has the option to present a candidate who must gather 500 signatures from elected officials in at least 30 French departments (regions). The only other requirements to be a candidate are to be of French nationality and be at least 23 years old. After the official candidate list is announced, the candidates enter an official campaign period, the rules of which are strictly enforced – each candidate must be allotted the exact same amount of television time, whether through commercials, interviews or debates. The day before the elections campaigning is forbidden – no speeches, appearances or ads are allowed in order to give voters a “day of reflection.” Citizens vote on all candidates in the prémier tour of elections (which took place here on Sunday, April 22nd). If no candidate receives an absolute majority, there’s a run-off election between the top two two weeks later.

This year 12 offical candidates were announced, the favorites of which have long been Ségolène Royal from the Socialist Party and Nicolas Sarkozy of Jacques Chirac’s party the UMP. A run-off between Ségo and Sarko as they’re popularly called, has long been the expectation, but the emergence of the centrist candidate François Bayrou in the polls in February and March threw a serious wrench into the predictability of the election. As the first voting round drew closer, France was mainly concerned with four candidates – Ségo, Sarko, Bayrou and Jean-Marie Le Pen, a racist, fascist, holocaust-denying, extreme right-wing candidate with one eye, who shocked the country and the international scene when he made it into the second round of voting in the 2002 présidentielle. As extreme and offensive as Le Pen may be, he consistently manages to garner a hefty percentage of votes. Last Sunday he received around 11 percent of votes, compared to the inoffensive Green Party candidate’s 1.5 percent.

Polling stations opened at 8 am Sunday morning and officially closed at 6 pm. Unlike the U.S. elections, where voters watch the slow roll of blue or red across the country as polling stations close in each state and see the votes mounting up as they’re counted, the estimated results are not allowed to be announced until 8 pm the night of the first round. At 7:50 Sunday evening, Rachael, our friend Tom and I arrived at a friend’s parents’ Moroccan restaurant, which had opened early for the election results. Faris (the Moroccan friend) and a few other people had set up a projector and speakers so the news was playing 10 feet tall against the wall of the restaurant when we arrived.

The scene reminded me of New Year’s eve, with a countdown clock ticking away the seconds in the corner of the screen, and the camera views alternating between the different candidate’s headquarters. When the clock reached 7:59:30, a collective “SHHHH” rolled around the restaurant and everyone began counting down with the ticker, clutching wine or beer in one hand and frantically silencing cell phones with the other. At precisely 8:00:00, the screen was filled with two headshots – those of Ségo and Sarko before switching once more to the headquarters of each candidate. The whole scene was almost ridiculously theatrical – from the countdown to the winners’ pictures to the photo montages set to inspirational music that played homage to each candidate. I was reminded more of the Academy Awards or New Year’s with Dick Clark more than a serious political event – but I guess the French are used to doing it with flair.

The restaurant where we were was smack in the middle of the 11ème arrondissment, not too far from place de la Bastille – an area that is distinctly left-wing. When Ségo’s picture flashed on the screen the restaurant erupted in cheers – which shortly turned into boos and irritated Sarko insults when the percentages of votes tipped less and less in her favor. Over in the 2ème arrondissement, on the other hand, Sarko’s advance is being celebrated. As I find myself surrounded by some of the most politically aware kids I’ve ever met, I didn’t bat an eyelid when Paul (7) told me that he was “so happy” that Sarko made it, and was only mildly surprised when Ella (10) went off into a tirade about how “everyone wants Ségolène because they think she’ll give money to poor people, but really she’ll make everything more expensive for every one else with too many taxes!” Even 2-year old Georges knows, in direct accordance with the politics of his parents, that “Ségolène bad.”

While I’m sure 99 percent of what I hear from the kids is regurgitated straight back from their parents, it still amuses me to no end when Paul tells me he can’t wait for May 6th to find out who will win. Though Sarkozy came out of the first round with 31.18 percent and a clear lead over Royal’s 25.87 percent (numbers that three of my four nannying charges had memorized to the 100th), nobody knows where Bayrou’s 18 percent will go. At the moment, he’s endorsing neither candidate, and has instead declared that he’ll be founding a new political party – the Parti démocrate. The rest of the votes are easy to assign – Le Pen’s extremist votes will most likely go to the immigration-unfriendly Sarkozy, while most of the little leftist parties will be casting their votes for Ségolène. It’s the middle 18 percent that has everybody aflutter – and while my personal prediction is Sarkozy in the Élysée, we won’t know for sure until next weekend.

Meanwhile, Paul and I are counting down the days.


It’s starting to feel like the beginning of the end. Today I spent half an hour looking at the new Ikea catalogue with Paul and Ella, the three of us trying to pick out the prettiest bed for me to buy for my apartment next year. We settled on a dark metal bed frame – I knew this was the perfect girly pick when E started making indiscernible cooing sounds and pointing out the matching bedside tables, while P started making fake retching sounds.

I still have nearly four whole months left in Paris, but I’m already planning for the fifth one. I finally bought my ticket home a few weeks ago, which was a 900 dollar blow to my bank account. Apparently it is not cheap to fly one-way from France o the West Coast at the end of July. My flight arrives at SeaTac Airport at 4:45 pm on July 27th, and on July 28th, there’s a concert I want to see in Renton. August 11th we leave for the annual family beach trip to the Washington Coast, and my brother and I are crusading for a family date to see the Steve Miller Band play a concert in September.

I’ve already emailed my boss from work last summer to see about working as a teaching assistant for Seabury Summer classes again this year, and I’ve sent in my volunteer application to work at the UW incoming foreign exchange student orientation at the end of the summer. Christina and I have been stalking the classifieds for rental apartments for the past few weeks now, and P and E are excitedly helping me make-believe furnish it. There should be an emphasis on make-believe, because both of the kids were thrilled by a completely round bed featured in the catalogue. They didn’t want to listen to me telling them that it would be really hard finding an apartment with a bed big enough to host a round bed – not to mention the Hugh Hefner references that I didn’t feel like mentioning to the kids.

Registration for Autumn quarter is coming up in May and I need to email my Jackson School advisor about scheduling. I also need to track down a professor to partner with on my qualifying paper – an international studies-specific paper usually written during the fall of your Junior year, unless, of course, you’re studying abroad. I also need to pin down a topic for the paper, which should be, according to my advisor, an expansion on something I’ve studied this year. So far I’m leaning toward EU enlargement for the paper topic – a subject that intrigues me and is always current.

Besides worrying about my classes for Autumn 2007, there’s also that pesky fact that I’m going to be a Senior. This means that in addition to the regular stress of finding a schedule that fits with my two majors, I need to find a schedule that is going to keep me on track for graduation next June. As much as I want to just sit back and enjoy the baguettes, the reality is that there are a lot of things I need to figure out about what I’ll be doing in the few months after I step off of that plane for the final time.

I’m not the only one who’s thinking ahead. Cassie (nanny mom) is already stressing about how to explain to Georges what has happened to me when I disappear for good in the middle of the summer. You can explain it anyway you want to a three-year old, but the only thing he’s going to retain is “Halley going on a big big airplane?” It’s been more than a month since my mom ditched me for Tacoma, and Georges is still completely befuddled. “Halley, where Halley-mom go?” he asks me every few days.

There’s also the question of my replacement for next year – no matter how thoroughly you interview someone, or how highly recommended they come from their last employer, it’s still terrifying to employ a complete stranger to spend 25 hours a week with your children. The fact that an ex=employee of the family is currently being investigated for letting an 11-month old baby drown in the bathtub on her watch is only compounding the terror. It’s infinitely less scary if you find someone who is recommended by a person you already know and trust, so when C asked me to help her find someone for next year, I completely understood.

Thinking that this would be a great opportunity to keep in the UW family – a free apartment in the heart of Paris in exchange for a little light babysitting – I emailed my advisor in the UW study abroad office, only to find out that not a single Husky applied to Sciences Po this year. I find this totally bizarre, but what can you do? At least the lack of Washington students heading to Paris doesn’t affect the direct exchange agreement with Sciences Po, and there are still 4 Frenchies destined for Seattle in September.

Feeling like I needed to reach out to the students heading to Washington next year, I found their names at Sciences Po and emailed them. Having conversation after conversation about what people wear in Seattle (my answer: Jeans, flip-flops and hooded sweatshirts, plus a lot of polar fleece) or whether there’s a good music scene in Washington (my answer: Um, hello, have you heard of Jimi Hendrix? Nirvana? Pearl Jam? You don’t need to worry.) hasn’t done anything to redirect my thoughts from the upcoming school year.

I keep catching myself thinking about August and beyond and feeling like I should stop thinking about things that are so far away. But then again, four months is not a long time. In two months, I’ll be winding up my second semester at Sciences Po. Then I’ll be hosting a ridiculous slew of visitors, from brothers to boyfriends, to aunts and uncles, to friends of brothers, my floor will be jam packed for a month. Then it’s down to Provence for two weeks in July with the nanny family, two weeks in Turkey and Israel with Rachael (our last hurrah), two days in Paris to square things away and it’s back to Tacoma again. Four months isn’t very much time at all.

Yes, it’s definitely the beginning of the end. Or I suppose a more optimistic way of looking at it would be, it’s the beginning of the beginning of a new set of adventures: Tacoma Girl Back in Tacoma. See you then. Three months, three weeks and counting.

You know it’s Passover in Paris when you find discarded matzo-stuffed Dior bags along the rue St. Honoré.

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I love coming home at night to the smell of burned out candles. It’s a smell I’ve always loved – it used to remind me of birthdays, but now it reminds me of my apartment in Paris. The candle smell comes from my neighbors on the first floor (reminder, in France, the first floor is the first floor above ground level) who are a male pair of interior decorators who do quite a bit of entertaining. Every time they have a dinner or party or festivity of any kind, we enter and exit the building by candlelight.

Tonight I got home after the candles had been blown out, and the only reminders of the evening were the still-smoking white candles lining the courtyard and first floor staircase. I was coming home from a movie, trying to make the most of the Printemps du Cinéma promotion that ended today. For whatever reason, the Fédération Nationale des Cinémas Français organizes this three-day period each spring (possibly beginning just last year), during which all movies at all theatres all over France cost only 3.50 per person. Determined to maximize my benefit, I saw a movie all three nights.

Tonight it was Les Témoins, a movie about a group of people in Paris in 1984 who are affected by the “new virus,” or AIDS. It’s been receiving great reviews in the French press, and it really was a good movie. Even better than the movie, was the fact that I realized that I really have no trouble understanding French. For whatever reason, comprehension has always come naturally to me – I’m nowhere near the same level with my writing and speaking, but I feel like I understand fluently. Sciences Po lectures are no problem, and I often find myself translating or repeating for other exchange students. Realizing that I was following the complicated story of how the disease was passed and dealt with by this group of people (not to mention, the complicated ways in which everybody was involved with one another) was just the confirmation I needed.

At one point the girl next to me leaned over to ask “Wait, what excited her?” And I found myself quickly explaining that these two people are married with a baby but maintain an open relationship, which until now, only the wife had taken advantage of. The scene dealt with the husband asking about her sex life and how she’d feel about hearing that he’d gotten some of his own. Turns out, it excited her. The response of my neighbor? “Wow, I did not get that at all.”

Even when I was here on a month-long exchange in high school, I was always introduced by my host family as “Our little American – who will understand everything you say.” It’s frustrating though, being able to understand everything that’s going on around me and feel so limited in expressing myself. I get along fine in day-to-day life, but put me in a discussion about politics and I can nod along without ever being able to express my views as eloquently as I’d like to be able to. I constantly feel like I have to justify myself when speaking to French students – I’m smarter in English, I swear.

In a way, it’s fitting that I am a nanny to an almost three-year old boy learning two languages. I feel like we’re in the same boat, trying to figure out how to express ourselves in the right way that we’ll be understood. We both confuse French and English words sometimes, and both get frustrated when we can’t get our points across. Though Georges tends to start laughing when I say “What? What? I have no idea what you are saying to me Georges,” while I get more flustered and less able to communicate clearly.

Other times though, I communicate too well in French. Today leaving a brutal breakdancing class, I was walking out with another girl, both of us complaining in French about how sore we’d be tomorrow. (If you want an idea of just how sore my wrists and shoulders are going to be tomorrow, check out the following video – we were working on air flares).

After a full hour of supporting our full body weights on our hands, we were walking to the metro together moaning things like, Alors, mes poignets! and Je ne pourrai pas lever les bras demain! (Ah, my wrists! And, I won’t be able to lift my arms tomorrow!) when she apparently caught a glimpse of the label on my REI rain coat and switched to English – “Oh, you’re from America?” I confirmed, and we laughed at ourselves for a minute before continuing to bemoan our worn out bodies. Just before parting ways at the metro, I asked what part of the U.S. she comes from.

As happens in strange countries a good deal more than you’d expect it to, the answer was “Oh, Seattle.” It turns out she’s actually from Vashon Island, a ten-minute ferry ride from my hometown of Tacoma and is in Paris working on her Master (more like general grad school in France). How funny is the world that a Tacoma girl can go to a hip-hop class in the 12ème arrondissement of Paris and learn after three sessions of toprock and six-steps that she’s practicing her freezes next to girl from Vashon? This is why I love this city.

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Usually I spend my days collecting stories and ideas to write about as I walk, run and metro through the city. These are a few little life in Paris anecdotes that I couldn’t quite stretch into full stories on their own.

Autobus, ligne 39
Last Monday, Ella and I had been waiting at the Richelieu-Quatre Septembre bus stop for about 20 minutes before we saw the notice taped to the glass wall of the stop. Thanks to yet another protest, the bus line we take to the Académie for her dance class each Monday would once again be interrupted. From 18h to 20h that evening, there would be no busses running between Richelieu and Gare du Nord.

As it was only 17h20, we were a little confused about why there was no bus. After mulling it over for a few minutes, we decided our best bet was to hike down the few blocks to Palais Royal, where we could catch the bus at an uninterrupted stop, just in case the line had already been disrupted.

After about a block and a half, I looked back to see none other than autobus 39 heading down the street behind us. We stopped and stared – the driver stared back at us for a moment, and then we broke into a run, sprinting toward Palais Royal as fast as we could run with school and dance bags bouncing at our sides. Thanks to the narrow trafficky streets of the Paris centre and an aptly-timed red light, we made it to the bus stop sweaty and panting, but with a few moments to spare.

When the bus pulled up, the driver – young, male, and oh-so-cute – could barely sit up straight he was laughing so hard. Embarrassed, we boarded the bus and I gave him a sheepish and wheezy grin. “Eh,” he said, “ça va?” (Hey, are you okay?). I nodded, and started to follow Ella toward the back of the bus. “J’aurais vous attendu,” (I would have waited for you) he called after me, and when I looked back, he winked.

I think I have a crush. Is it horribly girly and teenyboppy that I hoped we’d have the same driver today? Sadly, “I would have waited” was nowhere to be seen, but I have five more months of rides on autobus 39 before I head home to Washington.

Greasy picnics in the park
When the sun comes out in Paris, so does the smog, the tourists and the picnickers. As there is a severely limited amount of grass that you’re actually allowed to set foot on in this city, there are a few locations that become nearly impassable on nice days like today. One of these is Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge connecting the cour carré of the Louvre to the rive gauche, and a favorite wine and cheese picnic spot in any weather. When it’s really sunny, it’s best to go here with a picnic in mind or not at all, as picking your way around lunchers, musicians and amateur artists is definitely not the most efficient way to cross the river.

Another popular picnic spot is a little patch of courtyard smack between the jardin des Tuileries and the courtyard of the Louvre. Since this is technically not a part of Tuileries, its grass is fair game, and the two medium-sized squares of it fill up early on nice days, with dogs and their owners, sunbathers and picnickers. It’s quite a nice lunching option if you’d like to park yourself on a rare bit of grass and don’t mind the bold peddlers of sunglasses, hats and knock-off Dolce & Gabbana belts.

Being next to the musée du Louvre and a block from the tourism office of Paris, this is one of those weird parts of the city that is frequented by tourists and natives alike. Usually the city is quite segregated, and while tourists might spend a great deal of energy searching for “real Parisians,” real Parisians spend even more energy avoiding them. To pick out the tourists from the authentic Frenchies, you have to know where you are and what you’re looking for.

If you hit up this particular spot during lunch, look for groups of people sitting on the grass with wine, cheese and baguettes – these are 100 percent tourists. The “real Parisians” are the ones crowded around overstuffed greasy bags of MacDonalds takeaway. It’s disturbing, but true. Sure Parisians eat baguette sandwiches and paninis too, but not here. Americans and the like think they’re being chic and French by eating French bread near the Louvre, but what they don’t realize is that the McDo on rue de Rivoli has designated their picnic spot as the unofficial outdoor dining area for the McDonalds that is so beloved to seemingly everyone in France.

Counterfeit euros
Last night after nannying, I made a quick stop at Monoprix for a few groceries. All I needed was milk and olive oil, but as I was shopping before dinner, I also ended up with several varieties of cookies and some disgustingly delicious Chokella cereal.

Monoprix is always filled with people around 21h because it’s the only grocery store around that is open until 22h on weeknights. Waiting in a line that wound through the store, I felt awkward enough with my basket of unhealthiness. The cashier rang up my groceries and as I bagged them I handed her a 50-euro bill (rather than pay with a credit card) to speed up the process so I could get out of the store and home to eat dinner.

The woman manning the register took my bill and started hmmm-ing and muttering to herself. She held it up to the light to inspect the watermarks, and scratched at the center of it with a fingernail. “C’est bizarre, ça,” (that’s weird) she kept saying, and eventually passed it to another checker, who gave it to a manager to inspect in a special machine. Meanwhile, I was standing at the end of the register with my bags of groceries and line that just kept growing behind me, while everyone in the store was craning their necks to see the criminal who was trying to pay with counterfeit money.

All I could think was, how the heck was I going to get my 50 euro back? It’s not my fault if I got fake money out of the ATM! Could I find my receipt and go back to Crédit Lyonnais and complain? Would they believe me? I spent about 10 minutes like this, while everybody waiting in line, glad to have a distraction from boredom, focused their attention on me.

Eventually somebody pronounced my money legitimate, and as the checker handed me my change she grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes – “You understand that we weren’t accusing you – it could happen to anyone,” she assured me in French. I thanked her, grabbed my cookies and ran before they could change their minds.

And lastly…
Did I ever mention that I finally got my carte de séjour?