Stunted conversations

Down to business in France and it can be very impersonal. What many consider the language of romance leaves me rather underwhelmed when I start translating from Arabic.

Take a mundane situation: I call my nice physio to make an appointment. I haven’t seen him for about two months and spent about 3 months having appointments with him prior to that. Let’s call him Physio French.

“Hello, is that Mr Physio French?”

“Yes.”

“Hello, it is Trailing Grouse.”

“Aah, hello Madame Grouse.”

[Pause while I think what I can say next, can I ask how he is, or should I just continue?] “I would like to make an appointment please.”

“Which day?”

With my, also nice, Egyptian physio (let’s call him Physio Egyptian), it would go something like this.

“Hello, is that Physio?”

“Yes.”

“Hi, it’s Trailing here, how are you?”

“Aaah Trailing! I’m fine, how are you? Everything good?”

“Yes thanks, I’d just like to make a new appointment.”

“Ok, when?”

First name terms and personal questions such as “How are you?” are not deemed intrusive, or personal. It may not seem very professional, but it is much nicer I find. I miss Egypt and the people that were in my life when I have what feels like stunted interactions here.

But the sun’s still shining, so it’s all good!

 

Wrinkled Grouse

I’ve been studying my quickly forming wrinkles increasingly frequently lately. To Bo or not to Tox? Is it a modern day necessary evil, or just downright ridiculous? I feel the answer will be formed the day a wrinkle can’t be removed by contorting my face…

In the meantime, an alternative strategy has made itself apparent: nice cashiers.

As I went to pay for entrance to a museum, the cashier asked, “Are you under 27?”

The correct answer, I soon discovered, is “Yes, of course!” said with the casual, bored arrogance of a 16 year old.

The wrong answer is something along the lines of , “Umm..[look left, look right]..uh..[grin like a Cheshire cat]..yes?”

Entrance fee paid: full price.

But the possibility of being under 27? Priceless!

Paris in the Spring

It’s a cliche that had my eyes rolling to the heavens years before I even had an inkling that I’d one day live in Paris. Some friends thought that Paris in the spring equated a romantic experience for as long as you were there. Cue more eye rolling (whether actually done or not, I don’t know, but the urge was certainly strong!). I would argue that romance could be found in many different places and touching down for a long weekend in a city could not possibly mean that romance would flourish – and by extension, dissipate upon departure.

I still think that.

But..and it’s a big but, Paris IS delightful in the spring. Even more so when you’ve suffered the grey, black, beige and perhaps, just perhaps navy, Parisian uniforms of winter, coupled with the grinding grey skies. Paris in winter is not recommended (Christmas shopping break excepted).

Green buds start appearing on naked trees, birds begin to arrive and mornings are accompanied by birdsong. More than that, the sun makes this museum city come alive and vibrancy pokes holes through its unwavering facade of stuffiness.

I may not want to stay here indefinitely, but I have to say that I do love living in Paris in the spring.

Tales from the gym

This man is a true sportsman: preparing for an Ironman* race

Big Mama does not like the gym, “People are always watching you there.” I disagree, in the hope that she’ll go and get fit.

“They’re not watching you,” I counter, “They are looking in the mirror at themselves.”

That is sort of true. People are looking at themselves, but there are plenty of people checking others out. I’m one of them. I find people watching absolutely fascinating. I love seeing how different people move, what sort of workout they are doing, how they interact, what they wear. Egyptian gyms had women in full makeup, hair perfectly coiffed, pumped up men on steriods, as well as the ‘normal’ worker-outers.

France is a whole other ball game. First, I have only been in one gym, so I have no idea how it compares, but there seem to be an incredible amount of people who are insanely attractive. Ok. Mainly men. They’re kind of model good looking… Then there are the middle aged women with bodies of a 22 year old, only more flexible. They often sport some kind of lycra ensemble, sometimes even from around the time they were 20 years old, and they still look great in it.

Then there are the legs; perfectly smooth. So many of them. And they don’t belong to just the women. It seems that it is fashionable for middle aged men, and some a little younger, usually at a ‘normal’ level of fitness, to shave their legs. You know, it’s what pro swimmers and cyclists do to make them faster. For cyclists, it’s also to make injuries from falls easier to heal – to stop hairs getting caught in healing wounds.

I wasn’t aware that those cumbersome stationary bikes could be so dangerous!

*An Ironman is swimming 3.8 km, then cycling 180 km and then running a marathon 42.2 km run

Whooosh

The night before last I showed Mr S that I have this site back up and the months of me moaning about it are over. I thought he would be happy – it seems that anything that reduces moans from my mouth makes him happy. Instead of the expected response (“Oh, that’s great!” or something along those lines), he asked, “Is that you?”.

The picture he was looking at, if you’re a little late to the party, was this.

I laughed, a semi-giggle, thinking gosh, he thinks that’s me, that’s nice, while saying, “No,” [insert giggle] “that’s Madonna, not me”.

“Yeah, of course that’s not you! I know that! I meant did you take the header picture?”

…..

….

….can you hear the wind disappearing from my sails?

Hello, hello, hello!

Well, I can now officially say: I’m back! Yes, my absence was not planned, nor was it because I was so traumatised by the move to Paris that I stopped blogging – although, it was pretty traumatising and perhaps it’s a good thing I was muted, rather than spew months of moaning over these electronic pages.

Nope, Trailing Grouse was attacked by some nasty malware that not only infected nearly every post, but subsequently locked me out of the server. If you’re not a techie, think of it as someone scribbling all over the pages of a book, then locking the book shut.

If you’re searching for something in the archives, you will notice that some of the very early posts are not there (weep) and the formatting has been a little messed up, but, and it’s a big but, we are off Google’s list of “dangerous” sites – so the blasted malware is gone!

Operation S.B.A.M. – update 1

It's not what my mirror reflects...

There was a major hurdle for Operation Stop Being a Minger. Sure, shoes, clothes and accessories need to be purchased, but, there is little point in doing that if you cannot see what they look like on. Yes, dear friends, I needed a “miroir”. I can now, exclusively share, that our hall finally sports a full length mirror.

Wow.

Do you know what you look like if you haven’t seen yourself in “full” for four months?

Are you wondering?

Well, the waist has become a little thicker, unsurprising, given the city TG is living in.

There is also a distinctly dishevelled air – and not the sort that screams super cool. More the sort that is sported by frazzled first time mums at around month one of their baby’s life. They, at least they have (extremely valid) excuse of a newborn…

On the plus side, thank goodness I only have one mirror. I’m not sure a Trinny and Susannah style ‘mirror cupboard’ would be psychologically possible at the moment!

Photo from here

Wally Nell, photographer – shot by Egyptian Police

By now most of you have probably heard what happened in Cairo yesterday: the government paid people to attack the anti-Mubarak protesters. This is what happened to my friend, a photographer who has worked widely over the world and currently lives in Cairo, ON FRIDAY 28 JANUARY 2011. I capitalise because it is important to note that this is BEFORE all the nastiness of the past 24 hours.

Cairo, Egypt – January 28th, 2011 – ZUMA Press photographer Wally Nell was wounded by police after being specifically targeted. He suffered 18 puncture wounds around the head and shoulders area while trying to move away with fellow photographer Dana Smillie. They were about 150 meters from the closest protesters, when an armored police vehicle approached from the opposite side. The vehicle stopped about 100m away, a policeman took aim with a shotgun, shot Dana Smillie, a photojournalist representing the Polaris news agency; and as they turned to run, Wally Nell was shot as well. They were specifically targeted by the police. They were covering Egyptians demonstrate under the 6th October Bridge at the Corniche on the Nile in downtown Cairo, in a concerted effort to draw attention to past police brutality, poverty and the rising cost of living; in spite of some deaths and many injured caused by police heavyhandedness. Slogans were shouted against the president of Egypt, Hosny Mubarak; urging his government to step down after being in power for 30 years. Other slogans shouted were calling for peace between Christian and Muslim religions. Photo by Wally Nell/ZUMA Press

Here’s Wally, just been shot and smiling for us. Typical Wally.

Reproduced with permission of ©Wally Nell/ZUMA Press

Some of Wally’s 18 gunshot wounds. Reproduced with permission of ©Wally Nell/ZUMA Press

Wally is recovering. He is keeping an admirable sense of humour and is staying on in Cairo to do what he sees as his responsibility, to photograph more of the Egyptian people in their struggle for a change of power.

Home is where the heart is

I have spent the weekend watching my beloved country get its courage. I can’t be there and it pains me. Think of it like a very close relative in hospital for a serious illness. You want to be on top of every moment. Every gain in health and every attack from the bacteria. You are not a doctor and you cannot make them better, but somehow, if you follow every minute, you are doing all you can do and if there is a second where you can step in and help, you’ll be able to jump up ready.

Unlike with a sick relative, however, I am overjoyed and immensely proud of the people I lived amongst for just under a decade. When I arrived in Egypt I was told, in offhand comments, that Egyptians were lazy. It certainly seemed like that to start off with. The more I was there, however, the clearer it became that this was not the case. It was not lethargy, it was a lack of pride. And why would you have pride in your school work, as a child, when the teachers teaching you are not teaching. They are not proud of their job as they are so underpaid, they tell you that if you want to learn, your parents have pay for you to to come to their private classes in the evening. When you see that the children who get the good marks, are those who can furnish tips for their teachers. So, you make it through the school system, you get some good marks in your leaving exams and enter a university system that is determined on your high school grades, for which your work was not fairly marked, and your parents contacts. Your results in university are again, partly dependent on your parents connections.

Of course, you know you’re the lucky one, because you got into university in the first place.

You are not that lucky though. Most university students over the past ten years have graduated into no job. If the average-grading engineer with no family connections is lucky, he can drive a taxi. The lucky ones who graduate AND get a job, are unlikely to be paid a wage decent enough to live on.

There was, at least while I was there, and I am sure before I got there, a nation-wide depression. A total hopelessness about both their personal future and that of their country. Those who could leave and work abroad, did. People would frequently ask me why I was there, often truly shocked that I actually wanted to be there. If I had one Egyptian pound for every taxi driver who asked me how he could get a Canadian visa, how he could get to Europe, if there was work in Scotland, I would be a millionaire – in US Dollars now.

The lack of pride was also in evidence by the amount of rubbish on the streets. There were street sweepers, but that was not the issue, it was the normalcy of dropping rubbish on the ground and the incredulity when someone, usually foreign, went off in search of a bin to put their rubbish in. One driver at a company I worked in, let’s call him Wael, pulled me to the side one day, still laughing in shock, because our CEO had been visiting us from abroad and between meetings, he’d had a ta’ameya sandwich, water and coke in the car. When he finished, he put all the rubbish back in a plastic bag. Wael, reached back, took the plastic bag from him, lowered the window and moved to throw it out on the highway. The CEO shouted, “NO! Don’t through it on the road!” He then, shocked, told Wael he should not throw rubbish on the road, and anyway, “Why would you want to make your country dirty?”. Poor Wael, had spent the evening mulling it over and thought it was rather funny and strange that a foreigner wouldn’t want to dirty Egypt, but he didn’t care. He asked me if we thought like that in the UK and if other countries I’d been to thought like that. He still talked about this when I saw him 5 years later – and he still found it strange, but he said that he had never put rubbish on the street since then.

So, to see something like this video, makes me happier than I know how to convey:

Alliance Francaise

One of the reasons I was less than enthusiastic about our move to Paris was, how can I put this, the Parisians. I didn’t really care whether they were Parisian born and bred, or had moved here from a French province last week, they were Parisians and, in my experience, usually rude, insular, unwelcoming and unaccommodating.

Outside the areas I visited when I was a tourist, I have found it isn’t as bad as all that. There is, however and unfortunately, a legitimate reason for my stereotyped Parisian.

In an effort to integrate with the aforementioned people, not to have to resort to an expat ghetto to meet people, I have enrolled in a language course. To be honest, the thought of bureaucracy (enrolling) wasn’t appealing and despite saying I would do it on Monday, it has taken until Thursday for me to haul myself over there.

But what a fool I was! I was completely blown away by how friendly, open, welcoming and accommodating everybody I dealt with was. I perhaps should add that I’d read really bad reviews about the language school, but decided their curriculum seemed suitable and did not hold any hope of the Sorbonne being a super friendly learning spot. But no, I say again, I was completely wrong in my apprehensions and it was such a wonderful surprise. I had to take a placement test and didn’t care how I did because I was floating on friendliness-shock endorphins.

Let’s not go over the top though, they were not as friendly as Egyptians, who take some serious beating in those stakes, but efficiency coupled with friendliness…was I in fact in France? I want to start the course just so that I can be in that environment!

We’ll see how enthusiastic I am on Monday evening with my first set of homework…