Paris


I don’t usually discuss my vajaja with grown ups, or any males for that matter especially not family members so this is for purely entertainment purposes.

The other day I was given a gift voucher to The four Seasons Spa in Paris. The gift voucher was for 50Euro which, for a little South African who times everything by ten is quite a lot, but in Paris and especially in this top spa my 50Euro voucher could not get me very far actually, the only thing it could get my was a bikini wax. So I resorted to an extravagant bikini wax which was much against my “spending morals” as nothing worth that much had ever been near my vajaja let alone done to it.

I decided to make an occasion of this Spa day and dressed up, went early, enjoyed the sauna and swimming pool as well as the herbal teas and English speaking people around. I was greeted in French by Lillian and led into a beautiful, peaceful room where my wax would take place. Petals covered the bed, classical music played in the background and sweet smelling essence filled the room_ all making for the right environment for a 50Euro bikini wax. I lay down, Lillian applied the wax and ripped (just cause it cost more doesn’t mean it hurt less), she looked and repeated the procedure. At the end of the session, she applied a soft (apparently secret Four Seasons cream although I thought it looked like good old Vaseline) and poured me some more relaxing tea.

I went to the change room and put on my clothes not inspecting my new 50Euro piece of art, handed in my voucher and went back into reality of hot weather, grumpy Frenchmen and my room which is smaller than one shower at Spa. That evening I got undressed and as I looked down I saw what every women dreads: a lopsided vajaja! Yes that’s it right, after excruciating pain and 50Euro I was now lopsided..

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I returned to classes at Alliance today after our 3 week break which has resulted in me asking why can I not learn this french language? I am in the perfect situation to learn the language: full time language classes and living in the country, I have also taken the initiative of making my own flash cards, loading french language Cd’s onto my ipod and listening to it constantly. I even play a french radio in my room and have every single extra book “learn french in 15 minutes a day” and “how to pronounce french” “your french guide” “beginners guide to french” and yet i still feel hopeless. Perhaps I am not one for languages… I have been speaking (pretty much not stop) English for 21 and a half years and yet I still make the most basic English spelling mistakes, I did Zulu for the whole of primary school and I can not claim any proficiency in that language whatsoever… and  considering I did 12 years of Afrikaans at school and went to extra lessons for probably 11 of them, plus I went to an Afrikaans university and dated 3 Afrikaans boys (not at the same time) my Afrikaans is an embarrassment. What made me think that 6 months in Paris would make me speak French?

This whole weekend my human tried to encourage me to order for us in french or buy metro tickets in the language, the person serving us still looks at me blankly and then says “I speak the English” or when they don’t “speak the English” the human seems better at ordering or getting what we need than I am- he has been here 2 nights, I have been here 2 months!

When i returned to Alliance I knew I would be in level 3 and yet still not be able to ask for the menu, so, because of this, I decided I would demote myself to a lower level class. Well, thank heavens I did as I am still clueless, vocabless and tenseless! My new class is as interesting as the old ones- there are only 8 of us and as I am the “nouvelle fille” i know nobody’s names and they don’t know mine. And in case you were wondering, yes, the humiliation does continue. An Indian boy sat next to me, we had a interesting conversation about our likes and dislikes of food: he is vegetarian and I am a good old South African girl who can think of nothing better than a “bleu fillet” (the one thing I am able to order)! The teacher is entertaining if you find someone who answers your questions of “why?” with “because” entertaining. I say “pourquoi” and she replies “parce que”.

So why can I no speak French? My answer is “Parce que” (because). Will I ever be able to speak french? If it wasn’t for my handy dictionary my answer would probably still be “parce que” but rather it is “avec un peu de chance”!

Laundry day sucks no matter which city you live in. Today was my laundry day! Once moving into my tiny room, about a month ago, I was told (and I quote) that I “live in the wrong arrondissement for laundromats” which makes laundry day that much more of a mission. Little one doing her laundry is a massive process that starts with the need to build up the energy, once I feel that i have enough energy, I strip the bed and throw the sheets in my big, black (unfortunately not magical) bag. Today I notice that the bottom is the bed is falling off but I have chosen to ignore it until a human visits again to sort it out. I then collect all my dirty laundry _ and I must that by the time I feel the need to actually do laundry there is a lot of it. I put it all in the big, black bag. I sit and breathe, again gathering the energy to start the trek. I then pack another bag, this one filled with french homework, postcards (hence you always getting post 5 days after my laundry day) and my trashy novel. I then close my door and lock it, pick up the big black bag (now wishing it was magical) and make my way down the 6 flights of stairs, across the courtyard and around the block… NO the laundromat is not there. I then get onto the metro, go 2 stops and change metros (who has to change lines in order to do laundry!?) and go another 2 stops. I then reach the fanciest part of town and walk through this area dragging the big, black bag (which was bought on some dodgy street in Jozi) while the other people who wonder these streets are dressed in head-to-toe designer labels and have people to drag their Louis Vuittons for them! I walk 2 blocks and reach the laundry.

At this point (to give Paris and the laundry trip some credit) I must mention that the setting of the laundromat is as french as one could get. It over looks a quaint square which today happens to have a fresh produce market going on in it. There are gorgeous cafes and the laundromat has old fashion magazines for one to read.

The first time I did laundry here I collected my coins for about a week before, but I have since learnt there is a “change giving” machine. I throw my load in and get out one of my many choices of activities. Every now and then someone runs in from the market with a bunch of raw veggies in one hand and gets change from the machine, today someone ran in with a piece of raw salmon in one hand a 20euro note in the other!

I feel like I am a regular n the laundromat now, I have worked out how everything works and today felt so proud of myself when someone struggled to ask me in french if i could speak English and explain to them what to do. I think the pride came from two tings: firstly, that they thought that I was french and secondly that I knew how to use the machines and this middle aged couple didn’t. I also got some (sick) satisfaction of hearing them struggle with the french and then answering in perfect English, although at the same time I wanted to say “take me with you to your English speaking land or at least out for an English speaking meal” but I restrained myself and once helped them went back to my activity of the moment.

After laundry I rewarded myself with a “tarte de pomme” from my favourite cafe which happens to be right there. I am not sure that successful laundry deserves a reward but at least its a good excuse.

Today I achieved new levels of making this city my home. I made an appointment (in French) and went for, what I thought was, an ordinary bikini wax. I arrived on time, I have found here, like their trains, their appointments or reservations are on time to the second so being late for an appointment like this, where my bikini area was at stake, would obviously not be a good idea. I thought I had better tread lightly (and on time) around the French lady with hot wax and in fact ran down Rue des Archieves to reach the salon on time. As I ran through the little wooden doors I noticed four policemen outside, their purpose? I had no idea. I walked in and in my “clearly learning French/ not actually from Paris” french I explained I had a reservation, the little french, perfectly manicured lady nodded and in broken English asked if I was English, I replied South African, she nodded (again) and led me upstairs. Looking at her I suddenly wished I had painted my nails or at least walked in slightly more stylishly and not huffing and puffing!

I must now point out that this experience of mine was a very risky thing, not just going up the stairs but first, trying out a new beauty salon and second having a bikini wax by someone who does not speak your language…at all! Does “petit” mean “petit” on or “petit” off and does “grande” mean “grande” left or not. I reasoned with myself and came to the conclusion that there was only one way to find out!

The little french, perfectly manicured lady then said something and I had no idea what she meant, she then left the room! “What do I do?” I thought remembering the policemen outside and decided the the best thing to do would be to wait for her to return instead of whipping off my pants and being arrested for what I wouldn’t even understand. She returned and said the same thing, this time making body movements (strange body movements have become a life saving communication device in this city of style) of taking off her pants. I cautiously removed mine. She pointed to the bed, I tip toed towards it and jumped up. Compared to the other women, Parisian women, I am sure that my African ass was more than the bed, or the little french, perfectly manicured lady expected but never the less.

I sat there and then I saw it… the hot, bubbling wax. Who waxes with actual boiling wax? Luckily my massive eyes seem to be a universal signal of worry and she asked in a completely calm manner, “tres chaud?” I quickly replied, “Oui”. She left the room. I briefly thought of the police, who from the window, I could see still outside. She came back in (thank heavens), with no police but rather a new pot of unbubbling wax. I must admit the sight of the wax seemed to relax me, I think it must have been the colour. It was the most gorgeous pink I had ever seen and not just in bikini wax terms but in a very pretty baby pink, on your cupcakes kind of colour and even though my cupcake was the only place it was going, it was very pretty. I think the relief also came from the fact that the texture looked vaguely like the type we have back at home, so at least I was certain that the broken french a nd strange body movements had gotten successfully through to the little, french, perfectly manicured lady that a bikini wax was indeed, what I wanted.

Next thing I knew she started to lather on the wax and rip viciously. She chatted away in french and whenever I got the chance I added, “ca va”… but she did more…and more and I said, “fini” she said, “ca va?” I said, “oui” (please heavens) and she said, “ca va” so I replied, “ca va” and we carried on like this while we both stared at my bikini line…

She then walked behind me, put the bed flat down, held my leg up and before I could say “non” or “fini” or any other word to possibly make her stop, she was applying cupcake coloured wax in places that I didn’t even know existed and put me in positions that i didn’t even know were possible.I have not only learnt to “gym” my verbs in France but had a complete education regarding the kinetics of the female body. She then asked me if I was learning french, I replied “oui” so she pointed at my “cupcake” and gave me the french word. I smiled and she smiled.

I left the salon relieved that I was still existing (even though parts of me felt as if they were missing), that the police were still standing there and that now I know, without exception, that the French do not accept anything from different countries, even if they use the word Brazilian they mean something completely different!

The place is called “Jean-Claude Biguine” which is a chain of beauty and hair salons all over the city. Two particular locations are:

72 Rue du Bac (phone: 0142225751)
29 Rue des Francs Bourgeois (phone: 0142724233)

I have never been a fan of humiliation. I think it is silly, unnecessary and mean however in the past month of my life I have come to understand (and almost accept) that when learning a language … HUMILIATION is part of the deal, everyday, pretty much all day I am humiliated. Let me tell you, coming to Paris is fun, learning French isn’t.

Because I have progressed to A2 (used to be in A1) the classes have stepped up, instead of verb gymnastics we now do questions and answers. The teacher shoots a question and we are expected to answer … immediately … in front of a class full of strangers. Yes this ultimately results in utter humiliation. If by any chance I am lucky enough to understand the question my answer, no doubt, is completely wrong, my tenses are never right and my pronunciation is so bad that the responses I then get once I have answered are “il n’existe pas” or “je ne comprends pas” which is “this does not exist” or “I don’t understand”!

I have tried to combat the humiliation by preparing more thoroughly for my lessons. I know now that on Thursdays we are asked what we will do for Thursday late night shopping and late night museum openings and on Fridays we are asked what we will do over the weekend and on Mondays asked what we did over the weekends. Either on Tuesdays or Wednesdays she will ask what we did in the afternoon before or what we will do in the afternoon coming up. I know you thinking at least I have worked these out and I have and as part of the nonhumilatation plan I have written all these questions out in all the possible forms
that they could be asked – its taken up nearly a whole book because each question has about 8 choices of actually how to ask it. I then prepare my answers, make sure my tenses are right and that I am actually “doing” a verb and not a noun. I then learn all my answers off my heart and on the way to class in the morning practice them on the metro. I get my coffee and sit in the same place (an unspoken rule) and await the humiliation or perhaps nonhumilation this time (here is hoping) now that I have practised.
But no, I am humiliated once again, either she asks the question in the one way I don’t know or I answer and my pronunciation is so bad I get the “it’s not possible” or “it doesn’t exist” response. So, now when I wake up in the morning, I get dressed and go school and all I do is prepare for the feeling of humiliation and, to be quite honest, feel absolutely terrified!

There is nothing open in Paris on a Sunday, if one looks for a supermarket or even a Tabac, you will not find one open passed 1 o’clock. However one shop is open on a Sunday afternoon and that is WHSmith, the English book store. I love it! I am not sure what attracts me to it, whether it is the fact that the whole store is English and so walking in there I breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t have to concentrate when asking a question, or whether it is that there is so much to look at, I also think that it has become a place of comfort and the store is peaceful- it is 2 floors and has an old carpet, the walls are lined with big old wooden bookshelves which are jam-packed with things to read.

I usually enter right where the travel section is downstairs, I look over the Lonely Planet Guides and pick up a few – secretly planning trips in my mind to exotic places. I then move to the Paris section, where I look at every guide book that I do not already own, yes I own a few. I tell myself I don’t need anymore, that they all say the same thing and provide the same map – I think that deep down I am actually looking for a book that doesn’t exist, something with the title of “Friends in Paris: a list of friends that you little one, will love” or “Shopping for the poor South African: shops that you can afford and that will make you look super cool” but so far I have not found any with those titles and a certain human has said that I will not benefit from yet another Paris tour guide, I know that that the human is right so I move on. I then walk up the creaky old staircase and into the stationery section. Why do I get such pleasure out of looking at cards and stationery I don’t know, but I look for ages at the different pens and notebooks and then move through to the next room which is children’s books, allowing you to escape to a fantasy world. The next room in this shop holds the fashion books and we all know I can spend hours there, I gently page through the massive hard cover books, admiring the dresses and the photos. Around the corner, through the philosophy section (I give that a skip), is the language room and it is in here where I sit down. I put my bag down, cross my legs and stare blankly at the shelves covered with “learning French” books. Again the same Human says that I could not possibly need another book but I still look, “making verbs easier”, “learn french in 15 minutes a day” or “your guide to the language” all jump out at me but there is still not the one I’m looking for. It’s a bit like the Paris guide, there is no book thats title is “Speak french immediately little one”! I pick up my things and go downstairs again.

I then do the dreaded and enter the magazine room where every magazine is stacked neatly on the shelves, I stand there and look, then, much to my parents’ dismay, I pick up a trashy magazine, such as US Weekly, Heat or Hello and read them… why does this give me such joy?
But today was different .. .today I had a moment of genius and read the equivalent of Heat in French. Well started to and I did understand a bit. I have realised that, YES I can finally be back in touch with celeb gossip by only spending 1 Euro a week and I add all sorts of interesting words (some good, some bad) to my vocab. My reading is slow but in a way this is a good thing. Now it will take me a week to read one magazine which means that just as I finish there will be a new one out which ultimately means, I could read this trashy magazine continuously.
Suddenly, as I write this, I am not sure that this is such a good idea and whether I can in fact call this moment genius. I suppose at least I will stop getting the beady eye from the French shop keeper at WH Smith.

Bonjour little one! I read this article in the NY Times today: ‘Affordable Europe: Paris’ and, as a fellow student bounded by exchange rates, I thought of you. It has some great tips like where to shop, where to eat, free wine tastings etc. but my favorite has to be the free tango lessons along the Seine (could only be in Paris!)

Obtaining free things is somewhat of an art: it takes skill, charm, and curiosity. I could probably put together a whole (albeit not wholesome) meal from free samples around NY: starting off with trusty Gourmet Garage and their olive samples, then moving down the aisle to the cheese section for tasty square of jarlsberg, and finally complimenting the savory with a Tasti D-lite mini cup sample of the ‘flavor of the day’ across the road. Oh, and when on 5th Ave I can’t resist the free Lindt balls from the Lindt shop. Yummmo.

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