Do not passe go, do not collect $200.

16 01 2010

Yes, I spelled “pass” wrong.  Yes, it’s a bad pun.  And now for the reason for the play on words:

This post is about a little something called the “passe éducation“, which is a card that allows all teachers in France to enter many museums and national monuments, free of charge.

This pass has been a thorn in my side ever since I arrived.  At orientation, they recommended this card to us.  My other assistant friends got the card without any problems.  But in France, nothing seems to work the same way for everyone.  Yes, we all need the same paperwork.  But somehow, everyone ends up with a different set of problems in getting the paperwork done.

I have had to fight a great deal to get this card…the story begins in October.  All of the below conversations are in French, by the way.

First, I asked the conseillère pédagogique at my school, the contact lady who arranged my schedule and so forth.  She said that the school doesn’t have the means to make the card; they used to, but not anymore.  The inspector of the school (kind of like a director?) was also there, and he agreed.  He said that he could just write me an attestation to show that I teach there, but I told them that the reason I wanted the card was so I could experience French culture by going to museums more often, and the card could get me in for free.  They both said that a simple attestation wouldn’t work, that I needed the card, but then the conseillère pédagogique said that since I was under 25, I could go to museums for free anyway.  I was surprised that she didn’t know that this rule only applies to European citizens, which I am obviously not.  When I insisted, she recommended that I ask at the inspection, which I guess is the equivalent to the county school board or office.

This took longer than it should have because, I admit it, I procrastinated.  I thought, why is this so difficult?  This is something the school should do for me quite easily and quickly.  Peter’s school had a bunch of these cards, and just stuck his picture under the flap of the plastic on the card, stamped it, sealed the plastic, and he was good to go.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy.  But noooo.  Not my school.

So after a while, around about the end of November, I asked the teachers at my school where they got their cards.  They said they got them from the school principal, le directeur.  When I asked him, he said, “I am not sure you have the right to have one of these cards.”  What?  “But all of the other assistants I know have one,” I told him.  He immediately applied the French method of dealing with problems and said, “Well, it’s not my problem.  Besides, I can’t help you because we don’t even have the materials here for the card.  Go ask the conseillère pédagogique.”  I had already asked her.

So I tried asking the directrice at my other school.  She said, “I am not sure you have the right to have one of those cards.”  What?  Again??  Same reaction???  So frustrating!!!  Then the holidays came, I procrastinated more, and now it’s January.  Last Friday, I finally wrote an email to my sole contact at the inspection and asked her about the passe.  She did absolutely nothing.

So finally, on the Friday after I sent my mail, I called her phone number.  She answered, I introduced myself and my question, and she acknowledged having received my email.  She said, “Honestly, I have no idea what passe you’re talking about.  You said we mentioned it at orientation, but it wasn’t me.  That must have been Mme So-and-so.  I can transfer you to her.”  So I thanked her and waited, listening to the phone ring and ring for about a minute.  No answer.  Then, silence on the line.

The transfer didn’t work.  Starting to get even more frustrated, I waited a minute and tried to figure out what to do.  I called back, saying, “Sorry to bother you again, but the transfer didn’t work.”  She said, “Oh, you wanted me to transfer you?”  (Um, yeaaaaah, isn’t that what you asked me?)  “I didn’t know that’s what you wanted me to do.”  I said, “Well, if you could give me her direct number, that might be better.”

So she did.  I called that number for Mme So-and-so.  She said, “Yes, I’m with someone, can you call back in about 5 minutes?”  Sure.  Hang up.  Wait.  5 minutes later, I call back and there is no answer and no voice mail.  Fabulous.  10 minutes after that, I call back, finally get an answer, and explain my situation:  I’m an assistant, I’m looking for a card.  Guess what she said?

That’s right:  “I’m not sure you have the right to have one of those cards.” At this point, I am so sick of that reaction.  I retorted, “But I know a lot of other assistants, and they all have this card.  Even so, if I don’t have the right, could you at least make an exception for me?  Especially since all the other assistants have one…”

She replied, “I will find out and call you back.”  She took down my number and I prepared myself for the wait.  Luckily, she called back within the hour.  She then made it sound like she was doing me a big favor, saying that she “fought” for me and insisted that I was a good teacher and they’re happy with my work, and she convinced the higher-ups to give me a card.  She said they will send it directly to my school, and I could get it from them.  I thanked her, and she said, “But don’t tell any other assistants about this!  Otherwise, they’ll all bother me with this.”  While saying the words, “Thank you, I promise I won’t tell, thank you, blah blah” I was really thinking, “Yeah, right, it doesn’t even matter because all of the assistants have this card anyway, and it wouldn’t even make a difference.”

But anyway, that’s at least some progress toward getting my card, right?  Hopefully they will send it to the school as soon as possible, and I’ll be able to get it this next week.  That would be so lovely.  It would also be great if the secretary could do it for me so I don’t have to deal with talking to the principal, which is always kind of stressful.  My hopes aren’t set too high yet, though.  Not until I have the card in my hand – with my pretty picture inside and stamped with the school’s seal.

T. suggested that when I get my card, the first thing I should do is to go into the closest museum, go straight to the museum café, and treat myself to a glass of champagne.  I think he’s onto something….  It really will be something to celebrate.  For now, I’ll continue to wait.  I hope I get it, though.  I think I will like living in France a whole lot more if I can just go take advantage of all it has to offer.


Packing is always harder than you think.

16 09 2009

I shouldn’t have said anything about packing being “easy” in my last post.  Boy, was I delusional!

I tried to pack my big suitcase and couldn’t get it shut.  That’s a problem, considering I had packed no jeans, underwear, socks or toiletries.

Time for some major downsizing.

Besides, I don’t need ALL that stuff.  I’m going to have to unpack my suitcases and separate the things I really LOVE from the things that I like and wanted to bring with me.  That’s always hard to do.  That means I have too much stuff.  But hey, I’ve got two things against me: 1) I am an American, and 2) I am a woman.  But I am also one who will prevail over this packing dilemma.

Before I sign off, here is a helpful packing tip for using bubble wrap.  I looked this up today, as I had always wondered about this:

Fragile items + bubble wrap:  Bubble wrap should be used with the bubble side directly against the object you’re wrapping.  That way, any impact is distributed among several bubbles at a time, and the object has a better chance of surviving.  (Yes, I’m still planning on taking those picture frames…even if it means I take less clothes!*)

*and therefore have to buy more clothes in France!

I’ve also always wondered about which side of aluminum foil to use for which purpose.  Anyone know the answer?

Packing might not be as hard as I thought.

15 09 2009

Packing: fold, roll, repeat.

I finally started packing today.  I began with my small suitcase and filled it with shoes.  Two pairs of boots, two pairs of high heels. I was going to put my sneakers, Birkenstock sandals and flats in, but then decided against putting all shoes in one suitcase.  (Obviously, I am a girl.  Guys never bring that many shoes.  How many did you pack, Peter?)

Next, I began taking clothes out of my closet and off of their hangers.  I rolled them one by one and shoved them between the shoes to fill up empty spaces.

I also added some teaching materials (empty cardboard food boxes and some cutouts of the Capitol Building and the Statue of Liberty), and filled the main compartment to the brim with clothes.

the smaller suitcase

The smaller suitcase. I laid a book on top that I plan to re-read on the plane. (They gave this book to us as required reading when I studied abroad with Sweet Briar.)

Wait…what’s its weight?

A mere 26 pounds.  With a 50 pounds allowance per bag, it sounds like I could put those extra shoes in there after all…

I don’t have a whole lot more to bring.  Once I pack the larger suitcase, perhaps it will be too heavy and I’ll have to redistribute the weight between the two.   Laundry is still in progress, but I really don’t have all that much more to add.

Banking on banking

On the preparation front, I called my bank to let them know I’d be out of the country.  I certainly don’t want them to think my card was stolen and have them freeze my account!  So when I called, they said they could only put in my stay for 3 months at a time, and gave me a phone number for me to call back after December 18th to inform them I am still out of the country.  How stupid!  That means I will have to call back 2 more times when I’m in France.  At least the phone number they gave me was “collect”, or so the representative said…  Why change your policies, Bank of America?  You didn’t give me this annoyance last time!

The French love their copies.

I also decided to scan in some documents – the important stuff, just in case.  I read somewhere that it’s helpful to have a few copies of important documents on hand for various applications and paperwork.  I made one of the front and back of my debit card (to have the account number and phone numbers just in case it gets lost or stolen).  I made a copy of my visa and my birth certificate, just for my records.  I already had a copy of my passport identification page.  Probably also a good idea to print a copy of these for my family when I leave, so they have these too.

Tomorrow brings a dentist appointment for a recent filling that popped right out when I flossed, and then to finalize packing and take a little trip to visit my best friend from college one last time.  More on this tomorrow!


Visa application, phase 2

14 09 2009

I received my letter in the mail a few weeks ago.

I didn’t do anything with it because of a wonderful 2.5 week vacation with a very special visit from my German lover.  Though he has moved his work base back to Germany, he has kept (and offered me) his Paris apartment in which to stay.  T will be coming to visit me there again for 10 days in October, for my birthday.  I’m very much looking forward to that.  It made saying goodbye to him yesterday just a little bit easier.

So back to the visa stuff.  This morning, I took my letter to the embassy, turned it in with my passport and waited.  About 15 minutes later, they called me back to return my passport with its newly affixed visa, explaining that I must also mail in the OFII form within 2 months or else my stay will become illegal even with the visa.  Otherwise, all systems go – my stay is good until July 14th, or Bastille Day.  (Guess that means I either miss the festivities, or I must fly out late that night!  Of course…depending on what I do next…not sure what my future plans are for after France.)

4 days and counting.

I leave on Friday with Peter.  We fly through Dublin on Aer Lingus and arrive in Paris CDG this Saturday, September 19.  (Just in time to take advantage of the second Journée de Patrimoine on Sunday, despite jet-lag.)

There is still quite a bit to do before I leave.  I don’t have the energy tonight, but I will start packing tomorrow and narrowing down exactly what I’ll be taking with me.

Speaking of that Paris apartment, I am looking forward to living there again.  Paris, but this particular apartment too.  It has nice memories with T from my stay in September, and it will be nice to be living in a place in which I am already somewhat familiar with the quartier (neighborhood).

Signing off for now, but I’ll be back tomorrow!


Protected: France, here I come.

14 04 2009

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About the silence…

15 02 2009

I wasn’t meant to be a writer. Inspiration is hard to find these days.

Work, work, work…

Can we say busy? Survived inauguration. And Valentine’s.

Next big one is…restaurant week, which is next week (February 16-22nd). And then March and April for the cherry blossom festival. I’ve already been reading up on the festival for the past few weeks, so that I may be more prepared when the time comes.

But that’s enough about work. I’m off today and tomorrow. No need to think about it. I don’t want to.

Another episode of “The Paris Process”

I can’t believe I didn’t write about this before, because it was a decisive step in my plans to move abroad: I sent in my application to be an English assistant in France.

I ended up choosing Paris région or Strasbourg as my geographical preferences. Won’t hear anything back from the embassy until at least the end of May. But hey! That puts me one major step closer to Europe!

Did I mention that I almost moved to DC?

Just a few weeks ago, I was in the thick of an all-out apartment search. I wanted to move to DC, to decrease my commute, to gain a little more independence and be able to more fully appreciate DC and experience what it has to offer. After my good friend and would-be roommate changed his mind about moving downtown in favor of staying home and saving money, I looked at a couple of places for myself.

I found the perfect place; a studio sublet for 6 months while the owner was away for an internship. $900/month, sunny, beautiful apartment. And I almost took it.

But then everyone in my life (literally everyone) started telling me it didn’t make sense for me to do that. That it would be better to stay at home, pay no rent, and save up that $900+ a month. It will put me in a much better place when I have to move overseas. It will make it much easier.

So I took their advice. And, while I was initially a tad disappointed, I feel I have made the right choice. Not only am I saving a ton of money, but I can also spend some now on fun things. Like buying myself a new pair of Levi’s, a.k.a. the most expensive jeans I’ve ever bought for myself.



19 11 2008

networking /ˈnɛtˌwɜrkɪŋ/

Plug in to your social network!

Plug in to your social network!


1.       A supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.

(definition from

Networking really WORKS.

It’s a powerful tool.  It’s a way of opening doors you never even knew existed.

Some of the best things in life are a result of networking: new job offers, travel opportunities, cars, even friendships.  It’s all about interaction with people.  It’s about keeping the lines of communication open and moving, passing on information from person to person.

Chances are, when you make the effort to do so, you’ll end up reaping the benefits.  Someone is bound to know something that you didn’t know before.  That someone could have a connection with a person who could set you up with a job/recommendation/car/restaurant/apartment/roommate/whatever-else-you-may-be-searching-for.

Traveling abroad?

When you’re going to a new country, it can be extremely difficult to find your way in.  Especially if you aren’t familiar with the language or the culture!  If you have never lived in that city before, finding people who are familiar with it makes the whole experience so much better.  It reduces culture shock, and perhaps you can even build new friendships this way.

Networking has been invaluable for me as I continue on my path to France.  While I was in Paris this September, I schmoozed with professionals and expatriates, both young and old.  I learned bits and pieces of interesting information and gathered quite a bit of advice.  I’ve also met some really incredible people along the way!

The great thing is, you don’t have to wait until you get there to start making connections.  Your  networking can start right at home through the wonderful world-wide web.  ( Internetworking ? )  There are plenty of expatriate resources and tips for living overseas that are just at your fingertips – try a Google search on your destination!

Perhaps you could also find some people nearby who are interested in the same things.  For example, I’ve got a handful of friends who are also applying for the 2009-2010 assistance, and it has been nice to share my thoughts with them, posing and answering questions about forms, formalities and other important business.  It’s been a real help.  I’ve also recently had some job opportunities spring up thanks to the recommendation of a friend and a business idea of a former teacher.  There is no telling whether or not these opportunities will pan out, but it is certainly worth a try!

A learning experience

Networking is also about learning from the successes and failures of other people.  “Oh, are you thinking about coming to France?  Make sure you don’t do what I did…do this instead…” etc.

A lot of times, you’ll find that you just happen to be in the right place at the right time.  The more you connect with people and exchange ideas and information, the more opportunities will come.  This does not mean that all of them will work out.  However, it does provide a whole lot more to choose from!

That is why I talk about these Paris plans of mine with everyone, in the hopes that I may create another connection with someone who may be able to give advice.

So, just to sum up…here are the benefits to successful social networking:

  • Sharing of resources
  • Sharing of advice
  • Sharing of personal experience – learn from others’ mistakes and successes
  • Encouragement – pressing on, knowing that you’re never alone
  • New opportunities – expanding horizons, opening up doors
  • Learning more about others and yourself

In the spirit of good networking, I have added a new page on the right.

This is for anyone who may also be interested in moving to France.  I am compiling a list of resources that have been particularly useful in my own search for answers.  Please feel free to comment there and let me know if you have any other helpful tips or interesting links that I could add to my répertoire.  I hope you’ll find something there to help you, too!


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