I had never been so cold in my life. A friend had checked-in on me, in the dead of winter, and asked how I was dealing with it. Technically it was not much different than I had experienced in Northern California; other than the snow flurries, but I was relieved when she admitted that Paris cold gets into your bones. It’s a concrete city and as a result, I spent the winter defrosting frost bitten appendages wishing for warmth.
Now fully entrenched in summer; I long for the days where I put layer over layer, and pilled each blanket in the house on top of me in bed. I still laugh; silently, when people dreamily say, you must be loving the Winter, the Spring, the Summer in Paris! I finally learned the lesson my parents said regarding leaving the east coast for California. It really has the best weather.
The tropical drinks that I find to be so odd here, seem to make sense suddenly. The humidity and heat make you feel like you’re on a tropical island. The only difference of course is that it can hail in the morning, and then be 90 degrees in the afternoon. Seriously. It really is the most unusual weather. The forecast is always wrong and we have broken several records with heat already this year. But I did find The Paris-Plages where they set up fake beaches including sand and pools along the seine and other canals to help ease the weekly heat waves.
Because it has always been a cooler climate in Paris, and very old, there is no air conditioning, making restaurants with advertising “climatisé” more popular. Of course, café life is fine with a cocktail lacking in Ice and encouraging you to partake in the refreshing varieties of cool Rose wines. Another reason I visit Starbucks. None the less the summer has arrived and finally the sun has begun to set at the reasonable hour of 9:45pm. Sadly the peak of the heat is about 6pm, so it makes for a long day.
Summer is noticeable in Paris for two reasons. One is that Parisians begin to take holiday and I suffer a lack of government assistance. The other is that people are fat. It is close to impossible to be terribly overweight here. There is a lack of escalators in the metro stations, and if they have them, half the time they do not work. You walk far more than in any other place on earth since the city is set up in a spiral making the distance double to get to the opposite corner of the street. So, who you ask is suddenly in the streets and over weight? Tourists.
Since I am trying to adapt to my new country, I join in with the masses of haters, speaking badly about their shorts and t-shirts. How could they wear flip flops in public Jon? I stand firm to my principles and walk into the blazing heat wearing my Parisian Black uniform, trying to be a modern African Bedouin navigating the fashion desert.
Another wave of friends come to visit and I work on my google doc spread sheet that now is emailed easily to each curious traveler, with details of tips and secret spots. The process of setting up a web page and starting to market tours is looming over me. But I am still trying to find out how to become an auto-entrepreneur which is basically a certificate that means you can be an independent contractor….I think!
Applications for jobs have started to be filled out, and I wait to see if they ask me for something I don’t have before I assume I cannot work for them. I seem to have a small 5-7 hour a week job that I will be trained for soon. It will be entirely online at my discretion. But after the last few work adventures, I am not holding my breath.
The first was a scam of some sorts off Craigslist, witch I heard is not an acceptable place to search for jobs here. I learned that after my bank information was requested to speed up my payments for work done. I was also offered double the listed income if I was to do special event bartending in lingerie. They obviously are not picky. The latest seems to be the most lucrative but limited and most interesting to share.
Again, it is scam of sorts, but more toward the store in question and the idiots willing to pay for overpriced luxury items. If you have been to any large city in the US and walked thru the most expensive spots for shopping you undoubtedly passed hordes of Asians with bags from each of the high-end shops nearby. How they have the money for the real thing, when they come from the country’s most popular for knock offs is beyond me. The demand for luxury items in Paris is a big one.
Hermes has a policy of only selling 2 Birkin bags to any one individual in a year and they are relatively hard to get. In Paris, of course there is far more bags available then elsewhere in the world. All sales are entered in the computer that is shared worldwide to prevent you from purchasing more than your allotted number.
The bags are generally around 10 grand, but are selling at auction for more. A record breaking $379,261 dollars Birkin was sold this year. Price demands on a variety of things including size and color and, metal, demand and so forth. So here is the nitty gritty on how it works. They hire people like me. Americans are usually the preferred buyer, the sales people are fairly tired of the Asians buyers, and the cultural differences make for a tough experience for the sales staff. The Third party online store has many agents/handlers that recruit. I am selected. I have an interview at a hotel lobby close to the Hermes flagship store. After verifying that I can pass for someone purchasing a high-end bag, they provide me with the facts of the job.
I am to call the day before I will go to get a bag. They will then give me the name and contact number for the other poor immigrant that is not considered passing for an actual buyer. This person lines up at 3am at the front door and waits till about 8:30 at which time, I am to relieve them. This comes 30 minutes before the store security begins to monitor the line. At 10:30 am the doors open and we are escorted into the leather department to give your phone number and passport to the clerk.
After your information is taken, your excused and wait for a text regarding your appointment time. No bags are sold without an appointment. Your time can change according to the flow of buyers. You can be notified within 20 minutes if your time is early or be extended 2 hours if earlier buys are taking their time.
You meet you Handler 30 minutes before your appointment and are given the prepaid credit card and return to deliver the bag in exchange for a cash commission. Seems easy, right? You can only do this 2 times, so it is not a job for longevity but it really helps when repairs are needed on your home in California and your American taxes are almost ready. Not to mention Im too old for the 27 Club so in theory all should be fine.
I contact my handler, I am going to give it a short. Worst thing that happens, I don’t get a bag I go to jail, I am deported after a series of bad prison experiences and maybe water boarding. No problem, right? I am given Adeel’s information. His number his photo, I got to bed early knowing that arrival in the city early is a challenge with a husband that comes home sounding like a gorilla in the middle of the night.
I arrive early and decide line would be better with coffee and text my partner to generously offer to buy him a cup as well. No answer. I get to the store, I scan the two lines, one at each entrance and do not see my guy. I promptly join the line and text him and my handler. After a few hours, I am joined by another girl who is told that she needs to pay for the spot she has taken in line thinking the man selling her the spot is her line holder.
She seems to have the same guy as me and he is a no show. We count. We are 29 and 30. 40-50 appointments are given each day. We still have a shot. We make it inside and 5 people from the appointment counter we are turned away. No appointments left. The handler assures me he will not be invited to work with them again and urges me to try again.
This day gets worse after I suffer a slight panic attack when I receive an email appointment from the government telling me that I could have another document for life in France if I didn’t work another year. I am not sure if this is because the people that took my visa extension application actually gave me a different form than I needed, but I call Claude crying. He consults an investor in his restaurant who is a lawyer and assures me, I am not to worry, that my visa will not be necessary with my residency approved.
Shortly after my breakdown, which didn’t last too long thankfully, I received a call from Mairie de Maisons Alfort. The Prefecture contacted them and wanted a copy of my certificate de naissance. Happily, I had exactly what they wanted and was delighted that my application was not lost and went first thing Monday to deliver the proof that I was born. I had already spent a very productive week having it translated and approved by two different agencies with serval different stamps, making my French birth certificate legal for use.
As the token American, of Maisons Alfort, I was waved into the office while another person was filling out paperwork. I proudly presented the document like a refrigerator ready finger painting. Without much more than a formal greeting, they smiled recalling the message they had left the previous Friday, and sent me off after scanning it into the computer. The entire office is aware of my situation after 3 months of weekly visits. I wait again for news, knowing it can’t be long now, can it?
Of course, the moment I start to get somewhere, travel comes up. With Claude’s uncle refusing further treatment, the cancer threatens to take him sooner than hoped for. Claude could negotiate a week off from work to go and say goodbye. I look forward to his being there to translate more and for me to see the parts of the family that he has more relationships with than his mother.
I assume the moment we depart for the overnight bus, I will get a text that my ID is ready postponing on the next steps, but I’m trying to stay positive. With the trip rapidly approaching we were able to get another appointment for the Bank, and hopefully the 3rd time is the charm and I’ll be added. This is a very important step for me. It will allow me to apply for Social security.
Social Security here is also medical. With this, I will be covered for doctor visits, I can get new glasses that are daily becoming an issue and I can cancel my overseas insurance. Like the ID card that was supposed to take 10 days and is at the 3-month mark. I have been assured that the 2 months to process social security will surely take longer as a friend told me she waited a year. Of course, she is newly married and form a different country than me, so who knows. I do know that not just the French language is filled with “exceptions”. It seems to be a tag line for France in general.
I finished another good book i brought from the states titled: A year in Provence by Peter Mayle. It was made into a TV series although i have not seen, it also spurred off a couple sequels’. Like me, the book details the first year of life in France for a couple that moved form another country. I finish the book realizing the education in all things French is not just my journey.
The oddities, the exceptions and the customs are an educational adventure only understood after experiencing them. I know my writing of them helps some to understand the struggles, but for me to read another similar ones and laugh at the same absurd issues was a relief.
The author never left his adopted country and I don’t know what my future holds other than my weekly visits to government agencies. I know that the opportunity to learn and grow can come at any age and even when I was 27, and thought that I was on top of the world. Like Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, and more…Reality set in and I survived to see how stupid I really was, and sometimes still am. I mean, who else buys Birkin Bags after serving cocktails in french lingerie?