mardi, mars 22, 2005

Go fuck yourself, Monsieur whoever you are

It used to be that the French had Minitel. This was a cute little home computer thing that had the yellow pages electronically tagged, so that instead of spending a minute or two leafing through a fat yellow book for a phone number, you turned your little machine on (it was littlish, but it took up a lot of space and wasn't quite as eye-catching as, say, a raspberry-coloured Apple Mac), spent five minutes waiting for it to warm up and then another three slowly typing in what you were looking for, and then six more waiting for it to come up with some possibilities, from which you were then obliged to choose. It wasn't fantastically efficient, but it was quite fashion-forward, in technology terms. The rest of the world gave it a miss, for obvious reasons, whilst America busily came up with the internet, which was eventually to offer us all rather more than the yellow pages online.

Since they had Minitel, the French took an age and a half to take to the internet. They'd all had to spend months learning how to use their little sub-computer things and they weren't about to be unpatriotic and let their little technological invention be usurped by something that had been invented in the US. There was a lag of quite remarkable length when if you wanted to write to someone in France you actually had to buy an envelope and stamps. Charming but irritating, and very bad for business. Apparently some French businesses are still struggling to recover.

But the interesting thing is that I've noticed that the French have become quite early-adopters, since their original and drastic brush with advanced technology. Coming from London, I was surprised to see how many people have GPS in their cars - definitely not fitted as standard in London, even in taxis. The French are quite crazy about their Home Cinemas, plasma TVs, iPods, digital whatsits.

But the thing that really gets me here, an American import that the French have clearly made their own, is the telemarketing. These so-called human beings invariably call between 6 and 8pm, the witching hour for parents trying to combine homework supervision with some dinner regime and optimistic attempts to finish bathtime before it's officially bedtime. Get anything wrong in those 120 minutes and you've got kids eating sausages in bed, or wearing pyjamas in the bath.

Almost every evening I get a phone call: "Madame V.? Bonsoir. Bienvenue a Maisons Laffitte." They don't stop to take a breath, these guys, they have been on training courses that make the leaders on Alpha courses look like kindergarden teachers. They know everything about you and they are not ashamed to lie to cover up the lapses in their knowledge. I've had people wanting to know my husband's tax regime, the names of my children, the date of my next holiday, the date of my next period, the password on my bank account.

Are there people out there who actually answer these questions? How do these people know so much about us anyway? The one who wanted to know my husband's tax status knew that we had recently arrived from London, knew my husband's profession - he claimed, untruthfully as I later discovered, and I suppose in an attempt to get me to tell him things that he had absolutely no right to know, that he was a business contact of my husband and had recently caught up with him at a drinks party. He probably knew more about my husband's tax status than my husband does. In fact now I come to think of it we should have asked him. He might have been able to explain.

The thing is, I can't say what I'd like to say to them. "I'm trying to feed my children and get them to bed and you are a nosy git and I don't want to buy whatever it is you are trying to sell me. Will you just fuck off and leave me alone?"

lundi, mars 21, 2005

I love Paris in the springtime (yes, I have to admit it)

Everyone's noticed already. It's spring. Strangely it was the deepest winter barely a week ago - ten centimetres of snow falling in as many minutes, if I remember correctly. And now the daisies are strewn so think along the banks of the Seine outside our house that it looks almost as though the freak snowfall has yet to melt.

In celebration of spring I made a fantastic dinner on Friday night, chilled almond soup, followed by lamb stuffed with saffron rice. It was like a pagan spring feast (and if you recall the soreness of the thumb, it was quite an achievement, all that cooking, and all one-handed).

And as though to celebrate - though obviously it's really just a coincidence - Raphael learned to ride a bicycle yesterday. With the kind of enthusiasm that I can barely muster up for a really remarkable wine or scrambled eggs with truffles, he literally couldn't stop pedalling once he'd figured it out. We had a picnic by the river today, and he wouldn't stop pedalling to eat. All the grownups sat on a hillock, the little ones wandered around aimlessly, the older ones climbed trees and attacked hidden aliens under rocks, and Raphael just carried on pedalling. He must have cycled about 20 miles, round and round the same hillock, for 3 hours. It probably isn't such a big deal, really, learning to ride a bike when you're nearly six. But there is an almost matchless joy to be had in watching the face of a small child on a two wheel bicycle, jaws clenched in concentration.

samedi, mars 19, 2005

I'll have three types of medication, go easy on the sore thumb jokes, please

For nearly two weeks now I've had a sore thumb. A sore thumb is annoying, but not, at least at first, apparently life-threatening. When I was in London last week I showed my mother, who expressed appropriately maternal concern and made me promise to go to the doctor the minute I got back to Maisons Laffitte. I murmured assent in the practiced tones of the experienced Daughter of A Jewish Mother and did nothing when I got home.

A week later the thumb was still sore. If anything, getting worse. Really quite painful indeed, and the thing about thumbs, about hands in general, is that you use them a lot. I discovered that almost everything I do involves using my thumb. It got to the point that even going to bed was painful, because it involved using my thumb in some way. My thumb and its soreness were waking me up out of the alcoholic stupor it was necessary for me to fall into in order to get me to sleep in the first place. I actually found myself wondering if amputating my thumb would at least lessen the pain.

I finally was forced to acknowledge that a visit to the doctor was in order.

Why should a visit to a french doctor be such an alarming prospect? Along with cliches regarding the unimpeachable quality of its bread and cheese (all true, as far as I can tell), one of the oft-repeated things about France is that its health service is the best in the world, according to the WHO. Why should a visit to the best doctor in the world be such an alarming prospect?

The thing is that the French healthcare system may be the best in the world, but it is also the most over-medicalised. The joke is that you never get prescribed fewer than three things when you go to the doctor here. Illnesses - like colds or flu - which routinely get you ejected from an English GP's surgery with a cry of 'hot water and lemon and paracetemol and lots of rest!' will in France get you prescribed two different kinds of antibiotic, oral and anal suppository. So I guess I was thinking that since I don't want to be prescribed a phd's worth of medication, there wasn't much point in going in the first place.

This would have been true had I had the flu, I suppose. My septic thumb just wasn't going to be appeased by hot water and lemon. Like a child, it was just going to get angrier and angrier until I took notice of it. By which time it was too late. What had been an infection was now an abcess, causing me pain the like of which I really haven't experienced in quite a while. Details you don't need, or want. Let's just say it isn't pretty.

My husband called out the emergency doctor. He wasn't, how shall we say, particularly sympathetic. 'Of course it hurts. And it will hurt a lot more before it starts to get better. If you had gone to see the doctor when it started it would have been much easier to treat.' Then he asked, 'Where are you from originally?'. When I told him I was English his eyebrow lifted, just a little. I couldn't really think of anything to say.