Smiling and nodding

It’s a balmy 72 degrees out tonight, with a lazy breeze cooling burnt shoulders and ruffling sundresses on everyone walking by my windows, zonked out after a day wandering around in sun this city hasn’t seen since early May. I’ve just returned home after a day stint at The Shipyard, a shift full of the requisite tiring customers and endless chitchat, although with “A Sunday Kind of Love” crackling over my speakers, and cold homebrewed beers in the fridge, it all seems a bit farther away now.

And even though I’ll be back at The Shipyard bright and early for a morning shift in just a few hours, it’s hard not to breathe an indulgent sigh of relief at all the tattooed and painfully hip smokers on their porches, swinging in hammocks, reveling in a summery Tuesday evening free of responsibility.

Things have settled into a sluggish pace at the aforementioned grocery joint. Characteristic of the months between May and September, the city’s college-aged inhabitants flock to their respective hometowns and the city’s locals flock to the beach, leaving us to explain why all of our blueberries have seem to have molded or why those organic cashews have disappeared to a very specific subset of individuals.

The strange ones.

One morning a few weeks ago, I was listlessly daydreaming on a register, the store empty with the exception of a handful of early bird regulars nattering on about their commute, their work schedules, their digestive problems. My eyes suddenly came back into focus, and fell upon a slow-moving elderly couple making their way to the dried fruit and nuts aisle a few feet away. The woman, a bleached blonde with neon blue eye shadow caked on her shriveled lids—and clearly the pants-wearer/proud owner of a driving license in the relationship—was dragging the cart and her shuffling husband behind her.

She came to a halt in front of the bagged almonds, where she proceeded to toss bags, one by one, into the carriage. Smack, smack, smack…smack…smack, smack…and suddenly I had glazed over and come back again and she was still throwing bags. The full-size cart was now ¾ full of our entire almond stock, and a small audience of crew members had assembled to watch, as her husband drooled and swayed a little next to her, as she cleaned out the entire shelf. I could sense my fellow coworkers on register praying she didn’t slam right up to them, forcing them to count out the number of salted, unsalted, 50% less salt, roasted and raw varieties. Who eats this many almonds? Can she still even eat almonds? we wondered, eyeing her ancient jawline.

She then proceeded to stack eight jumbo bags of Kettle Corn on top of the nuts and proceed to checkout. As I watched the cursed cashier ring her up, I absentmindedly reached down to scan a pear my next customer had put down, not realizing who that customer was. I looked up just as my hand sunk into a half-eaten, spit-slimed half-pear to see another regular, an “offbeat” woman who always ate all of her purchases before paying for them. “Oh,” she said, pear juice dripping out of her mouth and catching in her chin hairs, “I started on that.”

You don’t say.

La Maison is beginning to have the similar stench of a slow death that The Martini once had, all those stormy slow and sleazy weekends ago. If there’s one thing I learned while manning the host stand and swatting away drunk and handsy paralegals, it’s when to make a classy and timely exit and save yourself from the large-scale failure of the place, but this time around may be trickier. Slinging steak frites to seemingly not-so-bad people who tip criminally low is not my idea of a fulfilling way to pay my rent. On the other hand, salsa dancing with the cooks while the dishwasher claps along before the one dinner rush we ever get isn’t so bad. So, once again, I am emotionally involved. A serial dying-restaurant loyalist…not a good place to be.

While my quitting may not involve a Dunkin’ Donuts slushie and the police, it may just be imminent.

aaah, deez eez ze life, non?

The table of fifteen well-to-do French women all turned to look at me with cool, unblinking stares, the table strewn with empty wine glasses and crumpled napkins, remnants of a three and a half hour feast.

“We’d like to put this on 13 different cards,” one of them told me in clipped French, as she handed me the bill.

“Split thirteen ways?” I asked.

Non, split individually.”

My fellow servers and manager at La Maison are watching the exchange with pained looks on their faces. The table is the last in the restaurant, it is a Friday night, and we cannot complete any further side-work until the table has left.

A half hour later, with the help of Marc, my manager, the tab has been settled (two women have attempted to pay by check) and the wives of the French Consulate sail out into the night. As they kiss each other’s cheeks and wave manicured hands goodbye, I scramble to count out my cash once more and swipe forgotten spoons and forks and emptied bowls of chocolate mousse off the long table.

This, my long-abandoned readers, is where I have been.

Almost four months! Four months since I have been here, a fact that I’m shocked and ashamed to be typing. Four months is a nice chunk of time for a lot of things; a full semester of school, a “serious” teenage relationship, and according to Yahoo Answers, twice the lifespan of the coral reef pygmy gobi fish, to name a few. For me, it was just enough time get a little too familiar with midnight bus rides home from the Shipyard and midnight mopping sessions at La Maison.

Well, I’m back, bitches, and I apologize, from the very bottom of my customer-servicey heart.

Business at La Maison has been hit or miss lately, mostly due to the hit or miss Boston weathercasts that have been denying our fair city any sign of summer sunshine. A few weeks ago however, things were moving along quite nicely, and we were seeing a full house by 6:30 p.m. most weekends.

One such night, I had a full section, and was in a pleasantly stressful place, keeping up with my customers and staying focused. The kitchen was on fire that night, things were running somewhat smoothly, and I recognized a table of regulars being sat at my corner table. They’re nice enough folks, and good tippers, but the world’s slowest talkers, and by default, decision-makers, so I give my specials spiel nice and quick and flit off to bring a bottle of wine to another table.

When I return, my book open and my pen at the ready, the three of them look up at me like a trio of turtles and smile apologetically.

“Well, we just...can’t decide…on one thing,” the man in the group, a stunning Truman Capote sound-a-like, says.

I play along and help inch their decision on drinks and appetizers forward, when I happen to catch a glimpse of my left ring finger, clutching the bottom of my book. It’s covered in blood.

The table doesn’t seem to notice, and I quietly panic, unable to remember slicing myself in the last ten minutes. I take a mental stock of my clothes, apron and notepad; no blood. Now I am stuck at the table, my drink orders for other tables are piling up somewhere at the bar, and Capote and friends haven’t made a choice of wine yet.

After what seems like an eternity, they decide on a simple carafe of house red. I dash to the computers, slam in the order, and turn desperately to another server, Ivan. I examine the cut; a clean, deep gash running the length of the pad of my finger.

“Can you run my drinks for me real quick?” I ask. His face is intently focused on the screen and he doesn’t look up, occupied with his own tables.

“I can’t,” he replies. “I’m sorry, I’m really busy—”

“Ivan!” I say abruptly and hold up my finger, which is now throbbing.

“Oh my god! Go, go, go!” he says, eyes wide as he takes in the blood, shooing me toward the back. “I got the drinks!”

I rifle through the First Aid kit tacked on the wall; nothing. I search out my manager Louis, a suave Frenchman working the host stand at the front of the restaurant. I explain the situation and hold out my finger, at which point he gives a small giggle and leads me to the office by my bleeding digit, fake lunging at members of the staff on the way.

We soon discover that there is not one Band-Aid, or anything similar, in the entire establishment. Finally, one of the cooks, Jose, a four-foot South American with diamond studs in each of his ears, shouts, “I know! I got it!” before running downstairs to his locker. He resurfaces with a large roll of gauze.

Louis giggles again and begins attempting to wrap my finger in gauze in the stairwell, without any way to fasten it. I can practically feel my tables fidgeting on the other side of the kitchen doors. “Wait! I ‘ave it!” he says suddenly, leaving me holding the tiny piece of surgical wrapping in place. He returns with a roll of masking tape.

Two minutes later I am back on the floor, with a ridiculously bulbous ring finger as I continue to tend to my tables. A few diners eye it curiously, but no one comments.

When it’s all over, we make good money—enough to buy a brand-new box of Band-Aids, which never leaves the pocket of my purse.

From Ratatouille to the Rat Race

Alright boys and girls.

I sincerely apologize for the uncharacteristic period of silence. Counting both the sluggishness of my employment status and the resulting sluggishness on behalf of my brain, it’s a miracle I still know how to type—even though some claim I do even that incorrectly.

After hemorrhaging euros like it was my job during my four-month lark with the Frogs, it’s been an adrenaline, panic and naïvely hope-filled second month. I’ve wiggled my way out of a preposterous lease contract and am currently re-packing piles of things, which only came out of boxes less than 60 days ago, to move two blocks down. I have also returned to The Shipyard, and—cue cries of excitement—am now working the midnight shifts as opposed to the sleepy, quiet morning ones I had become accustomed to. It’s rush hour in exotic grocery land, and in that special window of the few hours for the 9 to 5 crowd, claws come out and words are not minced for anyone. Lastly, I am entering employment with a new French restaurant across the street from my new humble abode, La Maison, where I will be required to parler français with the homesick expats and experimenting university kids from down the street whilst serving up moules frites and steak tartare.

So, in less than a full month, I have gone from a dispassionate professional sleeper and emailer, to someone who will very soon be able to kiss off any hint of a social existence. And yet, I can’t help but be a tiny bit thrilled. Why, you ask? You, the readers of this tiny little blog, are the sole benefactors from my nose-to-the-grindstoning, as the cringe-worthy and heartwarming stories from this two-pronged culinary underbelly I’m re-entering are the only guaranteed results of this whole endeavor.

But, where are my manners? I promised you Justin, who deserves some sort of introduction after a satisfactory Skype and letter-filled screening period, which began during the heady summer months with a tentative postcard from Mexico and a date involving kayaks and awkward life vests. A fellow Shipyard employee, Justin is foremost, three things: thanks to weekly hours spent on the rugby field, he is the owner of a fantastic backside that prompts slaps from approximately 82.4% of the staff, someone who can effortlessly recite every line from Arrested Development, How I Met Your Mother and 30 Rock, and will order a 5:1 ratio of sushi when we stay in. I’m the 1. He wanders around the apartment when he brushes his teeth like I do, and is one of two people on earth I know who likes to drink Kefir.

As one of the few with front-row seats to the massacre that was my checking account and resume re-compilation this month, a medal of some sort is in order for his unnerving amount of patience.

© Antoinette Bruno

Speaking of patience, last weekend my uncle was in town visiting his Boston-based girlfriend and celebrating his 31st birthday. Justin suggested dinner at Toro, a favorite tapas restaurant of ours—and, unfortunately, the rest of the city—that in an esteemed European tradition, takes no reservations. Having previously experienced an hour and a half wait, made survivable by two glasses of wine, we met my uncle, his girlfriend and her roommate an hour earlier to avoid our previous fate. Whatever strange logic we were working off of here clearly backfired—the wait was instead three hours. Unable to cram any further into the restaurant after putting our name on the ominous list, the five of us huddled by the front door, which opened and welcomed in a gust of ice wind every 5 minutes, in our puffy winter jackets.

After waving like a deranged soccer mom at the preoccupied bartender, I finally caught his attention and we settled in with our wine and the menu, eyeing the few bar stools with any chance of suddenly becoming available. A silent and deadly struggle had begun between our large party and the others near us, as we angled and positioned until the other diners were all but marooned in their barstool-less corners.

Forty-five minutes later, we had won a coveted bar spot by the window and had placed a few food orders, balancing the steaming plates on our knees and spare stool we snagged. Two hours after that, our name was called, and I hurried to close out the bar tab. I signed off for $38, a sum that to my slightly inebriated mind seemed fair, conveniently forgetting that we had just eaten three rounds of tapas along with a few rounds of drinks, which should have been upwards of $70 at least.

As we enjoyed the new view from our long-awaited table, the confused bartenders approached us, thinking that we hadn’t signed off on our tab. Of course, we had, and I had the card and receipt to prove it. But wouldn’t you know, some poor soul’s last name in the crowded bar that night was very similar to my first, a very rare occurrence indeed.

Thinking we had hit the jackpot, the five of us let out sinister giggles and clinked glasses.

Sadly, Mr. Barkeep realized his mistake and righted the wrong before we had the chance to run. “Next time,” we promised. Next time.

Shiny pretty things

Sparkling, brand spanking new unemployment, or “freelancing,” as I call it, is a funny thing. While my apartment is now impeccably clean at all hours of the day, and I find myself planning dinner hours in advance, the truth is my life suddenly consists of trawling through job sites and watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother.

While I have had some early sporadic success selling myself in the form of 500-word blurbs to keep myself afloat, the stark contrast between my life of exactly one month ago and now does not escape me. On December 31st, 2010, I was in Madrid, Spain, being serenaded by three opera singers in front of a sloshed crowd of elite Europeans. Today, January 31st, 2011, there is a butt imprint on my designated job-hunting couch cushion and I think my milk may be past its expiration date.

Let me rewind.

While showing my family around Europe, it naturally became my duty to arrange restaurant reservations. When we crossed over into Spain, however, where my language skills held no value, it was somehow still my job to sniff out eateries that satisfied my family’s needs. With a vegetarian who will eat fish and a vegan who is only pretending to be vegetarian in order to not starve to death in Europe, the stakes were pretty high; New Year’s Eve was to be the highlight of our Madrid trip, so the restaurant that we found ourselves in when the clock struck midnight had to be perfect.

After an hour of searching online and reading jumbled translations of menus off Google Translate, I settled on La Capilla de La Bolsa, a restaurant near the Plaza del Sol, where the countdown would take place. I made a reservation for 9:30 pm after signing off on the simple and edible-for-all-parties menu, and called it a night.

But, being silly Americans, we failed to take two things into account. 1) The streets of Madrid are a mess of twists and turns, and we left no time for getting a tiny bit lost, and 2) It was New Year’s Eve, which may as well be called Night of a Thousand Police Barricades no matter where you find yourself. These complications finally maneuvered around, we arrived at La Capilla around 20 minutes late for our reservation.

Upon entering the foyer, a small room of white draped satiny curtains, it is important to pause at this moment and explain an important part of this story. The slight detail of how fancy this place was may have escaped us as we prepared to leave the hotel. Luckily my sister and I had dresses on in some sort of semblance of dressed-up-ness, but my mother was mildly horrified because she had worn casual pants with a nice shirt, as had my stepfather. The hostess took our coats after I hurriedly explained our delay, and finally she dramatically swept aside the curtain and beckoned for us to follow.

Behind those curtains was one of the most impressively decadent and elegant rooms I have ever stepped into with my plebian, peasant feet. My dress may have turned into a potato sack upon entry, but I can’t be positive. A piano player was tickling the ivories above the whole scene, on a mini platform stage ascending from a golden spiral staircase, and a woman’s diamond necklace blinded me on the way to the table.

Here is where my panic attack began. Though I like to think I can be very smooth, I don’t tend to do well in extravagant settings such as this. I suddenly got a sinking feeling in my growling stomach and as I grabbed the menu off the table that sinking feeling turned into a flight response level of adrenaline. It was a fixed menu, not one that I had seen on the website a night earlier. Half of it was meat. While I tried to take solace in the fact that we had done this in Paris and were thus experts with the ability to choose one plate from each starter, entrée and dessert course, cocktails and salmon caviar landed on the table without warning. I glanced down at the menu, and there they were at the very top, blueberry cocktail and salmon caviar.

“Wait, wait, wait. Do we get all of this??” I was sweating in my potato sack.

“Calm down, I’m sure we don’t get all of it,” my mother reassured me, glancing around for one of the waiters buzzing around the room like water skeeters on a pond.

Trying to digest the words swimming in front of my eyes, I had still not managed to see the final price listed at the bottom: 185 euros. Each. I think we all arrived there at the same moment, because when I looked up there were three jaws on the table. Well, two. My younger sister was busy eyeing her (normally contraband in the United States of Puritanism) cocktail.

Luckily, our waiter appeared and we were able to strike or replace a few items for vegetarian options. While they negotiated choices, I was still trying to comprehend how I was going to eat six or seven courses. We settled in after these initial hurdles, all inhaling deeply and me giggling nervously while I clutched my martini glass for dear life.

Suddenly, the piano music changed and a booming operatic baritone burst into the room, ricocheting off the domed ceilings and mosaic walls. A bald man in a tuxedo had begun circulating through the tables as people ate, belting out a well-known number from La Traviata. And wouldn’t you know it, he and his two opera singer companions—a woman in a Ferrari-red sequined dress with matching gloves up to her elbows and a shorter man—did this every half hour or so, with a new number every time.

Once the courses started flowing, so did the wine. Because the night was falling deeper and deeper into the last moments of 2010 and the servers were likely to be a little tipsy themselves, my glass never seemed to be less than ¾ full. Because of this, the night became the best night my peasant self had ever experienced, as I emphatically told my family repeatedly. (And not as eloquently. It was more attuned to this: “This is AWESOME. This is SO AWESOME!” as I clapped wildly and giggled when the tall bald baritone approached our table.)

In the end, we ate (crazy things, like foie gras with gin and tonic gelée), we drank (I waxed poetic about the decorative lights in the street on the stumble back home) and of course, somewhere along the way the singers were tipped off that it would be my birthday when the clock struck 12 and I was treated to a rousing rendition of Feliz Cumpleanos right before the countdown.

As we shoved 12 grapes in our mouths for 12 months of good luck along with the last 12 chimes of the year (a tradition that I will continue alone every year in the States, picking up weird looks along the way), I momentarily forgot that the meal cost more than my college education and learned to enjoy the decadence. I think somewhere in my heavily wine-saturated mind, I understood that in no time at all, I would be here, on my couch, emailing my resume over and over and devising a strange concoction for dinner with all the leftover ingredients I could find.

So congratulations on surviving the first month of 2011, plebs. Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I may just have to introduce Justin. Hang on to your potato sacks, ladies.

Reunited and it feels so good

Miracle of miracles! I have emerged from the mountain of cardboard boxes I had unceremoniously crammed full of pens and pillows and books and kitchen pots and tossed into storage in August. I have almost discovered all the places my subletter hid cooking ingredients and Tupperware. A Comcast technician named Flavio with diamond studs and a Hahvahd Yahd accent has restored my lifeline to you, and I am back, baby.

Yesterday, Jess, Christine and I arranged for a post-mortem on our return to the States and had agreed to meet at Second Cup, a café near my apartment. Upon arriving, we discovered that Second Cup, a respectable coffeehouse, is now home to “Pizza Days,” yet another classy joint in the college slum neighborhood we all know and kind of love. Zap, a new restaurant claiming to serve “European cuisine” was nestled right next door. Knowing that no self-respecting European would ever name anything “Zap,” we kept walking.

I realize it’s been quite a long time since my Christmas Eve feast in the 10th, and like any other expat returning to the land of chili dogs and the Fourth of July, the reintegration has been jarring. Not only do I feel compelled to tap my Metro card on the T, which suddenly resembles a small toy train bumbling around a small toy track, but my belief that finally speaking English on a daily basis would make life easier was way off base. In a feeble attempt to print out some pictures at Kinko’s the other day, a clerk brusquely asked me what I was looking for. It took me only 5,346 minutes to explain myself, while my brain sputtered around like a dying car, wondering why he wasn’t asking me which kind of baguette I would like, and then finally spit out a very French “euuhhhh” conversation-stalling sound. The clerk was not amused.

As I am now fording the waters of unemployment, Oregon-Trail style, in the fragile period between the completion of college and the rest of life, the lazy lunch breaks and rosy glasses of kir haunt me frequently. I also seem to curiously resemble an alcoholic, since wine is of course the beverage of Satan in the States, and only acceptable on special occasions. Obvious comparisons aside, it is nice to be back in a place where strikes are something far away in the Midwest that you read about every once in awhile, and grocery shopping doesn’t involve watching a Franprix checker blatantly ignore you and then hand you two handfuls of 20 centime pieces as change.

I am in the process of jotting down an entry or two for Spain, as well as simultaneously negotiating my return to The Shipyard and carpet-bombing all of Boston with my resumé, but in the meantime, I felt I should check in and make sure you all survived the holiday season.

Fingers crossed my oxen don’t drown crossing the river and no one in the wagon gets cholera. Now if only I could stop making that “euuhhh” sound.

Bienvenue to the ghetto

Well, Christmas has come and gone, and I have officially left Paris. I’m currently speeding towards Lyon, the last place my French will be useful for quite some time and the second leg of this trip before we hit Spain and I become essentially mute. A gaggle of French children behind me are chirping “Regarde Maman! Regarde Papa!” (Look Mom! Look Dad!) every five minutes and kicking the back of my chair, and I just finished the last of the macarons.

Playing tour guide is an exhausting task, and while I’m sad to see the City of Lights go, I’m looking forward to returning to a place where the only directions I ever need to give involve pointing in the direction of the pre-made sandwiches at The Shipyard.

Part of my duties as a semi-Parisian local included finding restaurants that were still open on Christmas Eve and Christmas, and subsequently booking reservations. I naturally waited as long as humanly possible before completing this task, but once I did, I was quite proud of myself. After a delay of two days, the Charles de Gaulle monster spit my family out and Christmas Eve rolled around quick. The restaurant I had picked for the evening was Brasserie Flo, one in a chain of well-reviewed brasseries all over Paris; I chose one in the 10th arrondissement, based off the menu and assuming it would be a breeze to find since I had been working in the neighborhood for the last few months.

Like anything is ever that easy.

Best Hidden Upscale Restaurant/ Best Way To Scare The Hell Out Of Your Mother In A Foreign City

As I explained before, the 10th is a charming neighborhood. There’s always someone getting their weave on, even if it’s 11 at night, and the places where Jess and I grabbed lunch a few times a week are nestled next to places with dingy windows and names like Pizza City and King of Subs.

Our reservation was for 8 p.m., and as we hopped off the Metro and I glanced at my crinkled and well-loved Paris Pratique map one last time, I felt confident. But, as the street continued on and on, and suddenly the stores were fewer and far between and lingering groups of 20 something guys with nothing better to do starting appearing on the corners, I could feel my mother panicking behind me.

Unwilling to appear lost or in the least bit confused, I powered on, my heels clacking over the day-old leftover snow on the sidewalks. Streetlamps began flickering. Homeless men with no teeth yelled unintelligible profanities and ramblings. After five minutes of turning around to see my mother’s dubious face growing worse by the block, I decided we might have missed a turn.

One nonchalant stolen glance at the map and one helpful street sign (posted by the restaurant, which is apparently used to it’s clientele wandering deeper and deeper into the ghetto in search of it’s doors) later, we found ourselves in a glorified alley, the burnt-out lights of Pizza City a stone’s throw away. And voila, Brasserie Flo.

I hauled open the unwieldy wooden doors and was greeted by not one cheery “Bonsoir!” but six. The staff was dressed to the nines and the coat check girl, who looked like she had just stepped off a runway, whisked away all of our coats, and we were soon led to our table by a penguin-suited maître’d. We took our seats, an amuse bouche starter and a round of champagne landed in front of each of us, a huge, very French menu gracefully appeared in our hands from nowhere and I began to panic like someone who, at least a few times in the last four months, has resorted to eating Nutella out of the jar to survive.

If you’re wondering, Yoda-French definitely works in fine dining situations. Then again, our headwaiter was so charming and jolly, I could have been Molière for all I knew.

“Hungry we were…SOO satisfying this meal was!”

“Very happy to hear that madame! Would you perhaps be desiring a coffee, or another round of champagne?”

“Another glass I couldn’t…coffee I can!”

I did encounter something new, in translating the menu for my English-speaking family. In translation world, especially where a menu is concerned and the French like to get poetic and rambly, I am no longer a Jedi Master, but more of an ogre type creature, with a limited vocabulary who points a lot.

"Meat...that. With that. Ooh, ooh! Green beans there! That...meat?"

A respectful three hours later, we spilled into the alley once more. This time, drunk as I was on the pure thrill of a Parisian-amazing-secret-discovery, I gave a little curtsy to the toothless man talking to his beanie. Merry Christmas, indeed.

Next up, I try to convince Lyon, the culinary capital of France, that I'm just not hungry anymore.

Baby, it's cold outside

Christmas is coming, Christmas is coming! And, like every single year, like clockwork: the airports are failing, the airports are failing!

As far as holiday traditions go, I’m definitely a fan of the new ones I’ve adopted since being here; hot spiced wine, roasted chestnuts, catty roasted chestnut venders who scoff and yell at each other across the way and good-naturedly harangue passers-by…but most of all, the Code Orange This Is Not A Drill There Is Frozen Rain Coming From The Sky And We, The Airports Of The World, Are Not Equipped To Deal With This Sort Of National Disaster holiday news broadcasts.

Most years, I would be smack in the middle of this chaos, grumpily using my messenger bag as a pillow and swearing under my breath (just for the fun of being in a foul mood with everyone else—it’s a bonding experience!) as I spent seven euros on a stale [insert airport food of choice here]. However, this year, I am patiently waiting in a hotel for my family unit to arrive in one piece, while I watch French news correspondents with crazy eyes and ruffled French travelers who still look better than me on a good day, giving quotes like:

“I’m just…this is just REALLY NOT OKAY,” and;

“This is unbelieeeeeeevable! The flights are delayed, I am just in shock and no one is answering our questions and we will spend Christmas here I’m telling you because these stupid idiots here are unable to do ANYTHING, I will fly the plane, just show me where it is, I will fly it…” as if from a script.

Best Way To Wait For Your Family When All Of Europe Is Scared of Wet Snow

“Je vous arrête pour le meurtre…”

It’s Saturday night, and I’ve moved into a hotel room in the 6th arrondissement, across from restaurants cheerily dressed up for Christmas, with awnings covered in snow and menus with prices that make me snort with laughter as I stand outside, squinting at the posted lists of delicacies on the windows. One of my last friends left in Paris, Pete, and I meet up to attempt to ice skate in front of Hotel de Ville, but are thwarted by a flash snowstorm of big fat flakes that are piling up on the ice rink and blinding small children faster that we can keep up with. We duck into a café off a side road and spend a little over five hours with espressos, roast chicken with gratin dauphinois and a bottle of red wine, while the French bar cat sits next to us in the booth, but shoots us judging French eyes if I try to pet her. Typical.

After navigating the Châtelet Metro station in a food coma back to my new home, I settle into bed and wind up watching dubbed reruns of Law & Order: Criminal Intent on French TV channel TF1. Except here, it’s “New York Division Criminelle,” and Vincent D’Onofrio as a costaud Frenchman puts a whole other spin on the series. I watch two episodes and am unable to decide whether the spidery suspenseful music hanging off of the jolly smart-alecky French accent we all know and love works for me.

The terrible dubbing does make me feel better about some things, though. “You’re under arrest for the murder of so-and-so,” for example, becomes “Je vous arrête pour le meurtre de…” Translated: “I stop you.” I can’t help but giggle, alone in the hotel room, at the politeness of it all. “Ahem, I’m uh, really very sorry about all this, but I’m going to have to stop you for this murder. My apologies, again.” The next day I watch Jurassic Park: Le Monde Perdu. (The Lost World. You go Jeff Goldblum.)

After I sleep through free breakfast the first morning, I get my act together and lope downstairs like Eloise on Christmas at the Plaza—did anyone else but me read those books?— to enjoy a peacefully silent breakfast with free wifi that I don’t get in my room. On the second morning, I wise up and sneak an extra pain au chocolat and croissant back with me.

(Upon arrival, I called down to the reception desk to see if I needed a password for the wifi. There’s a pause while the receptionist, a man with hair like a French banker, looks up my room.

“Trois cent neuf, c’est ça?” (Room 309, right?)

“Oui, c’est ça.”

“Il n’y a pas de wifi au troisième étage.” (There is no wifi on the third floor.)

“Oh, okay. Merci.” (What the hell do you mean there’s no wifi just because I am mere feet above the second floor?? This is so typical France, man, I swear. I’m going to fight this, you hear me?? You hear me???)

I spend the next few days sitting in the stairwell a floor below checking my email to avoid sitting awkwardly in the lobby.

Paris has an odd, quiet and larger-than-life quality to it now that the wolf pack of ladies has disappeared back stateside. Before, with empty bottles of wine in hand as we skipped down Rue Mouffetard after a long evening, cackling like hyenas and guaranteed to miss the Metro, Paris seemed smaller and conquerable.

My first night in Paris, I was a day early than most people in the program, and I remember being terrified in my miniscule hotel room in the Opera district. Culture shock is a bitch, and it can show up out of nowhere—mine wasted no time, smacking me in the face at Charles de Gaulle. If I thought I had been taking French for the past 8 years of my life, I was wrong, it must have been Swahili judging by the way I flailed around for an hour, lost in the underbelly of French cruelty at it’s finest.

Now it seems, alone again before my family arrives and I am tasked with carting three Americans behind me to all the monuments and France-isms I have come to know and love, Paris is mine for the observing. Except this time, I can expertly snack on falafel from Maoz in front of Notre Dame with a honed French scowl on my face, secretly enjoying the cold and the ignorant tourists schlepping overstuffed bags up and down the stairs at Denfert-Rochereau station.

The panic attacks of withdrawal are already beginning.