Category Archives: Life


After several unpleasant interactions with self-checkout machines in the U.S., I gave up on them. If it can be broken, I will break it, although I really blame bad interaction design — if it can be misread or misinterpreted, I will.

But. . . something about the checkout process at the Monoprix — standard mid-sized department store, with more food and less other departments — encouraged me to try out their new self-checkouts. Maybe it was the prospect of standing in line while people fumble with their fidelity cards and count out coins while I have only one item (lightbulb), and I was ready to try it. Turned out to be remarkably bulletproof: I tried my best to break it, and it didn’t. Even after the helpful fellow pointed at the button to change the language to English and I didn’t.

Also notable: The really new machines, which only take credit or debit cards, don’t  weigh your items as a checkpoint. Scan, pay, and go.


Or, Adventures in acquiring French literacy, part deux.

My French tutor says I’m making good progress, but I need to practice more with real interactions.

So today I went into Galeries Lafayette (think French Macy’s), marched up to the young lady in Customer Service (yes, the sign actually says that !), said, in French, “Sorry I don’t speak much French, but I’d like to ask for a store fidelity card, please.” She asked “You speak English ? I speak a little English.”

And we conducted the rest of the transaction in French.

P.S., when the French ask for your mail address, they mean email.

Marché aux livres, redux

Yesterday, Saturday, I was relieved to find the “marché aux livres,” temporarily displaced by the holiday markets, returned in force and enjoying good weather. With some very “bon plans” (good deals).

I’m particularly fond of the Editions Gallimard, which sport little more than the author and title on the cover and spine, red border on a beige background. They’ve looked the same for  I don’t know how long. They’re just so classy, IMHO. Well, I picked up one by Patrick Modiano, 2014 Nobel Prize winner; Celine’s Voyage to the End of the Night; and the recently published collection of letters between Albert Camus and Maria Casares; all brand new or in new condition, at bargain prices. We’re talking 10€ for a book with a 29€ list price, 5€ vs. 16,90€. Hard to beat.

Yes, I’m still buying books. That’s who I am.

Adventures in acquiring French literacy, part 1

I’m getting help learning conversational French from a wonderful local tutor, Christelle Sérou. During today’s session, which focused on hearing and understanding common phrases, my phone rang. Since that’s an unusual occurrence, I excused myself and got up to answer it. I couldn’t understand much of what the caller was saying, except for “à maison,” so “at home.” Didn’t make much sense, so I stammered for a few seconds, then the door buzzer rang, indicating someone at the main entrance to the building . . . perhaps the caller? I buzzed him in, and ran to the elevator, and yes, there was a courier delivering a package (“colis”) from Amazon.

“Amazon” vs. “à maison.” Yeh, I still have a way to go.

Control, or not

I am noting more often now that, despite my worries and speculations and contingency planning, things tend to work out.

Has it always been like that?

For example: Package delivery here is sometimes an adventure. I haven’t lived in an apartment building of more than four units for a long, long time, so can’t be sure how it works in the U.S. Here, there are any number of delivery services, from La Poste and its associated Chronopost to the random rickety mini-mini-van. (Not to mention the food delivery services, such as Deliveroo.)

So, your package from, depending on size and weight, may or may not make it  directly to your door. Or mailbox. (I had one box sent from the U.S. Priority Express International that was stuffed into my mailbox so vehemently that I had to cut it open and remove half the contents to get it out of the mailbox. But that worked out.) In more than one case early on I got a card in the mailbox, went online and provided delivery instructions, including my phone number, and met the delivery person at the front door. More recently, I discovered by checking my order history on that a package had been left with a neighbor, M. Chastin, and I had to search out which apartment he was in. In another case, the package was left with the restaurant next door; that was fine, I’m friends with the folks there, who said “pas de tout, c’est normal” when I thanked them for their courtesy.

Then, yesterday, I was walking back from a brief outing to find one of those tiny delivery vans parked at the door, with a young lady who very much hoped that I was M. Chastin, or that at least I lived in that building and might be willing to take delivery of the package. I agreed, since it seems to be how things are done; I gave her my name, apartment number, and my floor, signed my acceptance of the package, and accepted her profuse thanks. And then, it was my turn to wait for M. Chastin to check the delivery news from Amazon, and for me to be anxious about the responsibility I had accepted. That was yesterday.

Today, well, it was rather chilly out, so I was inclined to just stay put, but eventually decided to get out for a walk anyway, bundled up, and headed down the elevator. As the door opened to the lobby . . . there was M. Chastin, with baby in stroller.  I said “J’ai votre colis !,” backed into the elevator with them, went back upstairs, grabbed the package (“colis”), and we headed back down the elevator, to his profuse thanks.

So: I agonized over the right thing to do, worried how available I should be, decided I should just go out anyway. . . and things just worked out. No amount of planning or attempted control would have worked out better. Chance worked better.

Has it always been this way?

Un autre milestone

First experience with a French doctor. Needed to get my assorted prescriptions converted to European equivalents before I run out of the 3-month supply I arrived with. We agreed to work through my limited French and his (less) limited English, and came out the other side with a list the pharmacy can deal with.

Out-of-pocket cost: 25€

Oh, and I’ve lost a kilo or so.

Media notes

“The Good Place” runs on Netflix here without any delay. Happy to see it’s renewed for S4. And “Dix pour cent” (“10%”), which appears on Netflix U.S. as “Call My Agent,” just finished S3 on France 2 . . . which will run on Netflix next week. Which means I can get the English subtitles and perhaps understand wtf happened with the American jerks.

What I miss: “Speechless.”

What I almost miss: College football. But not enough to pay for it. Not missing NFL at all.

Fun surprise: “Mrs. Maisel” S2 E1, in which Rose moves to Paris (!), and has a dog named Simone. And Midge gets her break on a Paris cabaret stage with a little (a lot) of help from a French-speaking American woman who recommends Sylvia Plath’s shrink. No, not binging.

Dropping Prime next week in favor of Prime. Somewhat less available content at less than half the price.


Observations, deux

So — alors ! — if one as a newcomer to France prepared by reading a few books and following a few blogs, one might learn that, for instance, neighbors and other acquaintances may take a long time before inviting you into their homes; that conversation will rarely be personal; that one must tread carefully on the field of vous vs. tu, to the extent of erring on the vous side until explicitly invited to “tutoyer” the other.

I won’t go into details lest dear reader blame me for an embarrassing experience, but yes, my experience is different.

As in all things, it seems, YMMV.

Milestone achieved

It’s finally happened. . . today I started making just as many mistakes on my iPad QWERTY keyboard as I’m making on my iMac AZERTY keyboard ! Retraining muscle memory is hard, but it can be done.

Sorry, Maryon, I’m not ready to tackle the BEPO keyboard just yet. . . I had a Kinesis keyboard for awhile, but found switching back and forth impeded productivity too much. Now productivity doesn’t count as much. But one keyboard at a time for men, thanks !