Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A nanny picked up a wrong boy

For most Parisian parents summer break means desesperate searching for a nanny to take care of the children after the holidays. 

Parisian parents search for more and more cost-effective solutions and an ever-changing Moroccan or Senegalese nounou had become a rule. It goes whitout saying that the nanny's hourly rate is very small, around 3,5 - 4 € in Paris ares, in the countryside even less. The poor kid never knows who is waiting for him at the school gate. 

My daughter's school director especially advised parents to present the nanny and the child to each other beforehand to avoid what happened the first day of school last September: a nanny picked up the wrong boy. For the nanny all white blond haired six-year-old Jean-Pierres with striped shirts and navy-blue pants looked somehow similar. Also the boy was used to changing black faces and didn’t protest either.  He thought he was in the nanny’s house when he was, in fact, taken to the other boy’s home. 

As far as the right boy was concerned, the school director, used to some dysfunction at the beginning of the school year, kept him busy in an after-school sports class, confident that somebody would collect him sooner or later. What a shock for the parents coming home and seeing an unknown boy at the dinner table instead of their own dear Jean-Pierre!  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The very last Pot au feu 

After many unpleasant surprises, this time the bank balance cheered me up. The Bank Mediator had done his job and my own bank had reimbursed the unfair commissions. A nice amount had dropped into my account. This kind of thing doesn’t happen every day. We decided to celebrate this and go to a restaurant. We haven’t been dining out for a long time now and Laura was exited. We headed to a small restaurant not far from home, famous of their pot au feu. We had passed many times by the window and looked at the happy customers inside. We have glanced at the menu dreaming to go there one day. We sat by the window, happy to now be those lucky ones inside. We had just taken a sip of our aperitifs when we heard an angry man’s voice from the kitchen followed by woman’s plaintive voice. We thought an unhappy love affair was taking place in the kitchen. 
   Small Parisian restaurants are often run by a couple; a husband cooking and the wife serving tables. After a while we saw our waitress running down the street. A few minutes later we saw her heading to the kitchen’s back door with salad leaves in her hands. We hoped that the marital problems wouldn’t spoil the cooking.

Some other clients had just sat down, when a man in a black suit, carrying an attaché case entered the restaurant. He was followed by two gorillas. They headed directly to the kitchen, and we heard violent shouting and arguing. When our waitress came out from the kitchen she had fallen mascara all over her cheeks. She said pot au feu was on its way but the oven had just broken and they couldn’t make the day’s entrée which was hot croutons de chèvre. With a smile she proposed salad instead and poured me one more Kir for free. Even Laura got another orange juice. The baguette à l’ancienne was freshly baked and Laura couldn’t help taking a fourth piece of bread. I advised her to leave some place for the salad and main course. When I glanced out the window, my eyes caught the two gorillas. They carried something metallic and heavy to a van parked on the other side of the street. I realized it was an oven. So far so good. Pot a feu is cooked on a stove, so no oven was needed. It would be ready before the bailiff came back, in case he would like to take the oven as well.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

In pyjamas in the corridor

It was around eleven p.m. when my mobile phone rang. It was Jee Eun Kim who urgently needed my help.
-          Take a taxi immediately. Once on your way call me back so that I can give you the correct address, Jee Eun Kim said.
-          Look, Madam, I am sorry but I don’t have any cash to take a taxi and I can’t use my credit card either. I’m below my balance, I objected.
-          Well, then I’ll send you the car, she said.
Twenty minutes later I was sitting in the Jaguar. The driver was listening to some Sri Lankan music and sang along now and then while driving. He was seemingly used to takeing the car out of the garage in the middle of the night every time Jee Eun Kim called. We were heading to rue du Bac where Jee Eun Kim’s young nephew had moved from South Korea two days ago. I was already used to my boss’s young relatives, all from rich families, who stayed regularly in Paris and needed all kinds of practical help. They seldom spoke any other language than Korean and were all on their way to be movie stars or fashion designers. All alone in Paris without family support, they became vulnerable and easy targets for crooks and pickpockets. This one was called Jo Soon Sook and he was in Paris in order to study at some expensive international university where you don’t need any French or even English skills, and of which the diplomas won’t give way to any serious job in France but are exotic souvenirs once back at home.

   When we arrived at the chic property an adolescent looking young man in pajamas was arguing half in English half in Korean with a locksmith. To compensate the missing common language they gestured wildly towards the apartment’s locked door. The unscrupulous locksmith was requesting no less than several thousand euros for unlocking the door with his bump key. It is a common habit in this industry to take advantage of a panicked foreigner’s delicate situation. However, it is illegal and can be reported. I got involved and finally managed, by threatening the locksmith, to bargain the price down to five hundred euros. I was curious to learn how the young man ended up in pajamas in the corridor. He explained something confusing about bad dreams. To make sure he wouldn’t do anything stupid, I accompanied him into the apartment. Whereas most foreign students live in a seven square meters rat hole on the sixth floor with no lift, this fils à papa had not less than two hundred square meters for himself only! And all the space was nicely decorated.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Chairs broke in AirBnB appartment

When searching an AirBnB appartment in Paris area one can find more than 10 000 proposals. My best fried Kate, an american, works in AirBnB and makes tourist check-ins and check-outs  in five different luxurous appartments. She called me to tell me about the accident that happened to her previous customers, a Dutch couple who rented the Quai Montebello apartment for a romantic week-end. The apartment is located in a three hundred year-old building with exposed beams and decorated in medieval style to attract tourists. The showstopper is a gothic style mahogany wooden dining table with throne like chairs at both ends. The replica chairs possess a high arched back with a curved, pointed top and ornate cutouts. Kate is convinced that the apartment is always fully-booked because of this impressive dining set. Anyhow, the young Dutch couple had ordered a nice dinner from a French caterer, which they enjoyed in candlelight. The night was cold and they had put the electric heater on next to the dining table. Each sitting on their throne like a queen and a king they could only hear a slight creaking before they both found themselves sitting on the floor. Fallen down like in the French revolution. Both chairs had broken into pieces. Kate told me they had already been broken before and the owner’s cousin had repaired them with superglue. The Dutch couple were not overweight but both were very tall. Close to the electric heater, the glue started to melt and the chairs couldn’t carry the heavy holidaymakers any more. 

Kate had already pointed out many times how hard it is to keep all the furniture intact as well as the kitchen and bathroom equipment running because most of the tourists are used to modern buildings with more up to date installations. They don’t flush the toilet with the same delicate touch the French do. Once pushed down by a barbarian it is broken. Foreigners can’t stand a dripping faucet either. They over tighten it until it turns all the way around. This is added to the fact that, the Greek owner is more willing to gain money than spend it on maintenance. According to Kate she gets mad about any repair request. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Big boy's toys showcasing in Bourget
-          I would like you to accompany me to a meeting this afternoon to take some notes, my boss Jee Eun Kim said when I arrived in the office this morning.
-          Sure. In the Athena Palace Hotel’s bar as usual? I asked knowing that she seldom met her business part ners in the office.
-          No, this time it will be at the Bourget Air Show, she replied.
-          Excuse me? You are talking about the international fair where the French defense industry companies present their latest toys to foreign armies? I asked.
-          Yes. Big boys’ toy shop, she smiled satisfied at my astonishment.
-          Do I need to book tickets? I asked.
-          I have two invitations here, Jee Eun Kim said holding me the cards.
She drove her Jaguar by herself in the afternoon when we headed to the Bourget Air Show. After a security check we entered the military airport, showcasing the latest military products of French and foreign companies. We soon realized it was a no woman’s land. Literally, as I and my boss were the only women around. We walked through full size cockpits where ultramodern flight display solutions were presented by defense companies’ male representatives to their male clients. It was not like a car show with half-naked women lying on the engine bonnets. It was more serious except that some clients couldn’t hide their childish joy when testing the latest flight simulators.

The day was shiny and my boss had her white lace umbrella to protect her ever-young skin from the UV-rays. Finally having my social Navigo card I had stopped scooter biking and started to wear skirts again. As I didn’t know beforehand that I would be attending an air show, I was wearing a skirt too short for the occasion. I was now asking myself whether we looked like serious war makers, my boss with her umbrella and I in my skirt. Or rather a pimp with a Ukrainian hooker. Strange enough, men didn’t look at us at all. Too charmed by the glittering army toys. We crossed delegations from Middle and Far East dictatorships. Asian delegations were as big as whole army sections or even squads. They walked in military formations in their Mao-like uniforms and looked down when passing us.

 Jee Eun Kim was supposed to meet French defense company representatives. But something went wrong and the meeting was councelled. We wanderied between fighter jets, combat helicopters and air crafts. Some army representatives politely explained to me how their peace keeping equipment was supposed to be used. Some others waited until male customers showed up before starting their sales pitch. ​My boss looked bored and the sales officers couldn't guess that I hadn’t brought my shopping list either. Because, according to a military point of view, I was representing a neutral country. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tourist get crooked by fake petitions

Paris is the world's most visited place, but the square behind Notre Dame was now empty of tourists. 
I still saw some children having fun on the playground behind Notre Dame. I first though they were holidaymakers from India wearing Saris. When I got close I recognized the Romanian gypsy pickpocket gang. They were eight girls of about ten, some of them maybe twelve. It is difficult to tell their age because they are constantly undernourished and don’t grow tall. The new comers were wearing long flowered skirts, headscarves and colored socks in their sandals. The others looked like any Parisian teen girl in their skinny jeans and leather jackets. They try to abandon their traditional looks as soon as possible because it is neither easy to run away fast nor merge into a crowd when wearing a longue skirt.
   This gang is acting close to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Their tactic is to ask tourists to sign a petition for a fake organization. Both to avoid any speaking and gain more sympathy the gypsy girl pretends to be deaf-mute. She holds a paper on which she has photocopied known handicap organizations logos. Right after signing the tourist realizes, too late, that next to the signature there is a blank place for an amount to pay. This is a kind of a double-scam. In addition to the fake charity money they place the list against your belly in a way that they can lift your wallet or mobile phone while you are occupied to sign.
   Now the fake petitions were negligently thrown on the ground. One of the girls snatched another's flowered scarf and ran around the playground like mad. Others tried to catch it and followed her laughing out loud.
Million euros a year
I used to look at these teen mothers with hate and anger when they carried babies and begged for money in plaintive voices in the metro. Like most people I couldn't understand why they would have babies when they were living a miserable camp. Then I heard about the collective rape punishments to those who didn't bring enough stolen money at the end of the day. Some time ago French police dismantled a Europe-wide ring of organized pickpockets called the Hamidovic clan. Mister Hamidovic and his sons purchased young girls from poor families in Bosnia Herzegovina and brought them to Paris to pickpocket every day form 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The girls were told to give Hamidovic every time the police asked their name. Mister Hamidovic himself was living in luxury thanks to these children who brought in altogether more than one million euros yearly income.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Special Forces guy protecting bagel store
I almost broke my arm when I hurried back from work and rode the scooter bike too fast. I took a short cut through an oyster stand on the street corner and my front wheel slipped on an empty shell. I was lucky to escape unhurt and the oyster man helped me back on my wheels. I collected the empty lunchbox that was ejected from my handbag by the shock and had found its way to the oysters.

It was one of those cloudless starry evenings. A couple of white swans followed each other down the Seine River while I rode across the bridge. Illuminated buildings looked golden contrasting the black velvet sky and the black flowing water. An armed patrol of six soldiers in camouflaged battledress had stopped in the middle of the bridge to admire the view without loosening their grip from their semi-automatic rifles, deeply touched by the beauty of their new battlefield. I couldn’t help thinking that they wouldn’t be like that on this bridge now without Dietrich von Choltitz, the general who disobeyed Hitler’s orders in 1944. He was supposed to destroy Paris but even a career military officer can have such a strong affection for this magnificent city that he risked his life and reputation for it. 
Since the beginning of the Paris terrorist attacks around six thousand soldiers patrol the streets of Paris every day. Their main duty is to secure monuments and railway stations. Most soldiers come from the countryside and some of them have never been in the city of lights before. They can be as lost in Paris’s streets as in a foreign country. After the terrorist attacks most of the soldiers patrolling the streets of Paris are sent by the Ultramarines legion or the Carcassonne parachutist troops. But then again I wonder how a Special Forces guy feels standing all day long in front of a Jewish bagel store.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Hiding barbie dolls from terrorists

When I arrived at home in the evening I found Laura’s Barbie dolls hiding in the living room. All eight were placed in different hideouts. Some of them under the sofa, one in a flower pot, one was even under the carpet. When I started tidying up I heard Laura’s alarmed voice from the bathroom:
-          Don’t touch them! They will all die!
-          Why are the Barbies dying Laura? I asked.
-          If they stay still the terrorists will not find them. The police said if you can’t get outside you should hide or lie down on the floor, she explained.
-          Where did you meet this policeman? At school? I asked.
-          Yes. He explained what we should do when terrorists attack. I know everything now and I can even build a barricade to block the door when they are coming, Laura said.
-          They are not coming. Come here. Let’s tell your Barbies they are safe here, I said taking my daughter in my arms. She still had toothpaste in her mouth. We uncovered the hidden doll’s one by one telling each of them that everything was all right.
I put my daughter into bed and wondered whether is was a good idea to teach children at school to hide in case of a terrorist attack.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Paris is too expensive for parisians

My watch had run out of battery. I considered getting it changed by a watch maker during the lunch hour but as soon as I learned the price I gave up. Everyone knows that the tiny Chinese made battery doesn’t cost a penny but if you are unlucky to work close to the Eiffel tower, there it has become a fifteen-euro luxury product. I added the battery to my list of cheap essentials “to be purchased in some working class neighborhood”. Also in my own neighborhood close to Notre Dame, I could easily spend half of my salary on expensive sticking plasters, safety pins and toothpicks. Once bought in intramuros, all these little somethings quadruple in price. It can be all right for a tourist to buy once twelve-euro shoe strings because they are Chinese made Parisian shoe strings, but it is not the same for locals. 
   Even food gets more expensive the closer you get the center. Parisians carrying heavy shopping bags in the bus or metro has become a common sight in the city center. In fact, only the minority of Parisians have a car. At the same time more and more ordinary citizens now take a trolley and go shopping in working class neighborhoods, or even outside of Paris to get more bangs for their buck.
It reminds me of the ex-Soviet Union where western goods could only be purchased by western money in beryozka, particular hard currency stores, whereas ordinary Soviet citizen purchased only local goods with their rubles. Jeans, sports shoes, stockings or even empty plastic bags became such a status symbol that many Finns, mostly males, crossed the border to deal those articles. A colorful western fashion magazine could pay your bill in a restaurant and a pair of cheap supermarket stockings was enough to buy a one-night stand.
   Ever changing tourists don’t protest over Paris prices. Therefore, the city center stores are becoming kind of hard currency stores where ordinary Parisians seldom find anything for their budget. My list was getting longer every day.

All these household essentials could be collected cheap at Boulevard Belleville’s street market. The next Friday I was there. 
 I crossed a pell-mell of fruits and vegetables, cheap cosmetics, wooden African sculptures, fake brand sport shoes, clothes and accessories. Some vendors also called bwana-bwana had put their articles on a piece of fabric on the ground in front of them. This is in case of a police check the articles can be bundled at a glance by tying the corners of the fabric together before running away. I easily gathered all I was looking for. I purchased a packet of two watch batteries for one euro, the same that were sold at fifteen euros each next to the Eiffel tower. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The gas company threatened to cut the gas
I had applied some months ago to a small gas benefit aimed at helping poor Parisian families. The social worker assumed that the money was on the way but the national gas company started to lose patience and threatened to cut the gas. I decided to write to the mediator who was in charge of problems dealing with public administration. I was so used to boosting myself by playing “claiming music” that I found it hard to start the letter in silence. But I was not alone in the workplace. The elderly woman was still splish-splashing in the bath tub and since French people prefer chansons to good old rock’ roll, I considered that Abba’s “Money, money, money” wouldn’t make the lady swallow the bubbles. I put the music on on my computer and started typing.
“Dear Mediator,
I’m requesting your mediation regarding my one hundred thirty-eight euro energy benefit claim which was accepted by the Paris Social Services the 14th of October (please see attached the letter of acceptance of the claim). The payment was supposed to be made directly to my electricity and gas supplier.
After almost four months of waiting I now feel obliged to ask for your kind assistance to facilitate an early resolution of my claim. In the meantime, I have made several requests and according to Social Services the payment has been made. On the electricity and gas supplier’s side the payment is not in sight. I have settled the remaining balance excluding the 138 euros aid which is still on the way. However, the company now threatens to cut the gas (see the attached letter).

I thank you in advance for your kind attention to my problem and I am confident that your assistance will help to unblock the situation.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Eight kilos of bb cream

I was about to leave the office when I got a call from a customer. First I thought the man speaking fluent French in Arabic accent was joking as he wanted to buy eight kilos of bb cream. I checked the inventory and saw that the requested product was available. I found an old pricelist too. I said the make-up cream will cost 580 euros a kilo. The man over the phone said he would even buy ten kilos if we could make a nice deal. He said he was on his way to France from Tunisia now and would drop in to negotiate at the end of the week. 
   I went down to the cellar to pick up the product. I wandered between the shelves and started to become desperate. I couldn't find the product among the mess of dusty carldboard boxes. That was because I was looking for small or middle sized bottles. Instead I finally found a sealed twenty-kilo bucket. Though it was heavy I managed to carry it upstairs. I avoided looking at the best before date. Not seen, not heard, not guilty. I opened the bucket. It was full of light colored bb cream. It was the right product. However, there was a slight problem with the packaging. I took a spoon from the kitchen and tried, but it didn't even penetrate the hard make up. I left the bucket close to the heating overnight.
   The next day the cream was soft enough. I purchased ten one kilo plastic bottles in the corner supermarket and started the filling. My spoon technic was getting better and better and at the end of the day I had ten bottles ready. I left the other half of the bb cream in the bucket and closed it carefully.
   My first client ever, Monsieur Gaddab arrived wearing sweatpants and carrying plastic bags full of cheap garments he had purchased in Paris’s hard discount stores. He asked me to open one of the one kilo make up bottles and put his finger into the cream. He seemed satisfied and we started to bargain over the price like in the Djerba souk.

-          550 euros a kilo, I said.

-          400 euros, he said.

-          520 euros, I said.

-          440 euros, he said.
As the negotiation went on he took 500 and 200 euros banknotes from his sweat pants’ pocket to impress me and make the price go down. He was seemingly used to dealing for anything from dried fruits to bb cream. Our communication was easy and smooth because we skipped the formal French “vous” which is not common in the Arabic language, nor in my mother tongue Finnish.
-          500 euros a kilo if you take all ten, I said.

-          450 euros and I take all.

We made a deal and he took all the bottles at 450 euros a kilo.

-          What do you need so much make up for? I asked.

It is for weddings, he said. He promised to camo back in six months.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

My boss never paid French taxes
Jee Eun Kim arrived in the office around eleven a.m. as usual with sophisticated make up and a perfectly cut woman’s suit. She handed me a letter in French and asked me to tell her what it was about. It was from the Paris city tax office. It was the eighth reminder to settle unpaid ownership and residence taxes. It seemed that my boss had never paid anything.
-          Look, in France you have two types of local property taxes; an ownership tax and a residence tax. It seems that you have missed the payments from the beginning of your ownership of the avenue Hoche apartment. The tax office is now asking you to settle the nearly twenty thousand euro balance, I said.
-          I don’t understand what it is all about! If I don’t understand the reason, I won’t pay, Jee Eun Kim screamed.
-          It might be different in South Korea but in France all the property owners pay these taxes, I said.
-          You should write a letter right away to the Paris tax office to ask for an explanation about this amount. You write that the owner doesn’t understand why it is so much, Jee Eun Kim ordered.

-          Sure Madam, I will write the letter right away, I said knowing that she wouldn’t listen to any reasoning when she is upset. And so I started typing the letter to Paris tax office.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Council place next to Notre Dame

Until now social housing had meant to me something like a huge run-down block of flat in some bad neighborhood, with burned cars and bad dogs in the yard and dealers blocking the entry of the building.  Not many people know that in Paris council houses, called HLM in French, can be found in many chic neighborhoods like in Marais, around the Champs Elysées and even on Ile Saint Louis.
As many Parisians I filled the demand for the council-owned home every year like participating in a lottery, with not much hope.  In fact, living in the center of Paris has become so expensive that seventy percent of all Parisian fulfill the conditions to claim social housing. The so called middle class families have no other choice than to escape the city of lights, too poor to rent anything bigger than a seven square meter top floor “studette” in an overheated housing market. Even the former mayor of Paris complained publicly about being able to rent only a two room flat with his mayor’s salary in his “own” city.
An average waiting time for sociala bostäder is five years. However, in case you refuse the first proposed apartment you go right back to the end of the line. Once the claim is made, the file needs to be updated every year to the day. If the claimer once misses this fatidic date, the claim process starts from scratch at the end of the line.
This was my fourth update and I carefully filled in personal facts, yearly net income, last employees name and address, current monthly rent and so on. As the facts were lying there, they gave a merciless picture of a poverty-stricken immigrant single-parent family. Except that the mum was a university graduate white Scandinavian and, therefore, not called an immigrant but an expatriate. Unlike dark haired and skinned non-nationals, I was never stopped in the street and asked to show my ID papers to French police officers.

Five empty lines on the bottom of the page captured my attention: “Additional information to support your application”. It took one more day to find out the Paris social housing norms and focus on our situation in a way that all the criteria were fulfilled. After brainstorming, our miserable situation looked more than perfect: our rent was too high comparing to our income, we were far below the income cap, I had a child and, the last but not least, we were not French nationals. We were representing social mixing, boosted by Paris’s current social housing policy.  All right, we’re Finns, which means even more mixing than a Moroccan or an Algerian.
Forget the lift and the carage 
To target old houses in the city center (read: avoid huge block of flats outside Paris) I didn’t check the boxes “building with a garage” or   “building with a lift”.  I proofread everything once again and closed the envelope.
Two months later we got a letter saying that the Paris council was considering us for a three room flat just a few blocks from ours. The address was on the Right Bank, in the Marais, not far from the Notre Dame Cathedral. In fact, the city of Paris purchased the whole building block already in the beginning of the last century. The insalubrious seventeenth century buildings were saved from demolition only in order to become council places.
Dare I tell you the monthly rent for 65 square meters? No, it's better not to make you jelous.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Back in the metro 

Once the universal health care obtained the pieces of the puzzle started to get together. The 75 pour cent off Navigo pass followed the CMU and I enjoyed being back in the crowded metro wagons during rush hours. I hadn't taken the metro since unemployed. I now felt being like everybody else, part of the irritated and at the same time extremely polite rushing and pushing mass. I also noticed some change. More homeless people were sleeping in metro stations than before. Also passengers were less relaxed than before the terrorist attacks because of the security announcements, “Attentive ensemble. Veuillez signaler tout objet abandonné ou un comportement suspect à nos agents“ every ten minutes. I also noticed that people started becoming paranoid about the Arabic language and hijab scarfs. Laura’s classmate’s mother admitted having run out of Mc Donald’s with her son only because there were so many Arabic speaking customers. 

The tambourine boy had grown up
I myself got cold sweats in metro a wagon a few days after a terrorist attack. It was because I noticed I was standing next to a black man sitting in a big metallic storage box I have seen on TV news forecasts from Syria, used for missile or firearms transportation. On my other side an Arabic man was reading the Coran. It was obvious that they didn’t even know each other. They just happened to be in a wrong place in the wrong moment.

I recognized the same accordionist I had crossed some years ago and who was still going from wagon to wagon with the same tambourine boy holding the begging cup. Except that the tambourine boy had grown up. He still hadn’t learned to play the tambourine but instead of the sweet bright eyed boy there was now a clumsy and shy teenager. Now and then he glanced embarrassed at young tourist girls.

Monday, April 3, 2017

A nice Parisian haircut for free

It was my day off and I needed a nice haircut for free. Paris hair stylists are trend-setters and local hair salons regularly give trainings for hair-dressers coming from other parts of France or even from abroad. They are constantly in need of models for their training sessions and, therefore, offer free cuts for those who can stay at least two hours in a hairdresser’s chair. That’s how I have had my hair done for free several times and I have been more than satisfied with the results.
   This time I chose a salon that trains Japanese hair professionals in the latest Parisian technics. The hair salon was bright with ancient wood beams on the walls and ceiling. We were about twelve women of all ages in the waiting room where the trainees could pick a model of their choice. My natural hair was chosen among the first ones. I sat down with other models in a barber’s cape. The trainer was a French hair-dresser dressed all in black, except for his red leather boots.
The Japanese crew didn’t speak anything but Japanese so there was a translator who told them what the trainer said. The Japanese trainees were also all in black, as was the barber’s cape and even the bath towels. The man who had chosen my head was bold and wearing eye-glasses that looked like diving glasses. All I wanted was a nice new head and it could be done without chatting. I told the translator what kind of cut I was looking for. By their violent gesticulating I already understood that my Japanese hairdresser’s idea of my head was quite different from mine. Anyhow, he’s the artist. Better let him keep his idea, I thought. Soon some blond curls dropped on the floor.

Roman army attacking barbarians
They played Queens’s Bohemian Rhapsody as background music. My Japanese hairdresser got caught by a creative fever. He had a wild look in his eyes. He pushed and pulled my head in an almost violent way when cutting. I had hair hanging over my eyes now and I couldn’t go on typing. The man acted more like a sculptor than a barber. He seemingly enjoyed touching the material he didn’t have on his own head any more. Other Japanese hairdressers gathered one by one around us. My hairdresser was the only man among the trainees. I understood by the fragmentary sentences of the translator that he disagreed with the French trainer. Other Japanese trainees raised their voices and one of them touched my hair. The trainer took a marker pen and drew circles on the mirror, which he then split in different slices. My hairdresser snatched the pen from his hands and drew more slices but also arrows. It was like they were preparing the Roman army to attack barbarians. The Japanese trainees were almost yelling now and pointing their scissors and sharp tail combs in the air. No doubt a war was taking place over my head. I couldn’t believe all this was only because of my hair.  
   Thank goodness it was time to order their Sushi for lunch and they calmed down. Brushing took place in a more Zen atmosphere. My new hair cut was gorgeous! No doubt the war had been won. Once in the street I was surprised to see the world going around like before, since for the last two hours my hair had been the most important matter. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Exiled granny the supermarket
I had borrowed twenty euros from a friend. I had those twenty euros, no more, no less. I spent more time in the supermarket than usual to make sure I got the maximum bang for the buck. So called discount stores in the center of Paris don’t live up to their name as even the generic products on the lowest self are twice as expensive than the same in lower income neighborhoods. In the waiting line I added up prices once again in my head to avoid any embarrassing moments at the checkout counter, in front of the cashier. Some prices were slightly higher than those mentioned on the price tags but I scarcely made it.
   A gray haired lady in front of me was still packing her trolley shopping bag, which was now full even though some articles still lay on the counter. Other customers started getting irritated in the line. Too late, the lady realized that the trolley was too heavy and she couldn’t move it. Has she never been in a supermarket before? Anxious she glanced at the people around her. One can’t fill a shopping bag with twenty euros and my purchases were not heavy. I proposed to pull her trolley with the condition that she was not living far from the supermarket.

She had a superior smile on her face
Once outside I supposed she would turn in the direction of the council buildings. Instead, she headed towards the bridge, in the direction of Ile Saint Louis. I found it hard to believe that the granny shopping alone in Franprix was living on the prestigious Island in the middle of Paris. Maybe we would just cross the river to the Left Bank. She didn’t talk much. When she turned her head to look at the river I noticed her fine nose. She had a kind but somehow superior smile constantly on her face. The granny guided me to the west extremity of Ile Saint Louis. The mysterious granny happened to live in front of the place with the view of the Seine from her living room window. There was no lift so I carried the caddy up the stairs. It was hard and I wondered how she could have ever made it all alone. Anyhow, her apartment on the floor just above the building’s entrance, kind of an intermediary floor called entresol, was lacking light and rather modestly decorated. This kind of apartment with a low ceiling had generally lower rent than the floor above, more splendid in height and decoration. However, in Ile Saint Louis there is no such a thing as low rent. Every rat hole costs a small fortune.

Once inside the granny took a brick of lukewarm fruit juice from her trolley and poured me a glass. She handled the brick delicately like holding a precious teapot. She still didn’t do much talking, just thanked me simply and warmly when I left, the indecipherable smile still on her face. Once at the front door of the building, the guardian, who had peeped curious through the lace curtains when we entered, stepped out.
-          The princess is so nice and such a simple person, isn’t she?
-          Princess? I asked surprised.
-          Neith, the princess of Egypt! The guardian jubilated having been the one who broke the news.
At the same time she was amused about the fact that I didn’t know what kind of person I was dealing with. Her eyes were animated when she explained how the royal family was exiled to Paris some decades ago when she herself was still a young girl and her mother was the guardian of the house. She let me understand that some of the royal family members had died of a sleeping pill overdose in some of Europe’s palace hotels. Neith, one of the last members of the family and now impoverished led a lonely and sad life in Paris. She had gradually sold her other apartments in the building and kept only the entresol which she now occupied. Now she had no more properties to sell. The decoration being modest, the worthy furniture must have gone as well, piece by piece.

   I was astonished. Instead of assisting an ordinary poor elderly person, I had given my helping hand to a princess. One never knows, maybe she needed my help more than others.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

I finally got universal health care!
At last, I got good news from the Family Allowance Fund who finally accepted my demand for the universal health care, CMU. This could be considered a great victory as the eight-page claim form had boomeranged back with all the thirteen enclosed documents three times and I had regretted not only the lost time but also the wasted stamps. My family and I now had free health care. It means that we can go to the doctor and get medication without a penny being spent. I still had a half broken tooth in my mouth. In the meantime I had claimed a supplementary health care benefit and had been lucky to get it. But in the end, the amount covered only a part of the future operation. Therefore, I had postponed the operation and learned to masticate by using only the left side of my jaw.

A metallic crown for poors
I was finally able to go to the dentist! It was obvious that the half broken tooth couldn’t be prepared. I needed a crown. In my disappointment I learned that CMU covered only a cheap metal crown, not a porcelain one. The dentist didn’t even want to hear about a metal crown. He told me I would have a metallic taste in my mouth forever. I said I don’t care. All I want is to get a new tooth for free. But he still refused. The problem was that he had already started the dental operation. There was no coming back and I didn’t have one hundred and eighty euros for the porcelain crown. I argued fifteen minutes with the dentist’s accountant to make her accept an uncovered check. He promised not to cash it before the end of the month. 

Free end of the month credit by using a heque book 
It is not difficult to guess why French people are keen on their check books even though they are vanishing in other countries. The country being plunged into depression, check payment is poor people’s credit payment because it’s free of charge. Especially on Friday when you can be sure that it can’t be cashed until Monday. I do this every time a paycheck is to come on Monday.

   A 75 percent sponsored Paris Navigo transportation card and unprivileged people’s electricity and gas tariff were supposed to follow the CMU. I considered filling the claim forms for those two as soon as possible so that I could keep on using the metro without begging to social services every month.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

New handbag from the waist bin
After several weeks of scooter biking there was a huge hole in the sole of my left shoe with which I did the push offs. I made an appointment with social services - of which I was a regular customer now - to finance either a new pair of shoes or the Paris Navigo metro card. The latter was approved. Also the money was supposed to be available in two days. I was even luckier when I arrived home and found a nice second hand leather hand bag leaning against the common waist bin. In Paris people leave garments and other items still in good condition close to the waist containers for those in need. Many antique brokers also complete their stock by rich neighborhoods’ garbage. An old mirror frame you purchased not so cheap in the famous Clignancourt flea market has probably been found in one of the 16th arrondissement’s waste containers. 
The next day my new hand bag was noticed in the office.
-          Nice bag! Jee Eun Kim said, taking the bag and turning it in her hands. She then continued:
-          Couldn’t tell it is a no name brand bag. When I first came to Paris I was extremely surprised to see Parisians wearing whatever unbranded handbags, even cheap supermarket ones. In Seoul even the most modest working girl has a Vuitton, Channel or Hermes handbag. Wearing whatever hand bag in business would be a shame. I really expected to see even more fashionable bags on the streets of Paris.
-          Most Parisians are just ordinary people, we are not movie extras, I said.

Undeclared inheritance
She also let me know that she has always thought Scandinavian countries are rich and their citizens well-off. I responded that there was a period when levels of upward social mobility were high and a blue-collar worker’s son could become a state minister. A wrinkle between Jee Eun Kim’s eyes told me that she didn’t quite appreciate the idea. She nodded satisfied when I added that now we started also having very rich and very poor people like everywhere.
-          But I understand the taxes are high? She asked.

-          Yes, I would say so. Compared to the French system the main difference is that even small salaries and inheritances are taxed. I remember my grandfather once got a mean letter from the town tax office. According to the letter the administration had learned that he had gotten an inheritance that he had not declared. Grandfather was known as a calm man. But this time he got angry. He had, in fact, inherited an aunt. Except that the aunt was poor and the inheritance was nothing else than two worn-out linen kitchen towels. He took the inherited items together with the accusing letter and dropped in the town tax office with no previous warning. He threw both towels on the employee’s desk and said that the tax office could take one of them. He said he would appreciate if he could keep the less worn-out one. Finally they classified his file without taking the towel, I concluded. My boss found the story very funny. But I felt she didn’t believe it was all true.