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.