Archive for January, 2010

How to Shower a Cat

Posted in Cats at 13:36

Grey after his shower

Today I gave Grey a shower! Being the sweet cat he is, he complained merely by wailing pitifully and trying to get away from the shower head, but he would still purr when I lathered him and petted him. He never tried to scratch me.

I’ve noticed a real difference in temperament in these two cats that I’ve raised on my own. With unbroken consistency — having a cat with someone who doesn’t understand the importance of consistency can ruin that — and only positive reinforcement (though I do occasionally yell when they do something dangerous), they’ve both become very happy, well-behaved and trusting cats. They’ve never reacted in fear to me. Kanoko has the bad habit of dashing around underfoot, but even when I accidentally step on or kick him (oh, the guilt when that happens!), he won’t claw at my legs like other cats have. He just flips his ears back and puts himself out of harm’s way. Minus a bit of fur that’s stuck under my feet sometimes…

Grey’s coat had never quite recovered from his month or so on the streets; it was stringy, greasy and dandruffy. Although he’s eaten excellent food (Acana and Orijen) ever since arriving, and has regular brushings, his fur didn’t show much improvement. Thus his shower today. Grey’s fur looked much better even when it was damp, as in this photo, and now that it’s dry, it’s definitely nicer!

Vous et tu

Posted in La France at 21:38

Once upon a not-so-long-ago time, I had a post on the finer points of the French second person pronouns “vous” and “tu”, which can be second person formal (for a single person) or second person plural, and second person familiar/informal (only for a single person), respectively. I get quite a few visitors to my site from searches and old links to that “vous versus tu” article, so thought I’d write a newer version.

When you learn French, you’re usually taught that “vous” is used to address groups, or, when applied to just one person, someone who’s older, an authority figure (for instance your manager, senator, president, etc.), or someone you don’t know well. And “tu” is used with a person you do know well: relative, friend, colleague, child, and so forth. When it comes to children under the age of 17, I’ve never heard anyone call them “vous”; it’s always “tu”.

Then there are the more subtle implications that come with these pronouns. In my own, now ten-year experience, I would characterize “vous” as the “respectful pronoun”, and “tu” as the “friendly pronoun”. While these meanings go along with the “formal” and “informal” descriptions, “respectful” and “friendly” are closer to the true sensation given when they’re used. That said, although an authority figure may call you “tu”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re friends and can address them with “tu”! The general rule of thumb is to call an authority figure, such as your manager, “vous” until they say “on peut se tutoyer !” which means “let’s address each other with ‘tu’!” and is the polite way to, basically, let you know that you can use “tu” as well, since they’ve probably been using it all along.

This is where the complications come in. Rule number one: Use “vous” with clients. Even if/when they tell you that you can use “tu” with them. Even when they insist that, really, they feel uncomfortable with you saying “vous” while they’re calling you “tu”, and you get along with them famously. Always. Address. Clients. With “vous”. Except when you use “tu”. Now you’re saying, “what?? But you made it rule number one and said ‘always’!” Yes, but I live in France, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this country, it’s that when someone says “always” in France, it means “most of the time, except for the times when it’s okay, which you just sort of have to intuit, and if you’re mistaken, it’s your fault, but if you’re right, it makes things go much more smoothly.”

Example: When chatting about how things in general are going, if you know a client well and they’ve been using “tu” to address you (and, I would add, they’re not a Chief Head Director Manager), you can slip in a “tu” and see how they react. If they tense up, pretend that you didn’t really mean it by switching back to “vous” immediately, and don’t do “tu” again for a while, unless perhaps they invite you to. If, on the other hand, the person relaxes and talks to you more openly, congratulations! You can use “tu” safely whenever you’re not chatting about work. In any case, always use “vous” when discussing business matters. Why? “Vous” is a sign of respect, and also a sign of distance. In a professional context, it says, “you don’t need to take what I say personally, this is business.” “Tu” is always personal.

This can also protect you in professional life. Imagine, hypothetically speaking, that a client goes ballistic on you, using “tu” and calling you names that have nothing to do with your work, but are, instead, of a personal nature. If you respond angrily, but use “vous” and choose your comments with basic respect in mind, you’ll be fine. But if you use “tu”, even with essentially respectful responses? You can be written up or even fired with cause. Remember: “vous” is respectful, “tu” is personal. Practically anything (except clear insults) you say when using “vous” is tinged with respectful restraint. This is especially true in a professional context. (However, if you were to use “vous” with a friend, it would still be seen as distancing, and rude, since true friends always use “tu”.) On the other side of the coin, I’ve rarely seen anything good come out of fights that degrade into pointed “tu”s shot like arrows (the French have a peculiar way of pronouncing “tu” and “toi” when they’re really pissed off that makes it clear how little they think of the person they’re aiming it at). There are middle-of-the-road disagreements with “tu” just as there are in English, mainly between friends, but a civilized duel between people using “vous” will never attain the same unrestrained, in-the-dirt depth of brawls that only “tu” can reach.

In everyday life I’ve had to deal with a few difficult neighbors, and using “vous” with them has been instrumental: it can calm them down to simply point out, “moi, je vous vouvoie, alors vous voyez qu’il y a du respect, quand même !” which means “I’m calling you ‘vous’, so you can tell there’s respect, okay!” This almost always worked on a loud upstairs neighbor I had in my previous apartment. He would get drunk, turn on football (soccer) matches at two in the morning, throw around furniture, and inevitably I’d open my window and say, “baissez le son, s’il vous plaît !” (“Turn it down, please!” using “vous”.) He’d usually reply, “comment tu me parles, toi !!!” (Literally, “how are you talking to me!!!” but it has rather aggressive undertones in French; it’s more like asking “just who do you think you’re talking to!!!”) To which I’d respond with the “I’m calling you ‘vous’.” He’d calm down and say, “oh. Excusez-moi, madame,” which is the “vous” form, see!

As regards “vous” among relatives, it’s rare to see people still address family members with “vous”, but I have experienced it. My ex-grandfather-in-law was an exceptionally neat person, who, among other things, had been clarinettist in the Lyon National Orchestra and had fought in WWII as part of the French Resistance. (He would get terribly sad when telling stories about it, never proud; he’d always seen it as his moral duty to be a résistant.) When I first met him, I called him “vous”, as is the norm. Although he later said I could call him “tu”, I never could bring myself to do it; I felt too much respect for him. He had earned his “vous”. There are some families where grandchildren will vouvoyer (use vous with) their grandparents, so it wasn’t entirely unusual, but that is changing.

High-fashion scam in Nice

Posted in Journal, Nice at 14:58

Today while walking home from grocery shopping, a man called to me from his rental car in the street, while waving a map. Used to being asked for directions here (I seem to have an “ask me for directions” face), I approached, cautiously nonetheless. He pointed to the railway station and asked if I spoke Italian. “No, sorry,” since my Italian for directions is pretty terrible. He then asked if I spoke English. “Yes, I do,” I smiled. “Your English is good!” he remarked, “where are you from?” “Oh, I’m American,” and suddenly his story got complicated.

He said there’d been a problem at the airport. “Radio, boom!” he said. “Ah,” I nodded, puzzled. “I have been in Nice for three days. I am a fashion director for Armani in Milano,” he said with some confidence. I looked at him: hair shaved at the same length all over, no-name watch, nondescript beige V-neck sweater over a nondescript white dress shirt, black canvas man-purse. Hmmm. He continued, “I have been staying at the Negresco, giving a fashion exhibition. And after the exhibition, you know, we give away the clothes! Because we can’t keep them! And now I have to go back to Rome. Would you like free clothes?” Hm. Milano, he claims, but then he says “go back” to Rome? Milan and Rome are not exactly close to each other. In Nice he’d been at the Negresco? That’s only a couple kilometers from the airport, what was he doing on the opposite side of Nice, and what on earth had been the original story about the railway station? Plus, an international fashion director who doesn’t speak French, only English and Italian? Yeah right. I smelled a rat. Ever the curious cat, I pretended to be interested, just to see where his scam went. There was no one else on the street, it was my own street, the shop behind me is owned by someone who knows me, and I was safely ensconced between two parked cars on his passenger side; even at the worst, he couldn’t open the door and nab me.

He once again brought up my nationality. “You’re really American! Wow!” Idiot, I thought, you take me for a tourist who won’t see through your bullshit story and who wouldn’t know who to contact before it’s too late. “Would you like a leather jacket?” Oh, sure, I pretended. He flashed his plasticised “business card”, his thumb placed directly over the company name, then showed me photos of models wearing crappy box-cut leather jackets. “I give you this one, all right? But, I explain you my problem!” Ah, we finally get to the point, I thought. He continued: “So, haha, you know what it is like, you go to the casino, you gamble, and, eh, you lose. Five thousand euros I lost yesterday! Ah!” Uh-huh, sure. He went on, “and so, my problem is I have no gas to get to the airport and no money to pay for it. I’m very happy to give you a leather jacket!” as he set a cheap, no-name plastic bag on the passenger seat, then added, “I just need some money for gas.” “There’s a gas station a kilometer down the street,” I said matter-of-factly. “Yes, but, I have no money to pay for it! Haha! I lose everything yesterday! Five thousand euros, can you imagine!” “Yeah, that was irresponsible of you, wasn’t it,” I backed off. “You have no money you can give me? But I give you free leather jacket! Not even a few euro to get to airport?” he insisted. “No! Ciao ciao!” I walked off.

I called the city police as soon as I was home, two minutes later. However, the city police told me that they don’t handle scams like this; the national police (gendarmes) do, so I phoned them. The officer asked me to describe the scam, and if I had the guy’s license plate. Unfortunately I hadn’t thought to memorize it, but I did know which rental company his car was from, and what kind of car he was driving. Normally it’s the license plate that matters, but when I told the gendarme that the guy was still driving around my part of the city, the gendarme took what I had for a description and thanked me.

If you are approached by someone telling a story like this, do not give them any money. Even if it were true, someone who works for a company and who’s on a business trip, would be able to contact their management and get emergency funds. (Or, y’know, he could have sold his leather jackets, if it were true he didn’t need them and so urgently needed cash.) Besides that, if someone is so foolish and irresponsible as to blow everything they have at a casino, including their gas money, well, quite frankly, they can walk to the airport, for all I care. Take down their license plate number, but don’t make a scene of it, and phone the French national police once you’re somewhere secure. Scams and rackets here can and do get violent, there’s no point risking your personal safety. That’s precisely why I checked that the guy didn’t have associates somewhere, that there was at least one witness who knew me, and, obviously, I was on my own street. Anywhere else, I would have just walked away.

Happy 2010!

Posted in Journal at 01:07

A meme that’s been making the rounds:
1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?
Called French national police (gendarmes) to my home due to a dangerous, mentally ill neighbor (glad I’ve only had to do that once); painted my walls (had never done home painting before).

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don’t make resolutions.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes, several colleagues had babies! They’re all adorable and healthy.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Last year was one of the first years I can remember in which no one close to me passed away.

5. What countries did you visit?
Italy and Switzerland

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
Better physical shape: I didn’t bike as much as I wanted to, and am starting a simple upper-body strength program (push ups and sit ups).

7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
It was an eventful year, I could name many things; but seeing kabuki performed by highly talented actors and musicians was incredible.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Restoring the beautiful original “tomettes” floor in my apartment, on my own.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not managing to get my bathroom water damage repaired

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I came down with swine flu, which was the worst illness I’ve had since my childhood

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Paint for my walls

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My brother’s. He’s awesome.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
I plead the Fifth

14. Where did most of your money go?
Mortgage and food

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Coming home every evening to my dear, sweet kitties and a comfy bed. Simple pleasures are often the best.

16. What song will always remind you of 2009?
None in particular

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? Happier
b) thinner or fatter? Same, but in a bit worse shape
c) richer or poorer? Less in debt, so “richer” :)

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Seeing friends, sewing, writing, biking

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Reading websites (even if they are informative)

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
Spent it at home with Kanoko, Grey, and a delicious home-cooked meal

21. Did you fall in love in 2009?
No, but friendships deepened, which was great

22. How many one-night stands?
My reading lamp is on the same one nightstand I’ve had for a while now. (Yeah, I’ve never had a one-night stand and never will.)

23. What was your favorite TV program?
Mad Men

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
I don’t do hate. Such a pointless waste of energy.

25. What was the best book you read?
Ise Monogatari

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Old university friends sharing videos from when we were in marching band 14-16 years ago. (For instance, Oregon Marching Band at the 1995 Rose Bowl!)

27. What did you want and get?
Adopted a second cat, earned a raise, and got a small oven

28. What did you want and not get?
I’d have liked to find someone neat with whom to start a relationship.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?

30. What did you do on your birthday?
I forget

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Can’t really say

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
Chic French hippy business

33. What kept you sane?
Getting home every evening and opening my front door to the sight of my two cats, purring and excited to see me

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Eh. I’ve never really fancied famous people, because I know that I don’t know who they really are.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Health care for the US, the ridiculous “identité nationale” so-called “debate” in France

36. Who did you miss?
My brother and my cousins!

37. Who was the best new person you met?
I didn’t get to know any new people very well

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009:
One I’ve long known, that keeps getting confirmed as life goes on: sincerity and integrity, along with compassion, earn respect, and even when overlooked, give you an inner strength that keeps you going during the worst of times.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
Encore un matin, ami, ennemi (Another morning, friend, enemy)
Entre la raison et l’envie (Between reason and desire)
Matin pour agir ou attendre la chance (Morning to act or to wait for luck)
Ou bousculer les évidences (Or to shake up things taken for granted)
Matin innocence, matin intelligence (Morning innocence, morning intelligence)
C’est toi qui décide du sens (You’re the one who chooses the meaning)
– Jean-Jacques Goldman, Encore un matin