Here is a short video which desribes my impressions from using the unisex bathroom at my workplace. The video is taken from the Israeli program “קצרים” (Ktsarim – shot ones/shorties), which presents short humorous sketches.
The word that the girl says in the end of this episode is the name of the program, which in this case has double meaning : «short ones, uh ? »
One strikingly negative thing about Bordeaux is drunk people harassing tram passengers.
Yesterday was already forth or fifth time when I observed such a scene – a drunk person, barely standing on his feet, enters the tram and starts leaning on nearby people for support, asking questions to women, and just making everyone uncomfortable by his very appearance, smell and unpredictable movements. The very first time that I saw this was when I came to Bordeaux for the interview, but by now I have to conclude that it is a usual thing here.
Let us give some credit to Russians, who have extensive experience of dealing with drunk people. In Russia a drunk man has to behave quietly - understanding passengers may even give him a seat and inquire where he intends to get off, lest he misses his station. However, if the drunk tries to annoy people around him, the situation quickly gets violent – the sober men around immediately team up to eject the offender from the tram/bus on the nearest station or simply beat him into quiet submission.
I doubt that this would work in Bordeaux – first of all, because the violence would be hardly considered an appropriate response, and I am not sure how much support one could expect from the surrounding people. In any case, so far I have only seen people (men and women alike) to move to the other part of the tram or, if moving is not possible, pretend that nothing happens, even though their displeasure is obvious.
Till now I have observed these scenes from the distance and, though they make me angry, I would be reluctant to get into a fight. Firstly, because I will be probably considered a greater offender. Secondly, I am not very sure about my fighting ability (I could deal with those who barely stand on their feet. But there is a particular guy, whom I’ve seen already twice, that clearly annoys people on purpose. Yet he seems to stand firmly and his feet, and looks like a familiar kind of Eastern-European hooligan. He seems like the type who would not be intimidated by a threat of violence as quickly as law-abiding Europeans and who may turn out to have a knife in his pocket – something that I am not willing to check.)
Sooner or later one of these drunk guys will happen to stand next to me, and I will be forced to make a few difficult decisions: whether to retreat quietly and let him harass others (and there may be women among them – sorry for being chauvinistic, but I feel somewhat protective.) I will also have to restrain myself to react cautiously and not to get into a fight, risking to be beaten back or have to deal with police.
French people kiss each other’s in cheeks when they meet. Depending on the region of France the number of kisses can be from one to four – underkissing or overkissing may lead to “l’embarrass social”. In Bordeaux the appropriate number of kisses is two.
What is more surprising is that men also kiss each other. Previously I only heard about this, but today I saw it with my own eyes. And “no” – the two guys did not look homosexual… they even were with their girlfriends.
Same evening I met a “girl’s night out” party. The bride wore a crown, and all the girls had pink ribbons in their hair – tied the same way as they tie ribbons to little schoolgirls. Given that all of them looked baby-plump, they indeed gave impression of a group of oversized kids.
Ecole des Garcons
I was quite amused when saw a girl locking from the inside the iron gate of the building with a huge sign “Ecole des Garcons” (Boys school). Perhaps, the old school building has been converted to apartments.
Every foreigner planning to spend extended time in France (i.e. more than the three months allowed to a tourist) has to undergo a medical examination.
I felt very apprehensive about it – perhaps due to the tedious and rather invasive medical examinations that I had to undergo in the past in Russia, most of which had something to do with potential military service. But it turned out to be very easy and quick, which is not very surprising, given that most of it was performed on the basis of my verbal statements.
They did however make me undergo X-ray (no unpleasant surprises there) and measured my height and weight. The latter procedure resulted in a rather obvious statement that I have some extra weight (178/88), so I had to give away a drop of my blood to alleviate the concerns that I may have diabetes.
The diabetes test was preceded by a discussion of what I had eaten for lunch and how much sugar I put in the coffee. Incidentally, while I waited for the appointment, I discovered a very nice coffee shop, where I had a cup of rather good coffee, which came with a piece of sugar. I tried to explain that this was an exception, before I realized that what mattered was how much sugar could be in my blood right now, not in general. Glad that we did not dwell deeper into the subject - this might have led to the unpleasant discussion of the amount of chocolate which I consume to compensate for the absence of sugar in my coffee and tea.
Perhaps, the most important consequence is that my last name was consistently misspelled on all the medical papers, and in a very ridiculous way. Although a correction was made and certified by a proper stamp, I foresee that this typo will haunt me during the rest of my stay in France.
Little linguistic discovery – “nems” is the French word for “spring rolls”, the package of which you can see in the picture (sorry for choosing the non-kosher ones, but I am tired of chicken.)
The reason why this peculiar word attracted my attention is my new field of research – the subject to which was devoted the conference in Toulouse from which I have just returned - Nano-Electro-Mechanical Systems (NEMS)
From now jokes about NEMS will replace in my life the jokes about SQUID (Superconducting QUantum Interference Device.)
Toulouse is just like another big city –like New York or Tel Aviv. It probably has all the attractions of such a city, but also meets you with all its ugliness: a channel with a green water, where you will supposedly want to take a boat trip… the center of the city filled with exhaust from the multilane roads passing through it… people of uncertain occupations and in dirty clothes, taking a nap on benches, eating on a grass near the sidewalk or wandering without obvious purpose near the bus station… small restaurants with dusty signs and greasy small tables… and, close to the luxurious hotels, a “business” street, which already at noon was attended by two black prostitutes and a gigantic man dressed in woman’s clothes.
From now on my advice to my friends traveling to France will be: “Get a haircut!”
This especially applies to men – you will see that cutting hair has nothing to do with “efficiency”.
Most probably your hairdresser will be a charming young lady with just enough English to follow your instructions.
You will be offered coffee and the gown, that the hairdresser puts on you, will conveniently have holes for the arms, so that you can read journals.
For the first few minutes you will feel yourself like a furry animal, while the hairdresser will be playing with your hair, estimating its texture and quality.
Then you will realize that the mirror is not centered against your face – rather it is placed in such a way that you can see the hairdresser gracefully bending while cutting your hair. She will cut it slowly and self-absorbedly, so that you will have time to appreciate her low cleavage.
But the highlight will be shampooing. She will not merely wash your head, but strike it sometimes fast, and sometimes slowly… touching different points on your scalp in order to determine what kind of stimulation causes you to smile… to shiver… to get aroused. She will give you a full head petting.
Get a haircut!
A girl on a motorbike, wearing an orange helmet, comes out of a side street and stops before entering the main boulevard. I am crossing the street behind her back, checking her out with a corner of my eye. Suddenly she turns and asks me something. I helplessly answer: “Je ne parle pas francais”. The bike engine is revving and she cannot hear me and asks her question again - I answer the same thing, but she still can’t hear me. She tries one more time, but then gives up, and with a look meaning “Alas, this is not meant to be” drives off. It is unlikely that she was asking for directions, since she knowledgeably navigates her bike into a different side street on the other side of the boulevard.
Half an hour later I am sitting in a tram station, as a group of teenagers passes by. The girl, following in the rearguard, suddenly screams at her male companions, who have just started crossing to the other side of the tram tracks. It seems that she is the only one who has a clear plan. She sits down on the bench not far from me and a heated exchange in French happens between her and the boys. Suddenly she says to one of them in distinct Russian “Durak, chto li?” (“Are you an idiot?”), and adds an obscene word, which is however smoothed by her French accent. They continue arguing in French.
I looked in the direction of the music and saw a girl in a fancy convertible. She didn’t look like any rich woman that I had seen before: she was too young to be a business lady, who was earning enough money to have such a car. Neither did she have the arrogant “I won the life lottery” look of a wife of a rich husband. She could be a daughter of a rich man, partying on her father’s money… but then the music would be characteristic “Boom-Boom-Boom”, whereas what attracted my attention was a piece of opera, which I loosely placed somewhere in “The Barber of Seville”. Indeed, this was not one of the flashy famous arias, but something not immediately recognizable - which means that she either had a full record of the opera or the car radio was tuned to the classical music channel.
I decided that she must be the heiress of an ancient family, who inherits from her ancestors not only their fortune, but also their developed in generations sophistication.
Her car stopped in a minor traffic jam, and I had enough time to look her over while I passed by. A bit later the jam moved, and I passed her by again. This time she was looking me over. She was quite confident and did not take her eyes away when I glanced back at her.
The thing that single men do best is fantasizing about romantic situation, in which a gorgeous woman makes a pass on them. So I thought through the whole thing for her: since I am on the opposite side of the street, she cannot just stop by me. Thus, her only option is to wait till the traffic moves, pass me, and take the left turn into the next perpendicular street.
Soon I discovered that the jam was due to a traffic light near the entrance to the wide George V Boulevard. As I crossed the boulevard, I presumed that she would turn into the boulevard and vanish from my life. Yet, to my great surprise, a minute later I saw her in front of me prepared to make the left turn into the street that I was approaching to!
She seemed to be hesitating, throwing alternating glances on me and on the incoming traffic, as if not sure whether she would succeed to make the turn before I cross the street or whether it would be better to overtake me in the next block.
I remembered my friend’s recent advice to be less pretentious, and put my eyes down. She made the left turn, slowly passed by me and drove away. Perhaps, she mistook me for someone else.
- Vous voulez cette place?
- Non… - I am unable to hide my astonishment that the girl offered me her seat. All right, she looks like a sweet teenager who was taught to give place to elderly. But even though I am probably twice as old as she is, I definitely do not look old – “a man in his prime” would be a better way to describe me.
Since a teenager is no good even as a hypothetic romantic object, my look quickly wanders away from the girl and I consider various reasons for her offering me the place.
She might have offered the seat to a pregnant woman, but even with account for my early-middle-age belly, I cannot pass for a woman even for a second.
He might have thought that I am a bum or a drunk. When I go for a walk I put my comfortable clothes, which have holes. They are not torn, but rather well-worn, and even with all the holes I know that they are clean-looking, and I definitely do not smell of alcohol or anything nasty.
The girl gets up in order to exit at the next station, and now I take a better look at her. She is about sixteen-eighteen. Not only is she pretty, but she is also well-dressed. She wears extremely long stiletto heels, but the shoes are brown rather than teenage-pink that one might have expected, and she holds her back very straight and relaxed. And in everything else she has a posture of a grown up woman rather than a teen – nothing flashy and no sparks on her cheeks. She wears cream color pants and a bit darker jacket and her hair is gathered in a discreet pony-tail.
She is not alone, but with three or four boys of the same age – apparently all of them going out. Yet, she is clearly the leader of the group – she looks and behaves as an older person chaperoning a group of children. They are probably her friends or classmates – she hardly considers them as a boyfriend material – rather she seems like a girl who is interested in dating more mature men.
Suddenly, I realize: could it be that she made a pass on me?