Friday, February 6, 2009

Character Forming

I've had a busier week than I anticipated and have not had the chance to blog. I went to a great wine tasting on Wednesday (it will get its own post in a few moments), where I made a potential new friend (you know how it is - I'm still administering the psychometric tests and checking her references) and found out about some potential work for the autumn. I really like my current job - teaching English to adults - but I would much prefer to have a job teaching my own subject in a university setting.

Today I had an experience that I am going to use to start a list entitled, "Things I have to do that are probably character-forming, but really, how much more character do I need?" Item number one: having oral surgery in a language you don't fully understand.

I've been having occasional pain in my jaw for the last 2-3 years and my British dentist attributed it to stress, reasoning that I was probably grinding and clenching my teeth. He even made me a £60 rubber mouthguard to wear at night. When, in November, one of my wisdom teeth began to emerge, painfully, I summoned the courage to go to a French dentist. He laughed at the rubber mouthguard and told me that the wisdom teeth, not stress, were responsible for the pain. Basically, I've been teething for the past few years, and the British dentist might as well have given me a rattle dipped in whiskey. Gaaah.

So, after a series of appointments, x-rays and an MRI, I had the first of two bottom wisdom teeth extracted this morning under local anaesthetic and a "relaxation" pill. The surgery itself was not too bad. I had quite a bit of pain this afternoon as the anaesthetic began to wear off. MCM collected me from the dentist office (in my relaxed state, I wouldn't have made it home alone) and has been preparing me cold, liquid, non-alcoholic meals. So much for the diet of coffee, wine and bread! Mazarine has offered to come by tomorrow for an afternoon of girly movies and smoothies.

My impression of French dentistry is that the level of care is quite good, and that if French people don't have good teeth, it's because they don't really believe in preventative care and only go to the dentist when they have a problem, at which point it's often too late. My dentist, for what it's worth, is a kind, young and pretty groovy guy. He wears bright orange scrub tops with jeans and cowboy boots and has a Louis Vuitton man-purse in the corner of his office. He's also good at explaining things. I got to keep the ginormous tooth, which I'll put under my pillow for la petite souris (the little mouse - French tooth fairy).

Speaking of health and characters... yesterday afternoon I spent a few hours searching for a mutuelle, the private health care that most French people buy to bridge the actual cost of health care and what is covered by La Secu, the national health service (usually 20-30% of actual costs are not covered). MCM had done most of the research but we couldn't do anything until we received my social security number, which happily arrived on Wednesday. I finally settled on a plan and ended up having to purchase it over the phone, which was pretty tedious for the insurance saleswoman (I had to give all our bank and personal details and social security numbers, and I struggle a bit with French numbers. For example, 92 is read as "four twenties and twelve). But, hey, I did it!

I felt a bit drained after the long conversation and decided to walk to the grocery store to get some dinner, taking my shopping trolley and a big bag of bottles to put in the glass recycling bank on the way. Somehow, though, halfway down the three flights of stairs in my building, I tripped and dropped the bag, sending bottles flying. I ran got my broom and, floor by floor, started cleaning up the mess. When I got to the bottom one of my neighbours came through the front door and I tried to apologise and explain the situation. This neighbour is an elderly, somewhat shrunken North African man, who wears a long, dark-green hooded robe, a crocheted prayer cap and leather slippers. I've heard him praying in his apartment before and I'd seen him shuffling around the entrance to the building, but we'd never spoken much before. (In general, the urban French like to keep their neigbours at a distance. When I moved here I asked French people if I should go around the building and introduce myself, and they were horrified).

Our conversation was somewhat limited by both of our accents (although maybe less so mine - he seemed to think I was another elderly neighbour's daughter), and the fact that he appears to be working with just one tooth. It went a bit like this:

Me: Oh, I am so sorry; I fell and dropped bottles; I am so sorry!
Neighbour: Mumble mumble mumble?
Me: Uhh, sorry? I... I had bottles... I was going to the recycling center?
Neighbour: Mumble mumble!
Me: Uhh...recycling?
Neighbour: Bwahahahah! Empty!
Me: Oh! Yes, yes! Empty bottles! Yes! Empty!

He then went into this apartment and emerged with a second dustpan and broom and proceeded to take over the cleanup. For a guy who normally walks with a cane, he was surprisingly agile and handy with a broom!

1 comment:

  1. I love the story about the neighbor. It's typical of the kind of inter-cultural negotiation you have to do when you're really not up for it! Seems like you ended up with a nice neighbor, though, and at least you now know one person in the building. I can just imagine the horrified expressions when you mentioned knocking on neighbors' doors! :D


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