Thursday, October 4, 2007

And the work begins

I'm feeling particularly tired today, and I hope this is just a fluke rather than it being indicative of the rest of the semester.

I have a paper due in two weeks on art history, my knowledge of which is entirely limited to the course I'm taking now, but since I met with my professor, I feel like I kind of know how to approach it now. This paper is only 10 pages, and yet, I think it's the longest thing I've written since college. (I'm telling you, NYU is not a real school! No wait, correction. The College of Arts and Science at NYU is not a real school; some classes are individually decent, but as a whole, it is a joke. The grad programs however, are rather legitimate, as far as I know.)

Overall, I've done far more work at AUP in one month than I have ever done at NYU (two years combined), although it's mostly because I'm actually doing the readings here (and I'm probably exaggerating, although not consciously). I'm not sure why I don't do them in New York, but I think it has to do with the fact that my smallest class size there has been something like 50, whereas here, the largest class I'm in is more like 15. I should say though, that the environment here is even less academic than at NYU (if that is indeed possible). There's a lot of heavy drinking and clubbing during the weekdays, which I think is pretty excessive.

Tip: This isn't travel-related, but for anyone who will be applying to college, I vastly underestimated the importance of class size. While I've always preferred to have a personal relationship with my teachers or professors, I didn't realize just how much that affected my liking of school and my likelihood of caring about and doing the work. I suppose if you actively prefer not to be noticed so that you don't have to do the work, then large class sizes are the way to go. But if that's the case, I'm not entirely sure why you're going to college. That is, I do believe that college is critical - for personal development, for a stable future, for life experience - but if you don't want to be there, I can't help but think it's an enormous waste of money. I could probably go on for a lot longer about college selection, but that isn't really the purpose of this trog. I may devote a post to it later on.

Yesterday was my first day at work! All the attorneys in the office are really nice. My boss is American, his wife is French, one of the other attorneys is Irish but sounds English because of his schooling, and the rest are French (as far as I know). A bunch of them are out because of a big annual accountant conference in Lyon, but I'll meet them next week. My boss has two other interns, one of whom is from Texas, and the other of whom is from the Netherlands, and they're both very nice. A perk to working there is a free lunch every week at a decent restaurant. Yesterday I had salmon, fondant au chocolat, and some white wine at Bistro Romain (which is a chain of Italian restaurants), although the food was a bit salty for my taste. At law offices here, the lawyers work together but not really - that is, they collaborate when it's useful, and they're all friends, but their business/their clients are their own. Or in other words, there's no big picture "what's best for the firm" mentality; it seems like you're much more your own boss here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Paris Metro

The Metro here is a bit different than the subway in New York. First of all, the Carte Orange, which is the biweekly or monthly pass here, goes by the calendar rather than number of days from the first use. Also, on some lines, there isn’t a physical separation between cars. You can see all the way down the train, which looks really weird (in a cool way) when it straightens after a curve.

Tip: For anyone who's actually coming in the near future, the monthly pass is currently 53,50€ for zones 1 and 2. If you're staying longer than a month, it might be worth it to get a NaviGO pass, which is what I have now. It functions in exactly the same way (although the other option is weekly rather than bi-weekly), but it's a magnetic card instead of a paper ticket, so you don't have to worry about digging it out of your wallet and then sticking it in the slot. Just swipe and go. In fact, a lot of women, just keep in the bottom of their purse, slide the whole thing across the sensor, and walk through. You can apply for the NaviGO online; it's quick and easy, although you need a small picture of yourself. Then they mail it to you in about a week.

Furthermore, whereas people will inevitably hold the doors open on the New York subway, it really isn’t done in Paris. The doors close much more quickly and would probably cause some minor hand injury if you tried. In fact, there's a little cartoon image of a bunny trying to stop the doors with a shocked face, presumably by the closing of the doors, under which it explains to little kids not to do exactly that. (You can tell it's for little kids not only because of the bunny, but also because it uses "tu" instead of "vous," the former being the informal "you" and the latter being the formal "you.")

Tip: Don’t push the button/turn the handle to open the doors when someone (especially a small child) is leaning on or holding onto them. It’s very startling.

I actually think the Paris Metro system is way more efficient than New York's subway system. I know people are always talking about how great the New York one is, but I really don’t think so. I mean, it’s definitely not bad, but crosstown transportation lines are few and far between. Here, on the other hand, you’re much more likely to find a direct transfer no matter where you’re going.

The Paris does, however, lose points for closing at night. A direct effect of this is that instead of staying out until 2 or 3 and then going home, people here just stay out until the Metro opens, which is around 5 or 6. For me personally, that's not an option. I like to sleep (a lot), and I’ve established that I don’t like clubs, which are the only things open that late. The only time I’ll be up overnight is for Nuit Blanche, which is actually this Saturday. This is an annual event when museums along a certain metro line (#14 this year) are open for free all night, and there are a bunch of exhibitions and performances all along the streets.

Graham is probably not going to be able to make it, which means -

Tip: If possible, book your travel well in advance. Prices climb like crazy when it gets down to the wire.

Also, tip: If you've got plenty of time and what you lack is money, consider getting a 15- or 30-day unlimited pass from Eurolines. It's a continental bus service, which means travel time will be a lot longer, but it's also a lot cheaper. Be aware though, that flying may still make more sense if you plan on travelling pretty long distances.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Michael's House of Bilinguals

(Yes, bilingual can function as a noun, referring to the person who speaks two languages.)

On Saturday I was browsing the boards at Franglo.com, a website for Anglophone people in France, and under the section for "conversation exchange," there was a post from a guy named Michael who hosts people every Saturday for the purpose of conversation exchange. I thought I'd give it a shot and see what it was all about.

It was actually kind of mindblowing. For a 10€ contribution, you get a cup of tea and a buffet of snacks, and everyone there is looking to practice their English or French, depending on which side of the Atlantic they're from. It was really cool to meet people in this sort of low-pressure environment, where it's a given that you're not a master of the language. The sheer number of bilinguals in one man's apartment was amazing, and many of us have working knowledge of more than two languages. I ended up going out to dinner afterwards with a group of people who were there, and we had some pizza at a restaurant. (You can tell when food is unremarkable, because I don't spend an entire post on it.) I've since responded to a few other conversation exchange posts to see if they're equally fruitful.

Also, today I saw Death at a Funeral, or Joyeuses Funerailles, which is a newly released British comedy. I highly recommend it.

Tip: Some resources for Anglophones in Paris are franglo.com, Pour-Vous-Paris.com, FUSAC (a free bi-weekly magazine), and The Paris Times (a free monthly publication). These are all good ways to find out about people who meet on a regular basis for conversation exchange, upcoming events, and random other things of interest. Also, if you are a member of CouchSurfing (mentioned previously), there are city- and region-specific groups that often meet in person.