Message Of The Day

Sat, 07 Oct 2006

18:59 [zork(~)] cat things-that-go-bump-in-the-night.txt

The Joy of Ikea

Very late last night I was sitting at the computer, trying to decide if anything I had to say on was worth going another half hour in the red on my sleep deficit for the week, when I hear a loud thud from the bedroom. I jump up and run to the doorway to find my husband sitting calmly in bed reading.

"Did you hear that?"

"What?" he asks, innocently.

"The thud."

"Oh, yeah. Something fell."

"From where?"

"From the bed."

"And you're not planning to get up and see what it was?"

"Must I?" He looks pretty comfortably installed, not at all inclined to get up and investigate. After all, whatever it was clearly hit the ground, so it can't fall any further, right? I, on the other hand, have decided that since he was the one sitting in the room when it happened, it is his duty to fix it.

"Well, when something falls off the bed, I think it's a good idea to at least figure it what it was. But do what you like." I go back to the computer.

A minute later I hear, "Heeeeelp!" from the bedroom, go in and find my husband hoisting the mattress on his shoulders and trying in vain to whack the side post of the headboard back into place. The bed came from Ikea Seattle, a college graduation present from my father over eight years ago. It has since moved from Seattle to Boston and Boston to Paris, taken apart on each occasion and put back together, as best as we could remember without the long-lost instruction booklet. I think its latest adventure, being dismantled completely and shoved in the bathroom while we had wood flooring installed, may have been its Waterloo.

"What do you want me to do?" I ask, quite annoyed. Now I'm sure of losing at least a half an hour of sleep with no journal entry to show for it.

"Get over there and push!" He motions to the other side of the bed. I squeeze in behind the bedstand, prop the mattress on my head, and try to get a purchase on the pine post that's slipped out of place. Two of those little filmsy Ikea-issue dowels look hopelessly misaligned with their holes, with at least two inches of space between them. I push. Nothing moves. He pushes on the other side. I, in my stocking feet, slide a foot back and hit the side of the dresser.

"I can't push!"

"You have to!"

A good twenty minutes of pushing, pulling, swearing and screaming at each other ensues, punctuated by muffled thuds as we manoeuvre the mattress around the room. At one point I'm completely blocked into a corner with the mattress leaning against my back, and I start laughing uncontrollably. Any remaining force I have is drained from me instantly. Comedy becomes tragedy a few minutes later when we knock over a lamp and break the lightbulb.

My husband finally has the bright idea of removing the bed slats before trying to pushing the headboard back together. Genius! At one o'clock in the morning GMT + 2, the whole thing is miraculously back in one piece. We've even profited from the lightbulb incident by finally getting all the dust bunnies (moutons, or sheep, in French) vaccuumed up.

Of course, I have absolutely no confidence that the bed will hold together for more than a couple of months. Ikea furniture has the bad habit of falling apart at the most inopportune moments, as on the morning my husband sat down to breakfast and had the kitchen chair collapse underneath him.

Meanwhile, I can only imagine what all this late night activity sounded like to our neighbors. Though the average Parisian has likely had similar Ikea adventures, I couldn't help but blush thinking about it.

Thu, 05 Oct 2006

23:19 [zork(~/paris)] cat prise-de-tete.txt

Prise de Tete

Prise de tete literally means "taking one's head," in the same way one could take a city or a castle. That's the accurate-yet-colorful translation: in everyday English, it means something like boring, frustrating, a waste of time or a pain in the ass. And as one would expect of such a useful, all-purpose term, it has got to be one of the most common phrases in modern French.


"Je voulais aller au cinema, mais c'etait trop prise de tete." I wanted to go to the movies, but it was too much of a pain in the ass.

"Qu'est-ce qu'il me prend la tete celui la." What a bore he is, he's wasting my time.

Particularly applicable in many common office situations.

One prime example of "prise de tete" is the French Office Greeting Protocol. It is very important to properly say hello to everyone upon your arrival in the morning. A simple "hello everybody" from across the room or a nod and smile while crossing in the hallway simply won't do. You must go around from desk to desk, shake everyone's hand and say hello to them directly and personally.

You must know in advance if the person in question gets a "bonjour" or the more familiar "ca va." This is a question of hierarchy and familiarity; I can "ca va" my boss, but not his boss. You must also be prepared to say hello to the person with their first name, as in "Bonjour, Philippe," but only if they do so first, and only if you're damn sure you've gotten the name right.

Half of the project managers in my office are named Philippe, so it's a safe fallback name when in doubt.

I tend to freeze and splutter something incomprehensible when someone addresses me out of the blue. I'll suddenly lose their first name, even though I've worked with them daily for over two years. Or I'll get so tripped up on the "bonjour or ca va" question that the name will come out after a long enough pause to make my colleague wonder if I'm suffering from early memory loss.

It isn't something that probably matters much really, but it's yet another example of an everyday script in my life here that I'm always feeling I get just a little bit wrong. On the other hand, I felt that way often enough even back in the US, I'm relieved to at last have the perfect excuse.

Don't mind me, I'm not from around here.

Speaking of prise de tete, I've tried to get the unicode character references to work without success, and I'm reluctant to mark all my text as raw html just to add in a few accented characters. Anyone with more experience or more hours of recent sleep is welcome to help me out.

00:11 [zork(~/paris)] cat et-portant.txt

Fluctuat nec mergitur

The motto of the city of Paris is a, to me, nearly unpronouncable Latin phrase that means something like "it is buffeted by the waves without being submerged." That is my literal, half-past-midnight translation from the French I found on the French wikipedia site. I prefer the way my husband translates it, "Et portant, elle flotte." And despite it all, she floats.

Paris is a city, and thus a feminine entity in French. I think that's why I prefer this last translation, which keeps the feminine pronoun, since I often feel I could adopt the motto as my own. Wikipedia also informs me that this motto comes from the Scilicet, the ship represented on the city's seal and symbol of a merchant's guild in the middle ages. The ship is almost unrecognizable as such on the city's modern logo, but it nevertheless has at least a half dozen centuries of history.

As of August 24th, 2006 I have three years of history as a resident of Paris. I don't even live in the city itself so I'm somewhat of a faux parisian, but more on that later. It's been almost eight years since I first visited here, in late 1998. Perhaps I've not much to tell yet.

Et portant, elle flotte. Not a bad place to start.

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