Archive for February, 2008


Matthew’s mood-o-meter

Well, after a few weeks in France, the novelty is beginning to wear off a little bit. We’ve had our fair share of problems settling in, both personally and professionally, that take off a little bit of the glow.

We’ve been struggling to get our phone line installed for several weeks, passed continuously between customer service and technical support, neither of whom are very helpful (and both of whom are accessed via a premium-rate number that costs 35 cents a minute to call). They’ve sent us all the equipment, but they’ve actually installed the line at our neighbours’ apartment and they insist there’s nothing they can do to reverse it.

We’ve tried explaining that our neighbour might be upset to discover that he no longer has phone service at his flat when he returns from his holidays. We’ve tried explaining that we’re not particularly happy paying for phone service when they’ve connected it to the wrong flat, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem in their books.

Things at work are complicated on both sides of the Channel. On the English side, they still haven’t managed to re-enable all my old UK accounts, nearly a month after my move to France. On the French side, they’ve managed to reject all of my moving expenses (which they’d previously agreed to pay) and told me that I will first be entitled to vacation in the middle of 2009. These are all misunderstandings that will be cleared up in the fullness of time, but it’s frustrating nevertheless.

Aided with Powerpoint presentations and visual aids, I think I finally managed to convey to my bank the problems with my internet banking arrangements (which seem to think that my personal account and joint account belong to two separate people, with the same name at the same address). My two previous in-person visits to resolve this issue have been unsuccessful, but I remain confident that my well-polished presentation today will get me over the hurdle.

I’m nearly convinced that I will be paid this month, but still not certain. It’s all an adventure.

I’m officially a convert to rail travel. This week, I’ve done Paris-London by Eurostar, London-Birmingham by Virgin Trains, and Zurich-Paris on TGV. Without exception, the trains have been quick, reliable, comfortable and clean. Yes, I’ve heard all the horror stories about what happens when trains go wrong. But door-to-door, I think they’re just as quick as taking the plane and far less hassle, as I can work the entire journey.

As I type this, I’m enjoying a lovely glass of Riesling and a scallop and saffron risotto as I watch the Swiss countryside go by. It’s much more agreeable than the cold cheese sandwich and lousy cup of tea I had on my flight from Birmingham to Zurich last night. I paid more than €560 for my economy class flight ticket. My first class train ticket cost me €132. I can’t understand why anyone chooses to fly in Europe.

On Monday, our meetings were held on an active production site with a chocolate factory just outside the meeting room we were working in. Everywhere you went, there was an overwhelming smell of cocoa – I felt like any minute Willy Wonka was going to pop out and say hello. It was really bizarre. I raided the factory shop after our meetings and have come home with a suitcase full of chocolates – I figured they’d make good conversation-starters at the office.

I stayed in the Radisson SAS hotel on Monday night. Those crazy Scandinavians have their own unique sense of design. The room looked like a cross between a Bang & Olufsen stereo and a TV test pattern, all the carpets and soft furnishings a rainbow of reds, pinks and purples.

After my short flight to Zurich, I managed to arrive in Zug around 11pm, only to discover that the hotel had managed to give away my room (and, this being Switzerland, they’d given it away with remarkable efficiency – it had been resold by 7pm apparently). They finally managed to find me another hotel room at the motorway hotel – the very last one, a handicapped room and very noisy at the top of the stairs. It certainly wasn’t the Ritz.

It’s nearly impossible to find a hotel room in Zug (note to investors: building a hotel in Zug is a sure-fire winner) so I’m back in the same motorway hotel next week. Hopefully they’ll put me in a nicer room next time as a “regular”.

I’m back in Paris today and for the weekend, a chance to catch up on a load of admin at work and unpacking at home.

A very brief update — currently travelling constantly. I was in Paris for the weekend, then in Birmingham for two days, and am currently in Zurich. I’ll be back in Paris for the weekend, then back to Zurich again next week.

Look for an update later, but right now I’m spending most of my life on trains!

Sitting on the Eurostar back to London, I finally have a few minutes to write something for my blog.

My first day at the office went well enough. There were a few misunderstandings which meant that I got the extended tour of the area (as I had to walk back and forth a few times, not realising that my meetings were in different buildings) and a hectic schedule meant that my relaxed lunch at a nice restaurant with my new partner was replaced with a quick Extra Value Meal at McDonalds.

My secretary has taken pity on me and is showing endless patience, although secretly I think she’s probably not delighted to have been saddled with ‘le Yankee’. Nevermind, I’ll be out of the office frequently enough that I shouldn’t disturb her too much.

We’ve unpacked most of the boxes, but the house is still a chaotic mess. We’ve agreed that we need a system of “a place for everything, and everything in its place” if we’re going to make the space work; to that end, we went to Ikea the other day (an adventure in itself) to buy a few new pieces of furniture. I suspect we’ll need to buy a big wall unit for the living room if we’re going to make everything fit.

There weren’t too many casualties of the move – a few dishes were chipped, and one or two pieces of furniture were damaged, but we’ve been assured that they’re all covered by insurance and will be repaired accordingly. The only other casualties seem to be a broken toe (I managed to kick something that was strewn on the floor) and a gashed hand, although that happened as I was filling my tyres at a petrol station rather than during the move. Still, hobbling along to the office yesterday, I did look a bit sorry for myself as I did my best impression of the walking wounded.

The kitchen is definitely petite, with barely room to swing a cat (unlike our elevator, which is barely big enough for a cat and which has an alarming habit of stopping between floors). It should be interesting to see what sort of meals we can come up with in that kitchen – so far, it’s been mostly reheating prepared food from the supermarket.

We’re clearly the only people in the building who work (and possibly the entire neighbourhood, if my early morning tours are any indication). Our lights are the only ones on in the early morning. We’re working hard to befriend the gardienne (caretaker) – we’ve already offered flowers, and will shortly offer the more popular social lubricant – money. I’m sensing it’s a good idea to keep her on-side.

The car, unfortunately, has to go. I’ve put it in a multi-storey car park for the time being at some astronomical price each month, but the car parks in Paris aren’t really designed for a car as big as my Audi, so there’s a lot of backing-and-forthing to get it around the tight corners in the garage, and all four wheels have already suffered against the kerbs.

The bike, on the other hand, is the ideal way to get around Paris. I took it out for a spin over the weekend – the first time I’ve ridden in ages – and fell in love all over again. There’s parking just around the corner, so I’ve decided to keep the bike for a while.

That’s it – our first few days in Paris. I’m off to London for the rest of the week (the irony of being back in London on business so quickly isn’t lost on me), then back in Paris for the weekend.

One of my biggest surprises upon moving to France is discovering how tolerant everyone is of my French. I’m also surprised how quickly I’m picking up new phrases.

New words learned this week include:

Où est le bloody tournevis?
(Where is the bloody screwdriver?)

Merde, j’ai cassé mon orteil!
(Shit, I’ve broken my toe!)

Avez-vous des bandages ? J’ai coupé ma main et je saigne sur le plancher.
(Do you have any bandages? I’ve cut my hand and am bleeding all over the floor.)

Le chat s’est échappé encore!
(The cat’s escaped again!)

Peut-être nous devrions appeler un professionnel…
(Perhaps we should call in a professional…)

I’m off to London tomorrow, a few days back with the old gang in order to run a workshop for my client. So much for moving to Paris for a French lifestyle — it looks like I’ll be spending more time in London than in Paris over the coming months!

We’re now officially in Paris. We spent Thursday moving into our new place, and we’ve been unpacking ever since. It was pouring with rain the entire morning, but the movers did an impressive job (especially with their crane — they unloaded the entire truck through our living room window in about two hours!)

We’re settling in, but we’ll be without internet or telephone for a few weeks — so please use my office e-mail if you need to get a hold of me!