Sunday, October 19, 2008

A bit cheesy...

OK, where did we leave off? Ah yes…amusing or interesting stories. I think I’ll just write these up in a random fashion, if you don’t mind.

First, let me just say that in a land which is home to over 400 different cheeses, it has been a real bitch to find some cheddar. American supermarket aisles are clogged with every possible incarnation of cheddar cheese, but at the two markets I frequent, there is only one piece of cheddar cheese on offer at each. At LeClerc (the ungodly huge grocery store with 100+ yogurt choices) there is one package of pre-packed white cheddar, a chunk of “Sharp Scottish Cheddar” that weighs about 8 ounces and costs about $4. At Monoprix, the grocery store in the center of town that is relatively small (compared to LeClerc, anyway) but oh-so-convenient, there is a large block of white cheddar at the cheese counter. 18.50 Euros per kilo, which works out to about $11.50/pound. The unfortunate thing is that the most popular cheese here is emmentaler (a basic swiss style cheese), and it just does not work as a substitute for cheddar. C’est tragique.

Another food item that is abundant in America and mysteriously absent here is pepperoni. When I was living in Korea, just getting a pizza was an ordeal, so I’m not bitching too much here. But still, pepperoni is my favorite topping, and it’s practically nowhere to be found. Eggs, however, are a common and quite popular pizza topping, so it’s no wonder that I’m getting screwed on the pepperoni (I hate eggs).

At any rate, there is a Dominos Pizza here, and, as you all know, they are required by law to offer pepperoni as a topping. :-) So, when I received their flier advertising “Crazy Week!” wherein they were offering any sized pizza with any combination of toppings for only 6.99 Euros (about $9, carry-out only), I decided that the time was ripe for my first pizza here in France. Tragically, I neglected to remember that my life’s story is filled with heartbreak and unfulfilled longing.

So, it was with a hopeful heart and growling stomach that I impetuously lept off the bus one drizzly school night at the stop just across from the Dominos. It was 5:45, which meant that I had 15 minutes to sit at the bus stop, staring longingly at the Dominos until the doors were unlocked. Once 6 o’clock hit, I casually strolled inside. I explained in bad French that I was American and in desperate need of a pepperoni infusion. The man was friendly and happy to take my order for the largest pizza possible with a mountain of pepperoni and cheese. For only 6.99, it was going to be a pizza miracle. Until I went to pay, and his motherfucking credit machine would only take French credit cards. I could have thrown that machine through the fucking window and then set the place on fire. And of course, I only had 4 Euros cash on me, so I was basically totally fucked. The man smirkingly suggested going to the ATM at the very bottom of the hill, which I was not keen to do in the increasingly vigorous rain. At this point, the man became a bit too smarmy, so I huffed my way out of there, muttering various curses against the man, specifically, and France, in general.

Remembering that there was a pizza place just down the street, I walked until I came to the “Pizza Box” (I forget the French spelling). The boy who helped me there was exceptionally nice and even spoke some English. No pepperoni, but they did have chorizo. Much more expensive, but they were doing a two-for-one special on carry-out orders. So, for $20 I got two small pizzas and a carton of Ben & Jerry’s to mend my wounded soul.

But let us not forget that I still had to get home. In the rain. Carrying two pizza boxes and a sack of ice cream, in addition to my purse, computer bag, and umbrella. It was way too far to walk, even if it wasn’t raining, so I waited at the nearest bus stop. When the bus finally did arrive, it was packed to the rafters, so I literally stood at the very front, hip to hip with the driver, my pizzas basically resting on the dashboard, trying not to fall over with every sudden braking or turn. It was a misery.

By the time I walked home from the bus stop by my apartment, a pool of water had collected on the topmost pizza box. But they must really know how to make a pizza box here, because not only wasn’t my pizza soaking wet, it was still mostly hot and definitely delicious. The chorizo wasn’t like at home; it looked and tasted almost exactly like large pepperoni pieces. Perfection!

What wasn’t perfection was the night I decided to phone up this same pizza place to have a pie delivered. I’ll admit I was nervous to place an order over the phone, but I had practiced what I was going to say and studied up on the relevant vocab from a flier of theirs I got in the mail. But, naturally, the man who answered the phone had an accent that I could not understand for the life of me. I tried to tell him what I wanted, but every time he asked me a question (presumably the typical things like address, phone number, pizza choice) it was like he was speaking in some sort of Martian dialect; I was at a total loss. Eventually, he got fed up with me and passed the phone to a fellow employee, who, I am proud to say, I was able to understand with absolutely no issues. (I’d like to think that he hung up the phone and said, “I don’t know what the fuck your problem was, but she seemed fine to me!”) The whole thing just reminded me of every time I’ve heard a fellow call center employee bitch about a customer whose accent they couldn’t understand, and they’d say something along the lines of “Fucking foreigners…learn some fucking English.” Since I’m not one of those people (and I was really trying my best to both speak and understand the native language) I don’t feel I should be getting stuck with their bad karma, but what are you going to do? At any rate, I don’t think I’ll be going through that experience again in a hurry.

Another thing which I will not be doing again in a hurry is having my mother ship me stuff via DHL (or really any private shipper, for that matter). The day I left for France, I stupidly forgot my brand new coat at my mother’s. Since it was an insulated raincoat that I planned to wear during the late fall/winter season, and we were running late to the airport, I decided to just have my mom ship it to me. Never again. First of all, my mother didn’t know how much the coat cost, and not wanting to undervalue it in case it was damaged or lost during shipment, she put on the customs declaration that it cost $200 (it was really only half that expensive). I can hear the more internationally experienced among you groaning right now. Yes, that’s right, I had to pay a duty on the package. Plus, unbelievably, I also had to pay a private shipping fee for using DHL. ??? So, when the DHL delivery guy showed up at my door, he required a payment of—get this—60 Euros!! before I could have my fucking package. I, of course, don’t keep this kind of cash on hand, so I had to tell him to bring it back the next day. Unbelievable.

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