Thursday, July 14, 2011

How to Deal with a French Cereal Addiction

For those of you who know me, you know that I love trying different types of food (well...minus Rat), learning about regional cuisines, and cooking. When I eat out at a new restaurant, I usually do my research to find out what the restaurant specializes in serving, and I am definitely one of those people who will give you half of my entree if you give me half of yours. But, I am also a sad creature of habit. If the restaurant we are going to is one I often frequent or if I am eating for a more utilitarian purpose than for pleasure, chances are that I have a set dish, and I will not wane from this selection. In fact, I have been eating the same sandwich from Subway for nearly 10 years. Out of my last 200 breakfasts, at least 150 have been two eggs topped with feta, basil, tomato and garlic powder alongside two pieces of sourdough toast with butter and strawberry jam.

Rightly so, one of my first tasks after moving to Lyon was to figure out what set of food I would buy from the grocery store on a regular basis. The first rule of France is that their dairy rules the world. Thus, my composition of food generally tended to consist of milk, butter, yogurt, crème fraiche, and chocolate. At one point, I had to determine if I could afford to get my own studio. It was then that I realized nearly half of my weekly shopping was spent in dairy products.

Part of the reason my dairy expenses got to be so high was the beacon of all breakfast lovers: Choc'o Pétales. Marketed for kids, but inevitably in my basket, Choc'o Pétales is quite possibly the most satisfying cereal known to mankind. Not too light, not too heavy, just the right amount of chocolate flavor and sugar in the form of small morsels of crunchiness. At nearly 5 euro a box, this satisfying snack quickly depleted by bank account, as I tore through a box almost every 3 days.

The last month I was in Lyon, I awoke in my studio (yeah, I ended up getting one despite the dairy expense) to find that I was out of Choc'o Pétales. Most people would probably just eat something else for breakfast, but as a relentless creature of breakfast habit, the only thing I could think to do was throw on some clothes and go buy a another box. Unfortunately, it was Sunday, which as you might know, is the day of the week Europe dies. In other words, almost nothing is open.

But I was a woman on a mission. And by mission, I mean addiction. Yes, I was a Choc'o Pétales addict. Nothing stops an addict trying to cure their craving. First, I tried my street. Then I tried the avenue connected to my street. Then I tried five of the adjacent streets to that avenue. Then I took the metro to another neighborhood. Then I realized I was four kilometers from home. And then, finally, I found a grocery store that was open. With total trepidation, I walked to the aisle with the dry goods, and spotted one lone box of Choc'o Pétales. As I ran to the shelves to grab my prize, I was intercepted by, I kid you not, a cute little girl with a stuffed animal. She tapped me on the waist and in a very not-French sweet manner, asked if I could hand her the box of Choc'o Pétales.

Oh the moral dilemma. Give up the fruits of my labor to an innocent little girl, or be the heinous Choc'o Pétales addict I had grown to become? After she blinked, smiled and politely asked me again, I knew I had to surrender the last box. If I was in America, I would have asked the grocer if they had more boxes in storage, as customer service in America goes like this:

The customer is always right. Work with the customer to find a solution that fits everyone's needs.

But in France, it goes like this:

What the f*ck do you want? I'm taking a coffee break.

So I left the grocery store in defeat. Not knowing what to do next, I stood on the sidewalk debating whether to try and find another grocery store. As I made the decision to concede, I heard the little girl coming out of the store with her mother. The mother did the typical Lyonnais listing aloud of the groceries she just purchased, "Oranges, milk, brie, spinach, onions, soup" until she got to the bottom of the bag. "Choc'o Pétales!" She screamed! Turning to her daughter, she continued, "I told you no more Choc'o Pétales, Marine! This is all you eat! You're becoming addicted!"

And then a beautiful thing happened. The little girl's mother threw the box of Choc'o Petales in the trash can. As the girl and her mother walked away, I inched my way over. For the first time ever, I was grateful that Europe dies on Sunday, for nearly no one was on the street as I opened the giant lid and pulled out my grand prize.

Finally back at my apartment, I had a glorious day of eating my free box of Choc'o Pétales and watching Will and Grace. La vie est belle! Sometimes.

Oh, and for those of you who are curious, I got off my Choc'o Pétales addiction quickly once I came back to the States. It turns out cereal with crappy American milk is not nearly as appealing.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

How to Cancel a Gym Membership in France

From ages 4 - 18, I spent the bulk of my time...oh, how to say this in a sensitive manner...fat. My grandmother, who is from an impoverished area of Chennai, India, had spent much of the 60s and 70s in America discovering all of the ways we package sugar after she immigrated to the States. She passed this knowledge down to me during my many childhood visits. Unfortunately, without the lesson of moderation, I went from a typical skin and bones Indian girl to a rather round Indian teenager.

After seeing myself a little too jiggly on camera, I decided to make a life change, and have been an avid gym goer since the era of blob-dom. Even though I spent my first few months in France...oh, how to say this in a sensitive manner...poor, I joined a gym in Lyon, and lived off of eggs for three months to cover the cost.

Florian, the guy who signed me up, treated me like a celebrity because he saw I was born near Los Angeles. The rest of the staff, however, failed to acknowledge my existence. Sadly, this is what I prefer. But, the weight room smelled like a dead animal, the rest of the patrons looked at me like vermin because I wore brightly colored shorts on occasion, and the equipment itself was outdated. And even with the student discount, it was overpriced. Still, at the time, this was the best choice for gyms in the city of Lyon, so I stuck with it the entire time I lived there.

Seeing as buying a SIM card in France took more paperwork than opening up a small business in America, I decided to ask about closing my membership a full three weeks before I left the country. This took some dancing (I accidentally ended up in a Jazzercise class), but after four days, I finally found my trusted Florian, and asked him how to close my account. The conversation went like this:

(Translated for your convenience)

Me: Hi Florian! I am leaving France in a few weeks, so I need to close my account here.
Florian: Why are you closing your account?
Me: Uh...I'm leaving the country.
Florian: Why?
Me: What? Because...wait. No, I just...I want to close my account.
Florian: Is there something wrong with the gym?
Me: No! Well, that's not the reason I am closing my account.
Florian: What if you come back to Lyon and want a gym membership?
Me: Yeah, I'll deal with that when it happens.
Florian: Hmm. Okay, well I will need a letter of explanation along with proof you are leaving for good.
Me: Proof I am leaving?
Florian: Yes, like a copy of your plane ticket, or a letter from your employer. Like that.
Me: (In English) Geez. At the last gym I belonged to, I told the guy I wanted to quit the gym because the cardio equipment smelled like potato salad. That was enough.
Florian: What?
Me: Nothing. ::sigh::

A week later, and I hadn't been able to catch Florian to present my "proof." Stupidly, I decided to try my luck with another employee. After she carefully eyed how poorly dressed I was for their gym, and spent a little too long eying my arm fat, she looked at the letter, threw her arms up in the air, and exclaimed how insufficient that was. Apparently, writing down my flight numbers in the letter and showing a copy of my e-ticket wasn't enough proof. "We need to see a copy of your boarding pass," she explained. I tried reminding her that paper boarding passes died at the invention of the internet, but she wouldn't hear it, and told me "try again."

Great. I felt stupid asking my boss for a letter to cancel my gym membership, so I tried handing the same letter to two other employees. One told me that the gym has never had to cancel a membership before, so he wasn't sure whether my letter was good enough. Another one told me she wasn't sure a one way ticket constituted "proof." To this, all I had to say was, "Where the hell is Florian?"

Finally, two days before I was set to leave France, Florian magically appeared at the gym. I hid behind the giant stair climber machine until I was sure he was alone, and carefully approached.

(Also translated for your convenience)

Me: Florian! (I half whispered.)
Florian: Oh, Ms. Los Angeles, hello!
Me: Hey, so I have that letter to close my account.
Florian: (Takes sheet) Hmm...I don't know. We usually need a boarding pass.
Me: ::sigh:: I can't get that until tomorrow! It has to be less than 24 hours before take-off...
Florian: Oh, well I'm sorry, this is not enough proof.

So I paused. I knew I would have to lie. But which one!?

This one:

Me: Oh really? That's too bad...I'm flying to Los Angeles (LIE!) after I get to New York. I was hoping you could come visit me sometime (LIE!)...
Florian: You still live in Los Angeles?
Me: Yes! (LIE!)
Florian: Oh, well you know, I know you, so I will just go ahead and close this account for you.

Florian clicked the mouse like twice, and out spat a membership cancellation confirmation. As he handed it to me, he said:

Florian: So where do you live in Los Angeles?
Me: Oh, um...Hollywood? (LIE!)
Florian: Ah okay! Okay okay, I will come visit you then! I will email you soon, okay?
Me: Okay! I look forward to that! (LIE!)

You would think I darted out of there after that conversation. But no, I stayed to work out. That damn place was so overpriced, I wasn't about to get cheated out of my money!

Oh, and Florian never emailed me. Thank God.