Saturday, November 28, 2020

Emily in Paris

I canceled Netflix some time ago, because there wasn't much to see. I had the deluxe version, which was €13.99 a month at the time—still less than a single cinema ticket—but every time I looked for a movie or television series, Netflix didn't have it. And then the service started giving preference to more lucrative in-house productions that didn't really interest me, so I finally closed the account.

I've heard abut a new series on Netflix called Emily in Paris, which has apparently proven very popular. I've looked at excerpts, and reviews, and the basic premise, but I haven't renewed my Netflix subscriptions to watch it. I don't need to fantasize about life in Paris … because I live it in real life. And in fact, with respect to Emily's specific circumstances, I know them very well, because I've actually been there and done that.

Believe it or not, I've even considered (for years) writing a novel literally entitled Emily in Paris with a nearly identical premise. I kid you not. Although I suppose I'd be sued if I tried it now. My novel would emphasize Paris, rather than sex or romance, and thus would target a different audience than that of the Netflix series.

There has been a lot of criticism of the series from French people and Americans familiar with Paris (and Americans who like to give the impression that they are old hands on Paris). They don't seem to realize that the series is entertainment, not a documentary. The clichés and stereotypes shown are chosen to please viewers, not to educate them. The character of Emily and her glaring flaws are chosen to precisely match those of the targeted viewer demographic, so that viewers can identify with Emily and imagine themselves in her place. These targeted viewers are most likely future housewives and soccer moms who will never visit Europe and could not locate France on a map, so there's no harm in letting them wallow in their illusions—they'll never be ambassadors of American goodwill abroad, anyway.

Questions have been raised with respect to Emily's work circumstances, and I am well qualified to speak on that.

Any reputable corporation that regularly sends employees overseas has a department or service dedicated to this. Sending people overseas costs a fortune and involves an extraordinary amount of red tape. Compensation packages are complex. Paperwork takes ages to complete, and assignments are often planned a year in advance. Nobody is sent abroad as a last-minute substitute for another employee who gets pregnant.

Usually people are assigned to foreign service because they have some skill set or talent that cannot be found locally, be it managerial, technical, or creative. Managers who are being groomed for advancement may be sent abroad as a rite of passage, a learning experience, or (rarely) a perk.

All foreign assignments are hardship posts—even Paris. The administrative procedures, logistics, cost, and culture shock make them so. Employees must be carefully prepared and informed. They (and their families, if applicable) must be favorably disposed to a long period living overseas. Even so, about a third of expat employees return home early due to problems adapting, and almost all are eager to return home at the end of an assignment. And for employees sent to Third-World banana republics and the like, all of this is multiplied by at least an order of magnitude.

Foreign-service employees were usually already well paid even before their assignments, and they receive additional compensation needed to adapt to their foreign posts and cover expenses that the locals don't have. So people who say Emily shouldn't be able to afford designer clothing are wrong—it's entirely plausible that she'd be able to afford the most fashionable attire.

Eiffel Tower
It's also plausible that Emily would speak no French. Learning a language is very difficult for some people; and learning a new language just for an assignment of one or two years may be avoidable if people in the host country already speak one's own language (as in the case of English in France). Many Americans on foreign assignment never learn to speak the local language. They can get away with it because practically everyone speaks English. They don't gain a lot of respect and they aren't necessarily as productive as they could be, but it's just a temporary assignment. Good companies offer and may even require language training in the local language, but that doesn't always help.

As for being clueless and uninterested in culture, that happens with expats, too, so Emily isn't so far removed from reality. There are affluent ghettos in the suburbs of Paris that are filled with American or British or other expat workers who never venture outside their enclaves and speak no French. They are here because their companies sent them here, period, and they'll be happy to return home when their assignments end.

From what I understand, Emily is "fired" by her manager during the first season of Emily in Paris, but a colleague tells her not to worry, since it takes years to fire someone in France. That requires some clarification. First, it doesn't take years to let someone go in France, although the process is much longer (several months) than in the US. Second, Emily is most likely still on a US payroll with a charge back to her French manager's unit, so she is employed "at will" and can be fired on the spot by corporate headquarters. Third, her French manager can request that her assignment be terminated immediately and have her sent back to the USA, but she can't actually fire her since Emily is not on her own payroll. It's complicated (usually).

I've read some remarks from people who say that Emily's apartment is unaffordably large. That's not true, however. She can probably afford it, and her employer is probably helping her with finding and paying for an apartment, which will most likely be larger than what a normal Parisian might have. French salaries are usually dirt, so Emily may be making more than her manager, and several times what her coworkers are being paid.

Anyway, so much for my two cents, based on what I've heard and read and seen. Emily in Paris is fiction, like 99.99% of all movies and TV shows, so I don't see why people criticize it. All fiction is inaccurate. It's just for fun.

One last thing: Sometimes people ask me if Paris is really all it's cracked up to be.  My answer is … yes! At least for me. It may not be identical to the fictional City of Light seen in Emily in Paris or Midnight in Paris, but it's still great. It's not by chance that Paris is consistently the world's most popular tourist destination city.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Black Friday … and more restrictions

If today is Thanksgiving in the USA, and I think it is (fourth Thursday in November), then tomorrow will be Black Friday—if it hasn't been outlawed by some politician's executive order, that is.

Black Friday 2018

France started to have a Black Friday a few years ago, too—even though there is no Thanksgiving to precede or motivate it (only a few countries have holidays akin to Thanksgiving). That doesn't keep merchants in the French Republic from imitating the lucrative American tradition of Black Friday itself. The French even promote "Black Friday week," which seems like an oxymoron to me.

Black Friday didn't really work last year, though. I can't remember the exact crisis—demonstrations, or strikes, or alleged terror attacks, or what—but it fizzled. And this year the police state doesn't permit it. There's talk of deferring it to December 4, but since the government commandments change every day, nobody knows for certain, even the politicians who roll the official dice to set policy.

Today, in fact—like every day lately, it seems—a new and larger batch of rules and regulations has been announced by the government.
The rules are the usual arbitrary hodgepodge of logically inconsistent mandates and exceptions, without any scientific basis. I haven't been able to find a written list of all of them. They change every 24 hours or so, so I suppose nobody has time to write them down. Perhaps the idea is to condition the population to stop expecting transparency, documentation, or due process—just shut up and do as you're told.
I understand religious services will soon be permitted again, but they will be limited to 30 participants, irrespective of the size of the place of worship. And ski resorts will soon be allowed to reopen … but ski lifts must remain closed, effectively bankrupting any resort that opens. At the same time, driving schools will be allowed to reopen, even though that involves several people riding together inside a car. Bars and restaurants remain closed, but restaurants may be able to open soon. Police forms are still required in order to go outside. Businesses must now maintain a safety zone of eight square meters around each customer, which corresponds to a distance of about five feet. People are now allowed to go for a walk of three hours within a 20-kilometer radius, instead of one hour within a 1000-meter radius. A curfew will still be in effect from 9 PM to,7 AM. And so on.

The government is also considering forced detention of anyone who tests positive for the Deadly Virus. And I would not be surprised if it decided to force everyone to get vaccinated, once a hastily-built vaccine becomes available (the government has denied this, but it has already made a great many U-turns so far). Let's hope the mortality of the vaccine is as low as that of the virus.
The trend towards oppression is not limited to measures linked to the Deadly Virus, nor is it limited to France. It looks like the incoming administration in the USA has big plans for many oppressive measures of its own, for instance. It's happening everywhere. It's spooky.

Going beyond the DV, the French government is still trying to push through legislation that would make it illegal to publish photos of police officers on duty—and this despite a very recent incident of shocking police brutality caught on surveillance video. It's a huge erosion of freedom of speech. Some are also seriously suggesting that the country's constitution be set aside to deal with the alleged crises.

One observer has remarked that France has been in a state of emergency for one reason or another—terrorism, Deadly Virus, etc.—for three of the past five years.

I've been reading about how, back in the early 20th century, Germans legally and willingly replaced their democracy with a dictator in the person of Adolf Hitler; and the parallels between those days and what I'm seeing today are numerous and worrisome.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Rules o’the day

Tonight the government announced the latest batch of arbitrary restrictions that all citizens must heed in order to accommodate the Deadly Virus hysteria.

"Non-essential" businesses may reopen on November 28 but must close at 9 PM. Bars and restaurants will remain closed until at least January 20. Cultural venues must remain closed at least until December 15. Religious services may resume.
Police forms must still be filled out before leaving one's domicile in order to avoid fines and imprisonment. (It's not clear how people can visit non-essential businesses, given that there's no space on the form for this type of outing.) The government has graciously extended the distance limit for walks and exercise to 20 km and 3 hours instead of 1 km and 1 hour.
The Champs in May
A new curfew will begin from 9 PM to 7 AM daily on December 15—except for Christmas and New Year.
As for the Deadly Virus, I can only presume that it has been ordered not to infect people during the periods and in the circumstances authorized by the Reich for human interaction.
All of this can change at any time if the government pulls new rules out of its hat. The rules for religious services will probably be revised within hours.
Oh, and just incidentally, I'm very frustrated by the failure of the Blogger interface to use typographic quotes. I just had to say that.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Grocery time

 I finally went out to buy groceries, the one excursion I make outside my room every week or two.

The little supermarket where I normally shop is frustrating because it doesn't restock consistently. I find something I like on one trip, and then it's gone on the next trip. I haven't seen oatmeal for the last two trips, and oatmeal is the main staple of my diet. I bought some Country Crisp instead. Bigger supermarkets seem to be more consistent in the products they offer from week to week.

Roast chicken at the store
I ended up getting potato balls and potato chips, cereal, milk, and spinach. Hopefully that will last me for two weeks. There are lots of tastier things on sale—such as the slow-roasted chickens that food stores often have turning in a rotisserie outside the entrance—but they are beyond my budget.

Let's see … when did I last shop in a specialty shop for food? I think it must have been five or so years ago, when I bought some delicious cheese in a cheese shop. It cost around €20, which today would be almost a week's food budget.

Those were the days
Since March, I've stopped in a non-supermarket food shop once. I was hungry and it was a bakery. I tried to buy three croissants for €3, but the clerk would not accept cash. I pointed out that it's illegal in France for a retailer to refuse cash for payments under €1000, but he still refused. So I left the shop without buying anything. I wanted to pay cash because I had some cash but not enough in my checking account to buy anything with plastic.

Oh well, back to my cozy apartment, with the fridge newly stocked, at least for a while.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

I'll wait until tomorrow

I'm sorry I don't have more pictures or videos or stories from around town at the moment. Nobody is allowed to go anywhere in Paris and almost everything is closed.

Supposedly the Christmas lights on the Champs-Élysées were turned on this evening. I don't know if anyone was there to see it, since looking at Christmas lights is not among the approved justifications for leaving one's domicile in today's police state.

Christmas lights last year
I should have gone out for groceries this evening, since I only have some milk and Nesquik left, but I couldn't summon the energy. I'm rarely hungry, so it's often easier to fast for another day than it is to jump through all the hoops necessary to visit the supermarket (it's cheaper, too). Grocery shopping is always a chore, and it's a hundred times worse these days, with masks and police authorizations and curfews and such. And restaurants are closed. And I think deliveries are forbidden. I'm not sure because the rules multiply and change daily. I wish I could just push a button to fill the fridge.

The simplest course of action for me is just to not go out at all. Every day the government changes its mind, even though the virus does not—which strongly suggests that government officials have no clue. Masks are unnecessary; masks are mandatory. Shops are closed; shops are open. Some businesses must close; others may stay open. Some shelves in stores must be blocked; others can remain accessible. Everyone should work from home; everyone must return to the office. People should have stuff delivered; but deliveries are forbidden. People cannot go into a store and pick out what they want; but they can order it outside on their phone and then enter the store to pick it up. And so on. It's very tiring.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Castle Introvert

I see a lot of articles in the press talking about the psychological damage being caused by lockdowns and isolation, but I don't personally find psychological stress to be a problem. The extent of the police state and the speed with which it was put in place are problems in my view: they make clear how precarious fundamental freedoms and democracy really are. The absence of any real popular resistance to the changes is also a problem. But just spending time at home doesn't bother me at all. In fact, it's an introvert's paradise—and I'm an extreme introvert.

I was a homebody long before the hysteria. I love to go for long walks in Paris, and I estimate that I've walked approximately 50,000 km over the course of several decades in the city. I can spend hours strolling around the city in nice weather. I like to take photos and shoot video, too. And Paris is ideal for all of this. But I also like to relax at home. I don't do bars or clubs (I don't drink), sports, theaters, concerts, parties, travel, or any such things. Restaurants can be nice but I haven't been able to afford one in many years.

How I see my apartment

It helps that I have an extremely cozy apartment. It's the archetype of a Parisian dwelling. It's small but comfortable and in good condition. It's a studio, so it is essentially one room, plus a full bathroom, and a kitchenette with a half-size fridge and a hot plate; and all of these suit me perfectly (except perhaps that I would have preferred a microwave over the hot plate). There's a mattress for sleeping, a table with the computers on it (computers being my profession and also necessary for my favorite pastimes), a chair in front of the table, and some baskets to hold personal items. The building is centrally heated, and I have a small air conditioner for occasional summer heat waves; the temperature is just right all year long. There is one small window—but I keep it closed and shuttered, since it offers only a view of the building across the street, and I hate having daylight streaming into the room to remind me of the time of day. And finally, I have a  blazing-fast fiber Internet connection. No television, radio, stereo, or clock.

Since the hysteria began, I haven't needed to go to an office, being furloughed and then laid off. I dream of working 100% at home. I was able to do this occasionally before the panic—it's easy in IT—but I'd really prefer working at home full-time. Many employers are still too old-fashioned and distrustful to go with it, however.

Were it not for the need to buy food, I could have easily remained at home continuously since the first lockdown in March. But the need to refill the pantry obligates me to go outside once a week or two. Ironically, I can't do much else, sine the Reich forbids freedom of movement and requires masks everywhere.

So no psychological stress from confinement for me. Sitting at home doesn't bother me. There are always tons of things to do on the computer. I manage to stay busy even though I don't have a television set or radio. My main worry is paying the rent, not being able to go outside.

However, physically I seem to be deteriorating. I'm totally sedentary—my only exercise is walking across the room, and going to the supermarket for a few minutes every week or two. I've lost about twenty pounds, probably in part from inactivity and in part from not being able to afford food. I can't rule out malnutrition. I also have trouble maintaining my balance; this predates the lockdown, but it seems to have considerably worsened since everyone was ordered to stay at home.

Anyway, I suppose that sitting at home must be stressful for extroverts, who would prefer to fritter their lives away partying and pub-crawling; but the biggest danger for introverts is that they might get too used to it … in a world filled with extroverts who treat introversion as a disease.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Thought for food

This evening I went out for groceries, which I do every week or two. Since March, these grocery runs are the only times I ever leave the apartment. They take about half an hour.

Before the virus hysteria began, I bought groceries in a fairly large supermarket in my neighborhood, several streets from home. It has a large selection of things I like. But once the Deadly Virus came to town, this supermarket made its cashiers disappear, and replaced them with self-service checkout stands. The stands are such a pain to use—and I am so averse to doing the work of a cashier just so that the supermarket chain can lay off its cashiers and boost its margins—that I changed to a different, smaller market around the corner.

Excerpt from the actual receipt
The selection at the smaller market is limited and not very consistent, but so are my budget and mobility right now. And it has human cashiers. Tonight I bought oatmeal, Ovaltine®, cream, milk, little potato balls (pommes Dauphines and pommes noisettes), potato chips, a few hamburger patties for special treats, and some Snickers® bars. I buy much the same thing on each visit—whatever is cheap. The total came to €69.42. It should last me at least a week, perhaps longer.

After rent and taxes, food is my biggest expense. And I don't even go to restaurants. Even Burger King® is a rare treat. I don't know how other Parisians manage. Paris is famous for its food; and once upon a time, in those halcyon days when I had time and money, I could go to the open markets during the working day and buy all sorts of tasty fresh foodstuffs. But these days, with a tiny salary, now halved by a furlough and then eliminated by a layoff, I have no real food budget, so I try to spend as little as possible.

Studies show that Parisians are more prone to shop in supermarkets these days, but I think those who can still go to the food markets and market streets—I probably would if I could, at least part of the time. There are still food merchants who sell only cheese, or only honey, or just wine, or foie gras, or even … horsemeat; and they do well (in normal times). And it's more fun to shop at little shops and in front of food stalls, if there's no rush. Of course, in the current police state this isn't practical.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The state of things in Paris

It has been eight months of hysteria now, and it's getting hard to remember what Paris was like before the Deadly Virus appeared. And the past year has already been a mess for the city and its residents. Let us count the ways:

No. 1: The Notre-Dame fire

The roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris caught fire and burned away completely on April 15, 2019. The roof was made of lead (which melted like beeswax), and was supported by an 800-year-old wooden frame (which burned like a box of matches). Contrary to rumor, the rest of the building was spared; but it will take years to repair the damage.

Notre-Dame, minus the roof
This had a huge impact on businesses in the neighborhood, which were forced to close for a time due to safety issues (like lead contamination), and were subsequently further harmed by the absence of tourists. The cathedral was one of the  city's major attractions. The origin of the fire is mysterious. Restoration work was in progress at the time. Apparently some workers were smokers. But it might have been a problem with electrical equipment, too. In any case, Notre-Dame is closed until further notice, and its visitors are gone.

No. 2: The scourge of the Gilets Jaunes

Demonstrations, vandalism, and looting were carried out practically every weekend for months by the Gilets Jaunes ("Yellow Vests," so named because they usually wear yellow safety vests while making trouble). Retail businesses had to board up their entrances to prevent destruction and looting, and they obviously couldn't receive any customers when they did so, leading to huge losses in revenue. The Gilets Jaunes don't even know what they are protesting; they are just dorks who like to make a shambles. Rioters, looters, and other hooligans joined in the fun, making things worse. This further reduced tourism.

No. 3: Strikes

Weeks of crippling transit strikes particularly afflicted Pars, which is highly dependent on its excellent public transportation system. The strikes were prompted by proposed changes to the national retirement system, which would (among other things) make it harder for public workers to retire at … age 50. This did more damage to the economy. The number of tourists diminished further.

No. 4: The Deadly Virus pandemic

A virus grossly comparable to seasonal flu arrived in France and Paris at the start of this year, and was portrayed as being deadly. Actually it's not deadly at all—at least 99.5% of people infected survive, and some never even have symptoms. But that hasn't stopped the media, politicians, and assorted demagogues from deliberately fomenting hysteria of history-making magnitude that has swept the world, including the French capital. The clueless, draconian "executive orders" and other commandments issued by politicians—who may not even have authority to issue them, and certainly have no science to back  them up— have rained down upon citizens, and crippled society and the economy to an extent that may have aftereffects for decades. This is driving the last nail into the coffins of many retail businesses that were already at death's door due to the preceding events … especially in the tourism and hospitality industries. The number of tourists has effectively dropped to zero now.

No. 5: Return of the terrorists

Islamist extremists have been committing terrorist acts, such as publicly beheading a teacher who dared to discuss some magazine caricatures of the Prophet in class. Normally this would make a substantial (albeit temporary) dent in tourism, but the effect on tourism has been limited, since all the tourists are already gone.

The most damaging of the above, by far, has been the virus hysteria. And it has no basis at all in science. It is so intense, so bizarre, so incongruent with the reality shown by the hard data, and so impossible to justify, that I have to wonder what possible motives might have been behind its creation. There's no rational explanation behind it. Other similar viruses come and go regularly; why is this one treated differently?

The government adds and complicates its various random royal decrees literally every day. If the virus numbers improve, the government takes credit, asserting that its hodgepodge of measures is responsible for the good news and it is only necessary to keep the measures in place indefinitely. If the numbers get worse, the government claims that citizens are stupid and irresponsible and have failed to adequately obey orders, and it adds new orders to keep all those incompetent citizens in line.

At this particular moment, you need to wear a mask everywhere outside home in Paris, indoors and outdoors—unless you're younger than six years of age, or eating or drinking, or smoking, or alone in a car, or you have a doctor's note.

In addition, a new lockdown began a few days ago. To step outside your domicile, you need a police form on your person, dated, timed, and signed, justifying your presence outside. Only a handful of reasons for going out are allowed. You may also need notes from your employer or doctor or someone else, depending on the reason for venturing outside your home. You need to be back home in an hour. You can't be more than one kilometer from home.

All but "essential" retail businesses are closed. Essential businesses include supermarkets, pharmacies, post offices, computer stores, and DIY stores—but not hairstylists or barbers, bookstores, sit-down restaurants, or bars. Certain "non-essential" items (such as books) may not be sold, and aisles containing them must be blocked off in stores that are otherwise  open. All types of deliveries and take-out food services are forbidden after 10 PM.

Breaking the rules can involve fines of up to €3750 and jail time. Presumably the virus is also required to follow all these rules, lest they be rendered moot; but it's not clear how enforcement is ensured.

I think I've got that all right; in any case it will probably all be different a few hours from now.

Some politicians have suggested making vaccinations mandatory as soon as some hastily-developed vaccine is available. Others have suggested that children wear masks all the time, even at home. Still others have suggested that constitutional freedoms should be suspended in order to deal with urgent problems. The state of emergency with rule by decree has been extended by the National Assembly to February 16.

Am I the only one who sees disturbing parallels between this current state of hysteria and certain historical events, notably a bit over eighty years ago, but also going much further back?

Blog Archive