Today Josh and I went down to Marseille for my official medical visit for permission to stay long-term in the country. They checked my height, weight, and whether or not I had tuberculosis. Pretty routine. I had lost 2 kilos since my last doctors appointment, and when I jubilantly informed the nurse, her response was, “Vive la France!” Long live France, indeed.
The office receptionist was not as friendly, and I was surprised when she didn’t give me any forms to fill out when I arrived. Filling out paperwork is, apparently, the French national pastime. I have already filled out more papers in three months than I would fill out in five to ten years in the US, including college applications. I can only imagine that the receptionist failing to thrust a clipboard into my face was some kind of lack of gentility and warmth on her part. She also mumbled; perfect for someone whose only job is to interact with foreigners.
She wasn’t the only disgruntled French person today; the entire country went on a “pause café” (coffee break) as government offices went on strike to protest against the economy. I think it was something more specific, but perhaps not. I wouldn’t put it past anyone here to protest a concept; after all, headlines declared that the big snow storm a few weeks ago was “un scandale!” Incidentally, I finally got around to asking someone why there is a national fascination with Marylin Monroe, and the answer was, “le scandale.” I think because the French word has such big, floaty vowels, it’s much more fun to say, and therefore more often employed, than the American translation. “Scandal” just doesn’t sound as glamorous as “scahn-DAAAHL.”
Anyway, today the streets of Marseille were packed with protesters wielding signs, and even firecrackers, and Josh and I had to walk an hour both ways to get from the bus station to the doctor’s office. At several points we had to cross right through the “parade route.” I expected to have some trouble—after all, people were shouting and waving around things that were on fire—but we were able to walk right through the procession without anyone noticing us. I didn’t even need to use my really fabulous plan B, which was to take a marker and write some sort of strike-related slogan on the giant envelope I was carrying with my chest x-ray (proof of clean lungs), and then pretend to be part of the strike as we snuck through to the other side. But “les greves” here in the south are not at all scary, and we were safer crossing the strike route than we are crossing a regular street at a crosswalk. If you want to see what it looked like, here's the BBC article with some good video footage: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7857435.stm
After my doctors visit, I took advantage of being in the big city to continue my obsessive hunt for a good pair of boots. Every shoe I picked up fell into one of two categories: it had a sole made out of some material closely resembling linoleum, or it was an American brand. I now have a solid theory about why the French so often indulge in their other national pastime: complaining. I used to rag on Americans for always wearing sneakers, but now my USA nostalgia is beginning to extend to footwear. Viva la Aerosoles!