Monday, November 17, 2014

Punishment for the Perpetually Late: The Red Light

I've got a confession to make: I have a problem with being on time. In previous posts, I have hinted at my tendency of never being prompt, but I have downplayed how chronic my condition is.

Ever since I was a child and well into my adulthood, this self-imposed burden has at times rendered me a pariah among my punctual acquaintances. While they often assure me that arriving a few minutes late is no big deal, I know that in my heart of hearts, as they stare at me with their critical eyes, they lie.

You would think the solutions to this tardiness would be simple. "Get a watch!" a member from the invisible audience suggests.

But I've already got one.

"Set the alarm for an earlier time than the actual designated time!" shouts another as a helpful proposal.

Nope. Doesn't work. On the contrary, it's worse! Knowing about the extra time will further perpetuate the lackadaisical response on taking my sweet time.

"Well, then," the frustrated audience member exclaims though gritted teeth, "why don't you simply stop being so lazy, get off your butt and just GO?"

You are asking me to demonstrate non-existent motivation. Fat chance.

At this point, the audience gives up on this hopeless situation of expecting me to arrive on time and instead decides to claim that I am simply "fashionably late."

But there is no reprieve for the perpetually late. Trying to fight against what comes naturally to us is futile.

Yet despite our stolid nature at habitually disrespecting opening and closing hours and respecting appointments, people can witness some rare occasions in which we make the effort to arrive on time by leaving our homes early.

When those infrequent moments happen, an unfortunate circumstance will occur that impedes our otherwise timely arrival. It discourages us from ever trying to be prompt again.

However, I do not believe that these circumstances are purely coincidental.

Call it what you want: atonement, comeuppance, karma, just desserts, sweet vengeance. These earthly punishments are manifested in a variety of forms.

Today, I shall cover the first form, which involves facing a delay while waiting for a pedestrian crosswalk light to change.

Inevitably, on the one day you find yourself speeding to an appointment as fast as your legs can carry you, heart pounding furiously in your chest and your lungs strained to their full capacity, there will be a red light that brings you to a halt.

To make matters worse, the nefarious soul who was in charge of programming the light has deemed that said light will display the crimson feature for an indefinite period.

An entire lifetime can pass before your eyes as you wait for the little strutting green man to flash into view.

By the time the light changes to green, you'll have aged to the point in which your hypothetical future grandkids will need to assist you in crossing the street.

Realistically, this situation would never happen in France for the French are avid jaywalkers.

Barb the French Bean

Monday, November 3, 2014

French-Time: A Guide to Dealing with the Subleties of the French Timetable

In the past, I have dedicated a post to discussing what "Cuban-time" entails. This cultural analysis was only a warm-up aimed at the task of deciphering the rhythm of French life.

While living in France has its undeniable advantages, it's not all fun and games for any new Expat flung into the throws of this sometimes confusing culture.

*BADUM-PSSH* (Seriously, though, wine is said to be reserved for lunch and dinner to complement the meal. Drinking wine outside of those hours makes you look like an alcoholic.)

The general unspoken rules involved in what I call French-time can have some rather elusive features. However, thanks to sheer cultural immersion, I have through my observations learned the slew of nuances involved in French-time.

Throughout this post, I will make use of several acronyms, because that is the French way.

Let's start off with the most obvious of them all: "Bonjour-Time."

1) Bonjour-Time* (BT): The small window between 00.001 and 2 seconds it takes for you to establish the vital greeting with a person from whom a particular service** is or may be expected (bus drivers, store clerks, cashiers, SNCF workers), acquaintances or friends**.

Failure to act within this brief time frame may result with the interacting French person to exhibit a silent, glacial glare or to state an ironic reprimand of how polite you are. 

2) Au Revoir-Time (ART): It must be enacted at all costs, preferably 3 seconds prior to leaving the premises. May be used, at a bare minimum, 00.001 second before exiting through the door.

The punishment for neglecting ART will result with you being shamed from ever showing your face again. For, lo, the French have a rather impressive talent for remembering every single person who has slighted them for not engaging in BT and ART.

3) New Year Greeting-Time (NYGT): the crucial moment in which you wish your friends, family, work colleagues, potential lover, boss and pet goldfish "Bonne année!" the first time you encounter or communicate with them within the new year. This window of greeting is understood to occur during the month of January yet may extend well into February.

The faux pas of failing to enact on this expected duty will result in ostracism, broken friendships and lots of finger pointing at the village idiot (you).

4) Apéro-Time (AT); The thirty to sixty minutes before dinner in which it is acceptable to have an alcoholic beverage and snack foods. Usually better if done in the company of friends and family at the end of DPT. Otherwise, it's just a little sad to be having a conversation about existentialism by yourself.

5) Dinner Party-Time (DPT): Guests are promptly expected to arrive a minimum of fifteen minutes after the designated time. Try to avoid arriving early or on time lest the dinner host happens to not be French. AT will take place shortly upon arrival.

6) Coffee Break-Time (CBT): occurs in two or three intervals throughout the day (10 a.m., after lunch and 4 p.m.). CBT may also finalize a wonderful session started by DPT.

7) SNCF-Time (SNCFT)***: The fifteen to twenty minutes it takes for the electronic boards to display the train's track number.

8) Strike Season (SS): The period between September 1st to July 31st in which French unionists become disgruntled with government/company policies and remind them who's in charge by disrupting or withholding crucial societal functions (transportation, education, distribution of pharmaceutical goods).

"Pharmacy on strike." I can't make this stuff up. 

9) Off-Strike Season (OSS), a.k.a. Les Vacances: The period between August 1st to August 31st in which no-one bothers to go on strike because the weather is too nice.

*The same standard applies to Bonsoir-Time (not to be confused with BT) should you need to greet the French person within the evening hours.

**As a general rule, you only need to use BT once throughout the day, especially with colleagues. Repetition of BT will garner a series of funny, wide-eyed looks in which your fellow Frenchies will wonder if you are being rude, if you are unfortunate to have short-term memory because you forget that you already saw them, or, at a push, are irreparably brain damaged. 

If, by some reason, there is a situation which requires you to return to see a particular person after you've applied ART, the phrase "Re-bonjour" may be used. 

***Delays or abrupt cancellations with SNCFT are to be expected as the majority of the train schedules coincide with SS. 

Learning this guideline by heart will make your way of navigating through the cultural minefield of faux pas a little bit easier. 

Barb the French Bean