Sunday, November 30, 2008

The happiness ratio

Hubby was talking about his high happiness ratio when he was shopping for wine. This weekend, I was doing my own shopping and I can say that my happiness ratio = 80.

My birthday is just around the corner so I got a generous budget from my in laws to shop for myself a handbag. Hubby also wants to sponsor something so I set in mind to go home with a pair of new boots and jeans.

The depressing weather didn't stop me and a good friend from hunting the gifts on my list. The first item bought was the jeans. I like it at the first try and almost bought two identical pairs at different size. That is why you always need to shop with someone to stop you from doing stupid shopping mistake. :-)

I almost giving up looking for the boots. I wanted it be neither brown nor black but it is the fashion now in France. Most of the shops we went sell only these two colors and I stubbornly wanted just colors OTHER than black and brown. After two hours of popping in and out different shops, while entering a new target, I went straight to the seller and requested "do you have something rather than these two colors?". Obviously the shop only offers two colors but she was intelligent enough to check in her store room and came back with 4 pairs of boots with the light brown colors. I bought this pair in just 10 minutes. Once I like something I don't want to look somewhere else. It cost 69 euros, below the budget I thought hubby should sponsor. :-)

I was a big worried that I won't be able to find any bag and going home empty handed. It would be horrible as we were having the birthday party on that evening and my in laws wanted me to have the bag wrapped so that they would have the surprise at what I chose. Again, the fashion for this Christmas is opposite from what I had in mind. Most of the bags are huge like a travel bag. Eventually we spotted a shop that offers small bags. I was hesitating among many and changed my mind several times. Finally I picked this one, and it was...140 euros!!! The most expensive hand bag in my life. Way over the budget but I know hubby would sponsor the reminding amount. :-) Later I told myself "Gosh, I just spent RM700 on a handbag!!! With this money I could have bought an extremely luxury brand in Malaysia.

During the dinner everyone was happy at what I picked "as the gift they would offer me". I didn't dare to tell about the over budget deal and luckily nobody asked. At one point I told hubby and he didn't complain. How dare he complains when he has bought all these: close to 200 bottle of wines, occupying one third of his father's wine cellar!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Back to the badminton court

It is so cool I got to play badminton again. My company reserves two courts twice a week during lunch time for its employees. The sport center is located just 5 minutes away from the office. I won't have thought French know about this sport but to my surprise a lot of them actually know how to play. The center has 8 courts and all of them were filled with players each time we were there.

Badminton is a very popular sport in Malaysia. It is the only sport in which we managed to get medals during the Olympic games. As a kid, we would play on the road side. The house gate would serve as the net, or we would tie both end of the rope to something (like two trees on the photo) and the game would start. There were always enough kids to play during the evening. The better and the older one would teach the younger one and little by little you learn how to hold the racket, how to serve, how to be able to touch the shuttle cock, and how to smash. Since we were playing the games outdoor, you need to know how to play against the wind, how to raise the rope to let the car pass by, how to use the bamboo stick to retrieve shuttle cocks that stuck on the house roof or within a bunch of leaves. Everyone would get so disappointed when we lost all the shuttle cocks (either stuck on the roof or disappeared in between leaves) and we would get mad at the person who did that.

Those were the days when badminton was my childhood game.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A trip to the local market

Sunday morning, I was craving for some kaki so I dragged hubby out of the bed to go to a local market. In fall you can usually get some good deals for kaki and grapes.

Remember this mushroom species? I blog about it here a while back. It is being sold at 16.90 per kg.

Have I told you that Brittany is the heaven to seafood? This is one kind of crawfish that you could find in the West of France.

Crabs here are quite cheap but even since this kill crab incident, I no longer buy crabs, I eat them only when I'm at my in laws.

France is one of the biggest exporters for oyster. It is one of the popular dishes during Christmas gathering.

Hmmm, I love mussel, my MIL makes the best dish out of it: cook them with some onion and white wine and you are good to go.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wine & gastronomy exhibition

Nantes is hosting a 3 days exhibition (22-24 November) for French wine and gastronomy.

Saturday afternoon I had a deal with hubby: I would go with him to the exhibition and he would accompany me to do some cloth shopping. Ended up we bought 27 bottles of wine, spent tone of money and only left the exhibition at 7pm when all shopping centers were closed, and arrived one hour late to my school reunion party.

I'm not a big fan of wine, luckily there were all these goodies to spare myself from getting bored. After several years in France I grow to love saucission, we bought 3 different kinds of favor: pepper, spicy and goat cheese. All these for 10 euros.

We tried this cheese and decided to go back to buy some. This small piece cost us 13 euros, didn't know it could be that expensive!

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Have you experienced this? You just heard about something ridiculous and you feel sad but you laugh instead because it is just too much to bear.

This was how I reacted one day when talking to one of the carpoolers. The topic of the day was about how people take the social programs for granted. I was a bit surprised when he openly condemned his countrymen for abusing these programs while the usual conclusion I got from this kind of discussion was that these social programs are still benefiting 90% of the people in need.

So, I was telling him that I pay taxes now and that I disagree on certain social programs. He agreed with me in many situations and proceeded to describe a situation that pissed him off the most: After three weeks of summer vacations, one of his coworkers would take several weeks of sick leaves for "the anxiety that the vacation is over". That was when I felt sad but couldn't hold my laugh at the same time. It was simply too ridiculous!

Well, I know that anxiety is not something you can control. It would be dangerous for this person to come to work for risking an anxiety attack. But apparently, this happens EVERY YEAR. And who are paying for this? Us again the poor tax payers. The company will pay one part and the rest is financed by your contribution toward "accident maladie". Yes, you are paying for that person to stay away from work as "he or she is too sad that the vacation is over".

Put it in another way. Let say these sick leaves are unpaid. Do you think he or she will still take it every year? Maybe one can try to break up the vacation in shorter period instead of a continuous 3 long weeks and not during the summer?

Sorry for the rant. I still feel bitter seeing all those line of subtractions on my pay slip to finance different social programs that I do not approve.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The seating issue

I have never known that car seating arrangement could provoke the issue of cultural differences, until we had a bunch of French visiting Malaysia. My seating arrangement had actually led my in laws think that me and hubby were not in love anymore lol.

In Malaysia, we usually let the elderly sit on the front passenger seat. It is a way to show respect. So, it is very common that you don't get to sit beside your husband or your boyfriend. Since women are relatively small compare to men they usually sit in the back with children.

It is different in France. Well, you see, my in laws are very much in love even though they are in their 50s. They would hold hands wherever they go and they have no problem showing their affection to each other in public. There is an implicit rule that I still couldn't get it: they want to sit together (side by side) inside a car no matter where they go. In the earlier days when hubby drives, I would propose my FIL (for respect and size issue) to sit in front so that the three passengers in the back seat will have enough room. After a while, I got it, he and my MIL prefer to stick together and don't mind the "crowded space issue". Fine with me.

The problem arose when we were in Malaysia. We were a huge group, we always traveled in 2 or 3 cars, where seat assigning became a dedicated issue. I always put my FIL in the front passenger seat for "space maximization" purpose. After a while they made me realized that they don't like to be separated (they were still in the same car!). Fine. Then I learned another rule: couple should be seated in the same car. Fine. More rule kidding in: grandma should sit with her daughter or grandson. As for myself I considered me and hubby as the host, so when he was with his friends (one group) I would be with his family (another group).

Several days had passed and my in laws couldn't hold themselves anymore. They confronted hubby and asked why we were not in love anymore as we had never sat together in the same car! Their "worryness" amplified when they saw that we weren't sleeping in the same house and we were not holding hands... Long story short they wanted hubby to sit in my car (I was the driver) instead of with the other group. I refused and explained that if both of us were to be with them, then the other group will not get as much information and introduction to my country as I wish.

It was interesting to discover this difference. In my family when we travel together, there is less notion of couple but more on everyone as a group member so whatever decision should be based on the benefit of the group instead of personal preference. Well, you do what the people in Rome do. Now In France I would sit in front when hubby drives and do not feel uneasy / guilty even though those at the back have to bump together. :-)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The retirement age

Air France is on strike as some pilots oppose the new law amendment which allow Air France pilots to retire at 65 instead of 60. It seems that the law is not forcing everyone to retire at 65, it simply gives the possibility to people who want to work longer. I wonder why people were on strike then if they can choose when they want to retire? The answer: they want the senior citizen to get out of the workforce to make way for the young.

The legal age of retirement in France vary depending on the sector you are working on. Usually the civil servants retire earlier than those working in the private sector. That's why some times you have SNCF on strike as they don't want to lose their privilege to retire at the age of 50 or 55 compared to those at 60-65. Below is a table which tells you the average retirement age by different sectors:

I was quite shock when I learnt that in France people can't work when they reach certain age. That means if you are still healthy and you are passionate about your job, you can't stay on when you hit the retirement age. Someone told me that this is how France lost their researchers, as scientists would like to continue their research but are restricted by their age, so to continue they have to move elsewhere. In Malaysia the legal retirement age is set at 55, but I have seen some people stay on their job until 65 or 70 depending on their sector and their employers.

I work in private sector. To enjoy a full retirement, I need to allow certain amount of money disappear from my bank account for 41 years. Since both me and hubby were working overseas for several years before returning to France and since the retirement platform is set at 65, we will be forced to retire before fulfilling the 41 years retirement fund contribution. That means both of us won't enjoy full retirement. Worst, the pension you get is not proportional to how many years you have paid. For example, if you have paid for 20,5 years and you decide to retire, you will not get 50% of the pension fund, but someone who works for 35 years might get higher than 85% for the retirement fund.

One day on TV I heard an old couple complaint that they couldn't make ends meet with their 1200 euros month pension. They need to pay 500 for their apartment rental the remaining is not enough to pay for all expenses. They both look healthy but they can't work as they are over 65 years old. Now, how can these people increase their income if they are not allow to work? Isn't it just drive more people into demanding help from the government?

I also heard that in some companies, you won't see people above 57, as even though they have not contributed for 41 years, the company would propose them an early retirement package. They will get paid in the form of benefits so that the companies do not have to pay all the social taxes for them which could result in 50% of saving for each employee. At the end, the employees are happy as they got to retire earlier than expected, and the employee can reduce their operating cost. The only "people" lost out in the game is the government, but who cares?

I'm so support the laws to push the retirement age to 70. But, it is kind of sad to have to work at 70 also. Man, we so screwed up.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The end of the probation period

My probation period ended this week. That means I have become a permanent employee of my company. Cool!!!

I almost have a heart attack when my manager sent me an email for an assessment interview. I had to fill in a form and rate myself on how well I handle my job and how integrated I'm with the rest of the team. I was secretly hoping that he will just forget about the whole trial period thingy. So when I received this email a week before the end of the probation, I told myself that crap he is going to renew it for another 1.5 months!

The true is, until today we still didn't have this interview as he was too busy. At one point he was telling me that don't worry he is happy with my performance and the whole interview thing was just to go over things and fill in some paperwork. I jokingly told him that well you should have told me earlier! He laughed and asked me to relax. :-)

For you information, the end of probation period means job security in France. I know in USA you could just get fired in one day but in France to lay off someone take longer time and it comes with huge cost. So retrenchment is a rare practice unless the company is not doing well.

Life is finally cool here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thanks God it is holiday today

Isn't cool to have to work only one day and then get one day off? It's like buy one get one free. :-)

France is celebrating the end of world war I so the 11 November is a public holiday. Since it fell on Tuesday this year a lot of people took the Monday off to have the continuous 4 days holidays. No traffic on the road and when I arrived at work yesterday most of the office doors were shut. I was alone in my office so I was getting a lot of work done without being disturbed constantly.

How I wish Thursday is a holiday too. :-)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The stupid mistake

Being a foreigner in this country, I might not know things that are obvious to the local, thus make me look stupid in certain situation. Here I'm sharing one which at the time of the occurrence, I just want to bang my head into the wall.

By Oct 1 every car in France has to be equipped with an emergency kit. The company committee (CE) proposed to buy this kit for its employees at an attractive price. This was announced through emails and one of them stated that payment will be accepted through check, credit card or restaurant ticket.

On the day of distribution, I was happy that I remembered to bring a restaurant ticket plus cash to pay for it. When I handed it to the guy, he looked at me and said:"but it was a joke!" Turned out that the email about paying with restaurant ticket was an obvious joke that everybody understood but me. I felt so embarrassed and yet relieved as we were the only two at the scene, at least no one else will know that I believe I could pay anything with the restaurant ticket! What was I thinking!

Worst, hubby told everyone in his office about this incident and they had a good laugh. They just couldn't understand who on earth can miss out this kind of joke. Well, I can. :-)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Hilarious - post deleted

I talked to my friend with African background and he found the dollar bill photo I posted here extremely insulting. He didn't even see it, he reacted strongly just from my description. I think I'm too ignorant and insensitive by posting this photo. I apologize if I offended anyone.

There is a saying:" you can joke about everything, but not with everybody." It is so true in this case as I didn't intend to humiliate any race. It is purely a joke.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The ticket to go to restaurant

Ever since I got my ticket restaurant, I have been to restaurant almost everyday, usually during lunch time.

These tickets are provided by my employer. The face value is 7,65 euros, and my employer chips in 4,60 euros for each of them. The face value could defer from company to company and from region to region. You get one for every working day. That means if you are off for vacations during a month, you won't get any for that month.

Most of the restaurants accept this as one of the payment methods, but they usually won't pay you the change. It is aimed to pay for the lunch but some restaurants do accept it for dinner. Most of the time a meal costs more than 7,65 euros (unless you grab a sandwich), so you still need to pay a little.

Finally, eating out can become a less expensive option. I'm glad.

PS: The red 10 euros face value tickets are gift tickets provided by the company for Christmas shopping.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The language we speak

Now that we are living in France, a lot of people feel amaze that me and hubby still speak to each other in English. They think that for my sake, we should switch to French so that I can pick up the language as fast as possible.

The idea of switching to French only crossed my mind once. At that point I did not work and stayed home most of the time. I can go without speak any French for a long period. However, despite the fact that I don't speak good French, hubby chose to speak English with me, as it is the language when we first met. I gave in as most importantly, both of us want to practice our English as much as we can.

By going back to the workforce, I interact more and more with the French and have to speak French almost everyday. Even though it would still be logic to speak French at home, I still think that having a break from French is necessary for me. I do not want to force myself too much. I think my energy quota of learning a language has long run out in Malaysia, having to learn three languages and different dialects at the same time. So, sure I could have spoken better French if I spoke French with hubby, but, just give me a break, let thing comes naturally.

I like the way we are now: speak English for serious stuff, tease each other with French or Chinese. One day we were teasing each other with mixing up the three languages, I got totally confused by what hubby was trying to say: shoe. Coincidentally the sound of "shoe" is quite close to the French "chou" = cabbage or the Chinese "shu" = book. I had to ask him three times to get what he wanted to say. It's fun speaking "rojak" = mix language again like what we do in Malaysia! :-) Sometimes hubby would come out with words in Malay (satu roti canai!) and Hokkien(my family language) by imitating the persons he learnt the words from and it really cracks me up!.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Just can't avoid this presidential election

I haven't followed this presidential election religiously, but it seems that you can't just avoid it, as updates on both candidates are on the first page of many news websites. The above poll result is from a Malaysian Chinese website that I frequent. I know that McCain is not popular in Malaysia (I think he is unpopular due to George Bush and Iraq war), but didn't know it could be until this level: 91% voters wish Obama win over 9% for McCain.

In 2004, I followed the election result until 5am in the morning and was disappointed that George Bush won again. That disappointment was mainly due to the Iraq war, I didn't research on his domestic political views, even though I was living on the State he used to be the governor.

Now, I wonder how the Americans decide who are they going to vote for? Surely their decision won't be based on only international policies and what the world wish (poll results show that the majority of the residents in the world prefer Obama over McCain). Personally, I don't really care if a president prefers abortion or gay marriage, I would vote base on the economy policies.

In France, I have a feeling that the medias are in favor for Obama. They have reports on how McCain was lying when he said he was being tortured Vietnam, how Sarah Palin has exorbitant spending on her clothing. There were no news (or I didn't notice) about the fact that Obama refused to show his birth certificate to clarify the claim that he was actually borned in Kenya thus not an US citizen, nor the fact that he has raised huge fund for his campaign and his spending on advertisement was ridiculous, compared to McCain who only uses public funding.

If you are interested, here is a table comparing the policies of the two candidates:

No matter who wins, I hope that the new president will interface the world issues in a genuine way, instead of playing the world big bully role for their own economic and political interests.