Sunday, January 20, 2013

Intro to The Cote D'Azur

SO, it’s been a while.  As you may remember, I finally left Hanoi, more or less, in one piece.  I spend the summer visiting my Portland friends and my Midwestern family, and it was great, apart from the death of my uncle.  But even that negative thing was balanced out by the his funeral was a chance for my family to get together and see each other for the first time in 4 years for some of them.

Anyway, I got to France in mid-August.  My first taste of Cote d’Azur way of doing business was the 70Euro ($100) 5 mile taxi ride from the airport to Antibes.  Most airports in France are connected by train, but no this one.  The second busiest in the entire country, mind you.  Why?  Well, the taxis make a killing, which you dry up if they installed a train line through the airport (although the train itself passes with half a mile of the airport)  This was something I learned quickly, while not exactly “mafia” in the typical sense, business is done in somewhat shadowy semi-illegal ways here.  It’s not so organized as mafia, but oddly enough, every business transaction heavily favors the interests of the locals, and it’s very much a network of one hand washing the other, you are the dirt that gets washed off.  The Provence is famous for this type of Old Boy networking.

Anyway, the person who was in charge of resettling me is somewhat paid by my company, and somewhat paid by the state of France.  Their only real responsibility is to find you an apartment, and open a bank account for you.  Basically, they put about 8 hours of work in for each client and get paid $2600 for it.  And unsurprisingly, she just so happened to know the landlords of the apartments she showed me.  Again, I’ve been in Asia long enough that I know how kickbacks works.  So, they show you about 8 apartments and you have to choose from them, whether you really like any of them or not.

Well, anyway, that’s fine, I knew I’d be take for a wash, but was fine with it.  You have to know how to pick and choose your battles after all.  I got an apartment in Juan Les Pins, which is just next to Antibes and Cannes.  And I’m only 4 minute walk from the beach.  Problem is the neighborhood where I live attracts the worst type of Cote d’Azur tourists.  Those who are there not for the culture, the nature, the history.  Nope Juan Les Pins tourists are there for only two things, the beach and the shops.  So, imagine, it’s like the South Beach Miami of France.  A lot guidos in Ferraris with slick back hair, a lot of Arabic knuckleheads with their hyper macho attitudes, and  a lot of girls wearing too much makeup.  Not really my scene.  Plus, I’m one block from all the clubs, which are like douchebag magnets.

Well, I decide I’ll move later.  No worries.  Now, about the job:  overall, it’s pretty great.  My colleagues are all quite professional, friendly, and dedicated teachers.  It really keeps a good vibe when everyone actually cares about their job and takes it seriously, and is willing to help other teachers too.  The only slight problem is that I’m the youngest by a good stretch.  This school doesn’t typically hire new teachers, as it’s considered one of the best public international schools in France.  I think the only reason I got the job is because they saw how bad I wanted it and that demonstrated that I would bust my ass to do a good job.  The kids are by and large bright and well behaved, as they have actually chosen to take these international classes.   Also, my vacations kick ass.  We work 6 weeks on, 2 weeks off.  Gotta love European socialism!

My classes are pretty good.  I’m have a relatively heavy load, teaching almost every class between 6th grade and Junior (grade 11) in high school, and I’m also teaching 6 hours of English, which is my big weak point, at three different schools.  But I’ve certainly had worse teaching loads.  The good thing is the hours.  On Monday I work from 8-12, then Tuesday from 10-5 then Wednesday 8-10, Thursday 8-4, and Friday 3-5.  The good news is, when I’m not teaching, I don’t have to be there.  So, if all my planning is done, I’m free the rest of the day.  That’s nice.

Another nice thing is the pay.  If I was living anywhere but the Cote D’Azur, I’d be making good money, but here the cost of everything except groceries is so high that I’m getting by.  Not losing money, but not saving that much either so far.  But of course, the first 6 months of living somewhere is economically the most difficult, as you have a lot of expenses to soak up at first.  Still I can’t complain.

The weather, and climate, as you may have heard me mention, is spectactular, usually warm and sunny.  The Mediterranean is beautiful, and within a few miles inland, the foothills of the Alps begin.  It’s as close to rugged wilderness as you are likely to find in Europe, with all sorts of awesome extreme sports to be had, amazing Mountain Biking, hang gliding, parasailing, skiing, canyoneering, hiking, all in the shadows of quaint medieval villages.  So far, the only place I’ve seen in the world that can compare to it is the Pacific Northwest, and here isn’t that far behind it.

The food is decent, though you really have to put out a lot of money for a meal in a restaurant.  Most meals start at around $14 and go up.  Groceries are cheap, and you can still get good cheese, bread, wine, liquor, meat, veggies, etc.  But as far as French cooking, you need to either have a French cook for you, or go to a restaurant, neither of which I have very often.

Bars are CRAZY expensive.  A pint of anything costs at least $8-12, mixed drinks more.  So I don’t drink too much in bars.  Rent is also crazy expensive.  Studios start at about $700, and one bedrooms about $1100.

The people…well, I have to admit, in general, the people of the Mediterranean (doesn’t matter which country) are kind of stupid dicks.  If you go inland 100 miles, the people become a lot cooler and less uptight.  But the problem is this region attracts a lot of old rich people, young rich people, and working class North African immigrants, all of whom feel the world owes them something.  In general, dicks.  However, I have met a couple cool people from the region, so they do exist.  There’s jerks and cool people everywhere, in every culture.  It’s just harder to find them in some places.

Also, they drive like shit here.  They drive aggressively,  tailgate like crazy, and drive too fast, at all times.  I’m told the Italians are even worse.  Northern French drive much better than their southern cousins.  That can be a bit nervewracking while on a motorbike, and that’s why I’ll be getting a bigger engine, in order to be more maneuverable at speed.

I’ll get into the specifics of the good and bad over here later, but this is just a little catch up to speed of where I’m at.  Until next time,