Coming to France to learn about Tunisia

Well I’ve decided that Karim needs a blog All Of His Own. I started jotting a few notes on him last night, and in fact I believe they speak for themselves:

  • Karim and the performances
  • Karim and the fiancée off the Internet
  • Karim and the friends who get off with much older women for money and visas
  • Karim and religion
  • Karim and the reported ‘loads of copines’ (girlfriends)
  • Karim and the five Facebook accounts
  • Karim the adviser

So this happy chappy, as I said, deserves probably more than a blog -possibly a biography. But he’s only 24, so we’ll give him a bit more time before we start officially documenting his life and times. He is a man of great confidence, our Karim, and he can be no better explained than through his work history in Tunisia. If you have ever gone on an all inclusive package holiday, and met the very charming divils who flirt with you by the pool and try to drink with you at night, working for the hotel all the hours god gives them -one of those was Karim. He arranged the pool games, did PLENTY of flirting, and even performed in the ‘spectacles’ -the singing and dancing performances shown each night. He had no training in singing or dancing, but he explained that he had started in the back, with great fear, but petit à petit, he got better, and he demonstrated an impressive twirl in the kitchen to prove his point! Honestly he’s gas. Unfortunately, his ex girlfriend maliciously deleted all the videos of him from YouTube, and he has only one or two pictures left. He showed me these, and they are definitely legit.

That brings me onto Karim and his copines, his girlfriends. Of which he assures me, he has had many. Apparently the hotel in Tunisia was quite the hunting ground, and he has had a French girlfriend too. However, most interestingly, he had a FIANCÉE, which he casually dropped into conversation when we were sharing photos the other night. I will pursue this story in more detail in the future, but from what I understood, she is Tunisian, they seem to have gotten engaged over the Internet, and known each other for a year, but when they met, it didn’t work out. There is definitely something I have missed here, but I will attune my spidey senses and get more out of him, the next time I can stop him from mocking my French and ask a few questions. He is very self-assured, this pup, and regularly warns me against being too timid in the restaurant. I am often tired by the time I get to talk to him, and admittedly I can trail off mid sentence and lapse into defeated mumbling, but Karim disapproves strongly of such behaviour, and is keen to set me straight. A great man for the advice he is. Especially now that I have found work as a waitress -his particular area of expertise. He likes telling me to smile and pay attention to what people say, and he was most shocked that they let me take orders on my first day in the crêperie. (Admittedly they didn’t exactly let me, they had kind of said not to, but when the opportunity arose organically and I leapt in with my notebook and stilo, they didn’t stop me, so I took that as a positive..).

But I have digressed. Karim’s many copines, he tells me, are not forbidden by Islam. Now he takes a moderate approach to practicing Islam at best, and rarely shies at the opportunity to have a beer, but he does not eat pork and eats only Halal meat. He practices more rigorously in Tunisia (when his father is watching him), but here, he relaxes things. However, he says that it is fine to go out with non-Muslims, and maybe they will convert just for the wedding if it gets that far, but they don’t have to practice after that. He is genuine about being a Muslim though, and I think his religion is important to him. For example, he explained to me with some justifiable pride that Ramadan is about having a month to experience life like a poor person, to increase solidarity and encourage you to give 10% of your income to people less fortunate than you. He seems to take a lot of good from it. Karim also explained to me that because he was brought up in Tunisia, he is different from a lot of the Tunisian guys here, who were raised here in an unhealthy culture, where they are involved in all sorts of illegal activities. In Tunisia, he explained, he was brought up to be respectful of others, and I think he hopes to go back to Tunisia when he is older.

He has been lucky, because I think he had family in France before he came here, and therefore had dual citizenship of both countries from when he was fourteen. However, it is not always that easy, and he explained that he has a friend who would like to come to France, but it will cost him €4,000 just for a three month tourist visa! For a real visa, apparently the easiest way is to pay a French woman €10,000 to marry you, and divorce her after two years. Karim tells me with great conviction that this is easy, but I am not sold. Literally or figuratively. He has other friends who, in Tunisia, go out with much older women -lads of 22 and 23, with sugar mamas in their sixties. They are genuine relationships, but with a clear financial element. Karim was offered such arrangement when he worked in the hotel, but he politely passed the offer on to his friend, who is now driving a BMW.

Finally -although I am sure there will be much more to come -the man has not one, but FIVE different Facebook accounts.. He explained that this was for pirating. “WHAT??????” I said???? WHAT are you pirating??? But no, it was other people that had pirated his accounts, he meant. In fairness, this seems to be pretty common here, and a number of people I’ve met have had their accounts hacked, so it seems plausible. I only added one of his accounts, and he advised me (yup, mad for the advice) that I should hide my list of friends. Why, I asked? Well in case a new acquaintance like himself saw some of the jolies filles (pretty girls) who are my friends, and started adding them. I told him in no uncertain terms that if he tried any such thing with my jolies filles that I would bloque him without hesitation! I haven’t got any complaints yet….

Ah, life in apartment 1b will never be dull I fear, but now he’s behind me spraying copious amounts of man perfume around the sitting room, so I’d better be doing my maquillage and getting ready for work.

Sure I speak French, but please God don’t ask me a question

I heard somewhere, sometime, that if you do everything within your power to achieve a goal, the universe will provide. Now read into that what you will, but today the universe provided me with a bona fide job in a bona fide crêperie. Do you remember the crêperie that I was lusting after before Amsterdam? The very one that got me off my ass and to a computer to steal a CV from the Internet?? Well they hired me. Proving that copyright laws are made to be broken. I had a trial run from 11:30 to 14:00 today, and they are happy to keep me on! Delira avec mon staighre, so I ham.

As an aside, Karim has recently started using a landline, with a handset he borrowed from the 1980s, which he has inexplicably set to “loudspeaker”. At this very moment, there is a woman, who I can only assume is related to him, shrieking loudly at him in Arabic. Life is mad.

As for my previous colocataire, Mrs. G, didn’t she show up in the crêperie today!!! Randomly, with her friend that I had met before! However although I am now getting more skilled at showing people to their tables and asking if they would like “autres choses”, my social skills en français are a bit below par, and between that and the first-day-nerves I was struck quite dumb and barely got past beaming and bonjouring. But it’s a winning mix that, I reckon I can’t go wrong. However, I absolutely cannot initiate doing the 2 kisses, the ‘bises’, and Karim has warned me that people will think I’m weird if I don’t do them. Mrs. G’s friend was indeed looking at me very strangely, but I can’t imagine that lurching at her with my face would have made the situation any better. However, I followed up this encounter by showing off to Everyone in the Crêperie that I knew a Person -yes a Person -in their lovely city. I think they all doubted my French when I tried to explain that I had lived with this woman for a month. I can see how from the outside this may seem like the ramblings of a babbling foreigner, but I spoke truth! There is a very small but visible mark on the refrigerator in her apartment to prove it.

The crêperie staff seem very nice so far anyway, although they have all evidently worked there since the beginning of time. The other waitress who was on with me today has been there 15 years, while her mother, in the kitchen, has been there 18 years. The Breton man who owns the place doesn’t look quite old enough to have supported such long-term employment -and I had a good look at him to verify this, as he tends to stand uncomfortably close and looks me overly sincerely in the eyes. However, it must be so. He speaks in a nice low voice and I don’t think I made too many mistakes today. He said it was clear that I had worked as a waitress before (he does not need to know that this was a good 16 years ago) and the other waitress, whose name I will remember tomorrow I hope, said my French was very good. As long as Karim doesn’t show up in the restaurant, with his smirking at my stuttering (considerably increasing said stuttering, I might add) my cover will not be blown. There was a lady in the wash up who insisted I was ‘piquing’ her fingers by putting the cutlery in the basin the wrong way up (which I most certainly WAS NOT), but these people are bound to be there too. She told me in one instance not to scrape the plates as she would be left with nothing to do, but later came to me demanding to know the meaning of an unscraped plate. What can I do?? She was generally nice and friendly all the same. It’s a tiny team of people, but so far I like it.

I spent the rest of the afternoon celebrating my employment by spending all my imaginary future wages on jeans and jumpers. No I still haven’t bought the boots. But the rain has stopped you see. I don’t need them now. Not as much as I need more flimsy shirts with birds on them anyway. (I can already see the next blog forming in the distance…. It will take the shape of a seven-versed lament bemoaning the inability of flimsy patterned shirts to keep your feet warm…)

So the great advantages of employment: 1. I don’t have to worry about being income-less, and can finally stop beating myself up for wasting money on the wrong sized bin bags and a fancy folder with eight multicoloured pockets. (Actually that’s not true, it was €12.99 and I’m still ashamed of myself. I told myself it was in lieu of a filing cabinet, but if I had gone to IKEA first I could have probably BOUGHT a filing cabinet with my €12.99). But I have felt a great sense of ease and relaxation, to know that I don’t have to agonise over buying every cup of coffee. It’s a good feeling. 2. I HAVE A PURPOSE IN LIFE AGAIN!! That purpose may take the shape of rapidly serving crêpes and galettes to homesick Bretons, but it beats hanging around the apartment watching Netflix and traipsing the town en cherchant un emploi. And purposes is purposes. 3. Hopefully, this job will be a way to keep improving my French, and I don’t have to worry about having no French outlet when Karim goes on his holidays to start up his somewhat shady gaming studio in Tunisia. (Yes, life is mad, but more on Karim at a later stage). 4. I really like being a waitress. This place looks like it could get really busy too, and I love that feeling of having all the balls in the air. 5. I can start building things into my free time on regular basis soon, when I know my regular timetable. For example I can sign up to classes, and plan activities. My free time has also actually become free time, rather than work-searching and life-organising time, which will be nice. 5. IT IS MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!! I wanted to come to France, learn some French and find some work, and so far I have come to France, learned some French, and found some work! Keeping said work might be another story, but apparently if you can behave yourself for two months here they’ll give you a permanent contract, the eejits. That, however, brings me to the disadvantages of being employed: 1. I don’t know how they are going to feel about the fact that after just 6 weeks of work, I am planning to skip off home to Ireland for a week and a half. That could jeopardise the old contract quite nicely. Not sure when best to broach this topic, but probably not in the first few days anyway. 2. The nature of this work leaves me with very little free time in the evenings, which limits opportunities for expanding my circle of friends here. BUT there must be plenty people working in the service industry, who find ways to socialise and do sports. We can see… 3. No i don’t really have a number 3. All in all, happy out!!

I ate some chocolate too to celebrate. And as a we’re on the topic of chocolate, I might as well get it out of my system. It is only now that I am willing to admit to what happened on the night of Saturday 4th November, when I got independently and stociously drunk, and ate probably a half a kilogram of dark chocolate. It was a bad one. But now that I’ve confessed, I feel better.

That reminds me, I had another interview this morning as well, in a chocolaterie. The lady said she had already hired someone for the position advertised, but that she liked hiring foreigners (what kind of a thing to say is that??!) and might give me a call. However I think I blew it on the way out the door, when I refused the chocolate she offered me. This may have come across as lack of interest, but should actually have been interpreted as fear. I really just wanted to get out of there before anyone asked me a question. Questions=very scary. Even the simplest ones are always encrypted in some form of native jargon that renders them incomprehensible, and the general result is massive shame, especially when you realise they have just asked you what your name is. It’s tough, pretending your way through France, but evidently, so far it’s working!! Continue reading

WHY DOES ALL OF FRANCE CLOSE ON SUNDAYS???

WHY DOES ALL OF FRANCE CLOSE ON SUNDAYS??? When I have THINGS to be doing??? Or a lack of things now, as the case may be. (Angriness). I made it about halfway down the stairs before remembering that all of the supermarchés close at 12:30 on a Sunday, and it is now 12:40. What am I supposed to do now?? I can’t go eating sandwiches an hour before schedule, and me and Karim have exhausted all of our joint vocabulary on ‘reasons why I should go to Tunisia’. (Karim is quite the Tunisian ambassador, and is most insistent on the topic -a variety of multi-media persuasion tools have been employed, and he refuses to believe that I cannot be entertained there). I have a project to visit an Irish pub later to beg for work, but they don’t open until 16:30.

I have come to the stage where I have now applied for all of the appropriate jobs advertised within a 20km radius, and I have realised that when you offer your services unsolicited, you are met with a look that is half way between sympathetic and insulted, and words I do not quite understand but that generally convey “no, if we wanted someone, we would have advertised like normal people, you imbecile”. So apparently that is not how the system works here. Which is partially limiting, as I am now left with few options but waiting for new ads on the internet (I only allow myself to check once a day). However, it is also kind of liberating, as it frees me from the constant guilt of feeling that I haven’t yet visited Every Single Establishment in the Area and its Surrounds.

In fairness, I have plenty to do, and my guilt can always find somewhere to hang its hat. Its hat is currently resting casually on my grammar book, which is looking at me sulkily every time I breeze past it. I also have some considerable Gabriela-related guilt. Which is mainly her own fault, but that is no reason I can’t feel guilty about it. She being Spanish probably doesn’t even have a word for guilt, so one of us has to shoulder the burden. It started on Thursday -would I like to come to Lyon? Not on your nelly, Gabriela, is what I did not say but conveyed more politely. Was I sure I would not like to come to Lyon? No I am quite sure, I was there not so long ago Gabriela, and I don’t want to pay €35 to go on a bus with you and feel demoralised for 16 hours, but thank you for the invite. And yet, a THIRD time, they have decided to go to Lyon on Saturday, and did I want to come? NOOOOOOOO! No to Lyon, no to bus, and no to the fifteen events you shared with me on Facebook in the time it took me to write my refusal! At this point though, my responses have become a bit faster, as I no longer care about making grammatical errors in my Facebook messages to Gabriela. However, she pulled a right fast one on me with one of these events, suggesting one that she had already seen someone else sharing with me, in which I had publicly and foolishly relayed an interest. I really have to reinstate my Facebook Lurker status. It was a wine tasting event, and I like tasting wine. So I had to admit that I was going with a friend, and agreed to invite her along when we agreed a date. However, that is where the guilt comes in. I socially manoeuvred it to go wine tasting on Saturday, with the Hungarian and co. Will you come along Gabriela, I say innocently. Ah but i am in LYON on Saturday, and I cannot. Oh LYON, Gabriela, you’re right, I totally forgot you mentioned that.. Fifteen times.. Désolé… So now I have Spanish guilt. Exacerbated no doubt by said wine, which was much tasted and much tasty. Regardless, the irrepressible Gabriela suggested going dancing apres-Lyon, when she arrived back at midnight. Is she high or what???? Dancing? Starting at midnight? I cannot cope with Spanish people, and their beautiful skin and relentless energy. Give me a pasty Irish potato with a bad temper and a drink problem any day of the week I say.

The wine tasting turned out to be fun (level: mild-to-moderate). Fun plusses included the Hungarian and the Wine; fun minuses: the presence of a 22 year old American whose family were Republicans, and her French boyfriend who got drunk from sucking on a sugar cube. Okay there were three drops of alcohol pipetted into it by a portly salesman who claimed his name was ‘Frére Jacques’, but it was hardly cause for the glassy eyes that ensued. We all went for pizza together later on (I boldly took a digestive enzyme), and the conversation started to suffer. Perhaps it can be excused by too many people who don’t know each other spending too much time together, but suffice to say that the iPhones got pulled out, and certain members among us started sharing YouTube videos. Which were weird and not funny, and kind of made me feel like I had been taking acid. In fact, the American girl revealed that she has gotten her boyfriend into the habit of watching YouTube videos of people popping pimples -apparently there is a whole channel for this. Disgusting and baffling, in equal measure. It is also baffling to me, the level of inanity that people are willing to tolerate just to avoid being alone. So as you can imagine, the evening got a bit draining, and I was never so happy to leave them all at a tram stop in the cold and skip off to Northern Africa. Sauna city baby, and I had the place to myself. Bliss.

And now happily, it is sandwich time, so I will bid you adieu.

It’s not supposed to rain in FRANCE

Honestly, I am not sure how I ever fitted in a job. It is 2pm, and I am struggling to figure out what I have achieved since 8am this morning. Suffice to say I have not yet left the house. The incessant rain doesn’t help, mind you, but it seems to have taken me half the day to achieve what I would normally have done in an hour after work. WTAF. What the Actual Fluck. I’ve showered-admittedly an achievement in itself but hardly cause for celebration -I’ve done my physio (without too much moaning), breakfasted, snacked and lunched, and done multo-job searching on the Internet, but REALLY?? Six hours??? Tormented I am. Someone once described this phenomenon to me as being like Boyle’s Law of physics, where all the particles of a gas spread out to fill the available space -the small jobs of the day can spread out magnificently, making you feel like you have no time to do anything, but in reality achieving very little. Fecking Boyle. I never liked him anyway, the productive bastard.

More worryingly, all this free time is turning me into quite the menace on social media. She who is by nature a complete silent lurker on Facebook has so far this morning shared about six Donald Trump related articles and gone frantically ‘liking’ anything that denounces him. (Do you denounce Donald and all his evil works? I do.) Additionally, it appears that all skepticism has been put on hold and I subjected three WhatsApp groups and ten of my closest friends to a scam that claimed to give me free Emirates flights. WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME??? Where is the cynical silent cyber type we all know and love??? Or at the very least that we don’t dislike and block from the group?? (Which is no less than what I deserve, after the whole Emirates Embarrassment). I will have to take myself in hand. Or in boots, to go searching for work, and keep me out of harm’s way.

 

Evening

Good lord, the rain. Incessant, it is, and I do not have the footwear for this kind of carry on. My Dunnes Stores suede boots were not meant for this weather, and quite frankly I might as well not be wearing them. I am currently squelching around in sopping socks, that have, through some sort of capillary action, drawn the water up through my jeans to about knee level. It is most miserable and off-putting. Twice I have had to sacrifice my feet to such abuse, for more traipsing and mumbling about CVs. Most people are still being nice, although I can tell from their faces that they do not have the slightest notion of hiring me. I suppose I can’t start the moaning yet though- it has only been two days. I have also figured out that yesterday’s restaurant man is most likely to have said he has a 24 hour contract available, for which he will consider me, among others. I don’t fancy my chances. ‘Others’ sound highly accomplished and intimidating, with their presumed fluent French and lack of stammer. However, I am refusing point blank to apply for the jobs in these ‘clubs privé’ that keep popping up on the employment websites. They sound far too like strip clubs for my liking, and fortunately, we are not there yet.

The best laid plans of man and mop….

Weds PM

Ah, the best laid plans of man and mop…. Suffice to say that the floors are not mopped. My grand plans were derailed by the lack of bleach, and having been bullied thusly out into the rain and cold, I changed tack and went for the Internet cafe, to print out a few more letters. This inspired further movement and I spent the rest of the afternoon traipsing the town as originally planned and dropping said letters into various establishments, looking for travail. In each place, I fully expected the staff to humiliate me and laugh me out of the place, but surprisingly they all seemed to take me seriously, and consider that they might in fact have a look at my CV before dismissing me outright. However, the smiling and nodding skills that I have so keenly honed may have finally gone too far and caught up with me. I can’t be sure of exactly what happened in Cafe Hippopotamus, but I am now in the precarious position of not knowing whether or not I have been offered a part time job. I BELIEVE the nice man to have told me that he has 24 hours a week he can offer me, but just has to run it by the director (he seemed to be some kind of a manager), but I genuinely don’t know. I am now half hoping and half dreading that I will get a phone call, but with every passing minute I become more convinced that I must have misunderstood. In any case, he must never speak on the phone with me, and the action plan is to let any calls go to voicemail. However, in the event that I foolishly answer the phone, in some ill advised fit of bravado, I plan to pretend the line is bad and offer to present myself toute suite. It will be like Cinderella summoning the fairy godmother. He rings the bell (phone), and Presto! Here I am! I am sure to bedazzle him with my prompt appearance, which I am hoping will distract him from the fact that I understood about two words of our earlier conversation. Unless, like I said, got the wrong end of the stick altogether. Highly possible. As they say here, on verra!

Why international soirees are not for me….

Weds AM

Thirty seven minutes. I timed it. Thirty seven minutes is the difference between the time I started attempting to leave the pub, and the time I actually left the pub. And this was no feat of conviviality -no no. This was a very strange Spanish reluctance to leave a socially awkward and boring situation. I could not explain it, but was helpless against its power.

At 12:01, I announce my intention to leave. I have a gleeful moment in which I think I have gotten away with it, but before I have my scarf around my neck, Gabriela announces her intention to come with me. Just after she goes to the toilet. I am okay with this, and make further announcements about waiting ‘ici’, which are somehow misunderstood and she returns from an unsuccessful mission some minutes later to collect me for our joint bathroom visit. No no, says I, ‘ICI’. You can brave it on your own. She eventually returns with the next announcement. The other Spanish girl, Val, is apparently also going to come with us, and now she needs the toilet. More waiting. I realise that I am now helplessly embroiled in a social joint-exit situation that I cannot escape, as I have lost the right to leave independently. I panic and start wrapping more layers around me. However, Val is at this point very busy wrapping herself around her Iranian not-boyfriend, and looks like she has not got the slightest intention of going anywhere. No amount of disengaging from conversation and clutching my handbag can save me now. Gabriela finally puts a jumper on (not a coat yet, mind you), but becomes distracted by two young enthusiastic Venezuelans, who are dying to dance with us and speak anything but French or English. Gabriela has little to gain from this exchange, but still does not seem to be showing any desire to extricate herself. It’s bizarre. In the end I picked her up, threw her over my shoulder and garryowened her into a tram, sprinting the rest of the way home. And all of this took thirty seven minutes. That is a lot of minutes, when all you want to do is be at home in bed -alone -watching Netflix. In one language -not seven.

It might have been that I was intimidated by all these young people, having multilingual conversations and dancing to Europop, but I found it very difficult to see the appeal of such an event. No, methinks, international soirées are not for me. How they are for anyone I find very confusing, but Gabriela was most insistent that I should agree it had a been a great night, what with the dancing and all. (Or in my case, awkward shuffling). I tried to explain to a grinning Iranian that we are nicely repressed in Ireland and don’t do sober dancing, but he completely ignored me and bullied me into adding him as a friend on Facebook. This Facebook friending is also quite mysterious -Gabriela was adding people like a mad thing, and given her level of commitment to actually texting her Facebook friends, I just don’t know how she does it.

Another surprising aspect of an international soirée -and the expat community in general, which I had avoided mentioning until now, is the racism. Jesus Christ, it is alive and well. I have previously noticed a rather alarming amount of bitching about “the Chinese and the Arabs”, but I had hoped it was just miscommunication. But no, last night confirmed it. Oddly, a penchant for international soirées and stilted conversation is only a mark of open-mindedness if you are also white and European. And we wonder how the Americans elected Trump. (About which, incidentally, I am still so upset that I cannot bring myself to further comment on the matter).

So today was supposed to be about printing more cover letters and traipsing the town delivering same, but it is pouring rain and actually snowing outside, so I am finding it difficult to leave the apartment. Which is deliciously warm, as Karim is fully committed to recreating a Tunisian climate in our living quarters. Fine with me says I, and he paying all the bills. I do wake up most mornings in a somewhat sun-dried prunish state, but anything is better than the cold. Nothing a half a litre of Nivea lotion can’t sort out. But with all this rain and mankiness, I may even mop the floors. Which is about as appealing as chewing my own arm off, but I tried that and it tastes of Nivea. A bit of Radio France Bleu Isere and mop city it is.

The aftermath of Amsterdam….

So it’s been a week since I was here in blog city -and what a week it’s been! Since my last update, I have been drunk, high, ogled in a window, culturally enriched and historically educated -and that was just one day in Amsterdam. Great city for tourists, really different and loads of very high quality attractions. The city itself is rainy but beautiful, and despite one reveller trying to take a bite out of one of the girls (apparently she looked like a hamburger, “nyum nyum”), we felt very safe there. We also felt appallingly objectified unfortunately, but that’s what you get when you put a thousand nearly naked women in shop windows I guess. And it wasn’t just by those who climbed up the wrong side of a magic mushroom either. The prostitution thing was sad -very interesting to look at it from the outside, but you were immediately disabused of any notion that there is even the vaguest hint of glamour associated with the lives of these girls. However, the legalisation of the weed worked very well in our favour, and although I wouldn’t be too keen to repeat the experience, getting high as a kite on hash brownies was immense fun. The simplest tasks took about ten minutes, and everything seemed Hilarious. Mighty craic. As a one off, I’d recommend it. As a regular habit, guaranteed to ruin your life. I’m not sure I would do well in Amsterdam…

However, the return to France was a serious comedown, especially landing back into a bare looking and empty apartment, shared with an Inconnu -the international man of mystery, Karim. Getting very drunk suddenly seemed like a very good idea, and that is what I did!! Turns out that wine and chocolate can in fact solve many problems, and in the end I spent a very pleasant evening over-indulging and watching chick flicks on the internet. However, this did not help the adjustment process the next day. When I finally ran into Karim, he caught me unawares and said some words and tried to do the French kisses thing, but I was at this point so entrenched in Irish culture and Amsterdamitis (a fancy way of saying hangover) that I forgot completely how to feign Frenchness and the whole affair ended in a very awkward handshake and an air of unmistakeable imbecility. Not a great start…

However, things took a turn for the better when I started cleaning things and getting the apartment into shape. Karim and I got chatting, and he’s very nice and friendly, in fairness. He assured me that I would find work, but not if I stayed at home cleaning the apartment all day! Cheeky fecker. All the same, he had the good manners to pick up a guilt-induced Brillo pad and started scrubbing at something orangey coloured on the walls. Which are now, I might add, a pleasing shade of white.

A trip to IKEA the following day made things all the better, and the place is really starting to feel like home. Karim and his endless pots of pasta and cheese do not seem to know what to make of it all, but they aren’t making any comments. The poor divil with his cheese and pasta -I’m having to work very hard to restrict urges to teach him how to cook. We won’t rule it out yet though… IKEA, by the way, is terrifying. Enormous and labyrinthine, with prices for all, but maps for none. I lost my Hungarian in Tiles and Bathrooms, and despite repeated roaring, didn’t find her again until the checkout.

So after IKEA (and a coffee with the Hungarian to celebrate our reunion), I was struck with a sudden wave of motivation that has lasted a full 24 hours, and resulted in a CV and cover letter written, corrected and printed times fifty, a list made of promising ads from the Internet and a shedload of good intentions. Okay, a CV and cover letter lifted off the internet and pawned off as my own, but still. I am not sure exactly what my cover letter says, which is admittedly a bit risky. I have the gist of it though, and have concluded that it probably doesn’t claim I am an experienced monkey whisperer, or fluent in Malayalam. Regardless, all my good intentions may be about to be derailed by an invite to the pub later. On a Tuesday, I hear you gasp in horror? Yes a Tuesday. You may not quite believe me, but I genuinely don’t want to go. It’s with Gabriela, the Spanish madwoman, but it’s an event organised once a month to go and have a drink and practice French. I have grossly neglected my grammar exercises of late, and have myself convinced that they can be successfully replaced by getting drunk and stammering at people. (Tell that to the secondary school kids and see what happens).