The Carte Vitale crowd have refused my application of course. They have demanded a translation of my birth cert, and a good quality copy of it. Despite having originally demanded the original copy, which by its original nature, is old. Thirty two years old, to be exact. A pristine copy with no creases is a bit much to expect of it, don’t you think? So yeah, they want the original, but they want it to be beautiful. And in French. And for all their demands of copies, naturally they have neglected to actually return the original to me, despite my having carefully put it in a poly pocket with a label EXPLICITLY requesting that they give it back to me. Fuckers. It’ll throw the cat among the pigeons altogether if I tell them I’m half thinking of moving to Lyon. However, they have accidentally assigned me a social security number, which was all I really wanted anyway. I snuck that one in sideways. So there, FRANCE. Got ye.
Karim’s gorgeous sister has arrived, and is flouncing around the apartment and refusing to do anything except go shopping for clothes and chocolate. Apparently chocolate is a big obsession in Tunisia, but the quality of their own chocolate is truly awful, so she has gone wild and is buying in bulk. Karim finally admitted to me that he is sharing the bed with her, and they spend long hours in the bedroom on the phone to their mother, all of them giggling loudly. He has the most gorgeous giggle, that is elicited usually at some fit of outrageousness committed by himself, but I’d love to know what the family dynamic is like. They seem really close, and really happy. The two of them together are too cute, with their big brown eyes and mischievous laughs. He is starting to annoy me a little bit though, and I’m finding it hard to forgive him to refuse to take Matthieu in last night for no reason other than homophobia. (It transpired that Matthieu was spending the night in a car with his boyfriend last night, and I had hoped to offer them my bed, but Karim was having none of it). This France thing is really opening my eyes to so many different cultures, and how much more varied people’s viewpoints are coming from different cultures, than you ever realise when you are in your own country meeting your own people and reading your own national papers. I’m trying to remind myself that Karim is coming from a culture that is well behind ours in terms of tolerance and openness to difference, but outright discrimination is many steps too far, and I might move on soon. I’m also starting to think a bit more about Lyon…. Maybe the dream breakfast waitress job is just waiting for me there??? But I have noticed that I am falling into the same pattern as always -the minute I start to get comfortable in a job, I’m bored and I want to move on. I don’t seem to be able to just ride the wave and enjoy it for a while, which I should probably try and do. Otherwise it’s just non stop stress, right? But still, I LIKE moving. It’s FUN.
My mother arrived today, and I went to collect her the bus station, and installed her in the Grand Hotel. It’s very nice, and everyone in work is terribly impressed that she’s staying there for a full week. It’s become somewhat of a team hobby in work, everyone vicariously planing activities for Mom while she is here, and they are a cause of great interest and curiosity. In other words, we’re only dying for things to be talking about, but it’s nice that the others are communicating with me. Incidentally, the arrival of Matthieu has completely turned things around in work. All of a sudden, everybody love me. It helps greatly that Matthieu makes many many mistakes, because by comparison I have become a superhero. Also, he is the new scapegoat that everybody is watching like a hawk, and only delighted to swoop in and peck him with their beaks when he forgets to do something. It sucks for him, but works for me. Plus I will be super nice to him to make up for the others. Which is easy to do, because he is a DELIGHT. He is energetic, passionate, clever, and hopelessly disorganised. His boyfriend recently took off to Switzerland with Matthieu’s phone in his car. Naturally I sympathised, but he launched into a rant about how he didn’t mind it really because it’s like a detox from technology and –oh no wait, rant cut short! The boyfriend is outside, Matthieu halts mid sentence and physically SKIPS out to meet him –“Il est là! Avec mon portable!” If a person can look like the emoji with hearts in its eyes, then Matthieu did a fine job of it 😍😍. I already love him, even if he still doesn’t move his lips when he talks. I feel we could be besties. Entertainingly, Alice has realised that the bullying is now shifted on, and that is is no longer socially acceptable to ostracise me. She is only raging that this means she might now even have to be nice to me. You can take your gentillesse and you know where you can shove it Alice, I didn’t want ya anyway.
But for now, I am distracted, because excitingly, I have a GUEST!
There are fish. Two fish. Interrupting my enjoyment of my buckwheat porridge. I like them not. They have been carefully stationed there in advance of the arrival of Karim’s sister, and he is frantically recleaning all the things I dutifully cleaned yesterday. I like this not either. I have sternly advised the poissons, “You are for eating, not for darting around my breakfast table, thinking you’re ornaments and making my peripheral vision think you are mice.” But to no avail. They care not for my cautionary words, and continue to unnerve me. But yes, I have been talking to them. So far today, we have discussed the heat in the apartment and their likelihood of death by boiling. They’re fairly rubbish at reciprocity, granted, but at least they understand English.
As for French, there was beaucoup of it spoken last night, during what could be considered a successful date with Fabien. Well it was successful up until about the end of the second pint. I am not too sure of exactly what I said after that, but I can guarantee you that it was stunted and grammatically horrific. Nonetheless, he seemed interested. Bizarre, given that he endured a third pint’s worth of my stammered stories (as may have been previously documented, 1.5 is the magic number of pints when it comes to alcoholic facilitation of language acquisition). I’m not sure whether I fancy him or the fact that I can understand him, but one way or the other I hope to see him again. I am aware that the latter possibility roughly equates to fancying myself. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.
I can happily confirm that in general, work is going much better. Despite the odd faux pas, (pas grave), I have pretty much a full page of smiley faces on my ‘work appraisal database‘. In fact there were a couple of days when I really enjoyed it, and I’m starting to get on very well with one or two of the others. I also took great pleasure in eavesdropping the Giant Bitching Session in which Goeffrey moaned at length to Brigitte (wife of Davide, joint bosses) about the two bitches in the kitchen, including how they were unreasonably ateing the head off me for nothing. That, I can tell you, more than made up for the lid of the tea cup I broke. Interestingly, this was followed the next morning by an observation of Giant Bitching Session Number 2, in which the two bitches in the kitchen expounded at large about their problems with Goeffrey. I’ll be staying mute up here on my fence so I will, feigning safe levels of incomprehension.
However, this is unlikely to last much longer, as the French has improved a bit, and the others are now onto me. They started to twig that I could speak and understand a bit better, and have shifted their bloody goalposts accordingly. They have stopped making as many accommodations and are now talking to me more and talking to me faster. Which has me nicely landed back in the land of bewildered semi-comprehension. Maybe the mute fence is the best place for me for now…
I was just about coping with this increase in dialogue however, until the arrival of Matthieu Martin, with his swivelly hips and his lips that barely move when he talks. Staring earnestly into his face and asking him to slow down makes no difference, as the life force behind Matthieu Martin is too strong to curb. He is a spectacularly flamboyant, energetic and highly lovable 24 year old who has just started a trial with us in work. He swaggered in, shoulders relaxed, and was loudly making declarations and pleasantries with all and sundry about three hours into his first shift. The two in the kitchen clearly had stars in their eyes for him, and failed to notice his profound laziness and disinterest in all things work related. However, despite this, I’m quite partial to him myself, and I can’t decide whether it would be worse to keep him or lose him! But such is Matthieu Martin, and I’m sure we will be hearing more about him.
Incidentally, Matthieu Martin was the cause of me discovering how absolutely inappropriate I am being by brandishing my Vaseline lip-salve around France. They caught sight of it yesterday evening during my break and much hilarity ensued. I blinked blankly in misunderstanding, and explained that I suspected something alright, as I can’t seem to buy it anywhere here. Matthieu kindly explained that I’d find it alright, but probably in a sex shop. I asked no more.
Health wise I am also feeling much better, and am up to chancing a Tinder date with one of the Fabiens tonight. (I’ll keep the Vaseline under wraps). This will be all in French, which frightens me, but we’ll see how it goes… I don’t really have a game plan, but the vague outline involves drinking cider.. Watch this space.
Slightly less malade.
The drugs they gave me in the French pharmacie are working most fantastic magic and I am improving, although perhaps not quite as quickly as I imagine. I urgently need food supplies at home (today has been the first day I have succeeded in washing myself, so that should give you some idea of energy levels). However, this means having to go shopping. I have had to bribe myself into it with a trip to Bio Break, my favourite gluten free cafe, where the waiter makes me very nervous with his aggressive friendliness, but where I strangely like their cardboardy vegan food. I knowingly paid an extra three euro today for a soup that I knew was going to be cold. French Sarah does strange things. French Sarah also drinks many different types of teas, which she would have previously spurned as ‘not proper tea’. Earl grey, which would have been suspiciously regarded as the preserve of English people and aristocracy, is the new craze. I depart from the Frenchness by putting milk in it, but it’s baby steps. Who would have thought that milky lemony goodness could be so delicious? Black tea?? Blah. For commoners. So I have myself a cup of it (for motivation, of course), but the minutes are slipping by.
An hour later, I am still in Bio Break with neither the energy nor the inclination to go to the supermarché across the way. I can SEE it, I just can’t BE in it.
Since returning from Ireland, I have been afflicted with a chest infection that has knocked me for six. Apart from work, I have barely been out of bed in three days, and last night I had to sleep sitting up. This ignominy was thanks to the horrible cough, which had me pinned horizontal for two days, but which then revolted badly against horizontality and insisted on a full time upright position. So a mixture of breathlessness and guilt propelled me into the sitting room to sleep, where I could take advantage of the cushions and cough away unhappily without melting Karim’s brain through the cardboard walls. Boooooo.
We had a new girl started in work with us last night. I am only raging jealous at how everything is coming to her so easily, what with the monstrous advantage of understanding what people say to her. I think I may have underestimated just what an obstacle that was going to be….
But for now, my focus must change. Back to psychologising and speaking Irish, to see if the Irish psychologists will have me on their panel again. It has been so crucial to me to continue improving my French that I haven’t been able to allow myself practice Irish for even a minute, but now is the hour. And let me tell you, the hour is long and arduous. I cannot speak a single word of a language in which I was once the proud obtainer of a Leaving Cert honour. I have forgotten the words for ‘today’, ‘also’, ‘but’, ‘with’, ‘a little’ and ‘of course’. And that’s in the first five seconds. It’s like I have two large pots in my mind -one is for English, and this is a good sturdy pot, with no holes in it. The other pot is labelled “other language”. This pot is of a considerably poorer quality -I probably bought it in Aldi -and refuses to distinguish between any languages therein. As a result, it produces whatever-the-fuck it feels like in terms of sentence construction, and decides it is right proud of itself. So in short, all my pots and kettles are ‘noir’, which is going to cause beaucoup de deacrachtai when it comes to the Irish entretien amárach. Mais fan go bhfeicfimid!
We could have had it all. I was SO CLOSE to getting a full week of smiley faces on my work chart. SO CLOSE! I was having the bants, we had only two clients in the restaurant last night and spent the rest of the time telling jokes that worked despite language barriers. It was great. Until this morning, when commenced the great ‘aw aw aw aaaaaawww aw’ debacle. Apparently none of us thought to bring the till down into the cellar last night, which is technically on my list, but is definitely not my job. However, this was no impediment to Jeannette delighting in the rage that this permitted her, and she started a rant about the many problems that she discovered upon opening this morning. Apparently the boss is not at all happy, and will definitely be talking to me. I always check the bloody list, but the one time I didn’t -raging. So my Terrible Awful Misdemeanour was obviously related to anyone who would listen, and anyone who would listen also had a great time making horrified faces at me. So naturally I spent the day dizzy with guilt and bad feeling.
This was not helped by this afternoon’s visit to the physiotherapist, one Ms. Leslie-Marie Martin, who I will never be seeing again. Another one who only wanted to talk about crepes. I knew from the outset that I was on to No Good Thing here -she was probably the wrong side of retirement age and I knew the minute I clapped eyes on her that she was much too frail and skinny to be any match for my knee problems. (Which are aggressive and muscular -I think they must be Polish.) It didn’t help that she kept asking me for some piece of paper from the doctor that said what was wrong with my knee, even though I kept explaining that the doctor had given me no such thing, and wasn’t it enough that I was TELLING her what was wrong with my knee. I even had an MRI as proof, which I had kindly translated into French for her, but to no avail. She was beyond useless, and gently rubbed my knee for fifteen minutes with essential oils, all the while banging on about French cuisine. Her diagnoses is that I am walking wrong, apparently swinging my hips like a catwalk model. I. Am. Not. She kept telling me that I needed to walk differently, telling me to “cherchez dans les pieds”. I politely explained (while trying to keep back tears) that I hadn’t a scoobie doo what she was on about, telling me to “search in my feet”. She took this opportunity to talk louder, repeating the same thing, while fashioning a swingy jaunt around the room. I asked her dubiously if she thought this would work (notwithstanding the fact that I really didn’t know what she meant) and her response was that it had worked for her half sister. Evidence based practice at its best. She attempted to schedule a return appointment, but I left her with a vague promise to call her. Bullshit. She only charged me €15, but that is still €15 and an afternoon that I will never get back.
However, later this evening, things improved a bit. I was still in the depths of depression about the whole till incident, when I met one of the two whose job it Actually is to look after the till, and they were shocked to think I had taken it so badly to heart! It was Jeanne (very different from Jeannette, you see), and she was very clear on the fact that it was nothing to do with me. So all guilt lifted! And I can flit off home to Ireland tomorrow for my interview without dread in my heart! I told Karim the whole sorry story and he was awful nice about it -Karim wouldn’t be the type to go around harbouring unnecessary guilt. Or taking shit from French people. He blamed the others for just being French (not a good thing, in Karim’s book) and between the two of us we’re cultivating a fine racist culture here in Tunisia 1b.
Serotonin is Low. Now don’t get me wrong -this is not a bad thing. I find I’m not that attached to my serotonin, and low levels can lead to some highly enjoyable highs and lows. (Says she cavalierly before the onset of a major depression…) Now for those of you who are not my close friend and family, I love talking about serotonin. Apologies if I’ve explained this before, but it is a magical little chemical that is very important in maintaining your mental health. It is commonly misunderstood as the ‘happy’ chemical, because people with depression and anxiety lack it. However, it is in fact the emotion regulator, meaning that when you have appropriate levels of it, you won’t get too down. Which, as anyone who has ever suffered from depression will tell you, is A Very Good Thing. But you won’t get too excited either, which is why when you drink alcohol (which reduces serotonin), you feel things a bit more strongly. Having the craic with your friends? Even MORE craic. Crying over your ex boyfriend? Even MORE heartbroken. Annoyed with someone for bumping into you? RAGING. Feeling guilty the next day about all you drank, ate and said? Full scale depression. Laughing over stupid things you did? HILARITY. So there’s ups and there’s downs, basically, and overall you’re better to have it than not.
However, today, for some reason or other (I have my theories), I am in the red, serotonin-wise. And given that there’s nothing really wrong with me, I’m loving it! Things I have been overly excited about today: songs on my French songs playlist (singing and dancing accompaniments included), finishing my physio, a fun conversation with Karim last night, making a video blog of how to make buckwheat porridge for my cousin, handing in a CV. Things I have cried over today: a hip hop song about single mothers, two tragic stories in the news, not being able to print something, a video about a single mother (it’s all about the single mothers at the moment apparently -never knew I had such compassion for them) and a relationship advice column. But they weren’t BAD tears -they were kind of enjoyable, in a sad movie kind of a way. (Except for The Book Thief, there was nothing AT ALL enjoyable about the inelegant blubbering that went on at that, and it was Hollywood’s emotional manipulation at its highest, which drives me spare. Clearly some smart director -probably Clint Eastwood, the prick -realised that if you could make Americans cry, that they thought your production must be ‘meaningful’, and you could sell loads of movies -even if you were peddling over-sentimental tripe.) But back to today, I’m having a great time, toute seule, and I didn’t even need any alcohol to do it! There are sure to be repercussions…
So as for the possible reasons for low serotonin levels, well it’s probably work related. You’ve only got so much of the stuff, and high levels of stress and worry reduce it. Tuesday was another bad day, starting and finishing with mistakes. The mistakes cause the stress, the stress causes mistakes, Alice compounds the stress by being an utter bitch, and it all gets a bit defeating. So by Tuesday night I wasn’t in great form. However, on Wednesday morning, I remembered that I am a psychologist, and shouldn’t be taking crap from stress and anxiety. There is also the factor that I have labelled The Stress/Caffeine Continuum. I keep drinking coffee to help me deal with the stress and energise myself, but I read somewhere once that drinking coffee is like ingesting a little cup of anxiety every time, which naturally creates some sort of a vicious dependency cycle and love-hate relationship. So despite all of my own personal reservations, I convinced myself to reduce the caffeine intake and to do some meditation before work. Lo and behold, it worked! I also analysed the situation and realised that consuming myself with nothing but work and physio exercises from Saturday to Wednesday is probably a recipe for disaster, so I started scheduling in a few meetings with friends on my afternoons off. And that worked too! Granted I am only a day in to the new regime, but I have great faith in it. Wednesday went much better, and I forced myself to start a little database on my phone, recording how each shift goes, so that I don’t lose sight of the good ones, and can analyse the situation properly. If in fact you can call writing the days of the week with accompanying smiley faces a database. Which I am. Still, upon reflection, this week had many more smiley faces than sad faces, so it’s helping me look at the bigger picture. I’ve kind of turned ‘remaining calm and learning to enjoy my work’ into a project, and it’s a nice new way of approaching it. Also, admitting to myself that I can’t be trusted with numbers in French is maybe a positive first step. I FEEL like I know them, and my brain tells me that my fingers are typing the right things into the till, but my fingers are clearly less French than I need them to be, and keep typing Whatever The Fuck They Like, before confidently hitting the ‘confirm’ button. Betrayed by my own index fingers! (And they being with me through thick and thin, the treacherous snakes). So calmly slowing down in the face of stress and busy-ness is the new goal. I believe in it. However, don’t get me wrong -if I get offered a job with better hours they won’t see me for dust! But for now I’ll continue to ignore Alice and use the rest of them for French acquisition purposes.
I feel like I’ve noticed an improvement in the French as well. I am becoming much niftier at messaging my tinder boys (two Fabiens and a Bernard), who are all very reassuring and supportive about my phraseology. (Sometimes I make up words that sound appropriately French -it works more often than you would think!) They may have alternative agendas, but I hope they understand that complimenting a lady’s grammar is not the fastest way to get someone into bed. Although I suppose it can’t hurt… The great fun thing is that I do not give a Fiddlers what I am saying to these guys. I can be as outright as I like, because it doesn’t feel like I’m asking them anything inappropriate, when even my own meaning is slightly lost on me! I say very brave things, like, what are you looking for in a relationship? And, how do you feel about the age gap between us? (I am aware that many people have the emotional maturity to have these kinds of open discussions in their own language, but I am appropriately repressed and this seems daring and exciting to me.) But they are answering! Not an eyelid batted out of them! And anyway, if I say something appalling, I will blame the language barrier and plead innocence. It’s all mighty craic. Until I have to meet one of them, and actually speak. In sentences. Consecutively.
Karim is back from Tunisia, and is in the middle of a complicated scheme to bribe all around him to keep his games room open. The percentages of likely success are getting lower and lower, but I have my fingers crossed for him. And for me too -I’ve seen him in a fouler before and I don’t fancy the thought of living with him in that kind of humour. Stress drove him to drinking the Guinness I gave him last night, but he had a big panic when he finished the can and found the little widget at the bottom of it. It took some serious persuasion to convince him that this is normal for cans of Guinness, and that I had not spiked him with magical Irish drugs. Which in a way I did I suppose -he probably doesn’t know about the serotonin…