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well I’m glad I couldn’t afford laser eye surgery 5 June, 2010

Posted by michie333 in Uncategorized.
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1 comment so far

I do wish these people were french, it makes reporting their conversations much more entertaining. Nevermind.

\begin{rant}

optical express have a cheek to have the word express within a light year of their name.

over two years ago I tried to get contact lenses, and still haven’t got the correct prescription! (ok, a year of this was due to my laziness to go back and kick there backsides when they dingeyed me: after my first meeting they said because of my astigmatism they’d need to order in special lenses and they would call me when they arrived. They never did.)

But then I went back, in typical Michelle fashion, like 2 weeks before I leave the UK to go to CERN then Paris. I make a new appointment, and tell them they need to order lenses in for me, could they do that before I came in for appointment. They say of course of course, we already have your prescription noted.

So I come back, this time maybe 10 days till CERN summer fun, the guy sits me down. Opening line, “So Michelle, do you know what astigmatism is?” Now, I usually do quite enjoy being treated like an idiot at the doctors/opticians etc. It makes a nice change from the expectation that you are a super genius Einstein because you are doing a PhD in particle physics. But not when you’re in a hurry to try to get your UK life wrapped up! And he goes on…”Now, because of your astigmatism, we don’t actually stock your lenses in store….” !$@***%….

So, less than a week till fun (and super test beam stress) in the sun, back again to Optical Express. This time the optician looks about 90 and his hands jitter so much, that I can barely see them. Great, and this is the guy who is going to be poking around my eyes. To be fair, he was lovely, and knew all about particle physics, so that instantly made him cool. Then the assistant who had explained to me lens hygiene stuff and about not using the same solution for your left and right lenses to avoid risk of spreading infection, comes in with my lenses to try, and seems to be pretty passionate about this stuff as she tells the guy about 3 times, now, green is for the left eye, white is for the right, (the colour of the case.) I think to myself, come on, the guy’s ancient but not stupid. Plus the big L and R on them are a bit of an extra clue. So with a bit of shaking and struggle, he successfully puts my lens in, takes them out and puts them in again. But on taking the right lens out, he promptly puts it in the left case. I giggle amazed that it was possible to make this mistake after all that. But then I stop laughing as then starts trying to take out my right lens again!!! I wait a second till I’m sure this is what he is trying to do and try to think of a nice way to tell him, eh, that’s just my cornea you’re scratching about at there!

“Sorry, you’ve already taken that one out.”

This throws him for a bit, then he takes out my left one, stares at it and the case for a bit, rather bewildered, then looking a bit pleased with himself, puts the left one in the empty right compartment and just swaps the lids. Oh well.

I can’t see with the lenses, but they tell me this is normal, and it will take time to get used to them. I didn’t have much time until I moved abroad, so I went back a couple of days later, eyes no longer watering, but still unable to see well, but they said everything was fine.

For a year I struggled with poor vision when wearing my lenses until I received phone calls and letters at an old address, (despite giving new details literally every time I spoke to them) but eventually the message got to me, and so the next time I was in the wonderful home land, I made an appointment to go see them.

So, back to the usual routine-“how’s you’re sight been?”
“I can’t see with these lenses”
“Do you know what astigmatism is?”
What! yes, and were you even listening to me!

So despite being asked to come in wearing my lenses so my eyes had time to adjust to them for the day before testing, they asked me to take them out and do a test with my glasses first.

Can you read the bottom line?
No
What? Not at all?
No
oh. well your sight is significantly worse with your glasses…what about the middle line?
Eh, not really.
Hmm.

And so it went on till eventually they found the prescription i could read with. Interestingly, at the end of the test he said my sight was actually better than what was recorded on the computer. What? How did that make sense with what he said earlier about my sight being worse and me not being able to read with my glasses?
“Oh, it must have been entered wrong on the system”
Ah, ok, too bad then eh! nevermind…

They then got me to put my lenses in, and asked me to read the middle line
“Eh, there’s a middle line?”
“What?”
“I can only see two”
my sight was so bad the three lines had blurred into two.
“Oh.”

So, finally, they had a look at my eyes and said the lenses didn’t fit my eyes at all and were just rolling around. I assume (perhaps naively) they must have had a look at my eyes the first time, and surely should have seen the lenses rolling around then, no? So for the past year, I had paid for contact lenses that were not only not helping, but probably made my eyesight worse. Thanks Optical Express. To make matters worse, I had to buy new glasses from the worst sales assistant I’ve encountered in there. I kept telling her I had no money. She kept showing me increasingly expensive glasses. Eventually, she showed me a slightly cheaper pair, I said they would do, then she said, ah but you need special lenses for these…which of course were super expensive. She wasn’t getting the point, eh!

I was only in Scotland for the weekend, so they said they would send out my new lenses to my apartment in Paris (I made a big song and a dance about them having the correct address). Fortunately, the assistant wrote down my prescription for me so I would know which lens was for which eye,

Three weeks later. No lenses. I got my wonderful mum to call from the UK.
“Oh no, we have it written down as collection in store…” Argh!!!

10 days or so letter, finally a package arrives from me. I open it up only to discover they had sent my old prescription. C’est quoi cette blague?? How useless can they be!!

Again my mum phoned and was told:
“Oh no, they’ll look the same as the old one, as long as they say astigmatism on them, they’ll be fine”
Is astigmatism the only word they know??

So I get myself a landline in France and phone myself.
This wonderfully Glaswegian boy answers the phone. It does lighten my heart to hear such a dialect when in France!
This is as much a direct transcript as I can remember after I told him my problem (the numbers are a bit made up because i can’t remember the correct ones):

“So can you read out to me what you’ve been sent?”
“0.5, 0.75 and 0.125”
“eh, so that’s 0.5…and what sorry?
“0.5, 0.75 and 0.125”
“eh ok. just a minute. Sorry they computers are really slow…that’s what we have your prescription down as”
“well, that’s definitely my old one, I definitely can’t see with it. I have a new prescription here, she wrote it down for me”
“eh ok. just a minute. Sorry they computers are really slow…


actually can I look out your file and I’ll call you back”

(Ok sure, my file probably would be a useful thing to have.)

“Ok, so sorry about that Miss Nicol, you are right, i see you do have a new prescription. So I have here 0.5, 0.75 and 0.5”
“What no, that doesn’t correspond to my old one or my new one. Shall I read you out what I’ve got.”
“Just a minute….Oh yes I see it’s been changed again…(Interesting, I only had two tests for lenses…)…Actually can you read me out what you’re expecting?” (Ah that old trick, yes it is easy to get the right answer when you know what you are expecting.)
“0.75, 0.75 and 0.125”
“So… 0.5 eh…”
“No, 0.75, 0.7..”
“So 0…what sorry?
(How hard is it to write down three numbers!)
“0.75”
ok.
“0.75”
ok
“0.125”
“0….eh, what was the last number again?”
(Sigh. I suppose there were more digits in that one…)
“ok, we’ll get those sent out to you.”

Oh well, hopefully when I get back from CERN, my lenses will be there…

\end{rant}

The Paris Game 20 May, 2010

Posted by michie333 in Uncategorized.
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Maybe it’s time to make a little bit of fun of some of the cultural differences that become noticable when you are a scot living in Paris!(Gross, gross exaggerations of stereotypes to follow. Please don’t be offended Parisians. I love you!)

So, I’m inventing a game…

10 points for standing still on the left hand side of the escalator
I thought it a little odd when some of my Londoner friends who came to live in Glasgow got a bit upset that there was no standing to one side on the escalators at the train/underground stations. But after being in London, ok, I could see the sense in it. But Paris take it to a whole new level! Especially in the larger stations, it’s like being on the motorway, and as with my first ventures onto the motorway alone, my heart rate and blood pressure both suffered a in the beginning! Stand still in the fast lane left hand side, and you will at best get the dirtiest looks you could ever imagine, and more likely, be physically pushed out of the way. Incredible, especially in a country where most other forms of queuing is deemed unnecessary…

15 points for walking next to the american embassy
All over paris, you will see gendarmes with uniforms on a scale of ridiculous ranging from only mildly so, to full-on robocop madness. And often, they are standing around looking like they are not doing very much. But yet, they refuse to pose for photographs! Such a shame. Anyway, there are always some guarding the embassies. But with the american embassy, not only are there bollards and ropes to keep you away from the exterior wall, but you are not even allowed to walk on the same side of the road as the embassy! You will get hunted by the gendarmes.

50 points for jumping the ropes and touching the wall of the american embassy
(i bet i can get in trouble for writing this… )

5 points for greeting an unknown boulanger with “salut”
It takes some getting used to knowing the situations when one should be polite, as often it seems life in Paris consists of pushing, not smiling, shrugging, going pff, and being quiet. However, the boulangerie seems to be one place for formalities. Going into any shop, one should always find the owner and say bonjour. But at the boulangerie, the over politeness in the exchanges challenges even the British overuse of please and thank you! At home, it would definitely be acceptable to go into Gregs and say, “Hi, how are you?” to an unknown baker. But I would love to see faces if it happened here! To be fair, buying bread is a serious business in France!

10 points for not using a next customer please barrier thingamajig at the supermarket
I haven’t really tested this one out at shops other than my local supermarkets, so perhaps it is particular to my area, but I’ve really never seen people get so anxious about making sure there is a clear division between where their groceries on the conveyor belt at the supermarket checkout, and the next persons. But sadly there is often only one such barrier thing at each check out. So people just won’t take their shopping out of their basket until the person before is finished. Massively inefficient. I always put mine out anyway (so I can claim these 10 points), but it invariably makes the person in front pile up their stuff to make as large a gap as possible, and then finish off by using their arms to make a physical barrier. 🙂

20 points for putting something large on the windowsill
Fair enough, Paris is beautiful, and people do take pride in the front of their appartements with many hanging out window boxes of flowers etc. But the girl who lived in my flat before me had the sheer audacity to leave…a teatowel…on my windowsill. I only noticed thanks to my poor neighbour who had the misfortune to have a window in the opposite block, and so looked onto the offensive rag. They were then grieved enough to work out which door was mine, get in to my block somehow, climb all the way up to the top floor and leave me a beautiful hand written note asking very formally if I could move this undecorative item. It made me smile 🙂

Anyone think of anymore?

Paris to Glasgow 28 January, 2010

Posted by michie333 in Uncategorized.
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So with the new job, new country, new language, new life, I’ve been meaning to start a new blog for a while. But now, with frequent requests to tell the tale of the battling against volcanos (well, to be fair, just one) and good old SNCF strikes to reach Glasgow in time for Dish’s wedding, and preferably, the wedding rehearsal, it’s a good excuse to actually get round to starting it. It must be said, this tale is enhanced with imitations of french accents, and arm gestures to demonstrate queue lengths, but here we go…

    15/04/10 8.30am:

I am awoken from my already rather disturbed night of sleep (too excited about the prospect of returning to beautiful Caledonia for what i had already named as THE weekend of the year) to a text from my mum. “beter check ur flite-scotland airports closed coz o volcano” A quick assessment of likelihood of this being true (my logic:there aren’t any volcanos in Scotland) I conclude she is probably teasing me knowing that I was excited about coming home, and roll over to try sleep again. But no, the doubt was placed in my mind, i text back, “and which volcano exactly?” The prompt reply of “in iceland. Volcanic ash cloud over scotland” sounds a bit too thought out to be a joke, and I get up and on my computer to investigate.

    9.30am

My flight’s been cancelled, and after an hour of monkeying around on the eurostar website trying to book an 180 euro train (ouch!) with the website crashing on the final step, I head with my stuff to gare de nord, home of the eurostar ticket office. Gare de nord is a mess, with the worse signage I’ve ever seen in a station. But thankfully, I’ve had enough experience with it to navigate to the main lines platform rather efficiently, dodging around all the confused travellers. and once in the main station, there’s no problem finding the eurostar office this time. That’ll be the one with the queues reaching back to who knows where. Sigh. And of course, with typical parisian customer experience, there are no staff around to explain what’s going on. Like, not one in sight. And as its mainly Brits there, of course they organise themselves in queues even when not quite sure what it’s for…Eventually a staff member appears briefly, but to the dismay of most only speaks french. He says if you already have your ticket you can go on through. Pretty obvious I thought, but on eavesdropping to the conversations around, indeed there are many around with tickets queuing for the ticket office. So with the staff member off again, i start directing the queues (in my element:) Living in Paris apparently made me an expert on all things French and all travel info. Then when it is revealed that I am a physicist, apparently this also makes me an expert in volcanic ash. Haha. So, eventually, two hours or so later, once lasting the queues outside the office and the dismay when discovering an equally long queue inside the deceptively large on the inside ticket office, and after sharing life stories with the lovely austrialian couple in front of me and the american dude behind, the aussies finally get to the front. But just as I wish them Bonne Chance and they step forward, the two salesdesk clerks (yes, out of the 15 or so desks, there are two people working) put up their FERME signs. What. No way. That’ll be lunch time then? Right, when I did my “Scotland’s best customer experience training,” years ago, i thought it was really obvious stuff and a waste of time (though I did get a lovely free lunch.) But actually, maybe Paris could do with a little of it. And the messages over the tannoy don’t do much explaining “All eurostar trains departing today are full in second class and first class.” Is there another class?

Eventually I get to the desk and ask for next available train to the UK. She looks bored from explaining, but tells me I can take train from Paris to Lille, then Eurostar from there. After a bit of a comedy accent misunderstanding moment (Lille? No Lille? Eh? Lyon? No…)I buy the ticket, still not quite sure where it’s from, which doesn’t get me into london till after 6pm on Friday 16th and hence I would miss the wedding rehearsal. But unsure of the possibility of a ferry, i give the lady 250 euros (mega ouch) and at least I can get there for the wedding.

    5.30pm

So, time for much frantic searching online for a ferry cheaper and faster than fridays eurostar. calais to dover was full for days, but I found a ferry from Le havre for 30 euros and the train to Le Havre was 20 euros=200 euros less than eurostar. Score. But the train is scheduled to get in 40 minutes before the ferry leaves. Doh. But the ferry terminal is right next to train station. Terrific! Book book book. Then I receive my booking confirmation-check in is at least 90 minutes before departure. Argh!!! 30 non refundable euros spent needlessly. Deep breath. Keep looking. I find a ferry from Dieppe. However it’s not till 5am Friday morning… and the last train to Dieppe gets in at 10pm Thursday night. So as to not be wandering around the streets of Dieppe all night, I start to look at possibility of a hostel…but then realise if I want to reimburse my eurostar tickets (the website says fully flexible ticket=fully exchangeable or reimbusable. Up to two months after departure date. What does that mean?? I can get my money back after the departure date?? My friends think not…) I better leave now… but then I will be hostelless, and hadn’t booked a train from london, didn’t know how to get from station to ferry port… But in need of a quick decision…I click book. Pay 20 euros. and run.

    6.30pm

I get to gare St Lazare, a station thats always heaving, but especially at pretty close to rush hour. Running to the SNCF office outside to try to get my eurostar money back. But I can barely get in the door the queue is so long. I stand in it for an hour, get no where, head’s thumping, run back out trying to decide next action. Looking at the self service machines, I can only exchange the dates of my euro star tickets, not get money back. I check the price of train to Dieppe-only 20 euros…Quick impulse says lets just do it, already bought the ferry ticket, can’t get that back, maybe I can get my eurostar money back after. Done.

    7.20pm

10 minutes before my train leaves. I run into the main station, and see nobody is at accueil. So i run up, too stressed to try speak french, so
“Parlez-vous anglais?”
“No, but my colleague does.” To which his colleague turns round with a
“What’s up girl??”

Not exactly a standard french greeting to stranger. This is the first time i laugh all day. I show him the eurostar tickets and ask if they are refundable after the departure date. he says no, but they’re for tomorrow so i still have time. I say yes, but I want to get this train back to uk in ten minutes.

“Hmm. Well, there’s an SNCF office outside that’s normally quieter than the main one that you can try”
I ask where it is. Turns out it’s the one I was just at.
“Hmm. Well what you can do is change the dates at the self service machines, then change it when you come back?”
Genius. Could have kissed him! Might have if he hadn’t been behind the glass booth. Just as well.

    7.28pm

a quick sprint to change my eurostar tickets then a quicker sprint back to the station board to try find my train- can’t see it. What? So run back to accueil. English speaking pal is gone, so i slam my ticket up against the both and ask the other guy where the platform is?
He looks, ” eugh…zere eez uhhh, strike”
what. I’ve just got rid of my eurostar ticket. I need this train!! I showed you this ticket ten minutes ago!
“eugh, ok, uhhh…you can take zis train at 7.50pm. Your ticket eez good. You need to ughh change at Rouen Rive droite. Eez platform 18”
Perfect…Finally on my way…

    7.50pm

so, on the first train at last. But still not entirely sure what my plan is. I phone my mum to try to get directions to the ferry port and to book at train from london to glasgow for me. However, once I say hello, my phone cuts out. It doesn’t let me text either. Turns out from being on the phone to a worried bride and my mum, i had used up my free phone call allowance with my contract, so I can’t use my unlimited texts until I “recharge” it. And until then it is blocked. Great. Now, when i’m wandering lost around some harbour for hours overnight somewhere in the north of france, i can’t even call for help. I try calling .rechargement on my phone.
“blahblahbhblahblabhablahbalhablahblah..”
wow, automated menu going too fast in french…try again…
“blahblablahblahblahb…rechargement…blahblahbalbh…type 1”
ok, let’s try…
So, after tedious listening to each stage of the menu several times to figure out what it said (and of course, having to go back to the start each time…) 2 hours later(I wish that was an exaggeration), I successfully topped up my phone. Success 🙂

    9:50pm

There’s less than 10 minutes to get the connection, so I run up the stairs to the board…there’s no train to Dieppe…so I run to accueil at this station. And again:
“parlez-vous anglais?”
“Oui”
“Where’s the train?”
“eugh..zere eez uhh une grève…uh…comment dire…”
“a strike. yes i know, but I just bought this ticket and got told this route was fine”
“zee, ugh, yellow…eugh…boîte….”
“box?”
“yes, ughhh…l’heure…comment dire”
“hour. ok tell me in french”

So, turns out there are no trains to Dieppe tonight. Headache gets worse. But then the man tells me he’ll sort something out. There are 16 of us who had been sold this ticket, so I make some buddies, though none of them speak any english. One lady likes to go walking in scotland, so she takes me under her wing and makes sure i understand what’s going on. Turns out the train company are putting on taxis for us. Success. So my buddy comes in the same car as me and another lady with her son. It’s quite disconcerting being in a car with four french people when you know they’re talking about you, but arent’ always quite sure what they are saying.

    10pm

One 130 euros taxi paid for by SNCF later, we arrive in dieppe. It’s dark, there’s nobody about, and sadly I can’t see the ferry port. fortunately, I had told my fellow taxi passengers I was getting the ferry, and one of them had their car at the station, and she ave me a lift to the ferry. Thank the Lord. It was not so close. She also explained to me how it was a really rough area, and I should never under any circumstances plan to wander around alone at night ever again. Noted! We get to the ferry terminal, and its all shut up…My heart sinks. It was a rather suspect looking site I booked my ticket off of. what if there was no ferry tonight? Or at best, it’s closed for night and I’ll be outside in the cold all night. But my kind driver was not about to leave me alone at night, so she says there’s another office further round. So we drive some more, and success! The light is on and a receptionist is there. I could cry with happiness. Many thanks to my driver, I send her and her son on their way home, and in reception I see a few seats. Yes, maybe I can even manage a wee nap on those. But on checking in, I discover even better than that, there’s a whole holding room!with a vending machine! Yess…I had had nothing to eat or drink all day. I buy a bottle of water, hoping it will relieve my thumping head. And there are other weary travelling brits I pally up with. We share stories, then finally try to get a bit of sleep…

    16/04/10 5am

Turns out its really hard to sleep on plastic chairs in a bright yellow room with music blaring folk coming and going including an over excited hen party. So then we’re herded onto the bus to take us to the boat. sadly, this is normally a lorry ferry, so there’s not really room in the bus for all the foot passengers that suddenly want on this ferry. Well, lets just say it was an experience…But the ferry is pleasant enough, especially considering its a lorry ferry, and a quick rearrangement of chairs allows for a comfortable enough sleeping arrangement, and finally a bit of sleep during the 5 hour sailing.

    9am British time

success! We arrive in britain on time, and relatively hassle free with the ferry. Especially considering its havoc at Calais. Well done us. Then off to new haven train station which is conveniently across the road from the ferry port. I dish out 130 pounds for a train to glasgow, amidst low whistles from everyone else in the crowded office, most of whom were going to london. Nevermind, almost home!! first step train to Lewes. Then train to london victoria. I buy an underground ticket to get to euston (4 pounds for a single! my my!) The victoria line is closed (somebody on the lines. Don’t you think the lady who makes these announcements on the london underground sounds like a baddie from Doctor Who??) so after a lot of kuffuffle (providing finally a moment to buy some pain killers and another drink) I finally take some other lines to euston. At euston, there’s a sign saying you might not get on without a seat booking, but I ignore that, and successfully take the train to preston, then finally, getting in at 5.30pm…glasgow. Just in time to be picked up by Helen, and chauffeured to the wedding rehearsal. woohoo:) now to try get back to paris…