La vie est ce qu’elle est

I think I might have to start a new collection: no longer French words for thingamajig, but what French people say when they find out I’m from Austria. My hairdresser remembered Austria from a skiing holiday he took “a long, long time ago”. He didn’t remember the name of the place, but he remembered that he still smoked at the time and that he bought cigarettes called Hobby while in Austria. I thought he was talking of the very Austrian drink Obi gespritzt, which is apple juice with fizzy water. The brand name of the juice is Obi and it kinda stuck.

But no, he was talking about cigarettes I barely remember. I think they were those that came in the practical soft pack. So I googled and of course there is an ancient website with a frame set detailing different cigarettes. And it includes the history of Hobby cigarettes including the above mentioned soft pack. Discontinued in 2006.

My doctor on the other hand wanted to talk about Kaiserschmarrn. Wikipedia translates it as shredded pancake but you should know it’s more an American style pancake than a crêpe we are talking about. He mentioned Kaiserschmarrn several times and I had no idea how to respond. Gergö’s dad asked my what I dislike most about France and I said that I hate that I can’t express myself very well and this includes all these situations where I just don’t have a comeback, witty or otherwise.

I’d like to claim I wouldn’t start small talk with a French person I meet somewhere outside of France mentioning food or cigarettes, but chances are pretty big I’d say something like “So, Viennoiserie, huh, what’s your favourite? I like pain au raisin.”

That wasn’t the weirdest part about the doctor’s visit though. I was there for my pap smear. (Yes, it will get a bit TMI, don’t read on if you are squeamish). After my visit I read up on what women who have visited French doctors wrote about their ob/gyn experience and apparently Americans are weirded out by the fact that there is no gown and no nurse present. It’s like that in Austria, too, so no surprises there. I find it much weirded that a lot of doctors here don’t have a receptionist and do all the money transactions themselves.

But what made me google French ob/gyns was the fact that he did the pap smear, put the little truc-machin in a plastic container. Back at the desk he put the plastic container in an envelope, handed me the envelope and told me to include a cheque over 24 € and put on two stamps and mail it to the laboratory. They will in turn send me the piece of paper that I will then have to send to my health insurance to get part of that 24 € back.

I took the plastic container and put it in my bag and wondered if I just went to the weirdest doctor ever or if it’s normally done like that in France. I thought of all the French women I know (not many) and wondered if I could ask them about this. I decided against it, simply because I was worried that it’s not the regular thing and they’d laugh at me agreeing to taking my pap smear home.

I ended up carrying the plastic container with a bit of cervix inside around in my bag for 36 hours until I went to the post office and got rid of it. Exactly two weeks later I got the results (everything’s fine) plus the brown form to send to my health insurance. I also got another letter from my health insurance rejecting the ob/gyn’s form because it isn’t readable. I guess this means I’ll have to see Kaiserschmarrn dude again.

In the meantime I’d seen my regular GP in order to get a certificate of health for my boxing class (YES, I started boxing!) and I figured I could ask her about the pap smear process. To my great relief she said that’s how it’s done in France. She also said the process really needs to be changed because people don’t understand it and forget about the cheque and it’s really inefficient. She also said it was probably fine that I didn’t refrigerate the container for the day I carried it around.

She also took my blood pressure and listened to my lungs, asked if I had any pain in my chest and that was pretty much all that was needed to get a signed piece of paper that says I can box.

The course is in military barracks on rue Babylone. The website is called or something like it and when I first got the link from a friend from work I thought she sent me the link to a strip club. (I should mention a famous nightclub/strip club in Vienna is called Babylon).

Turns out my colleague wanted to try out boxing and I figured why not. Boxing gloves are not very expensive but extremely sweaty. You also don’t buy them by size but by weight. So the salesperson at Decathlon asked me how much I weigh. I said I don’t want to talk about it and want to take the small gloves. He insisted that’s a bad idea, because they are all similarly big, the ones in a higher size just have more layers to protect my hands. So I thought long and hard about the French number I needed to say and rounded it a bit down. It took me so long to come up with the number, I’m fairly sure the salesperson thought I was lying :-D

Every Monday I leave 15 minutes early to go to boxing class. It’s extremely exhausting because other than yoga I don’t do any sport, especially nothing that could be called cardio and box training is only a little bit of punching and a lot of prancing and moving about holding up your arms and trying not to be touched. We learn the technique and won’t have any fights. It’s exhilarating though, to learn how to kick really hard. I don’t think anyone ever taught me how to throw a punch.

At the end of every course we do a few yoga exercises to unwind and the teacher is really fond of Kapalabathi. It’s the breathing exercise where you are basically panting like a woman about to give birth. I don’t like being told how to breathe and I hate it when the instructions come with claims that it will cleanse you of toxins. But I’m trying to be a good sport and sit there and breathe and instead of relaxation I feel irritation.

Tuesdays I go to my Ashtanga class. It’s really tough and there are very few people, so I get way too much of the teacher’s attention. He keeps telling me to breathe only through the mouth and not to drink water in order to keep the heat. So instead of relaxing I spend my minutes on the mat in corpse pose resenting being told how to breathe and dreading having to say “ommmm” together. And in this class it’s not just “ommmm” three times, it’s ommmm, ommmm, omm, shanti, shanti, shantiiii. The one thing worse than being told how to breathe is being made to sing.

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