Il y a une grève

I wrote about it before: Il y a une grève/There’s a strike was one of the first sentences I learned in French class in school. I had 4 years of French in high school and I remember barely anything from then, except how mean our teacher was. A bit after remembering that fact I found my former French book online and took a screenshot of the terrible graphics. I still hate Thierry.

There were a couple of noticeable strikes in 2016. People were protesting the loi de travail / El Khomri law. That’s when I found out that during a strike of the RER there will still be trains, just fewer of them. There’s a law that is supposed to regulate minimum service during a strike. They usually announced something like “there will be 2 out of 4 trains on Tuesday”.

I wasn’t really affected though, because I didn’t usually have to be anywhere on time.

This year’s big strike is a strike by the SNCF, the French National Railway Services, and it’s big. They are protesting reforms that Macron wants to push through that would mean that new hires would not get the same benefits existing employees have. The fear is also that the rail service will thus be prepared for privatisation. To my surprise they put up detailed info, even in English, about how the strike is organised.

The strike is announced to take place over 3 months, with 2 strike days followed by 3 regular days and so on. Monday was the official start of the three months of strike action. A lot of my colleagues commute from the suburbs and some didn’t have any trains at all. Some had so few, that they didn’t even try to wait 1.5 hours for one, because they wouldn’t stand a chance of getting on the train. Some were seriously delayed because of the metro line 13 (I complained about it before). The metro isn’t on strike, but the line is always busy and more so on strike days. On that day there were several incidents that ended up meaning no trains in either direction for 30 minutes.

We also had to cancel a trip to Lyon for the weekend. We’d have a train to go there on Friday night. But we wouldn’t find out until Saturday evening if the train back on Sunday would be on strike or not. And we wouldn’t have been able to just take a train on Monday morning, because that’s still a strike day. So we cancelled the entire trip. My project of getting to know France is off to a rocky start.

I am very clueless about strikes. Austria is famous for its very few strike days and the few times it happened it was single days of teachers or public transport strikes. I remember one single time I could have been affected by a strike. People in public service threatened to strike while I was a librarian in Linz. The reason was that Upper Austria didn’t want to give the raise that had been negotiated nationwide. I also remember that it was cancelled at very last second.

So I asked my colleagues if they think it will be cancelled at the last second. It seemed to immense a disturbance to go through with it. They laughed at me. This is clearly not something that happens in France. They already have a calendar for all the strike days up until June.

So instead of going to Lyon we spent the weekend being fairly lazy. Except tomorrow, we will go to a cat café and later to the musée Rodin. Spring is finally here, and I’m enjoying it immensely. There will be probably two entire weeks where I neither complain that it’s too cold, nor that it’s too hot!

Croissants et Bonbons

Soon after I started my new job, I was reminded to always lock my computer screen when I walk away from my desk. I used to be in the habit, but for the last few years I only ever used my macbook, which I simply close when I take a  break. The desktop computer runs on Linux, so my tried and tested Windows shortcut ctrl + alt + del didn’t work. It didn’t take long for me to forgot about locking the computer.

My colleagues were making jokes about the dangers of leaving the computer unlocked. And I promptly forgot again when I got up to make tea. I returned to my colleagues giggling about something when I noticed I hadn’t locked the screen. I sat down at my computer to find a croissant as a background image and giggles all around. I put a post it note with the correct shortcut (ctrl + alt + l) on my screen, and I haven’t had a second croissant. Yet.

The croissant is not some sort of hazing ritual for the newest team member, by the way. It’s a team tradition to put a croissant on unlocked computers. Depending on time and circumstances this can be the background image, or like it was for a colleague a little later, an email going out to the entire team. He had just turned away from his desk to help someone when another colleague snuck up and sent the one word message.

I still don’t know why it’s a Kipferl but now I know what my colleagues mean when they say croissant :-)

The other food frequently referred to at work are schokobons. There’s usually a bag of them around somewhere and they exist as emojis in the internal chat. When you mess up, then you caused a schokobon and you are supposed to supply them. I once misunderstood a colleague’s comment and deleted some code instead of deleting the comments that surrounded it – “careful, or you will have to get schokobons soon!” was the reply.

I ended up getting a bag of them not much later when I messed up in a time consuming and embarassing manner that required somebody who knew what he was doing to unmerge and rebase and do other things I don’t really know how to handle yet.

They take it all with a lot of humour and I like it. I like a company culture where saying you made a mistake is accepted and accompanied by chocolate and support. When I once finally got something to work I said “Juhuuuu! Endlich!” in German, more to myself than to anyone else. The immediate reaction of a colleague was: “Is everything okay? Did a schokobon happen?”.

The internal chat is also very educative – I learn a lot more colloquialisms than during French class. And with written information, I can at least look it up. I have a browser window with the dictionary, google translate and wiktionary open at all times. My favourite words so far have been: saperlipopette (Sapperlot), trombinoscope (an employee directory with photos, not a trombone shaped microscope!), and schmilblick (thingy).

When people talk I ask a lot of questions, but sometimes I give up and let it all just wash over me. The moment I get completely lost is when numbers are mentioned. I’m a little better with quatre-vingt-dix-neuf than I used to be, but it just takes so long for me to parse a number that’s higher than 60 that I usually lose the plot on account of still calculating “soixante quinze, that’s 60 plus 15…”, when the conversation is already much further.

I used to not understand why people don’t simply ask, when they don’t understand something. And now I get it. Oh I get it so well. Sometimes I have already asked so many questions that there comes a point where I don’t want to ask anymore. Sometimes I didn’t understand the first and second time and when it would be time to ask a third time, I decide that it’s probably not that important anyway.

My colleagues are not the clearest enunciators. These days I atone daily for all the times my mum told me I mumble and talk so fast and low and I didn’t slow down or spoke up for longer than a phrase or two.

Nous nous excusons pour la gêne occasionnée

My first week of work is over and I’m tired. I’m not used to getting up early (and not taking afternoon naps). And I’m definitely not used to squeezing into a very full Métro every morning. I work on the outskirts of Paris, St Ouen. It’s technically not Paris, but northwest of it, but it’s so close that you don’t notice. St Ouen is also home to the giant flea market I visited two or three times.

I was warned about Métro line 13 has a terrible reputation, but I thought it will be okay. I’m leaving town and not going into the center, after all. But it’s too full in both directions. I’m slowly getting accustomed to it: every morning I wait a little less, before I decide to get in on the big group cuddle. What surprised me is, that when I hesitate and look at the people standing in the door questioningly they mostly nod encouraingly. “sure, what’s one more!”.

Friday afternoon at 5 I walked into the station and just heard the last part of the sentence in the title “sorry for the inconvenience!”. The trains were delayed in both directions and the platform was filling up. I let three or four trains go, before I took heart and squeezed in. It was very uncomfortable, standing in a train so full I was sqished up to the person behind me and I could feel his breath on my neck everytime he softly swore “Putain!” when nobody got off on the next three stops so the train didn’t get any emptier.

I am already dreading the summer months – the same squeeze but in 28+ degrees!

Other than the commute, I really enjoy the work. My colleagues are all very friendly and patient. They talk too fast, of course, for my French skills, but I already picked up a lot of tech vocabulary. I work from 9 to 6, with an hour lunch break, and they make an effort to include me in their acitivities. So far I didn’t join in playing the ps4. I’m not into racing games or shooting, but I spotted worms, so I might change my mind. And we played a board game for a few breaks and successfully escaped the zombies.

I dreaded working with a French AZERTY keyboard layout, and now I know why: It’s impossible. It’s not just the A, Q and W that are in the wrong place, but also the M isn’t next to the comma, but where the ö is on a QWERTZ keyboard. And to top it all off, all the punctuation marks are in different places and when you want to write a number you have to use shift.

I work in a linux environment now and it’s heavy on Terminal commands and while people tell me what to do, I hover over the keyboard (or as I like to call it now kewboqd) and look for the -,/ etc. So it’s challenging, but the work is interesting, and I enjoy it, and I already ordered a QWERTZ keyboard, which will make me about 30% more productive.

Gergö wanted me to call the blog post “Blois will be Blois” because we went to the town called Blois and the chateau Chambord on the weekend. Blois is a lovely little town in the Loire valley. It has an old city with timbered houses and a great market that we rushed through to see three or four hôtel particuliers. Blois is famous in France because from King Louis XII it was seat of the French Kings for a few hundred years.

The weather was foul. It was grey and rained, on and off. Just not a great day for an excursion. And the tour guide kept saying she will keep it short on account of the bad weather, but she didn’t. It was interesting, too, I just couldn’t appreciate it as much as I would have in sunshine.

After Blois we went to the chateau of Chambord. It was build by François I. It is famous for its double helix staircase and for the fact that it is neither a chateau to live in (too small, only 27 apartments and difficult to heat in winter!), nor to hunt at, nor a church, though it has ecclesiastical features. Simply put, it’s a work of art. Quite unique for its time: Every side of the façade is decorated differently, while it’s rather simple on the inside.

Edited to add: There was an elaborate ceiling at the chateau. A coffered ceiling (Kassettendecke) and as we gazed up, I heard Gergö say “mmm, Linzer Torte.” The layout reminded him of the grid of dough on that cake. Naturally I thought he was joking, but on our ride home he looked for a recipe and later actually bought all the ingredients for Linzer Torte. His comment on the blog post was: “You left out the cake!”.

Au revoir, Vienne!

I returned from Styria to Vienna on Monday 2 August. I think most people forgot I was still here, or assumed I had returned to France by now, so I had a rather quiet ten days, compared to my previous visits.

I met a couple of friends in the evenings, which left the days to do some work, complain about the heat, visit the triplets and hunt Pokémon. My current house sitting flat has a great balcony but sadly no internet connection.

pias balcony


A bracelet made from a zipper.

A bracelet made from a zipper.

Because I was running low on my cell phone’s data plan, I’ve been drinking too much matcha latte at places with free wifi and conveniently placed electrical outlets.


Wednesday afternoon I visited my dad’s partner at the store where she sells among other things the awesome jewellery and upcycled clothes she creates.

Afterwards, I was at Café Schilling. They have outdoor seating with built in heaters for winter. The heaters are not in use right now, of course, and unplugged. I could use the free electrical outlets for my computer, which is rare for outside seating.

At one point I got to chatting with my seat neighbour and she asked if I am at university, which I find immensely flattering :-) I explained that I was working on a website and she asked for my card, because she might be interested in one herself. I had to admit that I don’t have one. Instead I scribbled my email address on the back of an old subway ticket.

When I told the story to my sister she ordered me to go print cards at the copy shop at the train station right away, which I dutifully did. Now I have 30 cards with my name, email address and phone number. Black on white background. At least they make it very clear that I am not a designer.

rat graffiti stencil

Later that week, I saw this stencil and my mind immediately went to Pokémon Go again.  What if people start tagging the city with the places where the rare ones spawn.

One morning I went to Stadtpark. It was in the news recently for being Vienna’s Pokémon hotspot and I wanted to see for myself. It’s pretty bizarre and a little unreal. Lots of people sitting on benches in reach of three Pokéstops. You can recognise the players easily: most of them have a cable from their phone to their pocket, where the external battery provides extra power. The game is a real battery drainer.


When you walk into the park new Pokémon spawn everywhere. All around the park are small groups of people shuffling zombie-like, staring at their phones. Intermingling with them are tourists, looking at maps and taking pictures of the golden Strauß statue.

Last Monday I met with a friend for dinner in the city center close to Maria am Gestade. I walked there, crossing through some of the most touristy areas of Vienna. Everywhere there are tourists looking at maps and looking at buildings, taking photos and selfies. I’m rarely in the city center and when I am, I barely register the beautiful surroundings anymore.
It’s during these summer nights that I really enjoy the city center. It’s so vibrant, so many people speaking so many different languages out and about, walking, talking, eating ice cream.

rhyming dod poop baggies have to be one of the most Viennese things I encountered lately

rhyming dog poop baggies have to be one of the most Viennese things I encountered lately

On Tuesday I visited a friend and talked him into a walk around a newly opened park, despite already having a cold. It’s all about walking at the moment – that’s how you hatch Pokémon eggs. I noticed the baggies they provide for dog poop are newly designed and now rhyme.

I also spent some time at Hotel Schani. They rent out coworking desks, but also let you use their wifi for free if you sit in their café area. I quite liked the atmosphere, probably because it was quiet (apart from Lounge versions of 80s and 90s pop songs). I also like how they rent out electro scooters and long boards. And finally, they don’t bring these teeny tiny little glasses of water along with your coffee, but have a bassena instead. I’d rather get the water myself than be brought 1/8th of a liter. Yesterday, while showering, I could smell the chlorine in the French water and realised that I didn’t drink nearly enough of the delicious Austrian tap water.


A bassena, for those of you who are not Viennese, used to be the public tap on every floor of a tenement where people fetched water from. It’s also synonymous for gossip because that’s where you chatted with your neighbours.

I’m back home in France now, reunited with powerful wireless internet and smelly cheese. As a good bye present to myself I went to the airport two hours early and had a big fat ice coffee at Demel.

Ice coffee in Austria actually contains ice cream. In the back you can see the teeny tiny glass of water I complained about above.

Ice coffee in Austria actually contains ice cream. In the back you can see the teeny tiny glass of water I complained about above.


Obtenir le laissez-passer A-38

For about two weeks I have had this unopened letter with my name on. I don’t open it, because I know what’s inside (my diploma) and because I expect that I will need to prove my address to the assurance maladie.

France doesn’t have an official system of registration like in Austria, so you often prove your address with utility bills, for example. For the affiliation with a health insurance, I’ll need to prove that I’ve lived here for at least three months. The only problem with this is: my name is not on the lease for the apartment, the utility bills are in the name of our landlady and my cell phone is pay-as-you-go, so no monthly bills either.

So I’m keeping my diploma in the unopened envelope, mostly because the address is printed on the letter itself and not on the envelope, so if I opened it, it would no longer work as proof of address.

So Friday afternoon we met up in Massy to go to the social security customer service center.

assurance maladie

“Is that it? No, that has to be a martial arts school.”
“What? Surely, that’s a yoga pose!”

Turns out it was the social security office.

I brought my unopened letter, my passport and our lease, but they didn’t want to see any of it. Instead, they told us to request the form S1 from our Austrian health insurance and bring that. Gergö immediately mentioned permit 38a / Passagierschein 38a, from the twelve tasks of Asterix. I can totally see myself going back there and getting different bits of information every time. And just to keep things interesting, I started to work freelance, part-time, remotely for an American company last week, so I should figure out tax stuff as well.



I’m in an Anti-Café right now. Gergö’s best friend and our first visitor told me about them. It’s like a Café, but you don’t pay for the drinks but the time spent. So like a co-working space, but you don’t need a reservation and there’s free coffee!

I decided I need to try it out, simply because I don’t have a place to get any work on my computer done at home. All the tables are too low and the chairs too uncomfortable and the iPad with silly games is too close.

And I need to find work and before I can find work, I need to put some work out there. And that requires a couple of hours of concentration in a place I’d be embarassed to be seen playing candy crush saga.

So, off I go, getting my shit together.