Please Hold the Line

Keitai Picture I am told that, were I to leave this page untouched for more than a few days, all you ritalin kids, invested with the attention span of your average lab rhesus monkey, would leave this oasis of hipness and insanely cool writing for the next happening spot in the blogosphere, expunging it from your bookmarks without ever looking back, you ungrateful sons of a jackal (I am also told that it’s bad manner to refer to your readers as the progeny of a desert carrion-eating pest, but I assume that, if you have been voluntarily subjecting yourself to my laborious grammar and approximative metaphors so far, you are of the masochistic kind, so I guess that makes it ok).

Therefore, just so you stop feverishly hitting that refresh button for a bit, let me tell you that I am indeed alive and kinda kickin’ (well, I would love to be kicking a few things, especially those small ankle-biters on leash swarming the Parisian sidewalks). I am also still busy and slowly coming to the horrible realization that I will never, no matter how hard I try, ever fathom the way French universities work. Must be a cultural thing.

You know how they got these “meta-unit” in the US, wherein you are supposedly explained how university functions and how to work the system to your advantage. Well here, you do not need a class: understanding university is a career… you won’t get there with any less than a full-time investment over a period of many years. Which is a pity if you opt to spend that time, you know, studying instead. Then you have to rely on university personel for assistance and advices… and that’s when things get ugly….

If you have only ever dealt with regular French administrative officials or anglo-saxon university employees, then you cannot even start to imagine the depth of indifference and borderline sadistic pettiness that will befall you, were you to attempt the slightest communication of a remotely inquiring nature with a French university official. Luckily such traumatic experience are fairly rare, since calling said officials (opening hours: 10:30am to 3pm with 2 hour floating lunch pause) is only likely to get you on wait for 30 minutes, after which the most insistent calls are simply dropped. If you just said ‘e-mail’, you are disqualified: you obviously are not even in the same galaxy as these people.

As you can see, bureaucratic pettiness has cast a serious shadow over my usual light-hearted demeanour. But fear not, as this will only reinforce the need to drown in excess the many unpleasant memories of this week, which surely shall make for great writing and photographic material. So stay tuned if you want to see pictures of youth acting drunk in public, peeing in front of various landmarks and generally making a nuisance of themselves for the good people of most European capitals… that should happen before the end of this week and will be dutifully documented by yours truly. If you were here solely for the pictures of naughty japanese schoolgirls engaging in lascivious acts with their “teachers”, you were probably just another Google moron anyway. For the rest of you, wacky Japan will resume in less than a month.

By the way, if you must have your luggage mistakenly rerouted all over the civilized world while you patiently wait on arrival for the best part of a week-end, I recommend it being by Air France: at least you get a lovely emergency toilet bag, complete with L’Occitane En Provence full range of skin care products and a magnificent Air France XL-size t-shirt… well, truth be told, Aeroflot, not AF, lost my luggage during the connection, which was so unsurprising that I barely bothered looking for them at the airport on arrival.


  1. Ah yes, the great University system of France. Trust me, trying to understand it is futile. Much as I loved the 5 years I spent in Paris, I stoutly refused to even try and enter the University system. My beautiful if insane girlfriend at the time was doing her doctorat in Archaeology and Art History and would tell me tales of horror that made me do my MSc in the UK.

    However, a word of hard won advice. Take it as you will. The French are a personal and meeting culture. Phones, fax and email (hell, even minitel!) do *not* work when trying to accomplish something with venerable instituions. I learned this from working there with an investment bank. You *must* meet with people and I am sure this is doubly true of French bureaucracy at the Sorbonne, SciPo, ANP or polytechnique. Do yourself a favour, take a book and park yourself in the office of whoever it is you need to speak to. Be polite, respectful and ask for help (and please make sure you speak French) and you’ll generally be ok. Whatever you do, don’t do the ugly American thing or they will stonewall you till you are old and grey.

    Parisians really are awesome and most are only too happy and eager to help you if they like you. Seriously, the years I spent in Paris are amongst the best in my entire life and I still miss the city of lights.

    Good luck with the byzantine uni system. Let us know how you make out. Oh, and for us Canucks, we have no idea in hell what meta-units are.

    a plus tard et bonne chance !

  2. Thanks for the insightful comments, these are most definitely words of truth.

    I should probably clarify and add that I am no stranger to the French administration ways. Even if my knowledge of such essentially extended to a couple years of high school and pre-graduate school and had therefore thankfully shielded me from the horrors of French faculties… As far as being taken for the Ugly American, there’s little chance of that happening (especially if they value their life… me? a bloody yankee? pfft 😛 ) I can actually do a very convincing Frenchman impersonation, got it down to a tee: constant sneer and superior air included… 😉

    I also fear that it is hardly the sole privilege of French universities to be ivory towers whence a bunch of foul-mouthed Frenchmen hurl insults and farm animals at you while farrrting in your general direction. This seems to be a constant in the world. wherever you put small-minded people in any position to exert some kind of petty authority over their peers, there’ll be abuse.

    My rant was mostly torn between my general hatred of the ridiculously cryptical university organization, and my particular annoyance at being treated like a retard by some second-rate bitter administration employees for not knowing the intricacies of this inept system. Spending a whole day unsuccessfully attempting to reach anybody in said administration in order to know where my tests were to take place the following day (not like I hadn’t tried up until that day, mind you)… might have thrown me a bit over. And you are right in your advice that going in person might have yielded better results: just figured that a bit too late in the day, and am also not too sure how I would have gone at physically tracking a person that I had barely been able to find over an endless string of redirected phone numbers.

    To conclude: the local part was solved by showing up early enough the next day and asking random students on the campus. the global part will be solved by giving up on it for this year and patiently wait a full year to be sure to have all necessary papers done correctly with respects to requirements and deadlines, asinine as they may be. More will surely be posted here on the matter.

    As for Paris, yea it’s great. Would probably be even greater without the Parisians, but I guess you can’t have it all. also guess my having inhabited the City for quite a while back when does make me a Parisian of sorts.

    I should temper all the negative stuff here by pointing out the very important fact that, despite everything, I get a really good deal out of it all: studying off campus and getting my degree while goofing around at the other end of the world, all for a fraction of what it would cost me in the US, UK or about anywhere in the world.

    PS: oh yea, “meta-units”… that’s not how they are called in the US either, just completely forgot what they are usually given as, and figured this term would be clear enough for anybody to get the meaning.

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