Tuesday, September 30, 2008

You know you've settled down in France when...

I can’t believe how breathtaking it is here, and I can’t believe how incredibly lucky I am to have this opportunity. Living on the French Riviera is just the most awe-inspiring experience. Thank the Cosmos my mum encouraged me to learn French from Day 1, thank goodness that this program exists, that I am so well-provided for that I am able to do this, that I am here, seeing, hearing, eating, living these things.

I sort of asked myself today why I don’t just live here, but that answer’s pretty simple: I’d miss the people and the food at home. But I’m sure glad I can get to do this for a year. Just enough time for me to really get life here, but it’s a concrete chunk of time so that I can also look forward to (and better appreciate) all the people and things at home. And also so that I won’t take anything here for granted – despite the fact that I basically see it every day, the Mediterranean just stuns me every time.

And I love, love, love my living situation. At first I wanted to live at the sweet bachelorette pad of this middle-aged lady, and I was sad that she didn’t pick me, but now I realize what a blessing in disguise that was, because she wouldn’t have made a good flatmate and I wouldn’t have been able to go out if I lived with her – not to mention the fact that I have the coolest flatmates ever! I share my apartment with two girls, but the flat next to us is owned by the same woman, so the six of us all hang out together. I live with Vicky, a British girl whose accent I love listening to, and Gaelle, a French girl who is just the most serious gorgeousness.

Just the night before, I was hanging out next door and I sort of felt like I was living in the Tower of Babel – it was so cool! Lea, from Austria, was speaking to her boyfriend in German; Arantxa, from Spain, had her Spanish friends over and they were speaking probably even faster than I do in English; I was speaking this mélange of English and French with Hoda, who is Tunisian-French and teaches us to bellydance – she and I have an agreement because she helps me with French and I’m teaching her English.

So because I love lists so much, here is my latest offering:

You know you’ve settled down in France when...

-instead of fuming at the excruciatingly slow service, you laugh at how everyone in line with you is swearing up a storm (not that it necessarily means that they’d be any faster at their jobs)
-you cook your first ethnic meal at your place (i.e. you finally bust out the mini-cooker your mom insisted that you bring, which was especially mailed to you from Hong Kong prior to leaving home)
-you and your friends have a regular schedule for going out and such
-it’s second nature to double-kiss your buds hello and goodbye
-you’re able to start cataloguing the price points of everything so that you know immediately upon seeing a price whether you’re getting a good deal or getting ripped off, and so
-you can start taking advantage of buying things that are cheaper than at home (like chocolates and skincare products– yay!)
-you have Internet at your place (hm...guess I’m not quite settled down yet)
-you know where all the wireless hotspots in town are, which ones have a time limit, which ones are secured, which ones are fastest and most reliable, etc.
-you eat your meals on your personal balcony, which is just outside the windows of your room
-evading the many mounds of dog doo on the streets comes naturally
-locals finally start speaking to you in French first instead of English because hopefully, they no longer think you’re a tourist, or someone who speaks poorly
-you start dreaming in French and it feels totally natural until you wake up and randomly remember a scene

Monday, September 22, 2008

I'm Lovin' It

Thank the Cosmos for McDonalds free wireless! And for their air-conditioning too!

My goodness, I don't know how much longer I'm going to last without Internet. You see, I finally found a place and have settled in - and, all things considered, I'm in the best possible position I can be in. But there's still no Internet, and I have no idea how much longer we need to bug the daylights out of our landlady...

But enough about that, because now I'm at a McDonalds overlooking the Mediterranean, using their free Internet and I can finally talk to all of you again.

I love it here! Please allow me to gush. My thoughts are all over the place, so forgive the formatting and lack of organization:

*It sounds silly, but I feel so European every time I double-kiss my local friends. In North America, usually only pretentious people do it (unless it's a cultural thing with their families), but here it's what people actually do instead of hugging hello and goodbye. In fact, my first double-kiss was also my first I'm-in-France-Moment - I'd befriended a French girl at registration and when I saw her at class sign-up the next day, she leaned in and gave me a What-the-Hell-Look when I had no idea what she was doing. And then the light bulb went off, and it's almost instinct now!

*I also feel really cosmopolitan because I'm making friends from lots of different countries - France, of course, the UK (England and Ireland so far), Austria, Germany, Italy, Morocco, etc. etc. etc.! I'm hoping to charm my way to a hometown or two so that I'll be able to stay somewhere for free. I really should get to work on befriending someone from Prague and someone from Greece!

*I suspect that some of the streets downtown smell like pee because the French have very bad Washroom Karma - they're very stingy with their washrooms. Even when you're a woman asking a woman to use their washroom - you'd think they'd understand, right? Wrong!

*At every class I have except one, I have a fantastic view of the Mediterranean. It's distracting, to say the least.

*BNP Paribas is the suckiest, most inefficient bank I've ever had the displeasure to work with. Don't use them if you ever live in France.

*Campus is definitely the chicest place in the city. There is all kinds of gorgeousness and stylishness going on there, which totally makes up for the poor, under-funded building. But I'm also more aware than ever what a Casual Canadian I am. :P

*I see that French women love to wear white. The hottest look of the season here in Nice though, has to be the shirt dress - or just a big, floaty shirt - with a thick belt slung low on the waist. And this can be just by itself, or over leggings or over a skirt, or over shorts, or over jeans.

*I lovelovelove the French aesthetic, but it's not so easy to emulate. On one end of the spectrum there's the perfectly-prepped look - elaborate, fancy, high-maintenance, and never the same look twice. Practically impossible for me to do. On the other end of the spectrum, there's the effortlessly beautiful. Like my French flatmate. The girl literally rolls out of bed looking stunning every single day, with her outfit casually imperfect but set just so - she sort of looks like a young Natalie Portman. She just happens to be naturally captivating. And there are many of them here. It's mind-boggling!

*I've identified the Classic French Beauty - slightly olive skin, lush, espresso hair, dark eyes, perfect brows just slightly on the full side, rightly convinced that she is gorgeous, super put-together and with a slightly toplofty air. They are something else.

*A girl in the flat next to mine, which belongs to the same landlady, looks just like Gisele Bundchen, except she's Austrian.

*Hearing English has never affected me this much before - I feel a certain camaraderie here towards other Anglophones. It's like we're in a club or something.

*Prior to coming here, I have never met boys who don't drink. I guess it's not such a huge deal since people are just too used to of alcohol.

*Smoking is way too popular!

*The boys aren't all cute, but the ones who are, are really good-looking. And if he's a mutual friend, you're allowed to double-kiss him. And I've just realized that one of the best ways to hit on me is to praise my superior French-speaking abilities, as well as my intelligence. Hee!

Ok, I need to bring my copy of French Vogue home and digest it from cover to cover. Will talk again as soon as I can - pray that I'll get Internet soon, for me?


Sunday, September 7, 2008

On the French Riviera

Hello from France!!! Do you like the new banner? :D

For those of you who don't know, I'm on exchange in Nice, France for a year, to wrap up my undergrad career. I arrived in Nice yesterday evening and - holy moly, but it was hot. And humid! It was such a gross feeling. I was really grumpy to learn that air conditioning in residential spaces are very rare. And I was a little Momsick.

Then I woke up and had a wonderful day! First, I bought and ate the most delicious, airy baguette and chocolate croissant ("pain au chocolat") I've ever tasted at the bakery around the corner. Then, I went out to the breathtaking beach and dipped my legs into the Mediterranean. The water is actually turquoise here! (I'm from Toronto - there are no nice beaches where I'm from.) The gorgeous sea sort of sucks you in. I meant to only get my feet wet, but I just kept wanting to go further and further in after the initial splash.

The trip here was pretty good. British Airways is fantastic. The service is very, very good. The flight attendants are generally very attentive and friendly. And the dinner they served was surprisingly good! There was a diced veggie salad with two generous hunks of feta cheese, roll with butter, grilled chicken breast with ravioli in a creamy pesto sauce (the other option was salmon, which ran out by the time they got to me, unfortunately), cherry (?) cheesecake, a stick of dark chocolate - and free booze!

That's right - British Airways serves free booze, even on shorter flights on smaller planes. They have beer, wines, spirits... One flight attendant was super gracious when a man clearly was asking for a bottle of wine for the flight and one for later.

On my first (longer) flight, I was in an awesome plane where there were screens at the backs of headrests - everyone had their own private system, on which they could watch movies, TV shows, listen to the radio, CDs, the news... I saw an episode of the Simpsons, an episode of Desperate Housewives, most of Bruce Almighty and some of Shrek. I also listened to a playlist of almost 20 songs that I chose myself. But I couldn't sleep, unfortunately.

Then I had to wait at Heathrow for seven hours for my connecting flight - that part wasn't so fun. I mean, there were a lot of fancy duty free shops, but they operate in pounds (you can pay in euros but your change will be in pounds), everything is super expensive, and I'd seen everything there was to see in a couple hours. I didn't want to sleep, either, because I was determined to get my body clock in gear.

People watching in London was something else, though. The gentleman were mostly courteous (and many were handsome with awesome accents!) and the ladies were very fancy. I saw a lady with a Kelly bag in one hand and a HUGE LV carry-on in the other with a frequent flyer tag attached to do. And you wouldn't believe what some ladies wore to fly in - but I suppose their flights were way shorter than mine. I thought it was super lame that you have to pay for wireless, though - and quite a bit, at that.

On my connecting flight, I made friends with this kind lady beside me, who is from the northwest part of Nice. How I wish I kept her e-mail so that I could charm my way to a homecooked meal or two! It was a tough flight though, because I had two very ill-tempered and impatient kids behind me.

When I got here, I was really thrown because of the weather, but I met a really kind local who taught me how to use the bus system. The hotel also really thrown me. It's not cheap at all, but I mean, I wasn't expecting a whole lot. As I was telling a friend today, I thought I'd been to some pretty humble hotels before, but let me tell you, this place brings humility to a whole new level. Let's hope I get all the administrative stuff done soon and that I can find a place to live soon! Thank goodness I'm starting to get used to of the heat and that the other people in my program are awesome!

Will let you know about more of my explorations in the next day or two - meanwhile, have a look at my pictures! And if you want, e-mail me for the link to my personal album!

Looking up at the Promenade des Anglais from the pebble beach - so pretty!

View of the sunset over the Mediterranean - the view from my hotel room window.

There are palm trees everywhere! I'd never seen a real palm tree before, prior to coming here. And the architecture is so beautiful. So interesting. See, that's the difference between Europe and uptown Toronto. Where I'm from, everything is shiny and new, yes. But in Europe, there is so much world history and character in the environment!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Secrets to Enormous Hair

Christian Dior Fall 2008

I was really excited to see the hair in the Christian Dior Fall 2008 show, because this is exactly what my hair looks like when I wake up every morning (or afternoon, as the case may be). No joke - see photo at right.

Even though everyone except my family loves my huge, messy hair, I like to keep it this way because A) I'm too lazy to adjust my routine, B) it's like my signature - people remember me for my hair and C) I like it like this.

So since the #1 beauty tip I get asked about is how I get my hair to look the way it does, I decided to share my secrets with everyone. It's super easy, because this routine was not formulated to pump up the volume of my hair, but rather, to make my life easier.

First, I always put my hair up in a messy bun at the crown of my head whenever I'm home and especially when I sleep - it's just more comfortable this way. It also adds some lift to the very top of the head, which creates the illusion of volume through height, and it adds a very natural wave to the texture. Neat buns make more orderly waves, while messy buns make wilder waves. I'm lazy, so I go with the latter. You can also try spraying your hair with hairspray when it's in a bun so that the waves and the height stay better when you let it out. Sometimes, when I want more curl for the evening, I keep my hair in a bun all day long and don't let it out until I've finished doing my makeup that night, right before I leave.

Secondly, I almost always dry my hair with a dryer on the high setting - it's a huge no-no, I know, but air-drying takes too long and my hair tends to air-dry very straight. When I blow-dry my hair, I point the dryer upwards towards my roots at a 45 degree angle and shake both my hair and the dryer around to increase the contact surface between my tresses and the hot air, so that it dries more quickly. The roots of long hair always dry slowest because the density of the hair is thickest there, which means that the most moisture collects in that area with nowhere to evaporate. Blow-drying this way also serves to set in more height at the roots, because you're aiming the air upwards and your hair is drying (aka setting) in that shape.

I wash my hair every other day - always with separate shampoos and conditioners, as opposed to 2-in-1's - and I never use any products. That's all I do; it's that easy!

Of course, it helps to be born with a ton of thick hair. If you have naturally thin hair, or just not very much of it to begin with, there's not a lot you can do short of teasing it like crazy and spraying it to death - but that's not good for your hair, so I'd only take that route if I were desperate. But if you have at least medium-textured hair, the methods above work very, very well. And because medium+ textured hair has good memory, the more you do it, the easier it gets!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Habits and the Best Nailcare Products Ever

I can't believe it's September already! Where did my summer go?

I hope all of you had a lovely long weekend and first day of school. I spent the weekend partying four nights in a row - on Friday I went to my girl Laura's birthday bash, on Saturday we feted with girlie cocktails, Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Camus XO (yum!) chez Nicole, on Sunday my BFF Jen hosted a get-together at her place for me where my boy Ramir gave me a copy of Vogue from Brasil, where he just returned from, and last night, I had the most incredible meal ever - the kind that epitomizes what excellent Chinese cuisine we have here.

I am pooped - and incredibly touched. How I adore all the people who love me!

And I'm leaving in three days - I can hardly believe it. The countdown is winding down.

I think that everyone counts time in their own special way. My brother, boring practical person that he is, counts days on a calendar. My little cousins count bedtimes they're forced to endure.

I count time with spa visits. A visit to the spa=a fortnight. You see, ever since sometime in second year, I've made bi-weekly trips to the spa, regular as clockwork. Usually in the winter, it's just for a nail fill. In the summer, it's for pedicures or mani-pedis, depending on my mood. It makes budgeting time a lot more fun, you see. And I firmly believe that a put-together person must have well-groomed nails.

So this summer, I've been getting regular mani-pedis. Consequently, I've been rocking spectacular nails all season long. However, based on the information I've found on sites of Niçois spas, I won't be able to afford continuing this habit of mine for the next ten months - not if I want to be travelling as much as I want, anyway. So last week, I kissed my gorgeously long fingernails goodbye and cut them short (since I won't be able to get fills), which also symbolised my impending arrival in Europe.

Because I'm a girl that likes to indulge in using fakies, since my own nails refuse to grow without breaking, my natural nails were ravaged by all the filing down that they've been put through all summer. When I complained about this, my esthetician, Fanny, introduced me to Duri Cosmetics' Rejuvacote Nail Growth System and, my goodness, my nails have never been this healthy.

I don't use this product anymore!  To see my new nail strengthener of choice, please click here!

The packaging is a little lacking, but it's a great product. You start by brushing on two coats of it on your bare nails (polish between the two coats optional) and continue to re-apply it every day for a week. When the week is over, wipe it off with polish remover and then re-apply every other day as a topcoat as needed.

After a week, I've found that my nails are much stronger, healthier and prettier as a result. And they're actually growing! Rejuvacote gives your nails a glossy shine that doesn't chip or peel away. I was told that even when you're down to the last bit, it won't get gummy. It also dries very quickly.

I love it and it's officially on my must-have list.

I also like to follow up with Solar Oil, a huge salon and spa staple, which I was also introduced to by an esthetician, back when I first began my spa habit. I like to rub generous amounts of it into my cuticles and around my nail area to keep my digits moisturized, pretty and hangnail-free. I'm planning to try to convince my mum to develop a good cuticle oil so that I'll have free access to lots at home.

Take good care of your nails and good luck in school!