Thursday, May 19, 2005

Paris Poor

Headed out the other night, Matt and I stopped in the foyer to check the mailbox. A twist of the mailbox key this evening revealed not just rejection letters, but a bill. EDF: Electricité de France.

“Should we open this now or later?” I asked.
“Later, definitely.”

And with that, we enjoyed a fun-filled evening at l’Art Brut. We returned to 41, Rue du Temple a bit tipsy, and merrily ripped open the EDF bill. 315 euros. Talk about a buzz kill. We stood there for a moment. All our previous bills had been around 50 euros. As it turned out, these bills were just kind estimates from EDF of how much an apartment our size, equipped with our appliances, should consume. This new bill was the result of what we’d actually consumed in the past four months.

I did some fast calculating. Half of this bill effectively brought me to an account balance of zero for the rest of the month. It was May 7. It was time to put the emergency plan into action.

Emergency Action One: Inform close friends you are poor.

When you see close friends, tell them that you’re having financial difficulties. Bring up your electricity bill, accept the blame for your unreasonable desire to be warm at night, and melodramatically announce plan to eat nothing but tomatoes for the rest of the month. Say that you’re already too thin. Mention that you might get scurvy. Compliment your friend’s [insert recently bought item]. Dinner invitations will be issued. Accept; finalize dates on which you will be fed.

Emergency Action Two: Secure dates.

Feminist notions of paying for oneself, or Going Dutch: out the window. Rack brain for names of recent or not-so-recent dates. Locate numbers buried somewhere on desk. Send text messages and emails expressing desire to see these people again. Wait, answer phone, schedule dates. Order cheapest item on menu. Smile and thank date when he offers to pay.

Emergency Action Three: Maximize Kitchen Potential.

Remember that can of corn you bought on a whim in November? Eat it. For dinner. With sides of a hard-boiled egg and some beans. Learn that Mexican spices, when mixed with ketchup, can indeed make a fabulous pasta sauce. Expiration dates are merely a marketing scam; the yogurt that supposedly went bad a month ago probably tastes quite good. When feeling like you want to splurge, go to ED and buy 30 eggs for three euros. Invent egg-only diet. Write a book about eggs as secret to thinness. Sell copies outside Weight Watchers so that you have means to abandon egg-only diet.

Emergency Action Four: Work the Ticket Resto (1) magic.

Ask every food store if they accept Tickets Resto. Consumer pressure will one day lead to widespread acceptance. Find places that illegally give change for tickets. Buy cheapest item on menu. Spend change on something else, like a beer or coffee with friends. (Add sugar to coffee; you’ll need it.)

Emergency Action Five: Invite people to free couscous.

Free couscous: the Chope’s gift to the young and poor. Recruit friends for Friday and Saturday nights. Head up to the 18th; get there early to save table. Insist on only buying one bottle of wine for the table. Ignore Egyptian couscous Godfather who passes and says “those who do not consume to not return.” Don’t bother looking for dates; everyone here is as poor as you are. When the barman rings the bell, raise your hand fast—you might get a free beer. Enjoy collective spirit of the broke and young. Drink plenty of wine, bought with change from your tickets (approximately three euros for your share).

Emergency Action Six: Abandon dreams of new socks and sweaters; find mending kit.

Determine if hole in article of clothing is noticeable, or if it can be disguised by clever folding. If not, or when hole gets too big from neglect, rummage through plastic bag of hotel toiletries from parents’ visits. There, you will probably find a mending kit. Fix the hole. Ignore old American credit card that begs you to instead buy a new sweater or sock.

Emergency Action Seven: Cut Corners Wherever Possible.

Interpret the word complimentary in the broadest sense. Toilet paper, for example, is complimentary in bathrooms at bars and cafés. Stock up; you will run out by the end of the month. Sugar is another fine example. Most cafés will give you two or three packets with your coffee. Stuff extra packets, including those left by other customers, into your bag or pocket. They look nice in a dish when you invite people over for tea at your house when they suggest going to a café that you can’t afford.

Emergency Action Eight: Limit Activities to those which are Already Paid for, or those which are Free.

Review items that you already pay for monthly: international newspaper, pass to museum, pass to library, pass to cinema, child in Africa. Make list of potential outings; suggest them as activities when going out with friends. Note that walking is also free, as is sitting in parks, and going to monuments without going inside.

Emergency Action Nine: Take advantage of this moment to apply for financial aid.

Note that you are dirt poor. Realize you are going back to grad school in the fall, and that this costs an exorbitant amount of money. Apply for financial aid. When asked about stocks, write zero. When asked about trust funds, write zero. When asked about assets from farms, write zero. (Remaining 17 eggs do not count as assets.) When asked about value, today, of cash, checking accounts and savings, write negative one hundred twenty-seven euros and thirteen centimes. With any luck, government will recognize lack of funds and give you money. On second thought, make negative sign extremely bold.

(1) Tickets restaurants are food coupons given to workers in France for lunches eaten during the workday. Generally speaking, they are of seven euros in value and you receive a book of twenty per month. They are accepted in virtually all restaurants in France.


At 1:18 AM, Blogger juliana said...

First of all, it's about time you updated! ;)

Secondly, I know exactly what you're going through. I was poor in Nice last year. Here are my tips:

I found a cheap movie theatre where I could see movies for 1,5 euros. Most were old, (I'm talking black and white) but it was still good to get out of the apartment.

Don't buy whole baguettes, buy demi baguettes they are half the price. And also buy the cheap grocery store ones.

Never take the bus (or metro I guess in Paris) You must now WALK everywhere.

Buy groceries only once a month and eat lots and lots of pasta! (I now know too many ways to make pasta interesting)

Two words: LEADER PRICE!!

Drink incredible amounts of water or liquids with meals so it really fills your stomach and not the (lack of) food.

So that's how I survived Nice. I hope it works for you!

At 8:22 AM, Blogger Neha said...

N honey its the matter for only a month.......... surely, it will pass.

At 10:49 AM, Blogger Emily said...

Only for a month?! The emergency plan is implemented every month--it just depends on how soon.

At 5:43 PM, Anonymous Susan said...

OH MAN, IF I HAD A NICKEL* for how many times I've had to deal with Emergency Action One. And I don't even know what you were paying for in college. We had free meals and free electricity and free LAUNDRY, for Pete's sake. You also had like seven jobs.

Don't try to tell me you were paying off student loans. You don't have to lie to me about that, I'm with you there.

*I would probably have enough money to pay your parents back the exorbitant amounts of money they've spent on me.

At 7:56 AM, Blogger Ludivine said...

I can't wait until I have to look up this guide to fiscal survival when I'm on my last centime somewhere out in France.

Foresight (and bookmarking in Firefox) is always handy! :)

At 4:17 AM, Blogger Tony said...

Dang, I thought I was the only one who had creative ways to eat eggs for dinner.

At 5:05 PM, Blogger tafka PP said...

Reading this I realise how long I've been implementing Emergency Action Plan Three. Eight. Two. Six. In fact, have you been reading my diary?

I learned a new lesson this morning- its helpful to not sit on your sunglasses in this state. Then you won't have to replace them in the non-discounted summer.


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