Friday, December 18, 2009

'Zat You Santa Claus?

Today was the last day of school before the breaks, and it seemed like a lot of strange things happened. Or not strange, but funny. Funny tiny happenings.

Anyway, one kid gave me a drawing, which I think he was instructing me to pass on to the American Indians. It's a kind of, well... it's a drawing of a circular shape with a kind of patchwork design inside of it. No idea what it's supposed to be and at the top it says, "C'est un bouguiser." It might be bouquiser, but neither of these are words. I googled them. I'm very curious what it is, and why he wanted me to give it to the Indians. Too bad he got in trouble and didn't get to finish explaining.

It snowed yesterday and last night. It stuck, and school was not cancelled. I'm so used to people being like "AHHHH SNOW, I'm going to stock up apocalypse-style at Wal-mart" and everything being closed. I still had to go to school. There was no pomp; there was no circumstance. It made me miss home a little.
The cool thing about it was... Actually this requires a small preface: I have been keeping cheese and juice on my window sill outside, which reading it now sounds a little like something out of a David Sedaris book. (If you haven't read Me Talk Pretty One Day, I highly recommend it.) Anywho, I've been keeping it there because it's freaking cold outside, and the window sill is more convenient than going down the hallway and three flights of stairs to the kitchen.
The cool thing was there was snow on my cheese this morning. Actually, that's not cool it all. But it is kind of funny. I hope you've enjoyed this pointless story.

(does this look familiar?)

In my morning classes, I reflected on the fact that my French is still very limited. For example, we were cutting out shapes: triangles, squares, circles that became a Christmas Tree. By the way, the kids loved this. There were seemingly random shapes on the page, and I told them what colors to color them, in English of course. When they cut them out, they were more enthusiastic than I could have possibly imagined. Anywho, they also made a complete mess cutting up the paper, so I tried to get one kid to walk around with the recycling bin. I tried. That's the limiting part. I wanted to say, "Hey, kid whose name I can't remember, walk around with that recycling bin because your classmates are making a complete mess with the paper they've cut up." But many of those words do not come to me immediately, and I'm not entirely sure what the word for recycling bin is. So, I have to get by by pointing at the bin, calling it a trashcan, and pointing around the class. Luckily, kids think on this level, so he understood and obliged.

I went to my afternoon classes (I think I am the ONLY assistant who didn't have a SINGLE class cancelled this week.) In the first one I received the Indian drawing. There were also two little girls bleeding. One had a very painful looking something on her arm; it didn't look like a cut, more like a sore, but she was dabbing it with a tissue, and the tissue had blood on it. Another little girl had blood that was, in my opinion, gushing from her finger. The teacher just said, go rinse it off and wrap a tissue around it. Bleeding is one reason I could never teach elementary school.

My first afternoon class ended early due to some kind of program the school was going to have later, so I went to the teacher for my second class and asked if we would still have English. He said a lot of things I didn't understand. Finally, after a second and third interrogation, he said something like, "We haven't done a thing except for a little math this morning. The teachers had a holiday lunch with a lot of rosé. We drank a lot of rosé, so we haven't really done anything. I guess you don't do that in the U.S. In France, we drink a lot of wine..." and so on. This is when I realized he was still tipsy/drunk from lunch.
I said, "So, I can go?"
"If you want... something something something, hit by a car, ok?" he said. What?? Why was he telling me about getting hit by a car? I finally got him to explain slowly, "It's fine if you go, but don't get in an accident or anything because you're supposed to be in my class. If something does happen, they'll be like 'she was supposed to be in your class!!' You're my responsability." HA, that pretty much cracked me up.
"I won't die," I said. "Merry Christmas!" And away I was like the down on a thistle.

Also, I have recently discovered that many tired-out over-used adages are actually necessary, important, even. For example, "never run with scissors." In my CP class (kindergarten), we were doing the same Christmas Trees from random shapes project. The CPs do not have their own scissors, so I had to pass them out. Now, to adults, "do not run with scissors" is logical. It seems overcautious in its warning. But, do not be fooled. Six-year-olds will run with scissors in their hands, probably nine times out of ten. I'm not kidding. One kid came running toward me, scissors flailing, while I was leaning over to help another kid. As the scissors almost grazed my eyeball, I yelled "Attention, attention!" and grabbed his scissors. Attention means watch out in French. It was quite the revelatory experience.

In other news, I received a box of Christmas Cheer from ma mère. It's all I can do to keep from opening it all right now. Her suggestion was to put on Christmas music, drink some cocoa and open them... This Christmas will be my first without my family. It's kind of strange to think about. So, any family out there, I will miss you mucho during Christmas!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A food fight in the streets of Nântes

The cold has set in. It's the cold that makes me come for lunch time, grab something edible off my shelf in my room, crawl in bed, and lay quiescent (yes! who'da thunk i could work that word into my blog!) until I have to re-apply the layers of clothing necessary to brave the 3 minute walk to the bus stop. Lucky for me, my parents send me peanut butter and easy mac with my birthday presents. As a general rule, I do not consume easy mac, and I prefer macaroni and cheese the homemade way, but with my fabulous electric tea kettle I can have a semi-edible meal in minutes without having to go to the kitchen and socialize.
I do not like cold. At all.

In other news, I procured a bike a couple weeks ago. The city of Angers loans them out for free. You just have to provide a million documents and a bicycle has to be available. My friend Katie happened to be there when two were returned, and in her infinite awesomeness she reserved me one as well. It's amazing how much quicker it is to bike than to take the bus. But the last couple days of freezing temperatures have forced me to choose the less-green way to work. I love you, earth. Just not enough to arrive at school with a frozen face.

This past weekend, I visited Nântes, the nearest large city. It is the 6th largest city in France. Nântes is on the Loire river, and it is 30 miles from the Atlantic coast. In 2004, Time magazine named it "the most livable city in all of Europe."
Last week, I was really regretting my agreement to go, but I had told my friend Sam that I would. Her friend, Rachel who lives in Nântes was having a party Saturday, and I did want to see the city.
So we went. The thing is, Sam lost her phone about a month ago, so she sent Rachel a facebook message before we left with our arrival time and my phone number. Unfortunately, Rachel's internet had stopped working. We arrived, unaware of the adventure that was in store for us. We waited at the station for about 45 minutes, then Sam decided she could probably remember the way. We walked. And we walked. And we walked. We circled what later turned out to be Rachel's street for about an hour. Then we walked to a different part of town, uphill. A drunk started to follow us, asking us to come out with him. We ignored him, but he then started talking in "english." This was the most persistent cat-calling drunk I have ever encountered in my entire life.
"You do not, uh, lika mee because aye, uh, 'ave zis bier in my handz?" he said, as we kicked into high-speed, power walk mode. (Later we joked, "yes, that is one of the many many reasons we do not, uh, lika you.") In one last, desperate attempt to win us over he gestured toward his chest, "Aye, uh, 'ave veree nice, uh, . . . pectorals." ("Oh, ok," I wanted to say, "none of that other stuff was working for you, but now that I know about your PECTORALS...") After about 10 minutes, he finally got tired of high speed-power walk-stalking, and he dropped off by a tram stop. We got the next tram back to the center of town and made our way to a pub that was probably near Rachel's apartment. As soon as we got drinks, she finally called and met us at the pub. She had had her own adventures trying to find my phone number. I did get a good look at part of Nântes, though. It was really pretty with its Christmas lights, and there were lots of people out and about.
We went back to her apartment where her friend, boy Sam, and his friend, Adria, were waiting to eat. And we ate some delicious potatoes au gratin. We went dancing somewhere called the banana hanger. There was much confusion as to what the banana hanger actually referred to, but dance we did. Then we crashed and slept-in mightily.
Around 1:00 pm on Saturday, Rachel shooed us out, so she could get ready for her party. We wandered through Nântes' Christmas markets and made our way to what I believe to be the most bizarre and appealing tourist attraction in Nântes: Les Machines d l'Ile de Nântes. <--Check out the website. It will explain better than I can.
In particular we went to see The Great Elephant. I'll have to go back to Nântes in the spring to really check out the other machines, but the elephant was cool. People can ride on it, but in the interest of saving money, we just watched it. The whole thing is in a former shipbuilding warehouse, which was pretty neat. We kind of hung around for a while and took pictures and danced and did yoga and climbed. My camera needs new batteries, so I'm going to have to search for the pictures that Adria took.
After the Island of Machines, we headed toward another interesting location in Nântes. In fact it's called Le Lieu Unique, The Unique Place. It's a gallery/bar/café/restaurant/bookstore/boutique, but it's also really cool. Another semi-industrial building, it has a nice ambience. We sat in the café for a while and just talked about important things like which we would rather have, if we had to decide: a beak or an elephant trunk. I missed Drew and his equally probing What-if questions.
The current exhibit at Le Lieu Unique is a bunch of small rooms with movies playing inside of them. They were, I will admit, artsy and weird, but it wouldn't have been fun if they weren't. We settled on a musical that covered the lives of a couple people in the porn industry. It was ridiculous; I'll tell you more if you ask.
We ended the day with the absolutely best restaurant experience I have ever had in France. It was a seafood restaurant, which specialized in mussels (do you say specialized about a restaurant menu?). I was starving. We ordered wine, then all of us ordered Moules Frites (mussels and fries, a very popular meal in coastal areas of France). Literally minutes after we ordered, the waitress brought our wine. Then another 30 seconds and our huge plate of shared fries arrived; they were definitely handmade in the restaurant. Then, I'm not kidding, another minute or two later, and each of us had a huge plate of mussels (mine with sauce Roquefort, a bleu cheese). I cannot remember a time I have been so hungry and had that hunger so instantly gratified. It was delicious.

By the time we got back to Rachel's, around 8:30, her party had already started and we had to get ourselves cleaned up and presentable. The party was fun, and there were French people with whom I could speak French. I know I've made progress when I can carry on a thirty minute to hour long conversation. I may sound like an idiot, but I am heard.
The night progressed; people wanted to go out, but because it was a large group it took too long. And bars and clubs in France usually close around 3am. We didn't go in anywhere, but we heard music coming from a second-story apartment and began an impromptu dance party in the street. The French people in the party liked this and offered to through beer to anyone who danced on this ledge-thing. Some people did. They obliged with the beer.
Then, I saw something green fly through the air. Then another. The French people were throwing brussels sprouts at us! And carrots! And leeks! I picked some up and threw them back. The food fight carried on for a while until a beer bottle was broken and one of our party was hit with an egg. It was time to go back to the apartment. Unfortunately for me, having vegetables thrown at them did not quell many of the invitees party-spirits. I crashed, crampedly, with some others in the back room until the over-enthusiastic party-goers left...
Around 6 am.
I'm not sure about Nântes being the most livable city in all of Europe, but it is certainly fun. It is somewhere I will most definitely visit again.

Back in Angers, it is the week before Christmas vacation, and the kids are making sure that I, and every other teacher, is aware. They are restless. This week we are making Christmas trees out of shapes. I dictated the colors in English, and they cut them out and glue them together as a Christmas tree. Fabiola found the worksheet, and it is really quite ingenious. It takes them a good 30-40 minutes to complete, and it involves markers, scissors, and glue, which keeps them properly occupied.
My patience has been wearing thin. I've run out of steam to come up with new activities and lesson plans, and I'm worried that we've spent too long on colors and numbers. I have managed to incorporate a number of other things: some animals, age, names, some simple questions and answers... I don't know, most of my kids are 7 and 8. I am just supposed to be introducing them to the language, right?

One more thing, I am on a reading frenzy. If anyone would like to suggest one of their favorite books, I am open to any and all suggestions. Angers has a fabulous English Language library with an impressive collection. Sooo, comment! I like books.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Some other things

(drawings from some of my kids)
Today, I went to the train station, only I no longer call train stations train stations. I call them gares. Gare is the French word. I am not trying to be pretentious, it's seriously the first word that comes to my head. There are words that are slowly becoming "french only." Words like maybe and sometimes, pop into my head as peut-être and quelquefois.

Anyway, today at the train station, I walked up to the lady and said, "I would like a ticket for Paris." And she said, "Very good. You speak very good French, but it would be better to say 'I would like a ticket to go to Paris.'" Actually, it boosted my confidence, we finished the transaction in French, and because there was no one else in line, she told me about her daughter who is 17 and want to go to Los Angeles. I told her I was born in San Francisco, and she was surprised I was American. I'm not sure why.

Apparently, French people LOVE Los Angeles, I swear every person I talk to wants to go to LA. I don't have any theories on this, it's just an observation.

Today, we started to learn "Jingle Bells." As I've said, most of my classes are CE1, 7 and 8 year olds. On Friday afternoons at Marcel Pagnol, I have my one class of CE2s.
I like them better.
Lucky for me, they are not my children, so I do not have to love them all equally. The CE2s pick up on things faster, so we have more fun. The teacher is youngish, younger than the other ones I work with, so I don't feel like he's constantly judging my (lack of) teaching skills. He also jokes with me, rather than ignores my existence, as some teachers do.
Today, for instance, as we were "singing" (yelling) "jingle bells" (jingr boells), he and I laughed at their pronunciation. I made them listen to the song, then I would say a line and make them repeat it. Then, I would say a line word by word, with them repeating. However, no matter what I did, it sounded something like "Jingr Boells, Jingr Boells, Jinghh aww d'NOEL."
I figured they were saying Noel because the French lyrics to the same tune are completely different. BUT, I just looked it up, and there's nothing about Noel in the song. At all. HAHAHA
Because the song is, for them, only a series of songs, they kind of assert any thing they feel like fits.
And I digress.
What I was going to say about the CE2s: The class consists of the more-advanced 8 year olds, and 9 year olds, and I guess that is when children start becoming people. I probably sound like a horrible person, and it might have a lot to do with the fact that the smaller children don't deal as well with my accent. But, the CE2s pick up things quickly. So when we play a game, I don't spend 10 minutes explaining and re-explaining and making other children explain. They get it.
They still think fart jokes are funny, however.
Speaking of fart jokes, I was at Jules Verne this morning, and it was picture day. I ended up being in the picture with M. Lecompte's class. My second class is Mlle. Rondeau (Marie). She teaches two different classes, so she asked if I would mind if she left for a few minutes to be in the photo with the other class. I figured I could handle them for a few minutes.
As soon as she left the class, there was more shouting, making fun of, and armpit farting than I have heard since I started. Kids kept knocking over chairs, so I said that the next kid who did would leave the classroom -- a common punishment for kids who are being really bad. Another kid did. He left. Then, a girl said another kid was calling her a pig, so I told him to stop. He made a VERY rude gesture involving a pelvic thrust at the little girl. He was told to leave as well. A third kid was making farting noises with his hand in his armpit, while another one told on him, repeatedly, while yelling. The fart-noise kid also had taken his shirt halfway off.
When Marie returned, she was none pleased to find two students in the hall. After a couple of words from her, the kids snapped into shape, immediately.

I meant to mention, in my last post, the title, "... a Tired Teachair," is what one of my other kids calls me. He is from Senegal and picks up English very quickly. When they learned the word teacher, he decided that was what he would call me. It is rather endearing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Life of the Tired Teachair

I can't believe it's been over two week since I last posted. Time flies when you're having fun (unless you're frog, then time's fun when you're have flies - Coach Dawson, junior physics… It wasn't funny when he said it either, which was often. The other thing he liked to say was “It’s 5:00 somewhere.” Remembering that now makes me wonder what exactly he was trying to encourage among the 16 and 17 year olds in his classes).

What’s happened since November 15th:

I took a couple yoga classes, which were very relaxing and required me to think in French (or just watch other people inconspicuously).

Fabiola and I had an afternoon snack with two teachers that we work with that turned into a 6-hour visit complete with dinner. I work with Christophe, and Fabiola works with Karine; both of whom teach English in our schools. They also happened to live in New Orleans for a couple years until Katrina screwed them over. The invited us to have cake (individual chocolate cakes with a gooey center), and then let us use their phone because they have FREE calls to the United States. By the time Fabiola and I had phoned boyfriends and family, they asked if we want to stay for dinner. We had the best quiche I’ve ever eaten with salad then cheese and fruit after dinner. It was so nice to get to have dinner with people who were familiar with the “living abroad” experience. They also have a 15-month-old baby whose name I can’t quite decipher.

Then came the week of Thanksgiving!

I was looking for information in French about Thanksgiving. I realized, in researching on, that whatever I intended to tell the kids, it was primarily about food. How often, on Thanksgiving, do you really think about pilgrims and American Indians?

Moi, non plus (me neither).

Anyway, they didn’t care about it; the kids are 7. They talk while I'm talking and only pay attention when I give them something to color. So, in the tradition of American school children everywhere, we drew hand turkeys, i.e. they traced their hands and attempted to draw turkeys. It was glorious.

Also read this: Thanksgiving. One of the other assistants posted it, and it's funnier if you know some French, but still.

After Actual Thanksgiving, we celebrated my birthday!

My birthday was fun, as fun as it could be without my bestest of friends and family (I don’t mean I don’t like my friends here, I do). We went out to dinner to a Senegalese restaurant called Daara, which was très bien. We kind of crowded the place; it was pretty small. Then we had drinks at Sam’s, then we went to a pub. We met the band for the French singer Alain Souchon . They were a funny bunch of guys, and it made for a funny birthday. If you want the full story, send me an email. :D

On Saturday, the assistants had Thanksgiving! It turned out to be a pretty awesome event:

First of all, all of the assistants there were girls. American, Mexican, British, and New Zealand. And somehow, we’ve all managed to befriend French guys. So the entire night was a battle of the sexes and cultures! We did pretty well for making the meal with French ingredients. Sam bought a turkey breast and turkey legs. The Brits brought bread cheese and two chickens. I made cornbread dressing (in Christophe and Karine’s nicely loaned baking dishes); it turned out really good! Meredith and Fabiola brought broccoli and potatoes, respectively. We had lots of deserts. All in all, it was great, and we were properly stuffed afterward.

There were probably 14 of us crammed into Sam’s apartment, and after dinner we played “Celebrity.” This is a game that some of Kevin’s friends claim to have invented, but it’s a fabulous mélange of guess the celebrity without saying the name and charades.

We had a marvelous time.

Stories about my kids:

French children have a snack at both recesses. This must be universal because every child at each of my schools has some kind of sweet snack-y cake (as Carolyn would say) or, less often, an apple. Some kids have a mystery snack wrapped in aluminum foil. Anyway, a week ago as I was walking out of Mme. Goupille's class before morning recess, the kids were excitedly putting on their coats and screaming. One kid, Walid, who is absolutely adorable because he is smaller and baby-fattier than the other kids, waved his snack-y cake in my face. Well, not in my face, per se, as he is less than two feet tall, but he waved his snack-y cake at me. "C'est de chichi!" he said. (sounded like shee shee). I responded as I usually do when they tell me non-school related things: "Je comprends pas" (I do not understand.) And he said, "C'est quelque chose qui est un petit peu sucré et un petit peu selé." Which means, it's something that is a little bit sugary and a little bit salty.

Adorable. Yesterday, the same little kid told me he was going to teach his mother English. Well, he said "Je vais apprendre l'anglais à ma mére," which translates more accurately to "I'm going to learn my mother English." This is okay in French, however, as the verb apprendre can be used both to mean "to learn" and "to teach"

At another school, I have a class of CPs (basically, kindergarten), and everytime I arrive or leave they're like "bisous! bisous!" And I kind of give them little hugs because I just really don't want to get kissed from all of those kids.

Also, if anyone knows how to fix formatting in the input box in blogspot, let me know. I'm having a bit of a formatting crisis.

Old Men

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I got lost yesterday. At night. I had a general idea of direction I wanted to go in, but I was not sure. Usually, I write down directions, and once I've gone a certain places, I rarely forget how to get there. But last night, I tried out a yoga class, which was in a residential area I hadn't been to before. It was a 15 minute walk, but I got lost on the way there. So I decided to take a different route back. I walked toward what I thought was Foch, one of the main streets in Angers. It was well-lit enough, but a little creepy as the buildings are tall and are right next to the curb. It was about 9:30 on a Wednesday, so there weren't many people out and about.
I looked down street after street, they could have been perspective drawings from an art class, all buildings in straight lines, with no one and nothing down them. It also reminded me of that Red Hot Chili Peppers music video that's all in black and white, and they sit on top of buildings and whatnot. It might be Californication. (Update: it's otherside from Californication.) I saw a church that I had never seen before. It had a banner in front that said "950 years, 1059-2009." How cool is that? Most churches at home are like, "We've been around 10 years? We need a bigger building. With lots of useless extra rooms. And a pool."
Anyway, I finally saw a Pizza Hut, which I knew was on Carnot. Pretty far from Foch, but I found it and knew where I was. I walked by a café where people were watching a soccer game, I'm not sure who was playing, but when I got to Foch someone had won because the fans had decided to drive crazily around the roundabout waving a flag (couldn't tell which) and honking their horns and screaming.
It was interesting to be lost at night in a place I thought I knew. I didn't feel unsafe, and I really wasn't. It was quiet and calm and kind of like a small adventure.

Some Commentary on Language: (with stories!)

Language is interesting to me. I have never really thought about it before, despite the fact I studied English and French. At the time, it seemed more like the study of literature, not a language. And, in many ways, it was. In all of my classes, I read. It was assumed (and I guess rightly so) that I possessed the vocabulary, the grammatical rules, the intellect to take the words on the page and make them mean something other than JUST the word.
For instance, "the dog is black" doesn't just signify a black dog, the image that comes to mind, it also references many other black dogs, the type of dogs that are black, the instances in which you or I have encountered a black dog. It can be broadened to encompass what we know about the history of many and dog, and in the context of the text it can carry many other meanings: it could be a symbol for something dark to come, or it could simply be the portrait of the American family with the trusty lab at its side.
(I have a point)

But all of this meaning, codification, is assumed, taken for granted. So, when learning a new language, there are vast gaps in your knowledge because you cannot possibly be aware of all the significations a word could possess.

All of that goes to say, I've learned some words, and I'm learning to speak, but I can't ever beFrench. That is obvious, but it's difficult to realize that as much as I learn there will always be something missing that will make the language totally click.
Maybe I'll change my mind about this in 8 months. (Can you believe I've been here almost 2 months?!)

So, when I say that language is interesting to me; I find facts like this fascinating:
The students at my schools all of these things called "les ardoises," which translates to slate.
Imagine the stories of one room school houses with the school marm at the front calling out sums, which the students furiously write on mini-chalkboards. Yes, children in France still have those. It's mostly to practice mathematics, and maybe spelling. Many of the boards are of the white board variety, with expo markers.
I had never heard the word before, so one of the teachers explained that Ardoise means slate, as in the slate used to make the roofs on French houses. I think she said that in the olden days (whenever that was) the students actually used slates from the roof for class. Anyway, they kept the name even though many students have white boards now.
They also love using them. Maybe it's because they get to wave them in the air to show me the answer.

Another language thing:
Would you refer to elementary school kids as students? I would.
In French, the word for students is "les étudiants." But you cannot refer to primary school children as les étudiants. You must use the word "les élèves," which translates to pupils. When I made this mistake, someone laughed and said "you can't call them students, they aren't studying anything." I had never even thought about the fact that student means "one who studies," nor had I considered the fact that elementary school children don't really study.
For the British assistants, this makes perfect sense as they use the word "pupils," but I'm almost 100% positive that I had elementary school teachers who referred to the class as "students."

There is a French verb for which the infinitive is "faire." When you learn French, it's one of the first irregular verbs that you learn. It is almost always translated as "to make or to do," like that: both English words with "or" between them. One can faire les vaisselles, do the dishes, orfaire un gateau, make a cake, but one can also faire un fête, make or do a party? While it's amusing when foreign people say things like "let's make a party," it wouldn't really be an accurate translation, would it? I think that's the problem with translation, and again with learning a language.

A final language thing:
In France, you're pretty much required to say "bonjour" to everyone you meet. Once you know someone well (I think) you are allowed to say "salut." Additionally, once you know someone really well, you can greet them with "coucou." But, at one school, there is a teacher who always says "Salut" to me, I guess because we're close-ish to the same age. There is another teacher who invited me to a party (another story for another day), and when he texted me he said "coucou." Some of the girls in the foyer say "coucou" to me, some say "Salut". I said "Salut" to someone in the foyer, out of habit, but I don't really know her. She responded "Bonjour" rather coldly. None of this makes sense to me, and I think "coucou" sounds dumb.

I'm going to go ahead and post this, I have more stories, esp of the kids (!), but I feel like I need to churn out some kind of writing, even if it's just this blog!

The dog is black:


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Part Trois: Aix-en-Provence/Halloween en France

Dear BNP Paribas,

I hate you. You are the worst bank ever. Why do you suck so much?

Thank you,

Yeah, I hate my bank. Or maybe it's just the banking system here; I couldn't tell you because this is the first French bank account I've ever had. Okay, there was the bit where they forced me to have insurance in case I "hurt a child or broke someone's glasses." Apparently, it is a required type of insurance, and because I was so confused my bank lady reimbursed me half of it.
Then, they wouldn't give me my card because my account was negative, why was it negative? you might ask...
Because they charged me for insurance, and I hadn't been paid yet. Then I was paid, and my card worked and all was right. And I decided I should probably book tickets for Christmas. So I did.
My tickets from Frankfurt to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to Paris are €105 all together, pretty good. But for some reason, the bank has charged me twice, FOR BOTH OF THEM.
I know I did not buy multiple tickets because I was being very careful when clicking through because of our horrible internet. So, I was VERY careful, when purchasing, not to click anything twice.
I discovered the charges Wednesday, and of course it was a bank holiday. So, nothing was to be done. I went Thursday, and my bank boyfriend (he laughs every time he sees me because I'm always having problems.) asked me if I was sure I hadn't bought anything on Monday. Yes, I was pretty damn sure.
"Are you sure," he asked, "that you didn't buy gas or something?"
I very nicely explained that I do not have a CAR!
Anyway, he got this other lady who asked if it was a carte electron, which it is. Then she said, "C'est bloqué, pas de soucie, t'inquiète pas"
And the there was something else that might have been "you're not being charged." When I got home, I looked up bloqué: in terms of money it usually means "frozen." So she said, "It's frozen, no worries, don't worry" And she might have said, "you're not being charged." Either way, my account is in the negative, so I'm just going to keep checking it... I should have made an appointment with my bank lady.

I think I'm doing pretty well, considering I can't access my money. At home, I would be freaking out a million times more; I would be on the phone with everyone from my bank. Here, I'm just kind of annoyed and am making myself wait until the week's up to see what happens.

So, the story continues!
In the last episode, Allie, Meredith, Kelly, and Andrew were running through the streets of Marseilles with entirely too much baggage in tow. We arrived at the station, out of breath, and unsure of which platform to go to. Two minutes to departure, I ran up to some French train worker people who were hanging out on one of the platforms. "Bonjour" I yelled, out of breath.
They looked at me and chuckled, one conductor said, "Bonsoir (at this point I realized my horrible gaffe, one does not say bonjour at 19h00- 7pm)..." He smiled, "yeees?" I threw aside an attempt at parlaying en français, "Is this the train to Aix?"
He looked at the train, then back at me. "Yeees"
Andrew attempted to mock me for not bother with French, but it was more important to bid him adieu and throw (seriously) our baggage on the train.
We did both, and Meredith and I collapsed heavily on the first seats we found.

The train ride was 10 minutes, so we arrived at Aix and Katie, my friend who was already there, informed us we would have to catch the bus into town.
It was dark. We were hungry, and the bus stop appeared to be under a bridge, so we stood by what also appeared to be a major highway, waiting for what we hoped was the bus... for about 40 minutes.
It came, and then we got off at the bus stop where we waited another long long while for Katie and her friend Stevie, with whom we were staying, came to get us.

We really didn't do much in Aix. I think we were so worn out from everything else we had done. On Friday, we had grand aspirations. The plan was to rent bikes and cycle around Aix, so we did. But not until 2 pm. We went to the rental place and decided to plan on a two hour trip; Meredith told the guy, "We want something pretty and easy. Very easy."
"Oh yes," he said, "it's easy, definitely can do in 2 hours. Very pretty."
So we were off.
Now at home, as many of you may know, I enjoy riding my bike; I probably ride it once a week. I jog, I do yoga. I am not unfit.
I also live in flatlands.

The path (or should I say road, because we were on the road with the cars. French people are also bad drivers) took us out of the city, into a kind of forest-y winding road. Then the two-lane road turned into a one-lane road. With huge hills.

HUGE. Going up those hills was one of the most strenuous things I've ever done. In the distance, we could see Mount Saint-Victoire, which was a frequent subject of the painter Cézanne who is from Aix.

It was so hard. I just can't even explain. My quads ached.
We did make it home in two hours, and I'm really glad I did it. The country side was beautiful, and the biking was an experience. You do have to give French drivers credit; they're used to bikers being on the road and know how not to hit them.

Saturday in Aix was spent sleeping in and deciding what to dress up as for Halloween. Katie's friend Stevie had a halloween party (did I mention his awesome apartment. HUGE. 10 foot ceilings. giant bedrooms. they're also paying a ton for it.) I bought an Indian headdress at the one costume shop in Aix, so I was an Indian. French people don't really celebrate Halloween, so it was this huge party of Brits and Americans with a couple Spaniards, an Italian, and two French guys. It was pretty cool, and everyone had to be creative with their costumes because there weren't really many options. My favorite was Freddie Krueger with cardboard fingernails. We went to a club, which was funny because not many people there were in costumes. It was a nice Halloween.

On Sunday, I woke up early. For no reason, at all. So I made the most of it, and walked down the Cours Mirabeau, which is famous and has expensive stores. On Sunday, though, these stores are closed, but there was a Provençal market with leather goods, soap from Marseille, Provençal lavender, jewelry, macaroons, and more. It was cute.
Then, I went to a café and had a café (coffee) and did some writing. I felt like a cliché, but it was one of my favorite things I did on the whole vacation. It was relaxing to be on my own and meditate on my own thoughts for a while.
That afternoon we walked around the city, which was pretty much like every other Sunday in France, completely dead. We went to a pizzeria then rented Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which is a good movie! I recommend it.
And that was Aix. It's a small city, but well known, I guess, for it's pretty buildings. It is very pretty although October probably isn't the best time to go. The trees were loosing their leaves, and it was overcast.
Other than that, I have to admit: I'm more anxious to return to Marseilles and see what it has to offer. It seemed like a place where something was always happening. Aix was pretty, and I've seen it. I think Provence (the region in which Aix is located -- Marseille kind of is too, but it's considered part of the Côte d'Azur) might have more to offer in visiting the countryside. It looked beautiful on the train ride home. Katie and I tried to take pictures out of the train windows while we sped away on the TGV, but it was not successful.

It really was such an interesting vacation. I got to see parts of France I had never seen before, and the weather was beautiful almost the whole time. For the most part, my companions were nice, too.
At the end, though, I found myself ready to return to my bumpy mattress, rationed heating, and seatless toilets. Sometimes, staying in one place is nice too!

By the way, I've reorganized my room. And it is very nice. I switched my dresser and shelves with my bed, which made my room seem a lot bigger. Sometimes you just need to shake things up a little!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Part Deux: Marseilles

To begin more random France things:

They turned the heat on in our foyer. Yay! But wait, it has to be difficult. The heat is only on from 5 pm to midnight and 5 am to 9 am. If you are home during the day, you must freeze.
I guess that, in truth, I am not paying the heating bill, so I cannot complain.

Also, I booked my holiday tickets! I'm not going home, but I am going to Germany and the Netherlands! I will be staying with my fabulous friend Franzi and her fabulous family who are so nice to have me over for the holidays... then I will be in Amsterdam with another assistant and we will be crashing with another good friend, Victor.
So, I'm excited to do something different for the holidays, although I will miss my family and Kevin and all of you so much.

One more thing, I was having a horrible time with my hair. (I mean other than my lifelong battle with it because it does not do what I want it to.) Anyway, it was like tangly and frizzy and just generally disagreeable. So, I bought some French shampoo because I was still using some from home. It has made all the difference! I can't even tell you!
Maybe French shampoo has a different make up because French water is different? No clue.

Okay, and now for stories of the Mediterranean!
We left Bordeaux on Wednesday at around 11:30 and took the longest train ride, EVER. It was 7 hours, but that's what you get when you buy the cheapest ticket. Instead of riding on France's fabulous TGV (le train à grand vitesse, i.e. the really fast train), we were on the "local" train, which stops more frequently and doesn't even touch the TGV's supersonic (ish) speeds.
Interesting fact(s): The TGV was originally going to be a gas tubine powered train, but after the gas crisis of 1973, gaspowering was deemed inefficient and expensive. So the French switched to electric powered trains. They are powered by Nuclear Power. The fastest recorded TGV reached 357 mph in test conditions, and I think, but am not sure, that the average speed of a TGV train is between 150 and 190 mph.

Anywho, NOT riding the TGV, I had a window seat, which I enjoyed!
Interesting fact about Allie: she loves the window seat! Seriously, I always request it when I book transport (hahaha, book transport). I just want to SEE!
And see, I did. The country side was beautiful; I caught a glimpse of the ocean.
When we arrived in Marseille that evening, Meredith and Kelly's friend Andrew met us at the train station. He was really nice and helped us carry our (too much) stuff back to his apartment. Andrew has a really nice apartment with a shower that has... a wall-mounted shower head! The little things you learn to appreciate.
We went out to dinner to a Tunisian restaurant per the recommendation of Andrew's friend who works at the hostel in Marseille. I had vegetables and couscous, which was delicious.
I also received my first month's pay that evening, which was wonderful! We had some wine back at Andrew's, and Meredith and I crashed on the couches.

Marseille is the second largest city in France, and as a port city, it attracts a large number of immigrants. So Marseille is kind of known as this hodge-podge crazy place of lots of people. My France guide book describes a kind of rivalry between Marseille and Aix (our next stop). The rivalry can be broken down into very simple terms. Dirty/Clean. Poor/Rich. My book also said that people tend to love one and hate the other and that Marseille is a little gritty.
I also think the person who wrote my book is a douche.
Marseilles is kind of dirty. And there are a lot of immigrants. And there are lots of kebap shops and Middle Eastern restaurants and people walking around and broken glass and on and on.
I have to say that I really loved Marseille. We spent the least amount of time there, but I think out of everywhere, that's where I'd want to go back. We only walked around a very small portion of it, and there was just so much to see. So many people! We went into one area to get lunch, and there were all these little grocery stores with all the fruit outside in these stands and one shop with pots and pans and purses and pizza stands (there's also many people of Italian origin in Marseille).
Then we walked down to the pier to wait for our boat. I just had fries to eat, but I had a bit of someone's kepab (fabulous!).
At the pier, there's all these people selling fresh caught fish. My dad would have loved it.

Then we hopped on this boat for two islands off the coast of Marseille: If and Frioul.
Chateau d'If is most famous as the setting for the Count of Monte Cristo. The castle is really even though the count is not. Many people were locked up there and eventually went crazy, died, or both. I kind of poked around the castle, but it was just worth it to be on the island. The weather was perfect; the water was clear; the sun shone...
Then we caught the boat to Frioul, which was bigger and didn't have a castle. It did have some hills and fortresses, so we hiked around for a good bit. And I stuck my feel in the Mediterranean!
Then, we went to catch the boat (it was like a big tour boat, not so big as the one you take on the Mississippi, but it probably could hold a good 150 people), and the French boat person wouldn't let us on. He just cut off the line, and the boat was not full at all. We waited for like 45 minutes for the next one, at the boarding area, so we would be first. We got on the boat, but the stupid man cut the line off again, and there was tons of room available!
We went back to the apartment and had spaghetti. Someone bought wine again, which I didn't think was such a good idea. Then, we had to catch our train. We ran.

I mean, we RAN. We got to the platform with probably a minute to spare, but we boarded the train for the 10 minute TGV to Aix!

To be continued!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Reflecting on the holidays: Part 1: Bordeaux

Before I begin reflecting, two things:
1. A bazillion birds (or bats?) were flying around my building this afternoon. It was kind of ridiculous, but also very cool looking.
2. I taped some of the pictures my kids have drawn for me on my wall. On kid, Valentin, drew me a picture of the American flag (kind of). Funny thing is: that one keeps falling off... weird.

So, Toussaint is over! I was traveling for 7 days, which is much longer than you think it is. I'm going to talk about it in 3 parts because we visited 3 major cities, and there's so much to say!

We arrived in Bordeaux around 2:30 on Sunday afternoon with plans (and tickets) to a 3:00 ballet. The thing is, we had to change, then Fabiola's friend who lives in Bordeaux and was taking us to the ballet didn't know her way around the train station, so we arrived at the Grand Théâtre at 3:10. They would not let us in. Apparently, the French are serious about their ballet, and that means no interruptions after the curtain rises.
We walked around found some food, and we went into the ballet during intermission.
Interesting things about the ballet:
They were short(ish) pieces, and I think they were choreographed by different people.
The first piece was Afternoon of the Faun, which I played several years ago on the flute!
It's a really beautiful piece of music, but the choreography was kind of blah and had some bizarre sexual undertones.
The second piece was beautiful: Le Spectre de la Rose, I'm not sure if this translates to Ghost of the Rose or the Rose Ghost. It was a pas de deux, and absolutely beautiful! The male dancer was the rose ghost, and he did some amazing leaping and turning, all while wearing a pink full body unitard thing. He was also the most muscular male ballet dancer that I've ever seen, which is saying a lot. Most male dancers are incredibly muscular; he was more so.
The third piece was Russian and strange.
In addition, the theater itself is gorgeous, and I will post pictures. It was definitely worth the experience.

On Monday, we did an all day wine tour in the town of St. Emilion, which is 30 minutes from Bordeaux. We visited two vineyards, tasted (drank several glasses of) three wines, and had a "country lunch." (If any of my kids from peer power are reading this, I will remind you that alcohol is to be consumed legally and responsibly. We had a bus to drive us around.)
The country lunch included several kinds of ham, a duck paté, sausage, salad, bread, fruit, cheese, and a macaroon. We had two of the vineyard's wines at the table.
I don't know what you know about wines; I don't know much, but the wine we drank was red. In St. Emilion, the reds are usually some combination of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with some Cabernet Sauvignon. French wines are almost always (maybe always) a combination of a couple grapes.
The wine was good.
We spent the afternoon wandering around the town, which was as quaint as it was supposed to be. I drank a nice cup of coffee in the main square.

On Tuesday, we did a walking tour, kind of. I bought a €1 map that listed the sights, and we kind of followed it. Everyone seemed bored, so we skipped ahead and saw the Cathédrale Saint-André, also beautiful. We packed a lot into two and a half days, so we turned in pretty early to pack on Tuesday.

Bordeaux is essentially a beautiful city. The architecture is all 18th century. It has a kind of decadence to it; it's reservedly baroque. That makes no sense, but you can look at my pictures.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Trains, trains, and trains

Toussaint is a fabulous holiday in France that recognizes all the saints by giving all of the students a week and a half off from school.

Friday was a long day at work. The kids knew that they were about to have a break, so I planned ahead. We reviewed colors by coloring pumpkins! They do not really have Halloween, so we talked a little about that and then we colored! There's something fabulous about working with an age group where it's totally acceptable to have a lesson centered on coloring. I, however, still cannot pronounce the French word for pumpkin, une citrouille. (It's something like sit-royAH, kind of. The teachers all laughed when I pronounced it)

I almost brought candy, but I forgot, and in the end, it was for the best. They were already psycho-hyped for the holidays.

Anyway, I'm going to be doing some traveling, which is really exciting. There's a kind of restlessness that only a train ride can cure. A few other assistants and I are going to Bordeaux and Aix-en-Provence. We have a hostel/hotel in Bordeaux, and Fabiola's friend who lives there is going to take us around. Already on the itinerary: a ballet at the Grand Théâtre, and an all day wine tour! In Aix-en-Provence, our friend Katie has a friend who we are going to stay with. I'm not sure yet what we'll do there.

I'll update after I return; I'm not bringing my computer, which is kind of a huge deal for me. I'm totally dependant on it.
Bon vacances, tout le monde!

Oh! One more thing, just another funny snippet of France: On Wednesday, my beloved busdrivers striked. It didn't affect me because I wasn't working, and I wasn't in a rush, so I walked everywhere.
But this is how the strike works: everyone knew ahead of time; it was posted on all the buses.
It was only from 11:30 to 1:00, which is also lunchtime! After 1:00, the buses resumed their schedules as normal. Was it effective? No idea, I don't even know what they were demanding.
Was it French? In every possible way.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

En France

I just wanted to provide some snippets of life here. This isn't a set theme or anything, I just kind of wanted to write about some funny/frustrating/interesting tidbits.

This morning I woke up at 6:30 *cough* (7:09)... in order to catch the 8:11 bus to my school. The bus takes about 17 minutes, and I had to make some copies of the Halloween worksheet.
At 8:00 when I arrived at the bus stop, it was still dark out. The sun was just beginning to lighten the sky, but it was actually really nice. It made the morning a little more calm. The Jardin du Mail, which I've only taken a million pictures of, was right across the street, and the fountain was still lit. It was just kind of beautiful.
I listened to The Black Keys, Rubber Factory, which Carolyn bought for me as a going-away present. Just fyi, the album is fabulous. Listen to 10A.M. Automatic: here

I also want to talk about the bus driver's. It is amazing to me how friendly they are. Probably 8 out of 10 happily say, "Bonjour" when you board the train. Now, that might not seem strange to Americans, but for the French, I'd say it's one greeting short of asking you to dinner. Let me clarify: Everyone says, "Bonjour." All the time. It's pretty much rude not to. But usually it's a kind of "bnjr," quickly and without expression.
The bus drivers are just happy. I'm not kidding. They smile (this is unheard of) at you. If you ask them in very poor French if the bus passes by a certain stop, they will tell you. They even offer to tell you when you've arrived at the stop.
They seem to change drivers often on the buses, so you'll often see multiple bus drivers standing at a stop, chatting, smoking, waiting for their next bus. They exchange spots seamlessly and the bus almost always leaves on time.
I really love bus drivers.

The kids at my schools are something else. At Marcel Pagnol, all of my students learned some English last year. When I played the "Hello Song," they all joined in cheerfully. The teachers at this school are really really helpful. They basically help me teach the class even though neither really speaks English. M. Beauvais did say "no worries*" to me once. But they realize I am not a certified teacher, and I am there to introduce my language. They help the kids understand my instructions
At Jules Verne, the kids are, as the teachers say "plus agités." They are kind of bad. They talk a lot. They don't listen. Games become free-for-alls. One of the teachers is pretty helpful, she's young, and she knows I haven't really taught before. The other teacher does nothing. He sits in the back and grades papers and ignores me. Yesterday, he did bother to tell me that the thingy I printed off (it looked like a "Hello My name is" name badge, they had to glue them on the front of their notebooks) would be better if it had lines, because, effectively, in his mind, the kids CANNOT write without lines to guide them. But yesterday, I also received a bouquet of kind of smelly leaves from some of the girls in CE1.
At Jacques Prévert, the teachers help me out a ton, and one speaks English. He is nice because he checks on me from time to time, and today, after my bank worries (explained in a moment), he offered to go with me to the bank. That's true kindness. He lived in the US for a couple years, and he just said, "I dealt with this in a foreign country, it's hard."
Additionally, the kids at Jacques Prévert love me. I mean really. I haven't even done anything that exciting. I've received about 20 drawings, and everyone wants to hug me and say " 'Ehlo." It's just so funny. I'm swarmed if I arrive during recreation.

Here's something bizarre. Another assistant here works in Saumur, which is a tiny town, maybe 30 minutes away. She decided to live in Angers because, well, there's nothing in Saumur besides vineyards. Great for a day trip and wine tasting, not so good if you want to keep yourself busy. Anyway, she takes the local train into Saumur.
Twice last week, people committed suicide on the train tracks and her train was delayed and/or cancelled. It was totally bizarre. One of the teachers that she works with said, "oh, it happens a lot." A lot!? It seems like they'd try to take care of something like that.
Anyway, as luck would have it, there was a train strike yesterday and today. So I think she had to stay in Saumur last night. I can't imagine having to deal with that.

The bank: still no bank card. I went today, and the lady just said, "it's not ready yet." And I said, "It's been over 2 weeks." So she made me an appointment to talk to my bank person tomorrow, no explanation. Je ne comprends pas! I do not understand. Also, I checked my online account, and there's a mysterious €50 charge. Of course, I haven't been paid yet, so my account is a -€50.
(I just figured out how to make the euro sign! € shift+option+2).
So, with the bank stuff... I do not know. I'm going to make someone come with me tomorrow, and if that is not fruitful, Christophe, that teacher, offered to go with me Thursday.

*The French love to say "no worries" to me. Both in French and English. In French, it is "pas de soucis." This is the first phrase that I think I really learned here. They like to use the phrase in reference to due dates and the like. For instance, my rent is due today. I haven't actually been paid yet, so I told one of the women who works here. She was like, "no problem, pas de soucis." Just like that. I guess they assume that I will pay eventually, and I will. I don't want to come back to changed locks and my stuff in the courtyard. But the French seem to treat everything this way. It will work out, no need to worry right now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


+ =

Well, I just did something that some people might consider horrible.
I ate lunch at McDonald's.

I was at the supermarket, Carrefour, which is similar to Wal-Mart, but nicer, and my friend wanted to stop at McD to eat. To be fair, I tried the Croque McDo, McDonald's take on the Croque Monsieur. A Croque Monsieur is a fabulous mixture of creamy cheese, ham, and good bread.
McDonald's Croque McDo was... well it wasn't the most horrible thing I've ever eaten. It wasn't great either. It was kind of like a white American cheese and Oscar Myer ham sandwich, melted.
At €1.60, I didn't feel too bad about paying for it... I also ordered a side of potatoes (not fries), but the lady thought I said water... By the time I got my order, it was too late. I guess it was better for me anyway.

But this brings me to a bigger dilemma. My schools are pretty far from everything useful.
There might be a library, but it also might be closed. And hours on French libraries are like:
Some afternoons (but never Sunday or Monday), Some mornings and afternoons, and sometimes just closed because we feel like it.
My work schedule has some very long breaks, but there's no sense in going back into town, a 20-25 minute bus trip each way.
There is, however, a McDonald's, which with a small purchase also has free wifi.
Hanging out in McD seems kind of horrible to me, but it would also be 1. warmer than being outside 2. safer than being outside 3. free internet.

I'm curious, what do you guys think? Should I hang there when I need to get away from my schools?
Or, is that silly?
Take the poll on the left of the screen!

Does anyone remember France and Spain 2004? One of our friends (cough justin) was determined to eat at a McDonald's in every new city. Oh, high school.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Parade of Humankind

Here I am in France. And I am keeping myself busy. I've been on the go almost constantly since I arrived because 1. I have to distract myself from the fact that all the people I love the most are pretty much a million miles away, and 2. It's probably the only way I'll get a good night's sleep.

Today I went to the Saturday Market. I wish I had brought my camera. It's kind of a beautiful thing, and it was really nice out today.
From my direction, the market starts out as this huge parking lot, which has been taken entirely over by people selling fruits and vegetables. I bought much more fruit than I probably should have, but I think I was practical enough. An apple a day. A clementine a day. Some broccoli. Some grapes. A red bell pepper. This should get me through at least the week.
Today, I went further along. The market extends from the parking lot alongside the main stretch of road, Boulevard Foch. After the fruits and veggies comes cheese and other dairy products, then various meats... including horse! This is something people say is very good. I don't think I could eat it. Maybe, not sure. There's pork and a million kind of sausages, beef, chicken, duck. You name it. You keep going, and there's fish, crab, mussels, shrimp, squid...
And, like I said, it's beautiful. People are all over the place, stopping and buying food, talking to friends. Waiting for some one to weigh out their squid. Children, babies in strollers, dogs!
Zeus, tu me manques! (jake too) And everyone is there to get fresh food, and I'm sure they'll cook something fabulous with it. (I am trying to figure out how to get a French person to invite me to dinner. I want home cooked French food.)
All in all, it's just this fabulous parade of humankind.
The people in Angers are so friendly too. If they realize you don't understand, they try to explain. Some people speak English, and, for now, I let them. The girls at my foyer are included in that. The speak to me in French even though many of them speak English. They know I'm here to learn, and it makes it a really good learning place.

The fluency has not arrived! But, I find myself thinking through conversations in French. Simple phrases are becoming easier.
Although, I did have an incident at the post office. French people love love love paper work. This is something I had heard, but not taken too seriously.
Let me repeat. They love paperwork. They love to have a copy of everything. They love to have papers to sign, to send you papers to be signed, to have you come back in to sign more papers. It's just different. I have opened a bank account... I think. I'm waiting for them to let me have my debit card. I say "let me have" because they will NOT send you this in the mail. No, first the have to send you some papers. Then, they send you a paper with the postman that he must see you sign. If you are not there, then you must go to the post office and sign it.
I did this.
I went back to the bank.
My account was not ready.
Let's just say the guy at the desk at the bank laughs when he sees me, albeit a friendly laugh.
Still no bank card.

I will let you know.

I don't mean to complain, because really it's all very funny. But, our coordinator at the US embassy said it best, "Many of you will essentially be entering the “real world” this year, and this world will be French. You will be faced with new experiences and challenges that you may not have had to deal with yet on your own and you will have to do this all in French!"
For now, there's just many hurddles to jump. In a month, it will be nothing. I hope.

I'm going to end with the best thing that happened recently. I went to one of my schools to observe. I've met all of my teachers, and I had one last class to watch.
In France, there is not k-5, rather it is CP, CE1, CE2, CM1, and CM2. They are approximately 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10-year-olds, respectively.
So this last class was CPs. They are babies. And they are sooooo excited to learn English, or maybe they're just excited that somebody young that talked funny was in the room.
One girl drew me a picture, then a second picture. Before I knew it, I had about 7 pictures from various children.
One little girl, who I met the first time I went to the school, is smitten. She is already hanging onto me and asking me questions about everything.
When it was time to leave, she was like "Bisous!" Then she kissed me on the cheek.
Then 25 small children surrounded me to kiss me on the cheek.
France is something else.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sacrifice the Chickens!

Things I learned last week.
Lack of sleep catches up with you.
You cannot buy sheets at all hours like you can in Amerrika
How to say fart (péter)

I got sick last week, probably because I was averaging 3 hours of sleep a night. I almost changed foyers, but decided the other one was too expensive. I'm starting to settle here. I got a better room. It's on a corner and has two windows. But, I got this cold and my nose was running terribly and I had to go to this orientation business. It was miserable. I couldn't concentrate, and of course, this man was speaking in French for a long time. I listened for a while, and the next thing he said was, "And we'll start with you..." He was looking right at me.
My friends laughed, and I stuttered. Someone whispered, "introduce yourself."

After I moved to my new room, I finally bought sheets. You'd think, "oh, bedding, I can get that anytime." Well, unless it's before 7:00 pm and not Sunday, you cannot buy sheets. And when you're on the go, after 7:00 and Sunday is about the only true free time there is. The French like their time off. I believe 24-hour Wal-marts and Krogers would disgust them. On Saturday I went to Carrefour, which is a bit like Wal-mart and bought sheets and a nice blanket that is super warm. Saturday night I slept a good 9 hours. The best since I've been here.

On Friday Oct 2, I observed two of my schools. French primary school (age 5ish to 11ish) goes something like this:
1.5 hours of class
15 minute recess
1.5 hours of class
1.5 hours lunch/recess (where students can go home if they so choose)
1.5 hours class
15 minute recess
1.5 hours of class
They only go Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

The breaks seem excessive to an American who spent 7 hours a day, 5 days a week in elementary school. I'm not sure if it is superior, persay. But it does provide a different way of approaching learning. Kids need frequent breaks to wear themselves out.

My schools are a little ways out of town, about a 30 minute bus ride. Another interesting thing about France is the socio-economic distribution of population. While in the US many of the city centers contain the lowest on the Economic scale, in France, the banlieues, or suburbs, are usually concentrated areas of lower income individuals.
The kids seem, for the most part, great. Many of them were so excited I would be the English teacher. As far as, I can tell there a lot of immigrants. Turkish immigrants probably count among the highest in France. Maybe this will help, the fact that many of the students speak another language at home.
At one of my schools, two girls spent their entire recess asking me what certain words were in English. Necklace, wall, square, star... I made them tell me the French word first to check my own vocab. Anyway, the crowning moment was when one little girl said a word I didn't understand... "Un moment, un moment," she said, sliding her hand into her shirt and under her armpit. She tried several times to make the noise. "Un moment, un moment" I didn't tell them, though. It might be too inappropriate, but I did learn the word "péter"

Have you ever seen the show Prison Break? It's terrible. Do not watch it, expecially in French. I'm pretty sure the plot is terrible. The only thing I understood was something about "sacrifier les poulets" as in, "You have been sacrificing the chickens." Otherwise, I saw people shoot people, a woman jump out of a truck, and other various, bizarre occurences.
Fabiola and I cracked up. There were no chickens in the show, and, as far as I could tell, it was more about government secrets than sacrificing anything.

Finally, does anyone want to donate some money to fly me home for Christmas?!?
The lowest price I've found is $813, and prices are rising as I type. I really would like to spend Christmas with my family, Kevin, and my friends. I don't know what I'll do otherwise.
Any suggestions?

There's more. There's always more. But, I will save it for next time.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


There is just something great about a country that takes two hour lunch breaks everywhere, everyday. Everyone sits around at a cafe or stands around with a baguette sandwich, and they talk. It's just what you do.
There is also something great about a country in which a pregnant woman, who despite being pregnant looks like a supermodel, would wear a full unitard with a cardigan, just out and about.

France is very laissez faire. Not economically, mind you, there seems to be plent of regulations, but socially it is a free for all. Kind of.

That doesn't really do it justice either. It's just all about sitting around and talking for a 3 hour dinner that begins around 8, and having time to go home and cook yourself a lunch, or buying a sandwich and really taking the time to enjoy it in the park.

I was walking home this evening, and I just really liked France. I don't know if I like my job or if I have any really new best friends for life, but I really like the idea of taking time. It is important here to be relaxed. For instance, I still haven't paid for the place I'm staying. No one seems to care; I'm worried I'll come back to find my stuff in the street. But I don't think it'll happen. They seem to trust I'll get around to it, and I will.

Angers is really beautiful, and we've had what the British girls call "holiday weather" since I've arrived. Even though I'm stressed and tired and a little homesick for familiar things; I have occasional bouts of loving being here. This must be a good thing.

Today, I talked to the other foyer; they have a room open. I have until Friday to decide. Let's just say: private bathroom and nice beds. Plus, they have meals included.

So after an afternoon of walking and my visit with the other foyer, I had dinner with some other girls at a restaurant. I had a small glass of wine, and we had a nice chat. Mostly about being away from boyfriend and crying. It was good.

Afterward was my walk home where I decided how much I love France. It's cool, but not too cool. Various people sat at outdoor cafes, drink or coffee in hand. When two guys sitting at an outdoor café were approached for a cigarette, they didn't hesitate, and everyone involved wished each other a bon soirée.

I reached my foyer and began getting things together for the trek to the shower when I saw this:

Papers will be signed tomorrow.
Good night, all!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I never thought I'd be so glad to see a toilet seat...

So, here I am in France. I know my last post was fairly positive, but let me tell you the true story.
And, in true literary form, though maybe not as subtle, I'll give you some foreshadowing: it gets better.
Jet lag sucks. I've never had it this bad, but here's a sample of my sleeping schedule.
I arrived Thursday.
Thursday: went to sleep at 10:00, woke up at 4:00 am Friday.
Friday: didn't fall asleep.
Saturday. Slept from 7:00am to 8:00 am, the went running, walked around all day, went out with some people and had wine. Didn't fall asleep.
Sunday: Fell asleep around 6:45am and woke up at 10:30 am.
So, you can imagine how I feel.

This next bit I have emailed to someone who is following the blog. So, sorry for that.

On top of the lack of sleep, I basically have the room/living situation from Hades.
I am staying at a foyer, which is similar to a dormitory, though not associated with a particular university. I won't type the french name because I think anyone can look at this, but it's called the Foyer of Good Advice.

The foyer looks beautiful from the outside. It's an older building with Ivy on the walls, there's a gated entrance. (I'll post pictures later). The flowerbed is manicured, and there are flower post on the doorstoop. The entrance way and inner doors have stained glass windows.
Inside it become a bit darker and the lovely dark, old wood takes on a creepier feel. It's a very old house with a huge appendage. Inside this newer, attached building it looks like a hospital.
But, I live in the old building.
My room is hidden in a corner on the 2nd highest floor, you wouldn't know my room was there until after peeking around a staircase. Ah, yes there it is; one might also lock a princess here in a fairy tale. Although it is purely an aesthetic complaint, the wallpaper is faded and stained and reminiscent of a house in a horror film. Every ceiling is cracked and stained.
I have a very nice tall window with a nice view of the trees. But, the bed.
The bed might have been a hospital bed... in the 20s. It has a metal frame and a kind of metal webbing that holds the mattress. It is smaller than the twin bed I slept in as a child, and it sinks distinctly in the middle. Maybe, this is the good advice? Something about roughing it out?
I have a closet with a sink in it.
You'd think there'd be a bathroom somewhere nearby, but that is not the case. Down one flight of stairs and into the "hospital wing" and down the hall, you'll find the closest bathroom.
Now here's the strange thing. The foyer is all-female. There are no men here except for the director, and I think he has a private bathroom.
Not a single toilet in the entire place has a toilet seat. It's just a bowl. And it's not like they were simply made with out seats, you can see on the toilet bowl exactly where a seat is supposed to connect. What became of these toilet seats? Were they stolen one by one years ago? Did they take them off because there was something unsafe about them? Presumbly, sitting on a seat would be safer. Is this good advice? Maybe they're telling me, be a man, pee standing up, life will be easier. Which reminds me, I saw a story on this on the news when I was staying in Lake Charles, and Kevin was in class. Go Girl!
Additionally, the shower heads are not mounted on the wall, so you have to hold it the entire time or put it down and freeze while you shampoo your hair.
I'm not going to mention how little I've showered since I've been here, which leads to an interesting point.
French people are not as obsessed about covering body odor as Americans. This is a fact.
Maybe, they all have horrible bathrooms like mine, and they can't be bothered to deal with them.

I'm not trying to sound like a pity party. I just think this is a very important part of the new place I'm in.

On top of the room, the first two nights were miserable because the other assistants weren't here, or I had no way to contact them.
Saturday, however, I went from being a lonely, crying, miserable princess in the attack who could barely speak to her mom without sobbing to an assistant de langue with 3 new British friends and 2 new Americans friends.
I finally got a French phone, so if anyone wants to call long distance, I'll send it to you!
I get free incoming calls.
So I hooked up with these girls, we shopped Saturday afternoon and went out last night. It was fun and a relief after my 48 hours of sleepless in solitude. We went to a bar the American girls went to last year... They were both here last year. I must mention that this bar is also toilet-seat-less. The evening was topped off by this ridiculously dancing French man. I can't even explain it. One girl got a video. If she posts it, I'll totally put up the link.
One of them, stays in another foyer. It is a clean, newish building with painted walls, no faded florals there. Her furniture is matching, and it has a meal hall included. She has a private bathroom with a toilet and shower. I peed there today.

I've never been so glad to sit on a toilet seat.

Tomorrow, I'm going to see if they have a room open.