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.