I am sorry I have been missing in action these past few weeks! I finally moved out of the family’s house and into my apartment, as was originally agreed upon back in October. I now live around the corner from them on the 7th floor of an apartment building.
The novelty of watching the Eiffel Tower twinkling every night still hasn’t worn off! I love to look out my window at the glittering monument, sipping Cointreau and eating chocolate.
Moving was…sweaty! I made 6 trips holding my possessions in many shopping bags (heavy suitcases would be impossible in this lovely building which lacks an elevator). Have you ever walked up 7 flights of stairs while holding bags of sweaters, shoes, and shampoo 6 times in a row? I don’t recommend it…I really missed the Greek volunteers who carried all my sh*t up to TP3 my freshman year of college!
I am now settled in, and I am unbelievably happy in my little studio! Despite the fact that the shower only has 5 minutes of hot water, I am just getting internet in the room TOMORROW after a whole month, and the tiny “kitchen,” I am overjoyed to have my own space! I don’t even mind the stairs (all 126 of them) that I climb at least twice per day. I have only gone running once since I moved in, but I am pretty sure I am more fit after getting used to the stairs!
Thanksgiving came and went. Clearly, I am in France, so I had to work that day. There are restaurants where you can pay 30 euros for the whole meal, and some of the other assistants tried to organize a dinner, but no one really had a big enough apartment and we couldn’t even find an oven to cook anything in! I ended up celebrating Thanksgiving at Bruno’s apartment for our weekly poker night. Kelly was the only other American, but we pulled it together to make an only slightly sub-par Thanksgiving, or Tanksgeeving, as the French say! Thanksgiving, for me, is mostly about spending the day with family, eating good food, and being thankful for the good things you have in life. Even though I really, really missed the delicious food we make at home, and of course my family, I at least was surrounded by the closest thing I have to family here, and got to eat a decent meal. That week, in my classes, I asked my students to go around and say what they were thankful for.
I have enjoyed visiting the marché de Noël on the Champs-Elysées to drink vin chaud, eat treats such as waffles or kebabs, and shop for gifts! The market is open every day from a few weeks ago all the way through January. They blast choral Christmas music on speakers up and down the street, there are beautiful light decorations, Christmas trees, and attractions for the kids. I wish there were markets like this in the US!
I saw the movies Contagion, Moneyball, and Twilight. It’s funny to see them with French subtitles! It was especially odd to see Moneyball and watch scenes of Oakland, then leave the theater and be back in France! (Sidenote: why do they show Brad Pitt driving across the Bay Bridge to go from the Colliseum to his house? Does he really live in SF while working for the A’s?! Hollywood people, write that into the plot if you are going to use the Bay Bridge in your movies!)
Funny French things
I have now had ample time to observe some aspects of French culture that alternately awe me, annoy me, and confuse me.
Obsession with penmanship: In Gabrielle and Edgar’s homework, there is a lot of emphasis on penmanship. The teachers are constantly writing comments about Gabrielle needing to improve her handwriting, and Myrtille congratulates her when she writes neatly and correctly. If any of the letters are written wrong, the answer is wrong. Gabrielle has entire lessons on how to specifically spell out numbers and when you put a dash or not. I only remember learning how to write cursive in third grade; it seems to be a much more serious affair here!
Etiquette: Myrtille is constantly telling the kids to eat a certain way (hands always on the table, hold your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right hand and keep them there the whole meal, etc.) and Gabrielle even has a book that describes how princesses should eat, and also how to cook and serve certain ingredients.
No sheets: French people only use a top sheet if they use a quilt. If you use a comforter, you don’t get a top sheet. It’s actually much easier to make the bed this way!
Non-refrigerated dairy: Eggs and pasteurized milk are not refrigerated in the grocery store, they just sit on the shelf. Eek!
Bureaucracy: They suck at it. All I need to finish validating my visa so that I can stay past 90 days is this little sticker that is found in my file at the OFII office where I had my doctor’s appointment. I watched several people ahead of me in line receive their sticker, free at last from the endless paperwork involved with this process. When my turn came, there was no sticker in my file. The man helping me even went to a different office to look for it, and came up with nothing. He had no idea why, and gave me his contact information, telling me to call him if he hadn’t contacted me in the next few days. That was 4 weeks ago, and I still haven’t heard from him or gotten any response to my calls or emails. Finally, I gave up and just went back to the office. A woman helped me, and she found the sticker in my file – it had been stapled behind the wrong paper, so that is why no one could find it! The original man I had met with came over and said he didn’t want to respond to my email until he found the sticker. Soooo different from the US! But all is well, and now I am legally allowed to stay here the whole 9 months.
My French has plateaued; apparently this is normal. Although my French has stopped improving for the moment, my English is apparently getting worse. No joke, it took me an entire week to remember the words “incest” and “Segway.” Don’t ask me why I needed to know those words!
I finally feel like I know what I am doing in class. My first hurdle was just getting used to the schedule! Some classes rotate every four weeks, and some classes come every week. Another difficulty was the inconsistency in what each teacher wants from me. With two teachers, I stay in the class while they teach. These are my favorite classes, because they plan the lessons and lead the class, and then I assist them by leading mini discussions, writing things on the board, answering translation questions, correcting pronunciation, etc. Sometimes I create a lesson but they will help me execute it. One of these teachers is much more free with her lesson plans; we usually start with some sort of concrete lesson, but we end up spinning off into random discussions. We usually have little spats about British vs. American words and pronunciations. (I would hate for these kids to go to America saying things like “knickers” and “bugger”) The teacher always takes words I say in passing, like mooch or bunny, and writes them on the board. They will all be speaking like a California girl by the end of the year! It is really fun to teach English and pay more attention to how people speak, what things mean, etc. I never realized how many weird things I say constantly, like “not my cup of tea,” “can’t make heads or tails of it,” “all ears” and things like that.
I have some classes where the students are preparing for an oral exam at the end of the year. Every class I have a different student who has to speak to me for 10-15 minutes about a text. I listen and correct their grammar and pronunciation, then ask questions to provoke spontaneous speech. I enjoy this work because I have found that one-on-one work is more satisfying and easier.
I teach the rest of my classes on my own. These were the ones that terrified me at the beginning, and sometimes brought me to tears. I am only supposed to be given 8-10 students at a time, but I usually have 10-15. Depending on the group, they will not speak at all, will not listen at all, or participate and seem interested and like they are improving. Now that I know the students better, I can tailor the lessons to each group.
Despite some difficulties, I enjoy the job overall, and I have decided to apply to renew my contract for another year! I would teach in the same school.
That’s all I have time for, but I should be able to give more updates once I have internet in my room.