Friday, October 30, 2009

How I'm spending my All Saint's Day Vacation

Writing this in bed. I woke up sick yesterday morning. I think it’s just a cold, but I feel sleepy and achy so I'm staying in the house again today. With all this H1N1 stuff going on, Claudine is ensuring that I moniter my temperature constantly. So far no fever, so I think I'm okay. I don’t think anything induces homesickness more than being ill and not having your proper bed to rest up in. On a positive note, I do have some time to catch up on my blog writing.

One of the perks
of working as a teacher in France is the vacation time. And seeing as I am officially working in the system for the next six month, I will also enjoy 8 weeks of it. You read that right my friends: 8 WEEKS. I thought teachers in Toronto had it made with summers and holidays off. But in fact they do not. Teachers in France benefit from almost 8 weeks of vacation (10 days October, 2 weeks at Christmas, 2 weeks in February, and 10 days in April) BEFORE the summer break. Over lunch last week I confided in my fellow French teachers just how little vacation the average teacher in Toronto gets in comparison. They were dumbfounded.

Vraiment? Not even two weeks off for Easter? Mais, no!”

I shrugged, slightly embarrassed, and quickly added, “But school doesn’t start at 8:30 and end at 4:30 like it does here, we start at 9 and end at 3:30.”

As if the extra hour and a half difference everyday somehow equates to 5-6 extra weeks of vacation time…I decided not to tell them that schools in Toronto don’t get 2 hours for lunch either. I didn’t want to spoil their appetite with such a disgusting fact.

But, I digress…

Seeing as I am currently on holiday, I’ve been “profiting” as the French like to say, in this fantastic city. Yesterday I met up with some language assistants in the afternoon for a day of all things touristy. We started off at the Louvre, but after seeing the massive queue outside, and realizing that we should take advantage of the beautiful weather (17 degrees and sunny!) we headed off towards the Arc de Triomphe instead. I think I’ll go back to the Louvre sometime in the dead of winter when the gloomy weather has warded off all the tourists.

As we walked down the Champs-Elysee towards the Arc, we came across a little exhibit on Vogue magazine. Lining the street were posters of various Vogue covers dating back to the 50’s. Couldn’t help but take a few pictures. After the Arc, (we didn’t actually go up because the women at the ticket booth wouldn’t let us go up for free, even though we are entitled to with our long stay visas) we headed off to the lesser populated, but no less beautiful Musee Rodin. I have to say this was perhaps one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. Once inside, I was blown away by the understated elegance of the museum, originally a Hotel, where Rodin spent a lot of his time scultpting. The gardens surrounding the building are impeccably manicured, with rose bushes, shrubs, and pebbled paths neatly lined with trees. They provide a perfect backdrop for the sculptures scattered within them. It was wonderfully quiet inside, as if we’d stepped into another universe, far away from the bustle of the city. If ever I need to get away from it all, I just have to take my book and plop myself down on a chez-lounge by the fountain.

Although the museum is small, it is intimate and unpretentious. Natural light pours in through each window giving the sculptures a luminous glow (as if they needed any help). Many of them aren’t even enclosed in glass casing; you can put your face right up to the kiss and actually see the lovers' white hot marble embrace. Definitely a museum that evokes all the senses.

At one point before leaving, I found myself looking out an open window gazing out at the skyline of Paris. With my hands grasping the iron railing and the evening air on my face I had one of those moments where it hit me. Stevie, for the next six months, you get to live here. How lucky am I?

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Today while playing the Hi, how are you today? game with the little french kiddies I misheard a students response to why he was sad as "because my father is dead" instead of "because I miss my father." Shocked, I responded back in English, "you're sad because you're father is dead?" He nodded with a solemn face, clearly not understanding me, and asked me to teach him how to say it in English.

"You say, 'I am sad because my father is dead,' okay? Repeat after me:"

Thankfully another student who was watching our conversation overheard the miscommunication and promptly corrected me.

"Mais, Maîtresse! Son père n'est pas mort! Son père lui manque!"


These early morning starts really mess with my comprehension. Or so I'd like to think.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Le transit, le Goûter, et les rêves français

I've realized that I've been only posting once a week (Sundays are usually the best days for me to write). But I hope to change that as I did acquire an Ethernet cord yesterday and now have a more stable internet connection. Hurrah!

Alas, homesickness has started to set in as I knew it would. My french is getting slightly better and I am adjusting to life here in France, but I am missing my hunny something dreadful. Thankfully, with my stable internet connection, I was able to see him over Skype yesterday. Bliss! Which reminds me, if anyone wants to chat over skype, add me! It's a bit tricky with the time difference, but I'm sure we can work something out.

As I am feeling more comfortable in my surroundings, and seem to find my way to work without any trouble, I've pushed back my morning commute time by half an hour so I arrive 15 mins early instead 45 mins early. But there are some disadvantages that come with traveling during peak hours. Last Thursday I experienced several of them.

After arriving at my first transfer I raced to catch the train along with at least a thousand other people. I didn't make it on my first try, and when the second train arrived I thought ''oh, there is no way I'm going to fit in there.'' And before I could finish the thought I was squished into the train by a woman in neon yellow vest. I felt like I was on the train in Tokyo. I spent the next five stops pressed up against an old French fellow who smelt like he'd not only had a few, but perhaps spent the night with his mouth under the beer tap. Can I just say that it was 7 AM!

At the next junction, I noticed that something didn't seem right. There were far too many people standing around and not enough train movement. I started to panic as I couldn't really understand what the woman on the overhead announcement was saying. She was speaking too fast. Eventually I figured out that there had been an electrical failure and we needed to board another train at another track. I followed the crowd, tried my best to understand the announcements and hoped for the best. Long story short, I arrived an hour and twenty mins late for work. And on the way back it was the same thing. In total I spent two and a half hours at work and five hours on the train. Blegh. Oh well, at least there wasn't a strike.

I still haven't been out doing touristy things around Paris yet. I really should be, but I just haven't found the will power to go by myself sight seeing after I get home from work. On my days off I sleep in, eat, help clean up around the house, look for apartments online,write e-mails, go for a run, eat some more and then make my lesson plans, etc. After this week, I'll have two weeks off, so I plan to do some sightseeing and traveling around then. I'm trying to not be so hard on myself about it. I have to keep reminding myself I've still only been here just short of three weeks.

What experience I've lacked in Parisian nightlife and culture, I've certainly made up for in french cuisine. There is deliciousness all around me. I've really taken to ''le Goûter'', a meal around 16:30, (similar to high tea), dedicated to all things bready and sweet. It's perfectly acceptable to slather nutella on everything, to have pain au chocolat twice a day, and of course, to eat half a baguette with every meal. I can't quite seem to understand how the country isn't obese, although I have seen some larger people too. Sorry Madame Guiliano, some french women DO get fat. Even as I've been writing this, Claudine has asked me seveal times if I have eaten something yet, and why don't I come eat some breakfast. Had to take a break to have a bowl of cereal and taste the artisan bread she had just bought fresh from the market.

Last week during my lunch hour I found myself with out any baguette to munch on, and suddenly the meal became lacking. What was I supposed to sop up my stew withÉ* My handÉ Pffft. Where was the breadÉ

*(Oh btw, my keyboard has turned itself french so I no longer have use of my question mark key. From now on, or until I figure out how to change it, this symbol: (É) represents question mark.)

Thankfully the weather is more temperate here and I've been out running lots. Yesterday I even accompagnied Lisa to the local pool. Claudine told me I was to make her swim lengths with me, but after about 6 lengths Lisa was tired, bored and itching to get in to the wave pool. I was equally as tired of trying to make a 7 year old do something she didn't not want to do, so off to the wave pool we went and stayed there until I told Lisa I was getting dizzy from all the head stands and waves. Floating around in an over heated wave pool counts as exercise, rightÉ

My father will be happy to know that I have finally started dreaming in french. They aren't long dreams, and who knows if the french is even correct, but my subconscious is working hard to make sure I'm fully submerged in the language at all times. At this rate, I'm bound to be fluent by Christmas!

...yeah right.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bank Accounts, Job Search, and cell phones issues

This past Friday I went to get my new bank card for my recently opened French bank account. Unfortunately, the location of my branch is not close to where I am staying at the moment, but it was the only bank that would make an immediate appointment with me last week when I was frantically searching to open a bank account to give to my employer in order to get payed. I guess that's what you get when you leave things to the last minute. Whatever. I prefer to think of my tendency towards procrastination as "living on the edge."

When I went to my "rendez-vous" last week to open the account (Aulivia's mum Claudine kindly drove me there) I was met by a jovial woman who offered us coffee and croissants before we got down to business. I had to look over a number of documents, none of which I really understood properly, so I just nodded at the appropriate moments, smiled, and signed away on the dotted line.

As a little bonus for opening up an account with the bank, I was told to select a free gift. I had a choice between a digital picture frames, mp3 players, or points towards something else from the vast catalogue. I ended up choosing the points; I've got my eye set on a sweet solar powered back-pack.

The account was ready right away, but I had to wait a week to come pick up my debit card. So after a quick look on google map (thank you god for Google map!), 20 minutes on the train, 10 minutes of wandering around lost and confused (only 10 minutes!) and 30 minutes on the bus, I was the proud owner of my very own French Visa/debit card. But, as the nice woman at the bank reminded me with worry in her voice, "You don't have any money in the account!" I assured her that that I was aware, that in fact I did have some money in another bank and that this account was just so I could receive my paycheck. And with that I smiled and wished her a bonne journee, feeling rather proud of myself.

The next thing on my To Do list was to start looking for an apartment and another job. After replying to a few offers on Craigslist, I felt slightly better about the whole thing. Just a matter of waiting for the response to come rolling in, no?

Feeling like I was on a roll, I decided I'd try to figure out how to finally change the voice-mail greeting on my phone, which was currently still Lauren's (Aulivia's sister) voice. The task proved to be a bit more confusing that I has anticipated. I couldn't really understand the options, and thus didn't know what numbers to press. After struggling for a few minutes, I was starting to get panicky. What if someone was trying to call me about a job/apartment and after hearing "Hi you've reached Lauren, leave a message" they got confused and decided they'd reached the wrong number. Gah! Everyone was out except for Claudine who was sleeping after working a night shift at the hospital. I wasn't about to wake up her up to help me with my phone, so I enlisted the help of the only other native French speaker in the house; Aulivia's 7 year old sister Lisa-Marie.

"Lisa, can you help me with my phone?"

I put the phone on speaker, and asked her if she could just tell me when she heard the appropriate option for recording a voice-mail greeting.

"Can you tell me when she says something about a recording, Lisa? Just tell me which number she says to press. Do you think you could do that? "

It took about 3 minutes to realize that even though my little friend speaks French fluently, I had probably misjudged the potential technical savvy of a 7 year old child, or rather lack thereof. She starting hitting different buttons, held the phone to her ear, pressed some more buttons, giggled nervously, and then I lost her completely to the Lady Gaga music video that was playing on TV. Lisa likes Lady Gaga like an addict might enjoy their drug of choice. She kinda just drops everything, stands there glossy eyed, eerily still, with a crazed expression on her face, until the video is over. It's disturbing and makes me wonder whether or not there is something about Lady G that I'm missing out on.

I decided to calm down, remind myself that I most likely would not be receiving any calls from anyone for a few days, and wait patiently until Aulivia returned home from class to help me out. Besides, at least I was the new owner of my very own French bank account. Even if there isn't any money in it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My First Day

My apologies due to my internet problems/crazy schedule, I haven't really sat down to write at all.

Here I go! Fingers crossed that it doesn't cut out on me half way through.

Yesterday was our first day in our respective schools and I have to say I was a bit anxious to meet the children and start. I had to get up at 5:35 am to get ready and catch the 6:21 train. Ugh, these early morning starts are going to kill me. The commute to Evry from Roissy-en-Brie takes me 1h 30 mins and 3 different trains on the RER. At 8 am I met some other language assistants at la gare de Courcouronne and we walked over to meet our Conseilleur Pedagogique at the inspection together which was nice. I feel like I would have been completely lost on my own. I was pleased to see that my schedule allows me to have long weekends; I work Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8h30-16h30 each day with an hour for lunch. I work at two schools not far from one another. Yesterday we were there just to observe the classes and determine the level of their English, etc. etc. I was a bit shocked when the principal took me to the first class. The teacher looked about my age (she told me later that she is in fact 25, "but, shhhh, don't tell the students"). The kids are 10 years old and in the French equivalent of the 5th grade. Luckily for me they are quite respectful, listen to their teacher and even stand up when an adult enters the room. At one point one student was causing some mischief and got sent out into the hall. When he was allowed to come back in he had to explain what he had done and apologize to the class (not without a few tears, the poor thing).
The English lesson was hilarious. The teachers are obliged to teach the English classes themselves and it became apparent that they really need the help of an English assistant (I'm not really one to judge though at the moment, my accent in French is terrible!). The teacher began to play some games with the students in English for their half hour lesson and spoke to them almost all the time in English. They played "Simon Says" which they seemed to really enjoy. I didn't want to say anything because I was just there to observe, but there were several times I wanted to correct the teacher.

"Simon sayes to bwush yo 'eir" or "Simon sayes to dwink a coca cola"

I had to bite my tongue, but it was adorable.

At lunch I went to the caf with the students. The principal told me that I would eat lunch there for free that day, which I tentatively agreed to as I wasn't too keen on eating caf food, but also wasn't going to turn down a free meal. I should've remembered I was in France. I was served a hot lunch of ORGANIC beef stew with noodles, fresh frisee salad, a hunk of baguette with chevre, and grapes for dessert. Canadian schools take note; you need to start doing lunch like the french. Seriously.

And then it was off to the other school where my day got better and better. I have to say I love my second school already. The students are so eager to learn English and they have the advantage of having a great teacher. Thankfully he speaks English really well and I was welcomed into the class immediately. When he told them it was time for their English lesson, they all grabbed little decorated name tags and placed them on their desks. I soon realized that for their English class they have all adopted English names of their choice. One little guy called Mamadou, preferred the name "Bob" for his English alias, another girl chose "Cindy". We played some games together, one of which was a huger success. The teacher wrote some celebrity names on the board like Michael Jackson, Christian Ronaldo, Bruce Lee, etc. and then I student had to come to the front of the class to act out a person of their choice while the other students had to guess and then ask "who are you?" Needless to say, all the boys are completely enamored with the football (soccer) players. One little guy exclaiming "Renaldo is my brotha!"

By the time they had their gym class their curiosity about me had reached it's peak. As we walked together outside, their neat lines of two quickly developed into a swarm around me. I was bombarded with questions: "Do you speak French? How old are you? Are you married? How long are you going to be here? How long does it take on the TGV to get to Canada? and my favourite, "Can you stay with us forever?" My celebrity status only heightened when I accidentally answered "yes" to a girl who asked me if I had met Hannah Montana and Beyonce in really life (in my defense it really did sound like she was asking me if I knew of them). Before I could correct the mistake she was already half way down the hall informing all her friends that I knew H.M. and Beyonce personally. I'm not sure I have the heart to tell her otherwise. Plus, this type of appeal might come in handy for me...

The icing on the cake was at the end of the day the day the Principal insisted she drive me to the train station and told me that if there was ever a Train strike (apparently they happen all the time. (side note: this is a country of strikes...even the Lawyers here go on strike. THE LAWYERS!))that I was welcome to stay at her house and she would drive me to school. How is it possible that I've found people in France that are nicer than Canadians?!

All in all, a good start to the school year.

Now if I could only find a place to live in Paris...