Monday Musings

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Vintage Santa

I can’t believe it’s already been a week since my last post. Oh how time is flying. Maybe it’s just the time of the year, but I can’t believe it’s already December and I’m reaching the half way point of my time here. I want to pull the emergency breaks and slow everything down, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re enjoying your time. It really does fly when you’re having fun.

In the past few weeks I’ve visited Strasbourg, Paris and Lyon for fun, friends, and fete des lumieres. I’ve also spent much of my time at the noel marche, searching for christmas presents but ultimately warming myself in the food hut with vin chaud and good company….and of course seeing bizarre daily spectacles including a family of singing clowns, French Texas two-steppin line dancers, Pere Noel or Saint Nicolas himself and my personal favorite, Père Fouettard, or the Whipping Father. We are luckily far enough North that we have privilege of the German influence of not one, but two Santa figures. In the U.S. if you are naughty, you are threatened with coal and a lack of presents. Here, children get the Père Fouettard, a man dressed in black who not only carries a whip but uses it freely to scare naughty children nice. Unfortunately my enthusiasm to witness the Whipping Father did not go unnoticed as he beelined it over to my table. Luckily for me, he couldn’t squeeze over to my spot, but Maribel was not so fortunate. We got a good laugh out of it all, while the table full of children next to us cringed in anticipation and fear. Who knew the holidays could be so horrifying?

Vin Chaud Tower...I had help!

Vin Chaud Tower…I had help!

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Pere Noel

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Maribel was not spared the wrath of Père Fouettard

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Texas in France??

In other news, I had quite the Frenchventure when I decided to get a hair trim with Maggy. I realized there are many things you say when cutting your hair- things I did not have the French vocabulary for. Trim, thin hair, fuller, trying to grow it out, want to keep the length, but get rid of the bob- are among the words and phrases I wanted to say. I worked up a good bit of butterflies, wondering how I would communicate something I had never prepared for. However, we came equipped with pictures and a print out of french vocabulary words. We were nervous, but happy we had a safety net of pictures and words. But nothing is ever quite that simple. As the woman spoke quickly and gestured at my hair in swift movements, suddenly all of my practice phrases previously memorized vanished from my mind. It soon became a Me Talk Pretty One Day scenario as I pointed at pictures and brokenly tried to express what I wanted. “I try for the long hairs. This was a bob but I don’t want. I like the fringe of her. But I want more long. My hairs are tiny. Will that work?” She kindly laughed and nodded in some sort of sign of comprehension. Thankfully it was successful and I left happy. Thank god for patient stylists and pictures.

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Happy Haircut!

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Besancon

So as my father so deliberately pointed out, it has almost been a week since my last post. Correction. I think today marks the week point. So in order to combat the risk of this blog becoming yet another thing that should be a source of enjoyment, but instead turns into a source of stress, I figured it’s about time I recounted my Besancon trip.

Beautiful Besancon at the golden hour (Or as I often say to Ella “money light”)

A basic summation of the trip is best described by my facebook post “One citadelle complete with baboon soap operas and lion/tiger rivalries, 10 euros for 10 shots, a night full of gagnam style dancing in the streets, lots of spanglish, frenglish, and other mixes of languages, 1 strange dancing german toast, much delirium and even more laughter later, I have returned from Besancon. Time to catch up on 4 days of sleep. But oh what a great trip it was.” ….is it weird that I just quoted my own facebook post??

Besancon was a wonderful first excursion to have for many reasons (most of which are noted above). Venturing outside of Montbeliard, exploring an old city, learning more about the region, bonding with assistants, speaking with native frenchies somewhere around my age, finally dancing, completing one more paperwork hurdle, commiserating with other assistants about orientation boredom, and feeling the satisfaction of a four course french meal cooked by a quirky french host woman, are among the pros of the trip. After buying my Carte 17-25 (which gives me half off train tickets), me and four other assistants, Diego, Maggy, Maribel and Jose (two Americans, one Mexican and one Panamen(?) hopped on the train. It was nice to see that even the seemingly rundown looking trains not only functioned, but provided a quick, smooth and surprisingly pleasant trip. I’d gotten all too familiar with the underground world of the T where surprise stops, unrelenting creepers, crying babies, loud incomprehensible announcements, and increasingly more agitated people were commonplace. I welcomed the beautiful country side, the good company, the audible announcements and realization that in fact we had arrived early. Qu’est-ce que c’est ca?

Tourists

Mas Tourists

We greeted Besancon in full fledged tourist attire- dragging bags and pulling out cameras as we wandered around until we eventually found the cobblestone streets leading to our hotel. Besancon is old and beautiful but is also unfortunately under a ridiculous amount of construction because of the addition of a new tramway. But even through the construction, we were able to experience the beauty of this enchantingly old city (not quite sure how old but apparently during the 4th century it’s name was changed to Besontio, which later led to the transformation of Besancon…so it’s pretty darn old).

After checking into our conveniently located hotel (what? we don’t need to put down a deposit and our keys are already in the door??), we explored the area and stumbled upon an old flea market. It took everything in my artist/hoarder power not to purchase a multitude of chachkies. I saw so much potential in the old frames, worn text books, a rusting owl brooch- but as a survivor of a recent painful purge-o-stuff process, I kept on walking. Some how we were led to an environmental fair where rows of tiny huts promoted and sold fair trade, organic, and local items. And some how we managed to purchase the last crepe of the evening, relishing in the savory goodness of our prize.

He even put on his apron specially for us

Fast forward to 4 bottles of wine, 3 baguettes, 2 cheeses, and one dance lesson including dougie, cupid shuffle, superman, and most importantly gangnam style, and we were ready to check out the Besancon night life. In short, the night was a blast and I learned that french people love to speak English to you even if you answer in French, that 10 is definitely too early to arrive at the bar but if you don’t give a damn, they won’t either, and having Latin men as dance partners is fun, educational, and actually quite painful (legs and hip flexors suffered the next day…or maybe I’m just that out of shape…). Surprisingly enough we managed to get up by 8:30 the next day, which actually wasn’t that difficult considering we had five people crammed in one room.

Citadelle Monkeys

With several museums, an insectarium, an aquarium, a noctarium, and a zoo all within it’s 17th century walls, the Citadelle was quite the cite to see. Apparently by the early 1700s, it was one of the strongest fortifications in France during that period, but let’s be honest- the animals made it pretty damn cool too. It was by far one of the most unique zoo experience I’ve had. Normally, zoos depress me, but watching weird assed lion monkeys roam around ruins and climb on ancient citadel steps was too interesting to feel sad. Besides, they weren’t even in cages. During the day I communicated with strange piglets, entered a bird cage, witnessed a lion challenging a tiger (each within their own respective cages) followed by a strong tiger roar, and watched the baboon equivalent of an intoxicating reality tv show- monkey hierarchy, fights amongst the females, struggles to protect the newborn and teenage antics- Who needs the discovery channel when you have this?? We left the citadelle feeling both thoroughly exhausted and entertained as well as completely unprepared for the next two days of orientation and mandatory medical visits.

Luckily I survived both- though the medical visit was quite awkward as a tiny french doctor asked me rapid questions, while taping on various parts of my back and then pushed me against an x-ray machine, because apparently I didn’t understand how close one needs to get to be registered by said machine. But I FINALLY received my official documents from the France side and am one step closer to being done with paperwork hell! Social security, reimbursement and bank card, here I come!

There is much more I would like to recount or discuss- the lovely dinner (spoken entirely in french!) with the quirky divorcee who houses foreign students or visitors and who hosted me and an Australian assistant before our Dr’s appointment, the historical and cultural differences between Catholic Besancon and Protestant Montbeliard, the weirdness that is English language (or so I’m learning) and of course my first week of teaching. But for now I must say adieu and enjoy the pictures!

“What do you want??”

Today marks the end of my observation period- or at least according to technicalities. For the past two weeks I’ve been thinking about how to summarize the French school system, the teachers, the classrooms, what highschool in France is like, but ultimately I cannot actually make sweeping statements about such things. All I can do is note what I’ve observed.

The jury’s still weighing the pros and cons of these particular high schools, but so far I’ve noted a few key things. High schools here, at least the two I’ve witnessed, are treated almost like college in America. The rooms are bare and decoration is sparse because no room is for one teacher. Instead the rooms are rotated on a daily basis, leaving no teacher ownership of any particular space. On the one hand I got tired of teachers being so possessive of what could be utilized as a community space in the states, but on the other hand, there is something to creating a unique environment designated for your own particular class.

Teachers are more like college professors here. They take their breaks seriously- this is time for coffee and chatting. They will vent about their classes and then move on to other topics. They do not cram in grading or last minute lesson planning. They leave right when it’s time to leave, not 10 minutes prior to the start of class for prep, so that by the time they come to their room, the students are waiting outside. Once invited in to the room, students must stand until they are told to sit, at which point they talk and gossip while the teacher scans the room for a quick attendance check. The lessons vary from teacher to teacher but are generally more laid back than the lessons I received in high school. However, they’re more multicultural than the ones I received, and I felt like I had a fairly multicultural education… It’s fascinating to watch a language course delve into green energy, stereotypes and bias, the history of the Aboriginal culture and the oppression in Australia, the caste system in India, and the fractioning of the English language into a family of dialects like Spanglish and Singlish (in Singapore) and Taglish (in the Philippines). I’m excited to come up with my own lessons.

Of course there are many more observations I have noted, but for now I will share a few of the common questions that students love to ask.

Common Questions I’ve Received:

1. What’s your name/Where do you come from? I usually get gasps of excitement and hand gestures that resemble pistols in the air, or what I can only assume are gestures that only cowboys would do, when I say that I’m from Texas. This is then followed by heightened excitement when I tell them I was born in Los Angeles, but only leads to disappointment when I say that I’ve never actually been there aside from the 9 months or so of my infancy, and ultimately leads to confusion when I say that I’ve been living in Massachusetts for the past 6 years. I think I should just stick to Texas. But even then, one student asked me “Do they speak English in Texas?”, at which point I knew it was time to get out a map.

2. Why did you come here (To France)? No why did you come here (To Montbeliard)?? There is usually a common interest as to why I came to France but an even greater interest in why the hell I came to Montbeliard. It’s a bit of a let down to tell them that I didn’t in fact choose it, but was instead placed here (and I don’t dare tell them that it was definitely not my first pick). I started off with some BS answers but then realized there was actually some truth to the fact that I never previously visited the Franche-Comte region, that I am intrigued about the proximity to Germany and Switzerland and the accent that ensues, and that I’ve been dying to live in a small French town ever since I biked around on my own along the tiny roads of St. Cast 12 years ago. Of course all of this is said with much more simplicity.

3. What’s your favorite French food? This is always a tricky one to answer because I have to first break the news that, “Sorry guys. I’m vegetarian”, which usually creates a room full of “ohhhhsss” as if to say “c’nest pas possible!”, “how can this be?!”. But I usually redeem myself when I say cheese. Lots and lots of cheese. Especially because this region is known for their Comte. But it takes a while for them to grasp the concept. “So chicken?” “No chicken.” “Fish?” “No. No fish”. “Nothing? No beef? No sausage? No bacon? No sausage???” “No. No meat. Nothing that had eyes. But I do eat eggs.” “Ok…” The fact that I consume dairy gives me some credit. I can’t imagine if I was vegan.

4. Do you have a boyfriend? This one is always asked by the boys and always starts off somewhere in the back as a quiet question. Then the surrounding group starts laughing and he gets up the courage to ask it so that I and the whole class can hear. The first time, I moved on to another question because I wasn’t really sure about the appropriateness or what the policy was like, but then I wised up to the laid back frenchness and tried to answer with a simple “Yes.” This however, usually leads to more questions, disappointment (feigned by most I assume) and giggles at which point I moved on to other questions. Lycee Viette is particularly interesting when it comes to this topic as it is a vocational school comprised almost entirely of boys who apparently don’t see many younger women on a daily basis. I’m hoping the ‘I love yous’ and ‘beautiful’s were just a way of practicing the limited vocabulary they know, but needless to say, this is definitely new territory. When I told them I was 24, I heard one whisper in the back (in french) “Awww. She’s too old for us”, at which point I chuckled and another student noted “Elle comprend!” Damn right I understand. I just hope I can keep on understanding…

5. Are American highschools like the movies? This one amuses me as students seem to have a romantic notion of American high schools. One student even asked, “Were you a cheerleader?” It was hard for me not to respond, “Ha! Cheerleader? If only you knew…” but instead I managed a simple, “No.” I tried to explain that every high school is different, that not all high schools are obsessed with football and that there are actually quite a few similarities to the ones I’ve seen so far in France. They seemed disappointed until one asked, “Do they have lockers?”. “Well yes. Most of them I think. Mine did at least.” She gave me a large smile and proceeded to excitedly talk with her friends. At least I could give them lockers…

6. And finally my personal favorite, What do you want? Ok. So this one wasn’t a common question, but rather one from a particular student who seemed to only know how to ask, “What do you want?” At first I laughed and tried to guess “what am I doing here?” “what do I want to do in France?” , but he kept repeating “What do you want?”. And while I think ultimately, he wanted to know something else, I felt it was a valid question. Especially right now in my life. And while I don’t have the time to delve into the quarter life crisis questions that ultimately translate to “What do I want”, it was interesting to be asked by someone other than myself. I quickly came up with an answer about wanting to learn french, wanting to teach in another country, wanting to see how English is taught, wanting to travel and to learn. Ultimately I guess those things speak to some deeper desires of wanting to see, to explore, to challenge, to questions, to stop, to think, to play, to create, to grow and hopefully to learn- about France, people, different places and hopefully myself.

But enough metacognitive ranting. It’s Friday, most of my paperwork is done and a group of assistants and I are going to Besancon tomorrow for some good ol’ fashion exploring and boite de nuit (night box= night club) dancing. So right now, it’s pretty safe to say that what I want is to start the weekend!

Enfin! C’est un blog!

So this is my first time writing a blog, and so far learning how it works is as easy as learning how to communicate in French. Needless to say- bare with me. I have FINALLY arrived in France after months of submitting paper work, writing french essays, squirreling away money like a greedy pre-hibernation rodent, convincing new teachers to vouch for me, having moments of France bound panic, taking night classes in Cambridge and oh and let’s not forget 12 years of dreaming…and I can’t believe that it’s all real. A dream of mine has actually become a reality! I’d like to take a moment here to thank all the little people- haha no- all of the really important people in my life who have helped me get here with their constant support and love. As cliché as it may be, I really would not be here without my friends and family.

Je suis arrivee

So France. I don’t know how to quite sum up the past 2 1/2 weeks. It’s been a whirlwind of traveling, paperwork, french, excitement, panic, awe, some more excitement and lots more French. Antoine and I traveled 24 hours from Austin to New York to London to Lyon and then from there a bus to Grenoble and a car ride from a dedicated friend of Antoine’s to our final destination, Braincon. I never want to do that again. I was too delirious and sleep deprived to take in the initial wonder of finally arriving in France. All I wanted was a bed.

Too much stuff

But I survived and we spent another whirlwind of a day in his home (Briancon) only to wake our asses up at dawn, pack up his car and drive 6 hours to Montbeliard. After projectile vomiting on the side of a mountain (TMI? I think we had food poisoning or really bad jet lag or a combination of both in addition to the constant winding roads that you must take to exit his mountain town), and braving torrential down pours, I made it to Montbeliard like a little rat dog- shaky and soaking. But I met my coordinator, Veronique, who was instantly warm and helpful. She showed me a little bit of the school but most importantly la salle des profs (teacher’s room) and then showed me to my room. Aside from the strong pickle smell coming from my pipes, the tiny shared fridge in our kitchen and the semi broken tiny shower, it’s really quite nice. I have a decently sized room to myself, a kitchen and bathroom just for me and two other assistants- Ilka, from Germany and Diego, from Mexico, a great location for my job (the school is a courtyard away), and close proxemitiy to le centre ville. And I only pay 80 euros a month! Tough to beat. Every time that I get irritated with the pickle stench that greets me as I enter my room, I remind myself that this room is helping me with a trip to Prague, a weekend in Besancon and many more adventures to come.

Bienvenue a Montbeliard

In an effort to not rant too much more (I have French paperwork calling my name), I will try to summarize my experiences here. Montbeliard is beautiful. It’s bigger than I expected but the ‘night life’ is smaller than I expected, as in non-existent…..as in not even restaurants are open on a Friday night. Ok there are a few, but it’s scarce. Maybe I have yet to explore the right areas of Montbeliard…but it’s not that big. We have a beautiful chateau, an old city center, a plethora of vibrant flowers (we’re a four flower city…apparently that’s the highest flower rating a city can get- it’s a weird French thing), beautiful rolling hills and lots of fog and rain. I have returned to New England. There are a few key differences though. It seems as though you can have multiple seasons all in one day. The morning usually starts off foggy and cold and turns into a full fledged summer or spring day by the late afternoon. And supposedly the seasons don’t last forever. Fall exists until early November and snow stays only for a month or two- not SIX!! Sorry. Still a little bitter about being robbed of spring for the last 6 years. I hope it’s different here….

Well of course it’s different here and so far I’m loving it. There are times when it can be overwhelming  not to know the language, but I’ve been surprised at my abilities to carry on a conversation or accomplish important tasks entirely in French. Living with roomies who communicate in French is also very helpful. Working in a highschool and speaking French with the teachers is beneficial as well. I’m working at two different schools- with 9 English professors in one and 3 in another. So far, I’ve only been observing the classes for the past 2 weeks. I start the teaching process next week which is both scary and exciting. I will have to write a different post entirely on the french school system, the teachers and the students because there is far too much to say. In so many words- France = relaxed and high school students aren’t scary but hilarious and adorable.

For now, that’s it. But this is only the beginning….