Korean Contradictions: Discipline

It’s midway through the week. As I enter our cubicle he’s blasting heartfelt opera and whistling along with the accuracy of a Disney songbird. Standing barely more than 5 feet tall, he pops his head just above the divider with a cheerful “good mawning” and a deep, whimsical laugh. His eyes simultaneously hold the wisdom of an aged wizard and the shiny joy of a youthful sprite. But don’t be fooled, within seconds the stick of order and the booming voice of justice will emerge. Meet Mr. Kim, the disciplinarian.

My desk just happens to be the center stage for all the comings and goings of disciplinary action. On a daily basis I witness my middle school students being punished and scolded in a variety of ways. And each day I am left even more confused. True, the language barrier leaves big gaps in the story, but a slap on the head or whack with the stick needs little to no translation.

To be clear, my school is a somewhat private middle school that has strict dress codes. The students all wear uniforms and the girls cannot have nail polish, make up, or curly hair (what?!), while the boys must maintain a certain bowl cut that is neither too long nor too short. Within the past week alone I witnessed a girl’s face being forcefully scrubbed to rid herself of make up, a boy planking face down on arms and legs in the hall for who knows what, and another girl wiping away tears as her hair was clutched and gestured at.

To my Western teacher trained eyes, where we’re taught to overly pamper and not lay even a finger on students, these scenes are horrifying. But here’s the rub- half of the time the students are laughing. I have witnessed them smiling as they are yelled at, giggling as their hair is balled in a fist, or receiving a slap to the face with a bracing cringe and a knowing laugh. It’s as if they know the error of their ways and accept their punishment. But does that stop them from doing it again? Nine times out of ten, no. Do they actually have respect for the rules and or the teacher? Debatable. They take their beating and go on with their lives, rather than understanding why what they did was wrong. There’s not enough time or space for emotions or feelings talk here, so a slap on the wrist, or head…or face….seems to be the simplest solution.

But as far as middle schools go, I have to say that this one is a fairly well oiled machine. I have yet to witness a fight (although I’m sure it happens), and attendance is high while drama is relatively low. Meanwhile I’m breaking up weekly fights, attempted pencil stabbings, and stopping children from running on tables or jumping out windows at my elementary school…but that’s another story. 

I’ve learned in my time here that Korea (as with many countries in this day and age) is a place full of contradictions. But whacking a laughing, cringing child is a contradiction that continues to confuse me.

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Sometimes I think they treat their dogs better than their students. 

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South Korea: The Good, the bad and the ugly

Six months. How am I already at the halfway point? There are far too many experiences to recount, so in an effort to reflect upon and consolidate the past few months, I present Korea: The good, the bad and the ugly.

But let’s mix things up and get the bad out of the way first.

The Bad:

Rude after teaching in the land of smiles (Thailand), the levels of rude in Korea shocked my system. True, I’d gotten used to the n’importe quoi rudeness of France, but it was a laissez faire rude of simply not caring. Korean rude, especially Pohang rude, is in your face and impossible to ignore. Some days it is literally in your face as people stare inches from your cheek with a fiery, unmovable gaze. Other days people yell what one can only assume are Korean expletives and spit in your path. The most common rude though is the push. Oh the push. It doesn’t matter where you are or how much room there is, at some point in your day, you will get bumped or pushed past with such force that it makes you question your own existence. Am I really even here? To be fair it’s mostly the ajummas and ajusshis (old people) who barrel through you. And they’ve seen and been through some shit in their lives here in Korea, so I can’t really blame them. Most days.

Staring-  Over the past 5 years, I’ve been an étranger, a farang and now a wagook. You’d think by now I’d get used to the staring that comes with being a foreigner living abroad; it’s part of the territory. But Korea’s staring game is strong. In other countries people usually look away after a while, especially if you make eye contact. Not in Korea. Quite the contrary, people stare for long, intense sessions, as if bigfoot has just stepped onto the bus. And making eye contact only intensifies the stare, transforming it into a glare that grows with increasingly obvious dislike for your face. Word of advice, don’t even try a staring contest. You will always lose.

Crowds-  With over 50 million people living in only 30% of the country (as 70% of it is covered in mountains), it’s no wonder people can be a bit rude. Korea is densely populated and if you live in a city, or even a semblance of one, you’re bound to be packed onto a bus, subway or even sidewalk at some point. If you’re agoraphobic, stick to the countryside.

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To be fair this was Halloween.

Corporal punishment- The first time I heard the tapping sound I thought something had fallen on a desk. The next time I thought surely my eyes were deceiving my ears as the angry flood of fast Korean was interrupted by the whisking sound of wood on skull. Naively, I initially thought that those wooden sticks were used to gesture and aid in my colleague’s’ classroom instruction. Having my desk nestled next to the disciplinarian’s cubicle taught me otherwise. As the months went on I witnessed students being smacked upside the head, slapped in the face, hit with sticks, and forced to sit on their knees with their hands above their heads in the cold hallways. It was shocking. Even worse, it was the norm. Supposedly this is more common in middle schools and private schools, as I have yet to witness this at my elementary school. And while this form of discipline continues to shock me, I must admit that there were almost times when I felt my unruly elementary hellions could’ve benefited from some swift, hard justice. Almost.

But let’s move to The Good:

Healthcare- As an American, it is easy to impress me with healthcare. Americans are so royally screwed when it comes to dealing with, waiting on, and paying for their health. Ask my sister who recently had surgery, to fix a toe tendon severed by a freak knife falling accident, and paid over $5,000- with insurance! Who can afford that?! Cut to Korea where I had my first gynecology, dentist, and eye doctor’s appointments in years and paid under $150 for all three- and that’s including my first cavity filling! Not only are appointments and medicine ridiculously cheap here, but they are fast, efficient and walk-in friendly. I almost never need to make an appointment and I’m usually in and out in under 20 minutes- including my first cavity filling! Sometimes this speed comes with the downside of wondering how in depth your medical provider actually is, but I’ll take $20 over $5,000 any day! 

Transportation- Even in the “boonies” (as I so affectionately refer to my area), there is still usually one local bus that can connect to the terminal within a decent amount of time. Intercity buses are wonderfully cheap and (depending on the destination) run so frequently that you can show up on a whim and hop on the next available bus. I can do roundtrip to Daegu (about an hour away) for under $13. The KTX train is a more expensive, but smooth, clean and fast alternative for further destinations, like Seoul. And then there are the Taxis. Taxis are a double edged sword as they are so, very, cheap. And plentiful. Which means that I’m constantly tempted to take them and that can quickly add up. In my experience taxi drivers range from hating foreigners, to pulling out every semblance of  conversational English they know. Most remain silent and jam their old school tunes, appreciative if you know some basic Korean such as:

hello 안녕하세요 (annyeonghaseyo)

goodbye 안녕히 계세요 (an-nyeong-hi gye-se-yo)

thank you 고맙습니다 (gomabseubnida)

straight 직진 (jigjin)

and here 여기에 (yeogie)

Quirky Korean weirdness Cat cafe? That’s old news. How about a rabbit, raccoon, or goat cafe? Or better yet a poop or princess cafe? Yep. Korea can offer you all of the above. How about a penis park or a love land dedicated to gargantuan sex statues? If you need to escape try one of the many themed escape rooms or belt your heart out under disco lights at one of the always available norebangs (don’t call it karaoke here). Or try a mall with a fantastical playland on the rooftop, a ball pit adorned with giant silverware, and a toy store dedicated entirely to phone service characters. In almost every downtown, you can hop into an arcade, blow of steam in a batting cage, go on a 4D ride, or try your plushie winning luck with the claw. Want zombie or cat eyes? Or want to keep it simple and make them a more natural shade of purple or grey? Step into any lens shop that will fit you within minutes. Even if you want just regular prescription lenses, they’ll throw in a fun pair of socks- just because. Or try a toy store that blasts hip hop and vaguely resembles a taxidermy shop with it’s giant furry friends on display. The list goes on. There is no shortage of colorful, comical, and whimsically weird when it comes to Korea. Quite frankly, I love it.

Community- As a foreigner, I have only touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Korean community. But in my mere six months, I have been amazed by all that comes with a society operating with the community in mind. That is why Korean crime rate is so low, and I can experience the freedom that comes with feeling safe in the streets at night, or the security of leaving my bag while I grab my order. That is why education is so strongly emphasized, resulting in a 98% national literacy rate. When the country faced a major financial crisis in 1998, Koreans, young and old, formed lines spilling outside of banks to give up their personal gold trinkets, statues, jewelry, and bars to get the country out of deficit. And it worked. That is why Korea became the first country to go from an aid receiving country to an aid donor- the power of community. I have personally experienced the office snacks celebrating a colleague’s new daughter in law, welcome dinners, work retreats, and random trinkets on my desk. My favorite experience has been the communal dining as people dig into the array of 반찬 (banchan, or side dishes), passing around bowls or bottles of alcohol, and digging into big pots with chopsticks. It’s hard not to smile as people sit crossed legged, elbow to elbow, slurping, sharing, passing plates, and laughing with alcohol infused red cheeks.

And finally, The Ugly:

I’ll be blunt, it’s you. It’s always you. If you’re a foreigner, you can expect insults about appearance quite frequently. Sometimes it comes from a more subtle place of, “Oh you look tired”, amps up to a,“Are you sure you’re not sick??”, and gets really obvious with hand-to-chest-clutching, bug- eyed gasps of “Oh my gosh! You look horrible!” To be fair I was really sick that day. My friends have gotten their own charmers such as, “Have you been eating well?”, “You have hollow eyes.” And my personal favorite, “You can take a sick day” (because she wasn’t wearing mascara).  

Let’s face it, if you’re a foreigner, you ugly.

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I need a face filter at all times.

So there you have it, The good, the bad and the ugly. I obviously need to write much more frequently as I haven’t even touched upon a day in the life of teaching, being a woman in a hierarchical society, the culture of alcohol, the pros and cons of EPIK, or my induction into K-pop, but those are future posts to come.

The Camp Diaries: Weeks 2-3

Bonjour from camp land!

Where to begin? Unfortunately I fell a bit short on the blog updating front as I got pretty sick (still have yet to regain my voice to its full potential), and as a result have far too many stories to tell from the past two weeks. BUT I shall use my notes in an effort to convey the gist of camp craziness.

End of Week 1- The Weekend Adventure:

Saturday marked the first venturing beyond the walls of the chateau with fellow counselor, Olive. It felt strange to leave the premises and see a space outside of a camp-covered chateau. At first sight only Normandy countryside-a.k.a. flat farmland as far as the eye could see- surrounded us. But 30 minutes later Olive and I arrived in a tiny town filled with old people gambling, smoking and sipping on coffees at a miniscule cafe, and bored teenagers hanging out in front of the small highschool. We walked back and forth searching for a semblance of food and sticking out like bright, awkward tourists. Finally the boulangerie opened and we feasted on bread, cheese, and cider in the shade of a chapel as Frenchies walked past with smiles or stares plastered to their faces. We didn’t care. We were content with our picinic….and tipsy off cider.

Week 2- Monday Madness:

Change is the theme of this week. Two new counselors arrived last night full of energy and excitmement.

The day started with a relatively calm atmosphere- we were efficient and even finished the set up with extra time on our hands. We had a week under our belts and figured we had it in the bag. Bring on the kids! …That is until a storm of 50 tiny kids poured off the bus. Not teenagers, not adolescents- kids. At first I thought the perspective was making them tinier than expected. But it was actually their age. Not 10 and 11 year olds but tiny, hyper, first-time-away-from-home 8 year olds.

The rest of the day was chaos. The teachers came over-prepared and messed with the money system (which I was conveniently in charge of) and the kids were confused, hyper, scared, shy, and unable to comprehend the situation (aka English). Olive and I’s window was apparently not fully shut and our room flooded with the afternoon rain that decided to contribute to the chaos. Our evening campfire was canceled and dividing up ESL classes was quite the confusing effort. This week is already so different.

Bank of America time

Bank of America time

Tuesday and Wednesday It’s a love/hate game I’m playing: 

We divided the ESL classes and I got the lower level hyperactive kids, as well as the one student with autism who is not taking kindly to our new camp names. So now he has two names- French+ American Camp name. So far, so good.

Well, I faced my fear of teaching elementary frenchies. I first faced my fear of highschool students in Montbeliard, and now the part of me perpetually terrified of teaching such small non-native speakers is calm. All things considered, the class went really well today and they kids are pretty damn cute with their tiny French voices. I miss working with little kids. It’s nice to be reminded of the work I love.

Wed…
The days are getting longer. And more chaotic. Last night a kid peed himself and another one cried for home. Today several cried from dodgeball. And yelled. So. Much. Yelling. What a horrible game. I only have one more full day, but it seems like an eternity. My throat is sore from all the yelling over excited voices. All. The. Time.

I find it funny that instead of yelling “you can’t do that” to one another, the kids say, “tu n’as pas le droite” (aka ‘you don’t have the right!’). I’m glad I understand French.

All in all I’ve enjoyed this week- which is a testament to how much I love working with elementary kids. True they’re hyperactive little shits for a large portion of the time, but they’re also adorable little beings with giant smiles, and a genuine curiosity for learning about this world they’re in.

The day is done and all I want is silence. I don’t want to talk to anyone. Even laughing feels like effort. My throat hurts. My ears are buzzing. I fall asleep with tiny French voices in my head.

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ESL madness

Thursday- New Theme Day- Hit Music:

What am I supposed to do with this theme? These are kids not teenagers! We’ve been reviewing colors, shapes, and the alphabet. Oy vey this week is long.

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I’ve been working general store for the week- the place where we sell kid crack (candy and soda) and souvenirs for mom and dad. First thought- this is tedious and horrible and I really don’t see the point. But two days later and I see the benefit. It’s a good experience for the kids to be in charge of money, and have a real life situation of making transactions in another language. Well done AMVIL.

I feel like a goblin counting gold. I was locked away in General Store for over an hour on a beautiful day counting inventory and doing far too much math. I regret working General Store this week. Who knew little kids would buy so much more than teenagers?

Dancing with kids is golden. I love their energy and excitement (some of the times), but most of all their smiles. Compared to the teenagers last week, it was refreshing to open the doors and have the kids not awkwardly stand in corners, but descend on the dance floor in a sea of spastic and enthusiastic movement. One little elf (no really, that was her camp name), all round and ‘typically nerdy looking’, broke out of her shell and boldly asked the boys to dance. At the end of the night she gave me an impish smile as she held up her count of four fingers (four boys).

Friday-

We said goodbye to one of our new counselors today and it felt oddly sad. He was only here for a week, but you bond quickly in the trenches.

The sentiment was different for the departure of the kids. Some counselors literally did cartwheels as the bus full of kids pulled away.

Two more weeks.

End of Week 2- Weekend Adventure:

I hate the world. I’m sick. At least it took effect when the kids left. But I wish I could just not be sick at all! Going into town for some meds.

We stopped at bakery where Olive got a macaroon. It was quite the process as the baker walked around the counter and used little tongs to carefully pull the bright yellow pastry out of the fridge and place it on silver platter. Then she instructed us in French that we needed to wait 10 min for it too cool down in order for the flavor to be ‘top’. I love France.

At least sick meds, sun, swans, and tiny dogs that think they’re the swan commander, help with sickness.

Week 3- “Santa brought condoms to camp”

I had to work customs this week (confiscating snacks and electronics) and I was not a fan. Neither were the kids. They were pretty good sports, but it’s not the ideal first impression I’d like to make on kids.

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Also an 11-year-old camper, Santa Claus, brought condoms to camp. According to the teachers they’re probably his dad’s, but still…Santa brought condoms to camp.

The difference in their level is like night and day. This age is so interesting as they are on the precipice of teenagedom- but not too cool yet. 

As we sat around the campfire singing songs and roasting marshmallows, I realized how funny it is to teach almost teenagers how to roast marshmallows. Sharing my childhood past time of s’mores, something so normalized for me, and so bizarre to them was amusing as they quizzically looked at eachother and whispered, “c’est trop bon!” 

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Tuesday-Thursday: Activities

This is my first week working on Activities instead of ESL. It’s a lot of physical work but maybe beats lesson planning at 11 at night.

First time in two weeks getting a break- 40 glorious minutes and all I could do was try to sleep. My sickness wants me to sleep, but my brain is too wired from my internal camp clock. Eff. 

survival essentials

survival essentials

Being on activities means teaching a bunch of frenchies how to play baseball. Objectively this sport is pretty weird. Fortunately these kids were really excited about learning and got pretty invested in the game. Only one student cried- great success! 

Two camp essentials- hot water and health. When you don’t have either things get dicey. I’m getting real tired of Normandy. 

Spectacle
This is the worst thing ever. Being sick and in charge of the same kids all day is brutal. How can I get them to focus, write a script, memorize lines and block out a scene if I don’t have a voice? I want this day to end. 

Ok so spectacle felt brutal, but was ultimately worth it to see the smiles at the end of the night. My kids were so proud of their performances and said goodnight with giant, beaming, smiles. I’m such a sucker. 

It also didn’t hurt to have amusing counselor interludes. Laughing at your coworkers as they try to do tricks as an awkward caterpillar, and smashing shaving cream into your coworker’s faces as you imitate their arms and laugh cry into their backs is really quite wonderful. Laughter is indeed the best medicine. 

Friday-Saturday: “Day Release”

The kids left crying (some even sobbing). I guess that means we’ve done our job well. It’s always a mixed feeling saying goodbye. We want them to go, so we can have some quiet and enjoy our one day off, but it’s strange to think that we’ll never see them again.


But tonight we’re actually going to a real city! The counselors are trekking to Rouen for a night on the town. I’m excited to speak French again. Being surrounded by French every day, but not being allowed to speak it has been a bit torturous. I never thought I’d say this, but my mouth misses French.

Rouen is a really cool city. It was so strange to see night life, and restaurants, and so many people. The counselors didn’t know what to do with themselves. So they got drunk. 

As my fellow coworker Buzz said of the night, “it’s like day release from prison”. 

I think that about sums it up.

One more week.

6/7: Les Mots des Semaines: Words of the Week(s)

I have been a busy bee, and in the midst of St. Patty’s day celebrations, a visit from an old friend, and camp preparation, I forgot about the words of the week! Sacrilège!

So voila, here are two weeks worth of words!

*Note- I might continue to make this an every two weeks venture, as this time next week I will be in camp mode and might not have much computer access.

But for now, enjoy this bizarre collection of mots français (except that this week has many expressions…so enjoy those too).

petit-francais

1. Avoir un pépin- literally to get an appleseed, this means to run into trouble (ex: If the car crashed or broke down, you could say- J’ai eu un pépin avec la voiture)

2. And since we’re on the topic of apples, here’s another expression- Tomber dans les pommes- literally to fall in the apples, but actually means to lose consciousness, to pass out

3. Un Bidon– a big industrial can- a tin or a drum. However, I learned it in the context of a belly- apparently bidon can also be used to insult your girlfriend

4. Rire jaune- literally to laugh yellow, this is a forced laugh- one that is half-hearted or sometimes sarcastic (ex: “oh I have a bidon?”… commence rire jaune)

5. Avoir des fourmis dans la jambe- literally to have some ants in the leg, this can describe the feeling of your leg falling asleep, of restlessness, or tingling in the legs (maybe similar to ants in your pants??)

6. Don’t know why, but I always confuse these two- le paysage– landscape, la campagne- countryside (*note to self- campagne and countryside both start with Cs).

7. Paille– straw, une paille= drinking straw, la paille= hay, and while we’re on the subject of expressions, here’s another one- être sur la paille, literally to be on the hay, this means you’re broke as f***

8. Verser- to pour, to transfer, whereas reverser is to spill

9. Essuyer– to wipe, however this was also used in the context of drying dishes

10. Les Hommes– humans *note- les hommes= men, while les Hommes= humans (I’d like to comment on how interesting it is that French uses the word for men to describe both men and women, but then I’d have to point out the English words such as history, humans, women….you get my point)

On an unrelated note, spring has officially sprung (as yesterday was the spring equinox)! I must say that this week was a nice commencement- flowers, sun, and Saint Patrick’s celebrating- complete with green cake, eggs, and beer, some Guinness and  Baileys, and a whole lot of rowdy Frenchies. I’ll admit that I was surprised to see how many Frenchies were out and about celebrating all things Irish on a Monday night. We eventually sought shelter at a non Irish pub so we could hear one another speak, and avoid being accosted by drunk Frenchmen who suddenly convince themselves that it is you who they were previously fighting with. Fun times.

Happy Spring and Happy Friday!!

5: Les Mots de la Semaine: Words of the Week

Is it really already Friday? Time keeps flying! That means it’s time for:

petit-francais

1. Gaspiller, un gaspillage– to waste, a waste (I particularly like gaspillage as it reminds me of gas spillage which is indeed a waste)

2. Avoir la flemme– to be lazy, have no motivation

3. Une Randonnée– a hike

4. Un Tabouret– a stool, whereas a stool sample is un échantillon de selle, should you ever need that- you’re welcome

5. Une Ombre– a shadow

6. Laisser tomber– to drop it, to let it go, to give up on something- laisser-aller on the other hand is carelessness.

Bonus Video: I saw this amusing Finnish video about what different languages sound like to non-native speakers. How accurate is this? What do you think?

Happy Friday! 

4: Les Mots de la Semaine: Words of the Week

It’s that time again- Les Mots de la Semaine!

petit-francais

This will be short and sweet today as it’s Antoine’s actual birthday and we are trekking to his hometown, Briançon. I say trekking because Briançon is situated in the French Alps and tonight there is a lovely timed snow storm gracing us with its presence. Which also means that if we don’t get there in time, the one tiny road cutting through the mountain might close. Here’s hoping we’ll be back by Sunday…  

But on to les mots:

1. Un Entretien an interview (for a job)

2. Les Loisirs– hobbies

3. Inculte– uncultivated, ignorant

4. Se Noyer– to drown

5. Un Losange– diamond as in the shape, whereas a diamond ring is un diamant (and NO don’t worry about if I was discussing diamond rings, I was actually realizing that I don’t know French shapes- très pathétique, I know).

And finally, here are some- Bonus B Mots:

  • Bâiller, un bâillement– to yawn, a yawn
  • Bricolage– to fix, to repair, to do-it-yourself
  • Brouillard– fog

Happy Friday!

3: Les Mots de la Semaine (Dernière): Words of the Week

I got a bit sidetracked last week preparing a surprise birthday party for Antoine- complete with a flying spaghetti monster piñata, a specialized MacGyver relay/drinking race, and TWO cakes- one with pâte à sucre learned from the wednesday before- basically a kid’s party with alcohol. Yet another reason why I’ll never be a real adult.

It was quite the event.

That being said, I completely forgot the words of the week.

So without furhter ado, here are Les Mots de la Semaine Dernière. Better late than never!
petit-francais

*Note- for now, I’m avoiding the pronunciation. I’ve had a difficult time finding certain phonetical spellings/creating my own. Bear with me as I figure this out.

1. Pourri gâté– spoiled or spoiled rotten, this can be used for kids or food

2. Honteux– ashamed or shameful

3.  (Faire) La grasse matinee– literally to make the fat morning, this means to sleep in, ex (slang): j’ai fait la grasse mat aujourd’hui (I slept in today)

4. Humecter- to moisten

5. Un sifflet, siffler– a whistle, to whistle

Bonus Mot: miettes- crumbs

Keeping it short and sweet today. Happy Monday all!

2: Les Mots de la Semaine: Words of the Week

It’s Friday! Which means it’s time for:petit-francais

As I said before, these are words I’ve picked up from conversation, job applications, language exchanges, newspapers, or even just listening to my surroundings. Every Friday I will post Words of the Week to reinforce my French learning, and hopefully additionally educate/entertain/interest people in random French vocabulary. So enjoy!(Note- pronunciation is a little wonky- some of it is my own pronunciation, and some of it is phonetic- so bear with me as I get a system down).

Voila, Les Mots:

1. Maladroit (mal-ah-drwa)- literally meaning ‘bad on the right’, this translates to clumsy

2. Vieillards (vyeh-yar)- old men specifically, whereas old people is personnes âgées

3. Allonger (al-on-jay)- to lengthen, however I learned this in the context of to spread or lay on something, (ex: tu es allongé sur le canapé, you are spread out on the couch, you lie down on the couch)

4. Ceinture (sɛtyr)- belt, and ceinture de sécurité is a seatbelt

5. Klaxonner (klax-oh-neh)- to honk a car horn, car horn being klaxon

6. Louper (loo-pay), Rater (rah-tey)– to miss, to miss out on, this is used more in the context of transportation or an exam, ex: j’ai raté mon vol (I missed my flight). Louper means the same thing, but is apparently more of a slang word

7. Fiche de poste (fee-sh de poh-st)- a job description

8. Postuler (poh-stu-leh) to apply for job, whereas appliquer (ah-plea-kay) is used in the context of applying a bandaid

9. Au noir (oh-nwar)- literally in black, this is similar to working under the table, working illegally

10. Guet-apens (get-ah-paw)- an ambush. Of course this is used in cowboy movies, but I heard this in the context of my boyfriend wanting to avoid a dinner that he knew would turn into a party.

Happy Friday and Happy Valentines Day! I know it’s an overly commercialized holiday, but I personally enjoy an excuse for creativity, candy, and letting the people in my life know I care!  

Les Mots de la Semaine: Words of the Week

In an effort to keep up with my resolution of being more proactive with my French comprehension, I’ve started learning a word a day. Whether it’s from conversation, job applications, language exchanges, newspapers, or even just overhearing, I’ve been tuning into my surroundings, and capturing vocabulary by documenting new words in a notebook or my phone. And in an effort to further reinforce my French learning (and educate/entertain/interest people in random French vocabulary), I’ve decided that every Friday I shall post the Words of the Week- just a minimum of 5 words, their pronunciation, and meaning and/or context. (Note- pronunciation is a little wonky- some of it is my own pronunciation, and some of it is phonetic- so bear with me as I get a system down).

So Voilà- I present the first installment of:

petit-francais

Here are Les Mots (2 weeks worth since I technically started this last week):

1. Bête de scène (bet də sɛN) literally beast of the stage- this a great performer, some one who has excellent stage presence, or who comes alive on the stage

2. Aquarelles (ah-kwah-rehL)- watercolors, enough said

3.Croquer (cro-kay)- to bite, hence dry cat food being called croquettes (cro-keT)

4. Bénédiction (bene-dikt-cion)- a god send, aka something of great use and usually provides some sort of wonderful help (ex: ce petit vide est une bénédiction; this tiny vacuum is a godsend)

5. Rayures (rɛjyr) stripes, easy peasy

6.  Une pelle (pɛl), Pelleter (pɛl-tay) a shovel, to shovel (ex: Je pellette la neige avec ma pelle; I shovel the snow with my shovel) 

7.  Pleuvioter (plø-vjɔ-te)- sprinkling, drizzling, or raining lightly (had to go with fancy phonetics here; I recommend listening to this word on google translate)

8.Séance- unlike the spooky American usage for summoning of the dead, this means session or performance depending on the context

9. Encadrement (jeunesse)- supervision or coaching (Note: this is used in context of working with kids/teens, ex: encadrement de jeunesse, otherwise it apparently means frame. Also recommend listening to this word on google translate)

10. Animateur (jeunesse) (anee-ma-tour)– facilitator, or youth worker, however animateur pour enfants means children’s entertainer

Bonus: Faux Amis Warning! Persévérant = persistent

Happy Friday!

The Return

I meant to share this post when I first returned to the states….a.k.a. before I got all distracted and procrastinatey. But now I’ve decided to share it- just in time for my return to France! 

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This is a strange place.

The pipes in Texas are so hot that it’s impossible to get cold water from the sink. Even cool water. I’m lucky if it comes out lukewarm as I’m brushing my teeth. On the other hand, the air conditioning is so ice-cold, that by the time I go outside, I welcome the oven-like furnace heat as the thick air thaws my frozen flesh. And the cars- oh how the cars continuously catch my eye- all shiny, and giant, and new. Slick SUVs and Trucks consuming the large roads. SO. Shiny.

I’m not just back in America. I’m in Texas.

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Adventures of Language Learning

I’ve said this before, but learning a language is difficult. So much so, that the other night I started having an existential crisis about conversation. Or dear god!- maybe I’m beginning the transition into Frenchdom.

language-barrier

thanks ilmkidunya.com for the visual representation of my emotions

As I sat there, lost in translation (aka French slang), my mind drifted from “what are they talking about?” to “why do we even talk, postulate, argue, discuss? What’s the point of it all?” I guess things can get a little grim when your confusion turns to silence and your silence turns to the wanderings of your own mind…

Needless to say, that was a bit of a wake up call reminder- learning a language is hard and I need to saddle up. Apparently for me, it’s easier said than done. Learning a language is not like riding a bicycle. The wheels of language knowledge don’t magically set in motion when you summon them. Unfortunately if you don’t use it, you start to lose it. I’ve plateaued with French before and apparently I’m doing it again. Continue reading

French don’t give a #@*! about being polite- Part Deux

After a particularly frustrating nonverbal couchsufring dinner experience, my return resulted in yelling at Antoine, “We have may have pride, but the French have pretension! At least we can be proud AND humble!!”

Though I wasn’t quite sure if that statement made the most sense, at the time it felt valid. Because I’ve said it once before, and I’ll say it again, the French can be rude. Or at least they could care less about being polite.

rude

Their sarcasm is really just blunt meanness, they take over public transportation (and won’t even try to make room for others), they don’t notice their surroundings and could care less about your personal space, and they blatantly make fun of your accent (but to be fair, Americans aren’t much better, and plenty of Frenchies have been nice and patient with my accent…so really maybe this one doesn’t totally count). Oh and they cut lines- oh my god do they cut lines. Maybe it’s because of my dad’s embarrassingly indignant dedication to the principle of holding your place, (and dear god I’ve become him already!) but it drives me crazy when there’s no respect for the line. Waiting for my visa feels like preparing for battle as I try to preserve as much space as possible to gain rightful entry into the prefecture.
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French Friday Fun (sometimes I like alliteration)

A family friend posted a link of terrifying French children’s books, and I thought it was too amusing (and scarily accurate) not to share.

Welcome to the French world- where being unabashedly blunt, and scaring the crap out of your kids is the norm. Where frank, no-bullshit doses of harsh reality are served with a glass of milk before bedtime. No wonder French adults are the way there are. There was never any hope.

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Click here to see more terrifying French children’s books.

Happy Friday!

C’est Terminé

I suck at goodbyes. I prolong them. I avoid them. I pretty much live in denial until the last possible moment where I am forced to face them. I have friends who choose to deal with each moment as if it’s our last, getting all sappy and sentimental about how this is our last brunch together, our last baguette, our last tooth-brushing session…This in turn makes me  awkwardly clam up as they blatantly penetrate the denial walls I have so craftily built. The result usually consists of me blurting something like, “No! We still have time!!” and shaming them for their raw sentiment. Like I said, I suck at goodbyes.

But is there ever a good way to do it? Are there people who actually like goodbyes? Does it get easier the more you have to do it?

At this point I’ve said my fair share of goodbyes- family, community and childhood friends for college, my Grecian union of lovely ladies during my study abroad, my college community, my Boston kin, students -so many students- and now my international clan. And for me it never gets easier. I leave a little piece of my heart in each place. And even if giving a minuscule sliver of your heart makes it that much more painful when you go, I think it’s worth it. But it doesn’t mean goodbyes are easy. 

It’s especially hard as a teacher. You’re in a constant state of goodbyes. And with foreign students there really is a finality to the farewell. As I prepared for my final classes this morning I was surprised to feel slightly anxious. Would they care? Would I be memorable? They’ll have other English assistants next year. I’m just one of many, but they will forever be imprinted in my memory.

It was helpful to remember the questions they asked what feels like forever ago and remember how we’d grown as a group. How I’d gained (and earned!) their respect, their trust and their laughter. 

Looking at things in retrospect is surreal. The places and people that once seemed intimidating, and so foreign (in my case literally), have become a part of you and will forever make up an aspect of your identity.

I was relieved to finish my day with a smile on my face and reinforcement on my walls of denial (my students did a damn good job of breaking them down). We laughed, we drew, we learned and we said farewells. At the end of the day I was left speechless by one of my favorite classes who presented me with a beautiful card.

Some of my favorite “words”:

“I will miss you very, I like you so much”.

“I will miss your lessons…they were interesting, captivating, various and so fun! I hope you’ll keep a good memory of your stay and job here. Good continuation.”

“Anna, I’m really happy about the moments we spent together! I was really enjoying your knowledge. If you liked your journey, you can always come back!”

“Thanks for your amazing lessons!”

“Dear Anna, your lesson was very nice and I enjoyed it. I’ll miss you alot…Your Florian. P.S. I love you”.

“Thank you for everythinks. 🙂 You’ll miss us.”

Don’t know if that’s what she meant to say, but it’s true. I will miss them. And I’m going to miss teaching.

So Montbeliard, it’s time I bid you adieu. As much as we’ve had our ups and downs, and as much as I have trash-talked you when we weren’t together, Montbeliard you were my home. And today a little piece of my heart will remain with you.

The Art of NOT Speaking French

Allow me to illustrate...

Allow me to illustrate…

As I’ve spent time talking, discussing and laughing with people from all over the world, I’ve come to the realization that English isn’t a very lively language- in terms of not speaking. We are seriously lacking in the ways of nonverbal communication- the various eye rolls, the noises, the hand gestures…we just aren’t as equipped as our European counterparts.

It’s amazing that one can communicate so much with so little effort. And boy do the French love that! They are the kings of having some sort of guteral noise for everything. Every so often you will witness a “mwah!” hand kiss to signify perfection or hear tongue tisking (which to us would seem patronizing) to let you know that you are incorrect. Be warned that our circular motion for crazy is their circular motion for smart and there is more than one way to flick some one off.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Mes Couilles (a.k.a. Bullshit):

Pull down the eyelid to signify "That's some bull!"

Pull down the eyelid to signify “That’s some bull!”

If some one is spewing a load of crap, or you just don’t believe what they’re saying, you can give them Mes Cuilles. Literally translating to “my balls” this is a very slang way of saying “That’s some bull!” All you have to do is take your pointer finger and pull down the bottom part of your eyelid. Simple and yet so satisfying.

Saoul (pronounced like sou- a.k.a. drunk):

Nose is drowning in the alcohol

Nose is drowning in the alcohol

When someone has had a bit too much to drink, this hand movement is quite…well handy. Simply hold your hand in a loose fist and move it back and fourth (as if your twisting an imaginary cork at the end of your nose). Apparently this comes from the French saying “Il a un verre dans le nez” (he has a glass on his nose), but is often accompanied with the slang of saol or bourré (sou or boo-rey).

The Gallic Shrug:

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Bof!

Quite popular among my students, the Gallic Shrug is a common way to signify “I doubt it”, “I don’t know”, or “Not my fault”. It is slightly more complicated than the others as it involves sticking out your lower lip, raising your eyebrows and shoulders, and occasionally holding up your hands. Often this is accompanied by the ever so common “Bof!” sound to signify utter annoyance.

The too good/too intense/too much epic hand shake:

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Oh la la!

One of my absolute favorites. Using either the right or left hand, shake it loosely and emphatically back and fourth. I have witnessed this for things being too expensive, too intense or crazy, when something is exciting, or my personal favorite- when food is really good.This is quite a versatile gesture as well as one of the only clear ways Frenchies display their enthusiasm.

Amazingly enough this only skims the surface of the multitude of nonverbal communication common among the French- I didn’t even get in to the noises made! But it sparks an intrigue in my ever growing fascination with language- to think about how we communicate with one another and how subtly or not so subtly it varies from region to region.

But for those of you that are striving to be French Fakers, there is always this Amusing way to communicate in French without knowing the language video for your education and enjoyment.