26 December 2009
The first week of vacation has been pretty great, not that my work week is so difficult, but hey, who doesn't like vacation time?
This week Mel and I searched for the American grocery store in Paris-- aptly called "Thanksgiving"-- because we needed to buy some goods for Christmas.
Holy overpriced Macaroni and Cheese!
I thought that stuff was intended for poorer families and college students. You'd definitely have the blues if you spent 4 euros on a box of it (about 7 dollars). I'd love to know what kind of Americans are so homesick for a box of the blues that they're willing to dish out that kind of money for a little taste of childhood. Though I suppose there are some curious Europeans who wander in there thinking it's an American delicacy, which it is when it costs less than two bucks!
After purchasing the necessary cooking items, Mel and I purposefully lost ourselves in the Marais.
For those unaware, the SOLDES (sales) happen twice a year in France. Once in janvier and again in juillet and they last for about a month. Imagine black Friday for a month, and you've got it!
Once we tired ourselves out we sat down for some falafel. I'm slowly becoming obsessed with falafel.
On Christmas Eve Mel made stuffing and I helped her make sugar cookies to bring to JC's family's Christmas party that night.
On Christmas day we put ourselves into coffee/cocacola/chocolate comas and had a "True Blood" marathon on Mel's computer. I didn't leave the apartment once and it was a fabulously lazy Christmas. I even got to talk to my family for a little bit on skype.
21 December 2009
A white Christmas? Don't get too excited. A day later and the sand on the streets used for traction is the only evidence that it snowed at all.
View from the kitchen window:
View from the kitchen window:
View from my bedroom window:
I'm wondering how that smart care will fare in the snow...
An ornament that I bought at the Christmas Markets in Strasbourg:
And Mom, you bought me this chocolate for Christmas... just so you know ;) I ate the white one on the top right and it was DELICIOUS!!!
4 days until Christmas!!!
14 December 2009
- Though it's quite chilly outside, no snow to report. Though I hear that when it snows in Paris it's absolutely beautiful... we'll see about that. I'm not exactly a huge fan of snow.
- This is the last week of school before Christmas vacation.
- I had a good weekend... and it's still the weekend for me ;)
- Successfully started studying for the GRE math section (not that this is particularly fun or exciting, but I'm proud of myself for my self-discipline).
- The sun is shining.
- Christmas is in 11 days!
- I've been in France for three months already...
- And we can't forget the fact that every day I look out my window and see Paris.
Here are some pictures of the Louvre at night:
09 December 2009
Before leaving for France, I remember thinking that the thought of moving to Paris frightened me much less than the thought of moving to New York City. I couldn’t figure out why. Three months in Paris later and I still feel that way. In fact, I feel much more at ease doing a lot of things in France than I do in the US.
For example, I talk to strangers on a regular basis (such as asking the poster-replacement-guy on the street if I could have the old posters), take a train for an hour to work 3 days a week, traveled to another city alone for a weekend, and attend a weekly conversation group. It sounds so silly when I put it into words, but I can’t honestly say that I would have done any of these things in the US. It’s a lot harder to step outside of your comfort zone when you have the choice, and it’s much more fascinating not to have the choice!
Moreover, daily life in France seems much more enchanting. On my hour commute to work I have the fortune to enjoy some of the most amazing people watching in the world, at the grocery store I have a whole new selection of foods (though I have slowly found my favorites), and I know that any contact I have with another individual outside of my cozy apartment will be in French, and not English. Maybe it’s just the vagabond in me (others feel extremely happy never leaving their home town), but I love and embrace change!
Of course, the minute I open my mouth and say something to a French person, I know that there’s a 80% chance that the following dialogue will occur:
“Oh, you’re not French, are you German? English?”
“No, I’m American”, I always respond
“But you speak French so well! I’ve never spoken French with an American before!”
While I find this very flattering, it’s frustrating to have this conversation every time you open your mouth to a French person. Fortunately, if I speak to a French person in French, even if they try to respond in English, when I continue speaking French they will always speak French to me. Also, the adults have been much more gracious than the children. The kids at school make fun of my French like it’s a sport, and the adults tell me my French is great… which I’m sure is because as an adult they understand how hard learning a second language really is.
Ultimately, I have concluded that I feel more daring in France because, though I get by with the language, I am not a native speaker, and so there is a lot less pressure on me to get things right. I have the language barrier excuse on my side (which becomes my best friend in certain situations), but I also think that people take an interest in talking to me because I’m unusual. In the US I think I’d act the same way towards a foreigner…
05 December 2009
Work is going well. The kids are obnoxious as usual, and I have been speaking to them a lot in French, which is technically against the rules. The thing is, I like practicing my French with the kids, and they respond to me in a more positive way when I speak in French to clarify misunderstandings (so far). The program expects a lot out of people who have no training in the education field and no teaching experience. If they want us to be such great teachers they should probably reorganize the program a wee bit. Oh well, I'm doing the best I can.
Though I don't believe that money can buy happiness, the stress one feels when in deficit makes for a painful existence. Since the government paid me last week I have been in much better spirits (not that I was in bad spirits before, just that I no longer feel guilty for going to the grocery store). Overall I've been very happy this past week! Things are going well!
On today's agenda?
- post office
- searching for a new pair of boots (I had to throw my 15 euro boots away in Strasbourg because the soles fell off, ha! So now I'm going to invest in a nice pair).
- making a haircut appointment :)
01 December 2009
Here is a photo from Assistant/French Thanksgiving. It wasn't quite like at home, but it was really fun and great to taste some comfort food for a change! I made a green bean casserole that I thought was going to turn out gross but was gone in about 2 minutes flat.
Field trip to the Louvre
On Friday (Nov 27) I accompanied a class of CP and CM1 kids to the Louvre (this would be the equivalent of first and second graders in the US). For insurance reasons I had to go to the school in the morning at 8:45 even though (a) we weren't boarding the bus until 10:00, and (b) I live in Paris already. The trip to paris via bus should have taken an hour and a half, but because of the bouchons on the highway (bouchon = cork, but the French use it for a trafic jam), the trip took three hours. We arrived back in Paris at 1:00pm.
Touring the Louvre with nineteen 7 year-olds was... fatiguant. Our tour lasted an hour, and I spoke about 6 words of English: black, blue, white, star, bird, painting. The rest of the time I was busy yelling « rangez-vous » to the kids so that they would stay in order. They listened to me about ¼ of the time.
Despite my complaints, I must say that it was a very educational experience for me to see what a field trip is like from the other side (and in a foreign language)!
Rewind a few days...
The weekend before Thanksgiving I was feeling a wee bit restless. Because I've been pinching pennies (or Euro 1 cent coins) for a while now (surviving on help from gracious family members, which is what I was thankful for on Thanksgiving), I haven’t really had a chance to leave Paris in some time. Julie, Alexis, and Alana mentioned an interest in traveling to Strasbourg (east of France on the border with Germany in the Alsace region) to visit the famous Christmas markets. I jumped on the bandwagon because it was exactly the kind of « girl trip » I knew I needed.
(Oh, and le gouvernement français finally paid me, so I'm feeling more or less on top of the world right now.)
See Strasbourg on map below
Strasbourg: Capitale de Noel
Sooo, on Saturday afternoon I took the train all by my lonesome to Christmas town. Every day I become more and more impressed with the tasks I find myself accomplishing here in France. I can already see a massive improvement in my willingness to approach strangers while speaking French-- something that I'm not sure I have ever really felt comfortable with in English. The biggest lesson I've learned is that if you put yourself out there, things will happen more easily.
I met up with the girls in town on Saturday evening. We walked around the marchés, took pictures of the HUGE Christmas tree, and listened to some Frenchies attempting to sing English Christmas carols. I think Strasbourg is the most charming city I have ever seen! I felt like I was in Disney World the entire time.
For my first dinner I had Tartine Flambée. It consisted of:
● dough (or ½ of a baguette)
● melted shredded cheese
● crème fraîche (the most useful cooking ingredient in the world and it does not exist in the US.. it's like sour cream but thicker)
● lardons (like little pieces of bacon that also don't exist in the US but are in almost everything here)
I fell in love with this food immediately. I even bought myself a dish towel that has the recipe for tartine flambée as a souvenir.
Another regional delicacy found in Strasbourg (and I mean EVERYWHERE in Strasbourg), is vin chaud (hot wine). It's basically like hot sangria.
On Sunday we went on the boat tour down the river, had brunch with Julie's old French roommate from Georgetown, and visited more markets in the Petit France quarter. The other girls left on Sunday night, but I decided to stay until Monday because it was actually cheaper that way. I had a wonderful time wandering around the city by myself!
I've been in Europe for 78 days already!
19 November 2009
At this point I’ve been in Europe for over two months, and I’m feeling quite settled-in. I’ve accustomed myself to “normal French life.” My “normal French life” includes a lot of Sudoku (easy level only), lots of time familiarizing myself with the RER D (regional train that I take to work), reading Direct Matin (the FREE metro newspaper), feeding Baba what’s left on my plate after a meal, copious amounts of Activia yogurt (vanilla flavor), hanging out with assistant friends on any day of the week, 85 cent baguettes, and budgeting.
BUT! One can never predict the events that will unfold during a day in Paris. At least once a day I will start to smile uncontrollably. It just hits me. I live in Paris. I LIVE IN PARIS. Sometimes I have a hard time believing it myself. I’ve had these smile fits while exiting the metro station, walking home with bags of groceries, reading the free paper on the train on my way to Corbeil Essonne. It’s such a great feeling!
One of my favorite things about this city is that almost every new friend I have made I have met in a haphazard way. It has always been when I have decided to get off of the couch when I’m tired and go out and do something. And get this… I’ve actually ran into people in Paris who I know. I see Alexis at the train station every once in a while, I saw another assistant on the same metro car as me, and I’ve met people at a conversation group who know other friends of mine. Today I was getting on the train to work and I saw a face coming dangerously close to mine. It was another assistant, Roberto, who was coming to greet me with the French bisous. It’s a small world after all!
School is going well—at the moment. I really enjoy being around the kids. They still treat me like I’m a celebrity, and that makes me feel good. They’re not quite as intimidated by me anymore. This is both good and bad. It’s bad for reasons of discipline. For instance, if I yell at the kids, I have to speak in English, and they take this one of two ways: (a) What is this lady saying to me? I’m scared! Or, more commonly, (b) What is this lady saying? It’s hilarious!
I have one student in particular who finds everything about English absolutely hilarious. It’s as though someone starts to tickle here every time I open my mouth. I find her absolutely frustrating. She also happens to be the student responsible for pulling the fire alarm on Tuesday, though she claimed she “fell into it”.
Last Friday I was inspected.
My advisors came to my school to watch me teach and give me advice. They ended up infuriating the teachers at my school and upsetting the balance. Now my schedule is probably going to change and I’ll have to work all day Friday. Boooo!
10 November 2009
It’s been a tough couple of weeks. I’ve had to face some personal deamons while working more than I’ve had to since August doing a job that I don’t feel qualified to do (in a foreign country nonetheless). But I’m not complaining because I feel that I am dealing with what is difficult and being one-hundred percent honest with myself. Listening to your gut isn’t easy, but it’s the right thing to do. Oh, and I get better at the job with each day that passes.
Last week was supposed to be vacation from Monday until Wednesday, but I accepted a position doing a stage in a high school because a) I need the extra money, and b) I wanted the experience. I’m so glad that I did it ! From this experience I learned a little about French high schools, made a new friend, and learned how to command the attention of a class of 15-19 year-olds for three hours at a time. Overall I’d say that French high schoolers are the same as French elementary students, just a lot taller and a little sassier, but nothing I couldn’t handle.
On the last day of the stage we showed the students part of the movie Zoolander and ate twix bars. I had some of my students act out scenes from the movie—an activity that they found hilarious. Apparently Ben Stiller as a male model is funny even if you don’t understand English. It was one of those rare moments when I feel really proud of American culture. We make such funny movies !One thing I have been wanting to do while in Paris is attend a French-English conversation group. I had been looking for a good one, but all of the one’s I had found had entrance fees. No thanks ! So one reason I am really glad to have met Victoria (the girl who I worked with at the high school) is because she informed me of Tempo Tea Time. It’s a FREE conversation group that meets every Tuesday evening for two hours. The first hour of conversation is in either English or French and then you switch to the other language for the second hour. I went last week and had a great time. I met a few British girls who are in the same program as me, one of them even works in the same town I do ! I think that from 8:30 until 9:30 last Tuesday night was the most I have spoken French since I got here almost 2 months ago !
08 November 2009
30 October 2009
In the morning Ryan, Mel, J-C, and I went to see the new Bruce Willis movie, Surrogates (or as the French call it, Clones). It was a decent enough movie to hold my attention. You really can’t go wrong with a Bruce Willis movie… in my opinion. When we got home we all played a rousing game of McDonald’s Happy Meal version of French Trivial Pursuit. The questions were things like “Where is the Great Wall?” I won!
In the afternoon Ryan and I went on a little touristy adventure to tahe Opera district. I wanted to get out of the apartment, but I also didn’t want to spend any money so we went to the Galleries Lafayette (a huge French department store… and I mean HUGE). We didn’t do any high-end shopping, though. Instead, we made our way up to the rooftop viewing deck on the “8th floor” (yeah, you only have to go up 8 floors to get a view of the whole city). Despite the sun being directly behind the Eiffel Tower, and the fact that you could only see from one side of the roof, the view was fantastic.
Once back on ground level, we walked around the district and eventually ended up in the Jardin des Tuileries. Fall is so pretty! The leaves have all become a gorgeous shade of orange and red, and I love crunching the fallen leaves while I walk. It reminds me of walking to school when I was a kid. Awww…
When we got back to the apartment Ryan and I watched an episode or two of Arrested Development. Ryan downloaded the entire series, and we happened to finish the last episode yesterday. I’m pretty bummed about this, not only because I think the show is absolutely genius, but also because both our cable and internet are currently en panne so there’s not much else to watch. Seriously, French TV has limited enough options when you DO have cable. Now the only thing on is “Mon incroyable anniversaire” (My Super Sweet 16 dubbed in French). Though the people on the show somehow seem less idiotic when you can’t understand everything they say…
ANYWAY, for dinner Ryan and I went to a restaurant in my neighborhood called Inédit that Mel had recommended. It was grrrreat! I had grilled salmon with green beans and curry sauce (this was quite adventurous for me), and Ryan had rognons de veau. We knew that veau, meant “veal”, but he didn’t want to know what rognon meant until after he had finished his plate. When we got home we learned that rognon means kidney. Ryan ate kidneys for dinner.
At home a cake was waiting for me! So we ate some cake and I received a much needed, European friendly curling iron and some Sudoku books, which will be excellent for my commute to work and back.Thank you everyone for the birthday wishes! Our internet is back on now (I wrote this blog entry on Microsoft Word while it was down).
27 October 2009
Today I think we're going to meet up with another assistant in Chinatown, since chinatowns all over the world are known for being CHEAP!
It would be fun to have a scavanger hunt in Paris. All it would cost is the price for a daily metro ticket (or free for most assistants who already have a monthly pass... free being a word I use loosely since it cost me 111 euros).
So this past weekend Ryan and I treked over to the west side of the city to find the Statue of Liberty's much smaller twin sister.
22 October 2009
Start time: between 11:45 and noon
First comes some sort of salad dish.
Lunch consists of some sort of meat, egg, pasta, or other main dish with vegetables and is eaten with a piece of bread (always a baguette). The bread is always set on the table rather than on the plate.
Fork in the left hand, knife in the right. No switching!
Water is the only beverage consumed while eating and is poured into tiny glasses.
Constant chatter-- complaints about parents scheduling doctors appointments during school and the like.
Finish up that bread with a piece of cheese and wipe up your plate.
Done with food? Time for one out of two daily yogurt servings. Natural with a packet of sugar tossed in or vanilla flavored. Activia is the most popular. Go digestive system!
Now for the fruit. It's October so I see a lot of clementines, pears, and apples... bananas too.
Everyone has a yogurt and then fruit. I ate my banana before my yogurt and received weird looks.
Lunch is done, time for some coffee or tea! Oh and a piece of chocolate... hooray!!!
End time: 12:30... still an hour left of lunchtime!
20 October 2009
There are some very wonderful things about socialism in France. For instance, I have had health care from the beginning of my official residency. Downside? I have not the slightest idea how to access it because I do not have my social security number nor my carte vitale (the French « credit card » of medical information that you take with you to the doctor). It's no big deal though because the pharmacists here have much more freedom to prescribe medications than in good ol' USA, so if I need something I can more than likely get it regardless.
I will not bore you with the details of how many hours I have wasted trying to figure out how to get my social security information. The best advice I've received on how to deal with any sort of stressful situation in France? Sit back, have a glass of wine and some delicious chocolate and don't worry about it. I'm trying!(Another great thing about France is that you can buy a delicious bottle of wine for only €2 (about 3 USD)-- probably the least expensive thing in the whole country). Apparently the government will send me everything I need to know via snail mail...eventually.
Example number two of socialism at its best: the attitude towards work in France. We French work because it allows us to live a comfortable life and contributes to society... oh and it helps us to finance our luxury items (like dog grooming which costs upwards of €60 in Paris). This laissez faire attitude is great when you are the employee. Hardly anyone ever gets fired from their jobs and most people pick a job and stick with it for life (the French take this so seriously that when France telecom recently started going capitalist and telling their employees that they could relocate or lose their jobs they took it as life or death. Seriously. So far 25 have committed suicide and it is all over the news).
The downside? How about when you go to a café and ask for a coffee and the waiter says « non ». He's not working for tips so what does he care? But as long as you can master that whole sit back and relax thing you really can't go wrong in la belle France!
This brings me to my original point. This week is apperantly some type of socialism week in France, so the train companies decided that they would celebrate by doing what the French do best: faire la grève (go on strike). What tickles me about this strike is that they publicly announced the start and stop times. Oh France, you're so cute with your grèves.In preparation for a horrific commute to work I gave myself 2 ½ hours to get to work. It only took me 1 hour (it usually takes over an hour). What?! Oui.
So I arrive at 9:15 and have class with Monsieur Lelong at 10h:15, the directrice tells me that Monsieur Lelong is out sick today so I need to prepare the whole gym lesson in English. No problem. I have a whole « Head, shoulders, knees, and toes » lesson planned out including a game of « Simon says » at the end of the class if the kids are good. I walk up to the classroom at 10:30 and the directrice appears. « You wont be working with the kids today because you are not allowed to work with a substitute teacher » she tells me, « you can use this time for preparation. Preparation for what exactly?So now its 11:45 and here I am « preparing » for class that I don't have until 3:00.
Am I stressed about this? Nah. I'm trying on this whole relaxed attitude thing. In fact, I've taken a nap almost every day that I've been here. I've hardly ever purposefully taken a nap in my life.
Vive la France!!!!!
19 October 2009
Here are some pictures from the city on Saturday:
14 October 2009
October 13, 2009: Marché
Mel, Baba, and I went to the marché yesterday. I finally found some brown boots (only €15 or about $20 ) and some delicous strawberries.
October 14, 2009: Promenade plantée