Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I'm alive and well!

I have arrived in France safe and sound. I've been here for over a week now, how strange is that? Getting here was much easier than I was anticipating, with all the heavy luggage I had with me, and I had such a lovely welcome by everyone at the lycee (high school) where I'm living and especially by my conseillère pedagogique, Madame Camus. I am in love with her. She has been so helpful, taking me shopping and to get other stuff I need done, and she even had me over for dinner my first night here!

I LOVE Soissons!!! It's an adorable little town but also has stuff to do like shopping, a movie theater, restaurants and bars, even a combined bar/bowling alley! There is this really nice park along the river, ruins of a monastery, a cathedral, another big church that is now a museum.... it just seems like there's lots to do and explore! And if I get tired of it, Paris is only an hour by train. In general everyone I have come into contact with has been extremely nice and has gone out of their way to help me any time I have a question or problem with anything. Even when I'm completely mangling French, which happens quite often! The parler-ing the francais is going ok. I'm just doing the best I can, getting flustered a lot, but also having some great victory moments when I actually get something right. It's frustrating to feel that I can't express myself correctly, but everyone is really patient with me and very understanding.

In summary, I love it here and I'm having a great time!

This weekend I had a lovely excursion to Amiens, the capital city of my région, to meet other assistants here and go to the orientation day for assistants on Monday. Orientation day was pretty useless, but it was great to meet the other assistants. On Sunday they had this broderie that everyone made a big deal out of. Basically it was a gigantic city wide garage sale in the centre ville. Lots of taxidermy. Otherwise I'm here learning to get around Soissons and doing my demarches administratives, the little bureaucratic and administrative things I need to do to become a legal resident of France for the next nine months.

Today I applied for my carte de sejour, my residency card, at the local sous-prefecture. The prefecture runs the département, so it's like the county government, and the sous-prefecture is their sattelite office. I was anticipating lots of trouble because most assistants say that it tends to be a bureaucratic nightmare, but it couldn't have been any easier. Since it's a little local office they aren't busy at all; it's this one woman in charge of all the foreigners and she's super nice and helpful, even asking to make sure she asn't speaking too fast for me! I went in yesterday to see what paperwork I needed, took care of that, went back today and it took about five minutes for her to put my dossier together. The only annoying thing is that I couldn't get a recipissé, a reciept or temporary card, because only the prefecture can issue those. But no worries, it will be sent here when it's ready. Still to do: open bank account (tomorrow!), send in national health insurance forms, and do the paperwork so I can get paid. Bank account is necessary for all these other steps. Why haven't I already gotten one if I've been here for a week, you may ask. Well, they told us we would cover it at the stzge (orientation) but all they did was stump for this one particular bank and I totally could have done it last week when Mme Camus offered to go with me. Oh France, you're so funny!

Things that are weird about France:
- they don't use lined paper to write on, they use graphing paper
- you have to pull or push a knob to flush the toilets
- at the weekly outdoor markets they sell lingerie. Yes, lingerie.
- they love to correct my French mistakes. For exa,ple, the other night I met a professor at the lycee in the salle des profs (teacher's lounge) who gave me a full evaluation of my French after out conversation. I find it really helpful actually, and not at all offensive.

I will expand that list with time. I know this is a terribly uninteresting post, but I just wanted to do a brief catch-up on the last week so that everyone knows I'm doing great and things are going really well! My internet access has been a little sketchy and my hours have been sort of irregular, but it will be better now that I'm more settled and I am going to be better about updating. hugs and kisses to everyone in the US, and lots of good wishes to my fellow assistants! I hope that your first weeks have gone/ are going as smoothly as possible and that your students are well behaved! Anyone thinking about hitting up nuit blanche in Paris this weekend?

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