Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Musings on being a quasi-expat

Last Thursday I had my visite medicale in Laon (the county seat, essentially), which is the last thing I needed to have done in order to get my carte de sejour (residency card). For the medical visit, they basically just want to make sure you don't have tuberculosis. Of course it's a little absurd at this point, because I've been working with approximately 150 children for the past month and a half so if I had TB (and I don't, thank goodness) they would all have been exposed by now. In fact one of my directeurs (principal) took this as an opportunity to tell me how ridiculous and inefficient French bureaucracy is, and how he's sure it doesn't work this way in America. I have no idea.

Anyway, once I recieve my carte de sejour I will officially be a legal resident of France. This is a really strange feeling. I'm an American, and frankly, I love America. I don't love everything about it, namely Bush & Co, conservatives, people who don't believe in social programs, basically anything that doesn't fit into my nice liberal bubble, but I really do love my country. I love the ideals set forth in the Constitution, I love football (REAL football), I love stores that are open 24 hours and on Sundays, I love having all kinds of international cuisine at my fingertips, I like normal sized rooms, and I LOVE central heating. My love for America has become even more apparent to me now that I'm living abroad. And I thought to myself this morning while I was on my way to the sous-prefecture to drop off my medical certificate, why then do I want to be a resident of another country? This is not to say that I hate France, which is not true at all, or that I'm sorry I came here, just that I've discovered that I really enjoy being an American in America. There are lots of things I love about France too, but it just isn't home, it just isn't the same. I am glad that I'm having this experience of being abroad and living in a different culture. I guess it's just having that formal status of being a legal resident of a country that is not America is troubling to me. No, I don't really mean troubling, but maybe that it weighs on me, or it doesn't fit quite right. Yes, that's it, it doesn't fit quite right. So I'll enjoy my time here as a French resident, but I think I'll be relieved when I'm just a plain ol' American again in July.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Just a quickie...

... to wish a very very Happy Belated Thanksgiving to the Americans especially, but everyone, because I think a holiday about being thankful is something we can all share in.

Things I love about France:

Being able to decide on the spur of the moment that I'm going to Paris for the day tomorrow.

Things that make this possible: living only a little over an hour away by train from Paris, and having a Carte Louvre Jeune. The Louvre is free for the rest of the year for me!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

On fait la grève!

Yes, it's that time again in France: time to strike! The train, subway, gas, and electric companies are all on strike right now to demonstrate their opposition to proposed government reforms to retirement laws. What does that mean? Mostly that it is next to impossible to go anywhere. I find it very interesting from a cultural perspective, but I guess I'm truely an American because I think they're being ridiculous. We'll see how it all pans out over the next few days, but it looks like there's a pretty good possibility that this strike could last for a while, since the unions just voted to stike for a third day tomorrow. Apparently the last time the government tried to change the retirement laws, in 1995, the labor unions were on strike for three weeks and the entire country shut down. Three weeks! France is really reliant on public transportation, much more so than America. Imagine what it would be like if the public transportation systems in all the major cities shut down, and you have some idea of what the effect of this is on the country. And I haven't even mentioned the real problem with the grève yet: if there are no trains running to Paris, I won't be able to watch the Michigan-Ohio State game! I had planned on finding a bar in Paris where they might show it, but no. Obviously this is just one big consipiracy against Michigan fans :)

My kids are way too cute! Today one of them made me a paper boat, complete with a sail! It was actually very useful since I was teaching about Thanksgiving. I told the kids that it was the Mayflower. Today was a really good teaching day because none of my classes were too noisey. Usually one class a day is really noisy. It's just because they're kids, and also because they are really enthousiastic about English (doesn't that just make your little heart go pitter-pat?), but it's not so cool when I'm trying to teach something. I actually bribed one of my classes with the promise of stickers if they behaved themselves, which worked really well!

I'm so sad that I'm missing Thanksgiving this year. It's my favorite holiday, I always spend it with my family, and I have such great memories from every single Thanksgiving that I can remember. This year I won't be with my family, they don't even know what cranberries are in France, and I certainly don't have an oven to cook anything in. And none of the other assistants in town seem to care or want to do anything. Sigh. At least I made hand turkeys with my kids today.

French people make different sounds than we do in the US. They say "op" a lot, like when they're getting up from a seated position or lifting something. They also say "tock" all the time, which kind of means "okay, it's done." Just an observation for your enjoyment.

With French these days, I'm at the point where I feel like my listening and comprehension skills have really improved but I am getting increasingly frustrated at my inability to express myself. I just don't have the words to say what I want to say. Now that I'm feeling more confident being here in France and with speaking French in general I really want to start saying more, but I just don't have the vocabulary. So, I end up looking like an idiot for just standing around silently, and I miss out on opportunities to connect with French people. I guess I should try to study some vocab everyday, but how boring is that? And besides, who has the time?

To finish my Paris weekend narration, it was really just a lovely weekend. It was nice to get away and just enjoy myself and not think about other problems for a while. I enjoyed it so much that I was back again last Saturday. It's so convenient from here, just a little over an hour by train. One of the reasons I really wanted to do this program was to travel and see things, so I really need to start making more of an effort to do that. I have Fridays off for that very reason! From now on I will be travelling more. Any suggestions for weekend trips or offers of floors to crash on? :)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Can't I Be On Vacation Forever?

I'm back from my wonderful weekend in Paris and I already wish I were back there on vacation. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to be back in Soissons, and especially to have my beautiful; comfy; warm couette (duvet) again, but it also means that it's the end of vacation. Not only vacation from school but from the aforementioned medical problems I've been having, which I now have to deal with again. It's like this cloud of dread over everything.

But, let me tell you how wonderful Paris was! Unfortunately I can't upload any photos yet because I won't be able to use my laptop and wifi until Friday when I am at the Inscription, but they will come. Let me say first of all that I took art history in high school, really enjoyed it, and am a nerd about looking at art, I just love it. Okay. I got in on Friday and spent the afternoon at the Musee Rodin. It was incredible to see all of those famous pieces in person! The Thinker is actually not even half as big as I thought it would be, but it was still quite impressive, and of course most amazing was just seeing it in person. The museum is small so it's definitely doable in a few hours, and you can spend time looking at everything as long as you want without feeling pressured to move on so you can see it all. For dinner I wandered around the area by Quai d'Orsay for a little while, checking out menus, and chose a traditional French restaurant. The food was amazing, the best meal I had all weekend. For the entree (or as we say in America, hors d'oevre) I had a salad topped with a giant square of goat cheese baked in a layer of phyllo, and for the plat (main course) a duo of salmon and merlon (not sure what that is in English) in a creamy, herby sauce with spinach and potatoes. Wonderful.

Saturday I went to the Palais Garnier, the famous opera house where Phantom of the Opera is set. Yes, I love Phantom of the Opera. It was almost like a pilgrimage, and I did have to hum the music to myself sometimes. This building is so fabulous I can't even describe it. Totally opulent and over the top, everything is marble and gold and carved and beautiful. I had a guided tour, but unfortunately I got the timed wrong and had to go on the tour in French instead of English so I didn't understand everything, but I did get to see Box Number 5! I also went to the Galleries Lafayette. Massive department store doesn't even begin to describe the madness! It's so huge that it takes up multiple buildings. I am excited to go back and see it all lit up later in the winter. Dinner was at an Italian restaurant. I had a lovely salad with lots of parmesan, artichoke hearts, toamatoes, and other yummy veggies. Then I had a pasta with goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, and a lemony sauce. The sun dried tomatoes were a little salty but otherwise it was quite good.

Sunday was a sort of special anniversary for me and I wanted to spend it at the Louvre. Well, the Louvre was a complete madhouse because the first Sunday of every month museums are free admission, so the entire world and their relatives from Neptune were there. It was still amazing. Again, it's incredible to see pieces that you've studied in art class in person. I spent most of my time in the ancient Roman and Greek art rooms, and you could watch the evolution of the styles and see the differences between them..... really remarkable. Especially the vases. One day a person decided to decorate this very mundane household item. Why? What inspired someone to decorate it? I had a hurried tour of parts of the ancient NearEast section too on my way to see Hamurabi's code. The famous pieces that I saw were the Venus de Milo, Hamurabi's Code, Nike of Samothrace, and bien sur, the Mona Lisa. Venus de Milo was just incidental to my tour of the Greek galleries. Hamurabi's Code was actually smaller than I thought it would be. I had imagined a giant pillar but it's not even as tall as I am. It was still amazing to see. I had a hurried look at the earliest pieces of writing there too. Again, fascinating. The Nike of Samothrace was also incredible. The way her toga flows around her is so beautiful and so real, she looks the very image of exultation and victory. The only problem is that it was super crowded and difficult to get a good picture. It was the same case at the Mona Lisa. Surprisingly enough though, the Mona Lisa was the piece that impressed me the most. I had always thought "okay, it's a picture, it's famous, but there isn't that much special about it." I was so wrong! It is entirely different to see it in person than as a picture in a book. The colors are vivid, and she smiles her secret smile, and her eyes really do follow you everywhere you go. I really understand now why she is so famous. As I was looking at her I felt like we were sharing a secret. I'm not quite sure what that secret was, but even so it was a really special thing to see.

Okay, have got to run now, but I'll finish up my narration a little later.