Wednesday, December 31, 2008






Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Have I Become Too French?

Being from Michigan, and having many family members who work for the Big Three automakers, I payed close attention to the recent bailout drama a few weeks ago.

I'm not going to yap about if the Big Three deserve a bailout or not, or if their business practices have led to their current situation (although I will point out that even the highly touted foreign automakers are facing huge losses in the face of high gasoline prices earlier this year and the current economic crisis). This debate has been going on in the US since the 1970s, people thinking American cars are terrible is nothing new. What did totally shock me though was the real anger and dislike for unionized workers at the American automakers, the disdain for the UAW and it's members. That disdain and anger didn't just come from the Republicans on Capitol Hill (which is totally predictable because they hate unions and the middle class), but from everywhere in America. To quote Bob Herbert in his fantastic New York Times Op-Ed piece "It is becoming an article of faith in the discussions over an auto industry rescue, that unionized autoworkers should be taken off of their high horses and shoved into a deal in which they would not make significantly more in wages and benefits than comparable workers at Japanese carmakers like Toyota."

What is the difference in wages and benefits then? The breakdown from David Leonhardt's December 10th article in the Times says "most of the gap stems from [the Japanese automakers] less generous benefits," and that about $15 of the gap is the benefits that the automakers continue to pay to their retirees - and there are a lot of them. Basically the difference is that UAW workers, past and present, have good health care and pension benefits. So what the heck is the problem with that?

Sure, unionized autoworkers (and I say unionized because most workers at the Japanese plants aren't unionized, and therefore have "less generous benefits") have a great deal, a better deal than the majority of Americans who are perpetually terrified of losing health insurance and everything in their 401(k). Are Americans insanely jealous of the auto workers? So jealous that in some crazed, bitter outpouring of anger they want to see the auto workers brought down to that level? And let's screw over the old, retired people while we're at it?

What is so bad about someone getting a good benefits package? Why aren't we thrilled that through the UAW an entire generation of workers entered into the middle class, with secure wages and health care and pensions? (Today's workers can't aspire to anything that good, btw) Why do we insist that auto workers be brought down to a subsitence level?

I read Un americain en picardie a month or two after I first got to France last year and loved it (and totally recommend it, it's hilarious). But I was disappointed at the end when the American boss who comes in to run the French factory, in my opinion at least, capitulates to what I think are some of the worst parts of how businesses are run in France. He became "too French." But have I in turn become too French? Is it "too French" to think that benefits should be a basic right? I know when I lived full time in the US I still felt this way! Am I just not American enough? I just can't understand whatever makes so many people think that somehow it isn't right for the auto workers to have health care and pension benefits. Good health care and retirement packages shouldn't be restricted to doctors and lawyers and the bankers and hedge fund managers who caused the current global economic crisis. Everyone should get good benefits, including working people. We all, all Americans, deserve a better deal than, as Bob Herbert puts it, "a race to the bottom."

End of soap box rant. Just had to get something that's been driving me insane for the past month off my chest. Rant over.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I've been cursed by France! .... And Happy Holidays

Well, it took it a couple of days, but Northern France managed to follow me to the US:


Grey skies, smiling at me, nothing but grey skies, do I see....


You can't really tell in this picture, but it is raining, and all my beautiful snow is melting and turning to icy slush


So much for all my crowing about the snow!


Happy holidays again!

Welcome Home and Happy Holidays!

I think my plea to the snow gods may have worked too well. The plane ride back to the US was fine, but I came back to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and -20 with the windchill, plus some light snow showers on top of the 6 to 8 inches that got dumped a couple of days ago. This made for less than pleasant arrival delays because there was lots of stuff to do at the airport and not enough people around to do it, plus ridiculous levels of coldness. First we waited an hour on the runway waiting for a gate. Actually we weren't even on the runway, we were parked right by our gate, but there was machinery just hanging out at the gate and everyone was too occupied with other snow/cold related issues to help us. So we waited. Then we got off and went through passport control. And of course lots of people have connecting flights to catch and they're freaking out about still having to pick up their luggage and run to their new flight.

So once we clear passport control, on we go to wait for our bags..... and wait..... and wait. After about 30 or 45 minutes they made an announcement saying that because of the cold temperatures the baggage compartment door is iced shut and they can't get it open. Okay, fine, they have de-icing techniques because duh, this is Michigan, it's cold, planes need to be de-iced. So we keep waiting.... and waiting.... and waiting.... and people are starting to really get upset. Of course I don't have an American cell phone to call my parents, who are circling the airport, that we're being held up, but they figured it out. So after about two hours the customs officers make an announcement saying that they are not the ones holding us in baggage claim, that Northwest has to release us without our baggage, and that they are going to tell Northwest that if they don't let us go in five minutes they are going to call the news station. Well sure enough, we were released a few minutes later, without our baggage. Which for me isn't a big deal because I'm just going to my house, where I have other clothes and toiletries and stuff, but I felt really bad for travellers and people connecting to other cities. So I leave without my baggage and I called constantly the entire next day to see if my baggage had been rescued yet. Finally at 5:30 they said it was cleared through customs and ready to be picked up so my dad rescued it on his way home from work. But then listen to this, they didn't check his ID or check off on a list that someone had come to pick up my bags! He could have been anyone!

But that whole ridiculousness is over now, and thankfully I don't have to wear pajamas to my family's Hanukkah party tomorrow (the only day we were all free was Christmas!). We got MORE snow yesterday, and it was fabulous! Not the wet, slushy gross stuff I get in the north of France but beautiful, white, powdery goodness. I'll try to take some pictures this afternoon to share. Unfortunately there aren't as many houses with lights up as I remember, so I'm not sure if people are worried about their electricity costs, or if they've all gotten to old to put up lights, or if a bunch of other Jews have moved into the neighborhood, but it makes me a little sad that there aren't as many lights as I was anticipating. I've been trying to sleep, but jet lag is murder (I woke up at 6:45 this morning!!!). I've seen some friends, and I've been having fun playing with my Kindle. This is the coolest thing ever. I'm very excited about having cheap access to English books when I get back to France. And of course I've been lighting the menorah (actually a chanukiah, but who's paying attention) and eating latkes (fried potato pancakes). And oh man, I went to the grocery store with my mom last night and it was about the most amazing experience ever. There were so many options! There were so many international food choices! There were so many soy and tofu products! They had cream cheese! And bagels! And wow, we have so many frozen and junk food and cookie options that it is at the point of ridiculousness.

Happy holidays to all!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Snow Makes Everything Better!

This is my plea to the gods of snow that there will be a gigantic snowstorm while I'm home. Some photos from last Tuesday when it actually snowed here (for about three hours, until it turned to rain and melted).


At the local abbey ruins... OK, so there isn't a whole lot of snow, but I think it's a nice picture


At a park



Are you daydreaming of sledding and snowmen and snow angels yet?




From my window
So it wasn't a lot of snow, and it didn't stick for very long, but any snow is welcome here! Here's thinking snowy thoughts for all of the expats....









Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Day in Paris, Cleverly Presented in Bullets

(skip to the end for the important part)

- I love the RER E. I love the fact that it takes me somewhere totally different than the other metro lines that run through Gare du Nord. Instead of mindlessly hopping on the 4 or the RER B to Chatelet, or the 5 (I hate the 5 because I have to take it to my horrible specialist doctor at that horrible hospital), I can get off in the 2nd Arrondissement, which I love.

- Eiffel Tower key chains have really come down in price. I remember when they tried to sell them to you for a whole euro. Now 50 cents is almost a rip off.

- Stay far, far away from Rue St Denis. I took it as a shortcut to get from Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle to Chatelet. Imagine my surprise when I realized the "store owners" who were all wearing fur coats and standing in doorways were actually hookers! Yes, I am naive and innocent enough that I was completely shocked and definitely made some kind of totally surprised face when I realized I was in Hooker Central, in broad daylight, on a Saturday afternoon. It was just so unexpected. So I put on my best "don"t f*%$ with me" face and kept going, hoping I would be safe when I crossed over Etienne Marcel. Nope. I had crossed over to the the sex shop and pornographic movie theater strip of St Denis.

- I wish I were less socially awkward. I shared a table at Starbucks with two girls who are law students in Paris and it would have been so cool to be friends with them, but I of course let that opportunity to actually have friends in this country slip right on by. Not that we would have become real friends or anything, but it was a reminder of the fact that I just don't meet people, although I really am trying!

- I really dislike the underbelly of the Gare du Nord, you know, where the RERs B and D arrive and depart from? This is probably close to hatred, but it's really more like self-hatred because I know my anger towards the station is displaced anger towards myself for always managing to get lost in there! It's so stupid because really, all you have to do is follow the signs and get on the escalator to get back up to the main train station. Not that hard, right? And yet I still manage to get totally confused and lost and turned around and wandering around the bus station. Sometimes I am so kinder.

- Kinder, if you are wondering, is a French candy that the kids love. It's milk chocolate filled with some kind of white, milky interior. I just had one for the first time the other day, it's okay, I'd still rather have American candy. But apparently kinder can also be used in slang when referring to brunettes who have blonde moments. Get it? Because the kinder is brown on the outside but white on the inside, like you have brown hair but the brain is all blonde... Well, I thought it was cute and clever, in any case.

Special note regarding the use of kinder: this may be an obscure slang term only used in Picardie. Use with care.

- I think the Gare du Nord in general is a crappy train station. We don't have good food vendors. I would love a Brioche Dorée there. Instead we have the train station food company and Paul. I'm not a huge Paul fan, don't really like their veggie sandwich. So basically, I'm a picky eater and I'm taking it out on the Gare du Nord. Poor Gare du Nord, it is the scapegoat for all of my various issues.

- I think my town exists in a snow-free alternate universe. How else can I explain the fact that in all the other towns on the way back they had snow sticking to the ground, and when I got back to my town it was slushing/hailing/sleeting/raining with the occasional snow flake. Not fair!

- I love that I can complain about these totally meaningless, mundane things. Because that means I don't have any real problems right now (knock on wood). Contrary to how I may have sounded in this post, I'm actually quite content right now. I'm making snowmen in my classes this week. Winter vacation starts on Friday. I'm leaving on Sunday for the US where I will get my fill of Christmas decorations and music and (hopefully) snow. Hanukkah starts on Sunday night and we'll light the candles, eat fried potato pancakes, and get presents for eight nights. My mom will cook me yummy food for two whole weeks. Life is good.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

This weekend at the Katia and Kyliemac 200th Episode Live Broadcast + overall extravaganza was super fun and I'm so glad I went. It was great to meet new bloggers and see old ones again, eat some North American style food, and be part of the shenaniganeries. I even won a door prize! I am still so excited about it. I never win anything, and Andromeda had just won something, so I said to her as she was walking back "I hope I win something too!" And then literally ten seconds later I did! A thermal mug thing, courtesy of Breakfast in America. It's the perfect prize because I had been thinking all week that I needed to get one so that I can have hot tea while dealing with the rugrats at 8:30 AM, and of course in France, land of drinks sur place, where would I find something like that for a reasonable price? Well, Saturday was my lucky day, Katia and Kyliemac heard my expat prayers and I am now the proud owner of a super cool mug. I didn't even have to commander it from Santa Claus! So you heard it here first: Katia and Kyliemac are better than Santa Claus.

The excitement and overall excellence of the weekend was followed by the miracle of SNOW, and not just any snow, snow that stuck to the ground! Well, it stuck for about two hours until it started melting and turned to rain. I ran out while it was still pretty snow to take some pictures, so if anyone in the 02 heard tales of a crazy girl running around taking pictures of the snow, that was me. I got some good pictures on the small hill in town where it was colder and there was maybe half an inch of snow, so I'll get those up as soon as possible. I think I was the only (adult) person who found it beautiful and didn't just get freaked out about cleaning off my car and driving in it. Sometimes I feel like I've moved to Georgia, you know, those states that us Northerners always make fun of in the winter when they shut everything down because of a couple of flakes of snow.

I'm trying to ride the wave of these two excellent things going into my day tomorrow at L School (formerly Directeur Napoleon Complex School and home of the infamous Monster Class). Tomorrow for once my main worry isn't the monster class, it's the other teachers. I went to see my conseillère pédagogique on Friday afternoon to ask her for some advice about them and also about dealing with two CE1 classes that have 5 or 6 out of 20 students who are en difficulté (they are slower on the pickup of things like reading and writing and therefore also English). Her suggestion was to divide the classes in two and leave the other half with the teacher so that with the monster class I would (hopefully, although I doubt it) have less discipline problems, and with the CE1 I could spend more time working with individual students. Well, the problem with her plan is that for two of the three classes we're talking about the teachers don't stay in the room with me, so she offered to go to L School and tell the teachers they have to stay in the room with me. She was nice about it, not like "you're violating the rules" but I think it was taken badly at L School. The Directeur and the CE1 teacher are not my biggest fans, and I'm sure they think I went behind their back to criticize them to the Inspection, which is not at all the case. They've probably had fun trashing me (more than usual) this week (because the people at this school are petty like that and always have to have someone to talk about), and I'm a little worried that tomorrow is going to be less than pleasant. But like my mom said, I have to go in with a positive attitude and not feel all defensive, just explain calmly and clearly why I went to go speak to her and how they can help me. I don't work with the directeur this year, so whatever for him, but the CE1 maitresse is your classic screaming, degrading the children, constantly putting down the kids having a tough time French teacher, so I don't really want her involved with my class, but I may have to let her in a little. I bet she's really going to crack down on the kids now.

And I know it would have been better if I told them myself that they need to stay in the class with me, but if I haven't done it for he past year, I'm definitely not about to do it now. I'm very shy about these kinds of things. So I will hope that I can clean up the mess that I made. On verra.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Well that was a big, fat failure

I did a trial run of my phonics lesson on short "i" (with a little bit of "or" and "th" practice thrown in for kicks, to help with their thirteen/fourteen problem) at V School (New School) and it went awesomely well, I was so impressed by how well they did and how much their pronounciation imrpoved. I wasn't expecting the same results from the monster class at Directeur Napoleon Complex School (or L School, which is perhaps easier to remember and type) but I certainly wasn't expecting what happened....

... which is that they were more monster-ish than they have ever been in the past year+ that I've been working with them! OMG, I have no idea what to do with these kids. The noise that they can make is unbelievable, it's beyond anything I could even imagine out of 9 and 10 year olds. Granted, there are 25 of them, but still! And then the drawing that just wouldn't stop, and the constant, constant talking... it was a very unpleasant 45 minutes. Even having the teacher in the room with me did nothing. Not surprisingly they didn't learn much. I just can't think about them anymore today, they will have to go on the back burner until Sunday.

And I have so many things to cheer myself up! I went out and bought two pastries (desperate times call for two pastries) and tomorrow is the Katia and Kyliemac 200th Episode extravaganza! As Sabrina says, "Paris is always a good idea." Especially when you spent most of the day completely demoralized by French children.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Will Hooked on Phonics Work for Me?

I hope all the Americans remember that commercial so I don't feel like such a dork for making it the title.

The monster class is driving me insane. Yes, I was lucky enough to have those little angels yet again this year. Every day with them is a joy, as you can imagine. Discipline is actually going better this year, I'm just a hard ass from the minute class starts until the minute it finishes and I think I'm slowly breaking them (or so I tell myself). But what's driving me nuts about them right now isn't their inability to behave but their inability to listen, understand, and reproduce English sounds. They can't hear the difference between thirteen and fourteen (and half of them STILL haven't learned their numbers in English) and they can't pronounce English sounds correctly. We just played a number pronounciation game where they got upset that I wasn't giving them credit for the right number, but how can I possibly do that if I can't understand them?!? So after pulling my hair out about this for weeks, I've decided to do some phonics with them. I think part of the problem is that they just don't understand that in English the sounds are different and that they are supposed to try to reproduce and understand the sounds I make, not do whatever they want. We all know the problem of the French not hearing anything in English because all movies and TV shows are dubbed in French. This group of kids is also already at a disadvantage because many of them come from poorer and more troubled backgrounds. So we're going to try phonics and hopefully that will help, and I'm also going to tell them to watch a DVD in English this weekend. Otherwise I am at my wit's end. If anyone has any other listening or pronounciation activity ideas please share!

This weekend I had my first choir concert in France! It was fine. I find it a little unsatisfying musically to be in a "just for fun" choir like this. We don't prepare our songs to the same level that I did in high school and college, so it feels sloppy to me. And last night when we were learning new music we didn't even have to sight read, the director just played our notes for us. In any case, they are all super nice, and I enjoy singing in a group and making music and using my voice for more than singing the ABCs and the Hello Song!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Another Thanksgiving Miracle!

I went down to the sous-préfecture today to see if the récépissé for my carte de séjour was ready yet ( this is the piece of paper that says I've applied for my green card) . Remember that there's a weird new lady this year who wanted my last three pay slips, attestations from Sécu, and my tax sheet in addition to the usual birth certificate, contract, etc. I'd kind of been thinking that with all of these extra things submitted for my CDS that I might somehow slip under the radar and get a salarié card instead of an assistant/lecteur card. A salarié would be valid for about a year, give me the right to stay and work in France and the right to renew the card versus the assistant card that's over and done with when your contract is up.

The récepissé was ready, and after telling the weird new lady how happy I am that Obama was elected, I left the office, free to examine my shiny new piece of paper from the French government. And it says....

"... a demandé la delivrance d'un premier titre de séjour d'un an..."

Or in English, that I have made the request for a CDS of one year! I don't know for sure if it will be salarié or if it'll be a normal temporary card that's valid for longer than usual. In any case, I'm cautiously hopeful! This means that theoretically I will be able to stay in France without having to find a guy who will PACS me. I'll just have to find a company desperate to employ a native English speaker.

Come to think of it, finding a man is probably easier!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

How to Make Thanksgiving Dinner Without an Oven

I love Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday. I have such great memories of spending it at my aunt's house, watching football while the yummy cooking smells rolled in from the kitchen, me and my cousin trying to break up fights between my brother and sister, getting stuck on the Pennsylvania turnpike for hours in snowstorms, turkey jigglers, my aunt's collection of turkey household objects, the whole family in an over-eating induced stupor on the couch after dinner watching Home Alone ... I really like the idea of a day where we have to think about what we're grateful for in our lives, instead of our usual routine of complaints and dissatisfaction.

And yet I find myself in France and not celebrating Thanksgiving with any Americans this year due to various scheduling problems (thanks SNCF). So I was determined to try to do something Thankgiving-y for myself, despite my very limited cooking implements: one electric burner, a microwave, and a refrigerator. I wasn't terribly hopeful of finding anything really typically Thanksgiving, until I saw cranberries at Monoprix last week! So I got my mom's recipe for cranberry sauce and headed back on Monday to pick up the cranberries....

...Except there were no cranberries, they were sold out! I panicked, cursing the horrible Frenchies who for whatever reason had decided to eat MY cranberries, and had to hope that they would be replaced the next day. No dice on Tuesday, and when there still weren't any cranberries yesterday I almost cried. But then, today, a Thanksgiving miracle! Cranberries had returned! So I grabbed them quickly before someone could take them out from under my nose (clearly they're a popular item), then headed over to the meat section to see what I could do about finding some already cooked turkey. The whole no oven thing is complicated when you have to make turkey in a country that doesn't really eat turkey. I don't know why they aren't more into the turkey, it's a delicious bird. I found this "roasted cooked turkey" (it was that or fried turkey patties, gross), and after a consultation with my friendly Monoprix butcher, I decided that it was a loaf of turkey deli meat that I could slice and warm in the microwave.

So I ended up with a huge tupperware container full of cranberry sauce, warm turkey deli meat, and a baked potato. I was too hungry to wait for a vegetable to be cooked and ready to eat! The one burner thing makes cooking a rather long process if you want to get into the main course plus side dish thing, and cranberries are a fruit anyway, so I got some fiber and vitamins. I have to say, it wasn't a half bad substitute for Thanksgiving and I am very thankful for that meal. I've been congratulating myself on it all night long, especially the cranberry sauce! I've never made it before and I'm known to really screw things up the first time I try to make them (kind of like how I always get lost the first time I go somewhere). Luckily it turned out okay, and tomorrow I can have the second best part of Thanksgiving food: leftover turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches the next day!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Six Things

Leah tagged me a few days ago, and after a busy, tiring, and half malade week, I'm finally getting around to it. So here we go, my first tag (!) and six things you probably don't know about me:

1.) I'm a huge nerd. Okay, this may not be something you don't know, because I think I've written about it on here before. But it really is true, I am a huge nerd. I always liked school and I still really like learning, especially about history (and current clinical practice in oncology, but that's another bag of worms). I plan my vacations here in Europe around seeing cool historical stuff because that's what I like to do on vacation. After years of lamenting my complete lack of coolness I've embraced my inner nerd and I am not ashamed of it. Clearly I was never very popular in school :(

2.) I really like rap and hip hop. It is a total non-sequitur with the above, but it's true. I can rap along to most Ludacris songs, and if you get me drunk enough I've been known to do it in public. You could say that I have an eclectic taste in music. When I put my iPod on shuffle I often have Jay-Z followed by opera followed by John Mayer.

3.) Ben and I are no longer together. He broke up with me about a month ago. He says that he's just not capable of being in a new relationship yet (after a very complicated history and nasty break up with his ex) and that it doesn't have anything to do with me, he has no idea why he feels this way, etc blah blah blah. Basically when I got back we had one good week and then things got weird, and finally I had to force him to break up with me. When things started getting weird I told him that we could just try dating and see how that went but he was insistent that he wanted to be together with me, and then clearly that didn't work out .... I don't know, it's all very confusing. It's been hard, not only because we built a really strong connection during those months when I was in the US when we were talking on the phone or emailing every day, but also because I was expecting to come back and have him there, and he's not. And then of course there's all the usual break up garbage. I mean, I know that we had a rather unconventional "relationship" and we weren't really "together" because we spent so little time physically in each other's company (especially compared to how much time we spent apart), but being forced to speak to each other (and we could talk for hours on the phone) really forced us to get to know each other, to know a lot about the other person and to see if we were compatible together. So in summary, as you can all see I'm totally incapable of starting or maintaining a normal relationship. Blah. I sandwiched this in the middle on purpose so that it doesn't make the end of the post all depressing. Let's forget about it and move on to number four...

4.) I really like those silly coffee dispensers they have in France. I'm not a big coffee drinker (only with milk and sugar, and of course in France you aren't allowed to put milk in your coffee so I don't drink coffee here, and it really bugs me that you can never get it to go except at Starbucks), but I like the thé nature and cappuccino. For only 40 centimes you get the same amount of liquid that you get at a café for €3. And the stuff tastes pretty good too! In fact I am sipping a thé nature while I'm writing this. And speaking of tea, why don't the French put honey in their tea? They always offer you sugar, and we all know that the superior tea sweetener is honey.

5.) In general I'm a pretty calm person and not too many things make me very upset, but beware if you get me going about politics. I was a poli sci major in college, and politics is something that can bring on very passionate reactions from me, including telling people they've been brainwashed into believing Republican nonesense (even if the brainwashing bit is true, you really shouldn't say things like that, it's rude). I just feel very strongly about public policy, specifically health care and social welfare policies, and I let my emotions get away from me. I mean, these are policies that determine the well-being of millions of people, you have to make sure it's done right. So it's probably best not to get into political discussions with me. Let me be crazy in my own head and we'll all pretend that I'm not two steps from being one of those psychotic people who rant on cardboard boxes on the corner.

6.) I am bordelique, as the French say, or in English, I'm messy. This doesn't mean that I'm dirty, because I am a germaphobe. Bordelique means that I accumulate stuff, mostly teaching stuff, and have nowhere to put it but generally around my room. I try to set up an organizational system with pochettes and hanging file folders and boxes so that everything is in a logical order, but it just doesn't work, because the next day when I come home with my teaching stuff I'm just going to throw it on top of the pile instead of in the hanging file folder or pochette where it belongs. And then things get really unorganized because I take multiple classes' photocopies to school in the same pochette, even though every class has a different pochette, and then don't reorganize it when I get home, so when I'm looking for it I can't find it because it's not where it's supposed to be. I'm hopeless.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

This year personnels non-titulaires in the education system have a council (CCP) that will meet with the rectorat about all firings and individual job-related problems. On Thursday I got a big envelope with flyers from all of the different unions that want me to vote for them to carry my grievances to the rectorat. I am planning to vote, even though I don't think they'll actually do anything for me, so I'm trying to figure out which syndicat to vote for.

I immediately dismissed CGT and CFDT. I want nothing to do with unions who continually make my life miserable with train strikes. I want to make sure I vote for an organization that engages in real discussions and doesn't just faire la grève all the time.

So that leaves several other syndicats to consider. Most of them make totally ridiculous claims - one of them says they are going to guarantee me well-behaved students. Good luck buddy. Do they have a plan to personally harass each smart-mouthed lycéen and call the parents of all my wiggly little CE1s? Another promises to preserve laicité in the schools. I'm not sure what aspect of secularism they think is being attacked, are they going to require Muslim girls to not wear a head scarf outside of the building now? However if they will support me in my decision to not talk about Christmas at all I'm all for that. Tangent on Christmas in the French schools - I know that in France Christmas is more like Thanksgiving, that it's been totally stripped of any religious meaning, but in America it is still a religious holiday, and as such I belive it has no place in the public schools and I refuse to teach it. To me that is a major laicité violation. So if they can get all the marchés de noel outlawed, I'll vote for that. (We'll see if I end up actually refusing to teach Christmas or if I cave in under pressure.) The other problem is that most of these unions are for teachers of secondaire, and I'm more concerned about what happens in primaire.

But realistically, what are any of these groups going to do for me? Are they going to insist on the rectorat sponsoring a visa for me next year? Doubtful. Are they going to do anything to ameliorate the working conditions of assistants? Also doubtful. But I like feeling that I can have an impact on what happens here, so I'll vote anyway. If you have any information on the education syndicats feel free to share!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Next step in my quest to make new friends: become attached to the hip to the 27 year old directrice at V School. She must have cool, motivated, intelligent friends, right?

To the three other people who live on the couloir des profs in my chateau (ie the professors' hallway at the lycee where I live): I know I use the kitchen and the trash. I also know that you use the kitchen and the trash. I also know that I am the only one who cleans the kitchen, shower, and toilet (both of which I also know that you use). There is no magical trash removal fairy. You can get off your lazy ass and take out the damn trash. Yes, you.

Is it time to move? Furnished studios are being rented out in the centre ville, in a location about as ideal as where I live right now. The problem is that it would be a lot more money, €300 - 500, versus the €70 that I pay right now, and I'm not sure that it would be charges compris (if the price would include electric, etc) or if they have an elevator, because I am a wimp and I really like being able to use the elevator for heavy suitcases, groceries, etc. I'm also not sure that I want to make myself more settled here, to make any moves towards permanency and establishment. I've never even had my own apartment in the US, I've lived either in my parents' house or in university dorms. But at the same time, I am here until at least the end of June, which is seven long months, and I would be more comfortable in my own place. They are open tomorrow until 5 PM, I guess there's no harm in checking it out...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Yesterday I went out and joined my groups! Apparently I'm going to be taking a "modelage" class, not a sculpting class. In France sculpting is exclusively with stone. As much as I love the image of myself as Michaelangelo, slowly chipping away at giant blocks of stone to make beautiful masterpieces, I definitely don't have that kind of patience or muscle control. So modelage it is! I'll sit in on the class next Monday to try it out. The teacher was really nice and seemed very positive about having me in the class despite my failed attempts at pinch pots back in 4th grade. She wants me in the 4:30 class, so I'm not sure how likely it is that there will be anyone my age taking a class at that time of day during normal working hours, but I'll keep my fingers crossed. She also decided to warn me that there are mentally handicapped people in the class. For anyone keeping tabs on the French prejudice against anyone with different mental abilities, you can add that episode to the list. Clearly the teacher isn't prejudiced, but she thought there was a possibility that I might be, or at least that I needed to be alerted to that fact.

Yesterday I also went to choir rehearsal! Mondays are going to be a busy day for me. Everyone in the choir is super nice and they were very welcoming. It seems that the soprano/alto personality divide is the same in France as it is in the US, so the sopranos are mostly the popular girls and the altos are more laid group. I've already been taken in by the soprano "groupe de copines" - the popular girls want me in their group! Let's say that in the US I was the exception to the soprano rule, so this is very exciting. As I was expecting the chorus is almost exclusively retirees, so the average age difference is about 40 years, but they may have chlidren or grandchildren my age who they'll want me to be friends with, or at the very least they may invite me over for dinner sometimes. I was very encouraged by how friendly they were, hopefully it will continue! At least I have the double novelty factor of being a) young and b) American.

The guy who runs the Cultural Center, where I'll be taking my modelage class, is an interesting guy. He started by asking me on what American authors he could read to get more of a feel of the American people and our history, because in France "we don't get the real story." At least he realizes that! And then he wanted to have a long discussion on the situation of American Indians (I use the term American Indian because the last I heard we were moving back towards that rather than saying Native Americans. In any case, I am trying to be sensitive and politically correct). Luckily I happen to know a little bit about this so I could sound semi-intelligent and informed, but if it were otherwise? This is a long winded way of saying that I think it's funny that the French automatically assume that as an American I know everything about America and can discuss any topic under the sun that might have something to do with my country. Do the French themselves feel competant to expound on any topic relating to France? I think the answer to that is yes, I have yet to meet a French person who doesn't have something to say about everything!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Also...

Does anyone know if there is anything interesting happening for Armistice Day in Paris other than the wreath-laying and military parade at 9 AM? And are those things even worth going to?

Recent Events in the 02

- I was finally given permission by my conseillère pédagogique to address her with the informal tu instead of the formal vous! It only took a little over a year. It's an interesting issue. I've eaten at her house several times, she knows a ton about me, and yet at the same time she is still my boss, so I didn't consider it abnormal to use vous with her for so long, although I guess I am a little surprised that it took as long as it did for her to decide that I could be informal with her now. I think that the complexity of vous and tu, like the genders of all the different nouns, is something that I will never fully understand even if I live in France for the rest of my life.

- Monoprix sells the type of Le Petit Marseillais body wash that I like to use in packets of two-for-one, except for the scent that I use. Why not mine? Let me preface this by saying that I have very sensitive skin, and what I'm sensitive to is added perfumes in lotion and soap products. This = disaster in France because everything, EVERYTHING, is heavily scented with perfume. Last year I tried lots and lots of different products, and even the products for sensitive skin have so much perfume in them that you stink like a hooker and break out in hives (I'm looking at you, Nivea). Back in June I finally I found a Petit Marseillais product with no artificial perfumes added, and I decided to try it out, still slightly sceptical. Luckily it was a successful experiment! Thank you Le Petit Marseillais! So I returned to Monoprix to restock, only to find that all the other scents of this particular type of body wash (which all have artificial perfumes added) are available in a two-for-one package but not this one. What's with the sensitive skin discrimination, France? We are deserving of cheaper body wash too! And on that same note, why the obsession with perfume-y body products? One can assume that if you're using these products in the first place you are interested in personal hygiene and don't stink, therefore not needing all the extra perfume to cover up unpleasant odors. Maybe the French have caught on to the fact that other countries think they all smell bad and so they've gone overboard trying not to be smelly? Have American stereotypes turned the French into paranoid perfume junkies? ;)

- this week I am going to join a local choir and a sculpting class. I'm writing it on here because I'm kind of nervous about joining, and if I keep this idea in my head I'll put it off and put it off and in the end just not do it. So now you are all morally obligated to check in with me and see if I've joined yet. I've been singing in choirs since 8th grade, reaching my peak choral involvement at university when I was in three singing groups and in rehearsals at least 12 hours a week. So joining a choir is nothing new for me, except that I know I'll be sick all winter again and not be able to sing. Sculpting, on the other hand, will be something new and challenging. I haven't been in an art class since 6th grade. I was never terribly gifted and my parents had to put up with a lot of lopsided, badly painted pinch-pots when I was in elementary school. The point of taking the class is mostly to meet some new people, so hopefully the other students won't be the judgemental type if my people look more like mushrooms!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Best Day EVER!!!

What can I say but YES!!!!

I would post a picture of our new President Elect (!!!!) but Blogger won't let me. Either that or I am completely computer illiterate.

I am really excited about the future with President Obama. America has proven that she is still the land of opportunity, where anything can happen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Vacation has been fun, with the high point hopefully coming at about 4 AM this morning when Obama is named the winner of the US presidential election! Today happens to be a very, very special day for me so I'm hoping to get a nice present from the American people when they elect him our next president. I'm still debating about going into Paris to stay up all night watching election returns, but I'm actually really tired from all the running around I've done so I may chicken out and decide to stay home and sleep.

I had a wonderful week-long visit from my friend Erica. It was her first time in France, so we spent a couple of days visiting places around here (including a champagne tour and tasting of some extremely expensive varieties!) and then headed off to Paris for a few days to end her stay. Amazingly enough there are still things I haven't done in Paris! Highlights included wandering around Montmartre and stumbling upon Thanksgiving in the Marais, where I can buy canned pumpkin! Now if only I could find an oven to make my mom's pumpkin bread....

Unfortunately I now have to pass my last couple days of vacation without hot water or internet at the lycee. They always threaten to turn off the hot water but had never actually done it until now! I did have a little hot water a couple hours ago when I washed my hands, so maybe they've turned it back on? The professor's room is locked, so no internet, but thankfully there is free wireless at McDonald's, so I'm setting up camp here. No internet at the lycee means no election results until I haul my lazy butt out of bed tomorrow and go buy a newspaper (or go to McDo, whatever). This makes me more disposed to going out all night to watch election results. I did major in political science at university, and I am such a huge political junkie, and I would love to be out and experiencing this historical, momentous election! But I don't like the idea of being out allllll night long all by myself without the possibility of going home if I get completely exhausted. Already being tired from walking all over France with Erica provides me with an excuse to be a boring stick in the mud.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Election wrap up

For the most part my elections lessons were a total success. I had two lessons, because I'm lazy: one for the older kids (CM) and one for the younger guys (CE1). For the little guys we did what I had always been planning on. We talked about the very, very basics of the election (like just the fact that there is an election taking place and who is running), and then I taught them about some American symbols (Statue of Liberty, Liberty Bell, the flag, the bald eagle, and Uncle Sam) and then we did a coloriage magique (since we've learned colors and numbers through 12 so far this year).

In the older classes I ended up talking about who was running, the Republican and Democratic parties and what their beliefs are, and then I quickly explained the electoral college and we colored in the map and counted votes. Surprise surprise, the monster class of CM1/CM2 was enthralled! They actually seemed interested and shut their mouths for a few minutes. It was our best class so far this year (probably because there was very little English involved). I mean really, this was probably the most boring class ever because I just stood up there and talked at them for most of it, and yet somehow it worked. The most interesting part was when I asked them why someone wouldn't want to vote Democratic and a little girl said "because Obama is black and so they might think he isn't an American." This girl is of Moroccan descent, and non-whites have a hard time integrating into French culture, regardless of if they were born in France or not, so I wonder if she feels that way about herself or if she heard it from her parents. I briefly addressed the issue, but I think we'll save the long discussion on mulitculturalism for Martin Luther King Day.

I also did this lesson with my CE2/CM1 class but that wasn't a good idea, it was too much for them. Should have created a third lesson.

I did this with my superstar class of always interested and curious CM2 at V School and it was really good, the kids had lots of background knowledge on the issues at stake so we had a good discussion. With them the interesting/disturbing part was about World War II, actually. Talking about the economic crisis had brought up the Great Depression, and a boy asked why WWII had been fought against the Germans. I asked the class if anyone knew, and another kid said because the Germans wanted to retake land (I assume she meant Alsace-Lorraine). So I told them that it was actually a lot more than that, that Hitler wanted to be the leader of the whole world, and of course there were the internment camps as well. Blank looks. Haven't you kids heard of the death camps that he set up? No, more blank looks. These kids had never heard of the Holocaust. I was stunned and actually quite upset, and I ended up giving them a very, very short (and probably traumatizing) lesson on the Holocaust. I'm still really upset that they didn't know about it. I know that a good portion of that comes from the fact that I'm Jewish, but really, by CM2 (fifth grade in the States), shouldn't these kids have been taught something about the Holocaust? I can only hope that it's coming this year. I asked D and a teacher at another school what the CM2 should know about the Holocause. D said that kids today are horrible (I hear that from a lot of French, btw) and that they either learned and didn't retain it or they just haven't been taught yet. The other teacher faulted the education system, that there is so much to learn and not enough time. Either way, it's shameful. They don't have to know the details about zyklon b but they should at least know that this horrible mass killing, this genocide of 12 million people in an extremely organized, systematic manner took place at one point in history and that we must always be vigilant that it never happens again. I think I'm going to hunt down The Diary of Anne Frank and Number the Stars or maybe The Devil's Arithmetic in French and make these kids read them.

Am I overreacting? I just feel like in this region, which is chock-full of francais de souche who have little contact with anyone different (V School is all white, except for maybe one kid, and in a pretty wealthy village that contains six chateaux) the teachers should be especially vigilant about teaching tolerance and awareness of how wrong prejudice is. I feel another MLK Day lesson idea coming....

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Vide

Vide means empty in French. One thing in my life that is vide right now is my French bank account. I have about €6.30 in there right now. I thought I had left about €500 in there when I left for the summer, and came back to the unpleasant news that it was actually under €200. Good thing the exchange rate from the dollar to the euro is the best it's been in over a year or else I would really be suffering. I'm sure my bank is giving me a really crappy exchange rate anyways. That paycheck can't come soon enough! Luckily I haven't been spending my few euro cents on expensive things like clothes, just on pastries. I think 85 centimes for the little piece of heaven known as a croissant au beurre is a pretty good deal.

Other things vide include my head, which is out of interesting ideas for teaching my kids about the election. I had this really cool idea for my older kids that I would assign them each a state and then they'd have to say if they would vote for Obama or McCain based on a fact sheet with things like number of gun owners, unemployment data, etc, but I feel like they just won't get it. Since the average French adult can't understand why Americans continue to vote Republican (and I have to admit to being sort of clueless myself), I really don't think the kids are going to understand the excersize and will end up bored and unhappy. The ideas and values associated with Republicanism are so far removed from their lives that they won't be able to make sense of it. My four classes of CE1 are easy enough: I'll tell them that there's an election, give them some very very basic details about the candidates and political parties, and then we'll color and count with famous US monuments. I love CE1s. With the older guys I'd like to talk about the electoral college and color the map red and blue and all that, but I'm worried it will be way over their heads (and I know that the monster class won't shut up long enough to hear the explanation). Maybe just show them a colored in map rather than have them figure out what color each state will be, and tell them why? Or just have a simple mock election? Or just do the same thing I'm doing with the CE1 but in more detail?

I feel like my creativity dial is on a big fat 0.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

To get to V School I can't just take the normal bus, I have to take this weird transport on demand line that the city bus runs. They have lines out to smaller or further outlying towns that run at specific times but you have to call at least an hour in advance (or the night before for morning) to reserve a spot and a pick up point. Not so bad, except for remembering to call. Well, this week I had to change my reservations, that I had made on Monday to be all on top of things, two times. Apparently this was way to ridiculous for the lady who takes the reservations. I got yelled at that this is not how the service works, that if I'm not sure of my schedule I should just wait until the day of to make a reservation, and then she threatened to not change my reservation and essentially kick me off of the bus line! WTF! She is there to help me, not the other way around! Whatever. I just played the dumb foreigner card and she decided to let me keep using the stupid bus line. Luckily it looks like three out of my four trips to and from V School coincide with the really nice tech lady who had already offered to give me rides, and now it looks like that's going to work out, so now I only have to deal with the psychotic reservations lady for one ride a week. But really, how French is that? I couldn't follow simple rules and therefore I get yelled at and threatened. And of course it never occured to her that helping the people who need rides is her job. Nope, she just gets bothered all the time by lousy foreigners who don't own cars when she should be shooting the breeze with the other lady in the office. Clearly I should just find another way to get there and stop bothering her during working hours. Sheesh.

Other news... monster class will be getting homework and a quiz every day until they can start behaving like normal children. Monday was Day One of the new policy and we'll see how it goes. I hate doing it, but I cannot spend every class coming up with new strategies to make them shut their traps and listen. Hopefully this will work....

I voted! One more vote in the bucket for Obama! It's starting to look pretty good for us, but I know I'll still be holding my breath on election night. Anyone else thinking about going the the Democrats Abroad election night party?

Monday, October 13, 2008

The time I went to Paris three times in the space of one week and then got some free food

One of the benefits of living in one of the worst départements in France is that I'm only an hour away from Paris by train (unless you get on the ridiculous train that stops at a million tiny towns, then it takes an hour and a half. Normally I try to avoid those). I took advantage of that this week by going to Paris on Thursday, for the weekend, and will be heading back tomorrow on a field trip with V School (my new school) to the Musée d'Orsay. I like that it will be a free trip, because after this weekend my wallet is vide.

I had my first visitor from the US this weekend! My freshman year roommate scheduled a two day layover in Paris to visit with me, and we had a fabulous time. We stayed in Paris for the weekend and did absolutely nothing except eat and drink wine, but it was great. Saturday we walked up and down the Champs Elysees, and Sunday we really meant to get to the Louvre but somehow getting up at noon turned into getting to the museum at 5:30 when they were no longer letting people in. Oooops.

It was really funny watching my friend deal with facts of life in France. She couldn't get over how rude people in Paris were. I tried to explain to her that they are like New Yorkers and really sick of tourists, but since she's a New Yorker she didn't really agree with that analogy. She also couldn't get over their use of space, how they don't get out of your way but then walk right through you to get where ever they are going. Of course she also couldn't believe how small the hotel room was (and rooms in general), how everything has lardons or jambon in it, their weirdness about proper eating times, how they kept speaking French all the time (guess that can be pretty shocking for a non-francophone). It was funny to see all of it through the eyes of someone who's never dealt with it before.

My boulangère (baker) and I are best friends. She gave me a free little bread bun thing today. The reason I go to this particular boulangerie is because it's the best one in town, so now I'm dreaming of all the amazing free butter croissants and tartes framboises in my future. That actually won't happen, and I'll probably never get anything free again, but at least I can pretend that if I keep telling her every detail of my life she'll keep giving me free food. Fair trade off don't you think? She gets all the gossip about the weird American who lives in Picardie, and I get a little free food. I make so little as an assistant anyway that it's kind of like charity. She should write me off on her taxes next year.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Second time around

Moving to France for the second time is so much better than the first time, mostly because my French is SO MUCH better than it was last time and I'm so much more confident speaking. I'm sure all the ladies at the circonscription offices comment often amongst themselves about the fact that this year I can actually communicate! And wow, once you get her going, she really talks! I love talking French these days so much that once I get going I keep going.

I also like coming back and knowing the people at the circonscription office, at the schools, at the bakery, etc. I feel very comfortable here. I just saw my lovely baker for the first time since I've gotten back (not sure where she was for the past two weeks) and so we got to catch up (in front of half the town of course). I got my first croissant since coming back and it was maybe the most delicious thing I've ever put in my mouth. Especially when compared to all of the awful ones I tried in the US this summer. My new addiction is the cappuccino from the coffee machine in the teacher's lounge at the lycee. For 40 centimes I get the same amount of coffee I would at a café for about 4€, and it tastes pretty good too.

I also feel so much more confident teaching. I actually have an idea of what I'm doing (versus being totally clueless and freaked out at this time last year) and I have a ton of materials and games I used last year to draw upon. Mostly I'm just so happy to finally have something to do during the day! I was really, really bored the past two weeks.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

French Guys Are Weird

So Thursday night Ben came over and we had a little discussion. He says "I really want us to take our time and get to know each other, so I'm not going to ask you to move in with me yet."

Ummm.... what?

The context of this conversation was that his ex-girlfriend moved in immediately after they became a couple and he thinks the fact that they rushed into their relationship is a big part of why things ended so badly between them.

So I pose a question to the blogging world: is it normal in France to start living together immediately? Or was he just trying to explain why he's doing things differently this time around? I know that French guys get serious very quickly, but moving in together? That's a huge step. I feel like that's a lot of stress to put on a new relationship when you're still trying to get to know each other, and then add to that dealing with all of the stresses of living with another person and it seems like a recipe for disaster. It seems more acceptable to live together in France than it is in the US, so maybe they don't view living together as such a big step, maybe to them it's more normal? I'm really interested to hear what people think about this.

In other Ben news, he volunteered to have another automatic driving lesson! I guess he was inpressed that I eventually got the car moving. I really doubt that I will ever enjoy driving manual, or be very good at it, but at least I'll know what to do. If you find yourself in Aisne, stay off the roads!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Settling In


I'm waiting for classes to start. I'm quite bored. Last summer when I was this bored, after school ended, I spent a ton of money because I had nothing to do every day except go shopping. Well, that didn't end very well because my account is now pretty low, so unfortunately shopping away my troubles isn't the answer. So I am forced to wait, bored, until I start teaching again. Vivement la semaine prochaine!

The White Bean of Soissons is quite the legendary food around here. It's a very large white bean, like a big lima bean (see the image above, couldn't paste it in here). It is very rich in nutrients and according to legend saved the city from famine during the Hundred Years' War. Several years ago the city made an effort to revive this bean and since then they've had a festival in September to celebrate it. There was a large tent area with different gourmet vendors from all over France, three performance spaces (featuring my favorite country line dancing group, Chey'Aisne), a parade, stuff for the kids... all in all quite the thing to do! I kept running into other instits on Sunday so unfortunately I didn't have a chance to taste this famous white bean. It seems like it's used mostly in soups, but can also be cooked with differnt ingrediants to eat as a side with your dinner or a little appetizer or whatever. And the site of the cooperative that grows the bean even lists a cake recipe! So go buy some and support local agriculture! And then tell me what it tastes like! Or I guess I could go buy some myself and see what kind of magic I can whip up with my one electric burner (that doesn't even boil water!) and a microwave.

In other news, Ben gave me my first, and probably only, manual driving lesson. After four tries where the car jumped around and turned off, I finally got the thing to go! And then of course once we were finally rolling I yelled "oh my gosh, it's moving, now what do I do!?" Because clearly I don't know how to drive a car once it starts moving. I was quite impressed by the fact that I finally coordinated pushing doucement on the clutch, gas, and brake, but he seemed less impressed and not totally convinced that I would ever learn. When we ended the lesson he said "okay, we'll get you an automatic car."

Manual cars: 1 Soleil: 0

Friday, September 26, 2008

Back in France

Although I'm still having trouble adjusting to the time change, I have safely arrived back in France! It's a little weird to be starting the same routine over again, only slightly different, if you know what I mean. I blame the time change.

I went to the sous prefecture today to get the list of documents for my carte de sejour and was not pleased to find that our super nice prefecture lady has been replaced by a nazi! In addition to my birth certificate, passport, arreté, attestation de logement (proof that I have housing) I also have to give them my last three pay slips, last year's tax return, and proof of having sécurité sociale. What is up with that? I didn't tell her that I was renewing or that I had been here last year, she just threw all this stuff at me. I guess if I were a newbie I could have told her I don't have any of those things, but isn't that weird? And I have to bring originals and a gazillion copies. I know that the foot-high stack of documents and ridiculous fonctionnaires aren't news to most assistants/anyone who lives in France, but since it was so easy last year it's a little bit of a shock now. At least it happened this year and not last year!

I went to visit my four schools yesterday with my conseillere pedagogique and I've set my teaching schedule. It was really nice to see my coworkers and some of the kids again! I'm excited for this year. I have four classes of CE1, the second graders, my favorite class because they're just starting off in English and all you have to do is play games and sing fun songs. They're cute. I have a class of CE2 for the first time (last year I had my monster class of CE2/CM1 and since I only taught the CE2 about half the time it didn't seem like a real class). And I have two CM1/CM2 split classes, which will also be new for me (last year they were all separate). And one of the CM1/CM2 is my monster class from last year. Oy. That class will be exhausting and frustrating. I have all three of my schools from last year plus I was given a new one. At one of my schools from last year though I only have the CE1 now, they gave the older kids to the Crazy Intervenant. At least I still have one class there and can see my old students.

Other than that I spend a lot of my time waiting for Ben to stop working so that we can see each other. He's very busy and very important, and apparently also very popular with lots and lots of friends. It's really nice to be together again after two months apart. He gets one day off during the work week so he came to pick me up at the airport and then we spent the day together (which means that he pushed a shopping cart around after me as I slowly made my way through the Cora). It was kind of weird that first day to all of a sudden be together after being apart for so long and having spent not much time face to face before I left, but now it feels very normal and comfortable.

This week is the Festival of the White Bean in my town. Can't wait!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

It's like magic!

I'm leaving for France Monday evening. Yay! My visa is all in order, and I think I'll be able to fit things in my suitcases, hopefully my shoes won't take up too much room. Unfortunately I don't have the option of buying them in France because my size doesn't exist. I think I should find all of the other clown-footed girls out there and strike for my rights. SNCF does it all the time, why can't I?

When I first got home from France I was still using French all the time - thinking in French, having trouble using English, writing emails back to France very easily. Then for the past few weeks I'd really gotten out of that and I was starting to think that I'd have a hard time when I finally headed back to the land of strikes. Then, all of a sudden, for some magical reason I automatically started thinking and using French again this week. It's like I somehow subconsciously told my brain that it was time to get back into French mode. I'm sure there will still be a small adjustment period while I accustom myself to hearing and speaking French all the time, but I know I'm in a much better spot with my French this time than I was last year. Of course I still have lots to learn (especially genders, as Ben tells me rather often), but how many Frenchies can speak English as well as I speak French? Yeah, didn't think so!

It seemed like my time in the US was interminable and all of a sudden it's time to leave again.

This is probably the last post I'll make from the US for the year. See you in France!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Packing up

I've started packing now, and it seems so much easier than it did last year! I really stocked up on toiletries last year, so I have a lot of things like sunscreen left there, so I'm not bringing as much of that kind of thing as I did. Of course in return I am bringing a ton of teaching stuff and American food and size 11 shoes!

I feel very relaxed about heading back next week. I'm sure that my relaxed attitude means that I will forget things, but if I do, c'est pas trop grave! I can either plead with my mom to send it to me or ask someone I know (because I know people there now!) where I can find it. I really would like to find the adaptor plug I brought home with me and seem to have lost though. Don't really feel like buying another one of those. I feel like I'm going back to where I'm supposed to be.

Let's keep that last sentance between us and not tell my mom, okay? ;)

Leaving tomorrow (finally!) for Chicago to get my visa. I know I'm going to shop. I really have to stop spending money! I keep thinking "I brought back euros, I can spend them now!" If I keep doing this I will have 0 euros left and live off of pasta for the next month.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's been a while!

I just don't have anything that intreresting in my life in the US to write about, so I haven't been writing much. It feels like I've been here forever, but of course I've done amazingly little to get ready to come back to France and so now that I will be on a plane at this time in 13 days I have to scramble to get everything done! It's mostly little, annoying things, like calling the bank and making photocopies, nothing too intense, but still stuff that I could have done earlier!

Oh yeah, and there's that little trip I have to take to Chicago to get my visa. My arrete FINALLY got here yesterday. I have no idea what took so long, since it had been signed on July 8 before the inspection closed for the summer! Ahhh, France, how I have missed your bureaucratic ridiculousness. I'm glad it happened this year though and not last year. I would have majorly freaked out if I still didn't know where I'd be two weeks before departure. So I'll be heading to Chicago on the train next week, just in and out really quickly unfortunately. I'm so glad I live close enough to go by train, and that it's a cheap trip!

Last weekend I was in Boston and Providence visiting my friends from college. We had a really awesome weekend together, just lots of talking and catching up. I had forgotten how much I miss being with them. It's so great to hang out with friends who you can be totally honest with, who always understand you, and are always there for you. And who there's no language barrier with! I think the hardest part of going back to an "all French all the time" life style will be losing that ease of communication that I have in English. My French has really improved, but I'm still not fluent and I still have to reexplain myself more frequently than I care to admit! And it makes me wonder if I'll ever be as close with anyone in France as I am with my friends and family here in the US. There will always be a communication barrier of some sort. It will lessen as time goes on of course, but even so, will I ever really be able to tell someone exactly what I want to say?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Three Weeks!

This is how I'm spending my time until I leave for France.

Yesterday I was here:


That's me with 110,000 other crazy football fans. Today I was here:


Next weekend I will be here:


The weekend after I will be here:

A few days later I will be here to get my visa (arrete arrival still pending):


And five days later I will arrive here, welcomed by my sweetie:

Monday, August 25, 2008

4 Weeks

That's what I get to tell myself tomorrow: only four weeks until I head back. Actually, I think I'll change that and say "only 28 days!" because that sounds so much better than four weeks.

Can't wait!

Is that a bad thing?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Got that set for the next year

In my quest to get my fill of all things American before I go back to France for another year I had a piece of cake last night. You know, the ones with all the super thick and sugary icing? I had a small piece with a flower, and it was amazing. But very sugary! I think I've gotten my fix for the next year.

Things I intend to pig out on before going back: bagels with cream cheese, my mom's cooking (especially her chicken soup!), Mexican food, Indian food, soy crisps, any food that is not French food. Because we all know that once I get back to France it will be French food all the time, and that gets old pretty fast.

Any other suggestions?

Note: I didn't include peanut butter because Ben told me he really likes it so I'm planning to take a bunch with me :)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Full

After several days of feeling like my stomach was going to explode, I finally figured out why: yes, it's true, portion sizes are bigger in the US! I can't believe that I ever thought it was normal to finish the entire enormous plate of green curry that Thai restaurants give you. So in order to not be in pain all night long I've been reducing the amount of food that I eat, which of course means that my mom gives me a hard time about how I'm not eating enough. Don't worry Mom, I definitely won't be losing any weight in the US if you keep making me all those cherry pies and chocolate cakes and cookies!

Before I left France about 20 different Frenchies told me that French bakeries are popping up all over the US and are very popular. I thought to myself that was probably true in a large city or maybe Greenwich CT, but to my surprise I stumbled upon a French/Japanese bakery and restaurant/tea room. I'll probably stop by later this week to sample their pastries and teas. Then when I was doing some grocery shopping for my mom I stopped at the bakery section and tried a chocolate croissant from The Croissant Shop. The chocolate part was really good, but I found the pastry part to be dry and lacking in butter, despite the glowing review I just found online. This doesn't give me much hope for the other bakery, but you never know. So far the American French Style Bakeries are getting a big fat 0 in my book. I'll probably have to eat croissants every day for at least a week after I get back to take away the trauma.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

It can't be THAT bad, can it?

Several other bloggers have already mentioned the article in L'Express that Jennie posted that ranked all the departements in France based on several different criteria. Aisne, good ol' 02, my departement, came in at 95 out of 96. Ouch!

I've already written that Aisne has the highest illiteracy rate for the under 18 age group in France, so I guess I can't be too surprised that in everything else we rank pretty badly too, but is it really that bad here? I'll try to analyze by breaking down some of the individual rankings based on my own observations.

For health we came in 94th. We have high "surmortalite," or deaths linked to smoking, alcohol, violence or suicide. I doubt that the last two are terribly relevant here in Aisne, but check a big YES for smoking and alcohol. Among the people I've met with D there are only two others besides me who don't smoke (and soon that will include Ben, after he quits, which he says he's going to do by the time I get back). And alcohol... it isn't so much that everyone binge drinks all the time, but more that because alcohol is everywhere some people use it more than others, which creates bad situations.

We got a ranking of 92 for economic dynamism, meaning we have a population that isn't growing and we aren't adding any jobs either. Aisne is very rural with some factories thrown in for fun. The factories are closing, and farming isn't easy or that attractive to many young people (unemployment is 10% and our precarite ranking is 84). We don't have big tourist draws (even though there's some awesome stuff around here it just isn't advertised or popular to see), no big companies are employing people here, and....

We ranked 90 for Bac success rate and 63 for higher education, don't have a single grand ecole, and apparently can't read either. Uneducated people aren't a big draw for employers. Because it's rural means that we have fewer doctors than other departements too (86th) because they want to live somewhere fun just like everyone else (cultural offerings were 84th).

Weather is 88. It's cloudy and rainy. This doesn't bother me, but apparently other people are bothered by it. Whatever.

But the silver lining in all of our clouds (I crack myself up) is that, because no one wants to live here, housing is cheap! Yep, that's right, we rank 9th in housing costs. Don't you wish you lived here now?

On paper it all sounds so depressing, and yet I'm heading back there in the fall. I'm not saying I want to stay there my entire life, but there's so much more to the place you live than the employment numbers and weather and how many movie theaters we have. It's the people that make a place home. I've met wonderful people in the second worst departement in France, and that's why I'm going back.

Is it September 23rd yet? I need some clouds, rain, smokers, and unemployed people in an area with no doctors or movie theaters!


Friday, August 8, 2008

Love French Labor Laws

My sister is a waitress. D and I were discussing my family's vacation plans for the summer, and she had two questions about my sister. What kind of contract does she have, and how much vacation does she get?

I haven't laughed that hard since someone told me that the French work a lot.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Crazy is as crazy does

As I said in my last post, D's birthday is the 13th of July, mine is the 15th, and we left on the 17th to drive down to Canet for vacation. We went out the weekend before, comme d'hab, to the bar we always go to. Saturday night as I was leaving I met a group of new people who invited me to stay with them and go to a club. Since I didn't know them I skipped out that evening. The next night, the 13th, my town had the big 14 juillet celebrations. There was a pretty cool parade with dancers and music from different countries and the fireworks were actually really good, especially for a town of 30,000 people in redneck Picardie! Of course there were a bunch of hoodlums (read: teenagers) setting off small-scale fireworks in crowded areas but luckily no one was hurt. Anyway, after the fireworks D and I go back to our usual bar where they are having this really neat rock/jazz jam session, where my new buddies from the night before are playing guitar. So one of them, Ben, comes to talk to me after he finishes playing, we chat a little, he buys me a drink, no big deal. The jam session finishes up around 1 AM. When I say goodbye he asks for my number and I tell him that I'm leaving for vacation for two months at the end of the week but we could boire un verre before then if he wanted and he agreed. I will fess up - at this point I was more interested in one of his friends and I gave him my number thinking (not very smartly or fairly) that at least one of them would have my number for when I come back in the fall.

So it's Wednesday night, the day before I leave, we meet up at the same bar for a drink, and we really hit it off, like we got along really, really well. I had been planning on staying for a couple hours and then going back home to get some sleep before getting up super early to leave at 7 AM; I stayed out with him until 3:30 AM! When we finally said goodnight Ben says he'll call me the next day to make sure that D and I got to Canet okay. He did call the next day, and every day since. We have been talking on the phone every night since then, even now that I'm back in the US. At first it was just for about a half an hour, then it got to be more like an hour, and now it's up to about two hours (calls from France to fixed lines in the US are free and unlimited). Every time I talk to him we have more to say to each other. Since I had to come back to Paris to get my flight home he came to meet me for a few hours before my plane left too (my town is only about an hour from CDG so it wasn't super inconvenient for him).

So even though I've only seen him in person a few times, and we've only known each other for like three weeks, I think I found a good one! I know it sounds insane, but I do miss him, and I look forward to his call every day. And even though it's tough being separated, I do kind of like that we are forced to use the phone and internet to keep in contact, that we are going to get to know each other very well before taking the typical crazy French couple leap. So yeah, I'm really looking forward to getting back at the end of September :)

And it was super lucky that he was the one I gave my number to and not the other guy!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Vacation Canet en Roussillon Style

D and her family have an apartment in Canet and she invited me to stay a few days with her before I went back to France. Her birthday is July 13th and mine is the 15th, so we celebrated our bdays together and left on Thursday to drivce down to Canet. Canet is about 10 minutes from Perpignan, and very close to the border with Spain.

This is the view from their apartment:


Yes, the beach was across the street. Pretty fabulous... except that I have to majorly avoid sun exposure because of all the treatments I had. But it wasn't so bad. We got up pretty late most days, so I could spend a couple of hours in the apartment reading or doing some French excersizes and then head down to the beach around 5:30 or 6 when the sun is less strong and sit under an umbrella in capris and a t shirt covered in SPF 55 sunscreen.

So I can't be a beach bunny, and honestly I never have been, which means this was not my ideal vacation. I prefer vacations where you go places and visit things and do stuff, so I got bored of this pretty quickly. We did take two day trips, one to Banyuls sur Mer with a friend of D's who lives in Perpignan. He is one of the nicest people I have ever met. He knew everything about all the plants, rocks, animals, buildings, etc., treated us like princesses and packed a picnic and everything!

The village itself:



Gorgeous, right? We wandered around in the village and then hung out in a crique (cove):




We also took a day trip to Villefranche de Conflent, an 11th century city tucked away in the mountains that was later fortified. It's tiny, totally surrounded by walls, and very cute:




I guess this is what D likes to do for vacation, relax and not do a whole lot, but if I had been in charge of vacation there would have been more going on. We didn't go to Spain (apparently the wait at the border is really long and most French people only go down there to buy cigarettes and alcohol, not to sightsee), and there are tons of different villages we could have gone to. Plus there's Perpignan right there with some stuff to see, but D doesn't like Perpignan. An excellent friend, but not my ideal travel buddy. It was really nice of her to invite me though, and I can't wait to see her again in September.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

I'm baa-aack!

I got back to the US on Tuesday after wrapping up my travels in the South. I'm feeling a little bit of what I guess you might call reverse culture shock, although since I haven't left my house since I got here I don't know how that is possible. I've been a little sick and very tired, so a big update of what I've been up to isn't on the table for tonight, but I can promise you that when I do share it will be extremely juicy and interesting. Basically, you will all think I am completely insane and should be sent to a mental hospital.

Hope everyone is enjoying their vacances!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

No internet!!

Hey folks... I was surprised the other day by the internet at the lycée being turned off for the summer! So this is my first time with internet since last Friday. It's also probably my last time for a couple of weeks because I'm leaving for the south of France with D. Her family has an apartment in Canet so we'll be spending a few weeks lounging on the beach. I know, don't hate me. I will be returning to the US the 29th of July, hanging out with the fam, speaking English, etc, and then coming back to France the 22nd of September (well, the plane gets in on the 23rd).

See you in a couple of weeks when I have internet again!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Packing up and bringing back

I'm currently trying to wade through the packing mess that I have to sort out relatively soon. I have to figure out what I want to take home and what I want to leave here. Then out of the stuff I'm taking home, what I'm leaving there and what I'm bringing back. And I'm trying to sort through all my teaching stuff, which is really exhausting. It's just papers and papers of stuff!

I'm also making a list of what I want to bring with me next year for teaching. I want to bring a nice color map of the US and some pretty books to show the kids pictures, of course stickers and other prizes (I buy my kids' affection), kiddie song CDs, some leveled readers, some kiddie books to learn vocab with, and if I can find it some ESL stuff from the States because I'm so sick of everything being England-centric in France! Sure, they live next door to England but I'm an American darnit.

Any other suggestions for teaching supplies? Or other things for myself from the US that I'll miss like crazy when I'm stuck in France for another year? (unfortunately bringing a 24 hour Target that is open on Sundays isn't an option)

It's really weird that I'm only going home for a vacation and then I'm coming back here, doing the same thing and living in the same place. It's like I live in France now or something. And that is the strangest part of all.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The day I totally rocked my French speaking skills

Last night I was FUNNY in French! I'm still grinning about how clever I was. It was like the part in Almost French where she makes her first joke in French, except that hers was unwitting and mine was on purpose and about 20 times better.

Here's the scene: I'm out with Dorothée, her friend F who I already knew, and some guys she knows who I had just met. One of the guys, R, says that he knows everything and I can ask him any question I want. So I asked him why so many married French men don't wear wedding rings. This is a true phenomenon, by the way, and of course the first response that comes to mind is that they are trying to get away with something when they are away from their wives. But the weird part is that often times it's men who are in committed marriages. I can't figure it out at all. Anyway, R tells me that it is because of work. He works in heating, and he tells me this story about another guy he works with who stuck his hand in a heating appliance machine-y thing while wearing his wedding ring and impaled it on some metal part of the machine. If he hadn't been wearing his wedding ring the metal thing would have just slid (glisse) right across his hand. Okay, I'll give him the heating industry, but then I continue:

Me: So what about in the office?
R: There are lots of things that glisse in the office, like pens, pencils, papers...
Me: Riiight. It's the secretaries who glisse.

Then D and F started chuckling, followed by the rest, and I recieved the congratulations of everyone for my quick thinking and clever comment (and a few congratulations from myself). I am so proud of myself! I'm not the kind of person to toot my own horn, but this was really, really good and I feel really good about myself for saying it. It's the kind of joke the French love too because I was playing around with the language, it's sexual, and there are a few subtley different meanings of the verb glisser, so I feel really good about myself.

Except I also feel like I can never equal the glory of the first joke and if I do manage to make another joke it will probably be a total let-down. I may just rest on my laurels.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I will start off by complaining: the internet and computers are all screwed up in the professor's lounge. I'm not happy. No graphics, everything looks funny, and formatting of web pages is all wrong - including blogger, which is seriously wasting my writing flavor right now. It isn't enough that the majority of interesting sites are blocked, but now the ones I actually can see aren't working right! The tech guys redid whatever programming with the computers this week and that's what created all these troubles. Aaaand we no longer have Firefox and I don't have the ability to download it. Thumbs down to the tech crew. Couldn't they have at least gotten us wireless while they were messing around with everything?

But I have to quit whining and get used to it, because it looks like I'll be here again next year. They have one small building with six apartments on campus and I asked about getting one of those for the assistants next year, but apparently they are all full. There are many more bonuses to living here than minuses: awesome location (right in centre ville so I can easily get to everything), the bus stop I use for work is two seconds from here, access to the computer lounge until 10:30, a cantine for when I don't want to cook, a small but adequate kitchen (if you don't mind working with one electric burner and a microwave), a big bedroom, elevator for taking my luggage and heavy groceries and laundry upstairs, the laundromat is two minutes away, and the price is right - €70 per month. I'm really lucky to have a great deal like this. I couldn't afford a place in an equally great location, not to mention what a pain it would be to del with electricity, rental laws, etc. So me and my buddies at Lycée Crappy will be hanging out for another year. And by buddies I mean the annoying lycéens who stare at me because I'm American.

Speaking of being American, for the first time today a random stranger called me out on the street as an American for no reason. When I first got here Pantsless Neighbor (remember him?) wrote an article about the assistants for the paper, so a couple people have said something to me, like the lady at the boulangerie and in a context that isn't really weird, you know, "ça fait 88 centimes... and aren't you the American from the newspaper?" But today I was walking down our main drag when one of the guys outside of the Sketchy Café where only sketchy guys go calls out "American! American Pie 3!" Unfortunately I turned my head, so he kept saying things in English in a noncoherent way. At least I think it was English, I really can't be sure. So I kind of half smiled and continued on my merry way. I guess it was going to happen eventually. In a town of 30,000 the dirt gets around.

P.S. I just signed in again to edit some spelling mistakes and suddenly Blogger is normal again. Rnadom unexplained events? Yep, still in France.