Sunday, March 9, 2008


I live in a lycée professionnel here. I obviously do not work in the lycée, but they have a professor's hallway that they rent rooms out of to whoever needs them. So on the hallway there are eight bedrooms and a common kitchen, toilet, and shower. Six people live here: me, another American assistant, M, who also teaches somewhere else, Pantsless Neighbor, and two guys from Guadaloupe. We haven't really known what they were doing here, only that one of them had told me when they first got here in October that it was some kind of technical exchange. It's not an ideal situation living at the lycée: no wifi, and we are responsable for cleaning all the public areas because "we're adults, and can take care of ourselves" but we do have some perks, like being able to use the computers in the professor's lounge until 10:30 PM.

There have always been annoyances with the two of them, mostly involving making the kitchen incredibly disgustingly dirty and getting water all over the floor in the shower room. But the one, Gary, who is enormously tall and also bulky (not fat but strongly built) has been a real nuisance to M. He was interested in her and would ask her out, to which she always said no and made it very clear that she wasn't interested in him. Btw, why is it that French guys can't take a hint? No, I'm not interested, end of story. So Gary became kind of surly when he finally got the clue that M wasn't interested and stopped being polite. And actually in December the proviseur and agent comptable of the lycée had a meeting with all of us who live on the hall to lay down certain basic rules that we had to follow because Gary was being a jerk. He wasn't locking the door of the lycée on the weekends and he would get back really late at night and make a ton of noise in the main entrance hall so that the agent comptable, who lives right above it, was woken up. He also wasn't paying for meals he ate at the cantine, just jerky stuff like that. It also sounded like there had been some kind of incident between him and a student, but they didn't go into details. They told us at that meeting that the next person to violate these rules would be kicked out.

Well, Gary stayed, although I can't imagine that he was following all those rules. Then over the recent February vacation he started bothering M again. She only left for part of the vacation, so when she was here he would walk into her room without knocking and just stay there trying to talk to her, refusing to leave despite her requests. Then the last Sunday of vacation, right before the rentrée, M, Gary and I were in the professor's lounge on the computers and she said something to me in English on her way out. Gary left shortly after her. Apparently he followed her upstairs and banged on her door for about ten minutes, yelling and demanding that she come outside and tell him what she had said to me. He was convinced that it was about him because he's clearly completely insane and mentally unbalanced. M told the proviseur adjoint the next day, who advised her to go to the commissariat (police station) to make a main courant (literally a running hand, but basically a police report). She didn't think it was that big of a deal and didn't do it. The administration of the lycée offered no other intervention in the issue. Then this past Tuesday the agent comptable called M into his office to tell her that Gary would be leaving in about a week and we were both really happy that the situation was going to be resolved.

Wednesday night I decided to make myself dinner in the kitchen. Usually I eat in the cantine but I had decided recently to make myself dinner on Wednesdays because I have time to and it saves money (dinner at the cantine costs over €4!). At the same time I was doing some cleaning in the kitchen, because it was disgusting, with special antibacterial wipes I had bought at Monoprix. Gary walks in, kind of huffy, and wants to make his dinner. So he asks when I'll be finished. Admittedly I was a little cold to him because I'm not a big fan of his and said that it would probably be another 30 minutes, maybe longer because the kitchen was so dirty and I had to clean it. So he says something about there only being a couple of dish towels to clean with and I said that I had bought my cleaning stuff myself. He says something that I don't understand, I asked him to repeat himself, he says it again, and again I don't understand so I just didn't respond. He left the kitchen. I finished cleaning and there were no garbage bags left in the kitchen to throw the antibacterial wipes in so I went looking for some and saw some garbage bags in the hallway, so I just dumped the wipes in there and go back to the kitchen to finish making my dinner. Gary comes in, very upset, and says "that garbage is not for the public." I think to myself what ridiculousness is this about private garbage??? but I simple looked at him and said "no?" and he's like "you take out your cleaning things and you put them somewhere else." I know already that he's totally crazy and he's obviously in some kind of mood so I'm just like fine, I'll do it. He repeats himself, I said okay, again, and he leaves. By this time I've finished cooking so I just take all my dinner back to my room to eat because I don't want anything else to do with him for the evening. M is back and ready to make her own dinner by this time so I warn her that Gary is crazy today. She had also bought new garbage bags so I went and got the wipes out of Gary's private garbage and put them in the new bags in the kitchen. Problem solved, right?

After I finished dinner I went down to the professor's lounge to use the computers. Gary was already in there and we ignored each other. M came in a few minutes later and Gary left a few minutes after that. Then after a few more minutes he comes storming back into the professor's lounge. He stands right next to my chair and shoves a tissue in my face, yelling "you didn't take your crap out of my garbage." I told him that I did, trying to be very calm. He keeps insisting that I didn't take out the wipes, I keep telling him that I did, to the point of explaining that I used special wipes to clean the kitchen. He starts screming "do you know me? do you know me?" As I said above, he's a big guy, very intimidating in a situation like this, and I'm starting to get freaked out. I squeak out "no" and he's like 'do you think I'm an idiot?" and unfortunately I had to say "no." M speaks up at this point telling him to leave me alone, so he screams at her to shut up, she yells back at him to shut up, and he picks up my water bottle and throws it across the room, aiming at her. Luckily it hit the wall far above her head but the entire thing shattered so that there was water and plastic all over. M and I both yell in surprise, and then Gary rubs his piece of trash in my face. Molly jumps up and hurries out of the room to find the agent comptable, who as I mentioned just lives upstairs. Gary runs after her, and I ran out in the other direction, totally freaked out. Luckily I saw the light on in the classroom of a professor who I'm friendly with. I run to his room, where he's working with a couple of students, and start blathering, hysterical and nearly crying, in extremely bad, probably uncomprehensible French that Gary went insane and threw a bottle of water in the professor's lounge and that M had run to the agent comptable. He tells me to sit down, that I'm safe in his classroom, and runs over to the agent comptable's place. I was so upset I was shaking, I can only imagine what the students thought about the whole situation. Anyway, the professor comes back in a few minutes and gets rid of the students. I'm a little calmer by this time. He tells me that the deal they have worked out for the evening is for M and I to sleep in the girls' dormitory, where the entire hallway is locked at night so no one can get in or out. In this way we won't be anywhere near crazy Gary or have to risk seeing him in the hallway and being attacked again. The professor, we'll call him P, starts arranging his room and trying to calm me down but I still can barely speak. M and the agent comptable arrive a little later and the agent comptable escorts us to our rooms to gather our things for the night and then deposits us in the girls dormitory. The surveillant, or RA, tells us that Gary had in fact harrassed her before and even come up to the girls' dorm and knocked on the door, looking for her or students, who knows. By now it's only 9 PM. M and I try to go over what had happened and discuss but we were both completely terrified. Among the thoughts that went through our heads were what the hell are we going to do for the next week until he leaves, the amount of physical danger we were in, the fact that he is obviously a threat to everyone at the lycée and should be kicked out immediately, why hadn't he already been kicked out if he had already caused so much trouble, why were we the ones being punished for him being insane? Things like that.

Needless to say, we didn't sleep much that night. We got up together the next day and ran down to our rooms together, petrified that we would see Gary, and arranged to meet in the professor's lounge when we got back in the afternoon to go talk to the agent comptable. During the day I wrote a very long email to my conseillere pedagogique explaining what had happened at the lycée. When I got back in the afternoon she had written me back saying that she was "stupified" that such a thing had gone on and very upset and ashamed, etc, and that she had spoken to the proviseur adjoint. M comes back, we decide that we're going to make a police report. I printed off my email, because I figured it would be a lot easier to just have them read what I had written rather than try to explain orally in French. Agent comptable has left for the day. Thanks jerkface. So we go to see the proviseur adjoint, show him my email, he encourages us to make the main courant and tells us that Gary will be leaving the next day (Friday). It's clear that the only reason Gary will be gone the next day is because that's his decision and that the lycée didn"t do a damn thing to make him leave. The PA's solution to the situation is to stay in the dorms for another night. He even has thegall to say "of course, if he were staying for another month or two it would be adifferent issue." Yeah, what would you do, kick us out of the lycée for our safety? I raised the issue of what would happen if Gary didn't leave Friday and we were left all alone at his mercy in the lycée, and he said in that case we could stay in an apartment that he keeps in the building some of the lycée workers live in. He only uses it to have lunch with his kids. Then he says we could even stay there that night if we wanted, which I accept, M was going to stay with another assistant in town. So M and I go to make the police report, and the officer didn't seem to care too much, probably because he's leaving, although she did agree that he is psycho. We go back to the lycée to retrieve our stuff for the night while there are still people around to help us if Gary goes insane (though still spending as little time on the floor with our doors locked as possible), I drop my stuff off at the PA's apartment and then we walk to the other assistant's place (in a foyer) to have dinner. Clearly we weren't going to be at the lycée unless we had to be.

When I got back to the lycée after dinner P, who had also offered to stay around to supervise us during the evening, was just leaving (it was late, the alarms were going to be set). We talked in the hall for a little bit. I shared the full story with him, he was horrified, and also said that he was horrified by the attitude of the administration and had apparently had a long chat with the agent comptable that day about how stupid it was that Gary was being allowed to continue living there and the AC just kept going on about the reglements interieur, the rules of the lycée, and how he didn't have the right. P also said that all of the professors were extremely upset by the entire situation and the administration's response. Essentially they had washed their hands of us and refused to take the necessary steps to assure our continued security at the lycée, where we have never caused a single problem. I spent an okay night at the PA's place.

Fridays I don't work. I had a previously scheduled appointment to see my conseillere pedagogique in the morning, so before I left I went to pay a little visit to the AC. This was a bad, bad half hour. I started by showing him my email. His first response is to say that he understands the situation isn't fair, but that's just what has to be done because of the reglements interieur. Apparently there was no contract signed governing our behavior at the lycée and he doesn't have the right to kick people out according to the laws of France, even if they don"t pay rent (and I am pretty positive that isn't true, lying bastard). He goes on about how we have to go to the police about the situation. I tell him that we did and ask if it's the police who can kick him out and he says "oh no, then it has to go through the judiciary system and there's a trial with a judge" as if I were a moron who didn't know anything about how courts work. Essentially he tells me that there is nothing that can be done about living next door to a violent person who has assaulted me, that I have no real recourse. I asked what would happen if it had been two students and he says "oh yeah, it's the samething, the parents have to settle the issue with the police." I KNOW that is not true, because P had told me that if students were to do this they get kicked out. I'm just totally shocked by his attitude and the situation. He has the gall to throw the Declaration des droits de l'homme at me to justify the fact that Gary has rights too, and that as adults we all have the liberty to behave as we please and that we all live in solidarité. Where is his solidarité for M and me? The only good part was that while I was there Gary made an appearance at the secretary's office, apparently to turn in his keys and leave, and the AC said I could check in when I got back to make sure he was really gone.

I went to the inspection (school district offices) to see my conseillere and ended up talking with her and the inspecteur (superintendant) about the situation. They were horrified by the attitude of the administration, practically called the AC a liar for the things he had said to me, and were very supportive in general. It was refreshing to hear normal French people think the whole situation was ridiculous. They also said that if Gary hadn't been leaving that day they would have intervened further. And I also found out that the proviseur himself is pretty sick and not working, so the PA is in charge of everything. Interesting.

When I finally got back to the lycée, late in the afternoon because I didn't want to be there, of course getting really nervous that Gary hadn't actually moved out, I spoke with the concierge for a few minutes. He's going on and on about what a pest Gary had been and how ridiculous it was that he had stayed that long. He said that if it had been the old proviseur who retired a few years ago this would never have been allowed, Gary would have been kicked out in the fall. The proviseur's secretary came in while I was speaking with him and also expressed her solidarité with M and me. The concierge also said that there had been a meeting with students, teachers, and parents to re-do the reglements interieur that afternoon and showed me the document, said that everyone knows exactly what happened. But then based on what P said when I saw him briefly and said that I heard there had been a meeting and he said "I think there will be, I'll keep you posted" I'm confused as to if it already happened or will be happening or if a different meeting will be happening. I also found out exactly what Gary was doing here. He was in a program called GRETA, which is job training for unemployed adults. He had failed his program.

It's nice to know that the vast majority of people here are on our side but the scary part is that the ones with power, the ones in charge, refuse to take real steps to help people in situations like this. I'm so glad that Gary is gone and I feel much better, but I can't help wondering, what if something like this were to happen again? I also can't believe that they would totally abandon their duties to keep the students safe. Gary was obviously a threat to everyone, who knows who would have been his next target? Especially because he was obviously getting more violent and crazier by the day. And if he knew there wouldn't be any consequences, what would stop him?

It's been a tough week. Here's hoping the next one will be better and not involve violent assaults.


Leah said...

Wow, OMG is a very appropriate title for that post of yours! Sadly, what happened doesn't surprise me. I just hope that things go ok for you from now on and that you feel safe again very soon!

Rose said...

I read this entry with my mouth open saying "oh my goodness" over and over again. Good for you for being strong and keeping on people to support you. I'm glad you have such supportive people in the higher-ups. Keep your chin up - you're in my thoughts.

You don't work Fridays?? How jealous am I.

Alex said...

Oh god, that sounds really awful. It also sounds like you and the other assistant handled this really maturely and responsibly, so I hope you feel good about that. But still, thank god that this jerk left!! Seriously, unbelievable.
love, Alex

Andromeda said...

that's unbelievably scary! i am used to feeling so safe in dorm/hostel situations, and trusting the people in charge actually like, CARE about my safety. thank goodness he's gone. hopefully it'll a drama free week for you! bon courage!

nicole said...

i'm so glad you are safe and i'm so sorry that you've been through so much with this...

Anonymous said...

I thought I had replied to this but saw that I hadn't. I was horrified reading your post, that is REALLY unacceptable! Their inaction is so disappointing as well..

Au Soleil Levant said...

Thanks for the supportive comments everyone. Luckily he is gone so I feel safe again and this week was drama-free. Hopefully the rest of the time I live here will be uneventful!