Thursday, May 29, 2008

Attack of the crazy

So we all remember Guardy Mc Guarderson? (thanks for the nickname Leah!) Yesterday he starts calling me again. Like five times. Then texted me to let him know when I was available to chat (I was out with D). Clearly this is the time when I say "sorry dude, nothing's going to happen" because I am kind-of-sort-of-together-but-not-officially-with le Rémois. And I was thinking that I might throw in something nice like "we can still be friends" but decided that this was not the route to go when the conversation took a turn for the creepy stalker movie side.

Speaking of, literally as I was typing that he texted me. Creepy stalker.

Anyway. I give the spiel about meeting someone else, sorry, etc. He starts giving me the third degree. How long have you known him, is he French, have you seen him recently. Then he tells me that I made a mistake, that he really was just looking for English convo and a friend. He wants to invite me over for dinner and then "on verra." No no no, there's nothing to voir here, I'm not interested in you. "Non non, on verra." No, we'll see nothing. "Nothing with who?" With you! Then he just goes off into this bizarre diatribe about his plans for his future, lots of "on verra" thrown in, with the same general line of seeing me as friends and then eventually seeing what happens between us. while I put my head down in misery and "uh huh" along to the conversation and try to find a way to get him off my phone. And he eventually gets to "I'll keep calling you and we'll keep up the friendship." No, it bothers me when you call, don't call me. "Okay, so I'll text you." No, I would prefer that you didn't text me. "Okay, well, you can text me and the next time you're in Paris we'll get together." So I just said okay, and he finally hung up. Twelve minutes this creepazoid keeps me on the phone with him. Holy cow did I dodge a bullet here. I wasn't even clear enough or forceful enough about not ever seeing him again. And now he just sent me a text saying I should contact him when I'm in Paris next. Of course I'm just stupid enough to not be able to pick out the crazy ones. And now he knows my name and where I live and that I'm an American. In a town of 30,000 people it's pretty easy to find me. Lovely.

On to better news.... I'm going on a field trip next week! Nice Directeur school is all going to Boulogne sur Mer to see the awesome aquarium there and then hang out at the beach. I love aquariums! I'm excited. He also asked me to accompany the CM2 on their end of the year trip to Parc Asterix. Sign me up!

To feed the gossip mills, here's some basic info about le Rémois:

Age: 36 (I am 23. I call him a vieillard (old man))

Line of work: Owns his own information technology company with his brother (this makes him quite a catch. It is super, super hard to open up your own business in France, so this means he's driven and smart and willing to put up with bureaucratic crap, which if he stays with a foreigner will happen quite a bit!)

Family: divorced. One older brother, married with two girls. I met them all at the soirée. I'm worried about getting along with the belle-soeur, she's un peu froide. Parents (who live in Boulogne sur Mer. Maybe I should visit when I'm up there next week?).

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Not a joke. Seriously.

I got some interesting school gossip the other day. Remember Madame la Directrice de New York? Nice Directeur is retiring this year. Guess who's getting his post? Oh yeah.

On Monday I called the woman at the Inspection Academique (county schools overseer) who is in charge of language education to ask some questions about renewal - basically, if whe knew when I would hear. She knew exactly who I was, was very happy that I wanted to renew, and said that she hadn't seen my dossier but that I should send her a copy of my renewal application and she would send it to the necessary people with an avis, basically her opinion if I should come back or not. I'm hoping that it's a good opinion! I actually saw her at the circonscription (local school district) yesterday when I went to drop the papers off with my conseillere pedagogique, so I gave them directly to her and now it should hopefully be all set. Apparently everyone at the circonscription had forgotten that I asked to renew and they all seemed really happy. Does the heart good!

Last but not least.... in case you've been wondering, the set up with le Rémois* went extremely well. So well in fact that I'm going there this weekend, and have decided that I really do want to renew. What on earth have I gotten myself into? Oy.

*A rémois is a guy who lives in Reims.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Let's analyze....

On Thursday I was joking around with D, the pion at Directeur Napoleon Complex school (basically a surveillant for the kiddies), about staying in France and said that what I really need is a nice French guy to PACS with me. Apparently she has a friend who has wanted to meet "l'américaine" for a while, so now I'm going out with them tonight. Guess I wasn't actually joking? At least I'm getting out and doing something, that's the important part. And who knows, maybe I'll post again tomorrow that I've met the love of my life and we're going to get PACSed next week. No, that's not possible - the earliest we could get PACSed would be in a month, taking all the paperwork into account! See how the French government stands in the way of true love? Disgusting. :)

On that note though, I decided last night that I'm going to start calling the Inspection to ask about being renewed, and ask my school district office if they can help me out too.

Other male business, I need a little analysis help from the experts! One of the guards from Quai Branly has been contacting me to get together. I'm not so much of an idiot that I don't know he's looking for more than just une amie (although it is a close call), but the thing is I would genuinely be interested in being friends with this guy, even if I have absolutely no interest beyond that. He's smart and nice, and since smart doesn't exist in Picardie, this is a real novelty. So I'm trying to figure out how much trouble I'm in here. Over the course of the past week he's only contacted me five times (that sounded a lot better before I wrote it down). And he doesn't do that "gros bisous" thing that is so clearly too much, he usually signs off with au revoir, ciao, à bientot, and then one time je t'embrasse (embrasser in French is to kiss). It's commonly used as a friendly thing, but I don't know. I feel like we need to have the "I just want to be friends" discussion. So on the Kiss of Death scale, where does all of this fall? Am I closer to the Dementor end or the Elmyra from Tiny Tunes end?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

We're all the same, only ... not so different

It is so weird for me that school life in the two small villages where I work (4200 and 1600 citizens respectively) revolves around a life style that went extinct 40ish years ago in the US, and that is built around everyone being exactly the same and living the same way.

Most of my observations revolve around lunch time rituals. For example: the two hour lunch break at primary schools. I don't want to talk about the cultural history of this, but just the fact that it's bizarre that the school day is based on the fact that one parent available to come pick up the kids, take them home for a gourmet meal, and then bring them back. It's uncommon for kids to stay at school for lunch, most of them go home, usually with Mom, but sometimes Dad or Grandparent.

And why is there a parent available during lunch? Either because they don't work, or because they get that long of a break too. I can't think of a single kid I grew up with who had a parent who didn't work. I mean, I do come from an extremely progressive university town (GO BLUE!) but I really think it's out of the ordinary for a parent to stay at home. I don't think you can afford it! Then again, France is about 20-35 years behind the US (at least) when it comes to women's rights and when women entered the workforce in large numbers. Women in France didn't get the right to vote until after World War II.

And what about the kids who stay at school for lunch? They don't bring bag lunches, and I don't even know if they are allowed to. What are their meal choices? Always meat, one dish and no alternative. What do the kids who keep hallal or kosher do? Oh that's right, those people don't live here. Or so they think.... the Muslim population in this area is large and growing and I feel like (or maybe I just hope) the day when equal meal rights will be demanded is growing closer.

And what about Saturday morning school? This forces all observant Jews out of the public school system (I'd mention Seven Day Adventists but I don't think they exist in France).

This week at one of my schools (with Napoleon Complex Directeur - seriously, I think part of his problem is that he's only about 5 feet tall) they are having a book sale. Remember getting those Scholastic and whoever else book catalogs every month and how it was the best thing ever but your parents never bought you as many books as you wanted? Okay, maybe those last two parts are only true for me. Well here they have a travelling library that sets up in each town once a year (I think only once at least, because this is the only time I've seen it) and parents can come after school between 4:30 and 5 to look at the books and pick some to buy. Again, this is predicated on having a parent who is around before 5 PM to get to the school, look at the books, and write the check. What about the kids whose parents both work? Are they just bookless and illiterate? Actually, my departement, Aisne, has the highest illiteracy rate for under 18s in France at a whopping 9%, and maybe this is why. Maybe we're the only ones who have silly systems like this.

(skip to page 13 of the link above for a run down of under 18 illiteracy by academie, region, and departement. Picardie/Aisne has the highest rates all around, and only two departements beat ours: Seine St Denis and Ome)

Back from the illiteracy tangent....

I guess I just find it kind of shocking to be in an environment that is predicated upon everyone living the same way and being the same, since I come from such a wildly different environment. No wonder immigrants have a hard time integrating into French culture: it just isn't set up for people to be different. At least not in the small towns. I'd be interested to hear other input.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Directeur Drama

I decided today that the directeur at one of my schools doesn't like the fact that I'm here. I've felt this way off and on throughout the year, and today I realized that it is definitely true and that he'll be glad when I'm gone. This is the directeur who is also habilité en anglais, was on paternity leave for a month, and is the maitre of the monster class. At the beginning of the year I definitely had the vibe that he felt kind of threatened by me being there and taking over half of his English teaching, which is probably why we have the completely stupid system of splitting the class in half and alternating either days or weeks who has the CE2 and who has the CM1 (have they learned anything? Maybe some of the CM1). I guess what makes it worse for him is that he has such a horrible accent in English that I can barely understand him when he speaks.

How did I realize this? Since it's the end of the year all of the teachers have been asking me if I'll be back next year and sympathizing about the vaguaries of the assistant application and renewal process. What did he ask me today? He asked me if I was going to continue my studies when I got back to the US. And then seemed rather pleased when I told him I thought it was unlikely that I would get renewed and then took my return to the States as definite. I don't really care, since I've kind of known this all year long, but it does tick me off that his issues have cheated his class out of a year of English, especially the CE2, who are going to have a really rough time next year and because their teacher, whether it's me or someone else, will be completely frustrated.

Other directrice drama: I have a third school, where I teach one class of CE1 once a week, so basically it hardly counts. Their teachers have a funny dynamic. They are rarely all outside together during recréation (which is when I show up) and I rarely see the directrice. Quand meme, three of the few times I've seen her she's mentioned that she wants to visit New York City. The first time she said she wanted to go and asked me to find her a hotel. The second time she said she wasn't going because the visa was too complicated. The third time she said "I'd really like you to find me a hotel in New York, preferably one that is pas trop cher and well frequented." So apparently I'm a hotel finding service. I'm not her biggest fan.

Well that was all before April break and I haven't seen her since then. But the other teachers at the school are in open rebellion against her rule these days. She seems like kind of a hard ass and usually rings the bell to go back in after recess pretty early. A couple of weeks ago, the first day of really nice spring weather that we had, she was gone with her class (CM1) to the library and the other teachers, who were for once all sitting outside together, gleefully told me that they were taking advantage of that to enjoy the nice weather and let the kids play longer. This week they were all sitting outside together again (sans Mme New York), and the bell rings to go in. The teachers all start yelling "no no, it's just for the CM1, everyone else has ten extra minutes" and then started in on this discussion about how they are complaining about her to the inspection, etc. Dare I entitle this episode Mutiny at Jules Verne?

And then we have the directeur who has always been kind and helpful to me and is now retiring. If I am back next year it seems like I'll really be in for it with his replacement!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Departure date?

The directeur of one of my schools is retiring this year, and today he gave me an invitation to his retirement party. Problem being that it's July 1, and I've kind of been hoping to start my travels then if I still have to work on the 30th, or preferably the 30th. Now I feel like I can't leave then because I would be missing his party. But here's the thing, I don't even know how I'd make it to the party in the first place. I could get a bus there, but then I would have to beg a ride from someone to get home. And I would be hanging around awkwardly by myself, or hanging on awkwardly to a group of teachers without talking to anyone. Yeah, I know it's good for social experiences but you know what, it's the very end of the year. Any progress I might possibly make with my coworkers will not matter. So basically I'm not going, but I feel like I can't ask to leave now because it would be rude. I guess I could lie and say that my contract is done on the 27th, which is a terrible option, or just say that I've already booked my ticket home, which is another lie because I haven't booked a ticket home and I'll be travelling after the contract is up, not going directly home. Why couldn't he have just been rude and not invite me?

Speaking of social relations at this particular school, all of a sudden I've reached bise-ing level with the CM2 maitresse. She hasn't been cold to me, just not overly friendly, then all of a sudden last week she started bise-ing me and gossiping with me about the kids and commiserating about their horrible behavior. Kind of odd, but I'm glad she's finally accepted me. I wonder if the difference is that I screamed at the class for acting like animals that day? Puzzling.

As I said I don't have a ticket home yet. I'm trying to decide what I'm going to do for travel plans. I would really like to be home for my birthday on July 15th (24 this year!), and I really doubt that I will have the money to travel for any longer than two weeks. But there are so many places I want to go still! I guess the best thing to do is plan out something for two weeks, price it out, and then pick a departure date. I can't believe it's time to think about this already.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Odds 'n Ends

I spent yesterday and Friday in Paris, as promised. It isn't that I don't like my little town, but there's only so much you can do in it by yourself. Paris is overflowing with things you can do by yourself. Since I'm inscribed to two Carte Jeune museum programs - at the Louvre and at the Lusée du Quai Branly - I spent my days at those two museums, plus a little walking around and some shopping. Unfortunately I'm pretty sure that between this weekend and London I've now blown through all the extra money I had from going home in April and I'm going to try to be more careful with my spending the next few months so that I can have a really great final travel at the end of my contract.

If you haven't been to Quai Branly, GO. It's the newest and perhaps most controversial museum in Paris, dedicated to art from non-Western cultures, or as I like to describe it "stuff we stole from our colonies." Not all of it was stolen, and some of it was actually modern art produced by the indigenous cultures, like some awesome paintings by Aboriginal artists. It's a really amazing collection. The art is so different from what you usually get to see, and I certainly never learned about it. It's also art that is completely integrated into their culture, rather than the "art for art's sake" kind of thing, which is also fascinating. I've only been through the Oceana/Anzac and New World parts, leaving Asia and Africa still to go. They have concerts and talks and things, so hopefully I'll get to take advantage of those before I go. I wasn't always thrilled with the written descriptions so next time I might invest in an audio guide. Also I caught a geographical error on a map (incorrect labelling of the Great Lakes!) and because of that made friends with some guard/watcher guys, who I'm apparently going to give English lessons to.

All the seven month assistants have left now, leaving only a handful of nine-monthers left here. It doesn't really change much for me, since I'm usually by myself anyway, but it is weird that the other American who lived here at the lycée with me is gone now. It was nice to have someone to exchang a few words in English with, and to complain about the terrible way this lycée is run with. I'll be leaving soon too, which is so hard to believe. Only six weeks of school left.

I am pretty doubtful that I'll get renewed for next year. A lot more Americans applied for the assistant program than usual, so a lot of people got turned down and a lot are on the waiting list, which leads me to think that I won't get renewed because there won't be a spot for me. I also still don't know if I would take it if I did get renewed. I feel like I should, if only because once I go back to the US and go back to school I won't have an opportunity like this again. I also don't know if I can do this for another year - being alone all the time and dealing with my asshole doctor being the two main problems, and also feeling so cut off from my friends and family in the US. But there are some things that are so great about it. I really like my kiddies, I love being able to travel, I love being able to go to Paris all the time, and I love speaking French everyday. In the past couple of days I have suddenly felt very comfortable with French. Obviously I still have a tiny vocabulary and conjugation problems, but I feel totally able to deal with any situation in French. I love that, it gives me such a sense of accomplishment. Decisions, decisions...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

OMG, enough with the strikes already!

So I was prepared for two lessons today with the CM2 and CM1 at the one school with the two teachers who aren't striking. Imagine my surprise when all the little CE1 guys get on the bus. They are the class of the directeur, who I am absolutely positive is striking. So I ask one of the little girls if the maitre is striking, and she says no. What? You mean I am going to have to teach you guys English and I'm completely unprepared with anything? Ohhhhhhhh man am I screwed. But due to my quick thinking, I created a lesson on classroom objects using the stuff that was in the classroom rather than flashcards. Hmmmm, it seemed a lot more brilliant before I wrote it down. I guess I was just impressed by my ability to pull a lesson out of my derrière. Three classes on what was supposed to be a huge strike day. According to Le Figaro only 46% of teachers were on strike today. That is a lot, basically half the teachers in the country, but the way the teachers at my one school that was totally closed today were behaving I thought this was going to be really enormous, like every teacher in the country striking. Well, I guess for them it was a big deal, they were all on strike.

AND, I'm putting the warning out now: Preavis de grève dans les transports le 22 mai. Good grief, I'd better stock up on things to amuse myself with in Soissons for the next two weeks. Who knows how long they'll keep that one going. For the folks at home, the train strikes are the worst. The whole country gets blocked up, you can't go anywhere, it's a mess.

Tomorrow I will be in Paris, and probably the whole weekend too, because clearly I won't be there next weekend. You remember what Sabrina said about Paris, "never an umbrella and never a briefcase." I can avoid the briefcase part but I definitely don't think I'll be able to get by without an umbrella! Sorry Sabrina.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why can't they all just strike for goodness sake?

As it turns out I have two teachers who aren't striking, so my trip to Budapest is a total no go. What the heck is wrong with these teachers? Don't they know that it's their duty as French citizens to faire la grève? Really, you'd think they have a work ethic or something. Jeez.

So yeah, I'm not leaving France. My biggest fear about being here for the strike is that it would be extended to a transportation strike as well. After living through two of those, and being stuck in Paris for one of them, I absolutely never want to do that again. Ever.

One thing I've wanted to do now that the weather is nice is days trips to the Versailles gardens (have already done the house, apparently they have music and fountain shows on the weekends in the ardens), Fontainebleu (another chateau), and Giverny. Of course this weekend the beautiful (and unbearably hot) weather will end and we're going to have torrential downpours. Good thing too, with all the hot, sunny weather I was beginning to think that I'd been time warped to the South of France! At least now I know that I'm still in Picardie. :)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Anglophone Reflections

I got back yesterday from London, after having a really nice time. I kept thinking before I got there that it would feel so different to be there, that I would constantly want to pinch myself because I was in London, but honestly, it just felt so normal to be there! I really enjoyed the city, didn't get to do half of what I wanted to of course, but that's just an excuse to go back, right? Mostly I'm disappointed about my eating. I went to see a show every night I was there but one, so I was always running around eating fast sandwiches to get to the theater on time rather than getting to enjoy the cuisine (by which I mean eating a lot of Indian, not a lot of English food). Lunch of course was the same because I was running around to see different things. My favorite thing was the British Library. Remember what a big nerd I am? This was like nerd central: one of Jane Austen's notebooks, Shakespeare first editions, illuminated manuscripts, and a really amazing collection of Buddhist and Hindu sacred texts with gorgeous artwork.

One thing that I really realized while I was there was how much more at home I feel in an anglo-saxon culture than I do here in France. Duh, I'm American, not French. What I mean is that I really prefer the openness and friendliness of the anglo-saxon culture to the aloof French. What really brought this home for me was how easily I met people and became friendly and had conversations with them while I was in London, just travelling around alone. They were interested in talking to me for myself, not because I was some kind of cultural oddity (une américaine en Picardie? Sacré bleu!). And it was so easy to talk to them! Everyone was so friendly and open and willing to talk about themselves, which is so unlike France. I had read before coming here that the French are very private people, with the example being that they don't talk about family unless you're close, and it's true. I heard one of my teachers criticize someone once for talking about his family when they don't know each other very well. The closed nature of the culture here is so alien to me, and I often use that as a joke with the French, that in America everyone is best friends and they think it's hilarious. But it's the truth, and it's more sad for them that it isn't true here. The fact that London felt so much more friendly was a big reason why I liked it so much.

Here's an illustration of what I mean. On Saturday I visited Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral (which is when the best Jews go to church). While I was waiting in the ticket line at Westminster Abbey there was a group of French people behind me (in general there were Frenchies all over London, I heard more French there than I do in Paris). They were debating if they could get a discount on the entrance with their metro ticket for a long time, so I finally turned around and said no, there's no discount, in French, trying to be helpful and friendly. They said nothing, just kind of stared at me and went back to talking to themselves. Now, I know it's kind of weird for random people to turn around and speak in your native language to you and proove that they were listening to your conversation, but I also know (because it's happened) that an anglophone would say thanks and then engage you in conversation. As a contrast, when I was at St Paul's later I started talking to this English guy in the ticket line and ended up walking all over the cathedral with him (and would totally have gotten a date out of it too if I weren't such an idiot. This is why I'm going to end up lonely and alone). That would never happen in France.

There are definitely some French people who aren't like that. Maybe it's a generational thing; I only hang out with teachers and other middle aged folk, and maybe people my age are different. The vast majority of people here are very nice, they just aren't overly warm and friendly like anglophones tend to be. I miss that, and I don't know if I want to spend another year somewhere where I'll always have to fight to try to make friends. I was so successful at making French friends this year, I'm sure next year will end up about the same. But then I'd get to travel so much more.... debate will continue.

Anglophone travels are messing with my French cultural experiences! Maybe the Hungarians will make me like France more? I hope not. I decided to tell my one teacher that I won't be teaching on Thursday because it's a hassle for me, unless there's a stink or they ask me to babysit the kids who have to come to school anyway. So if all goes well I'll be in Budapest on Wednesday afternoon and I'm really looking forward to it. I always loved listening to my grandpa's stories and am anxious to visit. And nervous. Hungarian is a very different language - I tried to teach myself a little once upon a time and it was tough. I hope I don't feel totally overwhelmed!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Spoke too soon

All my travel plans for next week came to screeching halt today when I found out that one of my teachers isn't striking. What's her problem, just do it! Kidding, kidding. So now I'm not sure what to do. Should I go anyway? She's the CM2 teacher and I really do need to give those kids as many lessons as possible before their evaluations to pass into sixième. But how annoying is that, to have one class that I'm going to have to get up freaking early for because I have to catch the bus, and then hang out at the school by myself doing nothing for three hours until the next bus comes by? I so don't want to go. Can I call in sick or can I just say "you know what, I'm not coming" or can I say that I'm striking too? My directeur asked me if I was striking, and then explained to me why the suppression of Saturday morning school is so bad, etc. I actually agree with the suppression of Saturday school, and with some of the educational program reforms that are being proposed, so it would be disingenuous to faire la grève. I don't think she'll care that much if I don't go. But it is a job, and I made a commitment, so I can't just not go when I don't feel like it. Stupid morals getting in the way of my travel plans...

I'm leaving for London tomorrow morning, so I guess I'll reflechir while watching the Changing of the Guard.

Friday, May 2, 2008

No work = Extra vacay!

Over the course of the next two weeks I will be teaching two days out of my normal six. I should have just stayed home an extra month! There are a bunch of vacations in May, and guess what, another grève!

This Thursday was ferié for Labor Day. I'm working Monday, Tuesday is an in-house day for teachers at one school so I don't have to work, Thursday is Victory in Europe Day (WWII), Monday is the Monday of Pentecost (Whit Monday??), I teach Tuesday, and Thursday is the big teaching strike. I guess I shouldn't count my eggs before they're hatched though, because only one of my schools told me they're all striking, but I'm pretty sure the other one will be. The government is in the middle of some hefty education reforms and the teachers are upset, so what do they do? Refuse to work. That's right, let's punish the kids to show the government that we're serious.

Next week I'm going to London and I am soooo excited! I really hope it's as good as I want it to be. I may be joined by a buddy of mine. The week after I think I'll head to Budapest if I really do have Thursday totally off. I really want to make it to Hungary since that's where my dad's family is from and where my grandfather immigrated from. Of course the part of Hungary where he lived (Transylvania!) is no longer Hungarian but part of Romania (WWI territory redivision). If not Budapest then I'll do either a Bruges/Brussels trip or a Vienna/Salzburg trip. I know that if I don't go to Budapest now I'll make time for it in July, but the other ones, esp Austria, I'l not sure if I'd get there this year. If anyone has any input or suggestions I'd love to hear them!