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!