Posts Tagged With: France

Hello, Goodbye

What a whirlwind of a week! In less than three hours I will be leaving Amiens, and in a little over that I will be leaving France.  If it all hadn’t happened so quickly, I’d have thought I was still dreaming!  Done with the French Masters, done with the English language school, the private tutoring, les Tombés de la Charrette (although I’ll still be an “honorary” member), the speaking French to buy groceries, the headaches and bureaucratic nightmares, the laid back rhythm of life.  For a good bit of time, I’ll go without seeing good friends and loved ones, and in many ways, my life as an Expat will be temporarily on hold.

I’ll soon be going through the shock of repatriation, and moving halfway across the country in the span of a few weeks, beginning full-time employment in a city I have never seen… in some ways you could say I am expatriating to New England and to suburban Connecticut, a land I had only known from its obnoxious spelling.  I have to find a used car and face a good number of months alone in a furniture-less apartment.  But believe me, I’m ecstatic about the prospect of a new adventure!

Leaving Hedi behind for a few months, on the other hand, is not at all appealing.  Back to the reality of long distance phone calls, Skype dates, and marathon emails.  This time, we know (more or less) what the future will have in store for us, and the total duration should be much less than the last time.  For those of you who have ever had to go through the process of filing for a visa (K-1 Fiancé visa in our case), I sympathize with your ordeal!

It hasn’t all been good-byes this week, even with the four-something going away parties I had attended scattered throughout the week.  I also got to know my future belle mère (such a lovely French term), to pick up a few more Arabic words and sample some delectable cooking.  Every week is a learning experience, every day is a hello to something new.  When you are used to packing up and moving somewhere else, the important thing to keep in mind is not to be sad you are leaving… you are probably going somewhere new!

To all my wonderful friends and family in Europe and North Africa, I will do my best to stay in touch (I am very good at it after years of experience) and I will come back to see you, sooner or later! Now that I’ll be making a decent salary, I’ll finally be able to travel a bit more frequently.  Gros bisous, vous allez me manquer tous et merci pour tout. 

The heart has reasons that reason cannot know

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

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Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Expats, United States | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Teaching English

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An avalanche can be triggered by the slightest of movements, a small rock rolling down the side of a mountain.  As it falls, it gains momentum and slowly a whole face of the mountain follows in its wake, cascading down in a deafening, blinding explosion of snow.  A powerful, lethal domino effect…

To put it plainly, that’s my metaphor for how I went from teaching one hour of English a week to, in the space of two weeks, seven to ten hours a week with eleven different students.

It started small.  An online advertisement sent by a friend.  Another online advertisement that led to a phone call, which led to an interview, which led to another interview.  And now I have more requests for English classes than I can fit into my weekly schedule.  This is why I tell all those would-be-haters, Ye of little faith, back home that while having a liberal arts degree certainly doesn’t stack the odds in your favor, people can and do find work with a B.A. in French.  That and a combination of people you know, being in the right place at the right time, and various other jobs/internship/qualifications.  The most important thing is to have that first job, that first experience, and you are a thousand times more likely to be hired.

All that being said, it’s hard to try to teach ESL classes in Europe, especially in France.  You go to the language centers, and they want CELTA/TEFL certifications.  You go to the after-school tutoring companies, and they want experience.  You go to the middle schools and high schools, and they want you to first pass a national exam and pointless Masters.  You try to freelance it, and you know nobody, and there are a thousand other advertisements online.  Plus the British can always trump you when it comes to visa requirements and hiring priorities.  You go to Paris, and your rent costs too much.  You go to a smaller city, and there’s not the same amount of work as in Paris.  You realize that you might speak your own language but you have no idea why you say what you say.  You realize that everyone outside of an English-speaking country learned jargon that you have never ever heard of (“phrasal verbs” or “modal constructions” ringing any bells?).  And that no matter how hard you try, some people can just not successfully pronounce the letter “H.”

But why should you try? Because, for one, you appreciate that while not everyone speaks English, they make a valiant effort to speak a language other than their own native tongue.  And that you are not more privileged than a non-native speaker English teacher, just because you happen to speak one of the variants of English without thinking.  Do you know how to explain to someone when to use can rather than could or shall rather than should?  Teaching English abroad forces you to question yourself, your language, your perception of the world.  It makes you appreciate being able to communicate in someone else’s native language, to even be able to teach someone in French, let alone a subject as complex and erratic as the English language.  Because, let’s face it, teaching English does not necessarily imply teaching in English, even for purists who insist on full-scale immersion and improving oral comprehension.  If someone is going to pay you fifteen bucks an hour once a week, you can bet that they don’t want to pass those sixty minutes understanding twenty percent of what you are saying.  All they need to do for that is to turn on an American TV show.

But oh what fun and what headaches and difficulties and epiphanies and joy and frustration it is to teach English!  Teaching in itself is tiring and time-consuming, but teaching a foreign language – when only half of your students are actually interested and the rest are either forced to learn it by their parents or required to to pass an exam – is the real gauntlet of the teaching world.  And teaching English in a country where you are barely there legally, and there are one hundred other people who would like to be in your shoes, and the hours are bad, and the pay is subpar… Teaching English in France is for the brave of heart.

I’ve done the Hokey Pokey, I’ve “I spied”, I’ve gotten locked up in London Bridge, I’ve taught the basics of Bingo, I’ve reiterated the rules for pronouncing “-ed” verb endings, I’ve sung “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” I’ve translated ad lib a dozen complex business texts, I’ve “How do you do-ed” and “Nice to meet you-ed” and I’ve traveled all over the city, running to and fro from bus stations and language centers, cafés and campuses.  I’ve worked with four-year-olds, ten-year-olds, fourteen-year-olds, seventeen-year-olds, twenty-year-olds, twenty-five-year-olds.  And somehow, I have still retained my sanity.

It’s language-learning in reverse.  It’s unlearning, relearning, faking it, ad libbing.  It’s scratching your head at all the various pecularities between British English and American English.  It’s knowing the superlative, the subjunctive, the passive voice, the present perfect, subject-verb inversion, relative pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions, and so much more.  It’s a whole lot of n’importe quoi.

And sometimes I say to myself, maybe I should move to Thailand or Korea.  I’ve heard there’s better pay.

Categories: Education, Expats, Working in France | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Doubts

Once in a while, we all have doubts.  Where do we go with our lives? Am I pursuing the right career? Am I making the right choices?  And let me tell you, as a foreigner in France in a relationship with another foreigner of a nationality clearly not welcome here, I am no stranger to doubt.  Never before did I feel as if my life was a game of cards, a role of the dice to see which way the numbers would fall.  I worked so hard to be with the person I love, to return to France… would it be considered abandoning my dream, succumbing to failure if I were to change course?  Find another solution? Postpone my Expat life?

I’m not saying I’m preparing to do anything radical right now.  But the wheels have been turning in my head and I’m trying to sort things out.  Things may sort themselves out.  Sometimes you aren’t so much led to a conclusion as pushed there.  And we’ll still see where the numbers fall.  I’m not a poker player.  I’m going to rely on God for that one.

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Photo credits: Philine W.

Categories: Expats | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

What is French about France?

  • The shops all close at 7 pm, with the exception of Carrefour Market (8:30 pm) and Carrefour City (10:30 pm). At least in my city.
  • The city is dead on Sundays—I’m not even half sure where everyone goes.

“Almost every shop is closed on Sundays as well, so don’t plan a visit to a city you’ve always dreamed of seeing on the day of rest, because they do rest. It’s the law. Only shops that sell food are legally allowed to remain open in France, although countless boutiques do flaunt the regulations. I wouldn’t count on it, though. If you are visiting during a Sunday, and will need anything at all from a store, I highly recommend buying it Saturday.”  Hours in France.

  • Students flock in mass to the train station on Fridays, in order to pass the weekend at home. It’s very hard to hang out with French students on the weekend unless they live in your city, so it’s nice to know other foreigners.
  • Nearly every meal is served in a minimum of three courses—appetizer, main course, and cheese/fruit/dessert.
  • New Year’s Eve is rarely spent at a bar but at a private party at a friend’s home.
  • Presents are exchanged and gifts opened on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day.
  • All the holidays revolve around food.
  • The country stops working in the month of August—don’t expect to get anything done yourself.
  • Sometimes it takes asking ten different individuals in order to find anything out, and sometimes even then you haven’t the faintest idea.
  • When first attending a French university, prepare to spend an entire day going to various buildings of the university in order to “register” as a student. And be prepared to not know what classes are offered, with which professor, at what time, and in what building, until often the day of, and the same goes for exams. Don’t expect to be notified if a teacher is absent. Try to have at least one well-informed friend in every class. Or get to know at least one faculty member. Don’t even attempt to have the grading system explained to you unless you need to “retake” your exams.
  • You must always watch your register of language (including tutoiement and vouvoiement), depending on who you are talking to—emails included.
  • Always say “Bonjour” upon entering a room, restaurant, or store, and always leave with “Merci, au revoir” or “Bonne journée, au revoir”—a “s’il vous plaît” when ordering something is nice but not required.
  • Carambars and crêpes and more cheeses and fine wines than you can count on two hands. And pastries, and desserts, and baguettes, and…
  • Tintin and Lucky Luke (Belgian) and Titeuf (Swiss) and Astérix and Obélix and (until recently) Gerard Depardieu and Johnny Hallyday and Audrey Tautou and Marillon Cotillard and Édith Piaf, Les Enfants du ParadisLes Intouchables, Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain, Émile Zola, Gustave Flaubert, Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Charles Baudelaire, Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Honoré de Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, Marcel Proust, Stendhal, Molière, Corneille, George Sand, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, …
  • Don’t expect to get anything administrative-related accomplished before 9:30 am or after 4:00 pm. As a general rule, never expect someone to be in his or her office before 9:00 am.
  • The numerous Catch-22’s in France. Case in point: to get university housing, you need a French bank account, but to open a French bank account, you need housing.
  • Emails are seldom returned in a timely manner—the French take the separation of work and leisure very seriously, which extends to evenings, weekends (Sunday especially) and vacation days (notably winter and summer break)
  • French shops and attractions tend to be open in the mornings until noon, and many (if not most) close up to three hours for lunch. They typically reopen 2:30 or 3 pm. If you time it wrong, you could arrive at a museum just in time to wait for three grueling hours.
  • In those hours, the restaurants and cafés come alive. If you don’t catch lunch at lunchtime, you could go hungry for several hours (especially in smaller towns or even medium-sized cities). The French dinnertime is typically late, around 8 pm.
  • The French tend to go out to eat less often than Americans, especially in the evenings or on the weekends, which is primetime for most U.S. dinners out. On the other hand, most restaurants in the city center, especially near businesses, are packed at lunch hours, as the locals take advantage of the “plat du jour” and their two-hour lunch breaks.
  • The French love their system of concours, national government-entry exams for admission into élite schools and the various types of fonctionnaire (civil servant) jobs. There is a whole “prépa” culture that prepares for the Grandes Écoles such as the École Normale Supérieure and the École Polytechnique. Most government bigwigs and Parisian highbrows issue from these schools.
  • To get a job in France, they expect you to have a degree for everything—a degree to prove your competency at a foreign language (CLES 2), your ability to use basic computer skills (C2i2e), your general first aid (PSC1), your ability to work with children (BAFA) or adults (BAFD), to work in a professional field (CAP), to work in commerce or management (BTS), to become a teacher (CAPES or l’Aggrégation), to work in a technical field (DUT), etc. Not to mention your standard undergraduate (L1-L2-L3) or Masters (M1-M2) or Doctorate degrees.
  • The French love acronyms and other jargon known as “sigles”.
  • Almost everyone smokes in France. And I am not exaggerating. I must be the only person half the time not to take a “pause cigarette” in order to “fumer une clope” and I am often asked on the street, “vous avez du feu?” Luckily for non-smokers, smoking is pretty much banned in all enclosed areas, such as bars or restaurants.
  • The French like to drink, but there isn’t quite the same “binge culture” that you find in the United States, as a result of the absence of “campus” fraternities or sororities or other such rites of initiation that involve young people and heavy drinking. Drinking is allowed since age sixteen, and most French have had a glass of wine on occasion with their meal from a much earlier age.  The French highly prize their wines and enjoy beer and hard alcohol. There is a local alcohol culture that accompanies each region of the country, with corresponding stereotypes.
  • Dogs are allowed pretty much everywhere, especially in cafés. Therefore, be forewarned about what naturally accompanies dogs—doggy doo on the sidewalks.
  • In older cities when it rains, the sewage literally stinks.
  • Older apartments often have terrible ventilation and rarely have elevators. You are lucky if your heating is fully functioning. Living conditions are much more cramped, even for those who can afford good housing. Not everyone is a homeowner and few people are blessed with a front or back yard or a patch of grass if they live in a city.
  • You typically have to pay to go to the bathroom, unless you are a paying customer at a restaurant.  Even McDonalds isn’t a “freebie.”
  • Unless you are born French or in a French-speaking country, you will never speak perfect French. Whether by your accent or an out of context use of vocabulary, you will give yourself away. And once they discover you’re an American, they will proceed to talk to you about Obama (adored) or Bush (despised) or about American politics in general. Try to brush up your vocabulary for such situations (explaining the Electoral College is hard enough in English).
  • You don’t need to tip as it is already included in the bill—although many places take advantage of tourist ignorance. And whatever price listed on the price tag is how much you will actually have to pay—there’s no hidden “sales tax” that magically appears at the counter, it’s already been factored in advance and is the same around the entire country.
  • You basically pay half your salary in taxes, BUT parents don’t have to pay for preschool, worry about health insurance, or save for college.
  • Sex is absolutely not taboo—from high school age onwards, most people are expected to be having sex and talking about having sex, and even parents are fully aware of their adolescent children’s having sex—as a result, the pill is widespread and used.
  • Fewer French are getting married than ever before, and cohabitation is commonplace, especially once you are out of school (most French students live at home with their parents, as university campuses lack quality housing and a “campus” environment)—as a result, most marriages I see at the town hall across from my street are of the Arab-French population, amongst each other.
  • Almost all French children, at least those fortunate enough to get accepted, go to state-run day cares called “la crèche”: not only are these appreciated, but women often go back to work within months of giving birth and are not viewed as “bad mothers.”
  • You are never ever forgiven for getting fat. Having a baby is not an excuse, but rather, should be extra motivation to get back in shape to regain your sex appeal. No matter what age.
  • Both men and women dress well. While the “jock” look is still acceptable, most jogging pants or sweatshirts are worn only to and from athletic activity. Both genders spend a lot of money on clothes and are expected to look good at all times. Slovenly dressing is looked down upon, as if you are lacking self-esteem. There is no college culture that permits wearing pyjamas or sweatpants to class. Students can and do often dress as if going to a job interview every day of class. The French, to a lesser degree than the Swiss but all the same, frequently “repeat” outfits two or three days in a row, provided it is still clean and doesn’t smell.
  • The French take their laïcité (separation of Church and State) incredibly seriously—all talk or manifestation of one’s religion in a public setting, such as school, is absolutely forbidden, with the most extreme case being the prohibition of all religious articles in a public school including the Cross, the Jewish kippa/yarmulke and the Muslim head scarf.
  • For some reason, the French are the second worst at foreign languages in Europe, coming just ahead of England in the most recent study. I blame the strange emphases of school-run foreign language programs, but this also relates to national pride for speaking good French and a ferocious protection and support of their language abroad. And perhaps a “laissez-faire” attitude about the English language, after rivaling with England for the last several centuries as a cultural power in the region.
  • To graduate high school you have to pass the baccalauréat, which involves an exam in each subject, among which figure several oral exams. Like most grades in France, the results of those who pass are posted for all to see, often on a national level. In university, professors commonly email the entire class’s grades in one go, and you often only have one grade per class, which is usually a final exam or project. Hence the common occurrence of “make-up” exams or “redoing” your year. Each year is considered a separate degree to be earned independently of other years.
  • Make sure you are making eye contact with a driver when crossing the street at a diagonal-slashed cross walk.
  • The cross walk lights in France are both little men—the red one with his hands on his hips means “don’t cross” and the green man who appears to be walking means “cross.” In all cases look left then right then left and cross if no car appears to be hurtling at you.
  • It’s really hard to get your driver’s license in France. You have to be at least 18, go through a six-month program of driver’s ed, and pass a rigorous exam. After three failed attempts you have to repass driver’s ed. As a result, many people, especially youths, use public transportation or walk.
  • The French love to protest and go on strike. Within a month’s period, I’ve already witnessed two protests down the center of my city. Strikes of any form of transportation are incredibly annoying and likely to happen 1) at a moment’s notice or 2) on a major holiday. Be forewarned.
  • Getting a coffee at one of fifteen local cafés is more than just a social ritual—it’s a way of living.
  • La préfecture is the innermost circle of hell.  L’OFII is not far behind.

A fellow American Expat in Amiens wanted me to add this comment:

“I have one to add: dinner, even when just pizza at a friend’s house, is preceded by “l’apéro.” this is not optional. Buy peanuts or chips, and an alcoholic beverage of some kind on hand. You may think you have planned a dinner party, but even at thanksgiving, you will be asked “what about l’apéro?” (Check out Fliss’s blog here)

Categories: Daily Life, Expats, France | Tags: , , , | 14 Comments

A Crêpe-making Holiday? When in France

As most of the world is aware, France has a very healthy relationship with food, with its complex network of traditions and cultural practices tied up with special meals and desserts.  Each month has a corresponding holiday around food:  in January, it’s la galette des rois for Epiphany, in February you have both la Chandeleur and le Saint-Valentin, and this continues all the way into December, with the bûche de Noël among numerous other holiday traditions such as vin chauddes marrons, and the famous foie gras and canard or lapin for the New Year’s Eve Réveillon.

Yesterday while the United States was busy deciding whether or not the official groundhog had seen his shadow, France was busy celebrating la Chandeleur, a complex holiday that is tied to both the Catholic holiday of Candelmas, which celebrates the presentation of Jesus to the Temple as well as the purification of the Virgin Mary forty days after giving birth (a custom women still practice in Islam), as well as the Roman holiday of light, festa candelorum, which is the origin of the French name, from the French word for long tapered candles, des chandelles.  It also has its roots in Northern and Western European holidays celebrating the lengethening of the days.  Today the holiday is mostly remembered as a time to get together with friends and make crêpes, one of France’s most popular food exports.  It’s a seasonal, religious, and cultural/food-related holiday all in one. Summer, light, and crêpes!

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Surprisingly enough, there is more in common between the very secular American Groundhog’s Day and la Chandeleur in France than simply sharing the same date:

“In France, Candlemas is celebrated with crêpes, which must be eaten only after eight p.m. If the cook can flip a crêpe while holding a coin in the other hand, the family is assured of prosperity throughout the coming year. The French though have a completely reversed view of the weather prospects. They say: “Quand la Chandeleur est claire, l’hiver est par derriere; Chandeleur couverte quarante jours de perte,” a rhyme that means, more or less: “If February 2nd is clear, no more winter to fear; if the Chandeleur is overcast, forty days winter to last.” But then again they also say: “Soleil de la Chandeleur, annonce hiver et malheur” which is “A sunny Candlemas will bring winter and misfortune”. Other traditions include “Si point ne veut de blé charbonneux mange des crêpes à la Chandeleur” which is “if you do not at all wish the wheat to blacken eat crêpes at Candlemas”, and “Celui qui la rapporte chez lui allumée. Pour sûr ne mourra pas dans l’année” which is “whoever arrives home (from church) with it (the candle) lit for sure will not die that year”.” Wikipedia

Luckily for us, the weather in Amiens was absolutely dismal.  It was dark, the sky a slate gray that makes me think more a muddy puddle than a Van Gogh-esque Starry Night, and it was spewing at various intervals cold snow-rain that melted upon touching the ground.  I’m sure hoping that our winter will be a short one, for I’m longing for the mild temperatures of spring and summer in Northern France, and the rare sun sightings in the past few months leave one longing for the gentle kiss of sunshine against your forehead.  I’m looking forward to relaxing in le Parc Saint-Pierre and having picnics and soccer matches and pétanque tournaments to pass the time.

I have been fortunate enough to share many French traditions with friends here in France, many of which I hadn’t celebrated the first time I lived in Amiens two years ago.  The benefit of knowing the locals is the possibility to share in their traditions.  This year, I had two delicious Kings’ cakes for Epiphany, another religiously-based holiday that is also celebrated in New Orleans in the United States and elsewhere in the world.  Unlike the very sweet and colorful New Orleans style Kings’ Cake, the French galette des rois is made of almond-paste frangipane and pastry, with a little fève (originally, a broad bean) figurine buried beneath layers of cake and which many collect.  Tradition has it that the youngest person has to crawl under the table and “decide” who gets what piece of cake as it is sliced in equal portions for family members or friends.  As I was the youngest among my group of friends, I stuck my head under the table.  Whoever has the slice of cake concealing the fève, which in New Orleans is a little figure of a naked baby (originally representing the baby Jesus), is crowned “king” or “queen” for the day, wears a paper crown, and, most importantly, escapes dishes duty for the rest of the day.  I also got to sample a homemade galette des rois with the four French girls I teach, although unfortunately the fève was hidden in one of the remaining slices.

“The cake traditionnally celebrating Epiphany in France and Quebec is sold in most bakeries during the month of January. Two versions exist: in northern France and Quebec the cake called galette des rois (which can be either circular or rectangular) consists of flaky puff pastry layers with a dense center of frangipane. In southern France – Occitania, Roussillon, Provence,Catalan where it´s called tortell – the cake called gâteau des rois or royaume, is a torus-shaped brioche with candied fruits and sugar, similar in its shape and colours to a crown. This later version is also common to Spain and very similar to New-Orleans king cake.

Tradition holds that the cake is “to draw the kings” to the Epiphany. A figurine, la fève, which can represent anything from a car to a cartoon character, is hidden in the cake and the person who finds the trinket in their slice becomes king for the day and will have to offer the next cake. Originally, la fève was literally a broad bean (fève), but it was replaced in 1870 by a variety of figurines out of porcelain or—more recently—plastic. These figurines have become popular collectibles and can often be bought separately. Individual bakeries may offer a specialized line of fèves depicting diverse themes from great works of art to classic movie stars and popular cartoon characters. The cakes are usually sold in special bags, some of which can be used to heat the cake in a microwave without ruining the crispness of the cake. A paper crown is included with the cake to crown the “king” who finds the fève in their piece of cake. To ensure a random distribution of the cake shares, it is traditional for the youngest person to place themselves under the table and name the recipient of the share which is indicated by the person in charge of the service.

Formerly, one divided the cake in as many shares as guests, plus one. The latter, called “the share of God,” “share of the Virgin Mary,” or “share of the poor” was intended for the first poor person to arrive at the home.” Wikipedia

I recently also had the opportunity to attend the birthday party of one of my closest French friends here in Amiens.  The small and intimate gathering was delightful, from the many delicious cold samplings of “finger food”, from delicate quail eggs to bread slices slathered with various spreads, a “savory” caky bread, and little chocolate muffins at the end of the meal.  We played a game that was perhaps as literary and nerdy as our group, which is called À la manière de (In the manner of), which takes a line from the work of a famous French author and stops mid-sentence, allowing those playing along to “propose” a sentence “in the manner of” the famous author. The goal is to sound convincingly enough like the author that when the person whose turn it is reads all the different sentences anonymously, including the “real” sentence the author wrote, everyone will be convinced that your invented sentence is the literary text.

For those of you who read French, here is a sampling of the “sentence endings” I wrote down, with a few “real” sentences that I read aloud at my turn.  Let’s see if you can guess the French author who inspired them :)

  • “…ma femme se rende compte que je veux coucher avec un homme.
  • … je vous tue.
  • … une affaire compliquée et pénible,
  • … tu me saoules.
  • … on a dû tomber du ciel,
  • …quelconque.
  • …périmé
  • … j’ai tout ce que j’ai désiré.”

My own Chandeleur party was incredible, as I get to spend it at a close friend’s house with all the other members of my locavore group.  We spent at least four hours playing a board game called “Zombicide”, which is a hilarious cooperative game in which you try to “shoot the zombies” and race against the zombie invasion while following one of ten different scenarios.

Zombicide

Zombicide

Oh, and the crêpes.  In the 24 hours that we spent together, I probably ate more crêpes than I have in an entire year. Curry-flavored crêpes with leeks and onions and goat cheese and tome de cidre cheese and sweet crêpes flavored with orange blossoms and stuffed with Nutella and Jonagold apples or spread with homemade jam.

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Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Food, France, Seasons | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back to the Grind

Well, I’ll have to say, having five months of my Masters under my belt made this “first day” back to class so much easier than the original first day (see La rentrée for more information).  I have gotten a handful of my grades back, all (with one exception) really good, which has boosted my confidence.  I’ve figured out how my Masters works, how the complementary Masters that I’m going to switch into next year works, the grading system for both Masters and how I’ll be evaluated.  I’ve gotten to know the professors, figured out what they expect of me in terms of translation, in both written French and English, and I’ve even figured out what I need to do to become a high school professor of English in France (see my last post, Round Two, if you’re curious to know more about teaching in private schools in France).

That being said, my schedule for the semester looks absolutely ridiculous.  Part of this is because, in addition to the normal workload of a Master de recherche (4 seminars, 2 translation classes, 1 linguistics class, and “out of class” time to work on my thesis), I am also taking as an “auditrice libre” all the Master d’enseignement classes, with the exception of oral comprehension and expression, which would be absolutely pointless for me to take anyways.  That brings my total to nine classes, and I’m contemplating spending all day at the l’IUFM, where they instruct you on basic pedagogy and set up teaching practicums, on Thursdays, along with the rest of the Master d’enseignement, even though I am in no way required to.  All this because of the CAPES écrits which is taking place in June, six months (more or less) ahead of schedule.  The written CAPES for English will be in the form of a written commentary on a literary or significant historical text accompanied by one to five “annexes” that serve as “guides” in your analysis, à la française, and two texts to translate, one into English and another into French, the latter serving as a starting point for a linguistic analysis on English grammatical terms.  And since I am so new to the whole literary translation thing, especially from English to French, I decided to “audit” a class or two of translation in order to improve.  Hey, you can only get better at translation by doing more translation!

Sample schedule:

  • Mondays: 10 am-12 pm, [audit] Methodology class for the CAPES literary commentary; LUNCH; 1 pm-3 pm, Seminar on traductology taught by my Thesis adviser; 3 pm-4 pm, [audit] Translation class emphasizing English grammar; 4 pm-5 pm, [audit] Translation class on literary translation from English to French
  • Tuesdays: 9 am-11 am, Linguistic analysis class; 11 am-12 pm, Translation class on literary translation from English to French; LUNCH; 2 pm-3 pm, Translation class on literary translation from French to English; 3 pm-5 pm, Seminar on linguistic theory (all the big names, de Saussure, Chomsky, etc.)
  • Wednesdays: 10:30 am-12:30 pm, Methodology class for the CAPES commentary of a historically significant text; LUNCH; 3 pm-5 pm, Seminar on Irish literature
  • Thursdays: 9:30 am-4:30 pm, Pedagogical training at l’IUFM
  • Fridays: 2 pm-4 pm, Seminar [undecided, but probably in French medieval literature on Marian poetry in France]

Nevertheless, I will do my best to succeed this semester, as well as in my preparations for the CAPES, knowing full well that the more practice in translation, literary analysis, linguistics that I do, the better off I’ll be.  The worst that can happen is A) I’ll get burnt out and start dropping my classes or B) have to take the make-up exams in June for a class or two and/or retake the CAPES next year if I don’t pass it.  Which means redo parts of my first-year Masters, but with a signficantly lighter workload.  And maybe a part-time job (fingers crossed).

Another reason why today went so well is that I finally know everyone in my Masters, and some even rather well.  It takes time to get to know people, and there’s nothing better than taking the same exams and suffering under the same obnoxious workload to break the ice.  And then, Facebook did the rest.  I am blessed to have had this semester: international friends, friends in my Masters, and friends within my locavore group, a diverse assemblage of wonderful and very different people.  Who would have believed that I had hardly a single French friend (with notable exceptions) the last time I lived in Amiens? There is nothing like setting up a permanent residence somewhere and pursuing a legitimate degree, instead of feeling like a “vacationer” or a “foreign observer” passing through.

So here I am in January 2013, confident, happy, and motivated for the rest of the year and for the grueling work ahead of me, albeit altogether broke!

Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Education, France | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Expat blogs of 2012

2012 was a year of graduations, of new beginnings, of movings and endings and lots of changes.  It also marks the year I began this blog, first intermittently and then more steadily as I began to settle in to life in France.

I’ve also spent a lot of time getting to know the blogsphere and discovering other blogs by expats and travelers, among other topics.  I am continuously fascinated by the shared perspective of those living abroad, whether or not we experience foreign cultures differently.  Some blogs I’ve followed faithfully from their first posts, several months ago, and some I’ve discovered recently.

I wanted to share with you my top five Expat blogs.  I’ve read many different types, from travel journals to professional food photography.  While each has value, I decided to limit the blogs I’d describe by creating a set of rules: The writer has to be an American who has lived abroad continuously for a few months and has been writing for at least three months.

My Top 5 Expat blogs of 2012

1-The first blog is called Arabic Zeal and is written by an American named Holly who currently resides in Dubai with her Palestinian husband and three kids.  I fell in love with this blog back in 2011, with its gorgeous design, professional photography, and skillful writing.  I am incredibly interested in Arabic culture and found myself mesmerized by Holly’s life and perspective.  Her blog has become more and more centered on food, making it into a hybrid of travel/food culture as well as a narrative on life abroad, but I like that we can experience Dubai and Holly’s travels through the recipes and photos that she posts.  I encourage you to take a look at Arabic Zeal if you’d like to step into the land of One Thousand and One Nights.

2-The author of my second blog I knew personally at my Alma Mater, as we took an English class together, back when she was pursuing a creative writing degree.  Whitney has since moved to Senegal, where she has embarked on a Peace Corps adventure that reads like a novel.  On It’s Time for Africa!, you get a taste for what life in this amazing African country has to offer as well as get to know the fascinating people who live there.  Whitney’s writing often reads like prose and her blog is as vibrant as her personality.  Trust me, you’ll get hooked by her infrequent yet immensely rich posts.

3-The third blog might be a relatively recent discovery for me, but Becca’s blog Fumbling toward home (which I discovered under the name of Paris at my Doorstep) has chronicled her and her husband’s adventures living in Edinburgh, Scotland for five years and then a year in Paris, before they repatriated to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which to many is as much a foreign experience as any.  The years and experience of blog writing is evident, as well as Becca’s passion for photography.  The posts are frequent, full of beautiful photography and insightful comments.  Becca and her husband Scotty travel extensively, and it will still take me some time to sort through the many posts of the past few years.  I’ve been reading beginning with their year living in France, as it is more recent and more familiar to me as an Expat in France.

4-chanceofsun is as whimsical and sunny as the author, Christina, an Arizona native who moved to Düsseldorf, Germany with her German husband in 2011.  In it she expresses some of her personal takes on life abroad, from remarks on the weather to her daily struggles and delights.  She has also been adding snapshots that are just as expressive and delightful as her short but satisfying blog posts.  With my introduction to the German culture over the past few months, I am always delighted to read a post by Christina with her “adventures, impressions, and random thoughts.”

5-My last blog brings back memories of my high school days during my Gap year in Geneva.  Although Maddi is mostly addressing friends and family back home, I feel like I have gotten to know her through her blog 3805miles where she takes us through life in a French high school, with a French family, and French and international friends in Toulouse, France.  Maddi is hilarious and offers us a unique snapshot of high school life abroad.  I have personally discovered many elements of French society of which I have been unaware until Maddi posted about them.  She is also a talented photographer and conveys the many serendipities of a high school exchange.

I also wanted to briefly mention two blogs that don’t fit my rules but are worth sharing:

My French Heaven is written by Frenchman Stéphane Gabart who lived for ten years in the United States before returning to his homeland.  His blog is superb and has the advantage of being written in both English and French, which is a great exercise for those who would like to read natural, colloquial French while still relying on the English version for comprehension’s sake.  His posts are always mouth-watering, with beautiful photographs and tasty recipes as Stéphane describes all the elements that make French food and culture renowned worldwide.

Outside Looking In also didn’t qualify because it is brand new, but I find it has great potential to be one of my favorite Expat blogs.  Going under the name Bosmosis, the author is an American who has been living in South Korea for fifteen years and is mainly targeting the expat community abroad.  He writes,

“I’d like to welcome anyone who is living in the cultural space between the motherland and some other place. My goal here is to create a space for thoughtful global citizens to meet, have a laugh, and reflect on life on the outside looking in.”

I look forward to sharing my thoughts and getting to know more of the global expat community.

Happy reading and happy new year!  I’m hoping 2013 will be a great one!

Categories: Expats | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Reverse Culture Shock

Home musings…

You’ve all heard of culture shock.  Moving to a new country where things are done differently, where they speak a different language, where cultural norms and social mores are so… different.  Some people get it really bad (and these are the people who don’t end up staying for long), but others get in a serious of sudden, spontaneous homesicknesses.  Not because the new is bad, but because you miss the old.

There’s also something called reverse culture shock.  Potentially more lethal.  When you come back to your home country, you start to miss all the things that you liked about living abroad, and sometimes you had no choice about coming back.  Your visa expired.  You ran out of money.  You don’t have the same rights in your foreign country, or maybe you find it impossible to be with the person of your dreams unless you come home.  In that case, reverse culture shock can be severe.  You are in the place you grew up in, but it’s all these reasons that prompted you to leave that are digging that thorn even deeper.  When your home away from home is no longer your home.  And home isn’t really home any more.

I feel somewhat blessed, in the way a chameleon is blessed in turning green and yellow and brown.  My culture shock has always been minimal, and I re-adapt to living in the United States without a second thought.  Is it weird to be back home? I am asked.  I mean, I guess it’s weird to do your shopping a bit differently, your cooking, your (non)walking, your talking.  But, as I’ve lived in Switzerland and then the United States, France and then the United States and then France again – visiting again in the United States is like traveling to see loved ones, camping out there for a week or two, and then moving on to the next destination.

But then again, I don’t really know what settling down somewhere is like.  I have perpetually been a student, studied abroad as a student, moved here and there as a student, but I have not yet worked somewhere abroad, picked out my apartment, and truly made a life.  I’d love to have that opportunity arise, but whether that will be soon or far off is hard to say.

My Christmas presents from my oldest, dearest friends? Arm & Hammer baking soda and cake mixes.

I don’t think I’ll be missing home anytime soon.

Categories: Daily Life, Immigration | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A+ Tuesday

Yesterday I received an A+.  Before you start laughing at me, let me explain.  The last place in the world I was expecting to receive an actual handwritten “A+” was France, especially on a homework assignment that involved assimilating and incorporating linguistic concepts in an analysis of English grammar, all written in French.  My A+ days were over, I thought naïvely.  For some unknown reason, my linguistics professor decided to tack on to the top of each paper the English-style grade, perhaps as a shock or a taste of “local flavor.”  To my right and left were B’s and D’s, so I was astonished to find that not only had I understood the abstract and technical theories, but I had also correctly applied them to a text.  Tiens, j’ai un A+! Now all I need to do is replicate this grade for the CAPES…

I have been lucky enough to have had several hours of classes canceled or “liberated” early this week.  As I mentioned in my last post, I only had an hour of class of Monday, four hours less than normal.  Yesterday, my linguistics class ended an hour and ten minutes early, allowing me to go home and finish the last twenty minutes of the horribly overdramatic Part One of the last Twilight novel-turned-film.  Talk about a guilty pleasure.  And even my locavore group here in Amiens, Les Tombés d’la charrette (the “Fallen off the wagon”) finished our weekly réunion after only an hour and a half, as several members of the group were headed off to a concert.  Even today, in what is typically the most drawn-out of all my classes, my class on American feminist literature, we were let out fifteen minutes early, as there were only two of us with the professor there and literally nothing more to be said.  Un petit cadeau, as the professor pointed out.  Well, the holiday atmosphere must be infectious.

What I love about Tuesdays is the fact that my first class is at 11:00 am.  Monday night I went to bed early and woke up late, barely taking the time to go over my translation of version (translation from English to French) for class.  We finished translating a passage about a hanged man, and how he is described in all the gruesome details.  Certainly not your standard bit of translation.  The next two hours after lunch were consecrated to the most feisty of all my English professors, in a fencing match between her and the poor presenters who were supposed to analyze a particularly tricky passage from Heart of Darkness.  Thrust, volley, coup de sabre, touché, en garde!  There is no defense against someone who proves you wrong.  That class, methodology of a literary analysis, is always painful, as the professor shows no mercy in her blatant criticism of their presentations, English accent, and pronunciation.  It is a class I am auditing with the Master d’enseignement, as literary analysis will make up half of the written examination in this June’s CAPES.  I will be in the spotlight myself in this class on December 4.

The A+ part of my Tuesday was after the locavore meeting (more on what we are planning when I’ll discuss tonight’s ciné-repas event), when I met up with Hedi for a drink.  We were again in Saint Leu, at a nice little café that offers very delicious albeit overpriced non-alcoholic cocktails.  As I sipped my Mangou, I was able to commiserate with Hedi and complain to my heart’s content.  Nothing like a tropical fruit drink to top off the night!

Categories: Daily Life | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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