Sunday, 10 October 2010

I should have posted this on Friday.

Today is the last day of the working week, of which I am pleased. Not that I have been working countless hours or anything; I didn't even go into the school on Tuesday or Wednesday. I am assured by my colleagues that this weekend is going to bring lovely weather in 'le nord'. I'll believe it when I see it. So far I have witnessed a general theme of rain and fog. I fear this will set the mood for a long and typical winter in Northern France. But, being British, I am hardened to such a climate. I pity any of those American girls coming over from the west coast to be assistants.

I'm not actually sure of my plans for the weekend yet, but I do know that I will be leaving Lillers. I would like to take advantage of the shops in Lille, but this will have to wait until I've actually been paid. There are lots of places that I want visit, so it's good that I have so much free time. I feel like I should take ip a hobby or something. Particularly as I am quizzed daily by french students on what my 'obbies are, and they always seem a little disappointed with my answer! I think hobbies are more difficult to acquire in France though. I would probably need my birth certificate (officially translated of course), social security number and a RIB from the bank just to use the local pool.

I have been pondering my 'Toussaints' 10 day holiday in 2 weeks times. I wasn't planning on returning home, but maybe I'll take a little excursion to England and visit some friends that I haven't seen for a while. If nothing else, I can stock up on the items that cost a small fortune here. I can only assume that feminine products are infused with gold during the export process.

As am added note, I am getting very little sleep in France. I appear to wake up every 90 minutes throughout the night. Something which, as you can imagine, I thoroughly enjoy. Industrial under-eye concealer has become essential.

Well...that is all. Short and sweet for once!

P.S. I am not convinced I have actually spoken any French yet today. This is not bon.

Highlight of the day: Buying my '6 cereales' bread from the boulangerie. It's actually delicious! I love the baker a little bit. AND i managed to collect my carte bleue (debit card) from the bank succesfully all on my own!

Low-point of the day: A German man wandered into my apartment by accident. Amusing....but odd.


Thursday, 7 October 2010

Bethune, Lille...and thank god I have some British friends!

I have now officially been in France for a week. And time has gone quickly! But then at the same time, quite a lot has happened in a short space of time. I feel a bit more settled now, although every third word that comes out of my mouth is 'pardon?'. I fear this will be a long post, and I apologise in advance. (I don't expect everyone to last the distance. Although Mum and Dad, as my parents I feel that you're sort of morally obliged to be interested in the whole thing. Sorry)

So on Tuesday I decided to venture out of my little factory-centered town and head to Bethune. Not the liveliest of towns either, but definitely a bit more going on than in Lillers. I pottered around my apartment for a bit then left at about 3pm. I thought maybe I should have gone earlier, but I needn't have worried, as it appears that it doesn't take long to exhaust what Bethune has to offer in the 'casual wandering' department either. It wasn't massively exciting. Although I did nearly get run over on a zebra crossing (as is expected in France. I shall almost be disappointed if I leave this country unscathed!). However I'm not going to complain, there is more to do than in Lillers! The more people that ask where I live, the funnier it seems to be to them. As if I have been placed here as a joke. When my landlady asks what I've been up to in the town I try not to jest about it too much. I fear that, as she lives here permanently, it may not be a well-received joke. I feel that the ch'ti people know their town's shit, but as an outsider, especially as an 'anglaise', it is not my place to say.

After spending some money in Pimkie (on some boots which caused me much pain the next day! I fear I may need my big toe amputated. However, I have failed to take out any insurance. So I should wait til I'm back in England for any sort of medical procedure. Or say that I did it at school and make the french government pay for my poor choice in footwear)....anyway, after that I met up with another assistant called Hannah in a cafe. We chatted for a few hours (longer than originally planned as I failed at correctly reading a train timetable. Not the french bit...the numbers.) and got on really well. So I now have at least 1 friend in France! It was nice to speak english and to chat to someone who is having the same sort of experience as me. The train journey to Bethune was really quick (8 mins!) and I even worked out how to 'composter' my ticket. I have finally worked out the french rail system. Although, rest assured, it's shit. What's that you say? The ticket office is closed so I must buy my ticket from a machine, but the machines only accept payment via mastercard and visa card? Marvellous! Let's introduce it at the next European Commission!
This trip to Bethune, and the success with which I have used the train, has made me think about maybe moving to Bethune. More going on, easy commute (although given, not as easy as walking to the school), friends nearby. I may consider it.

Yesterday I went to Lille for the meeting for all the assistants in the region. I met Luisaidh at Bethune station (Mum I can see you screwing up your face trying to process that. Just read it as 'LUCY'. Luisaidh if you're reading this...I can only apologise). We dithered for a few minutes. In hindsight, these were very valuable minutes in which we should have contemplated queuing. We then met Hannah as well and attempted to buy tickets. We had the aforementioned problem with the ticket machine, so had to queue to be served by an actual person. This is something I try to avoid early-morning in France, and I may need to engage in some actual conversation. In french. We would have had time to get tickets and get on our train if the ticket lady wasn't working at the slowest pace humanly possible. I'd like to point out that in England I probably would have had time to get my ticket, buy a coffee and do a little dance on the platform before my train rolled in. As it happens, we missed the train. Bugger. So we waited for the next one, got on the metro and found the Lycee (after asking for directions and clinging on to the GCSE-level french words that we recognised ('escaliers? We need to look for stairs!'). We also walked in about half an hour later. But appears that all we missed was some incredibly dull information in french.

There was much confusion during this info session. I'm sure I've had all this information several times before (although granted, that still doesn't mean I understand how to apply for 'securite sociale'). And then there was much that we either a) didn't understand or b) tried not to listen to. From what I gather, if you need a visa then don't bother coming, it's too complicated. And if you still feel you need to come, then ask questions about your visa another time, when there isn't a room of 400 hungry people waiting for you to finish so they can eat lunch. I shan't describe lunch. It was horrible. All 4 courses. When a coffe yoghurt is the highlight of a meal, you know you've made poor choices.

We then had a bit of a gander round Lille. It seems very nice from what I saw of it. Definitely somewhere to return one weekend. I did notice there's a Sephora there though, so that could probably do some damage to my debit card if I visit too often! Luisaidh then had to go back and Hannah and I got something to eat (and a cup of Tetley tea!) at Eurolille, and then buggered off back home. I had to board the train back to Lillers ticket-less due to the aforementioned shit-ness of the ticket system, but no one checked so I was fine. It was really nice meeting other assistants, I saw Suzie (who I did my A level french with) and Luisaidh and Hannah are really lovely. I think it's lucky to get on so well with people that you have randomly met and grouped together with. I do find it odd calling someone else Hannah though. Apparently it was a popular name that year.

Today I sat in on 3 lessons. One was fairlyyyyy boring. I sat there and watched the class painfully answering questions, but the other's were fine. My 'seconde' class was quite lively, and the teacher told me she had forewarned the boys that I was 'absolutely charming' so they wouldn't get too over-excited! All a bit akward at times really. The other day I was asked 'do you like Asia?'. I thought the student had made a mistake. It appeared not, so I just answered to the best of my ability. And earlier I got 'do you smoke?' Also odd. And they laughed when I said no.

Well I feel I should leave this post there as it is HUGE. I was going to add in the oh-so-exciting photos I took, but that will only add to the size of the post. So maybe tomorrow! I'm also going to attempt to succesfully use the post office tomorrow. I have no doubt that it will be an horrific experience.

A demain!
Low-point of the day: I did my laundry in my landlady's washing machine today (I have never seen a washing machine like it before) and clearly made a laundry faux-pas. Everything I own is now blue. Brilliant. I shall forever look like a smurf-sympathiser.

Highlight of the day: Purchasing heart-shaped sugar cubes.

Monday, 4 October 2010

'Do you 'ave fesssbook?'

So, I officially started my job in the school on Friday. I am teaching in a lycee with students aged about 15-20. However, for the first 2 weeks I am just observing lessons, maybe participating in them a little, but not taking any groups on my own just yet.

Friday was very brief though, and today was my first proper day. I sat in on 5 lessons today, with 3 different teachers. The teachers are all very nice to me, but I definitely feel more comfortable with some than with other. There was one teacher today who just made me feel a bit uncomfortable in her class, and didn't seem to confirm anything that was unclear. But then I have been told that some of the teachers were perhaps less keen to have an english assistant, as they don't want anyone to be judging their lessons. However, I haven't experienced any negativity first hand, so i can't really comment on whether this seems to be true or not.

All of the classes I had today were fairly good. The students seem very well behaved at this school, which is good, as I'm not sure that discipline would be my strong point. The level of english varies between the students. But I think at the moment they're just nervous to speak it in front of me.

There have been a few funny and a few awkward moments. Especially when the students are told they can ask me 'anything'. The younger groups just ask about England and about your hobbies etc. Although I was asked if I have any children earlier. I know it's possible at 20. But no.

I had an older class today where the students were around 16-19 years old. I think I'll prefer teaching these groups, as it will be more interesting for me and their language should be better. Their questions to me were less innocent though! 'Do you 'ave fesssbook?' was one which I quickly changed topic after! There were quite entertaining though, as groups go.

I have no lessons tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday is the meeting that all assistants have to go to in Lille. Luckily I'm meeting another couple of girls at Bethune station and getting the train with them. I am relieved because a) it means I have some friends and won't be alone! and b) I won't get lost!

Yesterday I attempted to get on a train and failed fairly epically. I bought the ticket, stood at the right platform, but.....just didn't get on the train for some reason. I was on my way to a teacher's house to have tea with her, which was very nice. A little bit awkward I suppose, but you have to say yes to things like this, especially when your town is as small as the one I am in. I am beginning to find this a little frustrating. Not just because it means I have to travel further afield to do anything. But also, it means that I don't know anyone in the town and there are no other assistants here. Can be a bit lonely at time. But nevermind. I am looking forward to meeting the other girls on Wednesday.

That's all for now I suppose. I promise I will upload my apartment photos soon!

A demain,

Friday, 1 October 2010

French Red Tape

I am glad I have my internet connection now, I feel so cut-off without internet access! Just had to get the wireless password from the landlord.
I am going to TRY to make this slightly brief. If I write an essay every time I blog them I am less likely to do it as often! Plus I don’t to bore any potential readers to tears. I had also intended to add some photos to this post, but I haven’t uploaded them yet and wanted to get a post written tonight. There’s always tomorrow!
So...yesterday was a day of sorting admin out with my head of department’s husband, Pierre. Pierre and Christelle (head of the English dept at the Lycee) have been so helpful and welcoming to me. I also find Pierre very amusing, which helps with the slightly stressful tasks!
To cut a long story short...I managed to get a french SIM card for my phone, made an appointment at the bank, sorted out some school admin and met the headteacher etc. Nothing is simple in France. Which I find very frustrating. Ugh. Everything simple task is shrouded in a heap of paperwork. Obviously even less helpful when you don’t really understand the aforementioned paperwork.
Today I opened my bank account (not that it is actually available to be used for a while yet...) and had my first day at the school. I only met the youngest pupils today (aged 15) and sat in and observed their classes. The pupils seem to be generally well-mannered and polite at the Lycee which is good. I am curious to meet the older students though and see how they are in class and what their English is like.
I wandered into Lillers town for the first time today to visit the supermarket. It was bleak. Although I imagine this was partially down to the fact that it was raining. My colleagues appear to have no issues with telling me that it’s a boring town I’m living in though. I have generally found the French to be honest in ways that us English folk just wouldn’t! I don’t know if this is their intention or if maybe there is a touch of confusion amongst the translation. It amuses me though.
Something else I cannot get used to is the French custom of eating a massive, hot meal at lunch. My poor stomach is expecting a sandwich, but I force a starter, main and dessert upon it. And then promptly feel too full to move. Supposedly I would then have something light for dinner. But my stomach doesn’t know it is in France and would like a proper dinner as well please.
It’s Friday night and I am not sure what to do with myself this weekend. I don’t actually know anyone to go anywhere with. I might explore one of the larger nearby towns. If I can catch Liller station when it’s actually open... Oh and I have to avoid places such as Lille as there are mass demonstrations scheduled for tomorrow. Obviously. I met a lovely teacher today, closer to my age, who did say to phone or email her if I want someone to look round with, so perhaps I’ll take up her offer.
Finally, I have found myself saying a lot of ‘pardon?’ today. After a while I just get tired of it and nod along. I find it very difficult to understand when there are lots of people talking. I have to hone in on the person and really concentrate on the conversation. And if I get distracted for a moment then I am lost. I can already envisage a permanent headache. However, every day I am making a list of new words I’ve heard and not understood, or words that I have wanted to use but didn’t know them. I am hoping this will help.

Well, that’s the end of my not-so-brief post. I promise tomorrow will be shorter!
Bon weekend!