September 29, 2009

Venturing into the city

Posted in la vie bordelaise tagged , , , at 4:31 am by Fat Girl Dancing

Written on Saturday, September 26 2009 – 12:39am

I can’t believe I’ve just been sitting around in Talence all week and not going in to Bordeaux.  Bordeaux is AMAZING.  I’ve been feeling so disconnected, so alone, so bored, but the instant I stepped off the tram into the middle of the town, I felt alive again.  I needed to be in a big city.

I like living in Talence – it’s a good halfway point between my schools, which are even further south, and Bordeaux, but it’s not as vibrant as a real city.  It’s a nice, quiet suburb, and it was quietly stifling me.

I spent a very lazy day in bed most of the morning, showered, did my French studying in the backyard, watched some videos, had some lunch, and then got ready to go out.  The English assistants of the CUB (Communité Urbaine de Bordeaux) were meeting for dinner!  Finally I was going to meet people my age!  Who spoke English!  I’ve been surrounded by so much French this week – it’s been good for me, but it’s also been very lonely.

I took a walk around the south of Talence first.  I don’t know why, but I didn’t think we’d do much walking in Bordeaux and I wanted to keep my stamina up and explore a little more.  I walked back up to the town square and visited the little bookstore.  I definitely wanted a manga in French, but I couldn’t decide which to buy.  One I already owned in English?  Or a new one?  I chose a new one that sounded good, Comme Elles.  I have no idea what it’s called in English.

I was dying of thirst so I sat outside at the bookstore café since I had a half an hour before I planned to catch my tram.  I tried a citron pressé….not so good.  I thought it would be like a lemonade, but it was more like lemon juice with water.  I tried adding sugar, but it wouldn’t absorb.  I drank it anyway; I was so thirsty.

The tram to Bordeaux comes right through the center of Talence, so I hopped on.  I have a 10-ride pass, but no one seemed to be validating their passes, so I didn’t bother.  Free ride!  As we got closer and closer to the city center, I was getting more and more excited.  Bordeaux was a real, big, beautiful city!

I stepped off in the prime shopping district.  I found the restaurant we’d agreed to meet at and then wandered around since I was an hour and a half early – on purpose, I wanted time to wander.  I found the beautiful Place de Bourse, tiny little alleyways, and lots of shops that I want to come back and explore.

I also found The Phone House, so I walked in and bought a French cell phone.  It’s a pay-as-you-go phone, but now I can keep in contact with my French family, other assistants, and my teachers at the school without me calling from US to France and them calling from France to US.  It’s kind of a pain to have two phones, but that’s what I’ve got to do.  My Blackberry has already proven itself invaluable with the Google Maps application.  I just plug in the address I want to go to, and it tells me how to get there on the bus or tram, which line to take, and what time they’ll be at the stop!

When the assistants started arriving at the rendez-vous point, it was happy but awkward.  Happy because I was so glad to meet other people my age (approximately) to hang out with and speak English with, and awkward because we’re all standing around asking each other the same questions (where are you from, do you have housing, where are you teaching).  We gathered a good-sized group and decided that the restaurant was too expensive, so we’d split off, find food to go somewhere, and eat it along the river.  I joined the group looking for kabobs, even though escargot and a chevre chaud salad had sounded pretty good to me.

I got what was pretty much tuna and lettuce in a wrap and a can of Orangina, and we walked to the stairs by the river.  I turned to look at the Place behind me, all lit up, and it was breathtaking in its beauty.  One of the assistants had bought cups and champagne for everyone, so we had a little toast to ourselves and to our arrival and to LIVING IN BORDEAUX!

After awhile a few people wanted to go to some bars, so we walked a few blocks to a place near one girl’s apartment.  I stayed outside talking to one other assistant who didn’t want to drink.  I’d spent so much money on alcohol in Paris, I don’t really want to do a lot of drinking every night in Bordeaux.  We moved on to the Victoire and got a table at a café, so I ordered a Monaco.  That’s becoming my go-to alcoholic drink.  Three other assistants split a “Girafe,” a long 2.5 liter tube full of beer.  It was hilarious.

I left at about 10 till midnight since the trams stop running at 1am, and I wanted to make sure I was home in plenty of time.  My family is at their weekend home right now, so I have this house to myself, and I’m kind of glad for the time to relax.  I’m running a load of laundry (I think I figured out the washing machine), and I’ll hang it outside to dry tomorrow.

Yay for good evenings!

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September 28, 2009

Posted in la vie bordelaise tagged , , , , at 11:32 am by Fat Girl Dancing

Written on Thursday, September 24, 2009 5:42pm

So much for surviving on my own…I’m still relying on my family to do things for me, only this time it’s my host family.

I went to my appointment with the banker this morning.  I was beyond nervous – bank officials make me nervous on a good day, much less in a situation when I can’t really understand them and they have the power to reject me.  I presented him with the papers I had, and he said some things in French.  It was a problem that I didn’t have a bill in my name to prove my address, but he started to show me an attestation paper, where my host family could vouch for me, but I stumbled and said I’d only known them since Sunday.  He said that wouldn’t work and the bank couldn’t do anything for me, and I was pretty much out of luck.

I felt defeated, but thought I could try other banks if I could just get my host family to put something in writing saying that I lived there, since we only have a verbal contract.  I took a long walk this morning, exploring new parts of Talence.   I had a chocolate éclair and bought some groceries.

The grocery store overwhelms me.  I don’t know how to eat here.  Dinners are a meat and a starchy vegetable followed by cheese (CHEVRE OMG OM NOM NOM) followed by a pudding cup.  Breakfast has been cereal everyday.  I just bought a new, different box.  I’m trying all the interesting French cereals and staying away from things like Frosted Flakes and Golden Grahams.  It’s lunch that really gets me.  I ate out for lunch on Monday and Wednesday, and school fed me Tuesday, but I can’t afford to eat out every day.  I hope I can eat at school on my long days.  I bought some viennois bread, cheese, and turkey slices to make sandwiches and a microwave salmon meal.  Their microwave meals are hilarious.  Just like ours, except instead of spaghetti and meatballs you can get rabbit and potatoes.  Ready in just two minutes!

Today for lunch I had the éclair, a peanut butter granola bar from home, some Pim’s cookies, a banana, and grapes I ate on the way home from the store.  They were the biggest, roundest, fattest, most delicious grapes.  I bit them in half, picked out the seeds, and ate the rest.  The French do not eat while they walk, so I’m sure I stood out instead of blending in, but I don’t care.  They were so good.

I came home and dozed and read and was generally just very bored.  I’m not used to having nothing to do and no one to talk to.  I feel so cut off.  Tomorrow the other English Assistants are meeting in Bordeaux for dinner, so it will be good to finally meet them and hopefully form some friendships there.  I think I’ll arrive a little early so I can explore Bordeaux and maybe get a cell phone.

When mon père got home, I told him what had happened, he called the guy an idiot and said we’d go back to the bank right now and take care of it.  I felt relieved but guilty that I keep putting such a burden on them to help me out.  The banker was surprised to see me back, but with F.’s help we explained that I had actually known them longer than a week, and my teacher had made the initial introductions (kind of), so it sounded better and he could fill out an attestation.  F. didn’t have any bills on him – even though he has an account there, he still needed to show a bill to prove his address! – so my account won’t be valid until they come back from Saguinet next week, but it’s created and I have my all important RIB and I can get paid.  YAY.

There was so much paperwork for opening a bank account, I had to laugh.  I know the French love bureaucracy, but it was ridiculous.  The guy was stamping and signing at least 15 different papers, and I had to sign and write “read and approved” on about six different papers.  At least checks are free in France.

I was grateful that F. went with me, because there were a lot of questions and things that I didn’t understand, and he helped translate.  I can’t imagine how the other assistants are doing this completely on their own.  Or maybe I’m the only one who still needs so much hand-holding.

September 27, 2009

Posted in la vie bordelaise tagged , , , , , , at 10:00 am by Fat Girl Dancing

Written on Wednesday, September 23 – 10:34pm

Last night I was feeling so overwhelmed from a full day of speaking and hearing French, after finding my school, spending several hours with my new colleagues and then driving back to my house and trying to give directions to a place I wasn’t familiar with, and then coming home and having dinner and a discussion with my family. I was feeling Frenched out. After dinner I escaped up to my room, shut the door, and pulled up Google chat on my phone and began chatting with Carlette while watching an episode of one of my favorite TV shows ever, Psych, on my computer. It worked. By the end of the episode I was sleepy, and I nearly forgot I was still in France. I almost called out for my parents, forgetting that they were across the ocean and that the people downstairs, while very friendly, would still have been very surprised if I suddenly started speaking English to them.

Several times the last few nights I’ve woken up disoriented. This room is very cozy, and I’ll wake up feeling like I’m still at home. “Wait, what? Oh, I’m in France.” Last night I had a nightmare, and I’m glad the person it was about is all the way across the ocean.

Today I slept in until around nine and then went downstairs to have breakfast. I’d just missed M., she had shortened school hours today, but she still had to leave shortly after I came down. With the house empty and my belly full, I decided to lie back down. I’ve been terribly exhausted lately. I’m not sure if I’m still jet lagged one week later or if it’s the lack of any set schedule or if it’s just the overwhelming effects of trying to understand and speak a foreign language, but I just cannot get enough sleep.

I dozed for about an hour, took a leisurely shower, and then began studying my French grammar review book. I’ve decided I need to study about four pages a day, and when I finish my French word a day book, I’m going to start studying the idioms in there as well. Just speaking it isn’t enough, I need to drill and refresh the grammar. If I’m going to be here, I’d better be serious about it and make the most of my time.

The plan today was to try to get a bank account. I was terrified. I knew I needed to show a lot of paperwork, and I wasn’t sure that I had it. I have a residence, but the only thing I have showing proof of that is a print-out from my Gmail account that F. sent me telling me what my address would be.

I walked around the long way to explore a different street and found two sandwich shops, one that sells pizza in the evenings. Hooray! I had a chicken panini, though I prefer tuna paninis. As I walked toward the center of town, I saw there was an open air market in the town square! It was 12:30 by this point and several vendors were starting to tear down. Now I know that Wednesday is market day, and I should get there earlier.

I was thirsty, so I found a patisserie and bought a chocolatine (pain au chocolat) and an Orangina. I’m becoming addicted to Oranginas. I went to the bank only to discover they were closed for lunch until 1:30. With nothing else to do, I sat on some stairs and people-watched and read a bit in my French translation of Eclipse.

Finally at 1:30 I went back into the bank. I told the teller that called me forward that I wanted to open a checking account. She said something in rapid French, and I gave her a blank look. She said something else, and I was too flustered to say “Look, can you slow down, please?” She said “Vous parlez français? Ou anglais?” (Do you speak French or English). I said that I spoke English, and tried to add that I could understand her in French if she’d slow down, but she cut me off saying I should speak to the other woman. “Allez-y!” (Go over there!)

The other woman was much more helpful. We spoke in French the entire time. There were times when I didn’t understand what she said, but she was willing to repeat herself. The short story is: I didn’t get a bank account. I have an appointment tomorrow with a banker to see if I have all the correct paperwork to get a bank account, but since I can’t produce an electric bill with my name on it, I’m not sure how it will go.

If this bank rejects me, I suppose I’ll just try another one. That’s what’s recommended by the Assistants in France forum. I need a checking account or I can’t get paid!

I have been doing a lot of reading. I’m reading a wonderful book and a terrible book. The wonderful book is based on a blog by a woman who moved to France to marry a Frenchman and had two bilingual kids. Her entries are about new words she encounters and how they relate to her life, but mostly it’s about how grand an adventure her life is and how grateful she is to be in France. It’s pretty much the perfect book for me to be reading right now, and I’m glad I bought it. The terrible book is See Jane Date, and I bought it for my trip last year because I thought it would be a quick plane read.  Yes, I miss my family and my friends and I miss talking with certain people that I’ve recently met, but I am so glad I have the opportunity and freedom to go where I want. I never want to feel like I have to depend on anyone else in order to be a success, which is literally what this book has said at points. The only reason I’m continuing to read it is because there’s no internet and I didn’t bring that many books. I gotta keep myself entertained somehow.

According to F., we should have internet here within 15 days!

September 23, 2009

Posted in la vie bordelaise tagged , , , , , at 1:38 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

My life has been turned so completely upside down in the last week that I hardly even know where to begin!

I left the United States on Tuesday, September 15 and arrived in France with my friend Wesley on the morning of Wednesday, September 16. Customs was a breeze, even for Wesley and his cat, and after collecting our baggage we met up with our other two friends David and Lauren.

The four of us spent five incredible days (four nights) in Paris. The entire time I was in Paris, I had a sense of belonging – because the area was so familiar to me from my stay last summer – but also the sense that it was “just a vacation.” The real work was still to come.

On Sunday morning, one by one, we all went our separate ways. Lauren had an early train to catch to Nancy in the northeast. David, Wesley and I dragged our luggage through the metro (David was invaluable here, helping me get my 50-pound suitcase up and down the stairs AND carrying his own luggage) and then spent the morning sitting at a café outside the train station. Wes’s train left first, then David’s. It was down to me. I tried not to cry as David waved goodbye, but I knew that this was it. Playtime was over and my new life was about to begin. I was getting on a train to Bordeaux to meet my new family for the next nine months.

I stepped off the train in Bordeaux and looked around. People were walking everywhere, left and right, with bags and without, conversing in many different languages. How was I going to find my family? Perhaps we should have picked a meeting spot. I slowly dragged my luggage down the stairs from our track to the exit and looked around. A river of people passed me as if I were a pebble in their path. I started to haul my things towards the exit when I saw a woman carrying a cardboard sign saying “PENNY.”

With a sigh of relief, I waved at her and said “Voila!” I’m here! She kissed my cheeks and introduced me to her daughter, M., who also kissed my cheeks – the standard form of greeting in France. M. took one of my suitcases and we walked to the car where F., the father, was waiting. He loaded my things into the car and we set off for Talence. They were all very excited, asking me questions, explaining things we were passing, joking around – all in French.

They showed me the house, we had a quick but relaxing break for beverages on the terrace, and then they let me go off to my room to get settled. After living out of a suitcase for five days in Paris, it felt good to finally unpack! The room is more than I could have hoped for, especially for the price. Bordeaux is fairly expensive, and Talence especially because of the proximity to the university. My room is small but comfortable, with a bed, closet, desk, and filing cabinet. AND my own balcony! The rest of the house is small but comfortable, and all recently renovated – that’s what F. does for a living. They have told me that this is just the house where they crash during the week for work and school, but their real house is in Sanguinet, where they go every weekend. I won’t be able to join them this weekend because the other English assistants are getting together for dinner on Friday evening, and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to make some friends, especially English-speaking ones!

My host family has been extremely kind to me. The first night, they took me on a walk around the center of town and showed me the tram system. E., the mother, made chicken and potatoes for dinner that night, and they were delicious. They eat quite late here, generally at about 9pm. I’m learning to have a snack around 5pm, but I’m still generally very ready for dinner by 9! The father, F., speaks English very well, and he knows that I want to improve my French, so he does speak in French to me, but every now and then he’ll speak in English to make sure I understand a point. They don’t have internet at their house yet, since they just moved here a few weeks before I did, but they took me to their son’s house to use his internet, and said I could go back there when I wanted.

Oh, and E. did my laundry the first night! I felt uncomfortable giving her my dirty underwear, but she just picked it up and through it in the laundry, which is quite complicated and I’m not sure if I could figure it out. It took me a good five minutes to figure out how to lock the front door and the better part of Monday to figure out how to make the kitchen sink give me water. Once the clothes were done washing, she put them on a rack outside, and they sun-dried all day. I’ve no idea what they do in the winter or rain.

Monday morning I was sleeping late because of the exhaustion from Sunday when E. knocked on my door, came right in, and opened my balcony door. They leave doors open throughout the day in France to cool their houses. E. said I should go downstairs and have breakfast with M., so I did. Originally the plan had been that meals were not included, so I decided that day to go out and buy my own breakfast cereal. That evening E. asked me what I wanted to do about meals, and I said I could provide my own breakfast and lunch, but I would like to share dinner with the family. It’s nice to eat à table.

M. and E. left after breakfast, and I decided to take a walk around town. I followed nearly the same route they’d taken me the day before, tracking on my GPS so I could get acquainted with the layout of the area. I had lunch at a boulangerie on the main square – a cheese quiche and an Orangina, which I ate while reading on a park bench and listening to my iPod. Then I continued to walk down to the Casino, the large supermarket.

The big supermarkets here are so amusing, because even though they are modeled after the American system, they are still very French. I can’t really explain the differences…except to say I bought an apple and handed it to the cashier who asked me something in rapid French and I just gave her a look of “quoi?” so she got up, went back to the produce, weighed the apple, got a sticker, put the sticker on the bag carrying the apple (produce MUST BE in a bag) and then scanned the sticker. It’s the little things.

Yesterday  I had originally planned to try and open a bank account, but then I started panicking because I hadn’t contacted my schools yet. I woke up a little earlier and had some of the cereal I’d bought for breakfast. One of the cats stared at me the entire time, as if to say “I NO U HAZ MILK IN DERES,” but with a French-cat accent. The other cat is terrified of me and runs away every time I come close.

Thanks to the Google Maps application and GPS on my phone, I was able to figure out exactly how to get to my main school. It told me the route to walk to the bus stop, what bus line to take, and what time the bus would get there! The bus driver yelled at me because I incorrectly signaled to him that I wanted on, so he almost missed stopping for me, but I brushed it off. It’s only my second day in town! I’m still learning! I managed to find my stop, but then I couldn’t get the door to open, so the driver just pulled off. I hit the stop button again and got off at the next stop and walked back up. He thinks he’s so funny, but he’ll have to deal with me for the next nine months!

I could hear children playing outside as I approached the school Jules Michelet. I asked the attendant where I could find the director, and as soon as I walked into his office he said (in French) “You must be Mademoiselle Morris!” Monsieur le Directeur was terribly nice, copying all the paperwork I would need, getting me a map to my other school, introducing me to the teachers I would be working with, and giving me an official school t-shirt. He spoke very little English, so the entire day was spent listening to rapid-fire French.

I stayed to have lunch in the teachers’ office with the other language teachers. One English teacher said she would help me with my French if I would help her with her English, and I said “It’s a deal.” She was also looking for someone to sit for her children a few nights a week and teach them English, so I volunteered. More money is good!

A substitute teacher drove me to my second school, where I met Madame la Directrice. She was nice, but not as self-deprecating and goofy as the Directeur. She took my information and said she would email me, because none of her teachers were available, so she couldn’t set up my schedule. If everything works out, I will hopefully be working Monday afternoons at Jules Ferry, Tuesdays at Jules Michelet, Friday mornings at Jules Ferry and Friday afternoons at Jules Michelet. That would be a great schedule, for although it would mean I couldn’t take off early on Fridays for an early weekend, I would have a late start on Mondays and two days off in the middle of the week.

Oh yeah, and I actually have to teach! That’s pretty scary.

The substitute drove me home, which was terribly kind of her and also a bit of a folly, because all I know is the name of my suburb and my street name. I don’t really know how to get there yet. But we figured it out, and I came home and decompressed for the rest of the day!

September 8, 2009

Countdown: One week

Posted in planning tagged , , , , , at 9:03 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

One week left in the United States with my family and friends.  As my time here dwindles I find myself more and more hesitant to leave, whereas months ago I couldn’t wait to be in France.  Now all I can think of is everyone and everything I will miss and everything that could possibly go wrong.

My host family has been nothing but kind to me in emails.  François, the father, has begun emailing with me in French in accordance with my wishes to practice French as much as possible.  They seem eager to get to know me and will be picking me up at the train station when I arrive in Bordeaux on September 20.  They’ve also offered to take me along to their vacation house on the weekends.

I’ve been in contact with several other assistants who are going to be in Bordeaux, and I think we’re all going to be meeting up for café somtime around the 23rd.

First day of work is le 1 octobre!

My bags are all packed…

All I need to pack

All I need to pack