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!


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