January 29, 2010

Just try and make me leave

Posted in Application, la vie bordelaise tagged , , , , , , at 7:12 am by Fat Girl Dancing

You can’t!  I got my official long-stay visa today!  I can officially stay here until October 1st, although I’m really leaving sometime in July.

All the Bordeaux assistants are being scheduled in groups, so when I arrived at the OFII office for my 10am appointment, there were still some assistants waiting from the 8:30 group.  I got to see some assistants that I hadn’t seen in several months, and it was nice to catch up with them!

The immigration/visa process included a medical visit, which is good because I’ve been sick for going on three weeks now.  I was called in to one room where I was weighed and measured and then given an eye exam.  Hooray, my eyes are still fine!  Reading the letters in French was fun ^_^   I was sent back to the waiting room for several minutes, and then called into the radiology room for my chest x-ray.  The x-ray is apparently mine to keep — yipee?  Quite a souvenir.

The wait for the third and final room was a bit longer — this was to see the actual doctor.  I told her how I’d been sick for three weeks, and she said I had a sinus infection.  She looked at my x-ray, took my blood pressure, listened to my heart and my lungs, and pronounced me well enough to stay in the country.  Phew!

I waited a little longer in a different waiting room with my tiny picture of my face (a common requirement in France) and my proof of residency for my new lodgings until I was called back to the final room.  She deemed my paperwork acceptable and gave me my official long-stay visa in my passport!  Hooray!  Now I can go anywhere and do anything (including get a second job!)

It’s cold and raining miserabley here, and I feel so terrible from being sick for so long, so I’m just eating lunch, taking antibiotics and going back to bed for the rest of the day.  I’ve made homemade mac and cheese so often here, I don’t think I’ll be able to go back to EZ Mac once I return home!

Tuesday I went to see Amanda Palmer in concert here in Bordeaux.  I was so excited that someone I really liked was going to be playing in my new hometown!  I found out about the concert from her Twitter.  The show was fantastic — a really intimate performance, with her interacting with the audience, taking questions and requests.  I had a great night.

And I got my picture with her and her autograph!

Me and AFP!


December 13, 2009

Visiting a French urgent care (how else will I know what they look like?)

Posted in la vie bordelaise, travailler tagged , , , , , , , , at 7:22 am by Fat Girl Dancing

Friday was starting out to be a good day.  I finished school three hours early because two of my classes were on a ski trip.  I was practically skipping as I left at 11:30am.  “Happy Hannukah to me!” I said to myself.  “What a great present.  I get to start the weekend early!”

I walked home from the Place de la Victoire instead of taking the tramway because it was a nice day and the tram was crowded.  I stopped for a salmon panini for lunch at a panini/crepe cart.  It was absolutely delicious, and I munched it happily as I walked through the busy, bustling streets of Bordeaux.

Panini cart

When I got home, I found a notice that the postman had tried to deliver a package from my parents.  It had some things I really wanted, including special granola and my birthday present from two years ago, so I really wanted to pick it up the same day, and not wait for him to try and redeliver it.  I looked up directions for La Poste package depot and found that it wasn’t terribly far from my new apartment — just at the end of the tram line and down a few streets.  I wrote out directions and set off on my bike.

The only time I have fallen off my bike is when trying to cross over the tram tracks.  They’re too deep, and my bike just kind of skids and then falls over.  Unfortunately, on this ride I reached a point where there was no sidewalk and the rode and the tram tracks merged — I was on the road, but also on the tramline for awhile.  When they split, I tried to move off the tram track and back on to the road, but again, my bike would not cross the tracks.  I went down hard, right into the road, and slammed my head on the pavement.  I was very lucky the oncoming car stopped in time.

People came from everywhere.  The driver got out of his car, a woman passing by helped me get out of the road, a man from the patisserie across the street came running out.  He went and got my napkins to put on my face, for I was bleeding quite badly from my brow.  Once everyone was sure I was all right, nothing was broken, and not going to pass out, they went on their way.

I continued on to the package depot.  I wasn’t going through all that and not getting my stupid package!  I walked my bike to the next tram stop, holding the napkin to my profusely bleeding brow, and rode the tram to the end of the line.  I rode my bike carefully and cautiously — my knees protesting the whole way, they were pretty scraped up too — to the package depot.

When I got there, the man at the reception said “You didn’t call ahead?”  But then he seemed to take a look at me, bleeding, limping, shook up, and said he would go look for my package.  I thanked him.

The very important package!

I rode my bike back to the tram stop and rode the tram home.  I cleaned out my wounds as best I could with just soap and water, and then went down to the supermarché to try and find something like neosporin.  There was nothing like that there, so I tried the pharmacy.  The pharmacist took one look at me and said I needed stitches.  A nice older lady offered to lead me to the urgent care.  She took great care in making sure I didn’t injure myself further under her watch, not letting me step off into oncoming traffic or in front of a tram.

I waited at the Urgent Care for about an hour.  I still don’t have my medical card, so they made it clear to me that I’d have to pay and then be reimbursed later.  When I was called back, a student nurse had my lie on a bed and she disinfected the wound.  Then I waited another 20 minutes or so for the doctor to come and sew 4 stitches into my brow.

All stitched up

I went back to the pharmacy to fill the orders the doctor had given me.  The pharmacist was very nice, and asked if I was feeling better and commiserated with me about how terrible the tram rails were for biking.

Once I was home, I had no time to sit around feeling sorry for myself! I was hosting a Hannukah party that night!  I immediately began peeling potatoes.  It was my first time making latkes.  The first two rounds were a success, but after that there were oil problems, and someone else had to step in and finish the batch.

Shredding potatoes - notice the Hello Kitty bandaid!


I had a great evening sharing my holiday with my friends, and they were even good sports and played a round of dreidel for m&m’s.

It wasn’t exactly how I planned for my day to go, but I find that in France, nothing is ever as simple as you plan it to be, and you have to learn to relax and just go with whatever comes up.  Or with whatever comes crashing down!

October 26, 2009

Chez médecin

Posted in la vie bordelaise tagged , , , , , at 5:29 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

I woke up rather early, on this, my first real day of vacation, to call the doctor I’d selected from the “Pages Jaune” (Yellow Pages).  I asked for an appointment, and a rather abrupt voice told me that the doctor had open office hours today beginning at 2pm.

I was nervous about having to go see a doctor, and I would have put it off if at all possible.  I don’t have my Carte Vitale (health insurance card) yet, and I specifically decided I would NOT. GET. SICK this year!  Clearly, my body was not listening.

The cause of all this distress? A urinary tract infection.  Normally I’d spare you all such intimate details of my life, but in this case it does happen to relate directly to how I experience France and French culture.  So we continue.

I began noticing the first symptoms Saturday night.  I tried to deny them, but they haunted my dreams.  Sunday I made up my mind that I would call the doctor.  To put it off any more would only make my vacation miserable and put my body in more danger.  I’m prone to UTIs and have been having them with greater and greater frequency over the last few years.  Don’t get older, kids.

Around 1:30pm I set off for the doctor’s office.  It ended up taking me much longer to find it than I’d thought, due to some bad directions from the online map, but I found her office.  And five other people waiting outside to be seen.  By that point, I already had to pee again.   I asked a nice, elderly lady if we were all waiting for the doctor, to verify I was in the right place, and she said yes.  And then started talking to me for the next hour, complaining about the wait.

The doctor didn’t show up until 2:30 (despite telling me to come at 2pm!) and after she unlocked the door to her office, we all filed into her tiny, closet-sized waiting room.  After another 15 minutes of waiting with no patients being called, the elderly woman gave up and left, wishing me good luck.  Only 4 people ahead of me!

I HAD TO PEE.  There was a small bathroom, but I didn’t use it in case she needed a sample.  I mean, at home my doctor always takes a sample and analyzes it in the same building.  I wasn’t sure if this was the same.  So I held it.  And held it.  And held it.  For nearly two hours.

Finally it was my turn.  The doctor was very nice.  We sat at her desk first, while she listened to my symptoms.  I told her, “It seems I have a UTI.” I mean, I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I’ve been through this and I know what it feels like. If you’ll just give me some drugs, we can all go home.  I managed to explain all my symptoms and answer her questions in French.  She had me hop up on the examining table while she poked at my kidneys  (and I tried not to pee on her table), and then she took my blood pressure.

She complimented my French skills and accent, which pleased me.  She said she had a neighbor who was American who had lived in France for years whose accent wasn’t as good as mine.  I need to send that in an email to my former professors!

The doctor told me I would need to go to a lab to get a urinalysis done, but she was going to give me antibiotics now anyway. PHEW.  She wrote the order for the lab test and the prescriptions, I paid her (22 euros) and thanked her, and then I USED THE BATHROOM.  There was no way I could wait until I got to the lab.  This proved to be a mistake.

Receipts and reimbursement form in hand (not having my Carte Vitale, I paid the full amount and will be reimbursed later…much later), I set off to find the lab.  The doctor had been vague…”It’s on the street with the tram.”  Yeah, that’s a really long street.  I found a pharmacy on that street first, and got my prescriptions filled.  Even using a generic antibiotic, it was still 23 euros for three boxes of pills! That’s expensive for France.  The pharmacist also gave me a reimbursement slip, and then gave me more precise directions to the lab.

French drugs!

I was seen quickly at the lab, and I knew the drill.  One problem: now I was empty!  I sneaked back out to the sink and swallowed some water quickly.  That did the trick.  What an ordeal!  I rewarded myself with Cadbury Chocolate Chip cookies from the market across the street.

I’m learning the ropes! Socialized medicine can definitely have it’s pluses and minuses.  It seems that Mondays are the only “open office” days — if I’d gone another day I might have gotten a real appointment and not had to wait so long.  But time was not on my side, since I leave on vacation Wednesday morning.  It’s definitely not convenient to have to go all the way to a lab just for a urinalysis.  But the doctor’s office was very intimate, and she was exceptionally nice and caring.  Which I appreciated, being sick and scared in a foreign country!

October 16, 2009


Posted in la vie bordelaise, travailler tagged , , , , , , at 7:47 am by Fat Girl Dancing

I have completely lost my voice from yelling at French children for the last week. Today in one class I tried to yell “Hey!” and all that came out was a squeak. I sure hope my voice comes back by Monday afternoon, when the yelling resumes.

Today was supposed to be a long day, but my primary school has some German students visiting, so my last two classes were cancelled for some festivities. So I got to leave at 11:30! YAY! I told the director it was like an early birthday present, since my birthday is tomorrow. And if you think I didn’t make my classes sing “Happy Birthday” to me, we clearly haven’t been properly introduced.

It has been cold here the last two days. It came on very suddenly, so suddenly that I saw two dead birds on my walk to and from the bus stop today. 😦 One minute it was 70 degrees and then we’re waking up to 30 degree mornings. I got out my winter coat today! I need to buy gloves and a hat. It’s supposed to warm back up into the 70s and upper 60s next week, thankfully.

Tomorrow my host family is throwing a little fete for me for my birthday, and my friend Wes is coming to visit from La Rochelle. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too high, but it sounds like it could potentially be a really wonderful day tomorrow ^_^ Still, I will miss seeing all my friends and family back home on my birthday 😦

October 15, 2009

French drugs taste like caramel

Posted in la vie bordelaise, travailler tagged , , , , , , , at 11:52 am by Fat Girl Dancing

I slept terribly last night, thanks to breathing problems and a bad cough.  Needless to say, morning was a very unpleasant thing.  I don’t really remember much of it.

I tried to take a nap when I got home from classes only to have the same problem.  So it was time to get myself down to the pharmacy!

All medications are behind the counter in France and require an interview with the pharmacist.  That’s great for the personal touch, but not so great if you have problems interacting with people in general and especially in French.  So I had been putting it off.

I went in and asked the pharmacist if he had anything for a cough.  He asked me a few questions which I think I answered correctly, and he selected a cough medicine for me.  He told me to take it three times a day.  A 200ml bottle cost me 3 euros — less if I’d had my medical card, but it hasn’t come yet.  It’s caramel flavored.

Last night I went to my second outing of the Bordeaux BlaBlabylone group — basically a language exchange group.  For an hour and a half people come to practice speaking in another language, have some appetizers and drinks, and meet new friends.  Everyone I’ve met there has been incredibly nice, and I’m hoping to keep going and keep meeting people.

Last night it was just me, a guy from North London, and a girl from Dublin leading the English table with a group of French people.  There was discussion about who’s accent was easier to follow — one man said the Dublin girl was easier to understand, while another woman said she found my American accent more clear.

I also saw the last few songs of an acoustic concert by Da Silva at the FNAC.  It was pretty good, and I was tempted to buy a CD and get it autographed, but I decided against it.  I’m running low on funds until my pay advance comes in at the end of the month.

Classes are going, going, going.  I’m already ready for the two week break we’ve got in a week!  By now all of my classes can solidly say “My name is ___,” and we’re working on being confident with “How are you,” “I’m (insert emotion).”

My birthday is in two days!!  My friend Wes is coming from La Rochelle to see me!!

October 14, 2009

Still Tuesday?

Posted in travailler tagged , , , , , , , , at 9:58 am by Fat Girl Dancing

I’m getting better, but I’m still so very tired. I’ve been tired ever since I got here…at first I attributed it to having no schedule and TOO much free time, and now I’m sick, but I wonder if I’ll ever have enough energy again?

Yesterday I taught five classes at my primary school, or as I like to call it, my “clusterfuck” school. The teachers are definitely nicer here and everyone is more welcoming, but they were still figuring out my schedule at the last minute on Friday, compared to my secondary school who knew exactly where I was supposed to be and when.

I was out of cereal for breakfast, so I stopped at the patisserie near the bus stop for a chocolatine and a can of Orangina.

Breakfast of champions

Breakfast of champions

I still need to adjust my lesson plans for time. Half the time I finish too early and half the time I have to leave while they’re still doing the worksheet. My second class finished everything with 15 minutes still to go, so I was glad that I had prepared some “filler” videos for them to watch.

Everyone crowded around my laptop, and I showed them The Yip Yips Meet the Telephone and Clap Your Hands from Here Come the ABCs.  They LOVED the martians, but who doesn’t?  I’m nearly 31, and they still crack me up.

I have one class at this school that is just awful.  Nearly every other student is adorable — example, as I was leaving for the day, some of my students saw me and called me over to talk to me and ask me questions about myself and how to say things in English.  They didn’t want me to leave! But this class is dreadful.  They laugh at my French, they don’t respect me at all, and there’s one little girl with a GIANT chip on her shoulder.  She asked if we were going to have to sing the song with the movements again, and I said “Of course!” and she rolled her eyes and said “But it’s ridiculous!”  She’s an 8-year-old with the attitude of a 15-year-old.  UGH.

Surprisingly, my French is improving in my classrooms.  I thought I’d be speaking mostly English, but I need to use French to explain game directions and worksheet instructions and to facilitate conversations.  I’m being forced to speak to these children, and that’s giving me the confidence to speak to other adults.

After work yesterday, I went to the post office in Talence to mail my OFII papers, which starts the process for my social security/medical card.  I also picked up my ticket to the musical Mozart l’Opéra Rock which was being held there.  Yay!

I went across the street to the bank to see if I could finally get my atm card and checks.  It’s only been 2 weeks!  The banker started to say my account hadn’t been verified yet, but then he double-checked, and it had been verified just that afternoon!  What luck!  So I now have complete access to my bank account.

I went outside to the ATM to deposit some money, and quickly learned that there are different ATMS for depositing and withdrawing!  I found the right ATM, deposited my 50 euro, and now my French bank account actually has money in it!

My host mother made a delicious seafood paella last night.  It was the first time I’d ever had paella.  We also had a little goat cheese (chevre) and then some apple sherbert and vanilla ice cream for dessert.

October 12, 2009


Posted in travailler tagged , , , , , , at 2:28 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

Over the weekend, my slight sinus problems turned into a full-blown cold.  I’ve been medicating with familiar products I brought from the States and trying to rest and hydrate as much as possible.

This morning I had to put a new milk in the fridge, so I had warm milk with my cereal. That’s something weird about France. The milk doesn’t need refrigerating until you open it. There’s a cabinet with about 6-9 milks in it, just waiting to be used. We go through a milk a day, or at least a day and a half. I just use a little for my cereal in the morning!

I took an early bus and arrived at my secondary school with enough time to print out the worksheets for the day and make copies. I said hi to the teachers eating lunch in the breakroom, and they all said hi to me, but no one said “Hi, here, we’ll make room for you to sit with us,” so I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich while I was using the computer.

I told the teacher of the first class that I was planning to give the students American names today, and she said, “No, I don’t like that. They’re name is their identity, and it really annoys me to change it.”

I said, “Well, it was recommended by the CDDP.” (the academic group who led our training)

“I know, but it really annoys me,” she said, as if to say, “The matter is closed.” She smiled at me in that very French way that says “So what are you going to do about it?”

I told her, “Fine, but I’m still going to discuss the differences between American names and French names, and tell the students what their name would be in the US. Because it’s important for them to understand there is a difference.”

(All of the above was spoken in French, by the way)

I came up with a replacement idea quickly, but it really bugged me that she was criticizing and changing my lesson plans.

The theme of the lessons today was “How are you” and six different feelings. The first class picked up on the feelings pretty well, but the other two classes, both younger, had more trouble. I showed them flashcards of the different feelings, had them repeat it several times, but they still couldn’t translate it into something that happened to them. We’ll continue working on it during our second meeting this week instead of moving on to something new.

One of the little girls told me I was pretty, and then we bonded our our Hello Kitty things (her pencil box, my socks).

Tomorrow is going to be much more difficult. I teach five classes, and one of them is an honor’s class, so they already know some English! I’m going to need some more rest.

October 8, 2009

Thrown to the wolves

Posted in travailler tagged , , , , , , , at 12:23 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

In a combination of nerves and some neighbors playing drums until past midnight last night, I didn’t get much sleep last night. I stumbled around my room this morning, repeating to myself over and over the things I needed to do before I left: put my jump drive in my purse, write down the words to the song to teach, make lunch, etc.

I quickly ate some cereal (all French cereal seems to have chocolate in it, even the adult cereal), and set out for the bus stop. I left within plenty of time, and still arrived just in time to see my bus speeding by. Bugger! He was 7 minutes early! I debated walking versus waiting the 20 minutes for the next bus, and decided to wait it out. It would take me nearly an hour and a half to walk, and I would certainly be late. Fortunately the next bus was on time, and I still made it to my school before my first class.

All French schools are locked to outsiders, so I stood at the gate and waited for someone to let me in. It turned out to be one of the teachers I would be working for who let me in and showed me around. She also told me what my exact hours would be at this school, and what grade levels I would be teaching. I knew I would be teaching the older students at my main school, so I had planned my lessons for them. When I found out I would be teaching the younger students, I got a bit nervous! I had only prepared one lesson, and I would have to adapt it to the three different levels I would be teaching today.

My first class was with the youngest group that Assistants are allowed to take, I believe they are 6 and 7 year olds. The teacher shares her classroom with them and an even younger group, so I take the 10 kids to another building for their English lesson. The orientation stressed that it’s important to build rituals early for the students, so I decided that we would sing “Following the Leader” from Peter Pan as we walked to and from the classroom. The kids had no idea what I was singing, but they went along with it.

This first class went very well, even though I broke a little rule by having them write. Kids that young aren’t supposed to write in English, because they’re just barely learning to write in French, and it messes them up. But since I’d only planned one lesson, I just went ahead with it. From now on, I’ll design a separate lesson for them.

All the kids in the three classes I had today were very cute and very French. The first class was the only class where I was entirely on my own. In the other two classes, their teacher is at least in the room to yell at troublemakers.

We sang two songs, a “Hello song” that I found on the Assistants forum and made up a tune to and then I began teaching them the words to a song I loved from Girl Scout camp. They can’t understand the words, but it’s got lots of movements and it’s silly, and they liked watching an adult do the silly movements.

The last class I had were the oldest, and although they had had English before, I started them at the same place, since no one had really told me anything else. We worked on “Hello,” “My name is,” “What is your name?” “girl,” and “boy.” Most of this group caught on quickly, although there were still a few that simply didn’t understand what they were saying and were just repeating the weird words because I told them to. This tells me that a refresher is probably not a bad thing for this group, but I can speed it up a little and maybe add some more content.

I ran out of material early in my last class, and asked the students (in French) what they knew about the United States, to try and bring in some culture. They knew that Obama was president and Bush was the former president, which is pretty impressive. If you ask any American elementary student who the president of France is, they would have no idea.

I walked to my other school after teaching my last class, because at my last discussion with them they had said something about Thursday afternoons. When I walked in and asked the Director if he needed me today, he said no. He did ask me for several papers such as a copy of my passport and bank info and such, so I can get paid, so I at least got that taken care of. And he finalized my schedule:

Mondays   13h30 – 16h15   Jules Ferry

Tuesdays   9h – 15h                Jules Michelet

Wednesdays FREE – No elementary school on Wednesdays

Thursdays  8h30 – 11h15   Jules Ferry

Fridays   9h – 15h                  Jules Michelet

So tomorrow I teach at Jules Michelet, and I’ll use the same lesson plan, but maybe beef it up a bit, because the students are all older.

I came home and collapsed for a few hours. I’m having some lovely sinus drainage that’s left me with a sore throat and a queasy stomach. I’m fighting it with some hardcore vitamins I brought from the States, but right now I just feel pretty run down.