February 4, 2010

Forever a nomad

Posted in la vie bordelaise, travailler tagged , , , , , , , at 9:00 am by Fat Girl Dancing

*this entry is made most difficult by the fact that my “h” key has stopped working and every “h” must be copied and pasted :-\

I’m coming to you live from my third (and what had better be my last!) residence here in Bordeaux!  It took me three days to move, and I still have a few small things at the old place — including my bike!

I seem to have grown into the larger living space while I was living with my roommate and acquired a ton more junk, because what took me just two trips to move last time (one by tram and one by taxi) took me nine trips and three days!  Did I mention I’m living on the fourth floor?  My everything hurts, from my shoulders and arms from carrying all the bags to my hips and legs from climbing all the stairs!  Such a good workout!

I’m still getting settled in my room — it’s impossible not to think of it as a dorm room, because essentially that’s what it’s like.  I got my bed set up on Tuesday, and I’m still unpacking and finding a place for everything, so right now I still have suitcases and bags covering most of the floor.  I’ll show pictures once everything is put away and it looks nicer.

The walls here are super-thin, so you can pretty much hear everything anyone does in their room, but fortunately my neighbors seem to be pretty good about sticking to the quiet hours *knock on wood*  Last night I got home at 11pm and my neighbor had her TV up, but turned it down when I asked.  The biggest problem is the girl across the hall gets up at 5:30am every day.  I need to learn to filter out the sounds of her getting up and leaving so I can sleep through that and not get up at 5:30am every day myself :-\

This morning I had breakfast for the first time here in the new place.  Breakfast is included in the rent and is offered Monday-Friday.  It’s a typical French-style breakfast, and it was very yummy!  I had granola with fromage blanc (sweet and creamy like yogurt, but it’s a cheese), baguette with butter and jelly, and grabbed a banana for later.  I’ll probably eat breakfast Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, because I know I won’t be able to wake up early enough on Mondays and Wednesdays!  Still, it’s nice to not have to buy so much breakfast food anymore.

Things are moving along at school…my little kids are getting sick of learning about numbers, and I’m sick of counting with them.  But they still don’t know all the numbers, even 1-10, and so we drill!  They can count from 1-10 just fine, but when I ask them “How old are you?” they can’t just respond with the correct number in English, but instead must count up to the right number.

I’ve tried playing Bingo with my classes a few times, and I tell you, after this last round I just will not do it again.  They simply do not understand the rules!  I explained, several times, in French even, that in order to have Bingo they needed to mark off four numbers in a line across, down, or diagonal.  I then said the first number, and four or five kids shouted, “Bingo!”  After three or four classes of this, I was exasperated.  “No, you do not have Bingo!” I shouted by the last class.  “You cannot have Bingo after just one number!  I said, you need four in a line!”

“Mais, je ne comprends pas du tout!” they whined.

At least they like story time, which I’ve started implementing at the last 5-10 minutes of each period.  We read half a book per class in English, and even though they can’t understand the words, they like the pictures and they can generally keep up.  So far we’ve read “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” “Hop on Pop,” “The Shy Little Kitten,” and “Barry, the Fish with Fingers.”


January 14, 2010

Homeless no longer!

Posted in la vie bordelaise tagged , , , at 1:08 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

Today I signed a contract and handed over a very large sum of money to a Foyer where I will be moving on February 1st!  I’m very pleased.  After a month and a half of searching, I’ve finally found a place to live for the rest of my stay in France!  This Foyer is very nice.

While the most ideal situation would have been to find a place similar to where I’m living now, where I could have complete freedom, the Foyer will offer me free breakfast every morning, cable, a coin-laundry on-site (cheaper than the street laundries), 24-hour staff at the welcome desk, a small fitness center, three separate kitchens, and a sense of community.  The residents get together for cooking demos and weekend trips and game nights.

The only downsides are that I won’t have internet in my room (I’ll have to go down to the first floor), I have to share a bathroom, and the Foyer is women-only, which means I can’t have male visitors.  Not that I generally have a parade of male visitors, but my two friends from Ohio have been nice enough to house me when I’ve visted them in Vitré, La Rochelle, and Angers, and now I won’t be able to provide that.

Still, the pluses outweigh the minuses — the biggest plus of all being I HAVE SOMEWHERE TO LIVE!  I’ll actually be able to UNPACK!  I’ve been living out of my suitcases since December 1st!  I’m so relieved.

Today I heard an interesting point of view from a French person on the French social system.  She said too many people take advantage of the perks offered here by the French government, and a young person who doesn’t work can live just as well as someone who works.  I was very interested in what she had to say, because of course people make the same arguments about social programs in the United States, but although the French complain about them, they also accept them as the way of life, because they know it is helping the few who really need it.  While in the United States we’ll keep it away from the many who really need it to spite the few who might take advantage of it.

December 2, 2009

Let me explain…

Posted in la vie bordelaise, travailler, travel, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 7:26 am by Fat Girl Dancing

No, there is too much.  Let me sum up.

I’ve not abandoned this blog!  I just got behind and then stressed about catching up and then life went CRAZYGONUTS.

Here’s your November update in a nutshell, and then we can move on to December ^_^

  • Things started getting awkward with my host family when I returned from the Toussaint vacation
  • I came right back to my first bus strike!  I was late and missed my first class, then it took me two hours to get home.
  • I went on my first outing with OnVaSortir, a socializing website for meeting French people.  We went out for cafés.  It was good to get out and meet real French people, but very exhausting to try and keep up with the conversation for several hours!
  • I BOUGHT A BIKE!!  I love my bike.
  • Riding on the streets of Bordeaux is terrifying.
  • I started hanging out more with the other English assistants, which I’ve really enjoyed.
  • I got my hair redyed and trimmed, and it wasn’t a disaster!
  • I spent a beautiful Saturday biking all over Bordeaux and along the river, and then came upon a Pro-choice rally and joined it.
  • I saw “New Moon” in French, and it was still hysterically funny.
  • I picked up a tutoring gig (starts today, actually!)
  • I went out to a bar with some French people, and a French guy bought me a drink!
  • I went to a potluck dinner with other assistants.
  • Things went from awkward to REALLY BAD with my host family really fast 😦
  • I Skyped with my parents on Thanksgiving and watched the Macy’s parade from their kitchen via the internets.  Then I called back around midnight my time to “sit” at the dinner table with everyone.
  • I went to La Rochelle for Thanksgiving weekend with my friends Wes and David.  We made a great feast and had a lot of laughs.
  • I moved out of my host family’s house and into a temporary situation with another assistant.  I’m currently looking for a permanent place to live.
  • And we end November with another transportation strike!  Ahhh, France.

French bike!

Banana creme pie

Banana creme pie

Thanksgiving - French style

Banana creme pie - YUM!Thanksgiving - French style

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

August 25, 2009

I have a home!

Posted in planning tagged , , , at 12:46 am by Fat Girl Dancing

My French home

My French home

Hooray, I have a place to live!  It’s been a back-and-forth for the last few weeks trying to find an apartment in Bordeaux.  This morning my father and I transferred my September rent to my future landlord in order to secure my spot!

It sounds like it will be just perfect.  It is the home of a couple and their teenage daughter.  I will be renting their other daughter’s room.  They say the house is near my primary school and I can borrow a bike to get there!

And they have two cats ^_^  So I will still have cats to snuggle while I’m missing my own furbabies!


The packing is going slowly.  I realized  I had planned to pack way too many clothes, and I had to pare the list down a bit.  I still have too much, but I’m going to see if I can make it all fit!