Monthly Archives: October 2011

Working hard or hardly working?

The difference between my current life and the one I was living only a few months prior is vast. In San Francisco the pace of my life was fast; I was always busy with some activity and sleep was not something of which I was accustomed. Thinking back on this time, it is quite hard to imagine how I ever pushed myself as hard as I did. Since arriving here in Sete I’ve acclimated (a bit) to the idea of having very little to do.

Though my contract officially started October 1st, my job as an English assistant only started last Monday. That’s to say, I spent the first 17 days of October chillin’ like a villain. When I received my work schedule on my first day of school, I found out that out of the 12 hours a week I am contracted, I will split 9 hours between two different schools. 3 out of my 12 hours are being kept for “fun days.” What does that mean, you ask? Fun days are basically a glorified English-speaking field day in which multiple assistants from around the region go to a school to play games with the kids. Thus, I work only Monday/Thursdays in my schools. Not too shabby.

My first week of teaching consisted of introductions and repetitive vocabulary about Vermont’s four seasons. By the end of my last class I was about ready to throw all my stupid flash cards in the trash. However, my kiddies are adorable. I teach ages from CP to CM2 (ages 6-11). I’ve already got my eye on a few English speaking stars, and yes, as expected, there are also a few classes that are incredibly difficult to control. For the most part, however, I stand in front of a class of doe eyed elementary schoolers and I make a complete idiot out of myself as I pantomime everything I am saying…something I quite enjoy, and which comes naturally to me. With two (exhausting) days under my belt, I profit from the benefits of the French education system A.K.A. a completely unnecessary, but all the same, welcomed, 10 day paid vacation.

Though I’ve become a bit more lazy that usual with my 9 hour work week in the schools, it is part of my nature to fill some of my free time with things to do. I’ve picked up some work on the side working as a server/barista in a little café-bar called Bistro du Marché. I befriended the bar man, Adil, (who deserves his own post on here really soon) and I asked him if he needed help.  It turns out he admires the American work ethic more than the French and decided to hire me. I work some weekends, but mostly when he needs me. It’s been an excellent place to meet people, to practice my French in high stress situations, and it’s a few extra euros in my pocket. Plus, I’m learning a trade I’ve never done before. More on this soon.

I also picked up a language partnership. Like I discussed in a previous post, jumping at any opportunity to make friends can prove beneficial. Not only do I have a new friend, but I also have a new French tutor. Two days a week, my friend, Flavien, and I get together to practice speaking in English and French. Our levels are pretty similar, which is helpful. He is also easy on the eyes and has lots of friends. Two of the girls he introduced me to are also foreigners like myself. His girlfriend, Mariko, is a Japanese girl who works in Sete’s only sushi resto and Maman is a Chinese girl who promised to cook me dumplings…. Can you tell I’m missing some San Francisco classics? Another huge plus, Flavien has a car and works in the same town as me. Thus, he has volunteered to drive me to work on Thursdays saving me from having to take the train. Flavien has been a catch.

Travel is another things filling that will be filling up my free time. Tomorrow, my roommate, Ashley, and I are off to explore Bordeaux and Toulouse for a few days. As new members of couchsurfing.org, we’ve already hosted a lovely Québecoise at our appartment and will spend two nights being hosted in Bordeaux. I’ve been meeting great people from all over and I’m looking forward to making some new friends in some new places this vacation!

Okkk this was a long, not very well focused post, and I thank those of you who made it to the bottom. All is good. In fact, all is great, potentially even excellent.

Big kisses!

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Word Vomit

I preface this post with an apology. Please forgive me for my lack of articulation/eloquence, as I am losing my ability to speak the English language…. The problem, however, is that I have yet to arrive at speaking French. The only way to explain this phenomenon is to describe a kind of horrific purgatory, in which I have found myself. Until my brain makes the transition from making direct English/French translations to actually thinking in French I will continue to mélange all the words that exist in my brain into some kind of word vomit.

Not only am I unable to form correct sentences in French, but I am also losing the ability to speak my native tongue. Simple vocab that would normally come easily have turned into complicated  gobbledygook that goes something like this: “Ah! you know, it’s the place where you go to take the think that flies in the sky, how do you call it in English….. “an airport?” “yes!! that’s it!”

Another example of how I’ve come to speak: “My ability to communicate is merde and I’m absolutely fatigued.” My language has become a mix of French words in English sentences, including real French words as well as words that do translate into English, but that you would never really use.” Melange? Fatigued? Who says that??? Well, at the moment (en ce moment), I do.

I’ve experienced this transition before, when I was in Burkina, so I recognize that it is something that must be welcomed, but right now it is the most frustrating. thing. ever.

Entouka, stay tuned.

Biz

Une beauté discrète

A few snap shots and a tour along the canal:

Panoramania

A nice little hike to top of Sète for an epic panorama of la belle ville et le Mer Méditerranée!

How to make friends in France

I’m having a hard time believing that it has only been 3 weeks since I left the States because it truly feels like an eternity. However, there are a few things that remind me time and again that I’ve only just arrived in France. Yes, the obvious language barrier, but more importantly the fact that aside from a handful of acquaintances, and my roommate, Ashley, I hardly know a soul.  I haven’t experienced a transition such as this since starting my freshman year of college, and I’ve had to start from scratch in the friend department.

I’ve been on the prowl for friends. Specifically ones that speak French, but really, any nationality will do. The most important thing I’ve learned thus far is that you must not wait for people to approach you… because they are not going to. Seriously, the French are some of the most lovely people once you get to know them, but their icy façade can be intimidating. Second, smile a lot because this confuses the French. They will immediately know you are not from here, perhaps upping your chances of a pity conversation or a chance for the French to practice their very poor foreign language skills. I don’t mean this as an attack on the French but truly, the pride they hold for their national identity is conveyed through their language. They take incredible measures to protect its sanctity. For more on this (in French) see: The Académie Française. For the vast majority of you who are reading this and do not speak French click here. Third, when in doubt ask for a cigarette. Even if you don’t smoke, it’s a sure fire way to start a conversation with someone (pun intended). Because French people smoke like chimneys, you will not have a problem with this approach. Once you’ve started a conversation expect to be asked where you are from. This is inevitable if you butcher the French language as I often do, but also because your accent is intriguing and obviously not French. Numerous times I’ve been asked if I’m from England. This pleases me, because  it means I am not speaking with an American accent… I’m hoping that I’ll start getting asked if I’m from Spain soon. This means I am progressing. After divulging your nationality expect a slew of questions but listen carefully, because if somewhere mid-thought someone expresses the desire to speak English or travel to America you must pounce. Here is where you lock it down. Suggest doing a language exchange, then, and this is key, take their number. This way you can harass them into hanging out with you, showing you their favorite bars and restaurants, and introducing you to MORE of their friends.

I’ve had a few successes with this approach so far, and I look forward to testing it out on more people, specifically cute French guys. I’ll keep you updated on the growth of my friend circle.

3xBisous (muah, muah, muah) as they do here in the south,

Lizzie

Small, medium, large, or American; the trials and tribulations of eating in France

Apparently being an American in France means eating until your heart’s content… and then eating some more. This was pointed out to me yesterday while I was indulging in a ginger and vanilla ice cream cone in a little  glacier in Montpellier. There, one could order a variety of ice cream flavors and the sizes were as follows: small, medium, large OR American. I had a good laugh at that, but upon reflection I’ve realized my daily intake hasn’t been exactly modest since arriving in France.

Without a strict routine in place I’ve had a lot of time to think about, search for, and devour a multitude of different French foods. Stocked in my kitchen at all times are a variety of cheeses, breads and wines. Kiddie corner from my house is a boulangerie that sells freshly baked baguettes, croissants, et du pain chocolate bien sûr. Just a few blocks further lies my favorite patisserie, L’epi d’or, which makes insanely good cookies, macarons, apple tarts, chocolate mousses, breads, sandwiches (etc etc etc…). Along the canal there are a ton restaurants and bakeries, and  there is even a whole shop devoted to the classic French fave, the madeleine, which is a small sponge cake distinctly shaped like a shell. What’s more there is café upon café where it is possible to sit and people watch for hours whilst sipping a cafe au lait. Needless to say I’ve been in fat kid heaven.

However, fat kid heaven turned into fat kid hell yesterday. Something sort of snapped in me after eating my umpteenth sandwich avec jambon, fromage, et beurre (ham, cheese, and butter) and I found myself on the verge of a mental break down in the local grocery store when I couldn’t find a jar of peanut butter anywhere. It may seem strange that I’ve formerly described all the amazing eats in my town and here I am complaining that I can’t find peanut butter. But upon asking a clerk at Monoprix, I was directed to a wall of different kinds of honey, Nutella, jams, and speculoos (a sort of gingery cookie spread), which were simply not going to satiate this wild American craving I was having. I struck out at the largest grocery store in town and I left empty handed. I was like the French in Dien Bien Phu–defeated.

To put things in perspective for those of you who have never shared a kitchen with me, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a staple meal for me…a breakfast, lunch, or dinner favorite. I really really love them. Sure I’ll cook, but when in doubt……get the PBnJ out. I can’t even really say that I subsist on this treat because that connotes eating to live. My relationship with peanut butter and jelly is so much more than that, I really thrive on them. Seriously, I do.

But fear not my friends, I am not dying of starvation here AND the universe always provides. The most exciting and uplifting part of today occurred when I tried my luck on another grocery store. Et voilà I found a few small jars of Skippy peanut butter…not the preferred crunchy-oily-natural peanut butter heaven I’m accustomed to, and it was a heart breaking 6 euros for half a container, but good lord did I do a happy dance. I may have been a bit over zealous, and freaked out the clerk who was helping me… Nonetheless, I bought two half jars (you know, two halves make a whole) just in case there is some kind of zombie apocalypse and all of the peanut butter in the south of France is high in demand… though this is not likely seeing as the French do not have a palate for peanut butter, but I’m not taking any chances.