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Salut tlm! I know March is a bit late to be posting about Christmas, but… Here we go!
Although of course I wanted to go home for Christmas, I wasn’t able to do so – it was just too expensive. It was really sad to be away from my family during the holiday, but thankfully I had a few French families who were willing to take me in.
Right before Christmas, though, I had another visitor! Breanna came up from Laval to visit me and see Rouen and my town. Apparently we didn’t take any pictures of the two of us (none that I have, at least), but here are some from our exploring of Rouen!
As Breanna was spending Christmas with a family she knows in Caen, Delphine took both her and I to Caen on Christmas Eve. We dropped Breanna off with the family and had a lovely cup of tea, then explored the city for a while. I had never been to Caen before, so she showed me around.
After exploring the Christmas market, some shops, the chateau, and a cathedral, we headed to Delphine’s father’s house for Christmas Eve dinner.
He was so sweet. He was 11 years old when Caen was liberated in WWII, and he told me all about his memories of the time. It was so interesting to hear about! He’s written a little memoir of his experiences during the war, and he gave me a copy of it for Christmas. So cool.
I spent the night there, and then on Christmas morning took a train from Caen to Rouen, where I spent the rest of Christmas Day with Anne-Sophie and her family! Anne-Sophie is one of the teachers I work with at the lycée.
Anne-Sophie, her husband, and their daughters were there, along with both sets of grandparents. They were lovely and so welcoming! I played a princess card game with Katie and Nina; it can be difficult to understand game instructions when explained by any children – when explained by two children in rapid-fire French, it’s even harder! But I caught on after a while, and we had a great time.
I say “finally,” but this meal was French, so of course it’s not over till everyone’s had some coffee or tea. I’d brought some mini Reese’s cups that Mom sent me, and we had those with our after-dinner café et thé. All in all, we spent a little over five hours from setting of the table to finishing up coffee and tea. Later that evening, the set of grandparents who live near Pont-Audemer were kind enough to drop me back at home. I skyped my family for a while and called it a night!
Even though I can’t quite get behind the foie gras and escargots that everyone loves to eat here during the holidays, my French Christmas was a great success! I had a beautiful holiday with friends and their families here, and I’m so thankful for every one of them.
Well, this post only covers the first half of Christmas break. During the second half, I jetted off to Dublin – but that’s for another post, coming soon! Thanks so much to all the friends who’ve sent me mail, and as always, thanks for reading!
À bientôt xx
Salut tout le monde! I realized that I’ve talked about so many things I’ve done and places I’ve gone, but I’ve never really talked about the town I live in. That’s what this post is about! And my French Thanksgiving, too. Really, this post is mostly great pictures. So get ready.
My town isn’t very big, about 9000 people. I’m situated right in the middle of three major cities in the region of Haute-Normandie (Upper Normandy). This is a random map from a bed and breakfast website that’s apparently a few kilometers away from Pont-Audemer, but it does the job of showing the area haha.
Rouen is the biggest city near me,as you can see, and Le Havre and Caen are the other two big cities. I’m right in the middle of all of them, which is convenient! You can also see I’m pretty close to Paris, about a two hour drive. The landing beaches of Normandy are up above Caen. I’m about 30 minutes away from different beaches on the northwestern coast, so it’s a bit rainy and cold here, but not unbearably. Some pictures!
So there’s a little piece of my world. Now onto Thanksgiving. I was really sad about missing the holidays with my family, but I decided to have a Thanksgiving dinner with a couple of the teachers to 1) not be alone, and 2) introduce them to the holiday! Of course they know about it, being English teachers, but they’d never had a Thanksgiving dinner before. They did have a “Thanksgiving meal” at the cafeteria in the middle school on that day, but… Let’s just say it wasn’t quite the way we would’ve done it!
It was “English day” at the middle school – a combination of British and American. The kids all dressed up like British schoolchildren in uniform and they had few different English things, like this “Thanksgiving lunch.” I use that term very loosely. One of the main dishes they had was chicken, with a side of pumpkin puree… I mean it was good, but honestly, the Americans have the Europeans beat when it comes to using pumpkin in food. I also gave a little Thanksgiving presentation about 800 times, and when we got to the pumpkin pie, in every single class, the students would incredulously say, une tarte?? à la CITROUILLE??? Ça c’est… bon?? This directly translates to “what the actual heck, America?”
I also had one of the other teachers say, “Oh, I get it! You carve your pumpkins on Halloween, right, and then you use them to make pumpkin pie?” I was like um… Not quite.
So preparing this meal was more difficult than I thought it would be. Remember that I’ve never actually cooked a Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t really consider that until I actually set about making a shopping list and realized quickly that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. However, with a little help from my mother and the google, I was able to get set up with the recipes I needed.
But wait. They don’t actually sell whole turkeys here at that time of year. They only sell them really at Christmastime. Another thing – they don’t have cranberry sauce, and honestly they have no idea what it is. They also don’t have gravy. They don’t really have stuffing. They don’t have canned pumpkin, much less pumpkin pies. They have actual pumpkins, but I was not about to try that on my first go at making pumpkin pie; I went to an American online store that’s based out of France and ordered some gravy mix, stuffing mix, a can of pumpkin, and a can of cranberry sauce. Side note: That site is amazing. I’m gonna have to order some mac & cheese soon (right Breanna?).
So that Wednesday Nicolas, his wife Isabelle, and I went to the grocery store to gather the rest of the ingredients. Then on Thursday I went to their house after school (because I worked, because it’s not a holiday here..) and got to cooking.
Oh! They also don’t have ground cloves, but they have them whole. So I ground them myself using a knife and a rock. I felt like a pilgrim.
Also – notice the measuring device in the corner there. Guess what that’s in? Yes, the metric system! Liters, centiliters, milliliters, grams… Guess what my recipes were not in? I told Nicolas we needed a tablespoon of butter for something and he gave me a blank stare, then asked what on earth a tablespoon is. We had to look up the conversion for tablespoons into grams a few times. It was all very confusing. It was fun, though! And Nicolas, Isabelle, and Delphine helped a lot.
Marshmallows were another difficult thing to find. They had like two brands, and these are from one of only two bags of just plain, non-flavored marshmallows I could find. And half of them are pink. They were very confused about the sweet potato casserole; they kept asking if it was a dessert, and if it was supposed to be sweet or savory. I just sort of shrugged and said – um, both?
They also don’t have rolls. But after all, it was a French Thanksgiving, so we used a few baguettes and called it a day. Oh, and added a cheese course. Because obviously you can’t have a meal without cheese!
Finally, the finished product!
I also woke up to this rainbow outside my house on Thanksgiving morning!
So even though it was sad being away from family on Thanksgiving, I was able to share the day with people who mean a lot to me and who I’m very very thankful for. And it was a really cool experience to get to share part of my culture with them.
Well merry Christmas a bit late, and a happy new year! I’ll be posting about my French Christmas adventures soon! As always, feel free to send me mail anytime!!
À bientôt xx
Salut! Alors, I’m officially on Christmas break now, so I think it’s time for me to finish writing about fall break, right? Here we go!
When we last left our adventurers, they had just collapsed into bed after a long day of seeing monuments older than the USA and a ridiculously emotional viewing of Hamlet.
So the next morning I took a shower at the hostel (an experience I won’t comment on) and then after breakfast we walked down to Trafalgar Square.
After our fill of tourist pictures in the Square, we bought tickets for a hop on-hop off bus tour and took off around the city.
While we were on the bus, there was a young couple in front of us. At one point, the guy turned around and asked where we were from, and we told him we were from the US. Then he said, “Wow, your English is really good.” We were like ………….. Thank you? It is our native language, so I’d hope so??
So when we got to Buckingham Palace, the gates were blocked off. We thought it was weird, but didn’t really question anything until a whole crowd of East Asian-looking people came, complete with Chinese flags and big tupperware buckets of some kind of delicious-looking dumpling thing. After a guy came up and asked us if we were joining the group, we found out that there was a state visit that day from the Chinese president to the Queen!
Before that, though, we were able to get some pictures in front of the palace!
We also got our typical tourist photos with a phone booth!
That evening, we went to a play called Billy Elliot. It was amazing! And it was so British that there were times I honestly couldn’t understand what they were saying haha. The boy who played Billy was phenomenally talented, and even though we were in the nosebleed seats (literally the last row – and it was so steep we could have easily fallen to our deaths), we had a great time!
Definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Then we took the Tube back to our hostel because we were just too exhausted to walk, and it was late and pretty far away anyway. Because of the position of the Tube stop, we did get to see the Thames at night, and the Millennium Bridge!
When we got back to our hostel, we were in a common area trying to plan out our next day, when a guy came up and said that he’d noticed our accents and wanted to ask us about the US. So we talked to him for a good long time about places to travel and things to see in the US (without giving out any personal information, don’t freak out, Mom) and it was really cool to meet someone else who loves to travel and talk about it! It was also really cool to share some love for our country, which, despite its many many flaws, is beautiful.
The next day, Wednesday, was our last. I had porridge for breakfast-
which was good, and not at all what I was expecting. Then we hopped on the bus and saw some of the sights we’d missed the day before!
We walked around Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus and went inside a huuuuge M&M World store there.
We also went to Chinatown!
We then had dinner at Wagamama, and I had some curry. Sooooo good.
So after dinner we ran back to our hostel to pick up our stuff, then headed out to catch our overnight megabus back to Paris. The bus was nicer this time, and we had more leg room. We went through border control and rode the ferry a little earlier this time, which I appreciated, even though I didn’t sleep much.
We got off the bus at 6:15am to a cold, wet, sleeping Paris. Even the McDonald’s wasn’t open yet.
We decided to go to the Louvre because it’s in the middle of the three different train stations we had to be at in a few hours. Yes, three different ones. France’s transportation system is centralized in Paris, so pretty much all trains ever pass through there – meaning they have to have like five or six different stations to accommodate all of them. Each station serves a specific region, so we all come in and out of different ones.
Anyway, we made it to the Louvre (the métro was running, thankfully), and I promptly led us astray. After a long trek and lots of gracious silence on Breanna and Joan’s part, we made it back to the Louvre. By this time a Starbucks was open… Thank the Lord. When we sat down, I was literally falling asleep at the table.
After a while at the Starbucks, we snapped some early morning light pictures of the Louvre, then went our separate ways on the métro to our train stations.
Though we just wanted to get home at that point, unfortunately Paris had other plans, and Joan’s wallet was lifted right out of her bag at her train station. Luckily, her passport wasn’t inside of it, but all of her money was. She called me from the train station police’s phone (she didn’t have a French phone yet), and I switched my ticket to a later train and went to help her. She got her cards shut down without incident – someone had tried to make a withdrawal, but they didn’t have her PIN – and I got her a train ticket home for later that day. We ended up getting some food in a McDonald’s by her station, and she was kind enough to let me nap. Yes, I was so tired that I slept face-down on a table at a busy McDonald’s in the middle of the afternoon for an hour and a half. Without waking up once! Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Eventually, we both made it to our trains and on the way home. However, since I’d switched my ticket to a later train, and that train ended up being a little late, I just missed the last bus from Bernay to Pont-Audemer. Thankfully the wonderful Delphine drove the half-hour to come and pick me up. She even brought me some bread for the next day, since all the grocery stores were already closed! Her husband Laurent came with her, and he doesn’t speak much English. He also owns a really neat antique and used bookstore in town, so we ended up talking in French about literature the whole way home. Baptism by fire back into France! That Thursday was definitely an eventful way to end our trip, and I slept for pretty much the next three days.
So that was our London trip! In my mind I knew London would be different from Paris, of course, but I think my subconscious had constructed a picture of the city that was just an English-speaking Paris. However, the feel of London was completely different from Paris. I loved it, and I can’t wait to go back and explore more. Even though the pound is an absolute killer.
Another interesting thing I noticed was that even though people in England (obviously) speak English, it still felt like coming home when we got back into France. I was a bit relieved, to be honest – even speaking French with Laurent when I was so tired I was about to fall over. Coming back to Paris, then my little flat in Pont-Audemer, really does feel like coming home. I think that people can have more than one, so while of course I still think of the United States as home, it’s nice to notice that I’ve managed to make a home here as well.
The second week of vacation – because I still had an entire week to go! – was much less eventful than the first. I went to the coastal town of Le Havre with Nicolas and his family one evening, after recovering for a few days.
It was a nice evening walking around the city and seeing the sights. Le Havre was heavily bombed in WWII, so a lot of the buildings are more modern. It felt more like an American city to me than any other city I’ve been in here in France.
I also got the chance to go to the cliffs of Étretat for the afternoon with Delphine. These cliffs are famous and beautiful – Monet and many other artists have painted them.
After having a mini heart attack from climbing the hundreds of stairs up the cliffs, we were rewarded with an incredible view of the grey-blue sea. It was so calm, and we could see for miles out.
It was an amazing view. Delphine and I then had crêpes and hot chocolate at a café by the shore, and it was absolutely lovely. One of my favorite places I’ve traveled so far!
So that was my eventful, incredible fall break. I’m so so thankful to be getting the opportunities to do what I’m doing here. In my next post, I’ll tell you all about school and my daily life, and also post some pictures of the actual town where I live. I realized I haven’t done that yet!
I hope you’re all doing well. I would love to exchange Christmas cards, so if you’d like to, just message me your address and I’ll message you mine. Thanks for reading, as always, and happy break!
À bientôt xx
Salut tout le monde! This post is coming faster on the heels of the last one. Maybe I’m finally getting my act together… We can only hope.
So this post is all about fall break. For about every six weeks of school here, there are two weeks of break: we have a fall break, Christmas break, a break in February, and a spring break in April. So while students here have been in school since September, after only two weeks of us assistants “officially” working, we had our first break. It’s called Toussaints, which literally means “all saints” – tous saints.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (this summer in the US), Breanna called me up with an urgent question: Do you want to go see Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch on fall break?? Of course I said yes! Not only going to London, but going to see Hamlet in London. Not only seeing Hamlet in London, but seeing it starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Everything I’ve ever hoped and dreamed. The tickets had been sold out for ages, but Breanna had been watching online for tickets to be returned, and when she called me she had two tickets on hold. So we spent a ridiculous amount of money on the tickets and started planning a trip to London!
We also added another member to our clan before we actually took off – when Joan and I met on our training day, we really hit it off. I had mentioned that Breanna and I were going to England for Toussaints, and she didn’t have any plans yet, so she asked if she could join. It was so much fun with the three of us together; our personalities really meshed well and we helped each other stay de-stressed and laughing through all the mishaps! So here we go… Get ready for a TON of pictures (credit goes to Breanna for most of the actual pictures of our faces)!
We decided to meet in Paris and from there take an overnight bus to London, since that was the cheapest way and we also wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel room that night. Because of various setbacks, including Joan’s train leaving early without her on it and my ride leaving later than expected, we all got to Paris pretty late at night, rather than early afternoon. We got on the megabus – yes, it exists in Europe too! – around 10pm and set off.
We made it to the ferry dock in the middle of the night and everyone had to get off to go through border control. It was freezing outside and inside the tiny building where the officers looked at our papers. When we got back on the bus, we sat there for quite a while, so we were wondering what was going on. After a long time, the bus driver came over the intercom and informed us that somehow we had missed our ferry, and so the bus was going to be a couple hours late getting into London. We tried not to panic at this point, because we had booked a tour for the day that left an hour after our bus was supposed to get in. There was nothing we could do, so we just sat there on the bus for another long while until we finally drove onto the next ferry. On the ferry, we all got off the bus and headed up. You’re probably aware that I really don’t like deep water, so I was slightly freaking out as we could feel the ferry rocking a bit underneath us. I kept myself calm by just putting my head down on the table and going to sleep, which worked because it was like 4am.
After about an hour’s crossing, we trudged back onto the bus and set off on English soil to make our way to London!
In a miraculous and still-not-understood turn of events, our bus arrived at its stop in London only 30 minutes after the scheduled time, so as soon as the bus’ wheels stopped turning, we flew off the bus and started walking. At this point, it was 8am, so we had half an hour to get to our stop where the tour bus was going to pick us up.
We made it on time, and we were SO excited. I couldn’t believe that we’d actually made it. The tour day was amazing! We had debated on trying to go out and see places like Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon on our own, but it was going to be very complicated and not necessarily cheaper than having a tour. And let’s be honest, I’m enough of a nerd that having a guided tour sounds like a fun activity to me! We’d booked the Stratford-upon-Avon, Cotswolds, and Oxford tour, and it was a lovely, lovely day.
We slept for the first almost two hours we were on that bus as we made our way out, and we were even able to get some Starbucks for breakfast at a rest stop. Truly amazing.
Our first stop was Stratford-upon-Avon! Yes, Shakespeare!!
Seeing that church was super cool. Our tour guide was really knowledgeable, and he was really funny too, so he was able to give us so much information throughout the whole trip! Next we walked through the town and eventually ended up at Shakespeare’s birthplace.
Then we got to Shakespeare’s home and were let loose to explore!
In one of the rooms, we talked to the guide person in there for like half an hour; he was a sweet older man who’s been working in there for years! He was hilarious, and he knew so much information just off the top of his head. He also recited several things for us, which was cool.
Seeing all of that was so amazing. Next, we got back on the bus and headed out into the Cotswolds, which is basically the English countryside. Bear with a couple of blurry pictures here!
After we had lovely stroll through a few villages, we rode off to Oxford! Y’all… Oxford was magical.
We didn’t have nearly enough time to explore Oxford like I wanted to, but it was great to see what we did see. And afternoon tea was the bomb.
After we made it back to London, we went out in search of our hostel. It was pretty easy to find, and situated perfectly – right next to St. Paul’s Cathedral!
It cost a bit too much money for us to actually go inside, but it’s incredibly beautiful!
We had burgers at a restaurant that was open late, after a failed attempt to get into Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, one of the oldest pubs in London. At this point, we were just incredibly slap-happy. All I really remember from that meal was the excessive laughing that we did. After basically staying up all night on the bus and then going all day, we were so tired!!
So we were really glad to get to the hostel. None of us had stayed in a hostel before, but it was cheap and we were excited to check it out. The rooms were unisex, with eight people in each. The first night, it was just us and one other really nice girl in our room. The beds were very oddly positioned, but we were tired enough that nothing could’ve kept us from sleeping at that point!
Can you believe all of that happened and that was just the first day? We woke up the next morning and went out for a London breakfast. Then this day was Hamlet day! Because Joan didn’t have a ticket, we decided to go to the Barbican theatre and see if they had any returns. We were told that there was a high probability that she could get a ticket if she waited in line, and so that’s what we decided to do!
We waited for a while, then Breanna graciously volunteered to save her spot in line while Joan and I went and visited the Tower of London. Breanna had already been to the Tower of London, so she wasn’t going to pay to go in again anyway. She was a trooper for sitting there for hours!!
After getting slightly lost and taking several construction detours, Joan and I got to the Tower!
Joan and I had so much fun wandering around the Tower and seeing everything. After we’d gotten our fill, we went back to the Barbican and Joan took her place in line while Breanna and I went back to our hostel to change outfits for the play! When we got back, Joan had a ticket!! We were so excited and so glad she ended up getting one!
So we grabbed a sandwich for dinner from the cafe inside the theatre and sat on some steps eating it. I decided to go to the bathroom before the play started, and while I was headed there, I saw someone who looked familiar. I didn’t think about it for a second, then I was like wait, why does he look familiar? And I realized it was Andrew Scott!! And then I freaked out. But he went into the bathroom and also I didn’t want to be weird, so I didn’t say anything to him. But I definitely freaked out.
The play was amazing. I know I’m using that word a lot. But it’s true. Our seats were phenomenal. And like I know Benedict Cumberbatch is a great actor, but seeing it live right in front of my eyes was incredible. He was so good at delivering the funny lines, the serious lines, the epic lines; he delivered every type of line so skillfully. And the whole entire cast did a fabulous job!! Seriously, I was blown away. Ophelia especially was really good. I also loved how the director interpreted the play overall; I thought its direction and staging was interesting and different, but at the same time didn’t compromise the integrity of the original script. It was just… Ugh. Amazing. Basically the highlight of my life.
After much debate, we decided to wait outside the stage doors. It was a really interesting experience, and it was actually really fun! We weren’t up at the very front, but Breanna with her height and long arms got some good pictures!
Man. I’m feeling excited again just writing about this play experience haha. It was such a highlight. Well worth the ridiculous amount of money we spent on seats.
Our night at the hostel Monday night was much more interesting than the night before – every bed in the room (besides ours, of course) was filled with someone sleeping when we got home from Hamlet! So it was a quiet and dark scramble to get ready for bed, but boy were we ready to sleep.
What I’ve written about so far is only about half of our trip!! We packed so much into the four-ish days we were there. So since this post is already about 2500 words, I think I’m going to divide the trip into two posts. Be looking for part two soon! As always, thanks for reading!! You all are the best. Till London part two –
à bientôt xx
Salut! Funny how I thought I was going to write another blog soon, right? I’m so bad at this. Anyway, I finally am, so here we go!
On October 1st (yikes that was a long time ago), we had our first training day as assistants. For those of you who don’t know the specifics of the program I’m with, it’s called the Teaching Assistant Program in France (abbreviated TAPIF). TAPIF is a program run by the French government and it sends people like me out to French public schools to be assistant(e)s de langues étrangères. The program has several different languages represented, and there are always English-speakers from around the world, so I’ve met assistants from everywhere: from the UK to Japan to Jamaica to Spain! And of course from all over the US. I’ve even made a friend who grew up in Jackson – how weird is that? It’s a small world after all. We all work 12 hours a week in up to 3 schools; I work in two schools, as I’ve mentioned before, a lycée (high school) and a collège (middle school). There’s also a possibility of being assigned to an elementary school. These are the regions for the program, which don’t exactly correspond to the actual governmental regions and are just used for the government’s education department. I’m in the region of Rouen, up in the left-hand corner!
You can go here –> http://highereducation.frenchculture.org/teach-in-france to learn more about the program! Or to apply yourself… I’m looking at you, French majors and minors! If you’re thinking about applying and have questions, just shoot me a message; I’ll be happy to help or answer questions.
ANYWAY our contracts officially started October 1st, and we had a training day in Rouen, the base city for our region. The contact teachers also had to attend this meeting, so I rode with Nicolas that morning to the city. It’s only about an hour away from Pont-Audemer, which I’m grateful for given all the times I have to go there. The first part of the meeting was a really long welcome and introduction to some of the people who are above us. The meeting took place in a university, so we had lunch in the cafeteria there. By that time I had made some new friends, so it was fun to start to get to know other assistants. After lunch, we split up into groups based on nationality and began an arduous afternoon of paperwork (that could be a Lemony Snicket title, couldn’t it? – The Arduous Afternoon).
Paperwork in France deserves its own paragraph. Good GRIEF there’s a ton. I’ve been here for almost three months now, and my paperwork for certain things is still being processed. I can’t tell you how many copies of my passport/visa/entry-into-the-Schengen-zone stamp I’ve made. Not to mention my birth certificate, work contract (in various stages of being signed and stamped), and miscellaneous other papers, and that’s even before all the actual forms they give you to fill out. It’s intense, and it’s no wonder France is notorious for its bogged up bureaucracy! I’m so thankful for the TAPIF program though, because as difficult as it was for us, it would have been even more difficult had they not been helping us out. That afternoon, we all got an appointment with the L’Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration, or the OFII (the French also love acronyms, by the way). More on that later.
After a long, productive, and actually pretty fun day, I was back in Pont-Audemer. The very next day, however, I set out for Rouen again! One of the English teachers at my lycée, Anne-Sophie, lives in Rouen, and she had invited me earlier in the week to go to dinner with her and some teachers she used to work with. With my comprehension being not-so-great at this point, I thought she meant we were going to dinner in Pont-Au – I didn’t catch the part where she said she lived in Rouen. So when she asked if I wanted to stay the night with her, I was so confused. I stared at her for a minute until she started explaining more, and I realized what was going on. Another instance of those pesky missed details coming back to haunt me. We had a great time that night; her old colleagues brought the assistant who was with them now to dinner as well, and we had so much fun. She’s from Ireland, so it was cool to be speaking English (some of the time) but still hear cultural and linguistic differences. Meeting Anne-Sophie’s family was also really fun. She has two little daughters, I think they’re 5 and 7 years old. They’re seriously adorable! It was so difficult to understand them; of course, little kids have a hard time remembering to slow down when they’re talking, but they were so sweet. Made me miss my own little sister.
The next week I had observation at my two schools. I learned that the French school system has four grades in middle school and three in high school, opposite of the US. It was interesting to see the questions that came up over and over again: do you have a baby? Do you have a boyfriend? (or as they often phrased it, do you love a boy?) Have you ever been to New York City? Have you ever been to Disneyworld? Do you speak French? (to which I replied – not in school!) Do you like video games? and every other question you can imagine. I even had one kid ask me if I’ve ever heard of Avenged Sevenfold – honestly, he asked me that. I won’t even tell you how long it took me to figure out that that’s what he was saying with the accent in the way.
One of the days, I shadowed a class for the whole day, to really get the French high school student experience. The students were in seconde, which is like sophomore/junior year, and Nicolas introduced me to three really nice girls who let me sit with them and follow them around. I went to an English class, which of course was the easiest class of the day for me! Then was sciences et economiques sociales, which is like social science and economics together, if you couldn’t figure that out from the name. It was two hours long, whereas everything else was only one hour, which I thought was interesting. I learned a lot of new vocab in that class! Then we had lunch, featuring a twenty minute smoke break after eating. Almost every high school student I’ve met smokes cigarettes – well actually, almost all French people I’ve met smoke. That’s been something that has taken a lot of getting used to. The laws are much looser here regarding smoking in public places; you can’t smoke inside restaurants, but you can right outside. And most people do. Every break they get, the students are smoking outside the school in hordes. One of the girls I was with was rolling her own cigarette at the lunch table. They asked if people smoke a lot in the US and I said no, not really, and they seemed surprised. It’s a very very common thing to do here. Oh, also, their school lunches are great. I mean, not always, and it’s not always stuff I like, but all the schools use local meat and produce, and they really take their food seriously. Eating is practically a sport in France.
So after lunch we had math. And let me tell you… Math is even worse in French. Factoring is even more horrific in a second language. That was the longest hour of my life. After math was finally over, we had foreign language. In France, everyone is required to take English from elementary school on, and then in high school they also have to choose another language that’s more like an elective. At my school, they have the option of Spanish or German. Like in the US, most students pick Spanish. I sat in on the German class, which was actually really interesting. I’d love to learn it. I didn’t get much out of it, of course, because she was explaining the German in French so I was twice-removed from the explanation. After language class, we went to sciences physiques, which is like chemistry. It was at this point where I remembered how awful and terrible and tiring it is to go to school all day long with just tiny breaks. Then we went to their equivalent of biology/anatomy/ecology. By the end of that class, it was 4pm (or 16h, as they use 24-hour time here officially – another thing that’s been a bit difficult to get used to), and I could not have been more grateful that I never have to go through high school again! Some days the schools here go even longer, all the way to 6pm. It was long, but I did like doing it for a day. It was really interesting to see what they’re doing every day and how it differs from or is the same as the US.
After the week of observation, we all had to go back to Rouen for another training day. Logistical issues took up the first part of the day (aka more paperwork and talking about paperwork), and then we separated into smaller groups for some training on how to be most helpful in our classrooms. This day kicked off my weekend with Joan! We went around Rouen and did the tourist-y things we could find, and then she came back to Pont-Au with me for the rest of the weekend.
Rouen is a fun city, and I’ve been back quite a few times since then. It’s one of the closest big cities to where I’m living, so if I want to do anything special, that’s where I usually go.
After Joan, two of our other friends (Shantal and Christiona), and I explored Rouen a bit, Joan came back to Pont-Audemer with me. We spent forever blowing up an air mattress for her with a bike pump and I led us around in circles trying to find the movie theater, but we had so much fun. Then on Monday we had to go back to Rouen. To get the sticker in our passport that says our visas are valid, all of the assistants have to come back to Rouen at different times for two different appointments. This day ranks up there in the list of most stressful days I’ve had since being in France.
The first appointment is with an radiology office – we all had to get a chest x-ray done. I joked that they were making sure we didn’t have tuberculosis, but after going to the other office I’m pretty sure that’s actually the reason. A lot of other assistants had their appointments at or around the same time, so we all waited together to be called back. We waited for a long time, maybe an hour and a half? I can’t remember exactly, but it was long. When I was called back, the nurse told me to go into a room and take off all of the clothes on my upper body. Luckily I understood her correctly and did the right thing – it would’ve been embarrassing to think she was asking me to take off all of my clothes and then be mistaken! The room was just a walk-through room: it was small and had doors on both sides. After a couple minutes, she came and got me from the other side, where there was a room with a ton of x-ray machines. I thought she was going to give me a hospital gown or something – nope! This is Europe, people. I just walked in there completely topless. I had to stand on the machine and it sort of threw me around; I was really trying to keep my footing lol. It only took about five minutes, then I was done and ready to wait some more for them to print my x-rays.
After a group of us had our x-rays, we found the OFII office where our next appointment was. This office was completely intimidating. Before they put us in line for appointments, they checked our passports, then we had to wait some more. Eventually I was called back to a room where a very nice man who, thankfully, spoke some English, took my blood pressure, listened to my heartbeat, and did various other medical exam things. He asked how much I weigh, and I started to say, and he said, “Oh no – in kilos!” I was like “….. No idea.” He then asked for my height, and I started to say, and he said, “Oh no – in meters!” Of course I have no idea, but luckily it wasn’t a huge deal; he just weighed and measured me there. It’s the little things like that you don’t think about that usually end up being an issue, I’ve found. He also took my x-rays and looked at them, saying, “Ah good, looks like no signs of tuberculosis,” which is what confirmed my theory. Very strange. At least now I know I have an “absence de lesions” on my lungs! Thanks, France.
After I was done in that room, I waited some more, and finally a lady came and got me. I had to give her a bunch of paperwork, and she looked everything over, made some notes, then put a sticker in my passport and stamped it. Done. When she said that was all, I couldn’t believe it. Obviously, it’s a very special sticker… I went through a lot to get it. But I am officially legal in France after that! No deportation for me. Or at least not for not having my immigration papers done right!
Wow. Another super long post. Maybe I’m making up for quantity with quality? More likely I’m just a windbag who gets caught up in details, but there’s no need to go there. If you’ve read this far, thank you so much for reading! My next post is going to be about LONDON. And then we’ll get into what I’ve been up to lately – including my first Thanksgiving away from family. I’ll also have a few things to say about the attacks in Paris.
As always, PLEASE SEND ME MAIL. If you want to really make my life, just message me and I’ll give you my address!
À bientôt xx
Salut! It’s been a little while since I’ve written, but here’s a recap about moving in and my first two weeks in my city!
So that Friday night (September 18th… Yes, I know it’s been a while) I arrived in Pont-Audemer to Nicolas’ house. As I mentioned in my last blog, Nicolas is my contact teacher for the lycée – high school – where I’m working. He and his family were kind enough to let me stay with them that weekend while I worked out arrangements for my flat. I was pretty overwhelmed that night; I was tired from traveling, and that was the first time I needed to carry on an extended conversation in French with someone I didn’t really know. I was definitely feeling my lack of practice over the summer! However, they were gracious and didn’t make me struggle too long before they sent me off to bed. On Saturday, Nicolas and I went to the flat he had helped me reserve, and I met my landlady. She’s been quite accommodating! I paid rent for the second half of September, and we decided that I would move in the next day.
After that I went shopping for a few groceries with Nicolas and his wife, Isabelle. Since I stayed with a host family when I studied abroad two years ago, I never really needed to go to the store. I had gone into a grocery store a couple of times, but mostly to just look around. I discovered that day that actually attempting to do the shopping was much more difficult than I thought it would be! What I’ve been finding out is that, at least for me, when it comes to adjusting to a new culture, it’s the smallest things that make the most difference. Things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things – like seeing hardly any brands you recognize on the grocery store shelf, or realizing that the milk isn’t refrigerated here, or that every grocery store closes at 8pm, or a hundred thousand other differences I could name. Nowadays I’m more familiar with my environment and more comfortable in it, but that first grocery store trip was a bit of a shock to the system. Anyway, I just sort of picked some stuff at random and hoped it would be enough to get me through till I could come back and do a more thorough investigation.
The next day, after I had stuck my suitcases in my flat, I took an afternoon trip to a town called Honfleur with Nicolas, Isabelle, and their 15 yr old son, Quentin. Honfleur is a picturesque little coastal town that sits close to where the Seine flows into the sea, and it’s about a 45 minute drive from Pont-Audemer. A little language mix-up story for you: So when someone’s talking to me in French, I usually understand the gist of what they’re saying, and that’s usually enough. This time, it caused me a bit of confusion. When telling me what we were going to do that Sunday afternoon, Nicolas had told me they wanted to show me something, and I also caught the word “fleur” which means flower. So I thought, oh great, there must be a garden or a park somewhere in town that they want to show me! When we got in the car and proceeded to drive directly out of town, I was very confused. Until we had been driving for about half an hour and I saw a sign for Honfleur, of course. My compréhension orale has gone up since those first days, thankfully. Anyway, here are some pictures from the city!
It was a beautiful day, and I had a lot of fun wandering with the family. Also, we saw a street performer dressed all in purple playing the bagpipes! That was certainly interesting.
After we got back from Honfleur, Nicolas and family dropped me off at my flat for good. This is my building:
After getting inside and making up my bed, I spent most of that day and the next staring out the window, at the walls, and at my two suitcases. Being alone in my flat for the first time was completely surreal. I couldn’t believe that I was actually living in France… Not just thinking about it, not just planning for it, but it was actually happening. After the whirlwind of basically traveling for two weeks, I was a bit shell-shocked when I landed here and the dust cleared. Over the next days, I got around to unpacking everything and putting my stuff away – I didn’t even bring enough clothes to fill up all my drawers, which I’m pretty proud of! – and went back to the grocery store to do some food reconnaissance. I discovered by trial-and-error the right temperature for my heater at night and killed quite a few spiders. I had memorable encounters with THREE slugs and completely freaked out when I thought my mattress had bedbugs (it doesn’t) (shout-out to Nicolas for being super understanding and helping me figure that out). I learned how to do storage when there’s nowhere to actually store things and met my upstairs neighbor, a really nice girl about my age that I now share internet with. I thought I broke the toilet, but turns out the pipe was just off. Lots of things happened, tiny breakdowns were had, goals accomplished, etc; the result was me really settling into my flat and starting to make my home here. I really do love my place. It’s small, but the rent is cheap and it’s all the space I need. Here are some pictures from after my first round of unpacking:
Since then, there’s a bit more stuff laying around, and I’ve also put up some pictures on the walls.
Meeting the Teachers
So after and in-between my settling in, I went to the lycée (high school) and collège (middle school) to meet the English teachers I’m working with this year. All of the teachers were so so nice, and to my surprise, all of them speak British English. I don’t know why I was surprised – actually, it’s probably a combination of my ethnocentrism and my hatred of geography – but I really wasn’t expecting that. Anyway, I also had to meet the principals of the two schools, which was completely intimidating. It’s nerve-wracking to try and be polite and formal in a different language when you don’t really know the cultural norms for that type of situation. At the high school, I sat down with the principal, assistant principal, and Nicolas and had a conversation. I don’t even know how to describe how concentrated I was in those moments lol. It’s probably only rivaled by my concentration when I went to the immigration offices, which I’ll get to later. The principal and assistant principal were very welcoming, and my only real slip-up was that I used the informal ouais instead of the more formal oui when answering their questions. My meeting with the collège principal was far more relaxed, and the teachers there are also really sweet. One of the them is actually American, so it was nice to hear a familiar accent!
My First Trip Outside of Pont-Audemer
After about a week of settling in, meeting people at the schools, and resting, I decided to take advantage of the cheap buses that go from Pont-Audemer to the cities around before I officially started working. I checked bus times and decided to visit the town of Lisieux. Of course, the first mistake I made was pronouncing the name wrong when I got on the bus: I pronounced it with an s sound in the middle instead of a z sound. I was checking to make sure that I was getting on the right bus, so my confidence wasn’t bolstered when I said it and the driver looked at me like I was nuts. She quickly realized that I was just pronouncing it wrong, though, and reassured me I was where I needed to be. She then asked which stop I wanted to get off at. I hadn’t realized that you have to tell them the stop inside the town when using the regional buses, so I sputtered ungracefully for a minute before just saying n’importe and deciding the last stop is where I’d get off. As it turns out, that was exactly where I needed to be! The last stop was right in the downtown area and my first little adventure was the church right by the bus stop.
It was beautiful! After that, I wandered around the city. When I went to a little boulangerie to grab a sandwich for lunch, I was determined to say everything without messing up. I waited in line, practicing what I was going to say over and over again in my head, even though it was super simple. I even listened in on the other customers’ conversations to make sure I had the right order of words and things. I was so confident (RIP). As soon as I stepped up to the counter, I looked the lady right in the eye and, so self-assuredly, said Merci! Immediately I heaved a sigh and shook my head. Non, I said. She was biting back a smile. Bonjour. Of course she was really nice and overlooked my flustered bumbling through the rest of our interaction. Just one of my many blunders – I pretty much can’t be embarrassed anymore; it just doesn’t phase me because it happens almost every time I open my mouth. Casual humiliation: that’s what living in France is all about.
Anyway, after that I walked around more while eating my sandwich. I saw the city’s library and found a free museum! It was closed for lunch (naturally…), so I sat in a lovely little park and journaled while I waited for it to open back up.
The museum was really cool; it was in a historical house in the middle of a bunch of modern houses, and it told the history of Lisieux and the surrounding area from even before its Roman founding to the present day. Here are some highlights!
There was a lot more to the museum, but I don’t want to drown you all with pictures. It was a fascinating little tour! And the historical house it was in made it even better. After I’d taken my time there, I decided I needed a macaron. Mostly because I remembered seeing them in the window of a little tea house I’d passed by earlier.
I had a bit of time to kill after that until my bus came, but not enough to really go wandering far from the bus stop, so I stopped into a café and had some tea. This moment was a win for me that made up for my sandwich-shop-bumbling earlier in the day. You’d think cafés would be fairly simple and similar to restaurants in the US, but they’re not. Basically, you sit down – usually outside – and the waiter/ess comes out to you eventually (and I do mean eventually). They don’t really have menus; usually there’s one big chalkboard menu either at the front of the café or out on the street beside the outside tables and chairs. There could, however, be absolutely no menus. That I still don’t exactly understand, but I mostly order tea, which all of them definitely have, so I’m okay. Anyway, this moment was a win for me because at that point I knew exactly what to do, and it went off without a hitch. I had some tea to warm me up in the crisp autumn air, and I people-watched until it was time for me to take the bus home. Overall I had a great day, and kind of a big one in terms of adding to my knowledge of how to do things in French culture.
Wow! This post is super long. I definitely have more to tell you about, including my first training day and my first weeks of being in my schools, but I’ll save that for the next post, coming soon to a blog near you!
Thanks for reading, and a special shout-out to Tracy for sending me my first letter AND package! It makes my day to get mail, so if you feel like you want to send a note, just message or e-mail me for my address.
À bientôt xx
Salut tout le monde! Here’s a wandering, picture-full recap of my few days in Paris.
The First Day
So my friend Camille’s flat is very cute and very Parisian. I’m so grateful to her and her roommate for letting me stay with them and for all the help they gave me while I was there. The first morning, Wednesday, Camille and I went down the street to a bakery and got pastries for breakfast… Right from the get-go, I felt très français!
It was raining pretty hard, so we stayed in the flat and hung out for the morning and most of the early afternoon. Her flatmate’s friend made us a zucchini and goat cheese tarte for a late lunch, which was ridiculously delicious. Then Camille and I headed out for a walk along the Seine and to see Notre Dame. I saw the cathedral last time I was in France, but it’s one of my favorite places in the world, so of course I wanted to go again!
I also got my carte jeune from the train station that afternoon – it’s a card for people aged 12-27 that gives reduced rates on trains and other travel. That was basically all I did on the first day… I was still so exhausted from traveling.
The Second Day
Thursday afternoon, Camille had to work, so we slept in a bit and then I decided to head to the Louvre. It was rainy again, so it was the perfect kind of day to spend in the museum. I attempted to meet Eliza, my friend from the airplane, there; however, we underestimated the horrors of no cell phone service and overestimated our directional skills, leaving us with no way to contact each other when neither of us could get to the place we were supposed to meet.
So I explored the Louvre by myself! (Well, one wing of it. That place is huge.) After having to ask an embarrassing question of the staff – pardon, comment est-ce que je peux entrer le musée? – I descended through the huge (random) glass pyramid to the magical world below. And guess what? I got in for free! Because I’m a young (-26) European resident, I didn’t have to pay anything. What a wonderful world.
I couldn’t see everything in one afternoon, obviously, so I basically just spun around and picked a wing. I went through the Ancient Greek, Roman, Etruscan, and Egyptian exhibits, the Arts of Islam exhibits, and the Spanish, French, Italian, and English paintings. Yes, I did see the Mona Lisa! How many tourist points do I get?
It’s a bit strange to me that that’s the only painting you’re kept so far away from/that has so many visitors. But hey, I’m no art expert. Anyway, here are a few highlights from my visit!
(I KNOW THIS IS A LOT OF PICTURES I’M SORRY)
ANYWAY I have loads more pictures, but I’m not allowing myself to put any more in this post. I may post them on facebook later on if I just can’t help myself.
Some random things: I caught a guy trying to take a picture with his lens cap still on – when he realized it and looked around, I pretended I hadn’t noticed for his sake, but I was laughing internally. Also, I’d seen a lot of these paintings in pictures before (shout-out to Honors Beauty), but I didn’t realize how absolutely massive they are in person. A lot of these paintings are way taller than a human. Exhibit A:
It also hit me in the face that there is so much famous art based around biblical themes and stories. Especially the Virgin Mary. When you’re in the hallways filled with paintings, she never stops watching you.
So the Louvre was fantastic, and I can’t wait to go back and explore again. After that, I met up with Camille and was so exhausted (are you sensing a pattern?) that we just walked around a bit more and then hung out at her place for the rest of the night.
The Third Day and Traveling to Pont Audemer
On Friday morning Camille and I went to meet our friend Breanna. The three of us had met when Breanna and I were studying in Angers two years ago, and Camille was one of the teachers’ assistants for our program. We’ve kept in touch over facebook since then, and it was so exciting to find out that Breanna was accepted into TAPIF too! And she’s in a region not too far from mine, which is going to be great. (Her blog is at bbinfrance.blogspot.com, and you should all check it out!) She had landed in Paris the morning before (Thursday), and we wanted to meet up and see each other before things got crazy. So Breanna, Camille, and I decided to visit Père Lachaise, a huge old cemetery that has a ton of famous people buried in it. And a ton of rich people. To get a plot there now, you have to be put on a waiting list – seriously. I’m not entirely sure how you move up the list, as everyone before you is definitely going to die and need their plot, but what do I know about posh graveyards?
It was amazing, and it being fall certainly gave it a classic ~graveyard~ atmosphere.
Here are some of the famous graves we saw:
And last but certainly not least…
Wow, what a fun time we had. Afterwards we thought about popping over to la tour Eiffel, but we decided not to push it, as it was on the other side of town, and I had a train to catch. We went back to Camille’s for lunch and hung out until I had to get to my bus stop. After taking my luggage down the terror-inducing, creaky, tiny flat elevator and walking to the bus stop, I said à la prochaine to Camille and Breanna. Much love again to Camille and Soraya for letting me crash in their flat!
So the bus I was on was supposed to take me directly to the train station. Of course, it did not. Instead of going its whole route, the bus stopped halfway there at the stop for the Louvre and the intercom told me that I had to get off. It was raining again at this point, so I found an awning to keep my baggage dry and tried to figure out what to do. I wasn’t panicking; I still had a little more than an hour before my train was supposed to leave, but I was a bit worried. I asked a lady (in French!) at a nearby shop if she could tell me how to get to the Gare St. Lazare; I had to ask her to repeat her answer a couple of times to make sure I understood her directions, but I was proud that I didn’t need to find someone who spoke English. She told me that I would have to take my luggage’s worst enemy: the metro. Of course. I had to do it, and I had to move pretty quickly at this point, so I just put my head down and started hauling my clackety-clacking bags down the stairs.
After taking line 1 back in the direction I had just come from, I walked forever and a day through the underground, up and down so many flights of stairs, to catch the 14, which does take you all the way to Gare St. Lazare. When I got to the train station, I eventually made it to what I
really really hoped knew was the correct train with 15 minutes to spare! I then had to go through the ordeal of figuring out where to put my luggage in the little train car. In case you don’t know Mme Malone, or my story up to this point hasn’t convinced you, let me just say – bring the least amount of luggage possible when traveling abroad! It is such a pain to get around.
After I got somewhat settled, I had a nice a conversation with an older lady sitting across from me who was très sympa. Every conversation I have in French is helping me get more and more comfortable. Everyone I’ve talked to thus far has been very gracious about my much-less-than-perfect grammar and pronunciation and has also been willing to help correct me, which I really appreciate. On the train, everything started to feel real – it began to sink in that I was really in France now and headed towards my new home. While I was definitely freaking out, I was also so excited to meet the teachers I had been e-mailing for months and to see Pont-Audemer for the first time!
Delphine, my contact teacher for the middle school I’ll be at on Thursdays, met me at the train station in Bernay and drove me the half hour from there to Pont-Audemer. Both she and Nicolas, my contact teacher for the high school where I’ll be working M/Tue/W, have been incredibly sweet and so helpful. That night and the following night I stayed with Nicolas and his family at their house while I finalized my flat arrangements – but that’s a story for the next post!
Thanks for reading! Tune in next time for gelatinous food and a bagpiper dressed in purple.
À bientôt xx