Adventure 3: My First Days in Pont-Audemer

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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!

Moving In

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!

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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.

Not the greatest picture, but you can see the purple
Not the greatest picture, but you can see the purple

After we got back from Honfleur, Nicolas and family dropped me off at my flat for good. This is my building:

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I’m in the ground-floor right corner studio.

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:

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Since then, there’s a bit more stuff laying around, and I’ve also put up some pictures on the walls.

The view out of my window
The view out my window

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 sound in the middle instead of a 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.

La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre
La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre

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I was still in my chacos at the time… Those days are long gone. Honestly, they never were really here, but I apparently wasn’t thinking at all when I packed my shoes so that was pretty much all I had. Then I had to buy boots like the second week I was here.

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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.

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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!

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A super old skeleton!
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A cartulary of the diocese of Lisieux, ordered by the Bishop Thomas Basin in the mid-1400s. Lisieux was an important religious center in the Middle Ages, holding the bishop’s seat of the diocese for hundreds of years. 
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A close up – looks like what we drafted in my Medieval Piety class!
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Some very old and intricate ceramic work. This area was famous for ceramics for a long time.

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.

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I snuck a picture of their macaron display.. It was so beautiful; I couldn’t help it!
Of course, since this was a legit tea house, they were pretty expensive, so I only ended up getting one. And it was delicious.
Of course, since this was a legit tea house, they were pretty expensive, so I only ended up getting one. And it was delicious.

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


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