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! 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