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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Up the sleeve

I just got in from un stage. I can’t think of how to translate un stage into English besides, “a general waste of one’s time.” In the spirit of being discrete, I will try to remain vague and say only that this particular stage covered foreign language teaching in primary schools. While I appreciate the time and effort of the people who conducted it, it was a tad—pardon the pun!—elementary. Perhaps I’m being arrogant but some of the points covered were things like, “make sure the kids keep their notebooks neat,” and “with children, you must be repetitive.” Um, yeah. Also, ALL of the games, ideas, classroom management phrases, themes, worksheets and websites proposed or handed-out by the speakers were in or for English only, even though 3 of the 4 participants present were not English-language teachers.

To be fair, I did pick up a few new little games and phrases, which perhaps will gain a lot more value someday when I realize I have seven minutes left in a class and have finished all the things planned for my lesson. (Additionally, to be even more fair, these negative comments could stem from the fact that this stage—comme d’hab—was over 2 days which means I had to spend the night in some drafty, empty high school dormitory outside of the city, with only another assistant for company who recently married a Frenchman that owns what sounded like an astounding piece of property complete with original, yet newly-restored farmhouse AND who spoke of her recently acquired life with all the excitement of someone who merely found an abandoned umbrella on a public bus. That is to say, she could have probably seemed more excited. But I don’t know, maybe in her country she’s a princess or something, and this is a step down. )

All of this makes me think about how my father insists that the French have this odd tendency to take lots of time in order to explain something that you already know. I personally am still researching this theory.

However, the above makes me thing about one of the things the French have mastered: being personal.

Let me explain. My boss lady’s husband came to pick me up after the stage. We crept through rush-hour traffic but were only on the expressway for an exit or so when Mr. Bosslady muttered, “Oh shoot. I wanted to take the scenic route home along the coast.” So, he turned off at the next exit and proceeded to drive through every tiny town and roundabout along the very Northwestern edge of La Manche, stopping along the way to buy us each a pain au chocolat and then later to see the dunes of Kermerra. The whole scenic drive around bays and inlets, through medieval town centers and up and down gentle Breton hills peppered with black and white vaches added at least 30 minutes to the journey, and was solely for my benefit.

And then! later after he had dropped me off and I entered my apartment I immediately noticed that something was a little different. But, since I’m paranoid and think something has been moved in my apartment no less than a dozen times a day, it took me a few minutes to realize that something was indeed different. Someone had let themselves into my apartment and dropped off an extra mattress, sheets and blankets (unfortunately they had to move my drying rack full of clean underwear in order to do so….) AND had fixed the broken handle on the refrigerator.

A few days ago, I had mentioned to the Boss Lady that my brother would be visiting in a few weeks, and that the fridge door handle had cracked but that it really didn’t bother me.

Despite the slight creepiness of people having keys to where I sleep and keep all my stuff, I would count today as a "good" French day.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The prettiest girls

Incroyable. I got stood up last night. By someone who casually invited herself to my house. Quelle audace.

I am not exactly…diurnal. This fact has of late been only aggravated by my over-enthusiasm for the election, which I stayed up very late to watch. Bref, I’ve been keeping weird hours, and as I was walking out of the school after my first (and last) class of the day at 9 am, I was all ready to take just the tiniest of naps before I properly started my day. (sidenote: this is a lie us night-people frequently tell ourselves, and no amount of waking up sweating and way behind on work at 5 in the evening after sleeping for 6 hours will make us see the truth. Sorry.) I got no further than the courtyard, when I was stopped by one of the surveillantes. How was my vacation? Did I have any other classes for the day? No? “Oh, well,” she said, “How about I come by around 6 tonight?” Excuse me? Did I hear that right? “Where do you live again?” she asked. Gesturing towards the apartment facing us across the playground, I marveled at her rapidity.

Of course, my tiniest of naps turned into, well, a larger nap and—compounded with the fact that I am an unapologetic procrastinator—it was soon only a few hours before 6 when I realized that my apartment was a dump, there was nothing to eat and I had no clean clothes. (Wow, somehow seeing this in print, I’m realizing what a wreck I am most of the time)

Anyway, after cramming all my piles of crap into cupboards and closets, I ran out to do laundry and buy apéritif supplies, as I figured this is what would be expected this evening. Or maybe it would be tea. Certainly not dinner, she had invited herself. Right? Okay, so, some fruit juice and those weird snacks the French have for apéro, and some tea things. Just in case.

I dashed home to finish whipping up l’apart into shape (bank statements, shoes, books into closet, stack dirty dishes in sink so as to look less bordelique, hang wet laundry discreetly in bathroom, etc). Miraculously, by 6, it looked like a normal person lived there. So I sat down to wait. At 6:05 I went outside to check if she was stranded downstairs outside the building, reminding myself that she did spend a lot of time in the South for a few years, and they have a wacky sense of “time.” Heck, when I went to hers the other week, I showed up right at 7 like she said and we sat staring at her new kitten running around for a full 20 minutes before the next guests even came. 6:07, hm, phone seems to be working, but no call or sign; maybe I misunderstood? Maybe I was supposed to be the guest at her house? Maybe she was still getting ready because tonight was supposed to include dinner as well? What could it be?!

Inexplicably, the later it became, the more momentous our rendezvous seemed to become, and by 6:13 when I had come back after searching for her again outside I panicked and had convinced myself that dinner certainly would be involved. Apéro, dinner, and then coffee. (Coffee! Press has 4 day old grounds in it!) A full evening.

I dashed to the kitchen and flung open the cupboard door, hoping there would be something more in there than what I suspected. A quick inventory revealed the following: cocoa powder, honey, and some Happy Halloween paper plates my mother recently sent me. I closed the door and opened it again. Still nothing. Happily, I realized that if I cut away at the lumpy, moldy ball on the table, there was tomato underneath. Ah, progress! Now, a tomato is nearly dinner! Found a few other things in the fridge and proceeded to rapidly and nervously make dinner for two. Still no sign of her.

Completely confused and convinced that this evening was supposed to be at her house and despite desperately not wanting to accidently commit some sort of horrible French faux pas and reveal myself to be a square, at 6:37, I texted to ask her if I had tromped myself, perhaps? I immediately got a call back from her and in a very sleepy voice she apologized but was just much too tired after her day at work, could we do it another time?

Oh, fine. Tomorrow it is then.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Morning After

I suppose it goes without saying that today, I'm pretty disappointed. I stayed up all night to watch this slow train wreck, knowing that all those Americans out there were voting for the wrong guy; and all for the most ridiculous, unsubstantial reasons.

I feel the tiniest bit of relief about one thing though: for the next 4 years, whenever someone near me complains about some stupid policy of the president's, I won't have to anxiously think of a rebuttal. I get to complain along with everyone else. Because it's not my fault that he's in office.

A piece like “Winter Skin Tips” doesn’t just happen again

Alors. Yeah, so there you go; proof of blog theory:

exciting and continuous happenings in one’s recent life=infrequent and dull posts^2

I’ve just not had time to post, what with all the apple-tart-eating and girly-talk to be had as of late during this vacances de Toussaint. Plus I had to plan my holla-ween disguisement. That took some time.
Since I am the lone foreigner in St. Pol de Leon, (of which I was reminded yet again today after being pursued on the sidewalk in an awkward, shuffly, slow-speed chase by an old Frenchman who had seen my photo and accompanying article in Le Telegramme and wanted to verify my identity) the assistants in Morlaix were kind enough to take me in on various occasions this vacation. (I even got my own room. Quelle classe.)

Highlights of Toussaint include:

-a valiant effort by the assistants to celebrate Halloween despite frigid, dickensian weather, a nearly empty pub which had posted a sign in its window announcing an—evidently—non -existent costume contest (and first prize bottle of champagne), and the fact that Halloween is just not actually a holiday in France.

-happening upon legitimately interesting bar with good music and enough costumed Frenchies to act as balm to wounds of the two Americans who had been forced to support indignity of wandering from bar to bar earlier in the evening, nervously wondering if they were the only adults in Morlaix wearing costumes and also being denied this aforementioned bottle of champagne. (even though we clearly were the winners by default, as there were no other entrants to competition. Or patrons in bar, for that matter. )

-Lunch on Saturday with an English woman and her French husband who insisted on directing all his queries regarding Indian culture and fauna to assistante from Trinidad, and who was, as a result, repeatedly reminded by his wife that ‘yeah, again, she’s not actually from India.” The couple lived in an old farmhouse that had been used to billet German officers during the war. The house had marks on the stairs left by badly-raised Germans who did not think it necessary to remove their heavy boots while indoors.

-Lots and lots of dialogue about the books people should be reading, the phrases you can employ to fool French people into thinking you speak their language well, and how to fix the world.

And finally, I’m nervous about today's results. I hardly start researching the election on the internet before I have to switch it off and go take deep breaths into a paper bag.
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