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Monthly Archives: November 2010

What do you do when November 25th rolls around and it’s just another workday? Realize that though it stings a little to be so far away from so much you love (7-hour-drives down Rt. 17, Dad’s pancakes, the Thanksgiving Day parade on TV, the nights of board games and diner dinners that usually typify holiday weekends), you’re in a good place. Surrounded by friends, cute French houses, and nutella. You can’t complain. The bulk of the “I am thankful for…” lesson is more or less not understood by your young students during class, but you know a few things you could put on that list.

That was pretty much how I felt on Thursday, my first Thanksgiving abroad (only Thanksgiving abroad? Who knows?). There’s only three Americans — including me — that I know of in Évreux, but that didn’t stop us from having a huge Thanksgiving meal with our French, Scottish, Canadian, English, and Irish (I think that’s it!) friends. I mean, who can really say no to a holiday where the main reason to gather is to eat? For my part, I made sweet potatoes (the ones here come from Israel — that seems so far away — and cost beaucoup. But it was worth it), chopping them up with my sole sharp knife (only meant to cut cheese), boiling them, and mashing them. So tasty.

Alix and Katie were able to rent out the common room in their apartment complex, so everyone was able to pile in comfortably. My sweet potatoes were in good company — pumpkin risotto, stuffing, turkey, broccoli casserole, quiche with Roquefort, pumpkin pie, lemon tart, more pumpkin pie. Mmmm. It was a really great night, maybe one of my favorites here.

* I know that the current currency of France is the euro, not the franc. But for pun’s sake, let it slide.

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Before I left for France, I was all nerves. My internship in the city was going great and in a field where I could see myself for awhile. But I had already committed to Rouen, and despite the sign from the universe that — what? There were jobs in writing-related fields out there? That I was good at something, good for something  — I stuck to the original plan. I feel like going to France again had already been decided for me, since August before senior year, even when I pretended college wasn’t almost over and I didn’t need real plans afterwards. Plus, I couldn’t see it right in front of me, so it wasn’t real.

And then it was. Weird how that happens. I feel like I’m getting into the swing of things, I’m getting to know my students’ names, what works in the classroom, what doesn’t. I want them to be able to take away something from my classes. I’m bonding with the other girls about annoying students, stressful days, cities we can escape to on the weekends (at the start of December — Lyon! woo!). There’s an option to reapply for this program for another year, and some days I lean more towards yes. I don’t know, though. Anyone who knows me knows I can’t make a decision with any certainty.

I still need to work on my French, though. Comme d’habitude. It’s gotten better since I’ve been here but I need to speak it more often. Today during recess, a girl came up to her teacher and said she lost “ma gant” (“my glove”). The teacher couldn’t understand until she realized the girl was asking for “mon gant” (“my glove” but with the proper article – mon instead of ma because it’s a masculine noun). As a native English speaker, this seems so strange and overly specific, but the French are all about their gendered nouns, I guess. The girl was allowed to go look for her glove, but only after she understood — “C’est un gant, donc c’est mon gant!” Honestly, I wish I had someone correcting all of my French grammar faults — I could use the help.

Because the majority of my friends here are the other English language assistants, there’s a tendency to do things exactly the way we would at home — watching English-speaking TV shows and movies, cooking grilled cheese and bangers and mash (!!!), etc. When we get the chance to really break out and do something different, though, it’s always singled out as “so French” — a small victory of accomplishment mixed with slight awe, this culture that’s all around us and still somewhat of a mystery.

Some things that have made me feel “so French” lately:

1. Going to l’Abordage again with Alix, Aline and Laurence to see a band from LA, watching the French reggae/rap opening act, meeting their university English teachers, spotting a colleague of mine behind the bar and getting a free beer out of it (!)

2. Cathy’s (another assistant I just met) birthday party chez elle and at a little, delicious restaurant in Évreux, where we sat in a big long table and learned French tongue-twisters and gros mots, which means bad words! A really fun night complete with wine, bread, and lots of desserts. Mmmm.

3. Watching Les Petits Mouchoirs last week (or was it 2 weeks ago?) — a  popular French film that’s in theaters with no subtitles. And I wasn’t totally lost. Success!

4. Leaving my apartment this morning to mail a letter and get a baguette — but not from the supermarket, oh no, but from a boulangerie that everyone I know is obsessed with. I like being on the in, knowing whats better and where to go in a town, even one this size.

This shouldn’t be a startling admission from someone who is, um, writing a blog — but I spend more time on the computer than I want to admit. It’s easier to plan the trip than actually shut off the computer, pack my bags, and get on that early train. Same goes with teaching — I’ll read a thousand other accounts of rude teachers and paperwork nightmares about living in France rather than, um, actually getting off my butt, planning a lesson, and living in France.

I guess it’s just easier to turn on my computer and shut down that anxious tape-loop of tough questions: Am I a good teacher? When will I master non-awkward small talk in French? Is it because I’m fat? Have the two boys on Vespas from Passport to Paris aged well? Why aren’t they living in Évreux? Would they let it slide if I ordered a poisson instead of a boisson? Would they even show up to the restaurant? ad infinitum. I was always kind of envious of people who don’t question every move they make and just do. There’s a fine line between being cautious and missing out.

I tell myself that spending an afternoon checking to see if every website I’ve ever seen has changed since the last time I saw it is normal, just spending time on the everyday until something exciting comes around. But I worry that I do it at the expense of other things — reading the books I took out of the library, writing letters to people, riding my bike, cooking myself a nice dinner — and that’s when it gets troublesome. Maybe it’s just hours, it’s just days, and there’s that idea in the back of my head that no matter what, both are infinitely renewable.

But if I keep thinking like that, I’ll end up playing bridge on Facebook when I’m sixty, wondering how many hours I’ve accumulated with this subservient posture, eyes glazed over with both hands at the keyboard, instead of logging time braiding someone else’s hair or building houses or thinking non-self-destructive thoughts or working on that statistic from the chewing gum commercials that told me everyone spends 2 weeks of their lifetimes just kissing. I can count the number of nights I’ve stayed up to see the sunrise on one hand. I should work on that. I should take more vitamins.

Photo unabashedly jacked from Alix‘s blog (I hope this is okay with you girl!) from our Toussaint journey down south. This is in Avignon — you can even see the famous pont in the distance (you know, Sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse, l’on y danse…am I bringing up long-repressed junior-high French class memories now? I hope so). Though that trip kinda sucked me dry financially and prevented any other large-scale meandering for November, it was absolutely worth it. I’m itching to get out of Évreux and keep exploring. Les filles here are already in talks of weekends in Lyon and Strausbourg in December. Bring it on.

Nothing else worth reporting on has happened lately, except for a nice Monday where I realized just how many ducks I walk past on my way to school in the morning. Seriously. I think I’ve found their secret meeting spot. I remember first arriving in Évreux and seeing two ducks on the river, and sort of jumping up and going “Living here will be totally picturesque and great! Look at these two ducks!” but now I know these fine animals were not some divine sign meant just for me, these bids are everywhere. Doesn’t mean I like them any less, though.

Other points of interest: Today, I noticed in a Virgin-megastore-like store that there’s a section in the book section (could my redundant sentence be anymore redundant?) labeled nostalgie, or nostalgia (yep. that was a linguistic stretch). Why do I feel like I would label my mental book section exactly that? I feel like if I get two seconds to myself, I’m immediately back to pining mode for college, for my housemates, especially, for feeling like we knew that town and we owned it in the only way you can when you’re freshly 21 and willing to ignore responsibility as long as possible. Let’s be real — I’m still ignoring it.

Other other points of interest: If you Google my “professional” name (that’s Jillian to you), the first hit links to this article. And now you know.

1. This week felt like it to forrrrrrr-ev-er. Maybe because it was the first “full” week back after Toussaint — and I even had two days off, kind of, one for my chest x-ray in Rouen and the other for Rememberance Day on Thursday.

2. Most of the leaves have fallen by now, which makes for both pretty, nostalgic stomps through the most enormous maple leaves I’ve ever seen — and for piles of pulpy mess when it rains (see note 4).

3. During recess, a boy with red-framed glasses gave me a giant leaf (not pulpy, fortunately) folded up and told me it was a purse of sorts. I demonstrated my gratefulness by taking out my keys and putting them in this new purse.

4. I have learned to always expect it to rain. Because it will. It’s kind of inconvenient but works well when I’m feeling grumpy about life and teaching. Normandy will be all windy and melancholy for a few hours, but when if it clears up, you get to see some of the hugest, most awesome clouds that it generally makes the wind and the rain worth it.

5. This website — http://pardon-my-french.fr/ — in which people record French translations for English songs over the MIDI version of the original. It’s awesome. I’ve already listened to “Venez ensemble” by the Beatles, “Gigantic” by the Pixies, and “Mauvaise Romance” by Lady Gaga……….and I don’t plan to stop.

Check out my bomb-ass drawing skills. Today, instead of working, I went with Alix and Breanne (another American and Canadian assistant if you haven’t been following, there’s a bunch of us in Évreux, which, as I discovered today, means we lucked out) into Rouen to get our O.F.I.I. stickers for our visas. O.F.F.I. is basically France’s immigration office — but before we could even head there, we had to trek to a radiology lab across town. True to Normandy form, it started pouring as soon as we got off the bus. Really, really pouring. All the amazing, enormous leaves that turned yellow and fell just turned into piles of pulp and water was pooling on the sidewalks. We started to keep tallies of how many times our umbrellas turned inside out. We lost count.

But we made it, and ran into a bunch of other assistants from around the Haute Normandie region. While waiting, we all traded horror stories, cute kid stories, my-town-is-smaller-than-your-town stories. Évreux didn’t win that one. Some people have been placed out super far, in towns without trains or frequent bus service. Yikes. But I guess everything can be seen as a learning experience — this is where I started to not mind being alone, this is where I started my first conversation with a local, this is that view of open fields and quietness. We’re in France, we’re in France, we’re in France. It’s easy to get super excited about life and immeasurably frustrated by that statement.

Anyway, the O.F.I.I. day consisted of getting topless for the X-ray machine, taking the picture of your lungs baaaack over across town to the other office, waiting, taking an eye exam and doing a quick medical interview with a doctor. Just getting to speak French kind of made everything fun, though. My eye exam consisted of the standard letters (“Bay…Euh…Eeks…Aah…” See? Totally more fun in French) and reading some tiny print about beauty, or something. We got to keep our X-rays, and the doctor we saw was really nice, and for some reason both of these things has put me in a great mood about this country/life/etc.

I decided to take the slow bus home to Évreux — it costs half as much but takes 2 hours instead of 1 — and got to zone out and watch all these small cute towns go by. More cows, sheep, farms, half-timber houses, and that white-haired French lady on her bike (see: amazing, true-to-life drawing above).