These Last Quiet French Days

I remember sitting in the airport crying and crying after having said goodbye to my mom and my younger brother. I’m not a big crier particularly in front of strangers, but let’s just say the floodgates opened as I wondered if I’d made a huge mistake. A year in France!? Was I crazy? How would I ever make it? My first instinct was to run back through the airport, chase after mom’s car, and run home to all that was familiar and comfortable. I realized then I would regret it for the rest of my life if I chickened out now. I dried my tears and prayed for God to give me grace and strength as I boarded the plane, and He did.

What a story has unfolded from day one.

{I mean, you can’t quite beat getting lost the first day trying to find your residence followed by tripping over your suitcase and falling into your room while trying to tell your landlady how much you love the purple walls. My landlady wasn’t entirely sure what to make of me really.}

French life has calmed down considerably in the weeks following the end of the semester. I believe this is one of the first times since I started graduate school five years ago when I’ve had time to just rest. I’m trying to take advantage of it as much as possible now because in the next few weeks, life is going to get crazy busy again, and it’s not going to let up for the foreseeable future.

So, how does one spend days like these among the French?

100_4114Well, let me tell you. You figure out what your favorite type of baguette is and pick up the French habit of keeping a ready bread supply on hand. You sit in the park with your journal and listen to some elderly French ladies argue about what kind of tree it is you’re sitting under (not sure they came to a conclusion on that one). You smile as little French kids run by chasing their siblings and screaming in delight. You pick up as much slang as you can on the tram and feel content and maybe slightly perplexed you can understand some of it even if you’d never repeat a lot of it yourself. You spend a quiet hour with a friend over a cup of tea. You laugh with friends over dinner. You take long walks around town and breathe in the scent of flowers, coffee, and bread and just soak up the sunshine. You answer countless questions about the American Presidential election because suddenly, several want to know who you’re voting for {In case you’re wondering, I don’t know yet}. You find people to speak French with to keep practicing with native speakers, and yes, some days you just stay home and read with the window open to let that Alpine mountain breeze in. You try to take mental pictures of these kinds of scenes because a camera just frankly can’t do justice to what the eye sees.

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No, life among the French has not always been enjoyable or easy. It’s often been, frankly, the opposite, but it has been worth it to come. The adventures are definitely not over yet, but I can see the curtain beginning to fall as this act reaches its conclusion and the next act prepares to begin. I both long for and dread the end and coinciding beginning.

However, I have learned a valuable lesson in these months of being far from home. That is, when you set all fears and doubting aside and trust God to write your story, the result will be far better than anything you could have imagined to pen yourself. That doesn’t mean everything will work out how you think it should or that you won’t suffer pain, loss, and disappointment, but it does mean you’re not alone. It means there’s a purpose and an unquenchable hope in how your story is unfolding. He also tucks in blessings that you might not be expecting along the way. He knows exactly what you need both of joy and sorrow as He molds you and helps you grow to be more like Himself.

I wish I could go back to the crying Stacey sitting in the airport and reassure her that she’d be just fine, that she’d make so many dear friends, that she’d have experiences beyond any she could have imagined, and that God was, is, and shall be with her every step of the way just as He is with each of His children. I think I knew even if my mind was flooded with fear of the unknown. I knew deep down this was going to be a journey of a lifetime even if I hadn’t quite reached Bilboesque excitement to yell “I’m going on adventure!” as I boarded that plane.

Next up on my blogging agenda {which does tend to change, so bear with me}: Paris and singing Sacred Harp with the French.

 

Reflections from a Lectrice d’Anglais

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It feels rather strange to be working on wrapping up these classes I’ve been teaching since last fall.

I’m definitely going to miss my class full of sci-fi/LOTR fans. Never can tell where class discussion is going to go and my yes, do they have some pretty strong opinions. On an exam last fall for bonus points I gave them sentences to put into passive voice. One of the sentences was “Frodo destroyed the ring.” One of my students crossed out Frodo and put Gollum before putting it into passive voice. This may or may not have been the same student who spoke for the rest of class in a Gollum voice after I showed the Air New Zealand Flight Safety video with LOTR characters a few weeks ago during our travel unit.

I can’t say it’s all gone smoothly teaching here, but it’s definitely been a learning experience on multiple levels.

What’s it been like teaching English in France?

Different. Very different. Naturally, I knew it wouldn’t be the same as what I’ve been used to. My entire teaching career up to this point has been focused on teaching students French. Now, for the last 8 months I’ve been standing up in front of a classroom to teach English, my native language, and it is even more of a challenge than I fully realized it would be.

100_3968 - CopyI’ve sometimes felt like throwing up my hands because I feel like there’s an overall lack of
organization in the university system (welcome to France, Stace). Throwing me 8 or 9 classes and telling me to do whatever I want with little clue as to what my students have done previously absolutely overwhelmed me starting out. I was so very thankful for a couple of teachers who shared their lessons with me and gave me an idea of how to teach these classes. It’s been pretty rocky, but I think if I were to do this another year, it would go somewhat smoother.

What was one of the biggest differences?

The students.

Of course, it does make sense that French students would not be the same as the American students I’m used to teaching. However, I was not prepared for the discipline problems I ran into those first few weeks. After I established rules and they got used to my rules and the consequences, things did start to go smoother though I did often feel like I was teaching high school all over again. Alhough I don’t think I would ever have heard myself saying “Arthur and Clément, please put that flask away. I want you happy in this class and ready to talk but not quite *that* happy!” in either a high school or a university in the U.S. Yes, that really did happen!

What I did love about my French students was that I could talk more freely with them without worrying so much about someone getting easily offended. In my conversation classes especially we talked about so many different things and everyone felt free to voice an opinion. Although we always had a theme for the week, I really wanted them to take the conversation where they wanted it to go. They were much more likely to get into lively conversations even debates if it was about something that interested them. You should have heard one of our book discussions the other day. 😉

It was a joy to me as a teacher to see many of my students blossom. They often wowed me with their presentations. Two of the guys pretended to be sports anchors for several minutes and then had the class do a game show quiz on sports news in Europe and U.S. Or, I had another student who had the entire class involved in a game show over different anglophone accents. I’ve had students who got up in front of the class and started off nervous but as they continued, gained confidence and were able to get the class involved in discussing their topic.

Sure, I’ve had more lessons than I want to count fall flat and there were plenty of times when I just about wore myself out trying to get these kids to talk. I have also had plenty of times I left the university after a long day nearly in tears because I wanted so badly to go home as things went just that horribly with classes. I remember at one particular low point another teacher seeing how discouraged I was, sweetly told me that I was here to touch lives and that somehow or other all these other difficulties I was going through would work out. I call that a turning point because it took the focus off of myself and put it back onto others where it should have been. I’m thankful now to look back and see the strength the Lord gave me on those tough days and smile about the good times I’ve had in class. Yes, I’m also really going to miss a lot of these kids I’ve gotten to know.

The students did also pick up on my great enjoyment of coffee….

100_3965One time I intended to write on the board for students to be sure to print a copy of a worksheet to bring to class and went along giving them instructions. I was interrupted by giggles and students pointing at the board saying “Uh, Miss? Miss! *hahahaha* Print a coffee!?” Yes, it’s rather obvious where my mind was at that time. They kindly suggested I go find myself one as they walked out of the classroom. Later that same day, two students in another class were doing a partner oral exam and decided to impersonate me interviewing for a job in an espresso company. That absolutely cracked me up, and “I” apparently got the job….Woohoo!

As much of a learning and often stressful experience this has been, there are some unique things about these students that I have enjoyed uncovering. They love to tell me about their culture and about things I need to try while I’m here. Often if class discussion was lagging, I’d ask them questions about France. Conversely, you should see how excited and curious a lot of them are when I tell them about my life back in the States. Sometimes they come up to me after class to ask questions like “Do you prefer our coffee here or the coffee in the States?” “What kind of an accent do you have?” “Where did you learn how to teach?” “What does a Texan accent sound like?” “Do you really know cowboys?” We also have laughs when there’s a complete breakdown in communication in the classroom. This is usually when they mispronounce something, and I can’t figure out what they’re trying to say, so they try in French which depending on what it is might still not work. An impromptu game of charades then begins often ending in laughs.

I have many, many stories to tell, but for now I’m content, relieved, and maybe just a little sad that the semester is almost over! What an adventure it’s been!

Little Funny Things about Life Among the French

As of today, I’ve been here two months. What a crazy two months it’s been too! Wow! I have this week off for vacation. Yay! So, I’m enjoying not doing too much other than getting caught up on stuff though I may take a day trip here and there.

Here’s my next installment of ongoing impressions and observations from life among the French.

(1) BYOB as in….Bring Your Own Bag.

100_1608If you’ve shopped at Aldi in the U.S., you’ve probably already had experience with this. I’m not completely opposed to the idea of bringing your own bags, but it does make for a bit of a marathon at check out. You quickly unload all of your stuff onto the conveyor belt, and then you run (read “speed walk”) to the other end as it’s coming down the little ramp next to the the cash register and start trying to bag your groceries as quickly and efficiently as possible. Then, time’s up when the cashier tells you your total. I’m usually juggling putting stuff in the bag while counting out the needed amount of cash. Sometimes the cashier has had pity on me and has helped, but I am becoming more efficient at this “presentation of, paying for, and bagging up” process of getting groceries. I’ll be a pro by the time I get back to the States! Though the only place this is really a needed skill is at Aldi. If you forget to bring a bag, some small stores will give you a small plastic bag which usually includes some sort of admonition written on it to the effect of “Think of the planet and remember to bring a reusable bag, Moron”. Not those words exactly, but that’s pretty much the gist. Seeing that I reuse those plastic bags quite a bit anyway, I don’t feel guilty about it at all. The bigger stores will require you to buy a bag unless you’re willing to carry your purchases yourself. I don’t mind it too much since these reusable bags are more sturdy and easier to clean than the fabric ones I’ve seen used in the U.S. I just hate having to remember to bring them. The social security/health insurance people were kind to give me a bag. This was probably more of a “forgive us, but it’s going to take forever to process everything” sort of consolation gift, but it is a nice bag. Free advertising if I ever saw it, but I do like the Velcro on the inside of it.

(2) A separated bathroom

French bathroomIn France though maybe it is a European thing (I need to travel more to investigate) the toilet is in its own separate room away from the sink and the bath/shower. This seems rather foreign to the American mind and yes, even not as hygienic, since one is more inclined not to wash one’s hands after doing one’s business because one has to walk over to the other end of the apartment to find the soap and water. Though the French disagree in saying that it is better to keep all the germs from the toilet in a room by themselves with the toilet. They may have a point there since I’ve read that you should never have your toothbrush sitting on a counter anywhere near a toilet due to the germs that are floating around in the air after the toilet is flushed. In any case, these two photos are examples of what it looks like in the apartment where I live. I’m sure, you didn’t quite come to this blog looking for details on such an “interesting topic”, but it is definitely a big difference for an American living among the French. By the way, I love Caroline’s choice in shower curtain. It makes shower time much more cheerful and bright. Just don’t tell that to the pre-coffee Stacey who’s usually wishing there was a switch to turn off all that colorful stimulation early in the morning. 😉

(3) Poles, poles, poles everywhere!

100_1616I have to get used to this every time I return to Europe. You have to pay attention because sometimes these poles are marking where the sidewalk is, where it ends, and sometimes where there is a street crossing the sidewalks. I nearly got hit a couple of times after first arriving as it is not always clearly marked on the smaller streets. To me, the poles seem a tad excessive sometimes. Nearly like we’re cattle being herded in particular direction by the all-knowing higher-ups who placed them there. This particular pole pictured above is just one by itself alerting the person walking that there are trams coming in either direction. Usually, if you look down a street, there are lines of poles on either side of the street. The style of the poles vary too. Sometimes they look like stumps, gates, upside down bowls, white barrels, clowns (not really). etc.

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Though come to think of it, I think Purdue just installed an iron fence along Northwestern in front of the engineering buildings. I suppose, it’s somewhat similar to that.

(4) No dryers.

100_1571“Bring out…..the rack!” That’s the quote from the Monty Python skit which always comes to mind when it’s time to wash clothes. Today being an exception, I seem to always choose days that are rainy to wash clothes which makes it harder to dry them. I’ve been told that the French in general don’t have clothes dryers because it is considered a waste of energy. I really do miss the convenience and the comfort of having fresh out of the dryer clothes. There are some people who do have dryers, just not the vast majority. If you go to a laundry mat here, you’ll also see these big contraptions that you could literally climb in, and if you’re short enough, maybe even stand in which will dry your clothes. I’ve also been rather amused that the washer machine itself on top of taking about two hours or more to wash a load of clothes, sounds like it’s about to lift off and go into orbit when it’s in its wringing cycle. “Transport of Stacey’s unmentionables to the moon in 3…2….1….”

(5) Tex-Mex? Really, France?

100_1638I’ve been rather amused to experience what seems to be a fascination for Texas and “Mexican food”. Believe me, I get much more of a reaction from saying that I’m from Texas than from saying that I live in Indiana. “Texas!? Tu as des cowboys et des lassos???” are some of the most frequent questions I get. Actually, one of the international sections in a store included “Tex-Mex” instead of the typical U.S. stuff I would have expected. I don’t get it though. “Old El Paso” is not that great of a brand in the Texan’s mind if you’re wanting to experience the “vrai” Tex-Mex. But then, making one’s own taco powder isn’t easy either as finding chili powder that has a kick to it is a little bit more of a challenge than I was counting on it being. Seeing a Tex-Mex restaurant on the other side of the river had me laughing thinking of how profitable it might be for someone to actually try to open an authentic Mexican restaurant here. In reality, it would probably be difficult to find the necessary ingredients, so perhaps it wouldn’t be as profitable. I’m also not sure if the French would be as enamored with the real stuff. I mean, we probably mix ingredients and cook things in such a way that might be detrimental to the French idea of “haute cuisine”. I could be wrong. I mean, you should see how packed McDonald’s can be here which means that at least a portion of the population is willing to lower their standards for a meal here and there at least.

There was one thing they got right though in this store. I walked just a little past the “Old El Paso” section and saw what is the favorite drink of most Texans:

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A little on the expensive side with it being over a euro per can, but it was sitting there all the same. Personally, I don’t drink carbonated anything anymore, but it was comforting to see this. It felt sort of like a little wave and howdy-do from home. Now, I wonder how the French would react to a Dublin Dr. Pepper? 😉

The next installments in this topic will include more little things that I find rather amusing, interesting, fascinating, or just plain strange in my continuing adventures. Stay tuned!

Little Fun/Funny Things about Everyday Life in France

It’s been quite a week. I won’t go into all the details here, but I sometimes feel like I have the Midas touch in reverse: instead of everything I touch turning to gold, it ties itself up in a knot and becomes as complicated as possible. I do realize it could be so much worse, so I try to count my blessings! In order to keep some measure of sanity in the midst of the frustration, I love to find little things that I find peculiar or just rather funny that I’ve had to become accustomed to while living here this first month. I’m hoping to write several of these kind of posts during my time here especially as I’m working on a project to develop more culturally centered lessons for my students back home.

(1) Capitalized Last Names

100_1561Probably due to my previous relatively short stays and not having to deal too much with paperwork, I’d never noticed this before. In France, they always capitalize last names. For example, instead of a name being just Laura Smith, in France it would be Laura SMITH or SMITH Laura. In my own culture, putting something in all caps often signifies yelling, so I immediately think of someone saying the first name in a normal voice and then shouting the last name. So, my keys to all the doors I need to get into at school have my name on them, and yes, I nearly laugh every time I look at them because I still read my name in my head with a shouting voice. I’ll just not mention how I have to keep from laughing every time I read names of professors on doors in the hallway. 😀

(2) Doorknobs (or the lack thereof)

I do realize that every apartment and house is different. The doors at school are not like this, but at the apartment where I reside, the doorknob to my room seems straight out of the 1950s. I like it though it is rather loose and having a key sticking out of the door on the other side is a little bothersome. I’m not quite sure why it’s that way, but I’m not too worried about getting locked in. At least, I try not to think about it too much. o_O During my jet lagged nights when I couldn’t sleep, I would sometimes contemplate how I’d escape if someone sinister locked me in my room. Climbing out the window seemed to be my only option which would not be a fun option either due to being on the sixth floor. I digress though. The other funny thing in the apartment is that to open the closets in the hallway or the pantry in the kitchen, there aren’t any doorknobs. One just turns the key sticking out of the keyhole to open the door. The door to the apartment is similar. There is no doorknob on the door, only a keyhole. You keep turning the key to unlock the door and then use the key as the doorknob. Strange, I know! I had an office door somewhat like that once though it did still have a doorknob.

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The doorknob to my room

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(3) Happy Juice

There are several things I love about France and food in France. However, there is one kind of juice in particular that just makes me so happy in addition to coffee (Yes, I just included coffee as a juice because it is ‘life juju’. Questions, class? No? Good! We’ll continue): strawberry juice!!!! I found a jar of it at the store last week and didn’t buy it because I really just needed to get orange juice and not splurge too much on other stuff. However, after a hard week last week, I decided to grab a jar when I went by the store today to stock up on food for the week. I had a skip in my step on the way home, I was so happy! I love, love, LOVE this delicious goodness in a jar!

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(4) Cooking Struggles

One of my dinners from the other night: zucchini, rice, and lemon oregano chicken.

One of my dinners from the other night: zucchini, rice, and lemon oregano chicken.

I’m in France, the land known for its culinary tastes and habits. However, I have few French culinary skills. I’m not saying this won’t change as I’ve been toying with the idea of looking up cooking classes here. I’ll have to see if I can find a reasonable price for one maybe once I get life a little more stabilized. The trouble has been that the recipes that I’m used to making at home don’t always work as well here. For one, not all of the ingredients are the same as one can find in a store at home. I have found a few things to make and have been sticking to those for the moment. Rice is a big part of my diet right now. 😉 I’m in France though, so I would like to benefit from ingredients that I can’t find very easily in the States like crême fraîche. I’ve been ruminating about ways that I could find new recipes to try. I still haven’t tried lighting the oven yet, but I’m determined to try to start using it soon. I came to the conclusion that I should just get a French cookbook and use that as my starting point. Hopefully, it will also provide me with some courage to try lighting the oven too….

100_1565On Saturday afternoon, I needed a break from working on planning lessons and decided that a stroll around town would be just the thing I needed to clear my head. I didn’t quite count on how many people would be out and about on a Saturday, but I walked through a few small streets and poked my head into a couple of bookstores. In one of them, I found a few small books with short, easy, and cheap recipes using ingredients I see quite frequently in the store. I bought this one and am hoping maybe on Thursday or Friday to try one of the recipes in the book as a reward for getting through the first week of my full load of classes.

 (5) English Words in French Advertisements

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I do apologize for the reflection in this particular photo. This is one of the advertisements at some of the tram stops. This is just one of several advertisements I’ve seen that use English as part of its motto. I have no idea how good this candy actually is, but it promises in a mixture of languages to keep you on the happy side of life. Maybe I should grab a bag and report on whether it does indeed help me “Prendre la vie côté HAPPY”. 😉

More commentary on little things from everyday life in France to come…