Moving Abroad: The First Two Days

Two days ago I was sitting in my front garden, enjoying the last rays of English sunshine I would see for a while. I wrote in my diary that I didn’t feel anything in particular about my impending move to France, but that would probably all change in 24 hours. It did.

I had prepared to leave on Monday evening; catching the ferry overnight from Portsmouth to Caen. After saying some emotional goodbyes and packing away all my possessions, I made it just further than the end of my street before turning around and heading home. It wasn’t a last-minute panic. Our ferry had been cancelled due to ‘Industrial Action’ in Caen. French strikes – I should have known!

On Tuesday morning, I awoke at 5 and set off for our replacement crossing with my parents. This time, we made it all the way to France.

Perhaps this is the point where I should explain what I am doing moving abroad. For my third year of University, I have to spend a year in a French-speaking country. I will be working as an English Language Assistant (ELA) in a school in Mortain, which is about 1 ½  hours from Caen. Even though I will be speaking English at work, the idea is that I will immerse myself in all other aspects of French culture to improve my language and cultural understanding.

When we arrived in Caen, my parents and I drove to Mortain and met with one of the English teachers there. I had already met her here this summer, and she has been a great help. She showed me to my house (the school has allowed me to stay in one of their properties!) and took me to the nearest supermarket, where another English teacher appeared and introduced herself. I get the impression that Mortain is a relatively small town, where you wouldn’t be surprised to bump into someone you know.

Following my first night in my new home, I spent today (Wednesday), sorting out the flat that I will be moving into for some of my year abroad. This flat is in Vire, which is a larger town about 25 minutes away from Mortain. I should mention here that it seems vital to have a car here. The towns are much further apart than in the UK and, even if they weren’t, the roads do not seem particularly pedestrian friendly. Also, buses are apparently a foreign concept.

During our time in Vire today, there was one quite amusing incident. I was struggling to ask some very technical questions about Wifi in French (which I would struggle to do in English, by the way), so the shop assistant called his colleague over ‘who speaks better English’. Even though this woman could speak better English than her colleague I thought, I will not cave already, so I soldiered on in French. After an embarrassing amount of ‘uhhs’ and gesturing, the woman said, ‘We can do this in English, you know,’ in the most English accent you could find. She was native. I went beetroot.

I said goodbye to my parents about 2 hours ago. They will soon be on the ferry back home. I’m not sure what tomorrow holds, but I do have a French TV for company before my housemate arrives.

A bientôt!

The unwritten rules of dining out

There is an etiquette to dining out. It is undeniable. Yes, it may vary from culture to culture, but everywhere there are certain unwritten rules for restaurants. I’m here to write a few of them down.

  1. Gauge the atmosphere before you top up your glass. This is so important. Nothing ruins a quiet evening out with friends like the guy who’s had a few too many spilling his drink down your shirt. The host has booked this venue because they want to create a certain kind of atmosphere. So stick to it.
  2. Check the menu online beforehand. This is key to all those fussy eaters and veggies (like me) out there. If you make sure there is something you would like to eat on the menu, you will avoid all that uncomfortable squirming in front of a menu that says ‘I’m your worst nightmare!’ If you can’t find anything online, why not call up the restaurant to see if they can accommodate your needs.
  3. Check with the host before inviting your other half. This is a tricky rule to get right. If you suggest bringing your partner to someone else’s event, always be fully prepared to be turned down. There may not be enough space for them, or, if no other partners are going, they will feel awkward. As will everyone else who wanted to talk to you about them.
  4. Address the staff yourself! This is one that really gets my goat. No matter who you are, you can order your own food. Don’t let your man speak for you because it’s apparently ‘chivalrous’. It’s not.  You are a grownup too.
  5. Don’t get defensive about your dosh. If you and your mates have decided to go Dutch, split the bill and get over it. Of course, if you have ordered the steak and they all ate salad, you’ll need to cough up, but don’t get in a flurry about a couple of pence. It’s so not worth the argument.

Happy dining!

Travelling: How To Pack and Organize 

It is now only two weeks until I leave the country. That was a scary sentence to write. I am moving to France for a year to work in a school, and I have just two little weeks to get myself ready. But whether you’re going for a year or a week, travelling is so much easier when you are organized.

So where do I begin?

I suggest making a list of all the rooms that will be in the place you are staying. For example:

Bedroom

Kitchen

Bathroom

Lounge

Office

Garage

Staying in a hotel? Cross out ‘Kitchen’. Don’t have a car? Get rid of ‘Garage’. I would keep office regardless of whether you are going abroad to work, because it covers any paperwork.

Now that you have a list of rooms, you can sort out all the things you need to pack by these categories. This is much simpler than trying to make a list of everything you might need with no formal system.

From there, you could even divide each room into subcategories. For example ‘Bedroom’ might include:

Wardrobe

Bed

Bedside Table

Etc.

A room that definitely requires subcategories is ‘Office’. Not only will you need travel documents – passport, visa, tickets, etc – if you are going to be working, studying or renting property abroad, you will also need relevant documents for these categories.

Once you have decided upon categories and subcategories for documents, it is time to create a filing system. For this, I suggest colour-coding and sorting by date so that your files are easily located. Obviously, you can’t do this with items other than documents, but you can label boxes of items by room for ease of accessibility.

By organising what you need to pack, you will reduce any associated stress and hopefully be less likely to forget anything important.

That’s it from me for today, so I hope you found it useful. I’m now off to begin colour-coding…

Books are for girls…and boys!

If you’ve ever studied literature, you’ll know that feminism and gender equality are among the favourite topics of academics. 

Almost every assignment I’ve ever been set has included an option to discuss women and how they are portrayed in texts, and I have not let one slip. I’ve written about sexism and sexuality, power and patriarchy, and lots more contained inside book covers. But I’d never thought much about the covers themselves. 

So you can imagine my conflict when asked to arrange the books at work into ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ sections. While this may be an effective sales technique, it went against everything I’ve ever written to exclude children from certain books, experiences and ideas based on their gender. And don’t even get me started on the colour of the ‘Girls’ section. (Clue: it wasn’t imaginative.)

Gender-based marketing is happening all over, especially for children’s products. Dolls and beauty products are often labelled ‘Girls toys’, whereas boys are directed towards action figures and cars. All this does is reinforce gender stereotypes that are not helpful or progressive.

Unfortunately I was unable to change the display. However, I would always encourage any child to be curious about books, games or toys that are not marketed for their gender. Adult fiction is not separated into ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ and neither should children’s fiction be separated so. If I want to read a book covered with pictures of creepy-crawlies, computers, and cars, I jolly well will.

Struggling to find your next great read? Never fear, a list is here!

When times are tough, a good book always makes me feel better. So for anyone wishing to take a break from their worries and dive into a new novel, here is a list of my Top 20 Books So Far.

  1. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
  2. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
  3. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  4. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  5. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
  6. The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
  7. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence
  8. Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
  9. I know why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
  10. The Awakening, Kate Chopin
  11. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  12. Atonement, Ian McEwan
  13. Persuasion, Jane Austen
  14. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  15. Therese Raquin, Emile Zola
  16. Dangerous Liaisons, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
  17. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  18. A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket
  19. The Organized Mind, Daniel Levitin
  20. The Jiggy McCue series, Michael Lawrence

Which books would make your Top 20? I’d love to hear your suggestions below.

The Organized Mind

Today is a wonderful day. As an English student, most of the literature I read was written before my great-grandparents were born. And while I love reading stories from literary giants, such as, Dickens, Hardy and good old Bill Shakespeare; their work is somewhat struggling to keep up with my life.

So, quite wonderfully, I have discovered a new book, written this century, that has already convinced me to read it cover to cover. And shockingly, it’s non-fiction.

Enter: The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin.

This Sunday Times bestseller ‘will teach you to function better, go further and find more time to do the things you actually want to do.’ Levitin teaches us about organisational systems through time, how the brain organises and categorises information and how we can put these to our advantage. This is a book that is not only aware of, but actively engages with the Internet and social media – at one point it directs us to a YouTube video – for useful, scientific purposes.

So far, I haven’t finished reading. But Levitin tells us that in the late 1600s, I might have given up on books altogether. He says that just like warnings we received against TV and computers, ‘intellectuals warned that people would stop talking to each other, burying themselves in books, polluting their minds with useless, fatuous ideas.’ This seems unbelievable. To think, that at one point academics actually discouraged reading! Luckily for Levitin, their ideas don’t seem to have been very influential. 

There are many more gems like that one in The Organized Mind, but I won’t give them all away. Except, I can’t help revealing that I love Levitin’s use of the feminine pronoun ‘she’ as standard. So it’s a feminist book too. Perfect.

Part 2: I said thank you, already!

As promised, I conducted an experiment into how to be less damn grateful at work.  (This won’t sound quite so rude if you read my last post.)

Here are the results:

It was almost impossible to resist the urge to thank each and every customer for thanking me for thanking them for doing exactly what is expected of both of us in a retail exchange. At one point, I became so distracted by the MAGICIAN who walked in and produced a packet of One Direction themed Love Hearts out of thin air for me, that I threw in a few extra ‘thank yous’. And ‘wows’.  Although I probably won’t eat the Love Hearts,  because they appear to have been made back in the days of Zayn.

Every time I was successful in handing over the necessary amount of gratitude, I did feel slightly peculiar. It was a bit like I had taken a bath with socks on. Not fatal, but definitely not right. I suppose it’s because it has become so ingrained in me to over-thank, that projecting less appreciation upon strangers is going to take some practice.

Hopefully some of you were interested in this short, follow-up post. Let me know if you were in the comments!