It’s December, so I’ve cracked the Bublé out

Monday began another thrilling week of work here in the metropolis that is Mortain. I began the day by leading 4 groups of students in debates about military service and I still have no idea why Harry Potter and the Death Eaters became relevant to the discussion. Following that strange turn of events, I attempted to do my weekly shop, only to be faced with shutters and fermé signs at every turn. Oh yes, that’s right. It’s perfectly reasonable for businesses not to open on a Monday, after having been ever so busy at the weekend. Sure.

So, I carried on to my badminton club in the evening, where I believe I ended up getting coached by my father. Actually, it was another club member. But, you know, when your dad would purposefully hit deep shots followed by drop shots just to demonstrate the value of running. Fabulous. One thing I did learn, however, was that I am not made to eat dinner at 9pm. How do the French do it?

Tuesday dawned and I embarked upon my busiest day at work. In the morning I marked year 10 oral presentations; in the afternoon I worked with year 8, year 11 and the post-18 groups. The day was fairly uneventful, except for when one of the teachers left me in charge of the class while she DROVE HOME to get their work that she had forgotten to bring. I’ll admit, I did feel a bit stupid when I later asked her if she had already planned anything for next week’s class.

That’s all for this post, except for the fact that I am SO happy it’s December! Yes, I have opened my advent calendar. And yes, I have already started playing Michael Bublé. As it should be.

A+

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Maze Runner, Michelin Man Jackets and Christmas in November

On Tuesday, I actually felt proud of myself for having delivered my first real lesson, unaided! Most of the time, I take students for one-to-one sessions or help the teacher during her lessons. However, on Tuesday, I had to plan and deliver my very own lessons to about 30 12-year-olds. And it went really well. Of course, I knew that using a funny YouTube video would help keep their attention. And as it turns out, I did manage to have authority over any less-than-perfect behaviour. I don’t know how much of the vocabulary they will remember because I had to introduce them to a new topic, but it was a good foundation to build upon, and I am pleased with how it went.

And to top off a day of great achievement, I made myself a ruddy good cottage pie for dinner!

On Wednesday, I worked for a few hours and then met Sarah at the bus stop. We cooked a fabulous roast dinner at mine, then settled down to eat the creamy, chocolatey cakes she had brought for dessert. They were delicious! Afterwards, we ventured out to the cinema to watch the new Maze Runner film. I was a little apprehensive because I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to keep up with it in French, but actually it was quite easy viewing – except the zombies, that was not welcomed by me! We finished off the evening with loads of chocolate, just how a Wednesday night should be spent.

Thursday was decidedly uneventful, so much so that I have almost forgotten what I did…

Despite it being my day off on Friday, I decided to get up early and catch the bus to Vire for the market. It was a typically French affair: cheese stalls aplenty, people lining up to get their daily fruit, vegetables and bread, and strange, puffy, Michelin-man jackets for sale. But before I even arrived at the market, something interesting happened. After about 15 minutes on the bus, it stopped in a small town called Sourdeval, where two women got on. They were English and clearly struggling to understand the bus driver, so I thought I would give them a hand. As we got to talking, not only did I find out that one of them was also called Nikki, but that they had lived in France for over 8 years! As I hopped from one cafe to another, then back to the bus, I continued to see the women and chat about how we all came to find ourselves in rural Normandy.

When I returned to Mortain, I opened up a package that my sister had given me a few weeks earlier. She had told me not to open it until I had a free day, with no plans. She had also told me not to get too excited about it. But it was worth getting excited about. The package contained a copy of Glamour Magazine, a sachet of Cadbury’s hot chocolate, a pocket Sudoku book, a face mask, and a family-sized bar of Galaxy. Now, that is DEFINITELY worth getting excited about.

Saturday. I made the brave step into one of the many local hairdressers and hoped for the best. After having seen the results of the client before me, I was not hopeful. Thankfully, the hairdresser did not leave me with a wild, red bob, so all was well. I managed to successfully have my hair highlighted, trimmed and straightened, AND do a fair amount of useless chit-chat. When I left the salon, I went to check out the little Christmas market that had popped up in Mortain. It was a bit strange really, because it is still November, and as I write this, the market has already been taken down. Apparently, this strange arrangement is due to the fact that Mortain does not own its own market chalets, so they had to be borrowed from another town nearby. Nevertheless, the market was quite sweet; especially the ponies pulling children along in their sleighs.

So there we are, one more week over. There isn’t anything to write about today because it’s Sunday, in France, so naturally everything has gone into hibernation. However, after the market I am feeling more in the Christmas spirit, so I’m settling down to watch Elf.

A plus tard

It’s been 8 weeks!

I realise that I haven’t written a blog for about 6 weeks, which is totally UNACCEPTABLE. Apologies to anyone whose daily entertainment depended on my exciting life here in France.

A lot has happened in those six weeks. I can’t go into detail on everything, but here’s a quick summary:

  • 12th-18th October – my sister lived with me for a while in our flat in Vire. Highlights included: walking around the cascades and seeing La Petite Chappelle in Mortain, going to a chocolate shop in Avranches. Low points: being racially insulted by an old woman who thought I couldn’t understand her, and having to wait 20 minutes to get served in an EMPTY bar.
  • 19th-25th October – my sister’s boyfriend came to visit. Highlights: going to Le Mont St Michel and Deauville where I met up with my friend Rachel. Low points: eating a galette (which I would liken to a chewy brown net curtain) and getting a swollen ankle from a mysterious bite.
  • 26th October – 1st November – my sister and I went to visit our family in Brittany, which was a long drive but a lovely trip. High points: beating my 11-year-old (almost pro footballer) cousin at the beautiful game. Low points: None really.
  • 2nd– 9th November – I spent this week “working” and my sister returned home. High points: meeting up with Sarah for a day out in Vire; attending an art class. Low points: discovering that Mortain is the smallest town where you will always bump into someone you know; being leered at by old men ALL THE TIME.
  • 10th– 15th November – I went home for a few days and it was fantastic! I have never before appreciated carpet so much. Or central heating. Or spicy food. High points: seeing almost all of my friends and family; going out in Bath for cocktails and dancing with a 50th birthday party; watching my sister beat my Nan at Scrabble. Oh, and getting a surprise massage and facial. Low points: none whatsoever.
  • 16th November –  There was NO HEATING AGAIN. I was back to wearing a coat indoors, and making regular trips to the secretary to get them to sort it out. Obviously, other more important things took place. A minute’s silence was observed to remember those who were killed in Paris on Friday night. The teachers also were expected to discuss the events with their students in case they had any concerns. They are certainly more afraid than before, even though Paris is so far away.  I was asked to explain the UK’s reaction since I was there when it happened. I was also asked if it was difficult to get back to France because the borders were closed. It wasn’t difficult, but there were more security checks than usual, for obvious reasons.
  • 20th-22nd November – I went away for the weekend to Caen, with Rachel. To get there, I hitched a lift with a Blablacar, which took me to the outskirts of Caen, but I really wanted to get to the centre. As luck would have it, one of the other passengers offered to give me a lift from that point, as he lived in the centre. His wife dropped me straight at the hotel, whereupon I met Rachel, and we began an evening of pizza, wine and dancing in Caen’s clubs and bars. On Saturday night, we found this cute little Italian restaurant for dinner. If you ordered one particular dish, the chef would come out and flambé it in a giant parmesan. It was quite spectacular!

Who knows what the next few weeks will hold? Not me. But I will try to write it down here before another 6 weeks has passed!

à bientôt

Year Abroad: Days 12 and 13

Saturday morning was pretty chilled. At 2.30, my colleague and her daughters picked me up and we drove to St Hilaire. It’s much bigger than Mortain. It even has a nightclub. The younger daughter was driving because she is still learning and needed to practice. In France, you can learn to drive before you are 18 but have to wait until that age to get your license.

Our trip to St Hilaire was mainly for food shopping. I bought a few things including some cream cakes and what I thought was washing detergent. I think now that it was actually fabric softener. So, at least, if my clothes aren’t clean, they are silky soft.

On the return journey, we saw a wedding party. The bride, groom, and guests were standing outside a church whose bells were ringing. It seemed just like a wedding in England and was a lovely sight.

Below are my thoughts from Sunday morning:

Trust this to happen on a Sunday when no one is around, the day before my sister moves country when no one will be able to sort this out. I’ve been having trouble with my computer for weeks now, but foolishly decided against getting a new one.  It kept cutting out on me, but I thought, it hasn’t done it in a while, it’ll be fine. But no. Now when I’m actually in France, now when I am reliant on the internet to stay in touch with the world, now it fails.

I phoned my dad and he told me to take the battery out and let it cool down. Luckily that worked and it seems okay for now –  but I definitely know what is on my Christmas list.

There isn’t much else to say about Sunday, apart from the fact that my sister and mum are arriving tomorrow and I am SO excited! My sister is coming to live with me for a couple of months and I think we are going to have such a good time. By the time I write a new post, she’ll be here!

Year Abroad: Days 10 and 11

Day 10

I didn’t feel very well on Thursday. I woke up without a voice because I was dehydrated, I ached all over from the running the day before, and I felt generally exhausted – so I remedied myself with strepsils and chocolate. In the morning, I did some work and put together a presentation for the 3emes (year 9s) but little else. I didn’t have a class until 3.30, so it was a little boring. I went to the secretary and have now definitely signed my process-verbal-d’installation, so I will get paid. I also requested an advance because I have to pay rent for my flat in Vire, among other costs, and it is expensive to transfer money from pounds to euros online.

I had my one and only class of the day at 3.30 and it was okay. It was a class of 4emes (13 years old) and they had to make a leaflet on a country in the European union. None of them got very far because they were mostly messing around, but some of them did ask me questions about grammar and translation, with which I was happy to help.  What did annoy me was that I won’t see that class or my other Thursday class until November because of class trips and other things. So now I have another day off per week, with nothing to do!

At about 6.30 I went for a drink with some colleagues. It turns out that ‘cider and black’ is a totally foreign concept here. I think the closest you can get is a ‘Monaco’ – beer and grenadine, which is very sweet but quite pleasant. Nevertheless, I enjoyed that and then went back to the pavillon and cooked myself some dinner. The teachers staying in the pavillon were amused by my baked beans and quorn meat supplement because those things don’t exist outside of the UK, and certainly not in such a carnivorous country as France.

Day 11

Stage d’accueil, Caen, 9 October 2015

At 6.30am I got up because I couldn’t sleep with nerves, then a colleague picked me up outside the school at 7.15, it was freezing and before even the dawn. She drove me to Vire, which took only 20 minutes, dropped me at the train station from where I caught my lift (the car share I mentioned before).

It was a full car but a nice journey nonetheless; I think I will do more like this in the future. After about an hour’s drive, I was dropped at a bus stop in Caen. As luck would have it, I heard some English spoken and it turned out that the people speaking were going to the same place as me, so I tagged along.

When we arrived there was a breakfast prepared, which consisted of coffee, cake, and fruit. I hate coffee, but on this occasion it was necessary! I had a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see a friend from Exeter smiling at me. It was lovely to see her again and the assistant from St Hilaire.

The first presentation was about the region (Normandy) and important people in the academies, all in French of course. Many of the assistants volunteered to speak and their language was so good  – one guy even had a southern French accent. I think he had definitely done an Erasmus year before.

The assistants came from all over the world, but they split us into Anglophones (American, British, Irish, Australian, Canadian) and other (Italian, German, Hispanic etc) and we went to classes. I found it quite annoying that the classes were separated into ‘college’ and ‘lycee’, meaning that those of us working in both could only be trained in one.

My friends and I ended up in the ‘college’ class, where we had to come up with ideas for lessons and activities. It is safe to say that we were not prepared at all. To be honest apart from it being nice to go to Caen and meet the other assistants, I didn’t think much of the day. Or the dinner. As three vegetarians, we just ate a measly lunch of mashed potato and salad.

After we finished, I waited a while to be picked up and taken to the Mairie in Caen where I would get a lift back to Mortain. The Mairie (town hall) is quite stunning and I made sure to take some photos, but, unfortunately, I can’t upload them without wi-fi. I was a bit worried about finding the right people and car to get a lift back, so I asked some strangers and they were very kind actually and waited with me until I went. I think that was because I looked like a lost child but hey, whatever works. I tripped over twice saying goodbye and thanks to them.

When I arrived in Vire and paid my 2 euros for the lift (so cheap!), my colleague’s daughter picked me up. That was quite amusing because we were both texting her mum saying ‘what does she look like?’ when, in fact, we were standing next to each other! She studies languages (including English) at the University of Caen and is about my age. By this point, I was so tired that I could not be bothered to speak French, but she said she wanted to practice her English anyway.

At their house, I met my colleague’s other daughter, their cat and their dog, Cookie. Cookie was very docile, but the cat jumped on me at the dinner table and dug his claws in. My colleague made us some ‘Breton Galettes’, which is a traditional dish from Bretagne that I could liken to pancakes. We washed it down with a few glasses of cidre, which made for a very pleasant evening.

I’m not sure yet what the weekend has in store, but I will be sure to write about whatever happens.

A plus

Year Abroad: Day 9

Before I started work yesterday, I got talking to a philosophy teacher in the staffroom, and he offered to give me lifts to work on Wednesdays. This is great news because, as I’ve said before, public transport doesn’t really exist here.

The first class I attended were doing an exercise about heroes, which included people like Brad Pitt and Barack Obama. It seems that a lot of the English taught here is Americanised, for example, they say copybook instead of exercise-book. And ‘guys’ is said a lot.

One of my colleagues said that the older the pupils get the quieter and calmer and less willing to talk they become, which I found to be true. I thought this was very odd because at home, the kids at school got louder and more confident as they got older. Honestly, sometimes trying to get the older ones to talk here is like pulling teeth.

Later on, my housemate came to find me and said some of the teachers at the college were looking for me – oops!  There had been some miscommunication between the staff and I had missed an observation class. However, all was not lost. I made it to the second one, and the younger kids were much more willing to speak English and to come and ask me for help. Weird. Somewhat awkwardly, I did have to correct the teacher again on her pronunciation of ‘Illinois’ (don’t sound the ‘s’), ‘Kansas’ (sound the ‘s’) and maple syrup (the ‘y’ sounds like an ‘i’). I didn’t want to undermine her by correcting her in front of the children, but she said feel free to do it, that’s why I’m here.

In the afternoon, I met up with another assistant, based in St Hilaire, which is about 15km away. She came by bus to Mortain, and we got a drink and some chips. I thought the barman said ‘en bouteille?’ as in, would you like your drink in a bottle? He actually said ‘emporter’ which means, to take away? I said yes, we sat outside in the cold. Oops.

She told me that her journey to France has been really difficult – in fact, we had both missed the same ferry last week. She also had a lot of stories that I won’t repeat here, but it does show that a year abroad can never be dull. Even after one week.  One of the stories I will mention, however, is that one of the teachers where she is working died just before she arrived. What a frightening way to start a new job, with the air of loss and grief all around.

Anyway, we went for another drink and got to know each other. She was lovely, so hopefully we will stay in touch this year.

At about 6.30, I did something that I never do, and that I may never do again. I went for a run with some of my colleagues. First of all, I put my foot in it a little. I happened to mention that I met another assistant and that she had told me about the death in her school. One of my colleagues burst into tears. She knew the lady who died and hadn’t been informed. It had been over a week. I felt awful. It turns out that it is quite common for teachers to switch between the schools in this area, perhaps because it is quite small, so that is how they knew each other.

I was relieved when we began running because that appeared to take my colleague’s mind off of the bad news. We managed 2 miles in about 20 minutes, so it wasn’t fast, but that was enough for me. I am not a runner by any stretch of the imagination.

That’s where I’ll leave it for this post, A +

Year Abroad: Day 8

Last night I managed to find and arrange a ‘covoiturage’ (car-share) for Friday so that I can get to Caen for my training day. Car-sharing is really quite popular in France because it is much cheaper than driving all that way by yourself and it is more sociable. Apart from those things, it is the best way for me because the buses are not regular and they take much longer than driving. Now that I have a lift there and back, I have been able to cancel the hotel that I panic-booked earlier in the week and breathe a little easier.

I again spent the morning in the staff room, writing my blog and trying to understand what my colleagues are saying around me. Some of them speak very quickly, with quite strong accents so it can be quite difficult to know what’s going on. I have found that saying ‘ouais’ and ‘ca va aller’ goes a long way to making it look like I understand.

At 11 I observed a year 11 lesson with 8 students. As I understand it, they are taking a Bac Litteraire, which means that they have about 8 hours of English lessons per week, whereas the ones taking a Bac euro only have 3 hours because they focus on other subjects. This class was generally nice, even though they thought I was only 16 myself! Some of the girls even invited me to eat lunch with them, which was kind, but I had to cut it short to attend another lesson.

At 1 pm, I went to a BTS class. These students have already done their Bac (A Level) so were 18+. They study a range of subjects, including health, cookery, law and English in order to get a job in social work. Most of them were not very good at English, but they gave it a go. One awkward moment was when they asked if I could speak French, I said yes of course – they were embarrassed because they now knew that I understood very well what they were saying about me at the beginning of the class!

I had another BTS class at 2, but with younger students and one at 3 with older ones again. There again I knew some of the kids were talking about me. I think because I look younger than I am, I feel a bit like I am also back at school, which wasn’t exactly the most welcoming environment for me. I might try to look a bit older for my next lessons!

In all the classes, the students had to ask me questions about myself. The tea question came up again, as well as what differences there are between France and the UK. I said that kissing when you greet someone (la bise) was quite strange to me, so Marie said to make sure they did do it! They also asked a lot about where I had travelled – I’ve been all around Europe, to Thailand, and to Canada and the USA several times. I didn’t realise that that amount of travel was not common in France. Many of the students had never left the country or been on a plane in their lives. They tend to stay in France for their holidays, which might be fun for them, but I couldn’t imagine never seeing the world, especially when it is so easy to travel nowadays.

In other news, I think I have now completely sorted out my Caen trip for Friday, which is a huge relief. I have most of tomorrow and Thursday off, so maybe I will actually go and explore the town I am living in. Although, from what the students told me earlier, I shouldn’t expect much. They all said Mortain was rubbish and that there is nothing to do! They also asked whether I had actually chosen to come here which, of course, I hadn’t, so it doesn’t bode well. However, one girl said her sister runs a bar in town that stays open most days until 1 am, so maybe I will check that out.

Anyway, this has been a long post so I’ll leave it there.

A plus!