Rude emails, excessive kissing and freezing fingers

Dear readers, welcome to the latest installment of my thrilling French adventure. I am thinking of renaming my blog ‘Heating, and other problems with France’ but that is still subject to revision.

On Monday I went straight into work at 8am from my weekend in Rennes because I needed to sort out an incident involving a rather impolite email from a colleague and to find out what I was going to deliver in my classes of the day. As it turned out, the situation was resolved, and I was required to conduct debates on the UK’s intervention in Syria, which proved to be quite interesting. Many of the students were pro-air strikes, which I found surprising considering my own cohort’s reaction to the news. Perhaps considering the recent success of the FN in France, this is just a small example of right-wing politics among the younger generation. The afternoon found me wandering round the school looking for my students because no one had informed me of the room change for that class. Eventually, one of them found me in the corridor and led me to the others, whereupon I discussed with individuals their opinions on war films and propaganda. A day full of light and airy topics. I bailed on badminton in the evening because I have actually picked up an injury from going on the bumper cars on Sunday. This one girl had it in for me, I’m telling you. At one of her ‘bumps’ I actually cried out ‘BLIMEY!’ Very French.

Tuesday: I continued marking year 11 oral presentations, led a semi-successful activity for the year 8s, and did equally fascinating things with the year 13 and over-18s, which you can read about in my extended edition of ‘How to lose the will to live in 12 hours a week’. Besides that, I thought I’d better try doing some studying because I’m missing out on all the jokes in the staffroom. Half because I can’t understand, but I suspect half because I’m basically a lost child hanging around with my parents’ friends there. Two interesting things I noted today: 1) The excessive amount of kissing that goes on among the students before each lesson goes some way to explaining the stereotype of French lateness. 2) I’m not saying the French are unhealthy, but half of my students were rolling fags BEFORE leaving the classroom.

I began Wednesday by momentarily forgetting everything and ending a sentence with ‘I can’t even French.’ So that went well. I helped out in a couple of year 8 classes, then caught the bus to St Hilaire, where I met up with Sarah. We had pizza, cider and tarte tatin in a nice little restaurant, then chilled (literally) for the rest of the evening at my place. As I write this, I am covered in clothes, a dressing gown and a duvet and still cannot feel my fingers. If anyone would like to come and have a go at the people responsible for heating in this place, they would be very welcome indeed.

A plus (provided I still have the ability to type)


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.


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

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!

Year Abroad: Day 3

I was supposed to start work today, but that has not happened. In fact, I’m not yet sure when I will actually begin working because I don’t have a timetable of which classes to attend or which teachers to assist.

In better news, my housemate arrived last night, while I was asleep. He is German and seems very willing to speak English, which is a relief for me in the house. But it’s nothing like speaking to a native.

I got up quite early this morning to avoid being asleep when the students began to arrive, but nothing really happened until a few hours later, when I was asked to come and be introduced to the staff. I met some lovely people, including an American English teacher. It is nice to know that there are other people here for whom French is not their first language.

After that, I sat in on a meeting for my housemate because nothing has been arranged for me yet. I was then shown to the College part of the school, and stayed in the staff room for a while to use the computer and printer. There are a lot of forms to fill in in order to get paid and the like. This is an important but tedious process.

Annoyingly, I forgot that everything closes in France at lunchtime. So I was unable to ask about the lack of heating and working light bulbs where I am staying. I am also lacking an inside handle for the toilet; this is something that I only realised after getting stuck inside. When I eventually got to speak to someone, they said they would try to sort out all my issues, except one: the heating. There is a law in France that bans central heating in public places from mid-April to mid-October, for environmental reasons. Unsurprisingly, I think this is a stupid law. I am now wearing 4 layers, including a thermal top and a coat, inside.

This might seem silly, seeing as it is only day 3, but I am already tired of SO MUCH FRENCH. I have to speak French at work, in the house sometimes, in day-to-day things, the TV is French, and even my ads on Spotify have turned French. So yes, I may have caved and watched some English TV. Don’t judge me.

I had a meeting with the English teacher in charge of me earlier this afternoon; we went through a lot of admin things that I won’t bore you with here. She has gone out of her way to help me, which is fantastic. Next I met up with my housemate to go shopping. I mentioned before that Mortain is not pedestrian friendly, so as luck would have it, an economics teacher from the school picked us up on the way and drove us to the supermarket. I bought French Glamour to pretend that I am learning.

Just as I was about to go to the staffroom to use the wi-fi, one of the teachers stopped us and asked if we wanted to go for a drink. We went to a little bar in Mortain (about a 5-minute walk from the school), had a drink there and then met up with another teacher back at the school for dinner. I had a massive plate of gratin, which I didn’t like very much, but I am not too concerned about food at the moment.

After dinner, we returned to the Lodge (le pavillon) where I am staying. The girls have invited me to go out in Caen on Saturday night! That should be really exciting. Let’s see what happens…