The Past, Poverty & Perspective

By   October 5, 2008

Thanks to David’s dad and his generous gift of Chèque Lire, I got yet another French as a Foreign Language book at Decitre today, in an attempt to improve my faltering French since I can’t afford actual classes. The first chapter was about traveling, and more specifically, Quebec. The second chapter was about rencontres and had an excerpt from Nadja, by André Breton.

I’ve obviously taken a break from studying to type this in English, not because I wanted to, but because I couldn’t stop thinking about studying in Quebec and being a French major in college, circa 2002, when I first read Nadja. There are a few things I wish I had done differently back then – studied in Europe in addition to Quebec, for one – but I don’t regret the choices I did make.

I suppose now I’m just longing for the student life because things were so much easier then. I knew what was going to happen for the next few years and I had hope for the future. That’s not to say that I don’t have hope now, it’s just that life is different now. I’m different now. I know I will have a job for two years, but beyond that… I have no idea. I would still like to move to Quebec or at least leave France for a while, but that’s going to cost a lot of money and it’s too hard to think about the future with the current state of the economy.

Being poor has really gotten me down lately. I was poor in the US too, but now that I’m further away from friends and family in a country where prices are twice as high and salaries twice as low as what I’m used to… let’s just say it’s a never-ending challenge. It’s frustrating to be so close to foreign countries and not be able to visit them and learn about their history, culture, and especially language, firsthand. I would give anything to see the world, but instead I’m worrying about paying the taxe d’habitation. I’m not even sure yet how I’m going to afford both of my siblings’ weddings across the ocean next year. I doubt David can come with me since we can’t even afford repairs on his car right now.

My habits have changed too. I used to read so many books and study languages constantly. Now I have very little motivation or dedication to do so. Apparently I’d rather check all of my accounts and worry about paying bills than learn something new. My mind keeps wandering whenever I do try to read or study. I can’t concentrate on anything anymore (as evidenced by my blogging while I was supposed to be studying French. ::sigh::) Maybe it’s just because I’ve been out of the university mindset for two years, but I really miss being productive and accomplishing something.

I realize it’s all a matter of perspective and that there are definitely many, many people in the world in worse situations than me. I have my health, my job, my families, my apartment, my car, my boyfriend… I just wish I could feel that there is more to life than worrying about money and dealing with all of the ridiculous bills that France throws our way. And I absolutely hate having to leave David out of my family’s functions just because of a lack of money. I feel like I’m being punished, but I don’t know by whom or for what. I do feel like it will last an eternity though.

The Not-So-United States of America

By   October 4, 2008

So the presidential elections (only one more month to go!!!) and having to explain the Electoral College and how voting works in the US to the French have stirred up some emotions about why I don’t like living there. The United States of America is just that – a collection of states, but states that are not all that united. All of them must follow federal laws, like driving at 16, voting at 18 and drinking alcohol at 21; but there are also a lot of laws that are decided on by state governments, which I find completely unfair. We are all American citizens, yet we don’t all have to live by the same laws just because we live in different states?

In Michigan this year, there are two proposed amendments to the state constitution on the ballot: legalizing marijuana for medical purposes and allowing embryonic stem-cell research. In some states these are already legal or illegal. In some states, they are voting on other amendments, like banning gay marriage or preventing animal cruelty.  How awful is it to tell people they can be married in one state but if they travel or move to another state within the same country, their marriage is no longer legal???

I believe the federal government should have more power over each state, so that the laws are the same everywhere you go in the US. Why do some states have better education systems than others? Why do some states provide more basic human rights than others? Why do some states have better health care options than others?  I don’t necessarily agree with France’s centralizing everything to Paris, but at least laws are the same in every région and département. And that is my biggest problem with voting in the US.

The Electoral College favors the Republicans by giving states with small populations a larger say in the overall vote… states that usually vote Republican. Technically, a candidate only has to win 11 states in order to win the presidency. So what’s the point of even campaigning in the other 39 states? It’s obvious that every year the candidates focus on the swing states that could change the outcome and ignore the rest. Why not just have a direct vote so that every American citizen has an equal say instead of each state having unequal say? The fact that the Electoral College was created to limit the impact of women’s and slaves’ votes says something about its true, undemocratic nature, doesn’t it? I’ve always felt insulted that the government believes states are more important than the people or that the people are not intelligent enough to vote for the president, although we do so for the Congress.

For those of us who don’t live where we are registered, why do some states require that you vote in person at your precint the very first time you vote? Isn’t that extremely unfair to those college students who can’t afford to return to their parents’ on a Tuesday during the semester? Or for those who are studying or moving abroad before they have the chance to vote for the first time? What are they supposed to do?

And why even bother to vote if you know your state will give its electors to the other candidate anyway? I’m glad Michigan votes democrat or else I would be very frustrated that my vote doesn’t count for anything. I would still vote, of course, just for the pleasure of voting against the republicans, but I wouldn’t feel that my vote could make a difference. And isn’t that why we vote?

I may be an American citizen, but most days, I don’t really know how to define what that really means. I’m an American who abides by Michigan laws (or used to when I lived there.) So am I really a Michigander first, and American second? I think that’s why I’ve always thought that I’m not really “American” – because there are 50 different types of Americans.

Two Years in France: Un Bilan

By   October 2, 2008

My two year anniversary in France was this past Friday, September 26. I realize I have done a lot  / accomplished a lot / suffered through a lot over the past 24 months in France:

  • obtained 5 Carte de Séjours from my best friends at the Préfecture
  • exchanged American driver’s license for French one and bought a car
  • moved 3 times to other suburbs around Annecy, but never to Annecy proper
  • finished 14 months of being forced to teach British English as an assistant
  • received my American Master’s degree in Linguistics & Teaching ESL
  • got PACSed to my adorable Frenchman and adopted a cat together
  • survived 10 months of unemployment/boredom
  • found a job post-assistantship that I adore

Of course there are some things I haven’t been able to accomplish, like teaching that Americans don’t, in fact, ever say “I speak American” unless they’re being overly patriotic. But I suppose my largest “failure” as I see it, is not adjusting to French culture more. I am just as American as the day I arrived… and considering how un-American I thought I was when I actually lived in the US, it’s a bit of a conundrum.

Do I have many French friends? No. Do I speak French all day? Nope. Do I watch French TV? Oh god no. I do read French newspapers and watch French news shows – but the TV shows I watch are American dubbed into French. Most of the food I eat is not very French. I do not dress like the French because I have no fashion sense. My hair doesn’t even look French because I’m too lazy to get it cut more than twice a year. I will never drive like the French because I want to stay alive. I will always think having 2 hours for lunch is a complete waste of time. And doing the bises is a never-ending source of awkwardness and discomfort for the germaphobe in me.

I agree with the government on health care access and lots of vacation time, but I do not agree with the French idea of focus on the family. I never want to have kids, and so I get really annoyed when people mention that David’s younger sister already has a baby and we don’t. Well, so what? I guess the baby thing is universal though – I’m sure I would get that in the US too – but I just feel that it’s more of a personal attack in France since there are so many government-sponsored benefits for having kids and it’s kind of just expected of couples here.

But you see, every time I disagree with something that is “French” I feel as though I will never fit in here or that the French will hate me because of it. I will always be the strange American girl who thinks sea food for Christmas dinner is disgusting. The rebel who doesn’t want to have kids, but rather cats and dogs. The weirdo who never, ever drinks alcohol, not even wine! ::gasp::

There are a lot of things I love about France; and a few things I hate, which I won’t get into now… But overall, I am much happier here than I was in the US, and not just because of David and my job. I used to say that I was almost ashamed to be American, but I suppose the truth is that I was ashamed of the conservative government that limited human rights, denied science, ignored the rest of the world and favored the rich. I am proud to be American, though I may not say it out loud, because it will always be a part of who I am. But I am also proud to be (hopefully one day) French, even if I don’t feel very French right now.

I want to be a lectrice forever.

By   September 29, 2008

I love my job!

I work with three classes in the labs: Vocabulary, Pronunciation and Business English. In all of them, I can spy on the students with my headset and make sure they are actually doing the lessons and using English. (I have ALL the power!!!) For vocab class, I’m redoing the weekly HTML lessons with a new style sheet, graphics and layout as well as adding mp3s for all of the main words. The pronunciation class is all IPA goodness. And the business English class is also a translation course so it gives me a chance to learn business French. Basically, I’m in geeky English-French technology-based language-teaching-and-learning heaven.

Even the commute isn’t bad because I get to drive next to this pretty lake 4 days a week.

Life is good.

More Language Learning Tips

By   September 25, 2008

Websites I found these past few weeks:

Dialang is a neat program that you can use to determine your European Level in a foreign language. There are 5 tests – reading, writing, listening, grammar and vocabulary – available for 14 languages – Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Icelandic, Irish, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. It also gives you feedback, advice and an explanation of the European Levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2). You can download Dialang for free here.

Goethe-Verlag has two sections for learning languages at the A1 & A2 levels: book2 is a non-profit project that includes 100 lessons in 40 languages and mp3s for 11 of the languages. There are also free language tests in 25 languages, with about 200 fill-in-the-blank tests each.

Verbs: There are a few websites for looking up the conjugation of a verb in a certain language, such as Verbix, but these sites usually have no audio to help you with the pronunciation of the conjugated forms. However, there is LearnVerbs which provides the pronunciation of several verbs in Catalan, English, French, Galician, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. But this site does not give the conjugated form – only the name of the verb tense – so you need to keep one window open on Verbix and one window open on LearnVerbs if you want both the spelling and the pronunciation.

Activities: Quia has a collection of shared activities and games for learning languages, most submitted by teachers for use in their classes. Paying subscribers can create a variety of activities in 16 formats, but just doing the activities is completely free.

Radio: has a list of European radio stations that you can listen to online as live streams.

Links: Mahalo has some good tips for learning languages and links to many sites. I especially love their page on learning German with the music of David Hasselhoff.

Major Website Updates this Summer

By   September 21, 2008

Summer is over and I go back to work tomorrow, so I wanted to post the major updates to my website that I’ve done over the past few months. I’m not sure how much time I will have to devote to my site once the semester gets into full swing.

  • First, I have created an RSS Feed of major updates so that you can add it to your blog reader and be notified instantly of any changes or additions to the site.
  • Thanks to Dan, the first page of the Norwegian tutorial is now up!
  • David & I have almost finished recording the mp3s for the French tutorials. I would love to add audio to the other language tutorials as well, so if any native speakers want to contribute, let me know! (You can use Audacity, which is a free program and really easy to figure out.)
  • The Realia page only contains French and German materials for now, but it includes scans of train tickets, receipts, menus, brochures, etc. so you can see the real language in use.
  • Myles helped me convert most of the pronunciation on French I to standard IPA symbols, which should show up on your web browser correctly if you have a Unicode font installed on your computer.
  • The biggest project this summer has been converting the Foreign Service Institute language courses to HTML pages. Since this is a very time-consuming project, I’ve only finished units 1-2 of French & units 1-3 of German so far.

And of course, I’ve been continuously updating the English Assistants in France guide as well as the ESL Lesson Plans and Language Links pages.

I plan to continue working on the comparative tutorials and to add more interactive exercises, and I’m also thinking about creating an English for Francophones / Anglais pour les francophones page, especially to help with pronunciation – and this way I can record all of the mp3s myself!

All Things American

By   September 20, 2008

Mom just sent a package of things that David & I have been missing lately. Now that it’s almost fall, I’m really getting nostalgic for America… and Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas. Apparently as soon as the temperature drops, I lump all of those holidays together. Luckily I should only have to work until noon on Thanksgiving this year and for once I have the day after off! We’re staying in France for Christmas, but David claims we’re going to have an American style dinner (turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie) in addition to the gross sea food. Though I’m still thinking about heading to Europa Park near Freiburg since Germans are as crazy about Christmas as Americans are.

Anyway, here’s what mom sent us:

Root Beer
(for the non-North Americans, this is actually pop, not beer)

Lemonade mix

Easy Cheese, because it’s REAL cheese (ha!)

Big Red gum
(Has anyone been able to find cinnamon-flavored gum in France?)

My kind of macaroni & cheese – and my kind of cooking!

Spiral notebook with LINED paper!

Guess who was the first one guzzling down the Root Beer and spraying Easy Cheese on crackers? (Hint: it wasn’t me.) I also got a 4GB flashdrive and real Chapstick. If only donuts could be sent this way… I did buy some donuts at Auchan last week, but they just weren’t the same. Nobody beats VG’s donuts.

I figured out that in order to send this same package to my parents from France, it would cost three times as much with La Poste. Mom spent $52.50 on 6-10 day shipping because it was 10 pounds, whereas I would have to spend about 110 € for the really slow économique shipping or 150 € for the regular, but yet still slow, shipping. In case you’re wondering why you may be getting feathers for Christmas, that’s why…

Note to mom: we’re running low on peanut butter now that someone likes to eat it with apples even though he originally thought that was disgusting. He’s so Americanized!

P.S. Happy Oktoberfest, Bavaria!

Quick Update.

By   September 19, 2008

ANPE is still harassing me about finding a job. Just one day after sending me a letter saying it was ok that I didn’t go to the mandatory meeting because I had found a job, they send me an offre d’emploi and apparently want me to tell them for a THIRD time that I have indeed found a job. I’m starting to think that place is run by monkeys. No, that’s a bit too degrading to monkeys. I hope I will never be unemployed ever again…

I’ve also been waiting about two months to get one last document from the rectorat so I can complete my lectrice contract paperwork. So far they have ignored every single one of my e-mails (all five of them) and constantly told me to call back “next week” when a different person will be there. Their excuses range from it’s summer so everyone is on vacation to it’s September so everyone is busy with la rentrée. I’m sorry, should I have called before I knew I was hired and needed this document?? ::sigh::

I went to a training session at the university yesterday morning for the new computer labs and I feel like the biggest nerd ever because I loved every minute of it. I hope the students realize how lucky they are to have this technology to help with comprehension and pronunciation. Even just a few years ago when I was an undergrad, we had nothing but cassettes. Either I’m older than I want to admit or technology improves really, really fast.

Fall is already here – I have to turn on my little heater in the mornings – and I go back to work next week. Not so excited about the first, but have been waiting 5 months for the latter!

Not even an hour after I posted this, I received yet another letter from the ANPE. They scheduled me for another mandatory meeting and asked once again to tell them if I have found a job!!!!

How’s my accent?

By   September 14, 2008

I finally got David to record more mp3s for the French tutorials (we’re now halfway done with French VII, vocabulary for those living in France), and I decided to record myself speaking French as well. I just read the sentences from the first topic on French VII.

David (native speaker of French)


Me (native speaker of American English)


I hate my voice.

Martha moves to Turkey

By   September 12, 2008

Martha is one of my closest friends from “back home” – i.e. Michigan. I have known her for about 7 years. We met in German 111 at the University of Michigan-Flint and I thought she was the coolest person ever because she had lived in Germany for a few years. Turns out Martha is also the nicest person ever.

Two years later, Martha & I were in the same class again, but this time it was the Writing Center tutor training class. We worked together for almost 4 years in the Writing Center until I moved to France. Martha stayed in Flint to do her Master’s degree, but decided to come back to Europe this past June when I agreed to present with her at the European Writing Center Association’s conference.

So off to Freiburg I went to meet up with Martha. I had seen her 6 months before when I went home for Christmas in 2007, but it’s different when friends come to your side of the world. Our presentation was a success and we had plenty of time to explore Freiburg and the Black Forest on our own. We drove back to Annecy because I had a mandatory interview with ANPE (see last post…) and then went back to Germany a few days later to see Lake Constance, Triberg (the cuckoo clock town), and Reutlingen, where Martha & her family had lived 8 years ago.

Martha joins the statue on Mainau Island

I’ve always loved the thought of Germany. I used to live 15 minutes from the Bavarian town of Frankenmuth where the world’s largest Christmas store is located. So when I thought of Germany, I thought of Christmas. Now when I think of Germany, I think of Martha. I have other connections to Germany & Austria because of my ancestors, but I really don’t know much about them. So Christmas and Martha are to thank for my love of all things German.

Martha was recently hired at Bigli University in Istanbul, Turkey. She leaves Michigan today and starts work next week. I am so excited for her and hope to visit sometime next year. I hope she can come back to Germany too so we can explore more of Baden-Württemburg and Bayern together.

Viel Glück in der Türkei, Martha!