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!

ANPE is on my list now too…

By   September 10, 2008

The ANPE is half of the unemployment services here in France. The ASSEDIC is the actual agency that gives you the unemployment benefits (unless you worked for the rectorat), while ANPE helps you with finding a job. When you sign up for unemployment, you have a mandatory meeting at ASSEDIC and a mandatory meeting at ANPE. I did both of those back in June. If you still haven’t found a job within 3 months, you are supposed to have another mandatory meeting with ANPE.

Well, I have found a job so I e-mailed my conseillère at the ANPE to tell her, and I sent a letter to ANPE (both back in August) so that my mandatory meeting in September would be cancelled.

Guess what happened? I just received a letter from ANPE saying that I missed my mandatory meeting and will be taken off unemployment within 15 days if I don’t reschedule. It also says to let them know if I have found a job… WHICH I ALREADY HAVE TWICE!!!

Needless to say, I am annoyed. And worried that I won’t be able to pay October’s rent if I can’t receive September’s benefits. ::sigh::

Possibly Free Public Transportation & Museums next week in France

By   September 8, 2008

September 16-22 is the Semaine Européenne de la Mobilité so check your city/town’s public transportation websites for information on the programme for the week. La journée des “transports publics” is Wednesday, September 17, so buses, bikes, trams, etc. may be free or have a reduced fare for the day.

Here in Annecy, Sibra buses and Vélonecy bikes are FREE the entire day! In neighboring Chambéry, the fare will be reduced to 1 € from the regular 1,10 €.

September 20-21 is the Journées Européennes du Patrimoine where many museums and historical sites are free and/or have special guided tours. Additionally, many private collections are also open to the public so it may be the only time of the year you will have access to them.

The Musée-Château in Annecy is offering guided tours about the history and architecture fo the castle each day at 2:30pm and the Palais de L’Ile will have tours at 10 am each day, as well as a special kid-friendly Moyen Age raconté aux Familles tour at 2:30pm Sunday. The Archives Départementales will have a photo exhibit of vacances en Haute-Savoie from the beginning of the 20th century and there will be an ouverture exceptionelle of the Roman bell tower in Annecy-le-Vieux. And of course, I will be first in line for the guided tour of the Préfecture of Haute-Savoie because I haven’t been there enough times over the past two years…

Une langue ou plusieurs ? / One language or several?

By   September 7, 2008

J’ai passé une semaine à rien faire sauf étudier l’allemand. Ma vie est très “calme” en ce moment parce que je n’ai pas encore commencé à travailler. Je suis toujours en vacances… dans mon appartement à cause de ce merveilleux temps. Je peux faire n’importe quoi (sauf voyager – pas d’argent et pas d’amis) et j’ai choisi l’allemand. J’habite en France, mon copain est français, je veux devenir française un jour; pourtant je choisis d’améliorer mon allemand au lieu du français.

Qu’est-ce qui ne va pas chez moi ? J’en ai marre de la France ? J’en doute, mais pourquoi je n’étudie jamais le français ? Peut-être est-il plus facile à savoir quand je fais des progrès en allemand. Ce n’est pas évident avec le français. Je connais toutes les règles de grammaire, je comprends tout à la télé, j’arrive facilement à suivre les conversations, je peux survivre dans les pays francophones en faisant les tâches quotidiennes. Cependant il me manque du vocabulaire. Est-ce que je pense connaître assez de français et ne plus avoir envie d’aller plus loin ?

Quand je feuillete les livres allemands, je suis contente d’arriver à comprendre plus de mots que la semaine ou le mois précédents. Mais ce n’est pas pareil en français – je ne vois pas la différence et ça me décourage. J’ai toujours trouvé que passer du niveau débutant au intermédiaire était plus facile que du niveau intermédiaire au niveau avancé quand l’on apprend une langue. Qu’est-ce que je dois faire pour surmonter mon découragement ? Où est-ce que je peux trouver la motivation ?

Je voudrais faire mon doctorat en français et enseigner le français aux anglophones un jour. C’est possible que David et moi allions rester en France plus longtemps que prévu s’il réussit le CAPES. C’est aussi possible que l’on reste ici pour toujours et que je travaille dans le tourisme (pour pouvoir parler plusieurs langues). Mais quoi qu’il arrive, il me faut un bon niveau en français. Pourquoi est-ce que je ne suis pas satisfaite de maîtriser une langue pour la parler courrament ? Pourquoi est-ce que je préfère en étudier plusieurs ?

I spent a week doing nothing but studying German. My life is very calm right now because I haven’t yet started working. I am still on vacation… in my apartment because of this awesome weather. I can do anything (except travel – no money and no friends) and I chose German. I live in France, my boyfriend is French, I want to become French one day; however, I choose to improve my German instead of French.

What is wrong with me? Am I sick of France? I doubt it, but why don’t I study French? Maybe it’s easier to see when I make progress in German. It’s not obvious with French. I know all the rules of grammar, I understand everything on TV, I can easily follow conversations, I can survive in French-speaking countries doing daily tasks. Yet I need vocabulary. Do I think I know enough French and that I don’t need to go any further with it?

When I skim through German books, I’m happy to be able to understand more words than the week or month before. But it’s not the same in French – I don’t see the difference and it discourages me. I’ve always thought that moving from a beginner to intermediate level was easier than from an intermediate level to advanced when learning a language. What should I do to overcome my discouragement? Where can I find the motivation?

I would like to do my doctorate in French and teach French to English-speakers one day. It’s possible that David and I are going to stay in France longer than we thought if he succeeds at the CAPES. It’s also possible that we’re going to stay here forever and that I’ll work in tourism (so I can speak several languages). But whatever happens, I need a good level of French. Why am I not satisfied with mastering one language in order to speak it fluently? Why do I prefer to study several of them?

Retirement in France

By   September 5, 2008

I recently requested my code confidentiel from the Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Retraite so that I could check to see how many trimestres I have accumulated towards retirement in France. (Just type in your social security number and they’ll mail it to you.) For those born during or after 1952, you must accumulate 164 trimestres (41 years) in order to enjoy full retirement benefits. But with the trimester system, each month doesn’t really count – only every 3 months do.

So I have one trimestre for 2006, when I worked October to December during my first year as a language assistant. In 2007, I worked January to April and October to December, so I have two trimestres. And I will have another 2 trimestres in 2008 for working those same months.

Luckily starting in 2009, I will receive 4 trimestres. So if David & I decide to stay in France forever and I can continue to work at a permanent full-time job (Ha!), I can retire at the young age of 80.

I’ve worked on and off in the US since I was 16, so how can I check the status of my American retirement benefits? I have no idea how the system works in the US. And how does it work for expats who will most likely never work in the US again? And what if we end up working in Canada or Australia one day?

Free English lessons for French students

By   September 3, 2008

BBC reports:The main teaching union in France has criticised the education minister’s plans to offer free English classes in the school holidays next year.

Xavier Darcos announced the plans on Monday, insisting that speaking fluent English was the key to success.

He said that while “well-off families pay for study sessions abroad, I’m offering them to everyone right here”.

President Nicolas Sarkozy is likely to back the plan.

He has already infuriated traditionalists by suggesting that the French should no longer insist on speaking their own language at international negotiations.

Interesting… I wonder who will be teaching these courses and where the government will get money to pay the teachers…

What la rentrée really means to me.

By   September 1, 2008

Tomorrow, September 2nd, students in France go back to school. Do you know what this means?

I can finally go to the places I want without being surrounded by annoying kids!!!

La rentrée is the most wonderful time of the year.

101st Département of France: Mayotte

By   August 30, 2008

Mayotte, currently an overseas collectivity of France, should become an official overseas département of France, after a vote in April 2009. Geographically, Mayotte is part of the Comoro Islands (north of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean), but it voted to remain a French territory in the 1970’s instead of joining the Union of Comoros which gained its independence from French rule at the same time.

Metropolitan France has 96 départements, including Corsica. There are 4 overseas départements, La Réunion, French Guiana, Guadeloupe and Martinique; as well as other overseas collectivities, such as French Polynesia, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon and Wallis et Futuna. New Caledonia also technically belongs to France, though it will vote on independence in 2014.

Mayotte is also known as Mahoré, especially by those who do not agree with the French status of the island. Most inhabitants speak Shimaore, Shindzwani, and Kibushi as a first language, while French is the only official language. The island has no railroads, but 58 miles of highways and one airport. The currency is the euro and the population is 186,000.

The controversy surrounding the French control of Mayotte is still a problem today. Many Comorians believe Mayotte should belong to the Union of Comoros. Even one week ago, the president of the Comorian assemblée , Saïd Dhoifir Bounou, refused to be subjected to the contrôles of the French border police because he claimed that Mayotte belonged to the Comoros and that France had no legal right to question him in his own country.

Another problem that will need to be addressed is illegal immigration of Comorians to Mayotte. A third of the population of Mayotte is said to be Comorian, most of whom are illegal. Many come from the island of Anjouan to have children in Mayotte, hoping that they will gain French citizenship someday. Mahorans are 10 times richer than Comorians, and this gap will only get wider when Mahorans are able to benefit from French prestations sociales, such as the RMI. Even though France plans to introduce short-stay visas for Comorians to go to Mayotte in the hopes of discouraging illegal immigration, the département status of Mayotte may actually attract more immigrants.

Until recently, Mahorans did not have last names. They were forced to choose one in order to have an état civil and receive birth and marriage certificates. Yet half the population today still does not have an état civil, which is required for Mahorans to become French citizens.

Obviously, there are many obstacles to overcome in the coming years, but normalement, Mayotte will become the 101st département of France – the first to be added since 1946.

“We the people” not “We the favored few.”

By   August 28, 2008

I don’t usually talk about politics, and I hate how much the US presidential election is covered here in France… but after watching some of the speeches at the Democratic Convention this week, I’m feeling a little more hopeful about my country. It took me six long years to get out of the US after Bush started destroying it. I never thought I’d ever want to move back there. Yet now a tiny part of me does, if the Democrats can do what they say.

The main reason I choose France over the US is universal health care. It still blows my mind that the US government doesn’t take care of all of its citizens, but only the rich ones. Yes, we pay a lot for the amazing health care we have in France, but it is worth it. I know that if anything serious ever happened to me or David, we wouldn’t be in debt forever because of medical bills. I can go to the doctor without wasting $10 just to set foot in his/her office. I can get my teeth or eyes checked and be reimbursed for the entire bill. Even my contacts are free every year. I feel sorry for my friends and family in the US who have no health care, who haven’t been to the doctors in years, who can’t afford their prescriptions… That shouldn’t happen in the “world’s superpower.”

But there are other reasons why I don’t like the US right now. The cost of university is atrociously high. The minimum wage is ridiculously low. Foreign cultures, religions and languages are not tolerated in most areas. There is still too much racism, sexism, and especially homophobia. (Though one can argue this is true of every nation.)  The government wastes all of its money on fighting a war we shouldn’t be involved in, instead of helping its own citizens with access to education, employment and health care. Everyone is seen as a terrorist, even Americans themselves, and treated thus. The government denies that global warming even exists, while making the situation even worse. It declares the death penalty to be an acceptable form of punishment. It denies homosexuals the same benefits enjoyed by other human beings. It ignores women’s rights and the separation of church and state and the threat of HIV/AIDS as a global epidemic.

But for me, the greatest offense is favoring the rich over the poor. Classism is usually overlooked because it encompasses such a broad range of topics, but I see it everywhere. The poor cannot go to college because tuition is too expensive. Without an education, they can’t find a decent-paying job. So they’re stuck in poverty, and so are their children. The poor cannot go to the doctor because medical bills are too high. Without good health, they can’t work. Poverty leads to more poverty and no one ever seems to do anything about it.

The Democrats are going to have a very hard time fixing the mess that Bush made. It will take years to reverse the damage. The economy was obviously much better when Clinton was president in the 90’s. But even he couldn’t get Congress to approve his universal health care plan. He unfortunately approved the Defense of Marriage Act. And let’s not forget Somalia, and the two genocides that occurred while he was in office, in Rwanda and the Balkans. He was a great president, but he couldn’t do everything. I need to remember that when (yes, when) Obama becomes the next president. I know I shouldn’t have a lot of hope that he’ll be able to change everything, because it’s not entirely dependent on him.

But it is nice for once to have hope for the future of my country instead of being ashamed of it. It is nice for once to think that I may be able to return home if I want to.

Looking to Move

By   August 26, 2008

Because I have always been spoiled by my parents’ backyard….

…I cannot stand living in an apartment and not having a yard of my own. Currently we live in a one bedroom apartment with no balcony. We’re on the third floor, so we have to keep almost all the windows closed so Canaille won’t jump out and die.

We originally decided to live here when David’s sister, Carole, went to Paris. She actually left us the apartment and all her furniture. But after a year, the noise and the people are getting to me and I’m dying to be some place quieter and calmer than an overpopulated suburb of Annecy.

And Carole has returned to Annecy anyway, so she could take her apartment back while David and I find another place between Annecy and Chambéry. The commute to Cluses last year was a bit too much for me and my old car, but Chambéry is not as far and the trains are more frequent. But still, I need the countryside.

I don’t even care how large or small the apartment is; all I want is a terrasse. My own quiet place to relax outside, where Canaille can roam around and chase bugs.  Near Aix-les-Bains seems the logical choice since it’s next to the highway and about halfway between the two cities. If anyone knows of a place there with some sort of yard for hopefully less than 600 € a month, let me know!