Qu’avez-vous dans votre assiette ? / What’s on your plate?

By   April 13, 2008

Je triais toutes sortes de papiers hier quand j’ai trouvé un sondage de la cantine, Enquête “sur votre assiette.” J’ai trouvé quelques questions sur les habitudes alimentaires tres révélatrices, en ce qui concerne les habitudes françaises. En général, les repas en France sont plus équilibrés: une entrée, un produit laitier, un plat chaud, un dessert, et du pain. Cependant, il y avait quelques questions qui montraient qu’être végétarien est très difficile dans ce pays:

8. Lorsque je mange à la cantine en general mon plateau se compose en protéïnes:
a) de la viande b) du poisson

Pas d’autre choix de réponse. Comme si les animaux sont la seule source de protéïne…

15. Si l’on proposait autre chose que de la viande ou du poisson au repas du midi
a) ce serait mieux b) je ne voudrais pas c) ce ne serait pas normal d) cela ne me dérangerait pas

16. Dans ce cas, continueriez-vous à dejeuner à la cantine ?
a) oui b) non

Est-ce qu’ils insinuent que les gens ne mangeraient pas à la cantine si les plats végétariens étaient fournis ? Pourquoi pas faire les deux plats (viande et pas de viande) pour qu’on puisse choisir ?

En plus, j’ai de la peine pour ceux qui ont une intolérance au lactose ou pour ceux qui sont allergique au gluten. Le fromage, le yaourt, et le pain sont servis avec tous les repas ici.

Je n’essaie pas de critiquer les habitudes alimentaires en France. Je pense que les français mange vachement mieux que les américains. Mais je voudrais plus de choix pour ceux qui n’aiment pas ou qui ne peuvent pas manger la nourriture qui est typiquement française.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I was sorting a bunch of papers yesterday when I found a survey from the cafeteria, Enquête “sur votre assiette.” I thought some questions on French eating habits were very revealing. In general, meals in France are more balanced: a starter, a dairy product, a main dish, a dessert and some bread. However, there were some questions that showed being a vegetarian is very difficult in this country:

8. When I eat in the cafeteria, my tray includes proteins
a) from meat b) from fish

No other choice of answers. As if animals are the only source of protein…

15. If something other than meat or fish were offered for lunch
a) that would be better b) I wouldn’t want it c) that wouldn’t be normal d) that wouldn’t bother me

16. In this case, would you continue to eat at the cafeteria?
a) yes b) no

Are they implying that people would not eat at the cafeteria if vegetarian dishes were provided? Why not make both dishes (meat and without meat) so we can choose?

Furthermore, I feel bad for those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to gluten. Cheese, yogurt and bread are served with every meal here.

I’m not trying to criticize eating habits in France. I think that the French eat much better than Americans. But I would like more choices for those who don’t like or who can’t eat typically French food.

No jobs for Michigan

By   April 12, 2008

Forbes recently ran an article on the best and worst cities for jobs in the US. And surprise, surprise, Michigan cities appear most on the worst list.

It’s understandable that New Orleans is currently the worst city for jobs, and it’s probably obvious what #2 and #3 are as well: Detroit and Flint. And how interesting is it that Detroit and Flint are also ranked #2 and #3 for most dangerous cities in the US? Coincidence?

The rest of the worst cities for jobs are 4. Canton, OH; 5. Warren, MI; 6. Hickory, NC; 7. Lansing, MI; 8. Dayton, OH; 9. Youngstown, OH; 10. Ann Arbor, MI. Half the list is Michigan! I love my home state, but my god, does its economy suck!

From the article:
“The main artery for job loss in the U.S. runs through Ohio and Michigan, which had eight of the 10 metros with the biggest job losses. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both campaigned vigorously in Ohio in February, blasting the North American Free Trade Agreement. No doubt that was an appeal to voters in places like Canton, Dayton and Youngstown, where NAFTA is associated with sinking employment.

“NAFTA is used as a whipping boy for all the problems that these areas are struggling with,” says Zandi. Yet the culprit for most of the lost jobs in the area is the deterioration of the domestic auto industry. The struggles of Chrysler, Ford Motor and General Motors have caused thousands of jobs to flee locales with heavy auto employment, like Detroit and Flint.

Any turnaround in these cities is likely to take years, and there is no silver bullet that will do it. But Zandi has three tenets that these cities should follow. First, educate the population. In Canton, Detroit, Flint and Youngstown, less than 18% of the adult population has a college degree. Next up, work on improving the infrastructure.

Finally it is important to keep costs down to try and entice new businesses. Michigan in particular has work to do on this front. Business costs in Ann Arbor, Detroit and Warren are all above the national average.”

And the best cities for jobs: 1. Cape Coral, FL; 2. Las Vegas, NV; 3. McAllen, TX; 4. Port St. Lucie, FL; 5. Naples, FL; 6. Ocala, FL; 7. Riverside, CA; 8. Provo, UT; 9. Myrtle Beach, SC; 10. Phoenix, AZ.

So if I ever did move back to the US, I’m heading for the Southwest – though I will always be a Midwesterner at heart!

On teaching English in French lycées

By   April 12, 2008

I have officially completed my second year as a teaching assistant! And I got my car back Thursday night, so I could drive it to work and back one last time. I finished my last few hours by having the students play Apples to Apples, Scattergories and doing a mock speed dating session.

Over the past two years, I’ve been noticing some common themes in the way English is taught to French students. Foreign language education is more advanced here than in the US, where all I ever learned was verb conjugations and vocabulary lists in high school. However, just because English is taught in this way doesn’t mean the students actually learn more… Plenty of my students apparently learned nothing over the past seven years of English classes. But some of them were surprisingly good, so it really just depends on the student and their motivation and desire to learn.

In France, language education seems to be much more culture-based, with more use of authentic materials, and it involves learning how to write/talk about common subjects that are (stereotypically) associated with the English-speaking world. The focus is more on communication, meaning, and expressing your ideas/opinions instead of on the grammatical forms.

I vaguely remember learning about some aspects of French culture/history when I was in college, such as May ’68 and the presidents of the 5th Republic… but that was in a class specifically called “French Culture.” I never really learned about important cultural differences when I was in high school.

So here are the main topics that my English classes were always learning about:

Blues & Jazz music
Junk Food & Obesity
Speed Dating
Gun Control
Environment & Global Warming
Racism & Slavery

Most of these are very “American” topics or problems, so I wonder how much the teachers really know about these subjects since they all studied British English in the UK. Sometimes I got the impression that students were learning overly-stereotypical ideas about Americans. It didn’t matter how much I explained that there are plenty of Americans who don’t own guns, and who are not overweight, and who do care about the environment (like me!!) Some of the students will always believe that all Americans are violent, obese and ruining the planet.

But then again, how can you effectively teach the culture of a foreign country that your students have never been to and may never go to? All they know about the US is what they see on TV or in movies, which we all know is never ever fake… They will never be able to experience the culture, especially one that is so diverse in a country that is so large, so they just take away small snippets of stereotypes instead. Is that better than learning no culture at all?

Y en. (Not a French donkey.)

By   April 10, 2008

I hate y and en. These little words have caused so much confusion for me in French. The basic rules are:

1) y replaces a prepositional phrase (except those beginning with de). It translates as “there” or “it” and sometimes it is not translated into English.

On va à Boston demain. We’re going to Boston tomorrow.
On y va demain. We’re going there tomorrow.

Elle ne joue pas au foot ? She doesn’t play soccer?
Si, elle y joue ! Yes, she does!

2) en replaces de or any contraction of it as well as the noun that follows a number. It translates as “of/about it” or “of/about them” and sometimes it is not translated into English.

Il veut du lait. He wants some milk.
Il n’en veut pas. He doesn’t want any.

J’ai deux chiens. I have two dogs.
J’en ai deux. I have two (of them).

Neither one can replace a person. For example, Elle pense à lui cannot become Elle y pense. And both y and en are placed before the conjugated verb, like other pronouns, or after the imperative. This means you have to think quickly and figure out if you need to replace the prepositional phrase before you even say the verb. Sometimes word order in French is worse than in German…

But those are the overly simple examples that I always learned from grammar books. It’s much more complicated than that. One problem is with verbs followed by à or de before nouns. Either I forget that they require a preposition and so I don’t use y or en at all when I should. Or I throw in the y or en, but still use the prepositional phrase at the end. ::sigh:: I just can’t win.

French V Tutorial 90. Verbs followed by by à or de before infinitives or nouns

Il n’a pas besoin de l’ordinateur. He doesn’t need the computer.
Il n’en a pas besoin. He doesn’t need it.

Ils ont renoncé au tabac. They gave up tobacco.
Ils y ont renoncé. They gave it up.

Another problem is verbs that automatically use en or y. Sometimes I have no idea what prepositional phrase they’re replacing; you’re just always supposed to use the verb this way. And if you do forget the y or en, sometimes the verb changes its meaning and you’ll sound really stupid. (Notice that there are a lot of reflexive verbs in this category, another part of French grammar that drives me crazy. But I’ll save that for another day…)

s’y faire – to get used to
s’y prendre – to go about doing something
y arriver – to manage / to be able to do something
en vouloir (à quelqu’un) – to be mad / to hold a grudge (at/against someone)
en baver – to have a hard time doing something [Notice that baver means to drool!]
en venir – to get at / imply something
s’en sortir / s’en tirer – to manage in life / to make it (i.e. recover, survive)
s’en faire – to worry
s’en aller – to go away

And let’s not get s’y faire or s’en faire confused with se faire, which when followed by an infinitive means “to get oneself + past participle” : Tu vas te faire tuer. You’re going to get yourself killed.

And I get even more confused with verbs that require de, but also already have en before them! [David tells me this is not actually grammatically correct French, but this is the way that French people speak.]

en avoir marre de quelque chose – to be fed up with something
s’en fiche / s’en foutre de quelque chose – to not care about something

And the kicker? Verbs like these, which sometimes have opposite meanings!

s’en douter vs. douter: Je m’en doute means I imagine so; whereas j’en doute means I doubt it.

There are other examples of how one little sound changes the entire meaning in French. Yet another reason why I think French was invented as a cruel joke on foreigners trying to learn it.

Tu en veux ? vs. Tu m’en veux ?
Do you want some? vs. Are you mad at me?

And the cruelest one of all, which includes a vowel sound that doesn’t exist in English:

dessus vs. dessous
above vs. below

Seriously. That’s just mean.

P.S. If you didn’t get the title, just pronounce y and en together as one word… and you will be making the noise that a donkey makes in French (hihan instead of heehaw).

April (snow) showers

By   April 9, 2008

I keep telling everybody that the weather in Annecy is gorgeous in April. “Don’t worry, last year it was sunny and 70.” “You won’t need warm clothes or an umbrella.” Ummm. This is what it looked like yesterday:

Today it’s raining, but it still feels just as cold. And the forecast for the next 5 days is, of course, rain. ::sigh:: To compare, this was April 9, 2007:

I promise it’s usually nice in April. I don’t know why this year has to be so crappy. So since I’m spending a lot of time indoors these days, I keep taking pictures of Canaille because he’s so cute. And always in the way.

He does this every morning when I’m trying to get ready. And then he needs a drink.

And of course there is a website called catsinsinks.com. It cracks me up!

Goodbye Assistantship, Hello Unemployment

By   April 6, 2008

Some good news finally. My car still isn’t fixed, but at least I only have 3 days of work left! I work Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and then my second year as an assistant will be over. Technically 7 month assistants work until April 30, but because of the 2 week break (April 12-27), that would mean coming back for one day of work. So I’m doing a few extra hours this week to make up for it. As of 4pm Friday afternoon, I will be officially done!

So what’s next? Good question. I’ll have plenty of paperwork woes to keep me busy for a little while. I’m still gathering all the documents to apply for my CDS vie privée et familiale, I’ll have to send off my passport to be renewed when I get back from Berlin & Budapest at the end of the month, and in May I can start filling out unemployment paperwork. Plus I’ll continue searching for any and every job I can find.

It’s a little strange to keep reading other assistants’ blogs and how they’re preparing to move back home soon. Usually language assistants are temporary workers. They are not meant to stay in France permanently. And that is why my second year as an assistant was not as easy as the first. All of the other assistants will leave this spring, but not me. Once again, I will lose all of my friends here. I will not be going “home” in a few months. I will not be continuing on with graduate school next year. I will not go back to the US to start my real life. My real life is in France.

Except my real life hasn’t actually begun yet. I’m still not sure what to do with my life. But in this land of high unemployment and low salaries, I’ll have to take what I can get. I do enjoy the idea of teaching English since I believe learning languages is the most important thing in the world. But in practice it’s not usually as fun when you have students who just don’t care or who don’t take your class seriously because they know you don’t give grades. Truth be told, I’d rather teach French to Anglophones than the opposite, but I can’t really do that in France, now can I?

Technically, I cannot be an English assistant for a third year as the CIEP only allows two years. I can, however, apply as a recruté local, which is actually the same job as a regular assistant. After the jobs are filled with new assistants and renewing assistants, any remaining posts are filled by recrutement local directly through the académie instead of through the CIEP. I will be sending my CV and lettre de motivation to Grenoble as a last resort, though I would really prefer to have a longer and higher-paying job. I think I’d like to be a lectrice too, except there aren’t many universities around here that teach English and I don’t want to commute an hour to work again…

I’m increasingly jealous of expats who are transferred to France because of their jobs. I would love to have a steady job and income in this country. (Though I’m not so jealous of the fact that most of those expats are paid in US dollars.) I can most likely receive unemployment this summer, but I would much rather work. I would like to not have to worry about money next month or even next year. But it seems like that’s all I do here. I will be so happy when we can stop worrying about paying off our student loans or if we can afford repairs on our cars.

I am really looking forward to finding a full-time job and I’m trying to be optimistic about the future. But it’s a little hard when I constantly hear stories of expats having no choice but to work in the teaching English field. The pay is low or unreliable, the hours are horrible, the focus is usually business (a.k.a boring) English. And whenever I search ANPE, all I can find is soutien scolaire offers, which is basically private lessons at the student’s home and exactly what I do not want to do.

In a perfect world, I would be able to stay home and make a living from my website. But I’m not willing to charge for my language tutorials because everyone should be able to learn, not just people with money. I know a lot of people think I’m dumb for not trying to make a higher income with my site, but I don’t care. I can’t deny people the opportunity to learn languages just because they don’t have a few dollars or euros to give me. That’s so selfish. Languages are much more important than money.

The one where Jennie finds out she’s self-employed.

By   March 31, 2008

In the midst of trying to figure out my American income taxes, I discovered that I am considered “self-employed in a US business” thanks to the Google Ads on my website. Huh? I’m self-employed? But I don’t even make enough money to break even each month!

I had thought my Google payments would just be considered as other or miscellaneous income for tax purposes. But nope. Apparently I have my own business and so I must pay the Self-Employment Tax of 15.3%.

I don’t qualify for the Economic Stimulus Payment or the Earned Income Tax Credit either. Awesome. But at least I can deduct web hosting and internet connection costs.

But here’s the kicker… US citizens have to file taxes only if their income is over $8,750, which mine is definitely not. However, if you are self-employed, you have to file taxes if your income is over $400! Lame.

So since I will have to pay the SE tax anyway and since I’m really starting to fear not being able to find a job in France, I suppose I should try to make my “business” more profitable. What do you think I should add/change/redo on my website? I’m not very good with marketing since I care more about the content and quality than how many people are looking at it or linking to it… But working on my site will probably be my full-time job this summer while I’m waiting for the right to work in this country, so let me know what I should work on!

Almost April

By   March 29, 2008

Our internet was fixed Thursday night. I’m not sure how I managed to live without internet for 12 days, but I did get a lot of work done on my Lesson Plans page and French & German Comparative Tutorial.

Some of my classes were cancelled yesterday because parents “sequestered” the teachers in the building as a protest against… something important? I only have 8 more actual days of work left thanks to the two week vacation in April.

My car can be fixed, but it will cost 800-1,000 €. We’re going to do it though because buying another automatic car would take months and cost a lot more than that. Plus I miss my little Renault. I want her back. She’s in nearly perfect condition except for the motor that will be replaced.

I’m feeling better now that March is almost over. Now if only I could find a job that pays well… or win the lottery…

And it keeps getting better and better…

By   March 26, 2008

RIP Renault Super 5.

The garagiste said the entire motor needs to be replaced. That would cost more than the 1200 I paid for it. So now I’m out all those euros and an automatic car. I’m so frustrated and angry and just sad. I could barely afford that car, which took four months to find. I have no idea what to do now.

I’m still trying to learn how to drive a manual, but driving in France was stressful enough with an automatic. I have absolutely no confidence that I can do it.

I still have 10 more days of work. Twenty more hour-long train rides.

Back to depending on others to take me to baby-sitting and private lessons. Back to being 12 years old and having no independence once again.

P.S. Still no internet/phone at my apartment. France Telecom accidentally cut our DSL line, and who knows when/if it will be fixed. If someone would like to search ebay or priceminister or whatever for an automatic car for me, I would really appreciate it.

Worst Week Ever

By   March 22, 2008
Not a good way to start the weekend.

So in addition to the no internet/TV/phone thing, I now have no car. It decided to overheat and leave me stranded on the highway Friday afternoon after I left work. And the weather gods wanted to make things worse, so they made it snow and rain all day. Luckily it only took David & the tow truck an hour to find me, so I wasn’t completely frozen by the time they arrived. Since it’s Easter weekend, the garagiste won’t even look at my car until Tuesday. So looks like I’ll be taking the train to work next week.

See? Only bad things happen during the month of March.