What I do

By   January 26, 2008

I realized I hadn’t posted about the assistantship in a long time, so here’s a summary of what I’ve been doing at work lately:

On Tuesdays, I have all secondes (10th grade), so I try to focus on vocabulary and pronunciation. We’ve done geography of the US, describing people, and American high schools in the past few weeks. I make sure each student speaks, even if it is just a few sentences. But seeing as how I have either half or a third of the class each week, I get bored easily since I do the same lesson hour after hour and week after week. But at least now they know that the US is huge compared to France (yes, Texas really is bigger than France), Anglophones are not going to understand them when they say “I’m wearing baskets” (des baskets are sneakers), and that sports really are more important than education for some Americans.

On Thursdays, I work at a middle school and sometimes with the SEGPA classes. SEGPA students are supposed to have memory/behavior/social problems, but I rarely see a difference between them and the “regular” students. To me, they’re all just hyper pre-teens who don’t want to be at school. A part of me wonders if labeling kids as “at-risk” does them any good at all. Some kids may think that they will be considered that way for their entire lives, so why not live up to the stereotype? Be loud and disrespectful, don’t even attempt your work, try not to learn anything because you have no chance of going to a regular high school anyway. You’ll only be able to go to a professional high school, which are also stigmatized as being for under-achieving students. It just doesn’t seem very fair to the kids, because really, don’t all kids have some sort of memory/behavior/social problems? It’s called growing up.

Lastly, on Fridays, I work with première (11th grade) and terminale (12th grade) students. These students have to take an oral exam at the end of the year in which they will be given a document (painting, political cartoon, ad, poem, etc.) that they have never seen before, and talk about it for 10 minutes. They only have 10 minutes to prepare their speech. Obviously students need to practice preparing and speaking or they are never going to pass their exam, but that doesn’t mean they will actually try this in class… Even when I give them an exact sentence that they can use in their speech – The document I’m going to talk to you about is a political cartoon entitled “The Blame Game” – they still will not actually say it out loud in English. ::sigh:: I just don’t know what to do with them. To be fair, I think the exam is stupid and pointless because they are never going to have to explain a political cartoon in English in everyday life, but they knew that they were going to have to do this exam before they signed up to take English!

This past week, there was a national strike on Thursday, somewhat as a follow-up to the strike back in November. It wasn’t very suivi though, so I did have to work. I only had between 3 and 5 students in my classes, which was nice because that gave each one the opportunity to practice speaking without 15 other students interrupting them. Apparently when there’s a strike, absences aren’t counted, so a lot of students decide to skip out for the day.

My schedule is supposed to change after February 8, one week before the winter vacation. I’m hoping to no longer have to work 8 am to 6 pm every Tuesday because it wipes me out. I go to bed as soon as I get home, and don’t really do much on Wednesdays. I don’t know how teachers who live an hour away can work 10 hours a day the entire week and not be walking zombies. I can barely survive one day of it.

So I have 3 weeks left before vacation, and 6 weeks left of work after that. Ça passe vite !

Waiting and planning and waiting

By   January 24, 2008

We may be staying in Annecy a little while longer than planned. I had my heart set on Lyon if we were to stay in France since finding a job there would be easier, but we don’t really have a choice. I’m a little sad about not being able to move to Quebec sooner, but we need to save money anyway. At least one of us will have a job this summer…

I suppose I should start planning to send out my CV to all the language schools in the area. The end of April will be here fast. I’ll probably try to be a local recruit for the rectorat next year too, though being an assistant isn’t as fun anymore. It could just be the commute, or it could be the immature students, who knows. I don’t really want to work for the rectorat anymore, but I don’t really want to work in the private sector either. But really, what else can I do here?

I’m trying to accept the idea that teaching English may be the only job I can get here. I don’t mind it so much right now, but I don’t know if I want to do it forever. I’ve always wanted to teach French in an Anglophone country, like Canada or Australia. Teaching English doesn’t challenge me. I don’t learn anything new. I know a lot of people need to learn English for their jobs or whatever, but I’d rather help people learn French than English.

Plus working in the private sector would probably mean driving a lot to different companies. I am glad to have a car now, but I’m still stressed about driving here especially since I can’t get my car to start properly. It stalls at least once every day when I’m trying to go to work. Some days it takes 15 minutes to start. I realized the démarreur switch is a manual choke, which I have never seen before and have no idea how to use correctly.

I bought my carte grise this morning, which was only 108 € thanks to the age of my car. I know I shouldn’t complain about the cost of gas or insurance since I knew I would have to pay for those when I bought a car… but still, it annoys me that my French car is as expensive as my American car, and yet everything about my American car is a thousand times better. I’m so tired of having to pay so much for everything here.

I guess I’m just being bitter about being so poor. I went to university for 6 years to earn a Master’s degree, but that means absolutely nothing to the French. I want to work to earn a decent income and pay off my student loans, but I don’t see that happening any time soon in France. I have a feeling we are going to be poor until the day we finally leave this country and the Euro far behind.

Day 3 of driving in France

By   January 19, 2008
I love my little car because it’s so little. I’m going to build up some muscles because there’s no power steering and it’s hard to turn that wheel to get out of a parking space. There’s no radio either, but I honestly don’t mind that. Driving isn’t too stressful since I learned all the road signs, but I do worry sometimes when I slow down that she’s going to stall. (Yes, my car is a she.) She’s hard to start in the morning, and generally stalls at least once when I’m trying to get out of the parking lot. But after that, she’s good for the day.

I managed to get to and from work twice already. The highway is super close to my apartment and my schools, but it costs 5.70 €. I took the country roads home Friday afternoon, which actually saves me on gas, kilometers and tolls, but takes an extra 15 minutes. But after having a mini-heart attack at having to pay 50 € ($73!!!) for a tank of gas, I’m really not going to mind spending an extra 15 minutes on the road. I only have to drive to work twice a week though, so hopefully I’ll only have to refill every 10 days or so.

I drove to baby-sitting this morning and managed to not get lost. It’s amazing that’s I’ve been in this city for 15 months and still don’t know the roads that well. I just never paid attention enough.

Kilometers per hour and gas by the liter is just weird.

I bought something today.

By   January 16, 2008


It’s a Renault Super 5 with only 70,000 KM on it. It’s an ’86, but it’s in great condition and oh so clean! We had to go to Chalon-sur-Saône (200 km north of here) to buy it, but it was so worth it!!!

I didn’t mention finding this car online before because I was afraid I would jinx it or it would turn out to not be an automatic car after all. You wouldn’t believe how many times I found an automatic car that I wanted to buy, only to find out the seller had made a mistake in the ad and it was really a manual. FIVE TIMES. So if you are looking to buy an automatic car, do not trust online ads. Unless boîte auto or automatique is written in the title, then it’s not really an automatic, and the person was too lazy to proofread the ad before hitting submit.

And since I dread anything to do with banking in this country, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get a chèque de banque (cashier’s check) even though I had enough money in my account. We needed to leave by 11 this morning, so we thought that arriving at the bank at 9 would give us enough time. Except the person helping us was new and didn’t know how to do cashier’s checks. And then the bank didn’t have any more cashier’s checks on hand (seriously!), so they had to get special authorization to go into the vault to find them or something equally ridiculous. We decided to leave while they searched for this piece of paper, and had a nice chocolat chaud and croissant downtown. Luckily for me, they had found the cashier’s checks by the time we returned and we were able to get everything done just in time to leave for Chalon.

David called Direct Assurance before our return to Annecy and got everything settled in 10 minutes. My insurance should be 38 € a month and it will decrease each year that I am insured in France. And the cost of the carte grise (registration) shouldn’t be too bad either since the car is older than 10 years and it’s only 5 CV. I have one month to buy my carte grise and then I need to change the plaque d’immatriculation (license plate) since it came from a different département. But that’s it.

The 2 hour drive home was fine and not as stressful as I thought it would be. Everything worked out fine today and I’m still having a hard time believing it. I’m no longer a slave to Ebay or Priceminister, searching for automatics every single day… I have my own car in France and I am finally independent again! I am going to drive myself to work tomorrow and I couldn’t be happier. I may have spent a lot of money today, but I certainly don’t regret it.

Work and Holiday Visas

By   January 12, 2008

For those who cannot afford to study abroad or who cannot do a teaching assistantship in Europe because they don’t have foreign language skills:

Travel and/or work in Anglophone countries: Work and Holiday Visas are a way to travel to a country for more than 3 months, and possibly work (legally!) to help fund your travels. The only problem is that many of them have age restrictions (for example, between 18 and 30), you cannot bring your dependents along with you (if you have any), and you must have enough money to begin with to prove that you can survive and go home in the end. Some also require that you still be a student or a recent college graduate.

Anywork Anywhere allows you to choose your country of origin so you can find out which work and holiday visas are available to you. For American citizens, the only actual work and holiday visa agreements are with Australia (though the site hasn’t been updated to indicate this yet – it was just created October 31, 2007) and New Zealand; but there are other work and travel programs in the UK, Ireland, and Canada.

BUNAC is another site for work and travel programs in Anglophone countries (but only for those from the UK, Ireland or USA), as well as volunteer and teaching opportunities.

This amuses me to no end.

By   January 9, 2008

The other night on TF1, the news mentioned Mike Huckabee’s win at the Iowa caucus. But they didn’t talk about his political positions or anything relevant to the election… no, no, they talked about how his home-state of Arkansas is one of ten states in the US that bans the sale of alcohol.

Except alcohol is not illegal everywhere in those states. There are a lot of dry counties in the south, but to say that the sale of alcohol is completely illegal is an exaggeration. But I guess the French will never understand the concept of making alcohol illegal when they drink wine at every meal and even serve it to teachers at public schools.

Here’s the video clip if you understand French.

I like the interview at a Kentucky distillery where an employee said he would get in trouble (and possibly even jail time) if he let the tourists touch or taste the bourbon. LOL Who the heck goes to a distillery as a tourist?

And you gotta love the Baptist preacher who said alcohol is the drink of the devil! Ooh, and notice the obligatory reference to Al Capone near the end. When French people think of the US, they think cowboys and gangsters. And how many Americans actually remember who Al Capone is or what he did? Besides the ones who saw The Untouchables?

Laws based on extreme religious views are never a good idea. Especially since dry counties actually have a higher number of alcohol-related traffic accidents! I may be against alcohol, and hate the way that French people judge me for not drinking alcohol, but seriously, the drink of the devil?

I’m always amused at French people’s reaction to Prohibition and the strict laws against drinking alcohol that still exist today. I just wish I could make them understand how religious the US still is, and how the separation of church and state doesn’t really exist like it should…

To do list for deux mille huit

By   January 5, 2008

I’m not going to use that R word, but here’s what I want to do in 2008:

  • Read the bazillion books on my (full) bookcase – two finished already!
  • Devote more time to studying languages – back to Pimsleur & podcasts…
  • Immerse myself in French culture a lot more than I have been…
  • Gain some weight / exercise more
  • Buy an automatic car without spending all of my money – still nothing after searching for 3 months :(
  • Try to make more money from my website in case finding a job is impossible
  • Perhaps get certified to teach French abroad
  • Immigrate to Quebec (or move to Lyon and find a job if we can’t make it to Quebec this year)

Take trips to:

  • Strasbourg and Southern Germany (road-trip with David, perhaps in February)
  • Berlin, Prague & Budapest (maybe during April vacation)
  • Montpellier / Nîmes / Arles / Carcassonne in the summer
  • Bretagne & Normandy when the weather is not completely crappy
  • Ljubljana, Split & Dubrovnik (hopefully in September when most tourists are gone)

Anybody wanna travel with me?

Provence et New York ?

By   January 5, 2008

J’ai fini de lire A Year in Provence de Peter Mayle et Une Française à New York de Laurence Haïm. Je ne sais pas pourquoi je n’ai jamais lu le premier, vu qu’il est sorti en 1989. Presque tous les anglophones qui se sont installés en France, ou qui veulent y s’installer, lisent ce livre fameux, aussi bien que les livres de Stephen Clarke et Adam Gopnik. Honnêtement, je n’ai lu aucun livre au sujet de la vie en France avant d’arriver sauf 60 Million Frenchmen Can’t be Wrong. (Ce livre m’a plu et j’ai appris tant, mais je n’ai pas vraiment compris la culture française et comment tout se passe ici. C’est vrai qu’on ne peut pas apprendre tout dans les livres, surtout comment survivre en France ! Je vais le lire à nouveau, 15 mois après mon arrivée, pour savoir si je comprends mieux ce pays ou toujours pas du tout.)

Le fait que je suis allée en Provence (aux mêmes communes desquelles Mayle a écrit) avant de lire le livre m’a aidée à comprendre la vie provençale, et par conséqeunt, les expériences de cet anglais. Je savais exactement de quoi il parlait. Je n’étais en Provence qu’une semaine, mais c’était suffisant pour découvrir le rythme de vie. Cependant, le livre m’a faite réaliser que peut-être la Provence n’est pas pour moi. En lisant, je me suis souvenue des repas qui duraient plus que 3 heures (trop long !)… plein de viande rouge et de l’ail que je n’aime pas du tout… les marchés complètement blindés de gens… les GROSSES bêtes qui ont envahi le jardin et la piscine chaque jour…

J’adore être à la campagne, mais pas comme ça. Il me faut plus d’espace et moins de gens (et d’insectes !), comme au nord des Etats-Unis, pour me détendre. J’ai eu le mal du pays récemment, et retourner en France après Noël etait un peu difficile. Il y a tellement de choses qui me manquent… le chauffage, la nourriture, le confort, la campagne, la neige, Thanksgiving, etc. Et il y a tellement de choses en France que je n’aime pas. Je voulais faire une liste de “pour et contre” les deux pays pour essayer de mieux apprécier ma vie en Europe, mais j’avais peur que cela me rendrait plus triste d’être en France.

Ensuite, j’ai lu Une Française à New York qui m’a rappellée de toutes les choses que je n’aime pas à propos des Etats-Unis. Le manque de sécurité de l’emploi et d’assurance maladie… le prix élevé de l’université… l’écart énorme entre les pauvres et les riches… seulement deux semaines de vacances chaque année… les médias qui ne parlent que de la célébrité et de la querre en Irak… C’était fascinant de lire les pensées d’une française au sujet de la vie américaine.

Plus précisement, elle a parlé de la vie des new-yorkais et de la ville, qui n’est pas du tout comme la campagne où habitent mes parents (et donc, ce n’est pas ce qui me manque). Néanmoins, j’avais commencé à faire ma liste. La plupart du temps, ce que j’aime aux Etats-Unis, je n’aime pas en France, et vice versa. Mais il est difficile de comparer les deux parce que pour moi, le Michigan est la campagne, et la France est la ville. On ne peut pas comparer les deux. Je ne suis pas tout à fait heureuse en France; mais est-ce que c’est la France entière ou la ville dans laquelle j’habite que je n’aime pas ? En plus, j’ai habité au Etats-Unis pendant 24 ans, et ce pays et cette culture est ce que je connais le mieux. Je m’y suis habituée et maintenant, il est difficile de changer, de s’habituer à un autre.

En tout cas, j’espère que le Canada (ahem, le Québec) sera un mélange de la France et des Etats-Unis, mais seulement des choses que j’aime !

Le retour de la neige au Michigan

By   January 2, 2008
A few days after we return to France, Michigan gets lots of snow again:


This one has nothing to do with snow; I just thought it was really cute. Brandy & Shadow were taking a nap together before Christmas. I really miss dogs.

Christmas in Michigan

By   December 29, 2007

Christmastime Emotions

Happy. I honestly do not like Christmas in France, so going back to the US this year was wonderful. I need decorations everywhere and 6 foot trees and Christmas carols playing 24/7 on the radio. I have to watch the Grinch and Charlie Brown and even Rudolph with those creepy dolls that surprisingly never gave me nightmares. I want turkey and stuffing and potatoes, not disgusting seafood and goose liver.

Grateful. My family gave me useful gifts and mommy even made stockings for David and Canaille. High school friends came over to meet David, and we hung out with some university friends too. I love that whenever I leave my camera lying around, I find pictures of Bradley on it like this:

Cheerful. If you ever need some Christmas spirit, go to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth. It’s the largest Christmas store in the world. And Frankenmuth itself is a pretty cute little Bavarian town. Frankenmuth and southern Germany always remind me of Christmas, at any time of the year.

Proud. David was not shy about trying new foods and experiencing real American life. I introduced him to ultra-modern inventions such as garbage disposals, cruise control, and drive-up ATMs. The only cheese he ate was (bright orange) cheddar. He drank Sam Adams beer instead of wine. He finally remembered to leave the door open when he left a room.

Warm. Furnaces and fireplaces and kerosene heaters! Though I did have to share the heater with the dog.

Relieved. Being so far away from work (and the commute to work) was the best gift. Vacation was definitely needed! I still have 12 more weeks of work – plus two more 2 week vacations – so we’ll see how I feel again next week when I go back.

Thrifty. The exchange rate is awesome if your income is in euros and you want to spend dollars in the US. Prices were so incredibly low! David bought so many things (size 13 shoes in every store! whaa?!?) we had to buy extra suitcases to bring it all home.

Ashamed. Unfortunately we had to go shopping at Walmart one day. But that’s not even what I’m ashamed about… can people please make an effort to not look like total slobs when they leave the house? Do you really have to wear sweatpants and T-shirts that don’t even match? How about running a brush through your hair once in a while?

Disappointed. The snow melted the day we got to Michigan. No white Christmas again.

Stressed. Packing and airports and flying stress me out so much. Lufthansa is stupid and does not assign seats that are next to each other when people book tickets together. I tried to check-in & choose our seats online, but it wouldn’t let me. Luckily we managed to sit together in the end, but still… annoying. Trying not to exceed the 23 kg / 50.6 lb weight limit drives me crazy. Wasting hours of my life waiting while dealing with a constant stomachache and backache does not help.

Angry. This was the sixth round-trip flight for me this year (Dublin, Barcelona, Cairo and Michigan three times!) I am going to try to not fly at all in 2008. I am so sick of the awful border and security controls. Do they really think I snuck liquids or whatever into my carry-on between the airplane and the gate at my connecting airport? Yes people, you do have to remove your coat, and everything metal that you have in your pockets. It’s called a metal detector for a reason. ::sigh:: Why should I have to be separated from David just because we’re different nationalities? Do you really suspect every French citizen of bringing wine & cheese into the US? What is the point of showing my passport to someone who doesn’t even bother to look at it?

Calmer. We talked about immigrating to Canada again, which always puts me in a good mood. I don’t know when it will happen, but the thought keeps me happy. Staying in France for now isn’t so bad either; I just needed some time away. I’m hoping that finding a job won’t be the most difficult thing ever, though almost everything I’ve done in France seems to be that way.

Exhausted. Eighteen hours of travelling is enough! I’m going to sleep!