La grève? C’est pas grave.

On Friday I was presented with yet another “well,-this-is-new” situation at lunchtime. Elodie’s uncle and cousin have been over the past few days, can’t remember if I mentioned this, doing work on the house, so we all sat down for lunch and there were big plates of pasta, inexplicably with half a raw egg in an egg cup in front of me. Naturally, I wasn’t going to be the british moron who has to ask whether I was supposed to shot it or throw it over my shoulder for luck, so instead I fannyed about pouring my drink to give everyone else time to do whatever they were doing with their eggs. After that, I poured the egg on my pasta, like I knew all along. sorted. Friday night I went out with Mickael and Laurie. We went bowling (which as anyone who knows me, will know I am spectacularly awful at) at an alley which was done up like 50s America….very french, indeed! Hilariously, everything was neon and at 9 or 10 or something, they just put on UV lights and everything was pretty trippy. I managed to come last for both games, even checking my scores against some children in the lane next to us….I’m fairly certain I beat 4 year old Kenzo for one game, but Noah, who looked about 8 managed to beat me. Assured Mickael I let him win just because otherwise I’d be homeless and sleeping in the streets. It’s funny, there’s lots of english words used here, but either I’m not expecting them, or it’s just the way they pronounce them, but I struggle with them more than french words. They say “strike” and “spare” here and for some reason, they sound like they’re deliberately saying them with german accents. Laurie was also trying to ask me something about manga and in french it sounds like “mong-ah”. Went to the brasserienext door and sat looking at the menu, baffled for a few minutes at around 86% of the words on the menu. Mickael told me that the word I was staring at in confusion, flammekueche, was a local delicacy, a bit like a pizza. Thinking “when in Rome”, I decided to go for that and even went as far as getting the version named after the local dialect, Ch’ti. The waiter came to take our drinks order and seemed very, very confused when I said I wanted vodka with lemonade. We had this problem in Canada as well, has no one considered this in any country but Scotland? What are these people mixing their drinks with? Somehow ended up with a very potent rum punch, so I can’t complain. My Ch’ti flammekueche was essentially a pizza base without the tomato and cheese bit, with ham, onions, mushrooms, proper french cheese and a fried egg. It was actually pretty tasty. The cheese, whilst delicious and surprisingly mild, was very very smelly, so I ate it all first to get rid of it. They seem to go for really odd combinations here though, like as if they’ve just cooked the first 4 things they pulled out the fridge. Laurie had boiled cabbage, a bit of ham, 2 (different) sausages and a boiled potato and this is considered normal. The waiter then came and started speaking a language to me that I assume was french but I heard “vodka” and that was it. He then brought me a vodka that tasted of bubblegum, and apparently one of the words I mistook for jibberish was “malabar”, which may be my new favourite word. It’s a brand of gum here, which has a cartoon, muscly man on it, so they call built-guys here Malabars. Anyway, I had malabar vodka and it was délicieux. We started talking about music, and I said my favourite song was Rapper’s Delight, which I was not surprised to discover they hadn’t heard of, lots of the time when this happens I just have to say it in a french accent and they’re like “ahhh oui, bien sur” (just get a french person to say Jurassic Park. Hilarity guaranteed.) but even after having written it on the napkin they were none the wiser. I tried to remember the tune, which for some reason I can never do if there’s already music playing, and had to phone Daniel to sing it to me. When the bill came I had to wrestle it out of Mickael’s hand, which was no mean feat since he’s a malabar. E&M haven’t let me pay for anything since I’ve arrived, and I’ve resorted to making them coconut ice and buying them box sets I think they’re like, as token gestures of my appreciation. So I was sitting smugly, with the bill and cash, while Laurie spoke at the rate of knots (damn! my achilles here is people speaking anything faster than patronising) to the waiter, who came back with a card-machine and blanked me, instead letting Laurie pay on his card. I think this might have been nothing short of racism on the waiter’s part. Everyone here is so generous, I’m being absolutely spoilt. After dinner we went and played a couple of games of pool, where the planets seemed to temporarily align and I potted like 4 balls, as a total fluke, I even managed to conjure enough hand-eye coordination to “shoot some hoops” as the kids would say, on the basketball game. Went back to Laurie’s for a drink, got the grand tour (lots of basketball shirts and vinyl) and him and Mickael finally got a chance to hear Rapper’s Delight….I think their lives have now changed.

Saturday morning woke up to a text from Hannah B regarding a flat viewing, so had to go and ask Mickael to run me to Béthune asap. I feel like such a dick asking for lifts, but there is literally no public transport. So got to the square a bit early and stood waiting, accompanied by the classical music they play from big speakers in the street. It makes standing about feel very romantic and french or epic, depending on what’s on at the time. So, met Hannah and consulted our map to go and find our new house, had to stop and ask a woman where the street was who responded with “rue quoi? rue quoi?” until we showed her it written down, clearly our french pronunciation is an absolute horrorshow. Eventually found it, nice house, right in the centre of town, but in a quiet street next to a park, but sadly the owner did not turn up, even after us waiting for a good half hour. Apparently we didn’t confirm the meeting, despite saying we’d be there, I presume, seeing as he’s french he wanted several copies of our passport and 19 documents we didn’t have. Despite this, we decided it was perfect, so still trying to chase him up. Went a wander through Béthune, found a Singer shop, so took a picture, and the owner came out and jokingly demanded 5€, and asked why I would ever want a picture of it, I think he thought I went to the Japanese Tourist School of Photography where everything is a kodak moment. Wandered back to the main square, where, naturally, a medieval festival had begun. Took a gander (hilarious pun as there were later geese) at some stalls and walked around generally laughing at how odd it was, putting ourselves in the stocks (at which point I had my picture taken by an official looking man, as a less official looking man swung an axe above my head, so I may yet be in the Béthune newsletter) when a woman with a bonnet ran up to us outside the “Divination of Runes” stall and went “Annnnah! I bet you didn’t recognise me”, it turns out on weekends french teachers read runes. Making conversation, Hannah went “Ahh divination of runes, like in Harry Potter?” and she just went “what? no”. Conversation done. She did also tell us “my daughter will be fighting her dad later” and gestured to the 7 year old next to her….still not sure what that was about. Met Hannah H in the square and we were genuinely ignored by the staff at the pavement cafe of which we resided. We moved tables, then had to ask for menus, and to order drinks. The service was not brilliant, but the moules frites were. Again, wandered through the medieval festival which now featured geese being shepherded by a sheepdog, many horses, donkeys and big mascot type things of the archetypal symbols of the middle ages, Strawberry Shortcake and Scooby Doo. Horrifically, there was also a stall selling beauty products made from donkey milk. No, thansk. Then I pestered the Hannahs to go to the hypermarché which I remembered sold Rimmel make up, and my beloved eye-liner is a Rimmel rarity. Negotiated the bus system with the talk turning to french men, who are far more forward and persistent than their british counterparts. Oodson dispensed some now-infamous advice of “If you don’t want them to call, don’t give them your number”. She’s right though, there’s no such thing as giving your number politely here. Found thehypermarché and was again amused at seeing Auchentoshan whisky, but when we got to the make-up, I found Rimmel, and I’m not proud to say this, but I audibly gasped when I realised they didn’t have my eyeliner. Apparently I have become a cartoon. Also, makeup here is extortionate, I ended up paying 9€ for another eyeliner, the same one that costs £4 back home. Even the french brands are far dearer here, I have no idea why. Treated ourselves to a patisserie-adventure on the way out, Oodson and I got Merveilleux and Hannah B opted for a Religeuse, all of which turned out to be a disappointment, ours were essentially a ball of meringue as big as your fist covered in some sort of chocolate paste and chocolate sprinkles. I don’t think that’s even a patisserie, or a meringue? Hannahs, this is more of my scottish humour you will not get. I’ve also found out the terms “the filth” and “jobby” transcended south about as well as the notion to wear kilts. Walked back to town, and when we got to the square realised we’d exhausted the town, so text Mickael to ask if he’d be able to meet me and literally about a minute after I sent the text, he appeared, apparently he’d been in town too and had seen me. He also brought me a bit of Malabar, so I’ve now seen the Malabar man in all his glory. He mocked me on the way home for not being able to blow bubbles….what DID I do with my childhood? Later, watched Shaun of the Dead, it was hilarious to see it in French, although I feel something was lost when “un glace” replaces “cornetto”.

On Sunday, Mickael and I went to Lens for a walk. There’s a parachuting shool there, with those teeny planes and a very unsafe looking helicopter, which wasn’t enclosed. So watched people floating about for a bit then walked through the park, it was absolutely boiling, to the point I was not wearing a jacket (gasp) in October, yet the french folk were STILL wearing coats. I think they wear coats to go swimming here. There’s also an animal park there so saw a wallaby in the north of France. Also, apparently Llamas and native to France and have a gestation period of 350 days….it was very educational. Naturally, there was an icey selling ice-cream, lolly dummies, candy floss…..and bits of cheese. I, again, wonder if they’re just hastily remembering they’re french for my benefit. On Sunday night they invited me to Elodie’s uncle’s for dinner, but as much as my attitude for this year is go-to-the-opening-of-an-envelope-if-you’re-invited, I declined since I wanted to give them time on their own, they were sweetly insistent though, and I think since I don’t eat double my body weight for every meal they think I have some sort of fear of eating, Mickael said to me “well if you’re staying you have to eat something”. Had some pizza and Skyped Roberto.

Monday was my first day in my other school, again sitting at the back of the class then being paraded to the front to answer questions. So yesterday was warm enough that I walked about in a summer top, yet for some reason inside the school is actually colder than outside, so I sat up the back with my coat on, chittering. I was very glad I’d worn a bra, since said-top doesn’t lend itself well to bras, and if there’s anything worse than sitting in a freezing classroom with a roomful of excited 15 year old boys, it would be sitting in a freezing classroom with a roomful of excited 15 year old boys, braless. So went through the “what’s your name?” “where were you born?” “where do you live?” spiel with the kids, THEN, a boy asked me if I was french. I spelled my name out for the teacher to write on the board and she kept making mistakes and was like “your accent’s so difficult!”, but it’s the alphabet….it’s not that regional. She also later told another teacher that my accent was really strong Glaswegian. I thought it was a bit rich to be sitting in a classroom with 25 kids, many in Kappa tracksuits and to be told I was too Glaswegian. The children were all absolutely dying to clean the board as well, like it had to be done several times during the lesson and they were all leaping out their seats with their hands up, waiting to be picked. You can just imagine the response if anyone had been asked “who wants to clean the board?” at my school. Walked home and stopped in at the patisserie for a carmelite, (Bristow…it seems to be the same as your nun cake) which was A. a big sort of fudge donut on the bottom, with chocolate sauce on top, then cream, then a profiterole on top, again covered in chocolate, and both filled with chocolate custard and cream, and B. the reason I won’t be returning to Scotland a size 10. The french are far too chic to eat in the street (even those in Kappa), yet I walked down the street eating this cake, as big as my face, covering my face in chocolate, like an infant. Came home and Skyped Daniel, even met his flatmates. He’s gone right continental that yin, bender.

Today was back in the school for observation. There’s a strike here today (what a shock, another strike….in France) so some pupils didn’t turn up, but pretty much everyone else was here. Was in with the same teacher from yesterday who, while very nice, told the pupils I had an “accent terrible” . Questions today ranged from “Are you from Germany or New York?”, “do you enjoy playing the guitar?” to “do you like Twilight?”.I was also asked “what type of men interest you?”, struggled to think of something they’d understand so eventually went for “boys in bands”. I was also asked to sing a song by Claude Francois, who’s a famous old-timey singer here, who I’d never heard of before I arrived. I declined. Someone also asked me “what french words do you know?”, I think they were testing me. I told them about my new fave, malabar. In one class I was sitting in when they were doing a test, so to amuse myself I read some homemade posters on the wall, one was on the life of J.R.R Tolkien and included a summary of LotR, which referred to Gandalf as “the white magician”, made reference to “the unique ring” and repeatedly mentioned “Frodon”. It also said “Frodon and Sam went up the mountain in discretion”. I find these mistakes hilarious, because in this country it’s normally me making them. Also, bizarrely, at one point the teacher put up a powerpoint presentation, and when opening her memory-card on screen had another video file entitled “Look at the animals dancing”, I can only hope that’s next week’s lesson.

Flathunting goes about as well as you’d expect in a country that couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brasserie but that would require your birth certificate, driver’s license, 7 copies of your passport and a letter from your doctor saying you’re fit and well, to do so. In less responsible news, I’ve booked myself up for 5 days in Madrid with my amiga, Lauren, who’s an english assistant down there. So now, I have Halloween plans….hurrah!

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