Dans l’nord t’es brai 2 fois… Quand t’arrives et quand tu r’pars

Wednesday, was my day off (ok, so I have 4 days off a week…..it was one of them) so managed to reschedule a viewing with the man who stood us up for the house-renting situation. Spent the morning pottering about, tested out the newly-built bathroom in the house (that’s Elodie and Mickael’s house, in which I reside…..not the one we were viewing), which is incredibly fancy and with a frankly outstanding shower. When I was drying my hair Mickael came up to tell he was off to la banque, at which point I should have said “well, Mickael….I also need to go to the bank, and since you will inevitably drive me there anyway, you may as well wait a tick”. However, I did not. I continued drying my hair then text him later that day asking to go to the bank at some point. I’m not sure why in my head I was less of an incovenience to him if he had to do 2 trips to the bank, but at the time it was an ideal situation. Went downstairs to make my now standard nutella-and-diabetes breakfast, and when I took the toaster out the cupboard (apparently this is normal both for your family, Jordan, and in France), the plug caught the sugar shaker and it smashed all over the floor. There was sugar and broken glass fucking everywhere. It was pretty horrendous because A. I am the clumsiest person in the world B. I was staying in a couple’s house who have taken me in out the goodness of their hearts, who get nothing in return except for very occasional english guidance, and the emptying of their fridge of delights C. I was barefoot, and there was sugar and glass everywhere. Managed to locate a wee brush to sweep it up with, but since there was no pan in sight, I started to use paper towel, which was an absolute horrorshow, then I went and located my teacher’s register which I’d had put in my pigeonhole by one of the teachers’ unions. Just days ago I was delighted to have somewhere to write my class register and look all professional, and now it had been reduced to shards of glass and some granulated sugar. My book is still crunching everytime I pick it up. When Mickael came home I tried to gauge my apology from devastatingly-sorry,-never-recover-from-this to I’m-a-horrible-person, and was helped by the fact I didn’t know the verb for “to drop” so went for “I let it fall” instead. He told me it was pas grave and not to worry. Went off to get ready for our house-viewing (ie. source numerous woolen items, since it decided in the space of an hour it was now winter) and put on my panda hat which Mickael was amused by. He told me the other day that in France, British people are known as having an excentrique style of clothing, so told me that my hat was veryanglais. I think it’s a good thing; the french have, at times, a questionable dress sense. I’ve seen teachers in outfits constructed from leather and mesh, and everyone on the street seems very bland.

Met the two Hannahs in Béthune then went to the only cafe we ever go to, there’s still no decent tea but the crepes are good and there’s WeeeeeFeeeee (the french can’t say WiFi). I opted for crème brûlée rather than a meal since I’d eaten, but I have to say, I’ve had far better, outside France. After we’d had our fill we headed down to the house, where we were greeted by an ageing French man who we all bonjour!!-ed very enthusiastically, then stood awkwardly for about 10 seconds till he realised he hadn’t invited us in, clearly the british are like vampires when it comes to entering a home uninvited. We were then taken into the building site that was masquerading as a house, the kitchen inexplicably had a faded photo of a waterfall printed all over one wall of the kitchen. Well, all over the wall except from where it was peeling. After a quick tour of the house, we all asked questions, to which he replied with answers which made no sense in either language. So, the floors covered in polythene, tacky wall prints and tins of paint everywhere did not a good first impression make. Stood awkwardly again for a bit, going “d’accord…bref, merci…” and trying to leave. Headed back to the square and did some toursity things like post postcards and … try and find where the hell you buy a sugar-shaker in pas-de-calais. Then wandered down to the station with Oodson (she’s called this because the french children can’t say Hudson), and stood in the queue to buy tickets for 35 minutes. Just a ticket to travel on a train for 10 minutes. This is normal here. Stood in the queue, for some reason getting the giggles, then seeing a man behind us with what I can only describe as “comedy glasses”, which did not improve the situation. Then picked up about 40 train timetables (including one for St Et, mon coeur!) and text Elodie asking her if she’d be able to pick me up. Went and bought some french magazines, Glamour and Elle – I’ve taken my high-brow taste with me and hung about, waited about 15 minutes and had no text back, so then did the whole is-it-now-rude-to-call? bit. Got a text back and then used my waiting time to price tickets for Paris and St Etienne on the tickety machines, and wandered about the station, I must’ve looked very foreign and very lost.

On Thursday, got up bright and early to get to Lille (great fun since the strikes are still on), managed to successfully board the train (gasp) but forgot to composter  my ticket (stupid french thing, where you have to get your ticket punched before you get on), but luckily I’m pretty convincing when I act dumb and say I don’t speak any french. When I got to Lille I found it quite amusing that the clock said 08:59:59 when I was meant to be at a school 3 metro stops away at 9am. Successfully boarded the metro, but realised I’d also succeeded in not checking what line I was on, so had to get off a stop later and head back to square one to pay attention this time. When I got to my stop, I was delighted to see that there was a large group of striking students outside the lycée, with such jovial antics as setting bins on fire, and throwing rocks at police cars….I don’t know who organised it but I’m so impressed they went to so much trouble just to make me feel like I was still at home in Clydebank. Managed to wander in the other entrance (rather reluctant to cross a strike-line involving fire, in my old age), where some helpful men asked if I was a foreign assistant (the clue was me wearing a cape in a country where literally everyone, regardless of age or gender, wears jeans, black leather shoes and a tshirt) and pointed me in the right direction. Saw the assistants walking en masse towards me and was greeted with “you’re the scottish girl, right? you’re in our group”, by another scottish girl who’d remembered me from the week before, so somehow in France, ended up walking to a lecture with 2 scottish girls and an american, who didn’t get my sense of humour when I jokingly asked which part of Scotland she was from….”oh no, I’m american”. So our lecture basically involved what we’re meant to do with the kids (basically fun games) and what we’re not meant to do with the kids (be alone with them, with the door closed). Then went to hear another lady’s chat, which was again, about what to do with them. I essentially counted down the minutes till lunch (cakes good, meat bad…as is standard in France) where I sat with some new american and canadian friends discussing, for the most part, America’s fear of anything not involving Jesus. We were eating in the school canteen, and I swear, these kids are not like I was at that age. Some people in lycées can be like 21, but even at that push, there were people there that looked about 30 and were definitely pupils. We got the same reaction we do in all the schools, being regarded as aliens, with people whispering and pointing, and boys trying to chat you up, I think we’re a novelty. After lunch we were back with the second lady, who couldn’t understand a word I was saying and then went “are you scottish? ahhh I thought so”. I cannot tone my accent down anymore than I did. I’m going to be like Lulu and sound mental, then when I get back to Glasgow forget what my accent originally was and turn into Jimmy Krankie. Managed to get one of those nice oh-everyone’s-laughing-I’m-hilarious moments when I made a friendly jibe to the yanks about gun control and everyone had a hearty chuckle. Also had several hearty chuckles when the teacher’s english failed her and she repeatedly told us the best solution to problem children was to “seduce” them. I think she meant to get them on your side, to charm them, but it’s a better person than me that can hear “I had a very difficult boy one year, and I just made such an effort to seduce him after a class one day, and from then on he was always fine with me” and not laugh. I’m not sure I’ll be taking this approach since my pupils are aged 11-15. Went for a drink with some of the other assistants, on the metro there experienced a nice bit of racism from people describing us as the french equivalent of “shit in the country”, so nice to see they’re tolerant to other cultures. The bar was mental. Not wild and raucous, by any standards, just mental. I ordered a Leffe and went and sat back down since it seemed to be table service then sat for ages while the girl served other people, eventually brought our order over and one girl had ordered hot chocolate, which in this case was stone-cold chocolate so when she went and asked the owner for it to be heated up, he started talking in french about how he was spanish, then said he was portuguese. Despite his identity crisis he did manage to microwave it for her. The entire time we were there he was pouring himself beers and was absolutely wrecked by the time we left and holding on to the bar, it’s brilliant to see a barman drunker than the regulars. When we were leaving I went to the bar to pay for my beer, and the woman, who ignored me for a minute till I got her attention, then said I didn’t need to pay for the beer, so I asked if one of the boys we were with had paid, since he’d been at the bar at the same time as me, and she said no. Again, offered to pay and she looked at me blankly, so I left. Free beer….hurrah! Had to run to EuraLille (very very big shopping centre smack-bang next to the train-station) to try and buy a sugar-shaker, knew I only had 15 minutes till my train (helpfully they’re around every 2 hours during strikes), so was on a mission, until I saw H&M. In my defence, my momma raised me right….if you break something of someone’s you replace it…..but, Shields. I’ve not seen a clothes shop that didn’t seel Quiz castoffs and multicoloured aprons masquerading as dresses till the day I left the Style-Mile of Glas Vegas. So, I ran around H&M, feeling the thickness of knitwear (that’s how we buy clothes in Pas-de-Calais), and resisted the urge to buy another fur jacket….who am I kidding, I’m buying it next time I’m there, rent be damned! Found a homeware shop on my way out and it had a sugar shaker that was about the size of a lime, which in France is abismal. Sugar goes on everything here, what use is that??

On Friday, I was meant to have observation at school 8-12 but since a couple of the english teachers were off sick, I was told to come in at 11 and we’d see how it went from there. So sat in for one class, they again, asked me questions and again my name was a sticking point for them, they also always try and say my brother’s name as “Roody”. God, that’s another thing, there’s children here called Rudolph. I’m aware it’s a legitimate name, but is it? is it really?? After the class, I was told basically I could go home. So I was essentially paid £80 to tell a bunch of french schoolchildren my date of birth about 7 times, slowly. Headed back to Chez Moi, aka Elodie&Mickael’s gaff, for some lunchyfun. Romualde and J.C (Elodie’s uncle and cousin, who’re working on the house) were over and generally I feel a bit awkward round them just because they talk so quickly and 80% of the time I have no idea what they’re saying. As Daniel said “It’s fine as long as no one talks to me or acknowledges my presence”. So after Mickael and Elodie went back to work I came downstairs and ended up talking to Romualde about the strikes and different mentalities across the world, for a good 20 minutes, and apart from a few nod,-he-doesn’t-know-you-don’t-get-it moments, I understood what he was saying. It’s bizarre here sometimes how you pray for people to just not talk to you, then when they do it’s fine and you feel so confident. I can’t remember if I mentioned this, but I tried to teach Elodie about rhyming slang the other day, which since she speaks English, she understood it, but just thought it was really, really weird. Decided to mention it to Romualde, who does not speak english, so basically said “well, in English, the phrase “apples and pears”, rhymes with the word “stairs” so ehhh, right”. Decided to find the train station which is about 45 mins from where I’m staying, Google-Mapsed it but had to scribble down some directions, then run, since thanks to the strikes trains are limited and I’d be waiting a long while for the next. Set off in the rain, and in Scotland I’d be walking along like “fuck walking in the rain for 45 minutes, I’m going home”, but I slapped the Beatles on my iPod and walked along thinking “all I do need is love, you’re quite right”. My optimism wained after I found a lady to ask directions and who didnt understand me, then repeated back the EXACT same sentence to me. Why do french people insist on doing this? She gave me incredibly vague instructions and told me it was very, very far, then said it was 2km, this is not far, french lady. Walked through a bridge, where inexplicably there was a child’s sun hat, a pair of lady’s sandals and a man’s belt. Perhaps they had given up on summer clothing in the north. Rather sinisterly, it was also next to “bad girl” spray-painted, in english. Gave up on finding the station, after spending several minutes trying to access Google Maps on my phone. Did however find a Lidl and a Carrefour, so ventured in to try and find ingredients for an english breakfast for E&M, wandered about Lidl to no avail so headed to the Carrefour where I found a few ingredients, but no sausages or baked beans…..domage! So then headed back to Lidl to look like a total shoplifter, just walking about not buying anything. Phoned Daniel to discuss Lidls and all manner of french-life, was lovely to hear from the boy, I miss him. That ten minute call, and the attempt at downloading Google Maps cost me 12clams, I don’t know how anyone affords a phone here.

Yesterday, went and finally got my bankcard, you have to pick them up for some reason here, shockingly it didn’t take long to find my card since I was the only “D” and the only “Loosad? Loo-eezad?”. After that we dropped in some stuff at one of Mickael’s friend’s house where there was a man I didn’t know, who knew I was the english assistant, yet made no effort to meet me in the middle as it were, then sarcastically said “merci” when I finally understood what he meant. Went to faire les courses (gawn fur messages) and not only managed to source ingredients for an english breakfast, but managed to pay for it as well, with Mickael telling me I was “a nasty girl”. Chuckled at the connotations of this. They’re very unwilling to let me pay for anything. Whilst in the shop I found the whisky section which had a map of Scotland, labelling Glasgow as “Les Highlands”. Went for a swatch in some shops after, unsurprisingly I managed to find nothing of interest, I took another picture of an example of dire clothing. That’s a lie actually, I found a pair of shorts I thought could be good, then after trying them on and deciding against them I told the woman at the changing rooms they weren’t for me and I got told “well, put them back then”. Well, I feel like a dick. Met Mickael again and went looking for a birthday present for his gorgeous wee filleule (goddaughter), I was of no help, just wandering around picking up leather biker jackets for 2 years and going awwwww.

Last night, Elodie’s family came over for Raclette. It’s a type of cheese and you have a circular grill thing on the table and you all put some cheese in a wee, individual, metal triangle dish under the grill to melt it then take it out and pour it over your charcuterie (I’m going to sound like a massive knob, but either there isn’t a word in english or I’ve forgotten it, it’s a selection of cured meat, like parma ham and salami and such) and bread and potatoes. It was actually amazing. I was dreading it before hand, it’s hellish sometimes when there’s a group of 9 french folk all having 4 seperate conversations but it was such a good night. Sank a fair amount of vodka and managed to chat about the age of retirement (literally, what anyone here will talk about right now given more than 47 seconds) and such. I was asked to translate some french jibberish that I’d never heard in my life, and eventually discovered Romualde was trying to tell he was a “tits man”, the vocab just didn’t ever come up in any of my coursework to be honest. After dinner we played a game where you’re given a word, and you have to get your teammates to guess the word, without using other words listed on the card, I participated minimally since I knew about 30% of the words anyway. It was funny though, everyone was a bit tipsy at this point, especially Mickael who was getting really into it. Had some cake since it was Romualde’s birthday on Monday, then he went for a drunken nap on the couch, only to be awoken when everyone else was leaving. He woke up and basically started talking shite, which I didn’t understand a word of, as Mickael and Laurie looked on amused, since they probably couldn’t understand him either. He asked me “how can you drink so much and still be fine, you’re so little?” and I was just like “I’m scottish”. He seemed to accept this.

Something odd about France…..the men here all carry a tiny wee black cross-body bag, presumably for phone and wallet. A. It is always the same bag, you don’t get one guy going “I’m getting an orange bag!!”, it’s as if they’re state-issued, and B. they all have the same jeans and jackets as men back home, so why do they need a bag?

Also, I’ve titled this post “Dans l’nord t’es brai 2 fois… Quand t’arrives et quand tu r’pars”, which is Ch’ti for “In the north you cry twice, once when you arrive and once when you leave”, which is so apt, when you get here it seems so deserted and grey and rainy, and then the longer you’re here the more you realise the people are so friendly, and it’s a bit like the difference in attitudes between Scottish people and the South of England (I’m speaking in generalities, Hannahs!). Everyone’s gone out their way to make me feel at home.

Plus, a viewing for a flat on Wednesday….and it’s furnished! An extreme rarity in France!

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