Que sera, sera

Tuesday was my first proper day of teaching with the kids, toute seule. Before I got dressed I tried on my Eve leotard for Halloween, I’d figured living on a diet of french food (aka, if it doesn’t have Nutella on it, it has bechamel sauce) for a month might’ve led to the unsightly side-affect of loss of figure, but was pleasantly surprised to realise I hadn’t become the Michelin man since September. I think I might actually be skinnier. Shields is hilarious, when I told her I was going to Madrid she was like “are you going out? Are you going to a club? The men there are really full-on”. I think at this point she realised that every Halloween I base my costume around strapless leotards in various hues and just shook her head. They’re very respectful of Our Father Above down there though. We learned in Hispanic Studies that Franco made the Virgin Mary the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Spain. I’m not sure what military knowledge she possessed, but I guess if she was smart enough to convince her husband the reason she was preggo, without them sleeping together, was because it was the son of God and she’d been impregnated through her ear, then she can think up a few ideas for defending the country. Anyway, I digress, point being, since Eve is a biblical figure, I will be more likely revered than raped.

As I was saying, Tuesday was my first proper day of teaching, opted for a high-waisted pencil skirt and dusky silk top….très professeur. Feel I ruined my teacher-image by then sitting playing Crash Bandicoot with Mickael to the point that instead of being 10 minutes early for class I was in fact a smidgen late. Had the troisième Euro class (kids what are dead good at English), who had prepared a tour of the school for me, and since they were getting graded on it, it was all being filmed for Elodie to mark later. They did it in groups, so I had two groups on Tuesday and I’m going in on Friday to get the other 2 parts. The “pupils with difficulties” (I’m guessing in Scotland it’s the people who were in foundy) are all in seperate classes and do completely different subjects, they’re the only ones who do Home Ec, for example. So went to the SEGPA (those pupils) area, there’s a big room that looks like a mechanic’s garage, but all the kids are just doing art in it, the art teacher’s ridiculously friendly, so invited me in for a tour. His classes have done all these amazing murals on the school’s walls for all the different departments. Smugly, noticed Molière on the French dept’s wall, will somehow need to bring up that I’ve studied Molière’s work, but will also need to remember not to mention that I watched the Rikki Fulton TV drama of one of his plays instead of reading it.

Headed home for lunch after that with E&M, Romualde and Jessy. Elodie said before I arrived Romualde and Jessy had been saying again how they were shocked by me being able to drink, I just don’t understand, I literally had about 5 drinks, I feel if this shocks them then they can just wait to see me coming home from a night out. Sat and watched the strikes and the go-slows on the news, I don’t even know why they bother putting it on the news, I could present the news every day: “France strikes, government will put through law anyway. Nae joy on the retirement, lads”.

After lunch, had mixed success with the classes. I should’ve heeded the motivational posters of Clydebank High, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. Tried to talk to the troisieme about stereotypes by getting them to name words they related to Scotland (kilts, tartan, whisky and Nessie) and then words for a french stereotype, which I don’t think they really understood. Where we’d opt for a man in a stripey Tshirt, jaunty beret, baguette under one arm and cigarette hanging out his moustached-lips they suggested words like Renault and cows. They also suggested “Miss, cock”, at first I thought this might be an unfavourable pet-name but I clicked that the male-chicken is indeed a symbol of France, still refused to write cock on the board for fear of tee-hee-ing. I’m mature like that. Then asked if they thought stereotypes were always true and if all french people were like this, and one girl, bless her, she wasnt even being sarcastic answered yes. I don’t think she understood and just liked her 50/50 odds on a yes-no question.

Had 2 cinqième classes after that and just resorted to playing Simon Says with them. I only have each group for 25 mins but it meant I was playing Simon Says for 2 hours. And getting paid £20 an hour to do so. I also bought myself some time at the start of the lesson by getting them to make signs for their desks with their names and introducing themselves. My class after that was meant to the quatrieme but since that teacher was on strike, my class was then changed to heehaw-ième.

There was a retirement do on in the school that the teacher I was getting a lift home from later was going to, so she suggested I just go early. Thought going to a retiral of a woman I didn’t know an hour before anyone I knew would be there sounded like hell, so went and did work in a staffroom for a bit then boldly headed along 20 mins before anyone I knew would be there. I assumed it would be a standy-up-drinks,-nibbles-and-mingling situation, but strolled in to find it all seated, so made myself at home at a table who were in full-flow of conversation so didn’t really think interrupting to go “Hi, I’m L, I’m Scottish. Be nice to me” was the best way to go. So was poured some Leffe (is it just on tap here?) by a man who, I swear to god, had a goatee, a ponytail, a black polo-neck and was carrying a camera. I presume he’d come dressed like this after my inspiring lesson on stereotypes. Sarah (English teacher who was giving me a lift) arrived at this point and the guys I was sitting with were talking to her about me, asking where I was from and if I was the assistant, once again, was unsure why they weren’t just asking me, so answered them anyway. Hilariously, one man invited me to join the staff badminton club on Thursdays. When I told Shields this, she suggested I go. Sports? What? Then tried to pay attention when Mr Flamingo (I just cannot call him Monsieur Flament when his name is so brilliant in English) gave a speech about the lady who was retiring, then she gave a speech and greetit like a wean, was very sweet. Then sampled the buffet, which included pain surprise, which I realise written down looks like something you’d pay £90 an hour for in a Soho basement, but it was actually my Most Impressive Sandwich Display of the Month (sorry, Subway). It was a deep round loaf (basically looking like a pot) with the bready-goodness inside cut out, cut into slices, made into sandwiches and put back in, therefore perfectly fitting and filling the bread, and then the top’s put back on….rendering it une surprise! Washed it down with a variety of champagne cocktails, served in glasses covered in sugar sprinkles. I seem to recall our Home Ec department laying on a questionable selection of scones at a few choice occasions through the year. Fairly pales in comparion now, eh?

Went home after a few mini choux delights and Mickael gave me a book he’d bought for me all about the North and the culture. Spent about 10 minutes laughing at a song written in Ch’ti. It’s just not even French, I have no idea what it is, but it’s not the french I ever learned. He promised to sing it for me next time he’s had a few rums, luckily Romualde’s less shy and treated me to a beautiful rendition before lunch the next day.

Wednesday, had classes 8-12, had 6 sixieme groups in a row, which meant a lot of noise, but luckily you only need to prepare one activity per age group. Played a game with them about colours, which some classes got straight away, and some just looked at me blankly. At the start of the class, Mariliyne (who is technically my mentor teacher, and not Elodie) introduced me to the class since I’d been at a meeting the week before so hadn’t met them, and one boy asked if I was her daughter. I’m sure she was chuffed. Had a quatrieme after that, and was pretty disheartened when the first half were very reluctant to talk, and ask me questions. The most profound questions I got were “do you have a boyfriend?”, “what’s your phone number?” and “what’s your favourite sport?”, but the group after them (the other half of the same class, no less) couldn’t have been more different, it was just like chatting to your friends, they were all really nice and asked me questions like “are you good-tempered?” and “what’s your passion in life?”. I don’t even know how to ask if someone’s good-tempered in french so god knows how they do in English.

Went home for some luncheon then met Hannah for our flat-viewing of the hotly-anticipated furnished (!) flat in Bethune. At the agency, hilarity began when the lady asked our names and we told her, then noticed she’d written on the viewing log “Mademoiselle L et Mademoiselle Hannah” so I think we’ve become dance-teachers since we’re now Miss L and Miss Hannah. Our hopes were high as we saw the flat was bang in the centre of town, and in a nice area. Our hopes sank, and hilarity rose however, as we entered a close with carpet-covered walls. No-one here has carpet flooring for some reason, so I don’t know if someone ordered it by accident and just decided it would make nice wallpaper. Naturally, I got the giggles and was brought to tears by the estate agent trying to open the door for a good 5 minutes, tried to cover it up as a coughing fit. The house was pretty dismal, it was manky first-off, which I’d be able to forgive since it’s easy to fix, but the furnishings were essentially a garden table in the living room accompanied by garden chairs to eat on and deckchairs, presumably to lounge on. The final nail in the coffin was when we walked into the sole bedroom. Yes, there had been a typo in the advert and there was only 1 bedroom. When we questioned if there was only one room, she said yes and asked if we’d prefer 2 single beds to the existing double. I think she might have thought we were lesbian dance teachers. Needless to say, we continue our fruitless quest for accomodation. We were very productive and visited every agency in town, getting increasingly confident in our french to the point we didn’t even anticipate questions and just took our brave pills and headed on it. Made a couple of viewings but it’s difficult since Bristow and Hudson are back off to England on Saturday. It also seems impossible to find anywhere with a fitted kitchen. I don’t mind living with the bare minimum furniture but I feel that some sort of cooking appliance and a fridge are necessary to my survival. Found another shop in Bethune that has clothes that don’t make me feel sick (we’re up to 2 now!) and, sickeningly, a “magasin erotique” called “la cercle rose”, which in english, is “the pink circle”. I feel subtlety is not a quality in abundance in the north.

On Thursday, I didn’t have a class until 11 but Elodie’s my ride to work and started at 8, so I came in with her and with my 3 hours, I was incredibly productive, typing this blog and ehh I ate an orange and listened to Girl Talk (hello, Ryan). I managed to leave my phone in my classroom yesterday, not a big problem since I’d locked it and I’m the only one that uses it apart from a Friday, but when I come in today, I realised that A. my classroom’s very clean and B. my phone is not here. So jaunted off to see the secretary, who must be sick of the sight of me. She said nothing had been handed in and I had no idea what the word for “cleaners” is so I was basically like “Well I left it there yesterday, and I came in this morning and it wasn’t there, but my room was clean, so ehh”….as if I was giving her really shit clues to solve a murder-mystery. Eventually she caught my drift and went and asked one of the “Mesdames de menage”, who had it….parfait! Half way through my incredibly productive morning, a woman came into my room and started talking something about “english”, “vocabulary” and “computers”, I didn’t really know what she wanted, but I knew that she wanted a favour, and something to do with English. Since I’m well brought up, had nothing better to do and speak English, I naturally agreed. Walked along to her room with her where she explained she works with dyslexic children to help them with a variety of subjects, and realised she wanted me to make a recording for them to listen to. What I did not realise was that I also had to do the french parts. The vocabulary included words for “whale” (absolutely no idea) and “the Rocky mountains” (made a guess), so she soon saw sense and we re-recorded it with her doing the french and me doing the english, which is usually my stronger language. I sounded unbelievably scottish, I have no idea if the kids will understand a word.

After 2 lively sixième groups, I met one of the english teachers to go to lunch since she had a lunch card and I did not. The canteens here are about 400 times better than ours. Firstly, you swipe your card at the start and a machine gives you a tray, so that’s you paid. Then you walk along and pick up about 40 dishes (why do I feel that I have to take whatever is included whether I’m hungry enough or not??). So sat down with some roast chicken, a salad, some cheese and bread, a bowl of grapes and a selection of cooked meats and pickles. Then, I noticed why canteens were really better here. They have beer on tap. Obviously just for the teachers, but how cool is that? You can have one of the lunch ladies pull you a pint (or metric equivalent) to accompany your continental lunch. I haven’t phoned my parents since I got here, since we talk pretty much every day or two on Skype, but this was the first occasion I thought, this cannot wait till tonight…….Dad, there’s BEER. BEER in the CANTEEN, can you believe??

My classes that afternoon were so noisy and wouldn’t behave, with the first group, Mr Gonzalez, the spanish teacher, had to come into my classroom to ask what was going on. The second group there was a boy in, who just would not sit down or behave, and kept saying things to me in slang french, which I didn’t understand, but had to kid on to understand since I knew they were inappropriate. Luckily he’s now barred from my classes….hurrah!

That evening went for a wander round the shops with Mickael. I looked through the lady-clothes shops, then met back up with him, he was delighted to take me to the hypermarché to show me one of those mini-jukebox things that play clips of the CDs for sale. He’d found one called Pipes of Scotland, and some other equally Scottish one. I didn’t know any of the songs on the CDs but it made me chuckle. Was showing him the BBC website the other day, to show that France’s strikes were the biggest story in the UK, and when he asked me what was happening in Glasgow, 6/10 of the main stories were murders, I feel this is a sterling example. So he told me the shopping centre was in an area a bit “comme Glasgow”. I think this mean’s we’ve found the ghetto. Afterwards we stopped in at Mickael’s père‘s gaff. Whilst there, his da asked him what I though of the North and Mick was like….eh ask her? So he was really surprised I spoke french and thankfully this was a question I’ve been asked before so I had a spiel already in my head about the differences in mentalities between the north and the south being similar to the differences between Scotland and England, so I think he was impressed.

On Friday I had the second part of my tour of the school. Started off with the boys who showed me the sports area, they all seem to play Handball here, which apparently is not just a football-offence, it’s some weird, German hybrid of football and basketball. The next half was a group of girls who are all really good at English and had prepared this brilliant treasure hunt for me. I had to answer questions on school subjects to get my next clue, and it was all in English. The first clue was actually really hard, it was a maths question, which I actually got wrong. Maths was never my strong point. Each time, the clue led me to a classroom where the teacher stopped what they were doing to ask me a question (which was very sweet since none of them spoke English) and when I got it right, I got a wee pink envelope with a jigsaw-piece of a photo and the next clue. My favourite was Mr Flamingo’s clue which was a crossword, he’s so cute and chatty, bless! Finally got all my pieces and put them together to make a photo of the class theyd had taken for me, and then got a copy that hadn’t been cut up, and had “remember us” on the back…..very very sweet!

Since I’ve been adding to this draft for some days and have never caught up, I’m just posting up ‘til Friday now, and since it’s now Wednesday, I’m off to Madrid!

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