The last week has been eventful in a way only living in a new country can be. You can have a perfectly normal week, going to the shops, going to work, going to sleep and find it eventful, because everything here’s new. And Christmassy.
Had a meeting last Thursday in Lille, with the other assistants in the region. This was largely disrupted due to the snow, with people travelling from places like Calais, it was not an easy task. It’s like being back at school though, there was maybe 20 of us, all sitting in a massive lecture hall (we have our meetings in a high school in the city-centre, much to the amusement of the pupils) and the woman who takes our meetings is absolutely brilliant, a good giggle and for someone who lives in France she has freakishly good English. Like, if I’m talking to any of the English teachers here, in English, I have to tone down my accent and speak a bit more slowly, but with her, she gets full-on Glaswegian. We were meant to have written up a lesson plan, and present them in front of the group, when I was asked for mine, Anne (for this is her name) told me I had the same I-haven’t-done-my-homework face as her pupils. She was quite right. Thankfully escaped getting a punny. Got a good few ideas for the lessons from the other girls, then we participated as pupils in lessons given by Anne and the other lady, whose name I do not know, which involved her reading out a children’s keep-fit book with as pop-up frog that did push ups and us standing in a lecture hall doing the same. Went for a coffee after that (ironically in a cafe dubbed ‘Notting Hill’) with a couple of the girls then headed for some largely unsuccessful Christmas shopping. Was also reminded of home when a man was kicked out the adjoining shopping centre of standing in the doorway drinking Le Lager Super.
Next day went to Arras with the two Hannahs, for their Christmas market. Arras’ Christmas market, the two Hannahs aren’t settled enough here to have their own market just yet. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was colder than space. I literally had about 50kg of clothing on and I was still numb. Went for lunch pre-market to heat up. Had some raclette, and they gave me a full camembert, melted on a plate. I literally cannot comprehend why people here aren’t obese. I don’t know if I mentioned before, but the North, where I stay is the fattest region in France, and you literally just don’t see anyone overweight. I want them to come and walk through Clydebank Shopping Centre on a Saturday and see what obesity is. Hilariously, there’s also a reputation that British girls are always hot. Once again, please, please actually visit Britain. Don’t get me wrong, I surround myself with the beautiful folk of Clydebank, but the vast majority enjoy the overweight look, cheap extensions, bad tan, and a general look of being absolutely riddled.
The next day we went to Lille, once again Christmas shopping, once again unsuccessful. The day after E&M had family over to see baba Lily. This is always a bit awkward, because sometimes its family they’re not really in touch with, so they don’t know they have a random Scottish girl living in their extension and there is often not enough room on the couches so I’m left with the options of hovering awkwardly or being anti-social and going to my room.
This week my classes have been Christmas themed. I say ‘classes’ loosely. I’m not sure any of the other teachers’ sole preparation for classes is downloading Wizzard and Wham, and getting the children to make Christmas cards. With the older ones I managed to get them to sing Rudolph, after explaining all the lyrics in French (surprisingly hard!) but the younger ones were just confused and kept asking why he had a red nose, so quickly dropped trying to sing with them and got my other classes just to make cards. This was actually harder than you’d have thought. They send cards here the same way we do for birthdays etc, but the children were so confused by whose name to write where etc, and some of them wrote their own names for the “dear” bit. I really have no idea why. The most notable Christmas card incident however was with a quatrieme class (14 year olds). There was one boy in the class who another pupil felt the need to tell me was “un peu bizarre”. I quickly understood, when he started saying, in English, phrases like “I’m not a killer”. He was one of those kids though that just wants to be weird to get a reaction, so I pretty much ignored him, even when he stood up and announced he was writing “Have a sad Christmas” on his card. Well, calm your bad self, wild child! However this came back to bite me in the ass when Elodie’s replacement came to talk to me at the end of the class and asked who had drawn the card. It turns out in addition to writing “have a sad Christmas”, he’d gone as far to draw a bloody knife and a headstone with the teacher’s name on it, and some sort of death threat. At my school we normally just gave boxes of After Eights and bubble bath to our teachers at Christmas.
That night I got a text from Ava, one of the other assistants, asking me to come over for a night out for her roommate’s boyfriend’s birthday. Still hadn’t been out in Lille so headed in to meet her at her apartment. Turns out we’re both awful with directions and she had to walk a couple of streets wearing a towel, boots and a coat to meet me. Sat having a few glasses of vino whilst Ava got ready and her roommate Myra cooked dinner. We were going out for Myra’s boyfriend’s birthday so soon the apartment was filled with Les Hommes Francais…..did I mention I liked France? At this point Ava & I decided to be super-classy and drink vodka and rum shots, with wine chasers. I’m not sure why this was a good idea but it was. After some drunken shenanigans we made it to a club (except one guy that made it as far as the street before his friends had to carry him back to an air-mattress), that I vaguely remember. Somehow left the club with a transfer-tattoo saying “I’m Famous”. Spent the walk home arguing with one of the french men about whether a song existed. It was a French song, I don’t know why I was saying it didn’t, I just like arguing in French. Back at the appartment, I went and flung my jammies on, then decided to jump on the other side of the mattress where drunk-french-man was lying, just for funsies. After the fun of waking him up I stepped off the mattress, barefoot, into a puddle of his piss. You win this round, France.
Woke up the next day with Ava going “ohhhhh my gosh, my classes start in 20 minutes”. Not funny for her, but funny for me and the other girl in the bed, Coralie. Even funnier was that after phoning to say she’d slept in, she fell back asleep and nearly missed her next class. Thankfully we woke up in time and even had time to go to Macdo for Frappe and Filet-O-Fish. Questionable hangover food. Met Hudson for lunch at the 3 Brasseurs (which I promptly threw up in the mens bathroom) then went for some rather unsuccessful shopping. I was still very hungover when we got back to Bethune (the station we change trains at), so much so that I had to go outside cause I thought I’d be sick. Then realised I’d made the Nobel-Genius move of leaving my handbag on the train. Had to run back, thankfully trains sit here for like 20 mins then head back, so I jumped on the train, with me and Hudson jogging down the train, while the nice driver waited. We had to go out the ….cockpit door. Train-cockpit door? because all the doors were shut. Brilliant.
Sunday, went to Lille with Lauri (Elodie’s brother) and Hudson. I only realised how far my French had come yesterday, I’ve definitely improved so much since I got here, it’s brilliant when you’re not stopping-and-starting your sentences. But it’s good, Lauri speaks really good English, so if I’m stuck on a word he can usually help. Went to the Christmas market, where it was so busy we could hardly see anything. We were given breathalysers on entrance to the market, I guess it’s a Christmas campaign to cut down drink driving, but they’ve got a better chance of keeping Berlusconi away from a wrong-side-of-the-law, 19 year old model’s birthday party….that’s a little continental humour for you there. Yeah, so drink driving here, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, is a case of….”I’ve had 7 beers, I should probably call it a night, I’m driving”.
Also, met a man with a sign saying “Câlins gratuits” which means “free hugs”, so naturally partook. Decided even though the market was an impenetrable fortress, I still needed some vin chaud, also, they find it amusing here that I can drink, I don’t know what the girls do here, but apparently it’s not the norm for a pretty young thing like me to have a shandy and a half and be able to stay upright. Elodie was talking about how when she was in England “there were girls in clubs, looking like princesses, pretty dresses, high heels, full makeup….but falling over the place, you can’t even imagine how drunk they were”…..yes, you’re right, I’m not one for this binge culture, myself. ANYWAY, Lauri was like, just down it. Down mulled wine, Lauri? In a Christmas market, Lauri? Naturally, being the child I am I did. I bring class wherever I go.
So after bringing some Clydebank culture to what was otherwise a charming market we went a wander amongst the shops. We ended up in a chocolate shop and I decided to take some back for Christmas presents, since it’s apparently the best chocolate in France (I tried it, it was pretty damn good). Lauri’s basketball buddy worked there so he came over and naturally was asking Lauri who were were, and during this conversation they both referred to us as “foreigners”, it’s funny that the word isn’t offensive at all in French, we are foreign and therefore foreigners, but obviously the English translation is a bit of an off description for someone. Chocolatey-Man then proceeded to tell me everything that was in the shop, and for some reason it was exorbitantly expensive for a prepacked box of 9 chocolates, but for a quarter of the price you could pick 40 (yes, four-zero, forty) chocolates, including the 9 that were in the box, and have them packed in the same fashion. This no longer even surprises me. France absolutely defies logic in every aspect of daily life, and they just think, well this is normal. Anyway, it was further cheapened by the fact that Chocolatey-Man pretended Lauri was his cousin, so that I could use his staff discount. Hilariously they even kissed for this. Not like with tongues, but when it’s 2 men, they only kiss each other if they’re related. That’s dedication for you.
For some reason I was designated “compass” of the day, and called upon when directions were needed. Anyone who’s ever driven with me will know how bad my directions are. I’m not proud to say it but very occasionally I need to look at my hands to see which one makes an ‘L’ shape to remember what way left is. I always assume Hannah would be a good driver (she lives in the country….she must be), and Lauri’s French and born and bred Pas de Calais , so I have no idea why I was called upon for this job but managed to navigate us well, until we were back at the shopping centre we parked at and realised we didn’t know where the carpark was. They’re not a big one for signs or anything here to help you. Although, maybe they just don’t think there’s stupid British folk who’re going to forget where their car was. Managed to find the car park, and after walking through The Creepiest Car Park Ever (not a person in sight, with terrifying classical music playing) we headed back to Lauri’s where he made us a yummy dinner.
It was funny, we spent the whole day talking franglais; it seemed rude to talk to Hannah in English so we ended up speaking French to each other even when Lauri was in the kitchen preparing dinner. It was a heady mix of fluent French, stuttered French and “what? What does that mean? What’s that?”. I think Lauri was amused, anyway. We had this amazing dinner similar to the raclette we had a few weeks ago (in the sense that there’s a grill on the table and it’s DIY), I don’t know how you spell it but it’s like Pirad. It’s basically a plate of different, seasoned meats that you cook on a grill in front of you, then there were lots of different sauces and potato salads and stuff. Health and safety really has gone out the window; normally I’m like “oh! White chopping board for meat, wooden for veg” and having had salmonella, it’s not an experience I’d like to repeat. But here, it’s like, well if this Frenchman’s putting a load of raw-meat on the plate he’s about to eat off of, and using the same cutlery to do so, why can’t I. Pleased to report my immune-system has manned up somewhat since my BHS sandwich salmonella incident of ’98, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. After me and Hannah did the washing up (finally, someone let us contribute to something) we had a quick grammar lesson “Je suis une bonne” means “I’m a maid”, “je suis bonne” means either “I’m gantin’ furrit” (English folk: it means you’re heavy wanting your hole….actually, I can’t hear that being said in Hertfordshire either. Maybe….”I’m dying for a bit of that sex malark” or “I’m good in bed”….I’m not sure. So anyway, after that, we headed to one of those is-it-a-pub-is-it-a-club? Venues and got rainbow cocktails. Well Lauri didn’t, he had beer like a man. The DJ was also DJ-ing with CDs….when did this revolution occur? Lauri also told us (in English) that it cost the shocking amount of £100. Still got some work to do on his English numbers, that boy.
This week’s teaching has been much the same, largely nice kids, who enjoy classes, but there’s been a few incidents I’ve had to write in folks carnets (school report book things they have), which they absolutely fear above all else. I had a girl yesterday who’s a pain in the arse and every week she’s just really obnoxious and loud and interrupts all the time. So I sent her out the class yesterday and she was like “baaaa nooo! Madame! Nooo!” and I told her repeatedly to get out, and she refused, and at this point I just thought “Fuck. What do you actually do in these circumstances, I can’t actually force her, but I can’t back down”. So like the rookie I am I went and got my mentor teacher who shouted at them all, hurrah! She winked at me when she was leaving, not the girl, the teacher. How amiable! I hate sending folk out though, cause I want the kids to chat and have fun, and participate, but after an incident like that they’re all really quiet and it’s hard to get them involved again.
Yesterday was my school’s Christmas meal. Unlike the Christmas meals when I was the pupils’ age, I did not make a paper placemat in class beforehand, and I did not bring a change of clothes including a petticoat. Also, unlike Gavinburn, I was served turkey, foie gras, poached pears, baked scallops, smoked salmon, deer, cake and champagne. I couldn’t see any of the English teachers but one of the teachers I talk to invited me to come and sit down with him and his teachery pals. So sat there and somehow got involved in a conversation about the demographic nightmare, skiing in Scotland and the Eiffel Tower. Ironically, I could particpate in all aspects apart from the Scottish skiing. Ended up shamelessly flirting with an art teacher, old enough to be my dad, I shouldn’t be allowed to drink at lunch. I was also encouraged to finish my champagne, as the next one would go with my foie gras better……and I was in school. I fucking love France. My school lunches cost me 3.05… I drank well over a half-bottle of champagne, to the point I was tipsy and sat giggling to myself in the staffroom later. I feel this offsets the living costs here.
That night Elodie and Mickael prepared a raclette (the melty cheese amazing thing) since it was my last French night of 2010, and Elodie’s stepdad came over. He also bought me perfume for Christmas, how cute is that! Sadly, I got him…nothing. However, returning from Scotland with some whisky for him no doubt. So sat around eating melty-cheese and drinking vodka-orange for a few hours. Elodie told me I had to sleep in the street because I didn’t know who World’s Apart were, who apparently were a 90s boyband, that I missed out on. I think she forgets there’s 9 years between us. This led to a cross-culture YouTube frenzy of “You’ve never heard this?!! WHAT”. Apparently Rapper’s Delight and All the Small Things did not make it to Pas de Calais. I also learnt that describing someone as a “B.A.B” (Bonne a Batiser = Literally “good to fuck”) means “I WELL would”, so that’s some good vocab. It was also really nice to see Elodie and Mickael so happy, and all we-have-a-baby-together happiness. I love my wee French family. ALSO, I realise I didn’t write this at the time but it was so cute I almost cried. They bought a stocking for Lily the other day, then a couple of days later, they hung it up and put two other ones up for themselves, then put a tartan one up for me…..HOW cute. After they went to bed last night I put a euro and Edinburgh rock in their stockings and some presents under the tree. I was also horrified to find that chocolate coins I purchased in WH Smith were in fact euro coins. This is obscene.
This morning said my goodbyes and headed to the station with Mickael to catch the first of my trains. Sadly missed the train, due to the train-lady being incredibly unhelpful and telling me I didn’t have the right reference number for my ticket (funny how it worked later). So Mickael drove me to where I was making my connection for train no.2, very nice of him as it’s 40 mins drive, sadly since it snowed here the traffic was unbelievably slow, it was actually like a cartoon. At one point we were going at 20kmph, which isn’t even worth converting into miles since it’d be so close to zero, and this was on a motorway. Spent the journey on and off the phone to Daniel trying to get my reference number, which in the end I didn’t need. Arrived at the train station 10 minutes after my train was due to leave and by some miracle it was delayed for 10 minutes (thank you, Clarence the angel), so hastily set about trying to get my ticket from the machine. The machines here are touch screen and frankly intolerably slow, it registers you touching the screen about 3 hours after you’ve touched it. Stood going “fuck!” at the machine, which greatly amused Mickael, he finds it funny when I swear in English and even funnier when I swear in French. I’m still not sure why.
So I’m here, in Charles de Gaulle, patiently waiting for check-in to open. I’m sorely tempted to chance my arm and try to board the plane to Marrakech.
I get a grant for being here…..I know. A grant to go and live in France for 7 months, while I’m being paid £20 an hour. I’m sure the EU has better things to spend their money on, but they disagree, so getting that money next month and decided to use it to go travelling next spring. I had hoped to spend a few months in Spain, to work on my language. I know I should do this, and I know its my honours year, but really, it seems so much more fun to spend the money having a few amazing weeks visiting France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Holland and …. Marrakech. I also want to go to Casablanca. May even get my arse in gear and tutor next year for some extra pennies. I forget I should take advantage of my speaking English being a commodity here, I can’t see anyone wanting English lessons back in Glas Vegas. So anyone that fancies a jaunt next year, I’ll be fleeing about Europe, feel free to join in where you fancy.