Wow, this past few days have really been full. I definitely still have an American mentality when it comes to teaching, as lesson planning and material preparation consume most of my waking hours. And food and communication. Other than that, I’m pretty sedentary. HA.
Saturday, I went grocery shopping (well, sort of) with Monsieur Paillous, a colleague of Françoise at the school business office (intendance). We went to LeClerc, which makes it the third time I’ve been there. LeClerc and its competitors Auchan, Intermarché, Carrefour, and others are the French equivalents of Super WalMarts, Targets, and KMarts. The LeClerc in Ussel actually has an attached Home Depot LeClerc, Garden LeClerc, and Dick’s LeClerc (although it leans more toward hunting and fishing and hiking). Anyways. I bought more water including fizzy water which is just delightful, French chocolate bowls (see the picture), and a PRINTER! It’s a Lexmark printer/scanner/copier (/fax) and works beautifully, especially after I stopped at the office supply store today on my way home from School Two to pick up the printer->computer cable, which was not included. Joy. Monsieur Paillous (I’m sure he has a first name but I haven’t been told/figured it out yet – a French quirk about meeting people is that you don’t ever really know someone’s name until a few exchanges into your conversations…it can be frustrating for an American!) has also invited the three of us (me Ben Rocío) to an apéritif (drinks and snackies before dinner) with the other lady who works in the intendance, Madame Robby-Menardi. How sweet! Everyone here is SO nice and welcoming. Warm, pleasant, and genuinely interested in our well-being and happiness. Makes me feel ok.
On Sunday, the three of us were invited on a mushroom hike with Blandine, one of the English teachers who has been with us practically every step of the way. Um, it was pretty much a three-hour hike through the French countryside – on country roads, on forest paths that I’m sure are not on any map – and I rolled my ankle three steps into it. Eesh. I’m ok but it still hurts a bit, much less than on Sunday, but on Wednesday I’m buying some friggin French shoes. Good ones that support my ankles. I also have a blister but I have band-aids so I’m ok. So anyways, it’s supposed to be a mushroom hike but we found no mushrooms. So when we went back to Blandine’s house her husband François took us out in their Ford SUV (I’ve never heard of a Ford Maverick but ok) and we went through some more woods, more country roads, and some paths that I’m sure were never meant for cars to be on. Ever. But we did find some mushrooms, mostly flat, slightly orangey-pinky-white ones called “pieds de mouton” (sheeps’ foot…I didn’t see the resemblance) that when sautéed up with some oil and garlic were DELICIOUS. Oh, did I mention that before this hike, Blandine made us lunch? Yeah,roast chicken, boiled potatoes (home-grown), mushrooms (girolles which are bright orange and look like trumpets and cèpes which are enormous and look kinda like the Chinese dancers from Fantasia). Omg so good. Yummy. Dinner when we came back from the mushroom odyssey was omelettes with “trompettes de la mort” (death trumpets which are dried girolles and are deathly black), salad, sautéed pieds de mouton, cheese (omg CHEESE – Camembert which smells to high heaven and tastes like heaven, bleu, and Comté which is like Swiss without the holes), and ICE CREAM! (Note to self: rum raisin ice cream is good to try in order to say you don’t like it.) It was really nice. François also makes liquors from almost everything – we tried a number of liquors, including a tarragon liquor I’d like to call “insta-ulcer.” Neat. We also watched the last half of the Rugby World Cup Semi-Finals between South Africa (why is there ONE black dude on the team) and Argentina. Argentina lost so they play against France for third place. South Africa will play against England for the Cup. Rugby players are FUGLY. Worse than American football players. Holy Neanderthals.
Today I had three classes scheduled. I got up at a good hour to do some last-minute material preparation in the teachers’ room, where a bunch of the high school teachers stopped and talked to me which is really nice. They’re so sweet. Françoise also came looking for me, saying I had a package!!! When did Mom and Dad send that, because it got here SUPER fast. Wow, that was SO exciting. :-( Made me miss home. But anyways. Had lunch at the cantine (cafeteria) with some of the other teachers…I have yet to finish an entire meal…they’re just not that good. I mean, one of the sides was steamed chestnuts. I tried them. They taste like steamed nuts. Not so much. Then I went to School One. They’re really, um, *enthusiastic* children. Meaning they bounce off the walls despite clear instructions – and you wouldn’t BELIEVE the instruction they ask for, especially anything concerning their notebooks. Eesh. One kid in my third grade class is really a handful. His name is W* – that’s exactly what his parents have on his birth certificate – and he TALKS NON-STOP. However, he’s one of a handful in this class that knows exactly the answer to every question, and his American English accent is impeccable. Unfortunately, he talks entirely too much out of turn and in French so I gave him lines to copy in his notebook. He totally didn’t get anything near what I wanted done, but that wasn’t the point. I took him aside at the end of the lesson too, and I think that will improve his behavior. He’s also the ringleader a group of about four other boys who I almost gave lines to today as well. He was good to make an example out of. I will say that those third graders KNOW their numbers 0-12 and how to ask and answer the question “How old are you?”. So cool. So cool.
My next school on Mondays is School Two, a half-hour fourth grade lesson. However, after I raced the three blocks to the school, panting and sweating, the teacher who usually greets me (again, no idea what her name is other than “Merci Madame”) told me that the fourth graders are in the video room and that there will not be an English lesson today. Oh, ok. It really wouldn’t have mattered if they had told me on Friday – I really have a bad memory – but it sucks because (1) the kids miss a third of their English time for the week (2) I won’t be there next Monday because I have the mandatory immigration doctor’s appointment that even if I change will invariably be on another school day and (3) dude I’M HERE. But no matter. They have a full sixty minutes for the next lesson and I’m sure we can accomplish quite a bit.
When I got home, I finally opened the package – brownie mix, goldfish, Double Stuf Oreos (Ben believes that those are the only kind of Oreos that should be allowed; I agree), Dino BBQ sauce, more New York State maple syrup, a little thing of honey because I’m the honey bunch!, ranch dressing and mix (I think I’ll give it to Blandine and maybe she could do something neat with it), Jello, Jello molds, Momma-made Halloween cookies, the Thurman Munson shirt I’ve been looking for (thank you!!!), some random Halloween stuff, and basically thoughts from home. It was really really really special to have some reminder of home, even though I’ve only been here for three weeks. Thank you Mom and Dad! I miss you and I love you.
So I spent most of tonight making sure that at least tomorrow’s lessons are ready, which they are. It really sucks not having internet access here in the apartment because Microsoft ClipArt doesn’t even work. It’s kinda hard to make elementary school English lessons without pictures…I’m not exactly doing verb conjugations and subordinate clauses with them. So I’m drawing a lot, which is fine because I like stick figures and dammit I draw a mean dress (my fifth graders are doing colors and clothes).
So yep. Still doing well. I have a lot of pictures to upload onto the laptop and eventually onto Yahoo!.
Two people complimented me on my French today. That always throws me, because I don’t know how to take a compliment to begin with, and it makes me immediately nervous for my next utterance. Another English teacher at the high school (again, don’t know her name) invited me for dinner on Friday night (thanks for the maple syrup, Mom and Dad – it makes a great thank you gift!) and complimented me on my French. At the office supply store, the clerk complimented me as well. It’s just really reassuring to know that today was a good French day, that maybe there will be more of them in the future, and that I really can function (more or less, as long as you use complete uninterrupted sentences, few colloquialisms, and don’t mumble) in normal conversations. What totally surprises me, and this is something I was concerned about before I arrived, is that I can completely understand and communicate with French children. I guess we kinda have the same linguistic capabilities. Yeah, there are times that they don’t really know what the crap they’re trying to say and then expect me to decipher, translate, and respond – I hate that – but for the most part, I’m really doing well with the kiddies. Maybe my French is on the level with a nine year old. That would make sense, considering I’ve studied French for just over ten years now. Interesting. But yeah, more Good French Days have been occurring and that’s a good feeling. (Just for the record, Bad French Days are when you don’t understand a damn word that’s said to you or that you read, everything’s a big mumbly mess, and no one understands you because your vocabulary has been reduced to “I no can talk”. Very disheartening and makes you long for Anglophones, preferably familiar ones.)
It must be said that this is quite possibly the best-paid job with the least amount of work involved. I get nearly full health insurance (with the option of full if I so wish), extensive paid vacations, the full logistical, professional and personal support and cooperation of the other teachers, the school principals and basically anyone else who knows I exist, supplied materials (I am not expected to purchase anything myself – one of the English teachers, Karine, asked if I had bought the construction paper myself, which I had, and she was surprised)…for more than minimum wage working 11.5 hours a week. Um, did I also mention that the closest bakery to us is staffed by the cutest and hyper-friendly little baker lady? I plan on parking my fat ass in their tea room for the majority of Wednesday. Yippee.
I could go on forever. France friggin rocks. Except my friends and family aren’t here. But I think Mom and Dad would like one of these houses down the road…it’s for sale…and the real estate agencies sell to the English a lot…