Monday, 4 April 2011

"Mal habillée"

I have a cold at the moment. Quite a bad one actually. I have been getting through a whole mini-packet of tissues at an average day at work and I cannot go to sleep without a loo roll and a bottle of water next to my bed. Annoying but I will get over it. I was a fairly sickly child, it is quite normal for me to be a bit under the weather more times than most in any given year. But as long as I remember not to leave the house without some tissues, a bottle of water and some Nurofen I can function like the rest of society and everyone else with their normal, healthy immune systems seems to fight successfully against catching my cold off me, lucky them!
But it has come to my attention, and not for the first time in France, that the French have absolutely no sympathy for the sick (not that I go round moaning about being ill but still) unless you are actually sick enough to go to the doctors. If you have a prescription the French will rally round you to go and get it for you coz you must be too sick to go to the pharmacy by yourself if you were sick enough to go to the doctors. But a common cold, they don’t wanna hear about it.
“Eugh. I’m sick of this cold,” I exasperated to my flatmate as I walked to the bathroom for the 100th time to get some tissue.
“You’ve got a cold because you were mal habillée at the picnic at the weekend.”
The next day at work.
Ça va?” one of my colleagues asks as we wait in line to use the photocopier.
“Yea, I’m not bad, just got a bit of a cold,” I reply.
“That’s coz you’ve been mal habillée all week,” she responds.
Mal habillée translates as “badly dressed” and I think it can mean “badly dressed” as in “I don’t like your outfit” but also as in “you are not sufficiently dressed” and I’m fairly sure that in both these conversations what my flatmate and colleague were saying were “you are not wearing enough clothes for the weather and that is why you have a cold”.
First of all it is a myth that you get a cold from not wearing a jumper in the snow or not wearing a coat in the rain. And second of all, I was not mal habillée! It is true I have been wearing summer dresses all week (but still with tights and a light jumper) but that’s because the temperatures have ranged from 17 to 27 degrees! I have been wearing summer dresses because it is hot here in Dijon at the moment!!! Not that the French seem to have realised that, they are still going round in coats, scarves and boots!
Another colleague, who has just come back from a trip to England in the same breath told me what lovely weather they had in England when they were there and how shocked they were to see girls in summer dresses and men playing football in parks with their tops off. “Well, yes,” I replied “that is quite normal when the weather is nice. “But it still spring,” she said, “in France we don’t get the summer dresses out until it’s at least 30 degrees.”
If we did that in England we could be waiting a long time I thought!

Here's proof of how lovely its been here in Dijon all week. Me, Linsday and Kirsty went for icecream on Thursday:

Monday, 28 March 2011

“J’ai parlé trop aujourd’hui”

A lot of my students went on a school trip to England last week and as well as taking in the sights of York, Hull and Cambridge (strange choices of cities if you ask me) they spent a day in a school. Today, their first day back at school, they were only too delighted to tell me what a fantastic time they had in England. Which was wonderful to hear, many of these students are often very negative about my country and our language (mainly because they haven’t been to England so are basing all their opinions on negative stereotypes and also because they all find English harder to learn than Spanish so are never that thrilled to find themselves in English class.) But today they were all delights to teach as they arrived at class with new found motivation and drive to learn English and they were all only too happy to speak to me in English because I was asking them this week’s hot topic “how was the trip to Yorkshire?”
In my euro class (that is students who have science and maths taught in English) we looked at maths education in the UK and France and did a comparison. We looked at some GCSE past papers which I was hoping to be a reasonable challenge for them. These students were in premier (equivalent to year 12, so AS standard) so I excepted them to be able to do the questions aimed at year 11s, so children a year younger than them, without too much trouble, but I was sure there was going to be some challenge, partly with the vocabulary and partly with the style of the questions perhaps. But five minutes later they had concluded that maths is easy in the UK! This filled me with much amusement as while personally I was reasonably good at maths in year 11, I got 75% in this particular GCSE past paper they were looking at, but I would in no way consider the maths education in the UK to be easy!
One of them had also been in to a Food Technology lesson which they thought was a laughable subject. (They may have some reason – there’s some franglais for you!) But then it gave me an easy A* at GCSE so I’m not about to complain about it as a subject!
The thing that struck them the most was that we stop ‘general education’ at the age of 16, and even then it’s not that general because at GCSE level English, maths, science and often a language, IT and RE are compulsory but after that we will have 3-4 options of subjects like geography, a second language and technologies. Where as in France they continue ‘general education’ right up until the age of 18 (if of course they haven’t left school at 16), there are 3 strands of the baccalaureate so there is a little bit of variation in subjects, topics studied within subjects and how many hours of each subject but every student still does French, maths, science, languages, geography/history, and philosophy and compulsory sport even continues up to the age of 18! (My last PE lesson was in year 11 – so when I was 16!)
Me and my students couldn’t come to definitive conclusion whether the baccalaureate or A levels (the exams we do in the UK at the age of 18 in 3-4 subjects) are better. Some of them thought it was awesome that all I studied between the ages of 16 and 18 was French, Russian, philosophy and English (the science and maths haters in the class clearly!) Some seemed to think that as a result of A level English people will be stupid because they won’t know enough about maths, science and history (3 subjects that the French seem to, perhaps rightly, regard very highly).
All in all, today was a very good day of debate between our two education systems with my French students. As one of the girls walked out the classroom I heard her say to a friend “I spoke lots today”. Good, little girl! That was the point of my lesson!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Ma Vie Dijionaise!

It has come to my attention that I only write a blog post when something dramatic happens – a holiday to Spain or a day trip to Paris, for example. But if I think about it what happens every day is dramatic. I am living in France. I am speaking French every day. I am teaching (a career I once thought was my life’s vocation, now I’m not so sure, but that’s beside the point!) Life right now is dramatic and so unlike life back home. Never again will I have the winning combination of money and free time to enjoy life to the max. (As superficial as money is, there is nothing wrong with enjoying a bit of luxury in life.)
7 things that are everyday occurrences in Ma Vie Dijionaise but that really are quite dramatic compared to life back home:
My students decide since that half the school is on a school trip to England that they should be on holiday too so don’t turn up to my lesson (no big deal, I’d do the same in their position) so I text my friend Kirsty “Hey, I have no students so I’m free this afternoon, wanna do something, my school is not far from your house”. Reply: “I’m at Lindsay’s but we were gunna go to Ikea and just look around.” Result: we spend the afternoon in Ikea walking around the fake studio flats they have (just like in 500 Days of Summer) and the buy ice creams (for 50 centimes from a funky machine) and sit on the grass soaking up the sun.
Back home :
Lecture’s cancelled? Thank god, I’m behind with work anyway, better go home and do it!
“I quite fancy some new clothes, I don’t need any but I quite fancy some.” Off I go to H&M!
Back home:
I quite literally have ruined every pair of jeans I own with coffee (spilt on myself at work) but I do not have a penny to my name to buy some more.
It’s sunny! Let’s go and sit in a cute little French cafe and sit outside, eat ice cream and coo at adorable French children riding on an old fashioned carousel and in no way be rushed by the waiter to leave even though we’ve been there 2 hours and only bought one thing.
Back home:
It looks nice outside, shame I’m inside writing an essay!
We haven’t been out for dinner in while (like it’s been a few weeks) let’s go and have a meal of snails, frogs legs, crème brulée and Burgundy wine (no word of a lie that is what we eat, how French are we?)
Back home:
Can I afford to but myself something vaguely exciting for dinner at Budgens? Probably not! Better go home to a meal of pasta and sauce then!
Its 4pm on a Friday and we have literally nothing to do until Monday afternoon (our next lesson, even then we’re only at school for a few hours) let’s go to the lake this weekend and have a picnic.
Its 4pm on a Friday and I’m still at work, gunna be here til 8pm and then I’ve gotta go home and do a Russian translation tonight coz I don’t have time to do it this weekend as I’ve got an essay for French to write.
Its 8am on a Friday and I am buying a Suisse (a flat shaped pain au chocolat) for my breakfast and a baguette for my lunch and the bread will be the most delicious freshest bread you’ve ever tasted.
Back home:
Its 8am and I will be having cereal for my breakfast (if someone in the house has remembered to buy milk, otherwise nothing) and as per usual lunch will be snatched at Ground between a lecture and a shift at work.
“Katie - it’s your American flatmate from first year I’m gunna be in Paris next week, let’s meet up!” Minutes later the one hour forty-five minute train journey is booked. Spontaneous day trip in Paris – here I come.
Back home:
What does central London look like? It’s been so long since I’ve left Mile End I barely remember what the rest of London looks like, let alone another city!
Ok so maybe I have just painted a rather depressing image of my life at university, and it’s really not bad! Last year was wonderful, so wonderful I didn’t wanna leave for the year abroad (well I’m eating my words now!) But that was just a flavour of how dramatically different, in a so beautifully brilliant way, my life here in Dijon is compared to Mile End! (Nevertheless – Lauryn, Emma and Vicky I am super psyched for our girly Mile End pad next year!!!!!!!!!!!)
But I will miss moments like this:

And sights like this:
I HEART Dijon!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Monday Morning in Madrid!

Imagine the scene, I am sat on the metro, it is 6am on a Monday morning in Madrid which is not only the capital of Spain but a European capital renowned world over for, amongst other things, its fashion, would you expect I would see?
  • Busy commuters on their way on work in slick suits
  • A crowded train with everyone rammed up against each other
  • Everyone with their nose in the free paper so they don’t have to speak to anyone?
No! Is the answer! This is what you see in London and what I can easily imagine you would see in Paris. But, this is Spain! And how little I clearly knew about Spain’s attitude to life (which is a great one I might add, just as long as you’re not trying to get anything done).
The train was not packed first of all, I had a seat! I rarely get a seat on the tube in London, least of all at 6am – which I might add would a bit a little late for some London office workers to be starting their commute to work. The average journey to work in London takes an hour. 6am is the first train in Madrid, and the last is somewhere around 3am! (Because,of course, that fits in perfectly with the Spanish hours of partying! The Metro to and from the club – oh the life of luxury!) In London the tube closes around midnight and opens at 5.30am. So you use the tube to get to the club but then it’s the nightbus all the way home! Because, let’s face it, in London you’re gunna be tucked up in bed by 3am after a night out – the party has only just started at that time in Madrid.
And if anyone on this train was going to work instead of just coming back from a night’s clubbing then they certainly weren’t dressed like it! Unlike us, the French don’t especially dress up for work. Most of my colleagues wear jeans to work every day. Can you imagine a teacher wearing jeans in the UK? And I’m willing to accept this rule applies in Spain; maybe it’s a main land Europe thing? But then surely in Paris, in the swish offices around the Champs-Elysées, they wear suits to work? Yes surely! And so surely they do in Madrid? Apparently not! Either that or literally no one was going to work at 6am. From my long-weekend experience in Spain it would appear the average day never starts before 10am.
Also, no noses in free newspapers ignoring everyone either. Very few people, in fact I would say nobody was reading a newspaper or a book; no one was doing emails on their Blackberry/iPhone; no one was as much as looking at jotted notes in a notebook to prepare for the days meeting. No! They were all either sleeping (partying for 12 hours solid tends to make you tired) or they were chatting in that very friendly way Spanish people do which involves shouting across people!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

La vie Parisienne

This is the sort of image I imagine when I think of 'la vie Parisienne'

Quelques remarques
about my day in Paris:

1. I caught what was clearly the commuter train (8am direct TGV Dijon-Paris) so as you can imagine it was rammed, so people clearly sat wherever they could, so it caused much amusement watching people play musical chairs as people with reserved seats asked people who had sat wherever to move. I had my own amusement when a man asked me:
- Excusez moi, madame, vous avez quelle place?
(Excuse me, madame, what seat number are you ?)
- Attends (the informal of ‘wait’, which I very quickly corrected to the formal version of ‘wait’, attendez, when I speak French its normally with people my own age so I have become a bit out of practice at using the formal version of imperatives!). Moi, j’ai 24
- Alors, on a un problème, vous avez voiture 4, place 24 et moi, j’ai voiture 4, place 24
(Well then, we have a problem, you are carriage 4, seat 24 and I am carriage 4, seat 24.)
- Oui, désolée, mais, vous avez un billet pour demain
(Yes, sorry, but you have a ticket for tomorrow.)
- Oh, mince !
(A very polite way of expressing his annoyance at the situation.)

I imagined that he was most likely going to Paris for a one day business meeting so I imagined him ringing the office to make out like it was their fault that he was a day early so wangling a new return train ticket and a night in a hotel. Then thinking, “well, why not, I’ve got the day in Paris, might as well make use of it” and then only after an morning of sightseeing and an afternoon of watching porn on the hotel’s free cable would he ring his wife to apologise profusely that he won’t be tucking up little Jean-Pierre in bed tonight but that he will make it up to Jean-Pierre by bringing back a keyring of the Eiffel Tower and up to her by showing her his new ideas for the bedroom after an afternoon of porn watching! (Such as the way in a French marriage, arguments are solved by sex!)

2. I like my American friends, I like lots of American people, but on the whole I hate American tourists!
As i sat in a Parisian cafe enjoying my book and a glass of Orangina (easily the most delicious fizzy drink ever!) I couldn’t help listening to the conversation between 3 American tourists that was happening on the table next to me.
First of all they had no idea what a pain au chocolat, crème caramel, éclair or tarte tatin were, granted these are French patisseries, but they are available everywhere and just about everyone knows what they are, even Microsoft Word English (U.K.) knows (they haven’t been underlined with a red line telling me they’re not words.)
Then they asked (in English of course) for a coffee. Now, of course, tourists ordering a coffee in France always cause amusement for the French because what most tourists ask for is a café au lait. Makes perfect sense right, we all learnt at school that ‘milky coffee’ in French is café au lait (and most British/American tourists want a milky coffee), right? Wrong! Café au lait is indeed a milky coffee in French but it’s the big milky coffee the French drink out of a bowl for breakfast, and breakfast only! A normal, day time, milk coffee is a café crème. But its fine, as a tourist you can order a café au lait in the middle of the day and get a café crème because the French waitress knows you’re a tourist but and will forgive you (or at least just laugh at you in her head.) But, no! These American tourists ordered a “coffee”, for fuck sakes! It’s not that hard to say café! At least make some bloody effort, you are in France after all!
Then the final straw was when they asked the waitress (in English, of course) “where is the Moulin Rouge?” You have a map in front of you, you know it’s in the Montmartre/Pigalle region (or at least you should – you’ve seen the film, haven’t you?), so get out your map and work out, all by yourself, the nearest metro stop! Don’t disturb the poor waitress by asking such an embarrassing question you might as well be wearing a neon flashing light that says “I am a tourist and I don’t know the first thing about France or the French.”
Now, perhaps, I’m being a little harsh here, obviously I am of the luxury of being able to speak French and knowing a fair bit about France but that doesn’t stop me finding complete ignorance and utter lack of trying to fit in to a foreign country annoying!

3. The Pompidou Centre and the Towers of the Notre Dame are really cool things to do and 2 things I hadn’t done in Paris before (pshhh, look at me, look who’s the tourist now!)

4. If you want really good hot chocolate (and I mean really good!) go to Maison du Chocolat on Boulevard de la Madeline.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Ready, steady..bake!

It was Thursday night, around 9pm, my housemate had gone out, I was home alone, I wasn’t tired enough to go to bed yet, but I couldn’t go out coz I had class at 8am the next day, so what did I do with this idle moment? Bake a cake! And here is the result:

It was a simple recipe of 1 pot of yoghurt, 1 pot of sugar, 3 pots of flour, 2 eggs and ¾ pot of oil and 3 teaspoons of baking powder for good measure plus I added a generous amount of lemon juice. Except I got a bit over excited by the magic of this 1 pot recipe and forgot that it was actually 3 pots of flour and only put in 1! So the result was that the cake was a bit too moist but delicious all the same. Plus if anyone’s wondering how I did the heart in the middle - I have a biscuit cutter in the shape of a heart so I put that on top the cake and melted some white chocolate and filled the cutter with the chocolate and then removed the cutter when the chocolate had set!

Then me and 3 friends demolished the cake over cups of tea. I also seem to have started a chain as my flatmate decided to bake a cake today using the same recipe but adding vanilla instead of lemon and this time in the shape of a rabbit! (We have an interesting collection of cake moulds chez-nous.) And then me and her demolished this second cake over cups of hot chocolate. Oh, la vie est belle!
Have a great ‘winter break’ everyone (well, for those working in France or on Reading week, sorry for those who have real jobs) and happy baking!

Monday, 14 February 2011

Love, L'amour...

And, so today is February 14th, that day apparently named after a Saint Valentine, but was probably actually just invented by Hallmark to make more money. And, so, I thought it only appropriate to do a lesson on this topic with my four groups of premiers (year 12s) today. I drew a heart on the board and got them to fill it with words they associated with a day, we then did a quiz on the ways Valentine’s Day in celebrated in the UK (the fact that girls can propose if it’s a leap year, how many text messages we send, how much money we spend etc.) and then we looked at proverbs about love and discussed which ones we liked and if we agreed with them or not. After the lessons I discussed with one of my colleague that the reason I thought the lesson has been successful, despite it being quite a lot to ask a group of 16-17 year olds to talk about love, was because I asked them to talk about the idea of love in general and not directly their own experiences of love. My colleague laughed and said “they’ve experienced so little [in love] yet they have opinions about in.” And this got me thinking about my own experience of ‘love’ when I was in year 12...

I was ‘dating’ this boy in the year above, which essentially meant hanging out together in the common room in free periods during the school day and then hanging out on ‘the green’ after school and at weekends. (That’s right, College Green, the grassy area outside the Council House in central Bristol, the very same ‘green’ that the teenagers of Skins hangout on). Until one day, after about two weeks of ‘dating’ he came to my house and we ‘made out’ (the kissing sort) for over an hour (I know this coz we listened to the whole Jack Johnston album in that time). In the silence that filled the album ending I (with his gentle encouragement) decided to insight taking things to the next step, my then my mother walked in at that point! So he went home! He then invited me to his house a few days later, clearly with the plan of finishing what we started, but my friend was ill that day so I covered her shift at work, then, a bit embarrassed about the whole thing I avoided him at school after that. A week or so later, he sent me a MySpace message of all things (those were the days, eh?) saying “his head wasn’t in the right place for him at the moment”! Tant mieux pour lui! (All the better for him!) Because his next girlfriend he ended up getting pregnant and now they live together with their lovely little girl and are engaged to be married.

But as I giggled to myself on my walk home today, remembering my innocent experience of love when I was in year 12, I reflected how well my premiers handled the topic today.

I personally have had a great Valentine’s Day – successful lessons and DVDs on offer at FNAC so me and my flatmate are now in for an evening of film watching and cake eating (I came home with DVDs and she came home with cake ingredients.) I hope you’ve all had a good Valentine’s Day too (despite the bus strikes in the city making it impossible to get anywhere and Dijon’s info screens with big flashing hearts and messages of love reminding us singletons quite how single we are!)