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!)


Thursday, 10 February 2011

Allez les Bleus!

As I lay in my bed (I was feeling too ill to step in to the hallway to our makeshift lounge), I shouted to my flatmate who was watching the France v. Brazil football match “on gagne?” (“are we winning?”) but then corrected myself to “vous gagnez?” (“are you, you the French, winning?”) That slip of the tongue, the “we”, including myself as a French person got me thinking could I live in France long term?
I can name at least two of the American assistants who are both looking in to jobs and college/university courses here in order to be able to stay in France for a least another year after the assistantship is over. (They are both assistants for the second time this year so if they are successful in their hunts for finding something for next year that’s at least 3 consecutive years they’re giving to France.)
Apart from the fact that I couldn’t do the assistantship for a second year because I have to go back to university next year but I don’t think I’d want to. Granted, I love it here and I have decided to work here (well not Dijon but in France) over the summer, but I still like knowing that come September I will be back in England, the country I was born.
One of the Americans’ reasons for wanting to stay is the quality of life France offers compared to, they feel, the USA, or at least the cities they live in.
Now, I can think of many reasons why France offers good quality of life, the following for starters:
  1. 35 hour working week
  2. 2 hour lunch breaks
  3. Fantastic food and great coffee
  4. Never being far from the countryside so you can enjoy the great outdoors
  5. Great social benefits – housing, childcare etc.
  6. National health care
  7. Long summer holidays
  8. The governments reimbursing 50% of your travel costs to work
  9. The regular strikes meaning the country stops for a little bit so you get even more time off work
  10. Great shopping....the list could go on!
But a lot of these benefits the UK has to offer too, as a fellow European country, and the sunny outdoors, shopping, cheese based dishes and cheap but good wine, well I can always hop on the eurostar for a visit!
Don’t get me wrong, I love France and I love the French language and it makes me very happy that I live here and that I speak their language every day and I’m in no rush to leave, there’s still a long time until the beginning of September when I will be coming back to England for good (or at least for the foreseeable future) but there’s nowhere like home!:)

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Un weekend à Valance

In a similar fashion to last weekend I finished my Friday classes this week to hop straight on a train, this time to Valance. [That is Valance-sur-Rhône in France and not Valencia in Spain as one of my French friend’s thought I was going to when I said I was going to Valance. (Valance is Valencia in French.)]
My dear friend Anna picked me back from the train station and took me to her host family’s house. Her host family comprises of a mum and dad (who are quite young at only 27) and 4 (yes 4) beautiful little girls aged 6 years, 4 years, 2 years and 4 months. As I work in a secondary school and I don’t live in a host family I’ve had very little (if any contact) with young children during my time in France so I had a lot to learn. Like, what on earth is this toddler saying to me? I don’t speak baby language! I already knew faire dodo (go to beddy-byes) as my flatmate says it sometimes is she is feeling particularly sleepy, and therefore childish, before bed. And the word couche (nappy) had gone in from just wondering round supermarkets (and apparently finding myself in the Pamper aisle?!) And j’ai un bobo (I’ve got a baddy) was self explanatory as even English babies use that word. And thankfully anything else Anna or one of the older girls translated.
The other new cultural thing that I had to get used to was when people in Valance faire la bise (do the French greeting of kissing cheeks) they do 3 not 2! As I went to say ‘hello’ to the host dad and pulled away after 2 kisses he was like ‘oh, right, ok, only 2’. ‘Oh!’ I exclaimed, ‘its 3 here! Sorry, it’s only 2 in Dijon!’ ‘That’s ok,’ he smiled, ‘it’s only 2 in Paris too and that’s where I come from.’ Phew, he wasn’t offended!
Something else I learnt this weekend is that my spoken French isn’t quite as beautiful as it could be! I had already made a mental note not to use the likes of putain, merde, chienne, ça fait shit (if you don’t speak French that was just a nice collection of swear words for you) and made every effort to cut down my mon dieu! and jésus! usage as the Christian family that were so very kindly hosting me for the weekend wouldn’t have appreciated any swearing or blasphemy and anyway these words shouldn’t be said around children. But when I exclaimed that something was dégueulasse (slag for disgusting) the slightly shocked faces of the parents (there were no kids about at the time) followed by a laugh (thankfully they found it more funny than being offended) and then Anna saying “Katie! I don’t think we’re allowed to say that!” made me realise that I never use the more savoury (pun, get it?) word for disgusting – dégoûtant, but perhaps I should! After all, I am here to learn la lange de Molière and not the language of lycéens (secondary school students) in an inner-city comprehensive (which is apparently the type of language that is going in!) I mean I even thought it was appropriate to crack a joke defining the finer details of the fact that I would be domir avec (sleeping in the same proximity as) and not se coucher avec (sleeping with) Anna – that’s hardly tasteful after dinner chat!
Anyway, aside from discovering I could make my language a bit more tasteful one of the biggest advantages of being in Valance (apart from hanging out with the lovely Anna obviously!) was being down South! Down South where the sun shines and the birds sing and you have beautiful views of the mountains!
On Saturday, Anna and I took advantage of the lovely weather and went for a walk in the centre of town, looked round the sales and Anna showed me le Champs de Mars et le Kiosque Peynet and the Hôtel de Ville and the Parc Jovet and then we went ice skating with some of Anna’s friends. When Anna said “I’m not very good at ice skating” I agreed with her (saying “no, nor am I!”) and I’m not, I can’t stop, I can’t do anything exciting on the ice, I can just state forward at a reasonable speed. But at first Anna couldn’t actually skate at all but thanks to the help of a lovely Finish girl who probably came out of the womb ice skating Anna was whizzing the ice like everyone else by the end. When then went to one of Anna’s French friends house for an aggressive game of Mooing Families (or whatever the game is called) and some other fast paced games with colours and shapes we then went home for tartiflette and on Sunday we ate raclette – both local dishes based on cheese and I love cheese!
On Sunday we went to church which was more enjoyable than when me and Anna went to church in the Ukraine as my French is better than my Russian so I had much better chance of understanding the service and the songs! After lunch we went to the Château de Crussol which was the ruins of a chateau on top of a mountain, just outside Valence in the Ardèche. It was really fun tromping round the ruins and it was so beautiful on top the mountain with stunning views of the Ardèche and the Drôme and the river Rhône. It made me want the summer job I’ve applied for in the Ardèche even badly (I find out in 2 weeks if I’ve got it.) And it was wonderful to be in such different surroundings to the rural, but rural in a very different way region of Burgundy. And it was fantastic to catch up with Anna and discuss everything from our views on parenting, our philosophies on life and what we plan to do with our degrees and beyond!
On my last day in Valance me and Anna cooked a traditional roast dinner for a family as a thank you for hosting and cooking for me for the weekend (which I really did appreciate, they really were so lovely to me.) And then went for a nice walk along the Rhône before I caught my train back to (cold) Dijon!