My last week in France, I finally made it to a McDonalds! We stopped in at the McDonalds at Versailles on our way back to Compiègne.
The first difference I noticed from an American McDonalds was that there is a separate counter for the McCafe, where the French can buy a variety of high quality coffee/espresso, pastries, and even…
And speaking of assimilating, I decided to try a McBaguette! Two all beef patties with French swiss cheese, mustard sauce and lettuce – all on a wood-grilled baguette. YUM!
My verdict: McDonald’s in America does french fries better, but the McBaguette was, without a doubt, the tastiest burger type fast food fare I’ve had in a long time. It really was super delicious and I wish I could get it here.
To quote McDonalds – I’m lovin’ it!
Well… Accomplished, in a manner of speaking.
What I’ve learned from my experience (which could be totally different from the norm) is how difficult it was to enroll to audit a French class at UTC… I wasn’t able to do it in the fall, because I missed the cut-off.
I was told to come back in January. I did. Then I was told to fill out some paperwork and come back with it at the beginning of February.
I did. Then, I was told to come back and meet the professors one day in mid-February and they couldn’t take my paperwork until I had done that. Fine, except I teach on Thursdays and couldn’t make it. I told them that and they said, no problem. You can go to the language center the next day and meet the teachers.
Did that, except I wasn’t able to meet anyone that day. I had to come back.
Do you see what I mean? And throughout all this, I was never able to get my hands on a course calendar or choose my own class. If this is the ordinary process to enroll for classes, I wonder how anyone manages to do it?
Finally, I was told about an FLE class (like ESL, but French) and enrolled in that class. Unfortunately, that class only met Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday was the business communication part of the class. No problem. I can make Wednesday. Thursday, unfortunately, the grammar/conversation portion of the class interfered with my teaching schedule. I asked about other French class options, but was never given an answer. So, finally, I just went ahead and enrolled.
The classes were small, less than 15 people, and seemed great. I did go to the Wednesday class, and even if it didn’t improve my French grammar at all, at least it was another hour of total immersion in French every week.
I went to the Thursday class as well, as often as I could. Unfortunately, do to my teaching schedule, I was never able to make it for the entire class, and some days I wasn’t able to make it at all. The days I did make it, I came for the last hour and generally made it in class in time to catch the last bit of conversation and all of the grammar lesson.
I’m not sure how much these classes helped me to improve my French, but I’m glad I had the experience. Word of advice for any teaching assistants in Compiègne for 2012-2013: If you want to take an FLE class at UTC – Visit the university ASAP after you arrive in town. Seriously, the sooner, the better. If you miss your opportunity to enroll in the Fall, you won’t get another opportunity to sit in on classes until March!
Well, after an emotional roller-coaster of the past two days, it’s official. My contract as a language assistant in France is over and I will never again walk into one of those seven classes to teach. Even writing this the next day, I feel a little misty-eyed.
I’ve felt SO loved over these past few days. In every class, I got cards and drawings from kids to remember them by. One class gave me flowers and bought me a journal – each of the students had written/drawn something to me on one page of the journal and they decorated the front themselves. One little girl in another class gave me a rose and said, “I bought this for you. It was 3 euros! But you’re worth it.” Another class passed around a note during my lesson, at the end of the lesson, they gave it to me. On the top it said “None of us want you to leave. Please stay.” And they had all signed it.
And, in my lower-income school, a place that should have been harder to teach, but turned out to be my favorite school due to the passion of all the teachers there and the compassion/desire to learn I felt from the kids, they went all out! My younger class gave me a class photo from Mardi Gras – they had all written a note to me on the back and decorated and laminated it for me. All of them gave me drawings and cards too, and many of them gave me little keepsakes “as souvenirs.” “Here Rebekka, take this pen. I want you to have it.” “Take my highlighter.” “Please, take my pencil.” They thrust various school items at me and wouldn’t here it when I tried to give them back. “But that’s yours,” I’d reply. “No, I want YOU to have it.”
My older class had an entire sack of goodies for me – they all contributed something to it, and I received everything from homemade cards and drawings to earrings and even a bottle of perfume.
But what really blew me away is the gift I received from the teachers. They gave me a card that they had all signed and they all pitched in to give me a necklace, earrings, AND — a BEAUTIFUL hardcover, illustrated book with all of La Fontaine’s poetry and stories in it!!! An amazingly generous gift that I will use for years to come.
These seven months spent teaching have been an incredible experience for me. I’m so glad I came here with this program. I’ve learned SO much, about France and the French language, about teaching, and about myself. I’ve discovered in myself a passion for teaching that I didn’t know I had. Its hard work, but SO rewarding – rewarding enough that I’m committed to the career-change when I get home, someway, somehow. And, if the opinions of my students and teachers I’ve worked under mean anything, I’m good at it.
I’m not sure what the immediate future holds for me, job-wise, when I get home. I’m not sure if I can find a district to hire me so that I can work as a teacher and go through the alternative certification process this year. I’m trying though. And, if I need to go back to school, I will. I think I’ve found my niche, all that’s left is to work my way into it.
Finally, after almost 7 months of living in Compiègne, I ordered take-out from Turtle Pizza! Not much to say about this… I’ve wanted to go since the first time I passed the restaurant, but they keep weird hours and so often, making dinner is the most economical option and thus the one I choose over eating out anywhere.
But, I will say that, at least in Compiègne, Turtle pizza is very reasonably priced (17 euros for medium-sized pizzas – any choice!), the employees are nice and the pizza is tasty! They even let us get one pizza “sans fromage” (for my friend who cannot eat cheese) without giving us a hard time or even any weird looks.
I got the “fruits de mer” pizza, which was white-sauce based, with tiny shrimp, salmon, and another random rubbery-textured (but delicious) sea creature. The leftovers became lunch today and were still tasty!
Continuing in my efforts to “profiter” of my time left, I hopped on a train last weekend and met Lauren in Caen to rent a car and take a tour of the Normandy coast. Our original plan was to head up to Cherbourg, but after some reflection and discussion, we decided that Étretat might be a more worthy end goal. After seeing Étretat, I’m fully convinced we made the right decision.
As I said, we rented a car in Caen and headed up the coast – our first stop was Trouville, ancient home of French author, Marguerite Duras. We walked the beach, saw a bit of the town, and then moved on.
Originally, our plan was to eat lunch in Honfleur, but the main road was closed and after attempting (and failing) to follow the detour twice, we stopped at this cheesy (but delicious!) chain restaurant called “The Buffalo Grill.”
I could write an entire blog about The Buffalo Grill. Its a French chain restaurant imitating the big American chain restaurants (think TGIFridays or Ruby Tuesdays), and they do a GREAT job! From the moment I walked in to the restaurant, I felt like I was back in America, only a strange America where everyone speaks French.
They’re cowboy-themed and serve your basic burger & fries type of fare. I ordered the Frenchy burger, and it may have been the best burger I’ve ever eaten. And instead of offering ketchup with the fries, you can choose from 15 different types of sauces, including BBQ, Roquefort, etc… DELICIOUS!!!
It was also the quickest meal I’ve ever eaten in France – they really nailed the timing of an American restaurant too, we ate within an hour, which is nearly impossible in a real French restaurant.
After our lunch detour, we decided it would be best to head straight to Étretat. It was cloudy Saturday morning, but cleared up by the time we got to Étretat. Friends, if you’re ever in Northern France, take the time to stop here. It was breathtaking! The cliffs are amazing, I could have spent all day just taking in the views, listening to the waves and the gulls’ cries, basking in the sun and breathing in the salty coastal air.
Once you are on the cliffs, there are all kinds of paths you can walk around and down again. And, without any of the annoying (but perhaps handy?) guardrails you would find on the edge of American cliffs.
We stayed in Étretat all afternoon, and I would definitely go back. It’s amazing how much beauty there is to see in this world.
Oh, and one last thing – We rented a diesel for our travels, and it was surprisingly fuel-efficient. Why don’t we use diesel more in the USA? We drove 230 KM and used only about 1/8 of a tank – definitely worth the 10 euro upsell (especially since fuel doesn’t come cheap here – that 1/8 tank cost 23 euros!)
I’m a little ashamed to admit that since being in France, I haven’t really explored many cities in my region. Yes, I’ve been to Amiens, Pierrefonds, Paris… There are plenty of little towns around, I just haven’t taken the time to see them.
Well, finally, I can tick one off my list – Laon! (Temporary) home of my friend and fellow language assistant, Natalie.
I had been warned that Laon is a little country town (think, French white trash), but I did not realize that Laon is also BEAUTIFUL. It’s truly a medieval town, perched atop a mountain surrounded by some gorgeous views of the French countryside. Here are some of the highlights from the day…
*Regarding the cows on the cathedral, there is actually an old legend to explain the livestock. According to the story, Oxen were used to haul materials for the cathedral up the hill, but even the oxen weren’t strong enough to get the stones up the hill/cliff. Then, a super ox appeared and with his help. they were able to get the needed materials to the building site. But as soon as the work was done, he disappeared as suddenly as he’d appeared. So, the livestock on the cathedral pays homage to the magic super ox.
I won’t go into too much detail in this post, because my appointment was with a gynecologist (for usual lady stuff), but I do want to hit on some highlights.
1. Making the appointment was SO EASY, and the staff was super friendly and patient with me. The office seemed kind of like a French version of Planned Parenthood (minus the pro-life protestors) and I had an appointment within a week!
2. When I showed up for my appointment, the receptionist asked me some basic questions, took my sécu (this magic number marks me as “covered” under the French healthcare system) then I waited for about 20 minutes before being called back to the doctor.
3. The doctor asked me some basic questions, and was equally patient with my accent and errors. As a side note, she was also excited about having a patient with whom she could practice some English, and learn some new English vocabulary (I taught her “breasts”)
4. The exam, as was to be expected, was comparable to an exam with an American doctor, with one difference - guess how much it cost? ……..
….. ready for this, America? Nothing. Yep. Nothing.
5. The doctor was also able to renew my birth control, and gave me 3 months of a French prescription (the doctor advised I should try it, and if I don’t like it or have negative side effects, I can come back and change it). Guess how much the 3-month prescription cost? NOTHING!!!!!
I’m kind of in love with French healthcare right now. <3
Most unfortunately, La Délicatesse has already left theatres, so it was necessary to change # 15 on my list slightly, to “See at least one more French film in theatres.” This, I’m proud to say, I’ve now accomplished.
I tackled the # 7 Compiègne bus (a line which, to now, I’ve avoided because it goes to a part of town that is too far away from my lycée for me to easily walk back from) on Monday night to see the new Juliette Binoche film – “La Vie d’Une Autre.” My reasons for choosing this film were simple: (1) I like Juliette Binoche, (2) I think Mathieu Kassovitz is trop sexy, and (3) the storyline looked simple enough for me to follow it. For me, watching a film in French (without subtitles) is enjoyable, but a bit exhausting. I’m strong enough in French to get the gist of the film, but I’m sure there are bits and pieces that I miss. I really enjoyed La Vie d’une Autre. I’ve been dating a movie connoisseur long enough to know that Oscar-worthy, it was not, but I loved the story, I enjoyed the acting, and I’d go see it again!
For any of you who are curious, here is the preview:
Disneyland Paris was… Interesting… very similar to Disney World (on a much smaller scale), but somehow managing to be uniquely French as well. The employees were not quite as helpful as most I’ve encountered at Disney World, but the food was still overpriced and mediocre. A lot of the rides were the similar, but with a twist. I’m glad I got to see it, but I wouldn’t recommend it for Americans traveling to Paris unless: (1) You really really LOVE Disney and (2) You have plenty of opportunities to return to Paris. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re trying to choose between Disney Paris and the Louvre, please, choose the Louvre! We don’t have one of those in Orlando, FL.