Friday, December 23, 2011

Joyeuses Fêtes!

Since it's the holiday season in France, there have been lots of celebrations to attend and lots of cultural differences to observe. Last Tuesday at school we had a Christmas potluck lunch. There was a ton of food (especially cheese and wine, of course) and I brought a typically American artichoke and spinach dip. I wasn't sure everyone would like it, but I figured it was a safe bet. To begin with, the French teachers were utterly confused by what it was. I tried explaining to them that it was a dip, and it was an American staple, but got no reactions. So, I sat back and enjoyed my Coulommiers cheese (which is produced close to my school and brought by a teacher straight from Coulommiers). All the teachers were insistent that I tried it because "it doesn't get any better than this". It was my first taste of Coulommiers, which I realized is exactly what you think of when you envision French cheese. Smelly, gooey, highly regarded by the French. It takes an adventurous taste to try it after putting it under your nose, but in the end it was worth it. Later on at the party, after I got to know more of the teachers who I don't work with on a regular basis, some of the teachers came up to me to specifically tell me how much they enjoyed my "salad". I was confused at first, but realized that they were eating the Artichoke Spinach dip as a salad! Yikes!

Then on Friday, my 1L students (juniors in high school focusing on Literature studies) had a party for the Australian exchange student who is returning to Australia after break. Everyone tried to make something for her that was very Anglo. One of the girls made cookies, and burnt them. Another girl made cupcakes, but they were with a ganache frosting. There were also pancakes and marshmallows. Apparently Anglophones only eat things loaded with sugar. But, we played charades in English and one of the students showed us his new magic tricks, which were extremely impressive. The students got the Australian girl a few presents to symbolize her time in France and there were a few tears shed by everyone.

After school, I was invited to my landlady's birthday party. She's Vietnamese, incredibly sweet, and wanted a mix of nationalities there. I arrived with one of my friends and there was an INCREDIBLE spread of all home made Vietnamese food. Spring rolls, egg rolls, noodles, everything you could imagine. It was all so delicious! The entertainment was a karaoke duet of her husband who is French and her brother who was playing guitar. At one point, I was convinced to karaoke "Stand by me" because it's in my mother language. I'm pretty sure I mortified the friend who was in attendance with me, but it was amusing to say the least.

Since Hanukkah started this week and one of my friends is Jewish, we celebrated on Monday. We made latkes with homemade apple sauce, pear, walnut, and blue cheese salad (Grandma would be proud!), green beans, bought a roast chicken from a boucherie, I picked up some challah from a Jewish bakery in le Marais along with a traditional fried Jewish pastry with honey. Yummy! And I learned to play dreidel with m&ms!

Though I'm celebrating Christmas away from my family, my friends and I are going to try to keep on with our family traditions and make some new ones too! I'll post about that later, but Happy Holidays, everyone!

FWOTD: nourriture (n.): food

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ça fait longtemps...

I've been a bit laggy on my blog lately, but November has been quite a busy month. I'm going to try to sum everything up in a few sentences for each event with a picture or two as well so this doesn't run too long.

A few days after the Embassy briefing, Ali and I (and a couple British girls) went to the U.S. vs. France soccer game at Stade de France. The atmosphere was really cool and Ali and I had a few typically American moments that were quite sentimental. While the big screen was being panned, I saw a guy wearing a Badger hoodie (THEY'RE EVERYWHERE!!) and was really excited. It's really good to know that even when you're thousands of miles away from family and friends, there's always a Badger around. During the game there was a large group of people who were using the stadium as a political forum to express their views on international relations. In all my experiences at sporting events, I've never seen something like this. I felt like it got the crowd agitated, but also brought attention to the issue. At first, I didn't really understand why they would choose a soccer game for something like that, but then I realized that everyone did pay attention to them and they were expressing themselves for a large arena. They also got other fans informed and aware of their cause. Anyway, the U.S. lost 1-0 and most of the France fans found us Americans to be whimsical and amusing. They were mostly good humored about us supporting the States though there were a few exceptions.

Since then, life has been a bit of a blur. I went to a synagogue for a Shabbat service with one of my friends. It was a special service put on by some of the kids who had just gotten "mitzvah"ed. The majority of the prayers during the service were done as covers of popular songs such as "Hey Jude", "Pour Some Sugar on Me", and "Because the Night". I was thoroughly entertained and also impressed at the closeness of the community. We had an entirely Kosher meal after the service which was absolutely delicious! Also, I'm just going to throw this out there, Challah is much more delicious than communion crackers (wafers?).

The day after the service, I had my first Thanksgiving as an ex-pat. Even though we didn't get to have dinner on that Thursday (everyone had school on Friday morning), it was just as delicious and just as fun as I hoped it would be later on in the weekend. There were 5 nationalities represented at the dinner and I think most of them had a new found appreciation for Thanksgiving as a holiday.

One of the teachers from school invited me over to her home for a Sunday lunch with her family. It wasn't a typically French meal (though there was an aperitif and a cheese course), but it was delicious. Having someone else cook for you is something I must have taken for granted at home. I never realized how warming and relaxing it is to have a home cooked meal. The teacher and her family were absolutely wonderful. Her father was visiting from Marseille and once I expressed an interest in Sciences-Po for possibly doing a master's program, his ears perked up and tuned into my English as he was an alumnus there. After dinner, he offered to let me stay in his home in Marseille on a visit as long as I spoke French the entire time. French hospitality hasn't failed me yet!

In brief school news, I was instructed to help the students put on a skit about Jim Crow laws in the South. Mostly the skits were improv, but they were expected to use a few key terms and phrases. One of my students was speaking in favor of Jim Crow laws (as he was instructed) and somehow stammered out the phrase "but it will make the shit!" After regaining my composure from laughing so hard, I explained to him that I really didn't think his teacher would be impressed with his expansive English vocabulary in this instance. Not to mention that it was grammatically incorrect.

I'm hoping things will slow down so that I can post more often. Christmas break should give me some time to really focus on doing some cultural things in Paris that I've neglected thus far!

FWOTD: bosser (v.): to work

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nous sommes le visage des États-Unis

Yesterday in Paris, some of the Language Assistants were invited to a United States Embassy briefing. Getting into the Embassy in Paris is a pretty exclusive affair, you have to go through about three stages of security and also have an escort through the building. But once you're on the grounds, you're on U.S. soil. Pretty cool, actually. There's no real marker to the building as it's set back from the street, but once you pass the second security checkpoint, the American flags make it unmistakable.

The brief started off with one of the officers talking to us about security and safety and also what the United States Embassy can and cannot do for us if we find ourselves in trouble. He also told us some pretty interesting facts about our citizenship status with the United States. I'll list a couple for you:
-A valid U.S. passport goes for about $16,000 on the black market. It's the most valuable item a person can have abroad.
-There are only 6 Americans in jail in France, which is an all time low.
-Police powers in France are much different than in the United States. No Miranda rights here. When they ask questions, you are expected to answer and they will use each piece of information you tell them against you.

The second part of the brief was more about what our role is as American citizens in France and how we represent ourselves. Technically we're "Ambassadors of Goodwill" (and yes, I will be putting that on my resumé because that sounds awesome). Even though the TAPIF program is through the Éducation Nationale, a French governmental organization, the officers at the U.S. Embassy seemed genuinely appreciative of what we're doing in France. They were continually thanking us and reminding us that we are representative of Americans and that many of our students will generalize about Americans through our representation. The officer also went into explaining the process about becoming a Foreign Service Officer and gave us some really key insight that not many people can say that they've heard about the selection process and the exam. He also offered us his personal assistance if we are considering the exam, which was extraordinarily generous.

They then went into the demographic diversity of France. Though France is generally looked at as a homogeneous society, it's the most diverse country in the European Union in terms of ethnicities represented. It was one of the most interesting and stimulating discussions I've had since being in France. The officer who was speaking to us was the Cultural Affairs Officer and presented us with a volunteer opportunity to work with diversity outreach in France through an Embassy affiliated organization teaching English in one of the poorer suburbs in Paris. This is an opportunity to not only teach English, but actually help disadvantaged individuals advance and achieve. I will probably try to take a few hours at the social center if I can fit it into my schedule.

My experience at the Embassy briefing was invaluable and stimulating. It was one of the most interesting things I've done in France so far. It asked me to look into what I want to do in the future and where I see myself. I'm so glad that the program offered us the opportunity to speak with those Officers who represent the United States abroad and key get insight into the operations of the Embassy.

FWOTD: l'ambassade (n.): Embassy

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Je vais à Berlin

This is a little late, I've been behind in posting but I've been on vacation from school for the past two weeks for La Toussaint (All Saints Day). It's the school system's Fall break. It's been really relaxing to have two weeks off but I'm ready to get back to school tomorrow.
I went to Berlin with my friend Ali to meet my sister, which was my first time in Germany! Thankfully, my ever so organized sister (who took German in high school and was quite helpful for translating) had day plans for us so that we could make the most out of our trip. The first day we did a walking tour around one of the larger parks of Berlin (including the Brandenburg Gate) and then went to see Checkpoint Charlie, a portion of the Berlin Wall, and the Museum of Terror. I think I realized I'm more of a history nerd than anything, it was really interesting to draw comparisons from previous history classes and actually put them into context. On Tuesday, we went to the Memorial to the Murdered  Jews of Europe and the Field of Stelae and walked around a different neighborhood with shops and went to a restaurant for lunch that's menu was based on all potato dishes. I got potato pancakes (in honor of my mom, of course, who loves potato pancakes!) and split a potato casserole with my sister. Then we walked around some more saw the New Synagogue and some other historical Berlin buildings. Wednesday, we went to the Bauhaus Archive, which was quite interesting and reminded both my sister and me of our grandmother's furniture and kitchen utensils. Thursday, before Ali and I left to go back to Paris, we walked around the East Gallery (part of the Berlin wall which had been painted over) and sampled some of Berlin's finest pastries (delicious, and GIANT).

The trip was really great (the beer was excellent and will be missed), and seeing my sister was a huge stress reliever, but Ali and I were both missing Paris by the end and just wanting to get back home. After unwinding from the trip, I took this week to catch up with all the girls who have been travelling to various places and also being "those Americans" who celebrated Halloween (which the French do not do). We got some awkward giggles and glances on the métro on the way to the bar in our costume, but it was for the sake of tradition, so we didn't mind so much. 

Jusqu'à la proche!

FWOTD: Allemagne (Proper Noun): Germany

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Images valent mille mots

I'm going to Berlin to see my sister tomorrow and there will be a full posting on our adventures in Germany (hooray for beer!) But, I uploaded a few pictures and decided to just create a little post with some photos for you guys to see how it's going here!

This is the courtyard to the apartment I share with JoHanna. Our apartment is the one with the white shutters on the left. It's small but we love it and the area we live in is central, fun, and very safe!

Speaking of JoHanna, she's the ginger in the middle. I love me some gingers :). The other girl in the picture is Jessamyn who is also an assistant and is an au pair in the suburbs. We took this when the weather was still warm and we could sit near the Seine and drink wine and picnic. 
This is the fish market I pass on the way to the Métro every day. One of these days I'll stop in and get some fresh fish for dinner. They even have sea urchins! I'm not sure how one cooks sea urchins .. but maybe I'll find out some time!
This is the back side of Notre Dame from Pont Marie. It's really beautiful in the afternoon sun. Paris really is a gorgeous city. Come visit me and see for yourselves!
FWOTD: se promener (v.): to walk

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

La Grève et autres choses...

Hello Everyone,

I'm starting to get finally settled and accustomed to French life. Speaking is still mostly difficult but I'm willing to practice and learn, so I think that's a positive for me as long as I can find someone to speak with who doesn't mind my American accent. I can understand a lot more than I can speak, so that's okay, except for when I want to participate in conversation and I get nervous. After about 3 weeks in my lycée, I realized that I am one of the few lucky assistants with the best teachers and really great students. Of course, there are some duds, but I really do like my students. I didn't think that I would actually like teaching as much as I do (maybe because I haven't seriously had to plan lessons yet, or because my teachers are so welcoming and nice), but I enjoy teaching and not having to grade students (and also only having to be at school 12hrs per week). Today, we went over a cartoon in class about technology and I taught a few students the phrase "to peck the keyboard" and when they went over what they learned with their teacher, they used the phrase. I felt so proud of them, first, and also myself, for teaching them (and the teacher) something that they hadn't learned before.

Last Tuesday was my first experience with a Métro strike. I take the suburban trains to my school which were running smoothly, but the city métro was on strike. I wish I knew why, but when I asked, they just said "because they want something". Apparently this happens quite often.. So, fortunately for me, one of the math teachers generously offered to drive me from Central Paris all the way out to Pontault-Combault to school. There were fortunately no problems on the way home for me, but one of my friends said she had a 6 hour commute back home from school, which is way much more than my patience could even comprehend dealing with. I think I'd just give up and spend the rest of my night in a bar or something.

Other things of interest:
-I had an amazing meal tonight: Chestnut pasta with mushroom, duck, onions, and white wine cream sauce. Essentially my favorite foods in one plate. Topped off with Claufoutis. Which, is incredible. I cleaned my plate. AND, the restaurant is kiddie corner from where I live. I can't tell you how AWESOME French food is. You have to come to Paris to try it!
-One of my students has been showing me magic tricks that he learned off a DVD. And I'm easily impressed. But, my students were more impressed with my ability to bridge shuffle cards, and now they all think I was a poker dealer.
-I'm going to meet my sissy, Megan, in Berlin on Monday and I'm so excited to see her. I miss my family. It's been one of the hardest parts of adjusting to life in Paris. That and missing my dogs and Mexican food...
-Speaking of food, I presented a lesson on McDonald's breakfast (No McMuffins here, friends!) and the students were both appalled and shocked that sometimes we don't make it to the 10:30 cut off when we're craving breakfast, and not even a substitute of a McMuffin will satisfy us. But, I also learned they're OBSESSED with pancakes!
-JoHanna and I are not quite settled yet in our apartment (still awaiting gas, internet (that we're not mooching off our landlord) a real bed/fouton. We're apprehensive of putting up decorations (especially because she doesn't want a Bears flag in our common area..) so I promise I will put up pictures soon, but the one I'm posting for now is our poppin' "champagne" picture of the first night we slept in our apartment!

FWOTD: Grève (n): a strike

Saturday, October 8, 2011

La Petite Americaine

This was my first week of actual school and orientation. Mostly it was just being introduced to the class and telling them about myself. The looks on their faces when I said "I'm from Chicago" ranged from completely shocked to befuddled. Most of them have asked me if I'm a Chicago Bulls fan. That seems to be the only thing they know about Chicago. The students are great (so far), most of them look older than I do, and all of them are fascinated that I came from so far away to teach at their suburban school. During the introductions, I was asked a few strange questions and gave a few strange answers. So, some of my students think that I ran over Barack Obama's dog with a stolen car and had to flee the United States. Others think that I have six boyfriends. And others are convinced that I aspire to be a prison guard one day. The levels of English range from barely comprehensible to close to fluent. I also find it very interesting that I've been asked in the classroom about my political affiliations in the United States and also what my opinions are on certain issues. It's pretty taboo at home to ask these sorts of questions, so I've been put off guard a few times when these questions are coming from my students.

During one of my lessons, I was asked to help a girl correct her exam. The writing portion consisted of a political cartoon about illegal immigration and the paradox it poses for Americans. So, the girl I was helping has a sentence that went something like this "The potty tasks of the housekeeper were..." and "The other woman in the cartoon asks the housekeeper to do potty tasks". After a few seconds of befuddlement, I realized that the girl meant to write petty tasks. When I told her what she had written, she was mortified and explained to me that her friend had told her that "potty" meant small or unimportant. It was my first experience with mis-translation and it was quite amusing.

I've also overheard some of my students in the hallways referring to me as "La petite Americaine" (the Little American) or "Chicago". My name is very difficult for the French tongue to pronounce. When students were asked to write my name on the board, the majority of them wrote "Christine", which seems to be the closest translation to Kirsten that the French have. They've all been trying very hard to get the pronunciation right, but having them call me Mlle Crowhurst might be even worse.

In other news: I found an apartment and am rooming with a girl from Wisconsin. It's in the 5th arrondissement of Paris (which, from what I gather at the other teacher's reactions when I inform them of where I live, is a VERY coveted area). I'll write more about the location and post pictures of our new place as soon as we're 100% settled.

FWOTD: langue (n.): language