Wednesday, December 12, 2007
I am somewhat bitter that there is no separate plural you, but it does allow me the opportunity to explain to my classes the intricacies of a mixed group being addressed as “guys”, “dudes”, and “peeps”- at least once we’ve cleared the hurdle of “how is everyone?” (Everyone is fine- at all times and all places, no matter what- except for the occasional brave soul who is just ok).
That, and it just seems really new age too, to refer to it as the Universal You, it just seems like a ploy to make people feel empowered and connected. I think linguists picked up the term from watching infomercials at 3 AM.
Sometimes when I’m thinking about languages, and the fact that no matter how good of a dictionary you have, you can never overcome how no two languages exactly parallel each other. Even English and French, which are quite similar, never really match up too well- especially when you get past the basics. The problem, which is of course the problem with everything- is people. At issue is the fact that language is tied to culture and worldview. One can argue all day, which came first- the language or the way of life- are the French so structured and precise in their social practice because their language requires it, or vice versa?
Either way, it doesn’t matter- the point is, one can speak another language perfectly (not that anyone would accuse me of doing so) without truly grasping the intrinsic or implied meanings which may be obvious for a native. But what do I know. At the end of the day, language is made up of basically arbitrary sounds, which have no actual metaphysical correspondence with that which they describe- other than perhaps for the occasional otomatapiae.
My problem- which I think I share with many people who are learning a second language, is that I am far too “first language centric”. Sometimes I fall into feeling like, for example- a bed is what the thing I sleep on is actually called- while the French just happen to call it a lit. It’s all very Platonic, if Plato’s creator of forms spoke English that is. Upon further reflection, I suppose I need to learn Greek, or else I’ll never get a legitimate night’s sleep again.
The other direction it can go is just existential despair (this is France of course). The sinking realization is that language and words are in fact inherently meaningless- In the most vicious way possible of course. But that’s no fun- besides meaninglessness isn’t all that bad.
I shall now attempt to explain why in lieu of a blog entry, I wrote a sociology paper.
For those of you who know me well, know that when life gets difficult and I don’t feel like dealing with it, I retreat into the safe havens of pseudo intellectual unnecessary-isms. This time is no exception. I’ve had a bit on my mind as it is- what with the impending vacation, and all that that includes. But also I’ve come to realize that that means afterward, I’ve got to start deciding what comes next. And actually deciding and doing something about it to. Voici the rub.
I really didn’t expect time to go by this quickly, so it’s strange to think that my job is actually pretty much half over. Furthermore, I didn’t think Jon would be getting here so fast- its going to be amazing, but I know that he’ll be here and gone in what’ll seem like seconds. But that’s the way it always is- I could have sworn I was better at living in the moment than this.
You see, I really want to do this again next year. And I know that I need to begin that process immediately, but of course I have procrastinated- just like last year, probably because I love parallels. At any rate, I know that I will eventually return to the States at some point. I’m not in any way bothered by that fact, I love it there and my entire life is there. But slumming around Europe is a pretty cool way to make a living as well, and I want to prolong it as long as possible.
But I know it can’t go on forever- not as a language assistant anyway. So that means I’ve got to find something that I can actually do permanently, and I suppose that unnerves me.
So, there’s that.
But the future holds nothing as compared to Monday, when it comes to my being unnerved.
So, as I am waiting Monday afternoon for my train to take me back to La Reole from my most recent weekend in Bordeaux- a group of police officers come up to me and demand to see my passport. This has happened to me before- though only once, and that was actually on the train itself- not just out of nowhere. So, I show him my passport and I expect that to be it. He looks at it, and then flips to the visa page. He arrives there, and points out to me that my visa has expired. Dammit.
(I should point out that this is not unexpected- my visa is only valuable long enough for me to apply for my resident card)
So, he asks to see my carte de sejour- my resident card- which the government still hasn’t gotten for me yet. Lovely. Now, in the mean time- they do give you a receipt for the application- which lasts for a long time. But naturally I don’t have that on my person. So, to my horror- the officer has to take me aside and call the prefecture- the regional government, to make sure whether or not I am legit. All in all, it wasn’t a huge deal, since I do have my papers in order and everything. And it all took only like 5 minutes all told. But it sure seemed longer.
That, and during the ordeal I managed to lose most of my French abilities due to stress- which really made it a lot more fun for all involved I’m sure.
So right, that’s what’s new in my life. Nothing too thrilling I suppose. But it only accelerates from here on out. I wish it would slow down, but it’s picking up steam, much to my chagrin.
It looks like I might have found an apartment in Bordeaux (crosses fingers) which I might be able to move into in January. So, we’ll see how that works out. It would be nice to spend the rest of the school year in my own place on the days I don’t work. Settle into a nice domestic life. Heh.
Finally, Friday morning- Mr. Jon Boyette shows up in Bordeaux, and it is going to kick some serious ass. First Bordeaux, then La Reole, then up to Paris and all of this culminating in a trip to lovely (I’m assuming) Kettering, England for Christmas with an old friend and former French Prof. Matt Kemp. Hell yes.
And then, just when it seemed it couldn’t get better- back to Paris and Bordeaux to spend new years with my family. Rock on.
So, if I’m not around for a while on this medium, rest easy with the knowledge that I’m doing something that is even more fulfilling that writing in my blog.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Anyway... I've had to readjust my outlook a tad since I hopped the pond.
I had a bit of a pie in the sky attitude towards my ability to survive in France before I left. I really liked the idea of being fluent in French, and perhaps really soaking up life in a small town. I really didn't appreciate how crappy my French skillz truly were. I conveniently ignored how much trouble I had understanding simple spoken conversation in French when I was studying it at FSU. I think I assumed that now that it was "real" and "submersion" I would just jump on in and "get it" and whatever other buzz words I can through out.
I think that I also didn't grasp the gravitas of what an immersion experience really is. My fault.
I think that the first time I recall feeling meaningfully frustrated with my immersion is when I had to come to terms with the fact that I couldn't be as funny as I wanted to be. Thats not to say that watching me make a fool of myself isn't humorous, at least a little- but what I'm talking about is the ability to be intentionally funny. Thats the rub.
Looking back over the past couple months, I think the happiest I've been with the French is when I can make them chuckle by appropriately using their language in conjunction with my wit to make something both (reasonably) grammatically correct, and at the same time ammusing. Yeah... it doesn't happen often- but occasionally there is a serendipitous juxtaposition between something funny I want to say, and a way for me to say it with my somewhat petite vocab... and those times have made my stay worth it.
However, while Ino longer attempt to both break laws of grammar and physics at the same time (see: j'ai arrive demain) I am not excactly speaking french couramment. So, I am working on not being so timid, and just putting myself out there more and more, because if I don't speak and make mistakes and accept correction and learn and blah blah blah ........ I will never get better, but instead just remain more and more afraid to learn. Ah well, no biggie.
So, I have updated what I want from the near future between me and Francais: dans le futur proche.
1. I need to eventually learn to say voila without feeling like a complete tool. I blame American's poor usage of the word, because it's soooo tacky when thrown in randomly in an English conversation. However, within its legitimate context, its absolutely invaluable- I just can't normally bring myself to say it without either doing it quite haultingly, or feeling like a phony.
2. I should probably sit down, just me and a text book and unlock the mysteries of venir (the verb, to come) . It would be so useful, but I have only passing familiarity with its uses and conjugation. Which is a real shame since i attempt to use it daily, and i typically don't usually completely follow right away when someone uses it in conversation- then I feel dumb.
3. The French have much cooler and more concise phrases, but, just like my problems with voila I can't help but feel silly using them. For example Bon Appetite, I know its polite to wish it to people when you eat, but all I can think of is the damn food magazine- so yeah. I need to get over that. But there are other good ones. Of course there's bon week-end, bonne journee, bon apres-midi & bonne soiree. But my favorite has to be bonne continuation- its just so no nonsense.
4. Just in general, I need to work in some more adjectives into my daily speech, and it would be cool if I could eventually wean myself off of the cognates. Because not everything is superbe, or fantastique after all. But at the same time, I feel pretty cool and American when I refer to most things as c'est cool. I hope that it burns into their heads that cool is our word first, and only theirs on loan. Either that or its our way of saying thanks for rendez-vous, encore and menage-a-trois.
We'll call it even.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Strange times are afoot here in France. I'm in that 6 weeks of nonvacation that afflicts me from time to time. So, what do the French do when they have to work? Well, sometimes they go on strike. Voila! Thats what we have going on at the moment. That and I am enjoying my first real Autumn in years. Finally, the seasons actually, visibly change. The colours are incredible, and being from Florida, its nice to experience some cold weather for once.
Me, I have been hit with the double whammy of a teacher's strike at the same time as my 3rd rail strike in as many months in the country. Because they can't help but fullfull steriotypes. Its not really a big deal, just fun to observe. It really wouldn't feel like the truest french experience if not for the greves. At any rate, life marches on, even when the trains don't.
Since vacation ended, I've been back in La Reole during the week and spending less and less time out and about. I tend to prefer doing things when I am in Bordeaux. I think the charm of a small village is lessened a bit due to my French prohibiting me from taking full advantage. That and everyone at my school encouraging the hell out of me to get away on the weekends. So, there has been no real attempt to get to know the town, other than the occasional cafe and trips to the supermarche.
The final straw in this regard was that Maria, the Spanish assistant moved to Bordeaux. Now, I really am tout seule here. Oh well. My friends in Bordeaux, Shannon and Danielle bought a futon, which they refer to as "Mitch's futon"... nice. But despite having friends willing to put up with me on weekends, I really need to find a place of my own after Christmas- so I can have a place for people to visit me. Sweet.
Classes continue to get better and better. I feel sorry for the students I had in the first couple groups, because I really had no idea what I was doing in front of a room of students. Now, I kinda sorta do, which I suppose is an improvement. That, and my communication with the students has improved. Before when the kids spoke French, either to me or to eachother, I had a hell of a time trying to decipher. Now I'm a bit better, which tends to make things go smoother I hope.
I do intend on doing this next year, but that all depends on where I get placed. I really would like to go to Bordeaux again, but I suppose at the same time I should plan on moving on with my life, and doing grad school before I get too old. Hehe. Whatever.
Recently, Bordeaux has gotten fun. I went to my first show since I got here. Devendra Banhart. If you are unfamilliar, he is a folk singer from San Fransico, and very cool. The show was a bit expensive, but it turned out to be worth it. They played for a solid 2 or so hours, and the best part besides the music of course was that the between song banter was in English- so me and Katie- who went with me were about the only ones who knew what was going on. Good times.
So, thats about it. I'm not so much in a rut as I am in a comfortable place. Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and I am working. Oh well, I'll try to do something seasonal I guess. Who knows. Ciao.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Either that or I have been too busy living la vie francaise to stop and write about it.
Maybe a synthesis of the two.
At any rate, sorry to all who still check here, in (almost a) month since my last post. Rest assured, my life is still amazing, and I am both alive, and frenchish. See, the thing is the French schools have a lot of paid vacation during which I am practically forced to travel. Oh well, it could always be worse.
So, since I have let so much time slip away, I am not sure of the best way to systematically update the masses on my life. I think bullet points are necessary, then a brief exposition shall follow.
- Teaching is still pretty good- the good kids make it all worth it, those who really want to learn. In general its pretty easy, and I have been somewhat lazy when it comes to prepping for classes. Oh well.
- Vacation was amazing. I went to Paris for 4 days, which was what I expected it to be-- Big (too big) and packed with stuff you have to see when you go to France. Though by the end of the trip there I was ready to head back "home" to Bordeaux
- Also during the Vacation I spent 3 days in Lourdes, in the Pyrenees. It was amazing, and I took an excursion even deeper into the mountains. It was really important to me to see the mountains again before it got too cold. Cirque de Gavernies is something everyone should try to see.
- Bordeaux feels like home now. I know the city well, and I am there literally every weekend. Myself and several English assistants have settled into a solid core of friends. Its a good thing. I am now completely certain that I will be moving into the city after Christmas.
- I climbed the tallest sand dune in Europe, then ran down it to the Ocean. hell yeah
So yeah, thats my life in summary. That and I've been drinking alot of wine. Its been alot of fun. I've given up on drinking beer simply due to economics. I bought a 7.50 E beer in Paris, which pretty much convinced me that I would never live in Paris. But since thats about the only negative I have to report, things must be going well.
As described above, my vacation pretty much kicked ass. What I failed to mention is that I was literally forced by my school to live on the road for the duration. Right before the vacation commenced, I made what I believed to be small talk with the people at my school about my plans for vacation. I told them I would be out and about, which they mentioned to be a good
What they didn't tell me was that the internat would be locked up and inaccessible during the holidays so unbeknownst to me, the things I took in my backpack that friday would have to last me for two weeks. Glad I brought a change of clothes. So, i lived on the kindness of friends, and hotels for vacation.
Evan and I went to Paris, and did all of the necessary things there.
We climbed the Eiffel Tower, because you know its so much better than taking the elevator. Sans doubte. Did the Louvre for a solid six hours. It was neat and all, but by the end it was just a painful walk through.
I did experience something crazy though, as I was leaving the Eiffel Tower, Evan and I ran into our friend Esther from Bordeaux. How do you have a chance meeting like that in a city of 5 million? Then to top it off, when I was in Arcachon with some friends to see the Dune De Pyla, we ran into Esther there! Crazy.
So, after Paris, and a couple more days in between in Bordeaux, I was ready to go to the mountains again to pass the time. So i headed to Lourdes in the Pyrenees. It happens to be the largest Catholic pilgrimage site in France. Wow, the cheese factor was high there, enough kitsch to make Christian bookstore owners blush. But the mountains were incredible, and the train ride into the city was amazing as well. Unfortunately, my camera, which i did not charge before the holidays died before I saw the truly impressive stuff past Lourdes. Oh well, I guess i'll have to go back sometime.
So that was my vacation. Now i am back in La Reole for school, and yeah... I am moving into the city after christmas. I'd only be there for the weekend, but its quite awkward begging for couches from friends literally every weekend. So i am going to get a room at one of the Youth Foyers, and still sleep at the internat during the school week, and then have a place to live on the three day weekend in Bordeaux. I think it will be worth it, since my life really is in Bordeaux, and I have made plenty of friends. Yeah, sweet.
Upcoming... Mr. Jon Boyette will be moving to Europe in December. He'll be in England for his job, but you best believe he'll be visiting, and me the same. But before he starts the job, he's going to stay with me for a week or so in France and then we are gonna do it up in Paris before Christmas. Its going to rock.
So, sorry about the infrequency thing. Paix.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I like teaching. Its pretty fun. Of course, I only have groups 1/3 or smaller than a "real" class- that and we are doing such simple things that I really have no idea what teaching is actually. But I like what I'm doing. Whatever it is. So, in class- we have been playing vocabish grammary type games, which the kids seem to enjoy I suppose, and it gets the job done.
My strategy these days is to go somewhere. Anywhere, but somewhere else on the weekend. Because La Reole is a bit slow. Bit slow. Last weekend I was in Bordeaux, and really had a great time. The one issue was that England had the audacity to beat France in rugby. I might be the most Anglo person in the world to have been saddened by the game, but I've gotta keep up apperances of course.
The game experience was pretty awesome though. They have some huge tv streams set up in downtown Bordeaux by the river and the place was packed and the crowd was very lively. I watched the match there with some other assistants, almost all of them from the British Isles... guess who they were rooting for? We had a box of 6 bottles of wine (Bordelaise of course) which we made short work of, particularly me and my Irish buddy, Rob.
In other news, the Spanish assistant at my school pretty much illustrates the difference between Europe and the United States. Me, I speak a bit of French and for the most part can communicate. Hmm. Yeah. However, she kicks my ass any day of the week she choses.
Upon arriving, she found me and- as is natural in this country- begins speaking to me in French. I do my best, but fail pretty decently. Finally, exasperated, she says "can I please just speak to you in English, I really need to know what's going on here".
Thats right! She speaks English, French and Spanish perfectly. Why not me? Hmm. Well, maybe by the time I leave. We'll see. But she's been very cool, and it's nice to have someone else around my age with whom I can hang out with. That and because of her, I have the courage to explore the townie bars, without feeling completely awkward.
I need to plan what I am doing for the upcoming All Saints holiday, nine days from now. Paris for sure, and maybe a trip to Sweden. We'll see.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Its also perhaps funny that it wasn't my own that has forced me to ponder things. Not for lack of opportunities, but call it censorship for reasons of economy . After all, if I were to mention one of my own malapropism's it wouldn't be fair to leave any out... the situation would cascade out of control.
Can't have that.
So, I've been in France for a month. Pretty strange, I still am taken by the oddity, just as often as it feels like home. Occasionally when I wake up, my first thoughts are to remind myself where I'm at. Other times- well- of course I live in France. Gotta live somewhere.
As I have been observing classes, and began to teach, I get asked a lot of questions- which is fun. One question in particular has gotten under my skin lately. One girl asked me how I like "living in French". She quickly corrected herself, "living in France"- but the damage to my fragile psyche had already been done.
Living in France is an incredible experience, like nothing I've ever imagined, and very little drawbacks thus far. Living in French is a different story. Its a tad bit unrelenting. I try not to let it become a problem- however its fun to muse about the good ole days when I could go into a store, restaurant, ect. and be reasonably certain that I could communicate efficiently.
Its funny to think that most of the time, its quite difficult for me to have anything but a passing conversation with the people on the street. Its just a different world, but its a fun challenge. My French is steadily improving, even my English teachers tell me so- but I miss being able to be (intentionally) funny, or at least not have to hurt my brain every time I want to discuss the future- past- or anything involving... ugh... the subjunctive.
See, French has never been more than a passing hobby. Sure, back in school it was fun for a while, but after a good 10-15 minutes of speaking broken French with another American, you would feel sufficiently snobby enough to relapse back into the mother tongue. After all, it was just messing around.
No biggie, just a new paradigm.
So as they say- this is the big leagues now... play times over and this is for real. Uhm... if you ain't cheatin you ain't tryin.
Anyway, out of metaphysics and into the disquisition.
As stated in previous blogs-so far things are amazing, and I haven't been nearly as homesick as I should be. The people at my school have been more than kind to me- they drive me to the supermarket, they have furnished my room, they make sure I get my laundry done. Yeah, it rocks. But, its La Reole- a lovely town, with a shortage of entertainment options.
I spent the last weekend in this minitropolis, and I do think that it will be the only time I do so. Evan came and hung out on Saturday, but we couldn't even find a supermarche to buy some beer to consume during the rugby match... Then sunday, one of the ladies I worked with arranged to have me go with her and her traditional Gascon dance troupe to a fete in a small town in the next department over.
Thanks to my wonderful oral comprehension, I wasn't particularly sure what I was getting into until I got there, which made for an exciting car trip. But it was alot of fun, I got a chance to speak with people in the town that I wouldn't have otherwise, and they were all extremely nice and it was a good experience.
Finally though, I've started "teaching" if you can call what I do in there "teaching". I will refer to it as such, and will even go so far as to remove the "" from the word "teaching" from here onward.
My teaching method thus far is a bit difficult to describe, I think you could call it post avant garde, which is probably a euphemism for crap. It seems like teaching a foreign language, in said language, to teens is definitely walking a razors edge. On one side, if you talk down to them, you lose. On the other side, its over before it starts if you talk above them.
The real fun is when their comprehension is so low you manage to do both at the same time. Welcome to my world.
That isn't to say that its been bad- some of the classes have been marvelous. Just today I had two different classes of three girls each, both of which went great, and we had good conversation, and I day say they seemed interested in speaking most of the time.
Then... I had a class from the vocational side of the school. Yeah. I went over like a lead balloon. I spent the whole hour asking questions that were supposed to lead into interesting discussion, but instead got one word, off topic, and occasionally franglais replies. Can't win em all.
Fortunately, my teachers are extremely sympathetic, and they realize I'm not going to work miricles with everyone. But there are some students who do certainly want to improve, and its best to focus on that.
This weekend, back to Bordeaux- the semi finals of the rugby world cup are here and Saturday its France vs. England!!! Hell yeah. Hope you all are doing well.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
It had a lot of good stuff about my goings on in Bordeaux last weekend. My assistant's orientation in Bordeaux, and a nice write-up about not being able to return to La Reole until the morning because of my First French Rail strike... But thats all gone.
You would have read about how the people in my school at La Reole have been amazing, they gave me a fridge in the room they also gave me. They helped me set up a bank account, otherwise I would still be there 8 hours later, looking helpless and mumbling quoi...? to myself.
That and someone set me up with the schools laundry equipment, and drove me to a supermarche for some provisions to go with the fridge. So much for the French being unfriendly, eh?
Yeah... well you will never find out about all that due to my carelessness.
but I do leave you with an anecdote.
I started observing classes today at my school, and the students were asking me questions (in English) and it was lovely.
Then, one of the students asks if I spoke French.It is at this point the teacher, who is my responsable, starts laughing, presumably at the thought of me trying to speak French.
And he tried to stop, but couldn't for a while.
Good to have a rep.
Well, sorry for the truncated post. More to come when I feel like it. Love you all, other than those of you who found my blog randomly. But I am at least fond of you.