Tuesday, August 10, 2010


We've been back a month already? Incroyable!

I sincerely hope to "finish" my blog. I want to write and share about the rest of our experience. I never wrote about Germany (either trip!), and I didn't finish writing about English in the French classroom.

But now, tomorrow in fact, I am embarking on a new type of adventure already. I, Katie A, who was "never going to teach because there's so much more you can do with French," has taught for 7 months in France and will now teach French for a semester at a high school in Indiana. How did this happen? I don't have time to tell you! I haven't had time to think. Life has gone by so quickly this past month. Tomorrow, I meet my six classes of 9th-12th graders.

C'est parti! Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Results are in!

We've been back in the good ol' USA for a week now. We're slowly unpacking and I'm looking for a job. Up to this point, we've been readjusting pretty well but missing France like crazy. But this is for another blog post (that is, if I manage to keep writing like I want to. In fact, there are a lot of posts that are in my head that haven't made it to the blog.)

Today I want to share some great news I received upon our return. This may be an extra vain blog post, but please allow me this brief self-indulgence. I'm pretty excited about it. When my dad handed over 10 months worth of mail, he also gave me an envelope sent priority mail from France. What could it be? Nothing other than my Test de Connaissance du Français (TCF) results!

I took the TCF on June 21, after being in France for over 9 months. I set a reasonable goal of placing at C1 (level 5 of 6). But as I studied and took a prep class at the ASLC (which I recommend), I started to worry. A friend told me of an American she knew, a French degree barer I believe, who was really confident and then placed really low, level 2 or 3 I think. Since I continue to struggle with self-doubt, I began to worry. I knew If I placed lower than level 4, I'd be crushed. What would 9 months of immersion mean then?

Sitting at my dad's dining room table, I opened the envelope, not realizing what it was at first.


TCF - Test de connaissance du français

Oh! Oh! It's my score!


Katherine Ann

blah blah blah

Résultat global: 590 points, niveau C1 du CECR


So, I reached my goal, and I was only 10 points away from C2 (level 6, the highest).

For anyone interested, here's the breakdown of the scoring.
Niveau C1, 500 à 599 points

Bonne maîtrise de la langue. La personne peut comprendre une grande gamme de textes longs et exigeants comportant des contenus implicites. Elle s’exprime couramment et de façon bien structurée sur sa vie sociale, professionnelle ou académique et sur des sujets complexes.

Level C1, 500 to 599 points
Advanced Level

Good operational command of the language. Can understand a wide range of long and demanding texts and can recognize implicit meaning. Can express himself or herself fluently in a well-structured way on his or her social, professional or academic life and on complex topics.


The TCF scoring is based on European standards and the test composed of 5 examination sections, 3 of which are compulsory if you register, and 2 which you can pay extra to take. I, of course, took all 5. The compulsory sections are Reading, Grammatical Structures, and Listening. The extras are writing and speaking.

I placed in C1 overall and in each section, except one: speaking. I expected to place lower in this section. Speaking really is the most challenging of all for me. But...I placed in C2. It's curious, really. This part involved a 15 minute recorded interview with 6 questions, that went from super easy to difficult. I'm happy, but I'm not sure I agree. I wish the results came with comments or corrections, but it's just a single sheet with scores.

This is another thing I can check off of my "want to do in France" list! I plan to continue listening, reading, writing, and speaking as much as possible, right here in Anderson. In fact, we just switched to AT&T U-Verse so we can watch the French channel TV5 Monde.

Maybe I'll take the test again in a few years, with a C2 (upper advanced level) in all sections being the goal!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Packing. Did not exactly learn my lesson.

Before moving to France, I wrote this post about my regret of the amount of STUFF in my life.

Now, that we're packing to move back home, I've realized I haven't completely learned my lesson. Our first phase was packing to move out of our studio as we left to go to Germany and Belgium. We took two huge bags of clothes and shoes to La Croix Rouge, shipped 4 boxes of books through the Post Office's Livres et Brochures rate (about 14€ for 5 kg), and abandoned office and kitchen supplies in the apartment. We were left with two big rolling suitcases, two backpacks, a duffel bag, and my oversized purse. What do you think? Is that really bad for 10 months of living here? I remember when we arrived at the airport in September, an American couple, who had the same amount of luggage as us, said "we have a lot, but we're here for two weeks." I just smiled. Comparatively, we've done ok. But I want to do better!

Luckily, our landlady was able to keep our extra luggage during our travels. Today, we recuperated our bags to bring to them to our friends' place, where we're staying until we leave Paris.

Oh my gosh. Still too much. We also made the less than brilliant decision to go from Paris to Dublin for 2 days, then home to Indiana, meaning we have to lug everything to Dublin, and then again to Indiana. This also means if we have extra bag or overweight fees, we'll have to pay twice.

Fortunately I have learned to live without as much clothes as I used to have. And without a microwave. And a TV (although we cheated by watching movies and TV shows on our laptop). And there's nothing wrong with liking books, right? I might need to give some serious thought to a Kindle, but I really just like the feeling and the smell of a real book.

On the other hand, I need to stop keeping ridiculous little things that add up: brochures, museum leaflets, class notebooks and worksheets.

So, here I am, trying to get rid of more still. I did buy a few more things today, but don't judge me! I bought chocolatey goodness gifts and tea from Mariage Frères for myself and a certain tea-loving friend.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Expressions of happiness

I love it when this happens. From a French person's mouth to my ears to my brain in seconds. And I smile.

It's when I hear an expression for the first time. I've seen it and read it before. But now I've heard it, in real life, and I got it.

Today, it happened in the few brief seconds while turning onto the sidewalk, leaving my apartment. A lady yelled down the street, "Ça fait un bail!"

"It's been ages!" is what she said to her friend, a French expression that isn't literally translated.

Sometimes it's really the little things that make me happy. And since learning a language can be so difficult and discouraging, I'll take as many little moments and expressions as I can get.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Beginning of the end...and a new beginning

English in italics

Samedi je suis retournée à JF, une des écoles ou j’ai travaillé, pour la fête de l’école pour la fin de l’année scolaire. C’était vraiment un plaisir d’être là. Au lieu de stress, j’ai ressenti un bonheur de voir les élèves et bien sûr l’excellent équipe des enseignants. Et les enfants, au lieu d’être petits monstres, étaient mignons.

On Saturday I returned to JF, one of my schools, for the end of the year festival. It was truly a pleasure to be there. Instead of stress, I felt happy to see the kids and of course the wonderful team of teachers. And the kids, instead of being little monsters, were cute.

Les enfants ont chanté et puis il y a eu des stands des jeux. J’ai bandé les yeux aux enfants et les ai fait tourner au stand de La Queue de l’Âne avec Patricia.

The kids sang and then there were games. I blindfolded kids and spun them around at the Pin the Tail on the Donkey stand with Patricia.

Parmi les chansons était « Hello, Goodbye, » une chanson que je les ai appris. Malheureusement, je suis complètement bête et j’ai supprimé la vidéo. En regardant mes photos sur l’écran de mon appareil photo, je pensais que c’était une photo floue.

One of the songs was “Hello, Goodbye,” a song I had taught them. Sadly, I’m a complete idiot and I deleted the video. While looking through my pictures on my camera, I thought it was a blurry picture.

Par contre, j’ai conservé heureusement la vidéo d’une très jolie chanson que j’ai entendue pour la première fois. C’est « Toi Plus Moi » de Grégoire. J’étais instantanément fan.

However, I luckily didn’t delete the video of a beautiful song I heard for the first time. It’s “Toi Plus Moi” by Grégoire. I was immediately a fan.

Merci, les enfants, de m’avoir présenté cette chanson. Vous chantez bien !

Thanks kids for introducing me to this song! And you sang beautifully!

Et voilà la vidéo de Grégoire. C’est tout simplement une chanson optimiste et joyeuse, parfaite pour le début des grandes vacances et encourageant pour mon avenir un peu pas sûr.

And here is Grégoire’s video. It’s just simply a happy and optimistic song, perfect for the beginning of summer vacation and encouraging for my less than certain future.

Les Paroles/ The Lyrics (English translation not as good as the original, of course)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fête de la Musique in a (small?) city

This year was my 3rd time in France on June 21, and my 2nd time getting to celebrate the Fête de la Musique. In 2006, I experienced la fête for the first time in a small-ish town with my study abroad gang in Normandy. In 2007, I was in Lourdes, volunteering and wasn't really aware of any festivals going on. In 2008 and 2009, I was sadly stateside.

What is this Fête de la Musique? It's a music festival involving all types of music performed by bands, mostly outdoors, to celebrate the beginning of summer and the longest day of the year.

And in 2010, on Monday, I got to experience la Fête de la Musique in Paris. The capital. This year totally rocked 2006's socks off. While interesting, my experience in 2006 involved listening to various mediocre bands do covers until about 9pm when we headed home.

On Monday, Tom and I didn't start until 10pm (although, this was a mistake because many venues closed down at midnight). We started in the 5th district at la Place de la Contre-Escarpe where, again, we heard covers, the best of which was Born to be Wild. We then took the metro (for the last time) to the 4th, near the Bastille where we listened to Les Dindons Virtuels, a pretty great sounding band doing songs by the Stones, Beatles, and Lynyrd Skynyrd outside Le Paradis du Fruit. Next, we walked to the nearby Place des Vosges. In each corner of this square there was a different band. We stood in the middle to orient ourselves then followed our ears to a band singing, you'll never believe it, French songs! It was very good to hear. Even though I didn't know any of them, I get sick of all the covers in English (especially when they don't actually know all the words). Unfortunately I don't think they were on the official listing and don't know how to find out who they were.

Really bad picture. You can't even see the band. But this was at Place des Vosges.

On the way out, we listened to a few interesting Electro-chorale numbers by a group wearing...rain suits?

Electo-chorale group called Echo.

Our last stop was supposed to be at Le Troisième Lieu, a bar with bands playing until 2am. I thought it would be good to find a place open late where we could sit down. Except when we got there, there was a line and it looked too hip for us. Instead, we went to a nearby bar to listen to music (through the stereo). At about 1:30 I was feeling pretty tired, so we decided to walk to the nearest metro to go home. RATP had announced for a week before that the metro would be running all night. After checking several stations, though, we realized they had deceived us and had decided to screw us all over. Why? I still don't know. Even the night buses, which are a normal thing, weren't normal. RATP, I can't believe I praised you in a recent post. I'm still waiting for an apology.

So we walked. From the 4th to the 13th. It took a little over an hour, and we reached home at 3am. It seemed like a very long walk, especially since I was so tired. But at the same time, I expected it to take longer. It turns out that Paris really isn't that big (excluding the suburbs of course). Our long early morning walk was only a little over 3 miles, or about 5 kilometers. In every other way, Paris is a big city, just not in actual size.

This walk gave Tom a chance to show off, though. Without a map, he got us home without a hitch, and he even showed me some pretty cool hidden treasures I'd never seen. He took a Discovering Paris class, which involved a lot of field trips, and now I'm really jealous because he might know Paris better than me.

Overall, it was a great night. The best part, I think, was experiencing some of my favorite spots (Place des Vosges, Place de la Contre-Escarpe) in new ways.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

To the Market

Marché Maison Blanche, March 2010

“Allez-y madame.”

“Bonjour! Ça va?”

The man at the fruit and vegetable stand caught me eyeing his tomatoes and hands me a bag.

The normal Paris barriers seem to come down at the markets. Vendors shout bonjour before they know you are going to buy something. It’s to get your attention of course, but they are still the warmest salespeople in the city. The fruit and veggie guy even started tutoyer-ing me (using informal “you”) after my second visit.

I fill my bag with tomatoes, and take two more for green beans and carrots while I listen to the vendor talk to an elderly man about bananas.

“Des bananes de Martinique!” Bananas from Martinique!

“De Martinique? Quelle ville?” Martinique? What city?

“Moi, j’en sais rien. Je suis marocain!” I have no idea. I’m Moroccan! And they both laugh.

After he’s finished with the bananas, I hand him my bags, and he hands me a cherry. Delicious, but what do you do with those pits?!


“Des abricots pour la princesse?” Apricots for the princess?

“Non, merci, ça sera tout.” No thanks, that’ll be all.

“Deux euros dix.”

I hand him the 2 euros and 10 centimes.

“A la prochaine.” See you next time.

Yes, see you next time. But not because you call me princess and give me free fruit. Really.

According to this France Guide website (in French), there are about 90 markets in France. The majority are marchés alimentaires (food markets), but there are a lot of markets that specialize in flowers, clothes, one that has birds, antiques, and then there are also marchés aux puces (flea markets) and the bouquinistes (used books) along the Seine.

The market described above is obviously a food market, one of two that I frequent. There you can find fresh vegetables, fruit, fish, cheese, and much more. And don’t let the name foul you. Most food markets also have stands for clothes, purses, cooking equipment, flowers, jewelry, and other odds and ends, like batteries.

Food markets are usually open two or three days a week for the morning and early afternoon. The permanent covered markets are open most days, but I’ve yet to be to one, but the famous Marché d’Aligre is on my to-do soon list.

The market above is called Marché Maison Blanche and is a 2-minute walk from our apartment and occupies one side of Avenue d’Italie, the main street for shopping and errands in our area. It can be visited on Thursdays from 7am-2:30pm and Sundays from 7am-3pm. This is where I go most often because this is where my veggie guy works and it’s so close. I also bought a 10 euro purse here (It’s not of super great quality though. For great quality, go one stand down where you will find 70 euro leather purses). Yet, it’s not my favorite food market because of one little thing: it’s organization. It is one long strip to walk down, with stands on each side. It’s usually very crowded and difficult to maneuver.

My favorite can be found on Wednesdays and Fridays from 7am-2:30pm and Sundays from 7am-3pm at Place Monge, near the Arènes de Lutèce. It offers most of the same things, but is set up in a town square and therefore is much easier to move about.

Marché Monge, May 2010

Marché Monge, May 2010

My favorite stand there has spices and olives. It smells absolutely wonderful and the colors are beautiful. Sorry, I haven’t been brave (or rude?) enough to take close-up pictures of stands. I need to learn how to make something with olives so I can actually buy and use some.

Besides Marché d’Aligre, I also hope to make it to the Marché aux Puces de Vanves before going home. The first day of my sister’s visit, we tried to make it, but everyone was packing when we finally got there. By chance, on the way home, we found a one-time flea market. Tom and I found some really neat old postcards of Paris, that had actually been sent decades ago and had their originally messages on the back.

Open-air markets have made it on my list of my favorite things about daily life in Paris. The market ambiance is unique. Watching people interact with each other and smile is almost better than my free fruit.

For more info or to find other markets in Paris, go here (French only).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Repeats and firsts during the sister visit

Luckily my sister, equipped with her foot brace, was able to continue to visit the sights in Paris. Of course, since I've been here since September, and since I'd visited Paris twice before (man, am I lucky!), I've covered all of the main tourist spots and much more, some multiple times. Obviously, though, there are several must-sees in Paris and any good host will revisit these places with the first-timer. I tried to regain my own first-time enthusiasm, as to not bum out my sister with my boredom.

In some places, it worked.

I continue to love strolling through the halls of Musée d'Orsay, looking at Van Gogh and Monet and Degas paintings. The enthusiasm didn't hold up in the Louvre, however. I prefer the Louvre from the outside. Gazing at the ancient palace turned museum with it's modern pyramids from the Tuileries is how I prefer to experience the Louvre these days. Once inside, I fell trapped and I know that the next 4 or 5 hours will be spent wondering the halls, feeling like a lost soul not knowing when it will end. Yet I survived my 5th (6th?) visit to the Louvre and was happy that my sister found a lot of interesting Egyptian art, including a Book of the Dead, which I suppose was pretty neat.

Since she came for two weeks, we had the time to see more than the must-sees, and I was excited to be a first-timer again in a few new places.

Although I have been to the Marais countless times (usually for a good falafel), I had never visited any of the hôtels particuliers. Although we weren't able to visit the inside of Hôtel de Sully, the courtyard of this town house, connected to the Place des Vosges, provided great views of the exterior. At the Hôtel de Soubise, we succeeded in getting in before it closed. The prince's and princesses' apartments are worth a visit.

Hôtel de Sully

One of my favorite new places was La Conciergerie, a royal palace dating from the middle ages that was later used as a prison. It was used to hold prisoners during the revolution. Their next stop after La Conciergerie was the guillotine. Marie Antionette and Robespierre were held here before their executions.

La Conciergerie

A mock up of what Marie Antoinette's cell looked like. Her actual cell was later converted into a chapel.

Still in the Conciergerie. Tom showing the mark of the water level during the 1910 Paris flood.

In the middle of Jenny's two week Paris visit, the three of us took a weekend trip to Normandy. Having studied in Normandy in the summer of 2006, almost everything we did and saw was another repeat for me. But it was a wonderful repeat! I love this region and it was good to get out of the city for a few days. Tom had also never been to this area, and he really enjoyed it, too, especially the adorable port city of Honfleur.

We visited Monet's gardens in Giverny, Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery, Mont-Saint-Michel, and spend an evening and afternoon wondering around Honfleur before returning to Paris. One new thing for me, though, was horseback riding near Mont-Saint-Michel. My sister is a horse enthusiast so we organized this detour. Sadly we didn't actually ride on the beach like she wanted to, but we did have magnificent views of Mont-Saint-Michel.

Another new thing was staying in a Chambre d'Hôte (Bed and Breakfast), which was the only option for us in the countryside where our horseback riding took place. It was definitely not the most comfortable (bed and awkwardness-wise), but it was another wonderful opportunity to speak French. The couple who owned the place were exceptionally welcoming and talkative.

Monet's gardens


American Cemetery

Getting ready for some serious horse-riding, or just hoping not to fall off. Domino, my horse, was sweet, but all he wanted to do was eat along the trail. I had to yell "Non! Tu ne manges pas!" quite a bit.

Jenny smiling for a picture during a pit-stop.

Le Mont-Saint-Michel

Tom in the hall where monks ate...in silence.

Gorgeous Honfleur. How could I refuse a second visit?

I'm really glad my sister was able to experience a little bit of France, a place that holds such a special place in my heart. It's a bit of a risk inviting someone to visit you in your beloved new home. I know that sounds odd and snooty, but let me explain. Since France is so special to me, it is important that any guest of ours have a great time and find it equally wonderful. I suppose that I may be a tad unreasonable. I took my sister, and other visitors, to some of my favorite places, which are not exactly the most famous or must-sees. They liked some, but didn't care at all for others, which hurt a little. But on the whole my sister's trip was a success (well, besides the few special places she didn't care about or the whole falling down the stairs thing). It really helped that she had done some research before and was interested in seeing certain places...even if one of them was the Louvre.

Monday, June 7, 2010

An encounter with French health care

It’s almost time for me to return to the states. After nearly 10 months of living in France, I never succeeded in signing up for Social Security, and therefore health insurance (although I believe that since my pay checks were deducted for this that I would have been reimbursed- eventually- for any medical bills). So, clearly administration in France is a nightmare. However, a recent incident reassured me, that if I were to get sick, I would be taken care of and it wouldn’t cost me les yeux de la tête (an arm and a leg). This incident gave me a glimpse at the system.

My sister came to visit for two weeks in May. It was her first time to Europe, her first time out of the country if you don’t count a few days in Mexico when we were too young to remember. I wanted her to have a great time and for Paris to have a great impression of her. Unfortunately, our staircase had another plan. Her second night here, she missed one or two miserable steps. At first, she was fine. But overnight her foot swelled. My first thought was to go to the pharmacy.

Pharmacists are honestly just awesome here. When I explained what happened to the pharmacist, he took us to a room and looked at her foot. He said he didn’t think anything was broken but recommended she go to a doctor to make sure she didn’t need an x-ray. Nervous, I asked what an x-ray would cost since she wasn’t covered by French health insurance. He grimaced. Oh no. 100? 200? More? I worried. With an apologetic tone he said, “Without French health coverage, it could be up to 30 or 40.”

Next, I accompanied my limping sister to the nearest clinic to make an appointment for later that afternoon. When we came back for the appointment, they asked for her carte vitale (insurance card). After explaining that she’s just visiting France, again with an apologetic tone, the lady said, “then you’ll have to pay the whole fee for the appointment now, but we’ll give you a form and maybe your American insurance will reimburse you.” How much? “22 euros.”

We waited for about 45 minutes in the waiting room where we watched 5 patients be called before us into the exam room. Curious thing about doctor offices (or at least clinics) in France: there are cabines (changing rooms) connected to the exam rooms. So as patients were called, we watched the doctor go through the main door to the room, while the patients went to the cabine. I explained to Jenny that they are probably stripping down and may not have gowns to wear. There are no frills at the doctor or the hospital in France, I hear. “No way am I taking off my clothes for my foot!” she exclaimed. I agreed that would be ridiculous, but after this long day I told her to suck it up if she had to. Luckily, when we were called, Dr. Arnaud just asked her to take off her shoe. She sat on the table and the doctor asked me, “Elle a fait quoi comme bêtise? (What stupid thing did she do?) I like this guy.

Dr. Arnaud confirmed that nothing was broken and that an x-ray wasn’t needed. She had une entorse (a sprain) and he wrote her a prescription for an anti-inflammatory cream, une attelle (a brace) and a set of cannes anglaises (crutches, but those that you hold with your hands and don’t go under your armpits). The doctor even assured us that we could take our trip to Mont Saint Michel and that she could even ride a horse. He even included a funny horse riding demonstration from his chair.

Back to the pharmacy we went for the brace, cream, and rented crutches, which cost about 50 euros. So the day’s worth of medical bills, without coverage, cost under 75 euros.

The standard fee for seeing a (non-private) general practitioner for adults in France is 22 euros. If you are covered by the Social Security health coverage (which are all citizens and residents here long enough to get paperwork finished), 70% of that is reimbursed. Back in March, the doctor unionists (yes, doctor unionists) went on strike. They were demanding that the fee be raised to 23 euros. Well, from what I’ve found on the Internet, it didn’t exactly happen. Some doctors have begun to charge the extra euro, but the Assurance Maladie (Health Insurance) website assures that patients have the right to refuse to pay the extra euro. For Francophiles, this article is interesting if you want to learn more, and this site explains the basics about doctor fees.

I indeed sympathize with the general practitioners who feel constrained by politicians and unappreciated, and I think they deserve the extra euro. Clearly I must admit that there are problems and downsides to the French health care system. Yet, I firmly believe that my sister, as small as her incident may have been, was in competent hands. She was well taken care of, and even without coverage she didn’t have to forfeit all of her traveling money for medical bills.

After doing some research about fees and such in France, I decided I needed to learn more about the new health care plan going into effect in my home country. I knew the very basics, but since it passed, I didn’t understand how and when things would exactly change. Some of the first things to go into effect are that people under 26 can remain on their parents’ health insurance, and that insurance providers cannot deny coverage to children due to pre-existing conditions. As a married individual, I can’t exactly benefit from my dad’s insurance (I assume), but I think that is wonderful. How many 22 year olds find a job with excellent benefits right after college? That’s a much-needed cushion in my opinion. And not allowing insurance companies from refusing to give health coverage to children, well how could you argue with that? Is that not simply just?

Before strangers to my blog begin to bombard me with anti-socialist comments, let me say that I’m admittedly not an expert, and let me change the subject. Another wonderful thing to come out of my sisters’ slight misery was my opportunity to speak French in a new environment. Speaking with pharmacists and doctors and learning new vocabulary was honestly exciting and it felt good, since I’ve not had “new” French speaking experiences lately. So, Jenny, I’m sorry you feel down the stairs, but thank you for the gift of this interesting experience.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mon Appart (or Housing in Paris, Part 2: Studio Apartment)

Our 19th Century Haussmann apartment building.

There is so much I want to write about, and I'm trying to catch up! Back in February, we moved out of our foyer (residence hall type place) and into a subleased studio. It's only slightly bigger than our foyer room, 18m2 (194 square ft), but we have our own kitchen, which is slowly helping me with that learning to cook goal, and we share a toilet with one other studio. The shower is oddly in the kitchen, but it works for us. This size of studio apartment is typical for students in Paris, as housing is so expensive here. We unfortuanetly no longer qualify for CAF assistance, but we pay a relatively fair rent amount.

It may sound small, but we really have all the space we need. We love our quiet area, and we are close to Avenue d'Italie, where we do all of our errands, and close to the metro so we can go anywhere in Paris in an hour or less. Both our old foyer and current studio are in the 13th district, but we're in a nicer area now, with more restaurant and grocery shopping options. I actually adore our area, which includes the Butte aux Cailles. But that's for another blog post. Now, I just want to share some pics of our humble abode.

Kitchen. Do you see the shower?

Kitchen, view #2.

Living room/dining room/bedroom. I love our big window!

Living room/dining room/bedroom view #2. Our bed is a BZ, think futon but it pulls out the other way.

The view of the treacherous stairs from the top floor.

I prefer pubic transportation

I was sad to learn recently that my not-so-faithful car at home has gone kaput. When I return, I will have to make do with sharing Tom's truck until I find a job and can get a new car.

Fortunately in Paris, having a car is not necessary. In fact, it would be nearly crazy to keep a car here. Using les transports en commun is part of the daily grind in Paris. In fact, there is a common expression that goes métro, boulot, dodo (metro, work, sleep). This expression is actually negative, showing the monotony and repetition of daily life in the city.

Metro station Tolbiac, 13e arrondissement

Besides the few setbacks and strikes, I've actually been enjoying using public transportation, and wish it would be possible at home. Ok, I don't usually enjoy my time on the metro. At times, especially on lines 1 and 2 it seems, it's so crowded that there is no other option but to push and shove your way on, fighting for a spot, not even hoping for a seat but for room to breath, securing your pockets so that Mr. Pickpocket doesn't take off with your 10 euros or Navigo pass. There's also the stations themselves, which unfortunately sometimes have an awful stench and where you often have to avoid mysterious puddles, like on the streets. Every time I see one, I think of my friend Tabitha's saying, "I don't trust liquid in the city."

Back to the positive, since I really do like taking the metro. The number one reason is that it is so convenient. There are 14 metro lines in Paris (16 if you count 3bis and 7bis), and 5 RER lines (A-E). We are just a 5 minute walk from the station Tolbiac, on line 7, 10 minutes from the station Place d'Italie, which has lines 5,6, and 7, and just 10 minutes from the station Olympiades, which has the automatic super-fast line 14. Such a modern city, right? Can you believe that the metro started in 1900?!

Among other advantages is the time you have to read, which you couldn't (or shouldn't!) do while driving. It's also a great time to eavesdrop on conversations and try to understand as much French as possible. Also, it's relatively inexpensive. If you frequently use the metro, you can buy a Navigo pass. For Paris (zones 1 and 2), I pay just over 50 euros for the month. I probably spent more than that in gas in one week at home. There's also the Navigo Imaginaire, the student pass, which is much cheaper. The downside is that you have to pay for the year and you have to have a Certificat de Scolarité before you can get it.

In addition to the metro and RER, there are many bus lines and 3 tram lines. Buses can be a great alternative after months of taking the metro, where, if you have to go far, you'll be deprived of sunlight for hours a day. The trams are also above ground, but generally slower because their speed depends on traffic. Yet, the metro just seems easier to me. It's very easy to navigate. But one warning for future Paris visitors. Avoid Châtelet if you can, or be ready to walk. As convenient as it is to change lines (it has 5 metro lines and 3 RER lines), it is humongous. I'd prefer to walk outside than underground.

One last thing bothers me about the metro, though. It is the opposite of handicap accessible. There is the occasional elevator, but not at many stations. There are also escalators. But mostly it's stairs, stairs, stairs. I'm not sure how the elderly do it. Slowly, I guess. But people in wheelchairs? Well, I've obviously never seen any wheelchairs in the metro. But how do they get around?

Using public transportation goes hand in hand with your feet. This doesn't bother me so much, but getting lost does. At metro stations, there are plans du quartier (area maps), which are helpful. But I recently broke down and spent the 10 euros to buy the VERY helpful A. Leconte Plan de Paris book. I highly recommend it for Paris dwellers.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

General Update

I have been horrible about blogging, je sais. Since my last pathetically short post, a lot has happened, which I'm using as my excuse for not blogging. Here's a quick update on life for Tom and Katie (mostly for Katie because Tom hasn't blogged since January 4), and I will try to elaborate soon.

My sister visited for 2 weeks, and we had an awesome 3 day excursion to Normandy. Unfortunately, she hurt her foot on her second day here, and fortunately it gave me the opportunity to make fun of her, and to use my French at clinics and pharmacies. Oh, believe you me, you'll hear more about this.

Today I finally signed up to take the Test de Connaissance du Français (TCF), a test that will assess my level of French. Test date is June 21, and I'm taking it at the Association d'Assistance Scolaire Linguistique et Culturelle (ASLC), where I will also be taking a prep course starting next week. I haven't had a lot of luck with classes here (German lady with her distracting dog and tangents, classes turning out to be in English, etc), so I'm really hoping this one goes well, yet sadly expect something crazy to happen.

I've also been looking for jobs in Indiana. No news. I'm not panicking. Not yet.

And, oh yeah, tomorrow we're going to Germany for a 5 day trip! Munich, the Ludwig II castles, and the Oberammergau passion play. I'm excited and only wishing I'd work harder on my German.

There's the quick version. More will be posted after Germany. So check back on Tuesday. Give me a nudge if need be.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

2 months to go

We have now been in France for 8 months, and unlike many of our student and assistant friends, we didn't go home for Christmas. Eight whole months and only 2 to go.

Dear Time,

Please don't go too fast. Let me savor every moment in France.



Saturday, May 8, 2010

A road trip through the Hexagone

Enjoy our pics, then scroll down for English.

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Un de mes cours préférés à la fac était La France Contemporaine. J’ai appris pleine de choses sur la France et les Français. J’ai appris que les Français appellent la France, des fois, l’Hexagone, et qu’ils sont tellement fiers de leur pays varié. Pour le cours, il fallait situer les chaînes de montagnes, les fleuves, et beaucoup de villes sur une carte. Ça fait 3 ans que j’étais assise dans la salle de classe, m’émerveillant à la belle France avec une carte, un livre, et des photos. (J’avais déjà visité la Normandie et Paris, mais j’avais beaucoup à apprendre). Et maintenant que j’ai vu beaucoup plus de mes propres yeux, je peux vous dire que je serai fière aussi si c’étaient mon pays. Bon, je suis fière d’être résidente. Et je sais que j’ai vraiment la chance d’avoir vu encore de la France la semaine dernière.

Avec nos amis, Thomas B et Maggie, on a loué une voiture pour cette aventure. Notre première étape était Auvergne, une région dans au centre de la France. Les parents de Thomas ont une maison en Auvergne, alors il connaissait déjà la région et il était un excellent guide. Nous avons monté deux volcans (oui, il y a des volcans en France !), et nous avons visité le château de Murol, des grottes, une ferme de chèvres où on a acheté du fromage, et le village d’Usson où la Reine Margot a été bannie. Et nous avons essayé beaucoup de nouveaux fromages : Salers, Bleu d’Auvergne, Cantal vieux, et trois types de chèvres.

Le quatrième jour, Tom et moi avons dit au revoir à Maggie et Thomas qui sont rentrés à Paris en train. J’ai continué vers le sud avec mon mari, content d’être au volant. Après quelques heures au Puy-en-Velay où nous avons visité le rocher Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe (une chapelle bâtie dans le rocher d’un volcan) et un magasin de dentelle fait main, nous sommes allés au Chambon-sur-Lignon. C’est une ville assez inconnue, même parmi les Français, mais avec une histoire incroyable. Pendant la deuxième guerre mondiale, les gens de cette ville, et dans le voisinage, ont accueilli et caché 5000 juifs, pour la plupart des enfants. J’ai écrit mon mémoire pour mon cours de l’Holocauste à ce sujet et c’était un peu irréel d’être là.

Ensuite, nous sommes arrivés en Provence, à travers la route des Gorges de l’Ardèche, pour une journée à Avignon et une journée à Aix-en-Provence. Ahhh. Provence. Vous imaginez le soleil, des bons repas provençaux, et les santons ? C’est ce que j’ai imaginé. Je suis sûre que on peu trouvé toutes ces choses, mais pas nous. Il a plu les deux jours. Beaucoup de restaurants (ceux que notre guide Michelin suggère), magasins, et musées étaient fermés. Samedi était un jour férié, et puis dimanche, c’est dimanche en France. On n’avait pas beaucoup de chance en Provence. Mais, bien sûr, en Avignon nous avons visité le Palais des Papes (oui, les papes habitait en France pendant un moment de l’histoire !) et nous avons dansé sur le Pont d’Avignon, et nous avons même réussi à trouvé un bon restaurant, l’Orangeraie. À Aix, on s’est reposé un peu à l’hôtel pendant la pluie. Je n’ai pas réussi à trouver un magasin ouvert pour acheter mon santon convoité, et on s’est contenté de manger un repas, moyennement bon, à Patacrêpes, une chaîne. Par contre, les serveurs étaient très sympathiques. Mais, avec notre guide Michelin fidèle, nous nous sommes promenés en apprenant un peu sur l’histoire et l’architecture. Je dois avouer que Aix est une ville charmante, même dans la pluie. En route vers Lyon, nous sommes allés à Orange pendant une heure, pour voir les vestiges romains, y inclus un Arc de Triomphe beaucoup plus vieux que celui de Napoléon.

Lyon était notre dernière étape avant de rentrer à Paris. N’ayant qu’une demi-journée, nous avons concentrés sur les deux collines. Sur la colline Fourvière, la colline qui prie, se trouve le Basilique Notre-Dame. Les mosaïques étaient exceptionnelles. À droite, elles racontent l’histoire de France et à gauche l’histoire de l’Église, avec Marie partout. Dommage, photos interdites. Ensuite, nous avons visité la Croix-Rousse, ou la colline qui travaille. Mais nous avons trouvés rien d’intéressant. Peut-être que nous n’étions pas au bon endroit. Ou peut-être que le travail n’est pas très intéressant. Nous n’avions pas le temps de visiter des musées ou d’autres églises, mais les vues du Rhône et de la Saône étaient superbes.

Il y a certainement des avantages de voyager en voiture. Les trains ont leurs avantages, mais en voiture on voit beaucoup plus. On découvre les petits villages et on aperçoit des jolis panoramas inattendus. Malheureusement c’est moins écologique que les trains, et c’est plus cher quand il faut se garer. Il y a aussi les péages si on prend les autoroutes. Si vous pensez à voyer en voiture en France, munissez-vous d’espèces ! Même si les péages sont censés d’accepter les cartes bancaires, la mienne n’a pas marché (il y en avait de l’argent, je promets !) et après 10 minutes, j’ai rendu une dizaine de gens derrières nous vexés, et après une interrogation j’ai reçu la facture avec une menace d’être poursuivie si je n’aurai pas payé sous 8 jours.


One of my favorite college classes was Contemporary France. I learned a lot about France and the French. I learned that the French call France, sometimes, the Hexagon, due to its shape, and that they are very proud of their diverse country. For the class, we had to be able to place mountain chains, rivers, and lots of cities on a map of France. Three years ago I was sitting in a classroom, marveling at beautiful France with only a map, a book, and some pictures. (I had already visited Normandy and Paris, but I still had a lot to learn). And now that I’ve seen much more with my own eyes, I have to say that I would, too, be proud if this were my country. Well, I guess I can be a proud resident. And now I know that I’m really lucky to have seen even more of France last week.

Together with our friends, Thomas B and Maggie, Tom and I rented a car for our Spring break adventure. Our first stop was Auvergne, a region in the center of France. Thomas’ parents have a house there, so he already knew the region and made for an excellent tour guide. We climbed two volcanoes (yes, there are volcanoes in France!), and we visited the castle in Murol, caves, a goat farm where we bought cheese, and the village of Usson where Queen Margot was imprisoned. We also tried a lot of new cheeses: Salers, Bleu d’Auvergne, Cantal vieux (“old” Cantal), and three types of goat cheese.

The fourth day, Tom and I said goodbye to Maggie and Thomas who took a train back to Paris. I continued south with my husband, happy to be behind the wheel. After spending a few hours in Puy-en-Velay where we visited the Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe (a chapel built in the rock of a volcano) and a handmade lace store, we went to Chambon-sur-Lignon. This town is not very well know, even by French people, but has an amazing story. During WWII, the people of this town, and in the surrounding area, welcomed and hide 5000 Jews, mostly children. I wrote my paper for my Holocaust class about this and it was a little unreal to be there.

Next, we journeyed on to Provence, driving through the Gorges de l’Ardèche, to spend one day in Avignon and one day in Aix-en-Provence. Ahhh. Provence. Are you imagining sun, wonderful regional meals, and cute little stores (particularly those selling santons- figurines for elaborate nativity scenes)? That’s what I imagined. I’m sure you can find those things here, but not us. It rained both days. A lot of restaurants (those that our Michelin guide suggests), stores, and museums were closed. Saturday was a holiday, and Sunday was a Sunday in France. We didn’t have a lot of luck in Provence. But, of course, we visited the Pope’s Palace (yes, Popes lived in France for a time!) and we danced on the Avignon Bridge, and we even succeeded in finding a good restaurant, l’Orangeraie. In Aix, we rested in the hotel while it rained. I was not able to find an open store to buy the coveted santon, and we settled with having a moderately good dinner at a chain restaurant called Patacrêpes. However, the servers were really nice. But, with our trusty Michelin guide, we learned a bit about the history and architecture of Aix while strolling through the city. I have to admit that Aix is a very charming city, even in the rain. On the way to Lyon we stopped in Orange for an hour to see the Roman monuments, including an Arc of Triumph much older than Napoleon’s.

Lyon was our last stop before returning to Paris. Only having a half of a day, we concentrated on the two hills. On the Fourvière hill, “the hill that prays”, is the Notre-Dame Basilica. The mosaics were beautiful. On the right, they tell of France’s history, and on the left the history of the Church, with Mary to be found everywhere. Too bad, no photos allowed. Next, we visited the Croix-Rousse hill, “the hill that works.” But we didn’t find anything interesting. Maybe we weren’t in the right area. Or maybe that work isn’t very interesting. We didn’t have time to visit museums or other churches, but the views from the two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône, were superb.

There are certainly advantages to traveling by car. Trains have their advantages, but in a car you can see so much more. You discover little villages along the way and you see amazing and unexpected views. Unfortunately it’s less green than trains, and it’s more expensive when you have to park. There are also tolls if you take the autoroutes. If you are planning a road trip in France, go prepared with extra cash! Even though the tollbooths are supposed to accept bank cards, mine did not work (there was money in it, promise!) and after 10 minutes, I had angered the ten people behind us, and after a questioning from a lady through the speaker, I received a bill that threatened that I would be “pursued” if I didn’t send in the payment within 8 days.

Friday, May 7, 2010

I heart the CAF. Social Security office, not so much.

I heart the CAF

Today I checked my French bank account, hoping I hadn't gone negative yet (I'm not so good with personal finances) and had a happy surprise. A nice big chunk of euros had been deposited into my account. The generous donor was the CAF (Caisse d'Allocations Familiales), the agency that determines and distributes social benefits. The benefit that Tom and I, and most other students and language assistants, qualify for is rent assistance. The amount of assistance depends on how much you make, your age, and how much you pay for rent.

We had been paid a nice amount back in March and then I received mail from the CAF requesting more documents, stating that we were entitled to more assistance. I'm no dummy, so I sent it in right away, and here we are.

Since moving into our studio, we no longer qualify for the CAF, since it's a sublet. So the assistance we've received was for the rent we paid at the foyer (residence hall). We lived there for 6 months. I did the math and our CAF payments covered 50% of our rent at the foyer. FIFTY PERCENT. Wow.

I have written several times before about our administration frustrations, and the CAF was one of them. We moved here in September, and did not have all of our necessary documents ready for the CAF until January. Then, it took a good two months for them to go over our file.

It's slow. Very slow. But I'm very very happy with the CAF right now. It makes affording Paris housing...possible. My childlike husband asked what we were going to do with the money. I said, "Pay the rent."

Social Security office, we need to see other people.

Three trips to the office to sign up for social security to get health coverage.

First time, wait. Wait. "You're at the wrong office."

Second time, wait. "Your sex is not indicated on your birth certificate. This won't work." Wonderful dad picks up a new birth certificate and mails it to me.

Third time, wait. Wait. "Looks good. You'll receive something in the mail soon."

Oh I received something in the mail. My entire file was returned with a letter stating that I still didn't have everything. One of the things is my pay slip from March, which I obviously didn't have when I completed the file in MARCH. For the love. Another is the pay slip from October. Since I wasn't paid from October until December, I have one pay slip for three months, which I gave them with a letter explaining that.

Is it worth it? Do I give up? What happens if I don't sign up? I go home in two months!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Satisfaction of a job well DONE

Last Thursday was my last day teaching in my schools. And I was, sadly, just relieved. Even though I knew from the start that teaching small children wasn’t my truc, not my thing, I had hoped to like it a little. I mean, I was very lucky to have the wonderful and welcoming team at JF. I made some friends and had a great time talking to some of them. PA/B is just a different story (a few good experiences would be the exception to the indifference I felt there).

I don’t hate children. I don’t. I hate children when they outnumber me 15 to 1. I know that “real” teachers (who I respect oh so much) have classrooms of 20 or 30 all day, every day. But there’s one small difference that I’ve been trying to keep in teachers’ minds since day one: I am not a teacher. I’m not certified and I had 4 days of training. I’m an assistant.

Even though the assistantship program is quite old, nobody seems to be used to the idea. The principle is that uncertified Anglophones can come to France to teach French children or teens to expose them to the right accent and to share our culture. The uncertified part isn’t supposed to be a problem (at least for 7-month assistants) because in theory, we’re either supposed to be with the whole class with the teacher, or take small groups. I never looked it up, but I’m not so sure that 17 counts as a small group.

Yet, I sympathize. I’m sure how else it would have worked, since only one or two teachers in the school are qualified to give their own English lessons.

So, I was the Prof d’anglais in one school, and spread thinner than a crêpe at the other. I went to 13 classes a week, but didn’t see the same kids every week. So, I “taught” English to total of more than 300 kids. Remembering names was a nightmare and connecting with the kids was downright impossible.

Before starting this job, I talked to my teacher friend Heather about my worries. Number one was discipline. I was afraid of the kids walking all over me. And I was right. They didn’t see me as their teacher. So, I had to yell. Despite some mistakes, I’ve learned to lecture in French. As my sister-in-law elegantly put it, I was a BA (and no, that doesn’t mean Bachelor of Arts like I thought at first). I sent misbehaving children to the hall or back to class and didn’t blink when they started to cry.

However, I didn’t spend all my time yelling or perfecting my “classroom” French. I did teach some English. We sang and played games. And I encouraged kids. The names of the particularly bad students were easy to remember and I learned to praise them when they started to improve in English. Or when they learned how to listen to a song without starting to drag themselves around on the floor. That must be one of the best parts of teaching- seeing a kid become proud of himself after you tell him he’s improving.

I really wish I could have been with SMALL groups and had seen the same kids more frequently. I really feel that I would have been able to make a bigger impact, and they would have been able to progress more. But, when every class, starting from 1st grade, has to have English, and there’s just one of me, that wasn’t possible.

Was it a total flop? Well, no. Some class sessions certainly were. And I didn’t come close to getting through the curriculum.

The CP/CE1 (1st/2nd grade) class- I swear they’re the fastest learners- at JF still sings Blue like the sea by heart. Ok, they don’t actually know all the words, but they will never forget their colors! And it was a very rewarding moment when Ali came up to me and said, “Hello. My name’s Ali. I’m 7.”

And at PA, in one of my CE1 classes (one that I saw every week), the kids can kind of express themselves- almost independently. They can say that they like spaghetti and that they don’t like snakes.

I had to lower my expectations to keep from going insane or being too hard on myself or the kids. I don’t mean that I suck or that they’re stupid. I just had really high expectations and wasn’t being realistic. And I didn’t understand kids. So, I’ve learned to be more realistic (and maybe l’Éducation Nationale should too) and having realistic goals helped.

Thursday was my last day. I had a wonderful party at JF, and, well some of the people at PA/B remembered it was my last day and said goodbye. But here’s what’s more important: the kids were sad to see me go. Because I’m a pushover and English is second recess? Maybe some of them. But, others…well I'll just let you read it for yourself.

Yacine drew his class, or maybe just his favorite classmates. "Big kisses" is a literal translation of the French expression "Gros Bisous." It's equivalent to hugs and kisses, or xoxoxoxo. The second is "Kety, I love you." I told you about my name!

Valentine says "Goodbye Cathy. Big kiss." Samantha says, well a lot, but it includes a thank you for the lessons.

This one just cracks me up. "We are going to miss you. You were a real English teacher (who was American)! Have a nice vacation." It's also fun for me to correct their FRENCH mistakes. That should be bonnes vacances.

This sweet letter is from Wendy (her English class name). "For the best English teacher (that's me!). When you came to France I knew right away that you were nice and that your classes would be good and I was right. I'm sad that you're leaving but I think that we'll see each other again (when I go to the US :) ). Goodbye and maybe I'll see you soon. From the bottom of my heart, Wendy."

I think this earns me the right to check something off my list.