Thursday through Saturday saw me away from my new home, traveling towards a big city, only to be plopped down into a ski resort village whose current population may have doubled with the addition of 250 assistants at the youth hostel. I learned about teaching, dealt with the French bureaucracy much more than I’d care to, traveled more than I should have for one mandatory weekend, talked to people and made friends (surprise surprise), and actually enjoyed myself. There’s so much to tell, so much to comment on, that I believe sub-posts might be in order…
If I had a car, the trip to Grenoble from my little tiny village would have taken about 2.5 hours, maybe three. I don’t have a car. Thus, taking two buses and a train on the way there and two trains and a bus on the way back inflated the travel time to 5.5 hours. Each way. And that’s before I took a tram in Grenoble or had the landlord’s daughter drive me to and from the starting bus stop. On the plus side, I was living in the 85% of the time that French public transportation works really really well. Everything is on time or early, efficiently run, and non-disruptive to a calm, peaceful journey. (During the other 15% of the time, trains will be listed as 20 minutes late, actually run 45 minutes late, have broken air conditioning and stuck-shut windows on a bright summer day, and cause you to miss your bus and have to wait three hours to catch the next one. And the conductors give you absolutely no explanation or apology for the delay. Classic example of French customer service. Or the lack thereof.) And the journey home was greatly ameliorated by travel companions. I’ve decided that I don’t necessarily like traveling alone. So long as said companions are responsible enough to take care of themselves.
Another interesting thing about French public transportation (and this holds for trains, buses, intra-city metros and trams, etc.): it’s easy to take your trip without paying. Conductors don’t check your tickets a lot of the time — ‘course, this is more true on city busses and less true on the major TGV trains, but the idea’s the same. But when they do check, if you’re caught with an older ticket, or a double-stamped ticket, or, heaven forbid, no ticket, they will take you into a separate area (a tunnel of the subway system, a connection in a train car, etc.) and write you a ticket for 80-100 euros. Or more. Thus, always have a ticket. And always stamp it. Il faut toujours le composter!
I have way too many documents to fill out for way too many things. All of these documents need an entire dossier of copies to be submitted with them. No official office in France can share information with any other official office. Even people who are supposed to be in charge don’t know what they’re talking about half of the time — and thus we get a 2.5-day orientation that could have easily fit into a day, maybe a day and a half. …I’ve got a lot of work to do, to make sure that I’m actually legally living here.
The Other Assistants
The most interesting thing about being thrown into a situation with a bunch of new people is always what draws you together, what you have in common. And here, the only thing any of us had in common was French: the language, the culture, and our varying degrees of interest in or love of or passion for all things thereof. And none of us were French. There wasn’t even anyone who had dual citizenship in France. So, you started getting to know people by asking “Tu es de quel pays d’originaire?” or “Tu vas enseigner où?” or “Qu’est-ce que tu vas faire après cette année?” (What country are you from? Where will you be teaching? What are you going to do after this year is up?) Conversations around the dinner table, especially the first night, were held completely in French, no matter what proficiency level everyone was at.
Beyond that, our commonalities were only our native languages. I was drawn to the other Anglophones (Americans, Brits, Irish, Scottish, Australian, even Indian); the Germans stuck together; the Spaniards and everyone from Latin America formed their groups; the Italians chatted away; and the three Russians, two Chinese, and one Portuguese tried desperately to fit in. I found out that my French skills were some of the best among the other Anglophones, and middling to fair compared to the other Europeans. And hanging out with mostly UK natives, I found out that the general culture of the 20-something that I so despise is actually closer to the general culture of the American 20-something. I got invited to hang out with some Brits the first night who were trying to find a pub to get a drink. I was wary, not really comfortable around new people and not exactly wanting to be around people who were just going to get wasted, but I ventured out anyway into the cold mountain air without a coat and with a borrowed scarf tied around my neck. And I’m so glad I did. The whole night was conversation over a couple of drinks. Not at all like the college parties I had heard about but never attended. (Unless it was a cast party. That’s in a different category all together.)
I start tomorrow, whether I’m ready or not. But I am ready. I got some good practice, helpful tips on pedagogy and ways to keep kids’ attention focused (enough), and a book that I’m going to be basing curriculum off of for at least four months. I know how to sing songs, I have lots of books coming in the mail, and I know how to be somewhat theatrical in front of an audience. This will work. All future mistakes considered, this will still work.