Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Snack time

A lovely chocolate porcupine snack! A Montluçon discovery with Pam. Though I don't have much room in my tummy after the plate of cheese and parties from lunch.

Vacation! Part 1- Montlucon

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. It's vacation but there hasn't been much going on here. Mostly I've been sitting around and watching TV on the internet BUT that has change with the arrival of Pam yesterday!
With her arrival I've already introduced her to the wonderful creation that is flavored syrup in beer and had a lovely meal of cider and gallettes in town. Today we are heading out to see the "sights" of Montlucon and try to hit up the market as well. From here on out my communication might be spotty given that I may or may not have internet when I travel. I can't imagine that this is too big of a concern given that I'm sure most of you don't have power right now due to Hurricane Sandy anyway. Stay safe, I'm thinking of you over here!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My walk to Lycée Einstein

 This is what my walk home looks like when I like France.



But when I'm pissed off I just see all the dog turds. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

About to drop some cash on French shoes

You might wonder why I'm actually willing to drop 65€ on new French shoes. Well, here is exhibit A) the cheapo shoes I bought two weeks ago and exhibit B) which I don't have a phot of, but my other shoes which look exactly the same.

If I'm ever homesick..

I've always got Flunch!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

This little piggy went to market..

That awkward moment when you're all excited about buying fresh groceries from farmers in the Medieval center of your cute french town and you realize that those little bunnies are not being sold as pets... :(

Friday, October 12, 2012

While researching Obama's family tree...

I found this gem about Michelle Obama,
"At Princeton, she challenged the teaching methodology for French because she felt that it should be more conversational."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Never underestimate the cultural capital of being American

Yesterday I headed off to swim team as I usually do and sat at McDo for the hour before hand planning lessons. I went to swim team and things went pretty well. I'm still kind of shy when it comes to walking onto the pool deck and then going up and giving the "bises" to everyone even though I basically have no clue who they are. Then again, I certainly didn't mind the hot french swimmer who is about my age who came up and kissed me, so there's that. There seemed to be a lot fewer people and I'm not sure if there was a specific reason or just less people come to Wednesday's practice in general. Though... as I was looking around I didn't see the coach who drove me home on Monday, or the guys who lives across the street. Crap.

Well, there was nothing to be done for the time being, so I jumped in the water and started the workout. My mind started turning over and getting nervous though as the end of practice came. I was even practicing how I would introduce myself to the group and ask for a ride home. The end of practice came, but some were practicing dive starts, so rather than a group rather collectively leaving it was just a trickle of people. Damn, no moment for a group announcement.

I took a shower and got dressed then headed to the lobby area to try to accost someone for a ride. My nerves got the best of me though. I gave up and called Alex, my roommate to see if she could pick me up. She said she would head out- except that we then realized that repair work was being done on our parking lot and she couldn't get her car out. Damn.

I ended up riding with Stephanie, who talks about a mile a minute, but was so excited to chat with an American and said she would drive me home every Wednesday- even checking to see if I go to Friday practices, as she could give me rides then as well. As she drove we talked about important topics in America today- Glee, Desperate Housewives, what stars are married to who and which other ones have divorced.

By the end of the ride we had exchanged numbers, she invited me over to her house for dinner sometime, I invited her to Thanksgiving (and early invitation!), and promises to see each other next week. Clearly all that Glee watching was not for naught!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cultural Notes

I'm not sure that teaching our Spanish roommate why the French word for shower (douche) is funny to English speakers was the intended cultural exchange of the assistants program.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Running around Montlucon

These past few weeks have been a little crazy as France requires lots of paperwork and not a whole lot of business hours to achieve it in. I've gotten a fair amount accomplished (opened a bank account, taught a few lesson, got a bus pass, sent in the first part of immigration paperwork, sign up for the swim team) but there's always more to be done (set up internet at our apartment, finish immigration paperwork, get housing money, actually get my bank card from the bank). 

Given all of these hurdles, I really slacked off on my running the first two weeks. I finally got a “long” run in of probably about 4.5 miles yesterday (I'm going based off of time since I don't know any distances here) . While that was only my third run since being here, it reminded me of something. There is no other activity that I have participated in that has so consistently made me as happy as running and swimming. I've never felt worse for going on a run (tired, sore- yes. But a worse mood? no.) While it's certainly a chore to get out there sometimes, I'm always glad that I did. On another good note- I nailed down a ride home from swim practices with Laurence, one of the coaches and Jerome who lives across the street from the high school. Having a ride definitely makes me feel better about the team. That's about it for now, but I'm happy to be back in the running game!

Monday, October 8, 2012

In Bourges. (not Bruges)

On Saturday all of us English assistants headed up to Bourges just to see somewhere else. Bourges is much larger than Montluçon and has a pretty medieval center (like many towns around here). And- big surprise- has a amazing cathedral. We took an 8:45 train from Montluçon to arrive at 10:00 in Bourges. First on our stop was the cathedral. It's absolutely huge and has fantastic detail to the outside structures. The inside was no less impressive and I particularly loved how the stained glass windows would also leave colored patches on the ground from the sunlight streaming in.

After that we were hanging around trying to decide what to do when we saw this little touristy tram pull up. Sarah was so excited when she saw that, so we all climbed aboard for the tour. The tram brought us around the city to some of the main sights (mostly pretty buildings and churches) though sadly one of the most memorable parts of the tour was when we got stuck behind a moving truck on the narrow little street, also causing a traffic jam. Once we were finally off the tram we found some lunch at a little bar and sat down for some sandwiches. At the restaurant, Minda was quite appalled to find out that Turkish toilets (or squat toilets) are still fairly popular in France and this particular restaurant had one. After that shocking discovery and lunch we headed back out. Since we clearly hand't had enough to eat, we stopped by a fancy candy and chocolate shop called “Forestines” that had been pointed out on our tour. Others got some chocolates but I bought a package of the traditional Forestines- it turns out that they have a crunchy, but thin pulled sugar outside and (I think) a praline inside. They looked like they'll be suckers, but then they are chewable with a slightly nutty inside. All the chocolates and candies are still made in house there.

We decided to have a bit of a walk around to get a slower perspective on some of the places we had already passed by on the tram earlier. In doing this we ran into a health and safety fair that had been set up outside the main square. The gendarmes (police), car insurance people and pompiers (fireman) were there with different booths and of course lots of vehicles (and some horses). Well, I can't pass up a good health and safety fair so we headed in. The most interesting option of course was the car that was spinning around in the center. It was from a car insurance group and to show the importance of wearing a seatbelt. Basically they let you get into this car that's spinning and you wear a seat belt and you don't die so it shows seat belts are important. Clearly this was my cup of tea and I jumped right on line. Martin climbed in the backseat with me as well. Our instructions (and no waiver forms or anything like that) were simply to put on our seat belts, tighten them and fold our arms over our chest. We did, and off the car went.

We had some screaming like an amusement ride, but still fun- until my seatbelt unclipped. I must have put my hand down by it and it the release button, or something else must have because suddenly I was falling into Martin. I think we flipped over one more time and then stopped. I definitely banged my head a little, but there was a brace bar in front of us that I was able to kind of hold onto to keep from getting hurt. Obviously I told the people what had happened when I got out, but it didn't seem to lead to anything more than shouting “hey, her seatbelt unclipped” a few times before the next group was lead in. Don't worry- I didn't really get hurt or anything! We wandered over to the firefighters and I asked to try on an outfit. I was probably the one person to do this all day- I don't think it's very much in the French spirit to just go put on someone's work uniform- but but they were very obliging to me. I got some wonderful photos and I feel quite prepared for my future career as a french firefighter.

There were some parks just across the way, so we wandered about in there for a little bit, then heading over into Meillleurs Ovriers exhibit that was nearby. It was people who had achieved the status of masters of their trade in France- a difficult achievement and some of there works were on display. It made for kind of a hodge podge collections of items however. Then we wandered down to another old building that had rooms still decorate up from the 18th century or something along those lines. It also had pieces of an art exhibit that was all around town. I really liked the stained glass pieces of the exhibit most of all.

After that, a drink to pass the time away from the drizzles that had been threatening rain all day and on to dinner. We all stuffed ourselves thoroughly, especially with some desserts that came out. Then back to the train station to make our way home- almost. I had planned for some drinks with couchsurfers in the area, so we walked directly from the train station in Montluçon to “our” bar. The guys there were fantastic and a fun bunch. It was a great end to the evening and all in all, a wonderful day.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


First Days of School

By now I've had my first class (some observation, some introduction) with a class of 27 boys, ages 19-23 (note: I could use the term “men” here, but I think by the end of this you'll understand why I said “boys”) Below are a few choice quotes from the lesson

Lifeguards in America

Me: I was a lifeguard in the USA. Does anyone know the term “lifeguard?”
Student 1: Liiike Bayyyywatch?
Me: Yes, it was exactly like Baywatch.
Student 2 to student 1: Hey, what's “baywatch”
Student 1: Oh, you know- with the swimsuits and *holds up hands like he's holding two large melons in front of him*

Restaurants in Montlucon

Teacher: Where should Anna eat while she's here?
Students: Les Annees Folles, Le Moderne, etc
Sassy students: ehhhhhh, at my house!

Location, Location, Location

Student 1: Where do you live in Montlucon?
Me: I live at the lycee Madame de Stael.
Students 2 & 3: Oh yeah! She lives by us!

I think working at the technical school is going to be slightly different than working with the seven year old girls at Glen Spey...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Montlucon Natation

Yesterday evening I took the last bus out to the swim center (about 4 miles away and kind of in the middle of nowhere). I had an hour to kill as the last bus arrived an hour before the swim practice started, but I hung out in the McDo that's over there and just used facebook and email for a while.

It was finally time for me to head over to the swim center (and by time I mean still about 30 minuntes early, but I had nothing better to do.) I asked the lady at the counter about the swim club, the adult swim team, the team that was meeting tonight, and finally she helped me with the proper name which is “Montlucon Natation” because none of the other ways I said it where comprehensible apparently. In any case she told me to wait around since it was still too early to go in.

In the meanwhile I chatted with some guys who had a table set up. In fact it looked like maybe they were doing swim team registration so I talked to them. However they actually run a (snorkeling?) class. Actually it seemed as if the class was just to use flippers and I wasn't quite sure why they needed a class for it but whatever. They were trying to convince me to join with such phrases as “The ladies love it for the thighs” to which I responded “I'll pass mine are already fantastic.”

I would be really impressed with my oh so witty reply except then they corrected the gender agreement in my witty remark. Oh well, can't win them all.

After some slightly perturbing dressing rooms ( co-ed but with individual changing cabins, always giving you the impression that you're just about to walk in on a naked person) I made my way out to the general pool area. The place was filled! There was the flippers group, a water aerobics class and the swim team. I finally made my way over to the swim team and chatted with one of the coaches basically saying “I'm an American, I'm here as an assistant and I like swimming. I want to join the team.”

The coaches were actually huge sweethearts and really helpful. I had too much leave in conditioner in my hair and my swim cap wasn't staying on, so one of the coaches just went to the back and got me a team one. He helped me put it on too (just the same way we do with the campers at Glen Spey!)

I joined the lanes and started swimming. The workout was on a white board but between the French handwriting and the exercise names I had lots of questions. The coaches kept checking in with me and explaining all the moves. The funnier part would be when I would pop up for a question and a French person would have the same one! Also, I'm not sure which, but one of the them kept stopping me so that he could show me videos of the when the American Olympic team was in Vichy and he got to meet some and watch them swim!

Afterward I started talking to two women, one, Charlotte is about my age. I asked them both if they were heading back towards centre-ville by any chance and if they could give me a ride. ZUT, neither was heading in that direction. I asked a few more people as I left the changing area, but once again, no luck. There's only so many times you can ask people you don't know in a foreign language before you get emotionally exhausted. I decided that I should have planned better and I would just be stuck walking the four miles home (on a path I only kind of know. At night. In the middle of nowhere.)
As I started down the side of the highway, a car pulled over and rolled down it's window- “Anna! Viens-ici!” It was Charlotte, my savior. She said that I was crazy for walking and she was going to give me a ride, no protests allowed.

I wasn't protesting that much- trust me.

As we headed to my place she told me how she was a nurse and working in Montlucon. It's her third year on the swim team and I think she's around my age. She's also now my favorite person in the town. As she dropped me off it turns out there was a van dropping off someone else from the swim team just ahead of me. I jumped out and talked to the guy who was dropped off to hopefully get in on that carpool as well. I won't be back to swim until next Monday (I have an orientation tomorrow at Clermont- Ferrand), but I'm a lot more excited of the prospect now that I have a ride.

I can't explain the range that my emotions went through as I was turned down by multiple people for rides through when Charlotte pulled the car over to pick me up. If you know someone who has just moved to the area, is trying a different language or just making an effort to reach out, please let them in, just for a moment. You probably don't realize that quick drop off you have them meant, but it meant a lot.

Because of the wonderful internet, it's even easier to find people these days. Couchsurfing is a favorite of mine as it connects people in an region and had meet ups available as well. Also look into welcome groups for your town as a few have them. 

Sorry this post ran way longer than expected! I'll post tomorrow about my first few introductory lessons.