Tuesday, October 12, 2004

October 5-October 12

October 5, 2004

I think I have managed to break the ice with the other assistants. Tonight I went down for dinner and I wore my American Apology Shirt, which my mother was kind enough to buy for me before I left. The Russian was the first to notice because part of my shirt is in Russian. After that all the others saw it and wanted to know why I had to apologize. I dramatically stood up and whirled around. Everyone read the back of the shirt and had a good, angry chuckle. I then explained that my mother had bought it for me, and they all commented on what a wonderful mother I have (thank you, Mommy!).

I feel a bit like Helen Keller must have felt just after she realized that there was a connection between objects and words. For over two years now, I’ve had people telling me how to say things, but I have never had to use any of the information. The language was less real because of this. Now I feel greedy for information. I have so many thoughts, and no way to communicate them to those around me. Lapsing into English is a luxury I try to avoid—and I try to keep those around me from reverting to English when speaking to me. (Unless they speak English really well, in which case it is quicker for everyone if we speak in English.)

Tonight for dinner we had salad, carrots, rice, and tuna. I might have lost some weight at the dinner table, but I have since gained it back (and then some) eating chocolate and coconut candy bars (yes, I admit to the plural). I am still using stress and jet lag as an excuse for everything, though I suppose I ought to give that up pretty soon. Anyway, as far as travel stress in concerned, the Russian has me beat. It took her five days to get from Siberia to France.

Well, Bonne Nuit everyone!

October 7, 2004

What a surprise—I woke up this morning and when I looked out the window I couldn’t see the mountains. It had rained last night—our first rain in Valence—so it is overcast this morning.

Yesterday was one of those depressing days that everyone had warned me about. Even as it was happening, I knew that was what it was. That knowledge makes it a little easier, but it doesn’t take away from the frustration of not being able to communicate. For some reason I was completely unable to understand any French yesterday. The Russian assistant and I went to the bank to open an account, and she had to use her English (it was her second language in University) to explain the proceedings to me. Most of it was information I should have been able to understand in French.

Sometimes it seems like everything I do is wrong: I don’t lock the doors, I do lock the doors, I smile, I don’t smile, I am late, I am early… they are all only little things, but when someone is constantly having to tell you otherwise, it makes me feel like everyone here must believe me to be a complete moron. I start to realize now how much I have prided myself on my ability to catch on quickly. That is all taken away from me while I am here.

BUT! Today is a new day, and I refuse to let yesterday’s frustrations and set-backs influence me today. I am meeting the Russian at 9:30 for breakfast, and then we are going to get insurance for our rooms. This afternoon I am going to work on the IUFM schedule some more and spend some time studying French. The other assistants have promised to check my work so I am going to take advantage of that. They are all very patient with me—they know how difficult it is for me here. I feel (and look) so much younger then them, but we are all about the same age (with the exception of the assistant from England, who is just a child compared to all of us).

I might go somewhere this weekend—maybe down to Avignon. It depends on how much the ticket is and how long it takes me to get there. I just found out that we do not get paid until the end of November, so I have to keep an eye on my finances.

Well, I have a few minutes more before I have to go down to breakfast, so I’m going to read some of I Capture the Castle. I am really enjoying it, and I have to keep myself from reading too much too quickly because it is my last book in English.

Later—Well, I have finished with all the necessary in-French tasks: Bank Account, Lodging, Insurance, Carte de Sejour. Now all I have to do is cross my fingers and hope the smelly hag up in the office is right when she says a pay advance should automatically come through at the end of October. Man, is she stinky. The past few times I have gone up there it has been almost unbearable. Yesterday her hair was greasy and she smelled like B.O. and cigarettes. It was a smell that reminded me of high school—and not in a pleasant way.

My mood has improved and to help give it another boost I am listening to Beethoven’s 9th. I know it is a little obvious, but it does wonders for my mood.

Now I think I will play the Sims for awhile (I am building a giant mall for them), and then I will get to work on my IUFM scheduling.

October 8, 2004

Have I mentioned how much I hate the shower here? It is not just the length of time it takes for the water to warm up—that can almost be seen as quaint. What I hate is the shower curtain. The shower is really small—just one of those square platforms. For some reason, when I get the water warm and go in to take my shower, the curtain insists on blowing in on me and touching me. I can be a little obsessive compulsive (no!) and this is one of those times when it really kicks in. I can’t help but imagine the dirt and grime of a thousand Frenchies clinging to that curtain. I hate having things touch me while I am showering anyway—it is a personal space/personal enjoyment/cleanliness issue. So, I wind up trying to come up with creative ways to prop the shower curtain as far away from me as possible, bringing me to my next reason for hating the shower here:


Which I don’t believe is completely my fault. I blame it on a tiny shower with an aggressive curtain. Anyway, my fault or not, it is I who must humbly and without complaint clean the standing water from the floor after every shower. The floor is the type of filthy institution floor that has never been clean and will never be clean. No matter how much standing water I remove from the floor, it will remain absolutely disgusting. And is there a mop? No, there is only half a rag and a bucket. So now I must, with my almost pristine (remember the shower curtain—I can never be truly pristine when fighting off a clingy curtain) body, sop up the water with the half rag, wring it into the bucket, and dump the bucket into the toilet. Am I still clean after this task? No. And is there anyone around to praise me and give me breakfast? No. (Luckily I have a box of cookies in my room for times such as these. French cookies. Yum.)

October 10, 2004

Well, France is not the place to be if one does not wish to discuss American politics. Yeah, I knew that before I came here, but I was not nearly as well prepared as I ought to have been. It is a lot more complicated than being able to say, “Bush est un idiot.”

Quickly, an irony: The French love Michael Moore. I find it so amusing that they adore this overweight, unfashionable, slovenly American. I mean, how ironic is that? But his books are everywhere. Every bookstore I enter, his books (translated into French) are prominately displayed. So is the 9/11 commission report (which really surprised me the first time I saw it. I figured that surely would only be of interest to Americans.) There are usually ten or so books devoted to American politics in the front of every bookstore. Most portray Bush as the Devil and Kerry as the Savior Angel. But I can understand why the French love Kerry—after all, he can spent his summers in France and he can speak the language.

I do find this view of the two candidates a little simplistic. I keep trying to impress upon those around me that in Europe, as I understand it (which is very little), Kerry would be considered conservative. I also keep telling people that, in my opinion (and the opinions of my more intelligent friends) Bush is only a puppet. He is a convenient poster child for the world’s disgust with America, but his mouth doesn’t move when he speaks. Thus I wind up having to introduce the key players in the current American drama. (I flipped through the French version of Stupid White Men and it looks like Moore does the same thing. I may have to start referring people to that book. I’m just a little reluctant to depend too heavily on Moore because I feel he does delve a little too deeply into propaganda. But, to be honest, it is convenient for me that there is an American that the French don’t hate.)
Ah, American politics. I honestly don’t know what it will be like for me here if Bush wins this next election. Already I feel that I have to try extra hard to make up for the fact that I am an American. For example, one of the other assistants told me that she was not crazy about having to live with an American. Now that she has gotten to know me, she has no problems and she actually likes me. But she has also said that I’m the first American she has meet who is okay. (I’ve heard this sentiment several times already from different people. It is good for me because it means I am doing things “right,” but it is bad for my country overall).

Everyone wants to know why Bush’s approval rating is so high. God, that’s such a hard question to answer, even in English. In French I am merely reduced to a confused shrug and a “Je ne sais pas.” It leaves me wanting to shake some sense into my fellow Americans.

Changing the subject:

Things I wish I had:
my other pair of jeans
Nitty-Gritty Dirt band: Will the Circle Be Unbroken
Really heavy shower curtain (maybe with fishing weights sewn into it?)
More books in English! (I found a PD James book in English yesterday-Ecstasy.)
A movie or two in English—can’t believe how much I miss movies.
A rug

October 12, 2004

I am waiting for the kids to clear out so I can head to the IUFM and get some work done. Isn’t that awful, that I am letting my schedule be dictated be the presence of some French rug rats? (They are actually French teenagers, which, in my opinion, is much worse). I can’t believe that I am living at a school (combination middle school and high school—wow, could it get any more bizarre than that?) But there are several things about living here that I appreciate—most particularity, the lack of rent. But I also really enjoy living with the other assistants.

I bought a new shower curtain! It is a heavy blue plastic. And guess what—it solves the leaky shower problem. What an American solution. The other folks in the hallway were perfectly content with a fabric (yes, fabric. It was like having no shower curtain at all) shower curtain and the mess it left. Then, after every shower, they would mop up the water. Not my ideal solution (obviously). I do believe that I have come up with a better solution. And the curtain is not quite as clingy as the fabric one. It is still a little aggressive, though, so I will have to come up with some way to fix that. Hah! Yea, me! I totally rock.

Well, the bell rang about ten minutes ago but there are still kids hanging around. Some of the bells here seem to have absolutely no meaning. If the kids are in class, the bell obviously lets them out. But if they are not in class, the bell causes no visible response.

Screw it. I have to get to work. I’m going to brave my way out into the—what’s that word I’m looking for? Oh well.


At 9:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We Americans may be obnoxious, we may be overbearing, but we're ingenious! Good girl; take care of the problems one at a time--and realize that some are just out of your control.

As Kerry & Edwards say, "help is on the way". This is the second time I've bought "Circle" for you. I'm keeping it this time.

And smile. Even if it seems the wrong thing to do. It's not.

At 9:08 AM, Blogger Luqman لقمان said...

Hey, I think you're the best ambassador we've had since the Marshall Plan. Keep up the good work.


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