Category Archives: Living Abroad

Just for the sake of being difficult

Today I bought a temporary lunch ticket that cost 4.89EUR

The machine that vends them doesn’t accept 1 Euro Coins, 20 or 2 centime coins.


I was informed that the correct composition of my change was to be 2x2Euro, 1x50centime, 3x 10centime, 1x5centime and 4x1centime.



The Gift of an Extra Day – Feb 29 2008

Yesterday, I had one of those days. The type that has you wondering why at every turn you have to be thwarted by ridiculous rules or bizarre opening times. Friday is a busy day for me anyway, with 5 hours of classes – but I was fully prepared for this, and it’s not too bad usually. I had arranged with two of the teachers to cover their lessons when they were away, too.

Things started typically, as the bus was late. But, I arrived on time, and gave the lesson as planned. It was the first lesson in a project for my terminales class, and they’re designing and labelling a new product, to presented in a Dragons’ Den style lesson at the end of term. They had some great ideas and got on well with what they were supposed to be doing.

The next hour I was free, and I spent the time chatting with one of the English teachers.

11am brought a group of 6 students, and we did a dictation and gap-fill exercise about Australia, which had be given to me by their teacher. Again, the lesson went off well.

Lunch time is when it began. As I only had one hour before my next class, I decided to eat at school. The school uses rechargeable cards, which you swipe when you go into the canteen to get a tray out of the machine. Mine just made a very loud noise and got a red light flashed at me along with the messages. “FONDS INSUFFISANTS”. I thought I’d go and top-up my card. Only to find that the person in charge of charging up people’s lunch cards doesn’t charge them up at, yes, lunch time.

A quick trip to the local “centre commercial” – nearly all of which was shut as it was lunch time – rewarded me with an expensive sandwich from a shop which doesn’t sell drinks at all. So there was nowhere open to buy something to drink at lunchtime. It’s all so logical.

Let’s move on to the afternoon. I was getting together some pictures for my “UK Day” display in the library. Now, these need to be printed in colour, meaning a trip to the “copy centre” near the station. I finally got them all packaged up and emailed to myself for collection in the shop later. I was told by a very reliable source (Sellappan) that the shop was open until 1830…

My next class was fantastic. The pupils were interested and enthusiastic about reading the copies of The Independent that I’d transported back for them. They were even more delighted when they saw a mention of their region in the Travel magazine. They asked lots of intelligent questions and responded well when I questioned them. They really were a pleasure to teach.

Next, I went in search of the teacher of my new class…who turned out to be absent. Great. I stayed at school for those hours for nothing. Nevertheless, my final class was the terminales for another teacher, a class I would be taking alone. Their ability is very low, and they’re not really all that interested in English. When I got them into the classroom I hadn’t even shut the door before one of the pupils started messing about, shouting “I love you, misses, I love yoooouuu!” from the back of the room. At least he was speaking English, I suppose. I calmly told him “Thanks, but I’m not interested.” The quicker kids in the class started laughing at him, then translated. He shut up for the rest of the time. Then I had to shoo away some of the pupils from my other class, closing the classroom door gently but very firmly in their faces.

I had been given a listening exercise to make them do, featuring a girl with a very thick American drawl. The thing was supposed to be about how much she loved summer camp, but she sounded bored out of her skull. Here’s one exchange that did make me smile, though… Noté means “marked” as in, graded.

Pupil : Madame! Est-ce que ça sera noté?!
Me : In English?
Pupil : Misses, will it be noté?
Me : Yes, it will be noté.
Pupil : Oh my Dieu!

Finally, at six, the lesson was over and I went off to the copying place. Which was closed. New opening hours for February.

On the bright side, I really am enjoying being at home for sunset sometimes nowadays.


The Christmas holidays were fantastic. Being away from home really does make you appreciate all the little things that you don’t get when you’re away – family, friends, decent cheese, etc. When I arrived at the airport not having had tea I was pleased to discover my parents were happy to take me to the chippy on the way back. Perfect. So my first night back in the UK consisted of fish and chips – NOT wrapped in newspaper, as one of the teachers insisted on telling the pupils. I don’t understand why they hire us as spokespeople for our countries’ cultures and then shout down half of what we say based on their own experiences which they had twenty years ago. But my chips weren’t wrapped in newspaper.

Christmas itself was great, and returning to France was the last thing I wanted to do. Everyone told me that this was something I’d never want to come home from, but after my first stint, I was perfectly happy to say goodbye to my life in France (though not to my new friends) and go back to uni for the second term. That’s not to say I’m the least bit unhappy with my experience, I’ve had a great time.

Since being back, I’ve had my new timetable. I’ve managed to juggle the classes around so that I work 5 hours on Mondays and Fridays, and, depending on the week, a few on Tuesdays or Thursdays. This means not only do I have weekends, but I also have two mid-week days off every other week, so I can think about doing some visiting. I’m warning you all now.

To be continued later…

Christmas Markets

I got a letter last week from the nice train people in Marseille. They thanked me for my refund request of a while ago and are assuring me they’re looking into the problem. It’s taken long enough!

Yesterday I went on a trip with Sellappan to Colmar and Kaysersberg in Alsace. We set off early in the morning catching the train to Colmar, hoping to get to Kaysersberg early enough to spend the morning there. Unfortunately, there was a lack of buses between 8 and 11am, meaning that we ended up starting our day in Colmar instead. We had a quick look around the markets, and did some souvenir shopping.

We got the bus to Kaysersberg at about 11, reaching Kaysersberg half an hour later, after a nice trip though the vineyards of the Lower Vosges. Kaysersberg is a beautiful little place, full of gingerbread houses and meandering streets. The atmosphere was amazing, with everyone wandering around wearing santa hats and clutching mugs of steaming mulled wine. Someone even had a bubblemaker spitting soapbubbles into the streets. There was a lot of street entertainment too, ranging from a white Charlie Chaplin style living statue, who enchanted all the passing children, to the obligatory old lady playing the accordion.

The cold added to the general festivity, as everyone huddled together around the market stalls or tried to jam into the already-full restaurants. We needed the hot wine to keep us feeling warm in the street, the only heat coming from the occasional shop we went into, mostly for the heat, too. I came across a shop selling minatures of every liqueur imaginable, including one made from spiced bread – an Alsace tradition – and found some good Christmas gifts.

On the way back from Kaysersberg we bumped into three of the other assistants on their way to Colmar too, so we all wandered around together, taking in most of the markets. As everyone knows, the best thing about Christmas markets is the food, so we made the most of the free samples and got some hotdogs with sauerkraut.

The place was packed, and as the Christmas lights came on we headed home again, to get warm!

This Friday was the Christmas meal for all the teachers working with the assistants. We went to a Moroccan restaurant…for five hours. This is pretty short for French meal standards, and we had a good time chatting. I had meatballs and couscous, followed by ice cream. Not the most Moroccan thing I could have chosen, but very nice all the same. The meal was accompanied by delicious Moroccan bread, which reminded me somewhat of the stotties back home, but darker in colour and slightly spicy.

The terminales and I are getting on quite well now, and they worked hard on their presentations, so we’re having a fun week this week, with minimal writing down of things. I asked each Thursday class what they wanted to do, and they all agreed to learn some Scottish country dancing from me, which I’m hardly qualified to teach, but at least they’ll be bouncing about in the right general direction to some music they’ve not heard before. I’m really looking forward to Thursday!

Assistants on Ice – Again

The weekend before last was good fun. Ramya, Sellappan and I went to the ice rink and stayed for the full three hours. Suitably exhausted we came home and they cooked Indian food for dinner. They were covered in bruises by the end of the skating, and I had a giant blister on the back of my heel. Last Tuesday, after discovering my Russian class wasn’t where it was supposed to be (again) I bought some plasters for the blister on the way home. These are the most confusing plasters in the world, as they are one side adhesive, one side non-adhesive. I’m supposed to put glue on open wounds or glue the plaster to my sock? That’s five Euros I’m not going to see again.

Last Tuesday wasn’t a good day. Before the Russian and plaster silliness, I endured teaching a class about the UK – while being corrected by the teacher. Except what she was saying wasn’t right. This happens every so often to most of the assistants, and it’s very frustrating. It doesn’t make any sense to hire someone from a place for their cultural input and then refute half of what they say. But there it is, it happens to everyone.

On Wednesday things improved considerably as I went to the Christmas Market in a town close by. It was fantastic! All the little huts were all over the town square and down the streets leading from it. Even better, most of the food stalls had free samples. I just wanted to walk round and round tasting everything for free, but I did end up buying some Guignolet which is a very sweet wild cherry drink, totally delicious.

Also had a hot chocolate from this stallholder. The fondues on the right reminded me of Chocolate Soup in Edinburgh, and you can imagine how good the place smelt. One of the best things about France is that you can find good chocolate everywhere, and if you’re lucky, a jolly bearded man (not Santa) to serve it to you. This guy was all too happy to let me photograph his stall, as long as he could take centre stage. The hat said it all, really. Along with the “I’ve got a chocolate shop, aren’t I lucky?” grin.

As far as teaching is concerned, the terminales are really starting to pick up. Last Thursday and today were the days of preparation for their presentations, and they all seemed to be working really hard on them, asking me lots of questions about grammar and vocabulary. I’m really looking forward to this Thursday when we’ll watch their presentations and evaluate them.

Last weekend was cinema – one free entry to the film festival to see “On appelle ça… le printemps” introduced by the director. We’d got the ticket having no idea what the film would be about, but it turned out to be not too bad at all, though I only understood some of the jokes.

On Saturday we went bowling and took lots of silly action shot pictures, and on the way home spotted a 3 for 2 offer in a patisserie….who can resist that? Especially when they’re in a group of three. So we all ate a little Forêt Noire
which was delicious!

It has been a good week for post, too. So far I’ve had two postcards from friends and a wonderful parcel from home containing Cheddar (hooray! real cheese!) and my advent calendar. All I’m waiting for now are my bills…

The First of the Season

The First of the Season
Originally uploaded by Frogzone1

I thought I’d better post some proof of the temperature here at the moment, so here’s something I found at the castle on Friday. It’s still freezing, too. The snow still hasn’t melted from last week. The upside of this is that the building’s heating is still on.

I seem to be making some headway with the students, finally. On my way out of the school some of them stopped me to ask if I’d like to play cards and asked me how me day had gone, mocking each others’ English the whole time. With a younger class I did a quiz on Australia, which got the class really wound up and competitive – it’s nice to have a class who actually want to speak, rather than having to pull teeth just to get a “good morning”. Most of these pupils are in the chemistry class I work with are in that class, so I’m starting to get to know them a bit better. It’s really horrible not knowing anyone’s names.

Tomorrow, as announced, everyone employed by the government – librarians, teachers, civil servants, train drivers, etc. are going on strike.

…so I’m not going to work tomorrow. I might go along to the “manifestation”, if I don’t sleep through my alarm. After asking a teacher if she was indeed striking in the morning, she said yes, and that we didn’t have class together. Then, she said “See you tomorrow!”, which I assume means at the demonstration. It’s at 9am though. If you’re going to go on strike you might as well take the opportunity to lie in.

After school I went to the post office, and walked past a shop full of interesting-looking things, some of them being Matryoshka. Then I looked closer. All the products were labelled in Cyrillic. In Russian. I went inside. It’s a little corner of Russia in this small town. The shop owner came over and chatted with me about the products I was looking at, and said she’d love to speak some Russian with me in my free hours if I would also speak some French with her. In the shop I found dill, kvass, kasha and sushka, amongst a million other Russian products I didn’t recognise. This place is amazing.

She also didn’t let me out of the shop before she’d offered me everything else she had to taste, which included sugary things that were a bit like Wotsits but without the cheese, and also some neon spun sugar which was so sweet it hurt. I was also very lucky to manage to buy kvass, which I was reminded numerous time was “not like any French drinks, you know…”. I only convinced her when I said I wasn’t French either and I wanted to try it. It’s like a cross between lager and cola, but is made from fermented bread. Weird.

Finally, I had Chinese class today, which is still pretty interesting from the Chinese-French front. I’m also getting a very different language-learning experience because the other people in the class are not used to studying languages, and they’re generally older than me. As such, it’s taking quite a lot of time to get through things, but I think the pace is going to pick up as the teacher seems quite impatient too!

That’s all for now, I have to be up early in the morning so I can be on time for the mouvement sociale…