Sunday, October 19, 2008

Getting Settled, Part the First

Okay, so now I’ve spent enough time on French keyboards (the top row goes AZERTY instead of QWERTY, the M is where the semicolon should be, you have to press shift to get to the numbers, all the punctuation marks are in different places...) that I’m starting to forget how to type on American ones, and my left pinky keeps going for the “Q” key when I want to type “A”. Qrgh!

Anyway, on to what happened during my first week (Sept. 30th and on). On Tuesday morning, around 8:00, I woke up to hear people in the apartment. After a moment of panic, I realized that it was probably just my new roommate. So I went out into the hall in my pajamas to greet her. What I hadn’t realized was that of course her professor and the vice-principal of the school would be with her, so there I was, in a ratty old T-shirt, hair sticking up, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, and having to make polite French conversation to impeccably-dressed French people. Luckily, Olesya came out of her room at that point too, hair still in curlers, so I felt better. It was at that point I learned that the new assistant, Nikki, is actually from Scotland, not England as I’d been told. So her accent is charming and I could listen to her talk for hours. Also, she says “wee” instead of “little”, which I’d honestly thought only happened in books. Her French isn’t very good, so when it’s just the two of us, we speak English. I didn’t get to talk to her much that morning because she went straight to bed, tired out from traveling.

That afternoon, I met up with another American assistant, Emilia, to get some respite from speaking French constantly (which really tires you out at first). Using my handy-dandy Viking guide, we went to a tearoom called “Le Five O’Clock”, where we had orange-flavored hot chocolate and scones and pear-berry charlotte. It was all quite good, and just as we were about to finish, a woman at a nearby table came over and asked us, in very good English, whether we would like to go the cinema that evening. She explained that she had two vouchers to get into the theater for cheap, but they expired that day and she wasn’t going to have the chance to use them, and she likes English people, so she offered them to us. After thanking her profusely in French and English, we went to the Centre Commercial (mall) where the theater is. We got to take the métro, which made my little public-transportation-loving self very happy (tickets only cost 65 centimes if you’re under 25, which makes my little penny-pinching self very happy). We had some time to kill before our movie, so we went to H&M, where I bought some cute bobby pins and two pairs of tights, kelly green and bright pink. I don’t know if I’ll have the guts to wear them, but if nothing else they can be long underwear in the winter. The movie was called “La Fille de Monaco” (The Girl from Monaco), and it was… weird. Like most French movies. But I understood most of it, which made me happy. Then we took the métro back into Rouen proper (there’s only one line, so it’s very easy to navigate – the buses are where it gets confusing) and I walked home in the rain. Without an umbrella.

Wednesday, the three of us housemates decided that we needed Internet, so we girded our loins (well, I girded my loins – the other two were just moral support) and went into a store and asked numerous stupid questions of a very patient, very kind man. Our situation is complicated because we have to be able to call the US, Scotland, and Russia, which are not only three different countries, but on three different continents. The poor man who was helping us had to make all sorts of calls on our behalf, but by the end I had a nice list comparing two different plans for Internet, TV, and telephone. After that ordeal, we needed a reward, so we got hot chocolate and sat down for a bit. When I get back to the US, dealing with Comcast is going to be so easy. Then we shopped for a bit, and I finally got an umbrella, because in this city you literally might need one at any moment. I’ve seen the sky go from rainy to sunny to cloudy to sunny to rainy in the space of five minutes, and apparently it just gets worse from here on in. I know all my pictures have been lovely and sunny, but that’s just two days’ worth – a more accurate picture of the view from my bedroom window is this one:

We left the centre commercial (it was raining again) to go back to Rouen proper, to a stationery store. On the way there, I saw another Internet/phone/TV store, so I made myself go into that one too, just to check if it was any cheaper. This time it was a lot easier, since I’d asked all the questions already and I knew the vocabulary, and this one turned out to be cheaper! So I thanked the nice man and said I’d come back the next day with the appropriate paperwork. Then we finally got to go to the stationery store, where I could have happily spent hours. There’s paper, and pens, and markers, and planners, and stickers, and folders, and files… I’m a nerd, I know, but those stores make me so happy. I managed to restrain myself, buying only a planner and a wastebasket for my room. Then we all trooped home, exhausted, but with the promise of Internet and free calls home to cheer us up.

The next day, Thursday, I awoke to the gentle sound of raindrops tapping on the roof, a sound whose charm is rapidly fading. I had another Anglophone date with Emilia, and this time Nikki came too. We went to the Crêperie Mont-St-Michel, where for 10 € you can get a glass of cider (hard, a Normandy specialty), a savory crêpe, a sweet crêpe, and coffee. It was absolutely delicious, and served to us in part by the 10-year-old son of the owner, who was adorable. Afterwards, I decided that the time had come to buy a pair of rubber boots, because I was sick of having wet feet all the time. They’re not quite as common here as in the US, but I did see them in stores, so I figured it wasn’t a huge fashion faux pas.
They’re not cow boots, but they’ll do.

Next, I went back to the Internet store, armed with paperwork. The woman informed me politely that I would need to go to France Télécom to get a telephone line before I could get Internet. Grumblegrumblegrumble.

Next on my list to buy was a rod for my closet, which is huge but useless, having no shelves or rod or anything. Nikki wanted curtains, so we went to this huge fabric/home furnishings/notions store called Toto. It’s mazelike, with three different entrances and shelves floor to ceiling, but the people who helped us were very nice, especially when I was trying to explain that Nikki needed thicker material for her curtains because we live next to a middle school and there are wide-eyed little boys just across the way. I found a pressure rod that looked hefty enough, nodded my way through a half-understood explanation from the man who was helping me (I think he was talking about having to screw it in, but I’m not sure – he had a lisp), and then got to walk home with a yard-long rod poking out of my bag. I put it up, then realized that I had no hangers. Such is life.

On Friday, I awoke again to the dulcet tones of raindrops, but this time I was prepared. I put my rubber boots on, opened my umbrella, and shouted my defiance to the cloudy skies. Whereupon it stopped raining. It started again in a few minutes, though, so I was vindicated. It was the orientation day for all the assistants in the entire region, so Olesya, Nikki and I hopped on the bus to the IUFM, which is the teacher-training school. The first part of the day was mostly in French, with short speeches in each of the 8 languages being taught in the region this year (English, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Russian and Arabic). It was really neat to hear all the languages, especially Portuguese and Russian, which I always think sound like the other one. (The trick is that Portuguese has a lot more zh-sounds, and Russian has a lot more k-sounds.) We learned that there are 5682 assistants in France this year, speaking 15 languages and representing 53 countries. In my region, there are 163 assistants (of which 110 speak English), speaking 8 languages and representing 26 countries. This means that the English speakers come from the US, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (I’ve probably forgotten a couple). Which means that the poor French kids, most of whom have only heard British accents, will have to decipher this mix of dialects. It’ll definitely be good for them, but it will be hard at first.

We split up into language groups in the afternoon, so we could hear about all the paperwork in our native languages. The French authorities ask for everything but your first-born child, and I’m pretty sure they’d ask for that too if they thought they could get away with it. It’s especially bad if you’re not from the European Union (yet another reason to be jealous of Europe) because you have to get a temporary green card to be here for longer than 6 months. It was during this session that we saw “concubinage” listed as a possibility for marital status, which made us nearly hysterical. I looked it up later and found that it meant “common-law marriage”, which is much less amusing than it should be. Afterwards, I made plans with Emilia and a Canadian boy named Alex to go out to an Irish pub. On the way home, I stopped by France Télécom to try to get a telephone line, but since there hasn’t been one in our apartment for a few years, they have to send someone over. I got an appointment for a week and a half later, which isn't bad, considering that this is France. The saga continues…

Olesya came with us to the pub, where there were snakebites and something called black velvets on the menu. The snakebite was half Guinness, half Kilkenny, and the black velvet was that plus blackcurrant syrup. Having been informed by a certain Jumbo with Australian connections that blackcurrant concoctions are delicious, I ordered the black velvet, as did Emilia. It was HUGE, so it took me about 2 hours to drink it, but it was very good. About halfway through, my French started to improve dramatically, or at least I thought it did… We walked home (well, I skipped part of the way – it’s embarrassing how much of a lightweight I am, and how hyper alcohol makes me) and went to bed.


  1. What a waste of good Guinness! Yuk!

    Ha ha, seriously, when in France... You're in cider and mead (hydromel) country there...

    Hope you get your phone/internet set. That was the least fun part of living over there (well, pre-internet, of course, back in the 80's...), not having a phone and having to go out to the post office to make overseas calls...

  2. No matter what Doc says, it is so not a waste of guinness! And I think it's interesting that you met another Amelia, though spelled differently. Sounds like you're having a great time!