It’s hard to imagine that I’m finally living and working in France! I had such a great summer at the Undermain Theatre and coaching at Greenhill that it was difficult to say good-bye but I’m excited to be here!
I safely arrived in Nantes on Friday and have been trying to get over jet-lag, settle in, and start working. It has been surprisingly warm (mid 70s) but also a bit rainy.
Nantes is in the north-western part of France on the Loire river about two hours from Paris on the TGV and in 2004, Time Magazine named it the Most Livable City in Europe! It is a perfect place for me to be since it is considered to be the capital of the region of Bretagne (Brittany) but technically, it is in a somewhat newly created region of Pays de la Loire. It has great public transportation and small, curvy medieval streets. As one of my colleagues described it, there is enough life and business going on in the center of the city to feel like Paris without being too populated or cramped. I totally agree with him! It has a small-town city feel…if that makes sense. Nothing is more than 15 minutes away by bus/tram so in that sense it feels pretty small but there are a lot of people around and lots of stores and boulangeries so it has a Paris feel.
So I’m living in a similar type of apartment as I did in Paris; it’s a residence specifically for young workers and students and I know one other language assistant living in the same building. Unfortunately, my actual apartment isn’t ready yet so I’m staying in a sister-residence until Monday. But both locations are less than a 5 minute walk to the center of the city and the big public transport exchange.
I’ll be teaching at a high school called Lycée Carcouet just North of the city center. I met with the teacher who will be supervising me on Monday and she took me around the school and introduced me to the administration and other teachers. It sounds like I’ll mainly be working with students that we would call Juniors and Seniors which they call Premières et Terminales here. But occasionally some Sophomores, “Secondes” as well. My schedule is not set since some of the students at the Terminale level are actually post-grads studying English business and have internships so my hours will change every week. But there are no language classes on Wednesdays so mid-week day off for me!! I started observing some classes this week and their level of English seems really good. There’s a History/Geography class which certain students have elected to take in English so they’re really motivated and don’t seem too timid to speak. They have an exam at the end of the year for which they have to read an article about something related to either History or Geography and then be prepared to talk about it for 10 minutes and then the examiner has 10 minutes to ask about their English studies so I’ll be helping them practice for this all year. Another class I observed had 35 students in it! This teacher said I will probably take a group of 5-6 on my own each week so that they can get more participation. I also observed a business class where they had to read an article, summarize it, and be prepared to speak about it in front of the class. Their English was really good and they seem like a motivated group of kids.
Today we had orientation for all of the English language assistants so it was a good opportunity to meet other Americans and Brits who are in Nantes (or the areas surrounding the city)! We learned a lot about the bureaucracy of the French Government and enlisted in the Social Security system: le Sécu. We also learned about all of the perks we are “entitled” to like the housing/rent subsidy and the transportation subsidy…I get reimbursed for everything!
The orientation was at a high school in Nantes so they provided lunch in the cafeteria and apparently there was a starter section, then the entree, and a cheese section and of course dessert. There were no directions so someone near me grabbed two bowls from the appetizer section and all of a sudden a woman rushed over and said “Non!” and grabbed the bowl off her tray! The main meal was either chicken drummies or fish, along with pasta/green beans/carrots…apparently you could’ve had all three but the server seemed to give the person in front of me some grief for getting pasta AND carrots so I just stuck with the green beans. I then got cheese and a pear and went to look at the desserts when all of a sudden a lady came over and grabbed the packet of cheese that I had picked up in the appetizer station, not knowing there would be cheese later, and said “Non!” and then said I couldn’t have a dessert because I had a pear. It was quite the experience. I’ve signed up for lunches at my school’s cafeteria which will hopefully be less mysterious and intense.
I’ve been here for less than a week and I’m already sick of the bureaucracy in France. I still have yet to successfully get a cell phone number (or least on the plan I want, I have a pay-as-you-go number right now), open a bank account, and get a monthly transportation pass. Part of the hold up was that I need proof of residence for some of these things and I didn’t sign my housing contract until Monday and couldn’t get a copy of it until today. After picking it up today, I was determined to open my bank account finally because EVERYONE here needs my bank papers (they ask for them at the apartment, at the school, for the social security etc!) but it turns out my rental agreement isn’t enough so I have to somehow get something else called “une attestation” AND I had to make an appointment to meet with someone to open the account. I also need rental insurance for my apartment which I’m going to try to do at this account meeting. I wanted to buy a 20 euro mobile number with unlimited texts and a little internet but after I had waited 30 min at the Orange store to see someone, it turns out they only sell the pay-as-you-go numbers because they’re not a “real” store…So after I couldn’t open my bank account, I went to the “real” Orange store and they said I had to call Orange and do it on the phone! I’ve just about had it! All I want is a functional phone and a bank account so I can get paid!!!
Overall, I feel that my French is pretty good. I have issues understanding people when it’s super loud or there’s a lot going on but otherwise, I feel confident speaking to people and holding a conversation. I have noticed that if I’m speaking to a teacher at school and another one interrupts briefly to talk with the other, I can’t understand anything; as soon as a conversation isn’t directed to me, my brain like shuts off. I can’t eavesdrop on people on the train for the same reason!
I have two classes tomorrow and then none on Friday…hopefully by then I’ll have a bank account, a cell phone, and a public transportation pass. Wish me bonne chance!