Year: 2014

All of the Lights: Christmas in “secular” France

The Christmas season arrived swiftly in France. Although the French are as unaware about Thanksgiving as the rest of the world, they – just like any self-respecting American should – waited until all the parades and football games were over before blasting carols and decorating trees. The Friday night after T-day saw the illumination of hundreds of lights strung through the streets of Chambéry and that weekend the Christmas market opened! From what I can tell, there is a Christmas market in virtually every single French town of a certain size (I’ve seen them in Chambéry, Lyon, Grenoble and Montpellier), and there are certain elements that make every Christmas market: Dozens of tiny wooden cabins, called chalets, which serve as the individual stands of each vendor At least one chalet, but usually more, serving vin chaud (hot mulled wine – delicious!) and churros and marrons chauds (roasted chestnuts – also delicious!). A chapellerie, or a hat vendor. I don’t know why, but every Christmas market I’ve seen has at least one. Vendors of regional products: sausages, …

Home is where the Turkey is

There are plenty of things to be thankful for when you live in a foreign country: being in a lovely city filled with friends and energy, people who have helped make your rapidly changing life a little bit easier, the fact that you’re able to experience and live abroad at all! This group of adorable 5 year olds who diligently learned a nonsense song about turkeys and even behaved extremely well while you filmed them singing… after you told them you would send the video to Washington and President Barack Obama might even watch it: I can’t express enough how thankful I am to everyone I have encountered in Chambéry: friends, teachers, strangers, colleagues, French, American, Italian, and more. But all of this is of course to tell you about how I celebrated Thanksgiving in a country where people ask about “that holiday where you eat the big chicken…I think it has something to do with the Civil War?” I never really thought about how American a holiday Thanksgiving is, until I realized that not …

Benvenuti in Italia

As brilliantly put by my good friend Julia: “Useful Italian words known: 0 Italian swearwords known: 6788984765658 Hello Turin!” The pack of Italian friends I have made here are very enthusiastic about teaching me Italian words, and I am more than happy to learn them. I have learned about 15 ways to use the word cazzo (Italian for dick, which is used in at least 50 expressions, to convey any emotion under the sun. I have learned how to say that something is disgusting, in a way that literally means, “it makes me shit” (or the even more vulgar “it makes me shit a dick”. Just one example of the many uses of cazzo!). And there’s the old standby I learned from my dad: Andiamo?! Unfortunately, very few of these phrases came in handy during our recent trip to Torino, Italy. Being the brilliant planner that I am,  I managed to make a slew of Italian friends and then leave them all behind in France while I travelled to Italy with three anglophones who speak even less Italian than …

Well, this is nuts.

As of today, I have been in Chambéry for two months. This fact is especially remarkable because the last time I was in France, it was for exactly this amount of time. And yet, this has felt like a drop in the bucket compared to that summer. You know what they say….Time flies when you have no idea what you are doing. Here’s a statistical breakdown of my first two months: Museums visited: 4 Mountains hiked: 2 Movies watched: 6 Plays attended: 1 Crêpes eaten: 9 Dinners hosted: 4 Cities visited: 3 Students taught: 195 Pen Pal letters sent: 19 Postcards sent: 12 Official forms and dossiers submitted: 3 Countries my friends are from: 8 Languages spoken in any given outing: 4 Cows seen: impossible to count Times I’ve been baffled by the Celsius scale: every single time Times I’ve understood the metric system: none Times per week I get coffee (or tea) with friends in the same café: 5, at minimum Times per week we go for beer instead: depends on the week….. I could …

Observations, Thoughts & Impressions

I have now spent about 3 weeks at Ecole Concorde, observing, assisting, teaching, etc. Here are a few of my initial reactions to French schools (or at least my somewhat unique elementary school). The kids learn cursive right off the bat — even at the stage they specifically pointed out, “Yes, in France we use connected handwriting” as in, the entire country. This was actually something I noticed before, that the French collectively have a very particular way of writing that struck me as being “different.” Now, I have observed the naissance of this phenomenon!! The CP students (first grade equivalent) have handwriting lessons, and already have begun writing in cursive. Incredible. In the US, I never experienced an emphasis on handwriting, and certainly not cursive. I was required to write in cursive I think in the 2nd or 3rd grade, but that was more or less the extent — and mind you that was some 13 years ago as well! The kids seem to be very well-behaved overall, but the teachers take absolutely NO …

Vacation: Travels, Halloween, and the Great Assistant Reunification

Yes, you read that right. Vacation!! After working for less than two weeks, we had two weeks off for La Toussaint vacation. In fact, French schools have about two weeks of (paid!!!) vacation for every six weeks of school. Not a bad deal!! In lieu of lots of long posts about every fun event, which would probably take me another 3 months to write…I’m going to attempt shorter vignettes of the memorable moments, arranged more or less in chronological order, and sprinkled of course with pictures! REUNIFICATION DINNER Our attempt to unite all (well, most) of the Chambéry assistants, who have inadvertently been separated into mainly two groups: anglophones and Italians (and others) involved introducing the Italians to the game Mafia ….. which drew a few begrudging chuckles. We ended up changing it to Assassins to be more “politically correct” PICNIC AT LAC DU BOURGET Step one: procure alimentary items. Step two: take bus to beautiful lake surrounded by mountains and bathed in what has frequently been described to you (and rather ominously, you might add) as the last …

Je vous présente…

Let me introduce you to my school!! Name: Groupe Scolaire Concorde (The school is actually made up of two schools: the maternelle (preschool) and elementaire) Location: Barberaz, France. A 10 minute bus ride or a 30 minute walk from my apartment. Size: There is one class of 17-25ish students of every grade. I believe this is on the small side, though more or less average for the size of the town… Special Skills: The school is one of only 3 in the region (and possibly in all of France) to operate with a content-language learning immersion program. As I’ve mentioned a few times previously, this means that all elementary students have about half of their curriculum taught in English and half in French. The maternelle also has several hours of English classes each week. Schedule: I work for at least 30 minutes a week with each class. I assist in math, geography, art and earth science classes. In the maternelle classes, I have a little bit more independence in presenting cultural activities. This week I’m …