Friday, October 8, 2010


About the students:

  • They are extremely fashionable. Apparently I teach in a ZEP (zone d'éducation prioritaire = high-risk zone), but the girls still manage to wear sleek clothes in dark colors, and high heels (!), and all the kids wear mostly black or at least dark clothes and look extremely stylish. A good percentage of the boys have one ear pierced, which I think is interesting. Did boys in my high school have their ears pierced?! I never noticed.
  • They love California. In every class I've observed this week, I've mentioned that I'm from near San Francisco, and invariably, the reaction is a chorus of wistful "ohhh"s and shouts of "c'est mon rêve" ("it's my dream...").
  • They're pretty good at English! Some more than others, of course, but I'm impressed. It's going to be hard for me to correct their grammar and be super picky, because on the whole it's quite easy for me to understand them. So far, anyway. haha
  • They eat well at school, but they still love "MacDo" (McDonald's). I have expressed my chagrin that this is what they call "American food" (wince), but they still go on and on about it. I can't believe it. I mean, seriously, when your school serves you extremely well-balanced meals of bread, cheese, grains, fruit, vegetables and dessert, WHY oh WHY would you ever insult your own diet by eating McDonald's?!
  • They're really curious and eager to ask about my life, which I appreciate. I love the opportunity to speak English for learners of the language, and it's a really cool challenge to slow myself down enough to be understood. I've managed so far to be myself, which I think is secretly a breath of fresh air to these kids, because French teachers are notoriously strict and sometimes impersonable. It also fascinates me that they say my reading of a simple Willa Cather text is "beautiful." !
About France and French people:
  • The stereotype that French people are rude and unapproachable is quite untrue so far. I have experienced some degree of standoffishness, but the majority of my encounters with French people have left me feeling relieved and appreciative of their willingness to help me with things and clarify any of my confusions. Granted, I think this is because I always make the effort to speak French (which many French people have already complimented gratuitously hehe, it's not helping my ego inflation to keep hearing it at least once a day from different people). Everyone seems to know that making the effort really wins you points with the French people, so it's good that I have the command of the language that I do. Again, I don't know where it came from. But I feel very lucky.
  • They don't sell fresh milk in the grocery stores - it's all ultrapasteurized (UHT), so like some kinds of soy and almond milk in the U.S., their milk sits out on the shelf, unrefrigerated. I thought this was extremely alarming when I first moved into my place in Massy, but a couple of French people have explained to me that it's ok. It does taste a little different, and it's weird to open a new bottle and not have it be cold, but I figure the entire country drinks milk like this, so it's gotta be fine.
  • These cobblestone roads are killing me. WHY did anyone think it was a good idea?! Also, I can't decide whether French ladies who wear high heels around these streets deserve props or a kick in the head.
  • There is so much paperwork. SO MUCH! Everywhere!! It has taken me FOREVER to open a bank account, because each requirement (e.g. having an address) had another requirement (e.g. having a phone, which required having an address for a yearly plan, but luckily I was able to get a pay-as-you-go card for the time being). Opening a bank account today (finally!!), which I needed to do to get my October pay advance and to get paid in the future, took me an hour and fifteen minutes. That is way too long, France. Luckily, the teller I had was extremely patient and helpful. I don't know what I'm going to do when French people start being mean to me haha.
  • La bise is awkward. Every time.
  • Public transportation in my area is amazing, and I'm so grateful it's there. However, it has some... interesting points? Like, random checks on people's tickets - they have to be validated, but lots of people don't validate them, which can result in a fine or getting the verbal smackdown from the bus driver etc., which happened today on the bus!! I heard the phrase "casser les couilles" which is uhh let's say, less than polite.
I'm so excited for what's to come, and I'm still having such a great time, in case there was ever any doubt about that. :)


  1. Hey, I thought for sure I had gone through all the correct steps to post my comments earlier today when I was work. Oh well, I'm glad that I can still be the first one to comment on this blog. ha! I don't remember what I wrote, so I'll just say tata for now. GNLYALSDSYS!! Love, Mom

  2. Alex, I am so glad that people are treating you well!! Everyone loves MacDo... well, I am just in love with their french fries + extra salt :). But that is just me. I am sorry all the paper work is so tedious... but you have a French bank account!! All these new and exciting things. Why are la bise awkward? (PS- I am glad you posted a link to that). Isn't like giving people hugs, just a little more intimate? Are you getting those a lot?!!?!

    SO, I just wanted to make a comment on the milk thing. The students I am TAing for are currently working on their environmental group project. One group is doing milk, they have to observe the milk before and after a week long incubation at room temperature. When they opened that bottle of milk after it had been sitting at RT, WOW did it smell. They got some pretty cool bacteria, needless to say. Does your milk smell jk..

    Miss you tons!

  3. I like my pronunciation of McDo (MacDooo) better than the French pronunciation because I think of the food there as "doodoo." You should have them watch "SuperSize Me" although somehow I don't think the movie will convince them to appreciate their school lunches. Someday I will turn on the video when I am Skypeing you.

  4. Katie: La bise is so awkward because there's this moment of uncertainty and dread on my part as they lean in with their face, it's just really close contact I'm not used to! I suppose it might be the same way if I had grown up never having shaken someone's hand, though.

    Mom: "Supersize Me" is a good lesson idea! MacDo came up again in another class today, and my chagrin was significantly more intense. I might also show something related to Jamie Oliver ( ). We'll see!