Thursday, 28 March 2013

Leaving France, Beginning of February

Leaving France, Beginning of February

My last few weeks in France went by in a daze. We had a couple of snow days, due to the snow paralysing the Laval transport network (I knew it couldn't just be the UK that fell to pieces when it snowed!) and Mariant and I finally got to go to St Michel's Mont on a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon.... only to get food poisoning from the seafood we ate the next day. That was not my definition of fun.

I met my replacement, Charlotte, on the Monday of the last week, and as our boss was away, we spend a nice day bonding about France, work and making-cookies-in-bowls. And then of course eating them. But the real highlight of the week was Thursday. After spending the early evening on my knees cleaning my studio floor in order to get the all important deposit back, I headed round to Valentine's to have some last drinks with friends. What I got was I full-blown Goodbye party, with posters everywhere, balloons with anecdotes of time in France together and a treasure hunt, which led to some beautiful pictures and a lovely goodbye present. It was an absolutely amazing evening, so thank you so much to everyone who came (or rather, merci beaucoup mes amis, je vous aime tellement et vous me manque deja!) especially to my lovely puces!

After a whirlwind week at home, seeing the Bristol crew for some inventive cocktails and being treated on Valentine's Day by Izzy, it was time once again to argue with my suitcase and weight allowances before heading off to Russia!

Things I'm going to miss about France

1. Their attitude to food and meals
I love the fact that in France it's perfectly normal to spend 2-3 hours at table, not eating but talking and enjoying the company of the people you are with. It's a really nice social event and I think we could definitely benefit from it the UK, where the goal seems to be to eat as quickly, talk to no one and move on to the next thing on the to-do list.

2. Apero and Gouter
In France drinking wine at lunch, mid-way through the afternoon, basically whenever you fancy, is not being an alcoholic, it is being civilised. Ditto for eating pastries mid-afternoon. What is there not to love?

3.Their Wine
Good and cheap. The first time I go to Sainsbury's to buy wine when I get back to the UK, I fully expect to spend at least 5 minutes ranting at how much a bottle of indifferent red costs compared to the price of a good red in France.

The Thing I'm not going to miss

French Administration.
When you spend three months trying to sort out your accomodation, you expect some from of acknowledgement when the local foyer decides to give you a room. Nothing exceptional, just an email. I got nothing, which led to one and a half months of worrying that I'd be living in a cardboard box until I rang two weeks before I was due to arrive and was told that not only did I have the room, but I was already paying for it. Following experiences with French admin did not get any better.

But overall, I'm going to miss France a lot. I'll be back. That's a promise, not a threat.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

22nd January 2013 - Laval, France

Word of the Blog: être sur la lune: to be away with the fairies

Technically, updating this blog once a week is one of my New Year's Resolutions. I find it ironic that I'm starting to keep my New Year's Resolutions as other people are probably starting to give theirs up.

My last update in November seems a long, long time ago. I've since then not only worked on a teenage course, but an adult one as well. I also went to Rennes with Mariant. We had a great weekend, eating crepes, being tourists (making sure to get "people we can run faster than" to take our photos - direct quote) and because we're female, shopping.

In Rennes, I'm pretty sure this is the Maire, or the Town Hall, for those who don't speak French.
The only slight, hilarious-in-hindsight downside was getting back to Laval. N roads, the French equivalent of A roads in the UK, have this fun habit of telling you the name of every little hamlet you go past, but completely missing out the names of the important towns, meaning it's quite easy, so naturally we did.
We eventually made it back to Laval, and before long it was December, and I ended up on the local radio as Valentine, my journalist puce (or good friend in English) insisted on interviewing Mariant and I in our native languages to show her boss she speaks Spanish and English. The Christmas lights in Laval were gorgeous tho, and because the local government didn't turn them on til 1st December, people were still remarking how beautiful they looked in the week before Christmas, something I've never heard before as in the UK they get turned on so early, everyone is sick of them by the time December actually rolls around.

Christmas lights over the New Bridge in Laval, meant to look like the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, but made me think of the Grand Hall in Beauty & the Beast

With the Christmas lights being turned on, and the beautiful firework show that accompanied them, the weather became rapidly coldly, which gave me and my friends an excuse to drink as much mulled wine/cidre/sangria/caribou (a mulled wine and whisky mix from Quebec, as far as I'm concerned, the Quebecois can keep it, but Valentine loves it) at Laval's Christmas market, and O'regeans, which despite various efforts on our behalf, is still where we'll end up when we go out 9 times out of 10 (must admit 2 euro mulled wine is a massive factor in that...).

Mariant, Carlos and Valentine after the Christmas Market
Our international Christmas dinner soon followed (UK starter, French main course and Spanish dessert) and before I knew it I was back in the UK, running across London to get an AIDS test in order to obtain my Russian visa. (Massive thanks to the lovely girl behind me in the queue at the Visa processing centre who told where to get the test done!) It was only looking at the visa itself that it started to dawn on me that I'm actually going to Russia, which is exciting and yet absolutely terrifying at the same time.

My lovely puces
A Bond's evening in Cheltenham and a pizza/wine night in Bristol and suddenly I'm back in Laval and in exactly a month I will be sitting in a Moscow airport about to head East. I can't believe my time in France is nearly over, it's passing so fast (and more importantly, the French Year Abroad essay is not progressing fast. I'm hoping to get it done before I leave France, as I know I will be running round seeing people and making sure I've packed enough socks in the week or so I'm home).

So, that was a flying update of what's happened in the last three months, I really, really hope to update next week, thanks for reading!!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

31st October, Laval

Word of the Blog: Barres de chocolat.  This means a six pack, so I suspect it's slang. Used by my boss' daughter to describe a topless guy in a music video. But hey, he was hot.

Happy Halloween everyone! If you are going out trick or treating or going to a party, have an amazing time!

I won't be, as I'm working tonight, speaking English and watching Erin Brockvitch with 19 French teenagers. Watching films with the teenagers in the evenings during the stages is one the perks of my job, so far I've watched Slumdog Millionaire, EdTV and The Boat that Rocked (or, as they call it in France: Good Morning England, which I think is a far betetr title). The latter happens to be one of my favourite films, but I did feel like a bit of an idiot, as I've seen the film so many times, I started laughing before the funny bits happend, getting me more than one weird look.

On the down side, I do have to watch Step Up (or Sexy Dance as it's known in France) which I think is one of the most annoying films ever. But hey, it could be worse. I could have to watch Never Say Never, the film about Justin Bieber. On second thoughts, I wouldn't watch it even if it was part of my job. I'd "accidently" break it into tiny pieces so no one would ever have to undergo such torture. Or, even worse, I could be forced to watch Twilight. Without a bottle of vodka/wine. *Shudder* 

However, it's a shame we are not doing anything for Halloween here. The stage is taking place in a huge old house, with would make an amazing haunted house. Especially as there's a suit of armour on the stairs which freaks me out in the daytime, and would absoutely terrify me in the dark with scary music playing.

The stage has taught me one thing though. I'm probably not going to be a teacher in later life. Or least, definitely not a P.E. teacher (at this point, I'd like my mother and school friends to stop laughing. I know a girl who did everything she could to not be in the team at school is unlikely to a sports teacher, but you never know). My throat aches from getting said teenagers to play tennis/ a board game according to the rules. That's only 19. If I had to teach in a state school class of about 30 kids, I wouldn't have a voice left by the end of the day.

But the boss made my day by buying me a bar of dark chocolate! Which given the word of the blog, makes me laugh everytime I look at it.

Small things, small minds.

Monday, 29 October 2012

29th October, Laval, France

 Word of the Blog: Flasher sur qqun.

This describes the moment you see someone and you think they are hot. I love the fact that the French have a verb for this...

I learnt the above word whilstonce again at the Irish pub. The Irish pub is like the Foyer's spoons and it's almost inevitable that if you go out in the evening you will end up there. This has nothing to do with the fact it's Irish or that the drinks are fairly cheap, but because it's a ten minute stumble door-to-door from the foyer (so a two minute walk on the way there). I've had some great evenings there, but I hope to discover some of the other bars in Laval as I want to make the most of the time I'm here.

Anyway, I do believe in my last blog I promised you a description of Laval's transport network. Well, if you sitting comfortably then I'll begin (and if you get that reference, respect). Laval has a very-widespread bus network, with around 14 bus lines. For a town of about 53,000 inhabitants, you would think this would be enough to get you where you needed to be just by getting on one bus, perhaps changing if you are going out of the main town into of the surburby bits. Not so.Despite having a bus stop roughly 10m, it sometimes feels like you have to take at least two buses to get anywhere useful. Getting to work for example. To get to a suburb of Laval, about 7km from the foyer I live, I have to get a bus, then get a taxi-shuttle service and even then I still have a 20 minute walk. The joutney takes about an hour, and it's rather annoying knowing that in the car it only takes about 10 minutes. In Cheltenham, let alone Bristol, I reckon you could take just one bus to get almost directly to where I work and it would take half an hour, max.

Anyway, I could literally go on for hours about the transport network, so I'll change the subject. I've just started my first, full student stage here. 19 French kids who are taking their BAC (French A-levels) this year or next year have come to the Langue & Nature for a week, in order to improve their English through a week-long immersion. It's only day 1, but they all seem nice and incredibly polite. However, some of their English really needs work. It was acyually quite scary marking some of their tests and seeing what basic mistakes they kept making. If I were in their shoes and taking my BAC this year, I would be afraid, very afraid...

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

10th October, Laval, France

Word of the Blog: le cavalier/la cavalière. Traditionally this referred to a horseman/woman, but now means male/female dance partner. It confused me the first time I heard it, as I thought it meant knight, and wondered what knights had to do with Rock'n'Roll dancing.

I'm trying to think of an excuse as why I haven't yet updated my blog despite being in Laval for over a month now...but my mind's drawing a blank. I reckon I could get away with saying I've been too busy (which isn't entirely untrue, it does feel like I've been here much longer than a month) but at the same time if I've had time to watch Russell Howard's good news... (thank goodness for UoB's VPN (no idea what it sounds for though) otherwise I'd haveve missed both good news AND mock the week!) I've probably had time to update my blog. So  yeah, sorry about that. I'll try and be better in the future.

Anyway. Laval. France.

If you type Laval into Google, it'll come up with Laval, Quebec, which pretty much sums up how small Laval is. It's also kinda in the middle of nowhere, which I'm only just starting to get used to, as how much I've complained about how small Cheltenham is, it's actually quite big compared to Laval. Laval is in La Mayenne department of France, which is techincally in the Pays de Loire region of France. However, the majority of Lavalians that I've met don't seem to let a little thing like geography bother them, and instead that they live in Brittany, the region along from the Pays de Loire.

 Still, the fact that Laval is small means that there aren't many Brits/Americans here so all the friends I've made so far are French (or at least French-speaking). I live in a Foyer in the centre of Laval, but I actually work in a Chateau which about 10km from Laval, but more about that later. A foyer is a bit like a university hall of residence, except anyone between 16-30 can live here, whether you're a student, working or unemployed. It's subsidised by the French government so isn't very expensive and there's an activity arranged every night Monday-Thursday, so it's been very easy to meet people.

Amongst the friends I've made at the Foyer is Mariant, a Spanish dentist who arrived to work in Laval at the same time as I did and we originally bonded over the fact that we are some of the only people who are actually around at the weekends (seriously, the foyer is dead Friday, Saturday and Sunday) as we don't go home like nearly everyone else.

Mariant (right) and Me

We've become good friends and are planning to go to Mont St Michael this weekend, as Mariant, who has got a proper job and isn't an improvised student, has a car.

Moving on the job, which is the actual reason I'm in Laval. I work in an actual Chateau, which is quite cool, and since its family-owned I feel like I'm living in a Jane Austen novel half of the time. I work as a general assistant, doing all sorts of things, from translating to processing applications, for a language centre called Langue et Nature that specialises in immersions. This basically means that people come to us to learn French/English.

I'm lucky that everyone I work with is lovely, including my boss, though it is quite an experience being in a car whilst she's driving. She's one of those women who you know must be fairly old because she has children in their thirties, but it's impossible to judge her age more than that as she has more energy than anyone else I've ever met. She was also born and bred in the French countrysides, so drives down the middle of the road and it seems like that she considers speed limits optional, which is great fun whilst going down a hill, but less so in the middle of a town.

Anyway, I've just realised I have to get up at 7.30 for work tomorrow (if anyone has sensed something off in my tone whilst they've been whining about 9 o'clock lectures, this is why...) so I'm off to bed. Hopefully I'll  update tomorrow night, in which I will describe the weirdly efficient/inefficient Laval transport network which means I have to get at a bus and a taxi, followed by a 20 minute walk to get to work.

Despite that, I love it here!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Day 26- 27th July, Poděbrady

Due to the Farewell Party the evening before, I hadn’t expected that many people to be in class that morning. My suspicions were confirmed at breakfast when only 12 people were sitting down when I entered the room. However, when we got to class we discovered that several people were already there and as the lesson went on, more and more people turned up. However, there were still some notable absences! We finished our lessons at ten, and at half ten wandered over to the reception room on the other side of the castle where we had our graduation ceremony. We all received a certificate and a DVD with all the photos and everyone’s contact details on. The DVDs also included recordings of the multicultural evening and the farewell party, so we could impose them on our friends and family. Which I fully intend on doing. So sorry to the four people who read this *evil grin*. For lunch, we headed to Trattoria, where we began ordering fairly expensive food in order to use up the lunch vouchers we still had left over. Sheffield!Nic headed to the railway station shortly afterwards, as she was spending a couple of days in Brno with a friend before heading back to the UK. So S, Misha, Jones, Mike and I headed to the Chinese for dinner later that evening, where we met up with a couple of people from B2. They came from Volvograd, and freaked Jones and I out with tales of hot it got in Russia in summer. When I told the girl, Tanya, where I was going on my year abroad, she laughed.
After dinner, we headed to the dorm’s TV room, to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympics. As the commentary was in Czech, and therefore hard to understand, we made up our own. Which as in the ceremony went on, became different ways of saying “What the hell?!?” I think Alice, a French friend in B2, summed it up when she said she wasn’t surprised, as the “English are weird, as their ceremony would be weird”! The strangest part of the evening for Jones and I though came as we watched the athletes enter the stadium, the others had gone to bed by this point, so it was just Jones and I with another Ukrainian girl from B2 watching. When the Syrian athletes came in, Jones and I made a few comments about how welcome they would be in London, given the state of Syria at the moment. At that, the Ukrainian girl turned round, and asked as what we meant by that, as she had friends in Syria and they were fine, nothing was happening there. Jones and I were shocked, and then explained what was happening there. But the girl refused to believe us, saying that walking down the streets in Homs, the Syrian town the rebels and the government were fighting over at the time, was just as safe as walking around in London. I don’t know when she last went to London, but last time I was there, I didn’t risk getting snipered as I walked down a street.  What rendered Jones and I flabbergasted, and completely speechless though, was her next statement.
“There’s nothing happening in Syria. It’s just a plot stirred up by America, who wants to take over the world.”
The Cold War clearly isn’t over, regardless of what anyone says.
I really enjoyed my time in the Czech Republic and I know my Czech has improved immensely. It was great practise for my year abroad and I made lots of new friends. I really hope I get the chance to come back next year.

Day 25- 26th July, Poděbrady

Thursday was the day of the Farewell Party, so after spending the afternoon sunbathing by the lake, we headed to the castle. First of all, all the classes (except A1, who was missing members who had gone to a concert) sang their songs. A2 sang a song about students in the pub and in class, then we (B1) sang our song about the rain. Afterwards, B2 (Misha and Sheffield!Nic’s class – though Misha refused to sing) sang about bees and flowers. I couldn’t understand what C1’s song was about, but it was very pretty. We then gave our teacher, Zuzanna, flowers to say thank you for teaching us. I think she’s been one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. Not only did she make the lessons fun, but she seemed to instinctively know when people were having problems with an exercise and she’d come over and help. I also like the way she only used English as a last resort, instead she’d find different ways to say it in Czech. I’ll miss not having her as a teacher. After the songs, we watched some members of the summer school put on a production of Alice in Wonderland. Then it was time to eat. The Summer School had put on a buffet, complete with free drinks, which of course included free alcohol! Within the alcohol was sect, which is the Czech version of Champagne and is delicious! Perhaps even better than Champagne itself…There was also a band playing both modern and traditional Czech songs, meaning we got to show off your polka dancing skills. It also played songs we knew, such as YMCA, but in Czech! After the party finished, we headed to a club not 200 yards from the Castle that played 70s and 80s songs. It was strange not having to pay for entry and still getting cheap drinks. I wish there were more clubs like that in the UK!