2 07 2010

As you read this, I am in a plane on my way to the States with Tobias.  We are flying British Airways via Heathrow, so hopefully that volcano with the unpronounceable name in Iceland will keep quiet during our travels.  So, as I journey back to my home country, I want to spend a little time sharing my last impressions of France and the end of my assistant teaching in Mantes-la-Ville.

Last week of teaching

This is the schoolyard of the school I taught at in the afternoons.

As I may have mentioned, I only worked two days a week this past school year in France, as I was only allowed to work 12 hours per week. Because it was so far out in the banlieue, they scheduled me to work two full days – Monday and Tuesday every week.

On my last Monday of work, I only had to work a half day because of a field trip the kids at my morning school were on. I came anyway at 11:30, when I would normally be done teaching in the morning, so I could bring all of the materials back that they loaned me in the beginning of the year.

Some of my afternoon school’s teachers and the directrice were there to pick up some books and they drove me back to the afternoon school. They had told me last week not to bring a lunch with me on Monday because they wanted to have a party for me. When I arrived at the school, I realized that all of the teachers had pitched in and brought all sorts of delicious French specialties for a big meal together. There were two types of quiche (one with spinach and quiche lorraine, with ham),

The party was great! They even had a little apéritif before eating. And, in typical French style, there was wine – both red and white – and cider. They made kir with sirop de cassis and white wine. It was great! I had a glass of each. (Small glasses…didn’t want to be drunk at work! But I must say I enjoyed being allowed to drink at work! That will not likely happen in Germany or in the States!)

It was very special. I didn’t really add much to the conversation, per usual, but I had a lot of fun at this party. They dedicated a toast to me, and I thanked them for everything they’d done for me over the year. For dessert there was a clafoutis, a cherry dessert that I’ve made twice before at home. All of the food they brought was really delicious, and I was very full when the lunch break was over.

The afternoon classes on Monday were perfect. I did the normal “date / weather / how are you” ritual, and after that I taught them the game Heads Up, Seven Up. That’s a game I remember playing in elementary school and middle school and really loved it at the time. The French kids also loved it, and I had fun playing that with them.

Tuesday: the very last day

This is the handout I made with the lyrics to the song.

Then, on my last day of work, I was very excited to finish things up. I decided to spend all the class periods playing games with the kids. I taught them The Moose Song and they loved that. Then I did hangman with the phrase “Let’s play Simon Says!” And they all understood enough to be really excited about the answer and say, “Yeah!” (Well, they actually said “ouais!!! and it made me feel a little bit like I hadn’t really taught them anything this year.) So we played a round or two of Simon Says, and then we transitioned into several rounds of Heads Up, Seven Up. Then, with 5 minutes left in class, I made them sing The Moose Song again, and then it was time to say goodbye.

I didn’t expect it, but I was a lot more emotional about saying goodbye than I thought I would be. One class in the morning cheered me out with “Hip hip hip hourrah!” and another class had just gotten dictionaries as a gift from their school before they enter middle school, and they wanted me to sign their dictionaries. (They got all their friends to sign them, too.) So I gave plenty of autographs, which felt pretty funny. The kids said they would miss me, and I wished them good luck with the next school year. What really hit me was saying goodbye to the kids in my favorite class in the afternoon school. It was the second class of the afternoon and they surprised me with thank-you cards they drew and letters they wrote for me. It touched me so much, and was so unexpected, that I cried. I went around to each of them and took their cards and said goodbye. That was really sweet. In the other classes, I went around to each of them and gave them a high five and told them goodbye individually by name. In another class, they had brought in some cakes and brownies and juice for everyone, and we had snack time at the end. A few kids asked me questions about my life and why I came to France, and where I was going next. That was nice to see their reactions to different things about my life. All of the teachers gave me la bise (you know, that French cheek kiss greeting) and asked to keep in touch.

The day was not without its problems, though. The one class that was horrible every day all year was also horrible for the last day. It wasn’t even fun to play the game with them and the kids were really disrespectful. I was SO glad to leave that class. And in another class in the morning, I had to break up a fight between two nine-year-old students. (Not surprisingly, these were the two most misbehaved children in the class.) For whatever reason — probably the after-effects of verbal arguments during recess — one kid back-handed the other in the torso. The other reacted very badly to this and yelled at him, and then proceeded to strangle him! I ran over and had to pull them apart. It was so crazy – why would this happen on my last day?  Because life is funny that way, I suppose.  At least it made for an interesting story, and the kids didn’t seriously hurt each other or anything.

This is a view of the hallway outside of one of my classrooms in the afternoon school.

Now that this job is over, and I know I most likely won’t see those students ever again, it’s a bittersweet feeling. But that feeling didn’t last too long, because there are too many other exciting travels coming up!


Au revoir, Paris!

30 06 2010

I’m leaving on a jet plane fast train / don’t know when I’ll be back again…

It’s moving day! Goodbye Paris, France.  Hello Hamburg, Germany!!

I started packing as soon as Tobias left last Thursday.  Since then, I have packed and repacked, and repacked again and again.  The cheap-o + pack-rat combination is not a good one; I had a hard time throwing things out.  But in the end, I donated 3 bags of clothes, got rid of two bags and a pair of shoes, and donated random leftover girly items (like tissue paper, cookie mix, chai mix, headbands, shampoo, etc.) to the nice Japanese girl who just moved in downstairs.

It feels good.  Well, sorta.  I still wish I had less luggage.

Putting the “lug” in “luggage”

Okay, so I don’t have quite as many bags as this lady does (left), but I will be quite overloaded today with 4 large bags to lug around.

I have 1 large backpack (for backpacking) filled to brim with clothes and shoes.  And two large suitcases that are both very heavy and…I had to sit on them to get them to zip closed.  (Here’s to hoping nothing bursts open during my travels!)

To top it off, I will have to wear my computer backpack on the front.  It contains all the technical  stuff (computer, camera, router, and external hard drive) and the last-minute stuff (toothbrush, deodorant, contact solution).  Oh, and I will also be carrying my Lord of the Rings to read on the train (I wish I’d timed it so I was reading a smaller book right now!).  I’m even wearing my heavy hiking boots today because they were too bulky & heavy to put in my bags. Ha!

But at least I’ll be kind of balanced, right?  Backpack on the back, backpack on the front, and one suitcase for each arm.  You can imagine that I’m dreading this aspect of moving.

Tobi’s friend Bruno, who is moving into this apartment, is coming to get the keys this morning and will help me to the train station.  That will be a really big help, and I’m very grateful for this.  Getting the bags from the apartment to the train station is the most effort, especially when it includes stairs and the metro.  After that, I have two transfers on the way to Hamburg; once in Frankfurt and again in Hannover.  That will definitely be hard, and probably also difficult to find room to store my luggage once I transfer to those trains.

But in the end, I’ll be back in Hamburg, and this time to stay.  Well, until Tobias and I fly to the States on Friday.  But when we come back in August, I’ll be living in Hamburg.  Exciting things are happening!


I’ve said my goodbyes to friends, teachers, students, my apartment, and even Paris itself.  I feel like I’ve really been able to take advantage of all the city has to offer during the last several weeks.  I plan to share more about my last few days in Paris, so stay tuned.

Ready?  Set!  Go!!

Where have you been all year?

15 06 2010

Let me take a moment to complain about my kids.

I’ve taught English 2 days a week, every week excluding vacations, of course, for 9 months now.  And EVERY day, in EVERY class, I do the same opening ritual:

  1. What’s the date?
  2. How’s the weather?
  3. How are you?

And the kids answer.  I write the date on the board and make them read it.  I ask them the weather, which I’ve taught them and we’ve repeated since the beginning of the year.  They can say sunny, rainy, cloudy, overcast, “the sky is blue” (or gray), snowy, windy, cold, chilly, warm, and hot.  They have a good vocabulary base, although I’m sure they can’t spell these things because we only do it à l’oral.  The same goes for “how are you”.  They can say a lot of different responses.

In the morning, in my very first class, a girl comes up to me after the weather portion of the above ritual and starts talking to me during the “How are you” part while the kids are answering.  She stands up and walks to me, without asking, while the class is doing the next part of the ritual, and she said to me (in French…):

Teacher, I don’t know how to say the weather.  I wasn’t here when you taught it.

What…?  Girl, I never gave any hand-outs about the weather, but I sure as hell TAUGHT the weather!  Every day with them!  Where was she then?  In my class.  She should have learned it by now!  I think I was mean to her with my response…but I couldn’t help it.  Good grief.

It’s beyond words.

I don’t get it.

The rest of the day went as usual: the kids were rowdy, they weren’t paying much attention, they talked a lot, they joked around, they hit each other, annoyed each other, you name it.  Badly behaved kids.  Some days are worse than others.  Today was a tiring one, for sure.  Plus, I’m getting sick again, and speaking all day made my throat hurt.  The kids were at least (for the most part) nicer to me and a little better-behaved when I told them that my throat hurts.  Most quieted down.

But then, this afternoon, in my very last class, I got another comment that cut me to the heart.

Maîtresse, je ne comprends pas.

“Teacher, I don’t understand.”  Spoken by a kid who says this literally every class.  I’m not even exaggerating.  I see this kid staring out the window, or playing with his ruler or what not, while I am explaining the directions for the activity.  And, as if on cue, as soon as I finish speaking, his hand shoots up.  I call on him (maybe I should stop doing that…ha), and he says he doesn’t understand.  He wasn’t listening; no wonder he doesn’t understand.  And it’s always the same.  Every single day.


Does it really matter?

I honestly believe most of these kids will forget the majority of what we’ve learned this year over their summer vacation.  (If they haven’t forgotten it already, that is.)  I am sure of this, because it’s human nature.  Only the kids who were really interested in learning English will hold onto the things I’ve taught them.  There are at least 2 or 3 in each class, so at the very least, I’ve made a positive impact on 16 kids and their English abilities.

At the very least, several kids have drawn me pictures and expressed their liking for me.  Yesterday, I even got a love note from a 9-year-old that said “Y love you Sara”.

Saying “Thank you”

7 06 2010

Last week I got my first “thank-you” letter from a student.

It wasn’t on fancy stationery like the card on the left, from Rifle Paper Co.*

In French, and full of spelling errors, she thanked me for teaching her English.  Written on a ripped page of notebook paper, and put in front of another piece of notebook paper to make it look like it was one whole piece, and shoved into a sheet protector, her note went a little something like this:


Thank you from the bottom of my heart

it’s very interessting and very dificult to learn but with Sarah it’s easier because we learn correctly.  it’s great she is nice and she teaches us to speak english correctly because for her to work you’ll advance and not worked it’s not advancing in life and I lerned that english is the most to speak language in life because if you don’t know it you’ll never make it.

Thank you for everyone,

Sarah O.

you form our life easier (???) for me but for the others I don’t know.  thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Sarah O.”

(A few spelling & grammar errors were added in English translation so you can get the true feeling of the note.)

Now, I’m not sure what her reasons were behind it.  Part of me wonders if her parents made her write something because she got in trouble during my class recently.  But I’d prefer to think she really appreciates me and my teaching and sincerely wanted to thank me for it.  Poor kid, though.  She’s gotten pretty bad grades on my tests all year.

It’s my turn

Now I’d like to thank each and every one of you for reading my silly little blog posts.  I have had a lot of fun here this year, keeping track of my thoughts and observations and sharing stories and pictures.  It gives me a lot more happiness to know that you actually read this.  🙂  And an extra-special thanks to those of you who comment.  I really enjoy hearing from you!

*I love, love, love their stationery!  What a talented team…and total eye candy!  (Click on the pictures to go to their site!)

Her French letter, for those of you who are interested:

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Crazy night at Sacré Coeur

3 06 2010

Last Friday night, my friends and I held a good-bye party at Sacré Coeur.  Libby and Kate left to go back to the States on Monday, so we wanted to have at least one last night together before our group got smaller.  (Although we ended up spending Saturday and Sunday together too.)

A little bit about Sacré Coeur

Sacré Coeur is a beautiful place.  It’s a very touristy place with artists and the beautiful church and a nice view of Paris.  People like to go there and hang out with friends, drinking wine and snacking on cookies or chips.  It’s always pretty crowded.  Because of all the tourists, it’s a great place for street performers to get a lot of spectators.  Unfortunately, it’s also a great place for scammers and pick-pockets.

I arrived before my friends, and I sat on the steps and listened to music on my iPod.  Of course some random guy came and started hitting on me.  This happens every time I’m alone in Montmartre.  (That really gets on my nerves…)  But I’ve learned to be more assertive and not put up with that.  I told him after a minute or two that “I don’t feel like talking with a stranger.”  Well, that’s what I wanted to say, but said the wrong word for stranger and said “Je n’ai pas envie de discuter avec un…étranger.”  A “foreigner”, I had said.  Oops.  He got defensive and was like, “Je suis français, moi! I’m French!”  I corrected myself and he didn’t put up too much of a fight; he got up and left.

Then my friends came and we moved a little further down the steps to where this big balcony is, from which you see an amazing view of Paris.  (Sacré Coeur is up on a big hill.)

We drank a lot of wine and snacked on Haribo gummies, cookies, bread, cheese and strawberries.  We were having a grand old time, and then two guys in fedoras and superman t-shirts set up their pyro show.  They had these big batons that lit on fire on either end, and they did all sorts of whirls and twirls with those.  Sometimes it looked like they were on fire!  They were also really good dancers…oh là là!

Here is a little preview of their show — this is actually the grand finale, and my favorite part!

That was definitely the highlight of the evening.  Sara and Kate asked for a picture with them when their show was over, and then later they came over and talked to us for a while.  They even invited us to a party afterward, but we didn’t go.

From left to right: Paula, Hannah, Libby, Kate, Sara, and moi

Now for the CRAZY stuff

I’ll try to make a long story short.  In between the two shows the pyros did, some guy tried to steal Paula’s iPhone.  Paula stood up and realized her phone was no longer underneath her scarf, and made a big scene when she accused the guy in front of us of stealing her phone.  “Don’t let him get away!” she yelled and Kate stepped in and held onto his shirt.  The guy didn’t try to run.  Paula looked for her phone while I decided to call it to make sure it wasn’t just in her bag or something.  Sure enough, the guy’s PANTS lit up and started buzzing.  He DID have her phone!  She yelled at him and took her phone back, and then shoved him away and yelled to everyone, “THIS MAN STEALS PHONES!”  The guy slinked away, embarrassed.  I snapped a photo of this incident.

I decided to keep my eye out for that guy (and anyone else who might try to steal stuff from us) and kept looking around throughout the evening.  Then, a little while later, I realized that he was sitting on the steps above Sara and I.  When I looked at him, he quickly shoved his hands behind his back.  “No way, give that to me,” I said.  I grabbed his arm and he had a wallet in his hands that looked like a guy’s wallet, so I felt a little awkward, but then I asked Sara, whose backpack was wide open next to her (and unwisely unattended), and she said, “YES, that’s MINE!”  I yelled at the guy, “CASSE-TOI! (Basically, “piss off!”) and he went away.  We couldn’t believe he came back to the same group to steal from, and we caught him both times.

A few minutes later, some guy in a hoodie and jeans came down to us and said that he was the police, and that they arrested the guy who stole for us.  We were confused until we realized there was also a uniformed police officer with him, and he was an undercover cop.  (It makes me feel so much better to know that there are undercover cops at Sacré Coeur!)  He asked if we had all our stuff, and we all looked and said that we did.

But then, about 10 minutes later, Sara realized she didn’t have her phone!  The guy had stolen that, too.  So Kate, Libby and I ran up to the top of the stairs and knocked on the window of a police car.  We explained that the guy also stole Sara’s phone.  I ran back down and told Sara she needed to go up there.  Then Libby came back down a few minutes later and said that Kate had called Sara’s phone and a policeman picked up.  He said the thief threw the phone over the balcony into the park when he was arrested.  The phone broke into 3 pieces, but still works.  But then Sara had to come down to the police station to make a statement, and Kate went with her, as Sara’s French isn’t very good.  I won’t go into too much detail about their experiences at the police station, but it was pretty traumatizing.  This was the guy’s third offense, and he will be going to jail.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are hanging out on the steps, waiting for Sara and Kate to return.  It took them a long time, though, and we had to leave.  We learned that you really shouldn’t be at Sacré Coeur after midnight (especially if you’re a group of all girls).  After the pyro guys left, and warned us we shouldn’t be there much longer, it wasn’t long before we were surrounded by about 8 guys who were harassing us.  We finally had to get up and leave, but they followed us to the metro.  Trying to touch us, and one guy had his arm around Paula.  I was really pissed off about this and screamed at the top of my lungs at them.  That scared most of them away, but the one who had his arm around Paula stayed around.  I cut in and said, “She’s mine, go away” but he kept following us.  He actually got onto the metro with us.  Paula got off to transfer to go back home, and at the last second, as the doors were about to close, the guy jumped off and followed her.  We called her right away to let her know he was following her.  To make that long story short, she did end up ditching him and got home safe and alone.  My goodness.  We were all very afraid for her.  I went back home with Libby and Hannah, and spent the night there.  Sara arrived around 1:30; the police got lost when driving her home.  Good grief.

Crazy stuff.  One thing is certain: we will never forget this evening.  If you’re interested to see more of the pyro show, click below for the rest of my videos.  They were really awesome!

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31 05 2010

Thanks to the last-minute antics of Alex and Kate, a Franco-American couple I’m friends with, I was not late on declaring my French taxes.

I must admit I’m not very connected to French society.  Yes, I live here, but all of my close friends are American.  Some are assistants like me, some are au pairs and some are here for grad school.  I don’t listen to the French radio, because it’s mostly American songs anyway, and I’d much rather listen to my MIKA cd or other favorites on my iTunes.  Occasionally, I’ll pick up a free French newspaper in the metro – Direct Matin or Direct Soir, or À Nous Paris*.  But I’ll also admit that I usually just look at the pictures without reading many of the articles.

So it’s no surprise that taxes caught me completely by surprise this year.  It’s a little my fault; I should have asked about taxes when I received a document in the mail a few weeks ago that I would need for taxes.  I meant to ask, but I am too organized: I filed it away in my “important things” binder and promptly forgot about it.  Oops.

So last night, when I was hanging out for the last time with my friends before Kate and Libby left for the states (early this morning), Alex and Kate mentioned that they had to sign taxes before the deadline.  Today, May 31st, by midnight.  I freaked out quite a bit because I knew nothing about the system or what I needed to do.  Alex was a life-saver, though, and emailed me the link to the forms I needed.

I printed them out at school today and checked with the secretary at the Inspection, who helped me figure out where to put the right info.  I filled it out during my lunch break, and got some advice from my other teachers (such as attaching a letter to inform them to change my address to my future German address so I can get next year’s tax info at the right place).

Where’s Waldo?  I mean, the tax center?

So when I got home, I finished up the paperwork and called Alex to ask about where to find the tax center (centre d’impôts) for my arrondissement (neighborhood/zip code).  I had to bring it directly to the tax center because I heard from the teachers that it had to be stamped by the post office before 4:15 p.m., and I got off work at 4:30.  I had done an online search and was confused because there were three or four different addresses on different sites.  Alex had the same search problems, but recommended I go the the closest one.

Luckily, I ran into the concierge on the way out and I asked her about it.  She answered right away: 9 rue du Docteur Lancereaux.  That was also the conclusion Alex and I had come to, so I felt extra-confident.  I hopped on my bike and pedaled up to the aforementioned street.  17, 15, 13, 11…7.  Where was the 9?  There was a door where the 9 rue du Docteur Lancereaux was supposed to be, but a homeless man had set up camp there, and there was no sort of signage at all.  Confused and frustrated, I asked 6 different people on the street if they knew where the tax center was for the 8th arrondissement.  (I’m not exaggerating at all…I asked 6 people and had 6 negative responses.  One lady said that the tax office moved a long time ago, but she wasn’t sure where it went.)

The other address that I had memorized for the occasion was 5 rue de Londres, which is not actually in the 8th arrondissement, it’s in the 9th.  It doesn’t really make sense for the tax center of the 8th arrondissement to be in a different neighborhood, but I had to try all my options and get this taken care of.  So I biked over to rue de Londres, in the old neighborhood I lived in during the summer I spent in a studio apartment after studying abroad.  That was the correct place, but they were closed, so I had to stick my envelope in their drop box.  Hopefully it’s all good.

Winding down

I stopped at a Subway on the way back and treated myself to a 12-inch sub.  It had been a stressful day.  I may or  may not have drunk some rosé wine directly from the bottle in my fridge….  And I watched this week’s Lindenstraße while I ate dinner.  For dessert I had three brownies.  I’m not ashamed.

Next year is going to be insane.  I will have to declare taxes in France, Germany, and the USA.  Luckily, I’m not getting triple-taxed…I think there are laws against that.  But I still have to declare everything.  I may need to get myself a tax advisor if I end up having to work a freelance job in Germany.  Oh là là!

Life lessons learned: stay on top of taxes and do it in advance if at all possible to avoid running around on tax day like a chicken with its head cut off!

*Cool link!  You can flip through a virtual version of the À Nous Paris newspaper!  Go check it out!

And now for something completely different.

29 05 2010

Recording videos always feels a little like leaving a message on someone’s answering machine: awkward, long, and usually not very eloquent.  But sometimes there is something that a video can capture that words can’t.  In this instance, it is my overall amusement that is evident in my voice and on my face.

Flippin’ video…

Sorry for the mirror-image video.  That was unexpected.  I used my MacBook Pro’s Photo Booth to take it, and you can flip pictures – but not movies.  (Not easily, at least.  Someone mentioned something about editing Photo Booth in Quartz, but that programming stuff is beyond me.)  Apparently, though, the Internet told me that if I capture the video through the built-in iSight webcam via iMovie, it keeps the video true to form and iAmHappy.

Next time, I’ll know what to do.

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