Lost in Translation, part 2

It is interesting teaching English as a second language, especially with non-native English teachers.

One of the things that I am struggling with a little bit is correcting students. The teachers want me to correct everything. While I don’t disagree, I don’t want to make the kids so nervous that they can’t speak period. Being at the same level of Frenh as thy are with English, I understand how being nervous makes it incredibly difficult to speak at all. The last thing I want is for them to be toungue-tied. (Any tips for striking that balance in working with the students would be greatly appreciated!)
Another thing I’ve discovered is that I’m beginning to question my own ability. They ask if something is right and I’m inclined to say I think so. No, I’m the expert. I need to say, yes that is correct.
It is tough, though, because they have been learning British English. I don’t want to confuse them and I don’t want to contradict what they’ve been taught, especially as I don’t know British English.
Lastly, because I have been communicating in broken English to others around here, I have noticed that I’ve mildly adapted their syntax, intonation and other subtlties of the language. It is making it more difficult for me to spot mistakes in my students French and made my English devolve.
I think I have some learning to do.

Lost in Translation

I remember this from before in studying abroad, but since I was in an English-speaking country, it wasn’t as big of a deal.

You hit a point where you are stuck between two languages. You are trying to say something and you can’t get it out. For me, I will be mid-sentence and realize that I don’t know the French word, but for the life of me cannot remember what the word is in English. I’m not talking about long words like anesthesiology, I am talking about words like cake.

I am inclined to say that it is a good sign. My brain is trying to function in French, and that’s why I’m losing my English a little. If that’s the case, I’ll take it.

Another interesting thing, and this was definitely the case in Ghana, is my use of inflection with English is changing. In Ghana, they used slightly different inflection and in France it is the same.

We’ll say that if my writing turns out to be a little odd…you can blame it on that 🙂

Apartment Hunting, in the style of “House Hunters International” (Part 2)

Finally, I received a message from a landlord about a colocation (a place in need of a roommate) with two female college students. In arranging to view the apartment, I left the most incoherent message I have ever left in my life. At the end of it, I had to say, “I don’t know my phone number, so please just call me back on this one.” I decided that I had to call back and leave my number and pray that they wouldn’t think I was completely nuts. Later that afternoon, I got their cell phone numbers from the landlord and called one of the roommates to schedule a showing. (Hopefully that means my message just went into the void!) One of the girls showed me the place and it seemed nice enough, big enough for my stuff, had a full kitchen (meaning that it has an oven…something not very common here), was on my bus line and near the train station.

If only that had been the end of it.

I contacted the landlord to say that I was interested in signing a contract. He said that was great and to send him some paperwork via email. He sent me back an email confirming the time to meet him about the place. The thing is on the phone I thought he said Saturday. On Saturday morning, I looked at the email again and it said Friday.

Let’s just say I panicked a little. I called him twice and left one message (likely incoherent), sent him an email and reached out to the roommate that I met. She called me back, but didn’t know if I had missed him.

I waited (sweating bullets) for maybe an hour. At least that’s what it felt like. Then I received an email from him. He sent an email that said he’d written the incorrect day in the email and had planned to meet me on Saturday like we had discussed. We made the rest of the arrangements (with some help from his wife who spoke a little English) and it seemed to be all settled.

Then he called me again asking if I needed transportation to the apartment. Or maybe he called to see if I needed help with my bags. I just said “oui” a bunch of times, but I clearly wasn’t understanding something. So, he put his wife on the phone, who speaks English, and she explained that I should meet them at the apartment, we’d sign the papers and then he’d drive me back to the hostel and we’d pick up the bags.

Walking there, I was nervous. What if they didn’t like me? I mean I hadn’t dressed to impress, to say the least. I dressed to move. What if I couldn’t understand anything with the contracts, etc.? Basically, I was imagining all of the things that could happen to make this fall through at the last minute and leave me on the side of the road, homeless with my four horrible bags. Let’s be honest, I was slightly more afraid of having to drag my bags all over town and being homeless (between my contacts at the high school and other assistants, I knew I would figure something out for the night if need be, but those bags…).

To my delight, everything went very well. My landlord and his wife are the friendliest people. They walked me through all of the different documents switching between English and French. They were incredibly patient. It was just such a relief after the whole ordeal. After everything was signed, we went back to the hostel to pick my bags and moved everything in.

I intended to celebrate that night either by going out to some clubs with colleagues, a glass of wine and/or a nice meal (well, something more than a tv dinner or a boxed convenience store sandwich). Instead, I just put the sheets on my bed and went to sleep. I was exhausted.

Apartment Hunting, in the style of “House Hunters International” (Part 1)

This has been an interesting ride.

Before I came to Clermont-Ferrand, a group of us had hoped to room together in a great apartment near the city center. After an incredible effort by one of my colleagues, we learned that the apartment was already taken.

Then came the mad scramble.

Most of the students who are working in the lycées (high schools) were able to live at their schools. The accommodations aren’t always ideal, but they have everything you need, they are inexpensive and are all set-up for you. With both of my assignments, that option wasn’t available. That was fine because they are far apart anyway and living close to one would have made getting to the other very difficult.

Back to the mad scramble.

According to the handbook we were given it said that outside of Paris, it would take about one week to find a place. So, I reserved a room at a hostel for one week. Once I was conscious again after my trip here, I used the resources provided to find a place. There were several of us that were still looking so I kept an eye out for both 1-person apartments and 2/3-bedroom apartments. They needed to be furnished (meublé) and near to the bus line (for one school) and the train station (for the other school).

I contacted several places by email…no response. Others said that you had to give them a French phone number or they wouldn’t respond. I got a French phone and added that to my emails. Still nothing. After talking to my colleagues again, they said that you need to call the people about the postings or I should work with an agency. Because I was struggling to comprehend anything said to me, I figured I would start with an agency.

The following Monday (after I arrived), I went with two of my colleagues to a couple of agencies. Every time we asked for a furnished multi-bedroom place, they said that there were none available. We asked about 1-bedroom apartments with our specifications and they had maybe one available. They said that the students had started school on the 15th, so most of the lodging was already taken.

Then began the mild onset of panic. I had already extended my stay at the hostel until Saturday. There was some type of summit of youth/young adults, so all of the hotels, hostels, etc. in the area were booked. So if we couldn’t find a place to stay, there’s a chance that we would be homeless.

Finally, I did find an apartment that I really liked. It was a little more than I wanted to spend, but it seemed like I was pretty much running out of options and it was nice. I went to sign the paperwork and…I needed a “garanteur”, someone to essentially co-sign the lease. I showed them the assurance from my parents, but they said it had to be someone from France. They said they would hold until for a couple of days, but I knew that I would not be able to find a garanteur.

Back to the drawing board.

That night, I went into overdrive and looked at as many places online as I could find. The next day, I called at least five places. I wrote out a script and tried to call at times where I would likely be able to leave a message rather than talk to someone. (I also tried to avoid answering so they could leave a message, but they wouldn’t leave messages, so I had to start answering my phone.) I didn’t want to call too many because I was worried about getting places confused and not be able to keep track of everything, but at the same time, I tried to contact enough so that statistically, someone would have to call me back.

How to embarrass yourself in France 101

First lesson: how to insult someone while trying to be extra appreciative.

In French, “merci” means “thank you”. If you want to say something like, “thank you very much”, it is “merci beaucoup”.

Seems simple enough, right?

Well, apparently you have to be careful in your pronunciation. When Americans or other native English speakers pronounce “beaucoup”, it can come out as “beau cul”. Guess what that means? “Beau cul” means “nice ass”.

I have talked to a couple of people who have accidentally said this to shopkeepers or secretaries at schools. They got quite the look. For the lucky ones, the person recognized that they were not native French speakers and explained the difference. The others…well, I guess they just left quite the impression.

Luckily I was warned, but there are no guarantees that I won’t mess this up because, frankly, I can’t hear the difference.


I knew that the French had style, but boy do they live and breathe it.

  • Exhibit A: the train station announcements. They have a woman scatting. No bells, no tones. A woman scatting. It’s catchy and a little sassy.
  • Exhibit B: the walk sign. In the US, our walk signs are of a stiff stick figure, but in theirs (at least in my opinion) it looks like a person is strutting onto the street.
  • Exhibit C: the clothes. I don’t have pictures of it, but I feel like every sidewalk is a runway. People are always well-dressed. Casual-chic. Chic. “I threw these tights on under jean shorts and threw on converse shoes-chic”. “I somehow made overalls work with a sweater-chic”.

Sure, maybe there is some sticker shock and benefit of the doubt happening here, but I just feel underdressed or inappropriately dressed all of the time. I’ve even tried to step up my game and wear my nicer stuff to go to the grocery store. I pulled out the boots I’ve worn once in the US on the second day here. Still, I feel like I’m walking around with a label on. I’ve been trying to mimic what they are wearing. For example, yesterday, no one was wearing boot cut jeans or sandals, they were wearing skinny jeans and boots. Great, I thought, when I meet friends for drinks, I will wear boots and skinny jeans. Naturally, I am walking to the bar and see that everyone has pulled out their boot-cut jeans and sandals.

I saw an American flag shirt in a chic store yesterday. I am debating buying it…I mean an American wouldn’t buy that right? I’ll definitely fit in, right?

Temporary Accommodations

Before I find more permanent housing, I will be staying in a hostel. I have a private room with a bathroom, which has been great. I have a pretty good view of part of the city and the mountains. The hostel is not far from all the places I have wanted to go to so far. They have a free breakfast every morning, free Wi-Fi in the common areas, a kitchen and activities. I haven’t met a lot of students, but those I have met have been pretty nice. The staff has been great in providing directions and they speak English.

I’ve had one mishap and one complaint.

The mishap. The first day after a lovely hot shower, I went to dry my hair and immediately blew a fuse. My neighbor happened to blow out the power at the exact same time for our three-room block, so I was worried that I blown out possibly everything. After timidly explaining what had happened at the front desk, they explained the situation and sent a repair person to reset the fuse box in my room.

The complaint. My neighbors, every night, essentially have a club in their room. I think there is even a room between theirs and mine. Techno music every night from 11-1. If could speak French very well, I would be able to understand every word they are saying/yelling over the music (and maybe I would be able to tell them to you know, go to bed, and shut it off since they must have some place they need to be on a Thursday morning). Instead, I have just been turning on my light and reading. Am I cured of my jetlag? No clue. But, I have finished two Jane Austen novels…so maybe we’ll put that one in the win column.

One last thing…when I went to confirm the address at my parents house before leaving the US, I saw that Google had listed the hostel as a “homeless shelter”. Since I booked it through HostelWorld, I figured that it must not have actually been a homeless shelter, but was still a little worried. I figured that if it was a homeless shelter, I would just have the taxi driver take me to another hotel. Luckily, it was just a student hostel.

First Impressions

I found it very interesting and surprising that one of my first instincts as I walked around Charles de Gaulle airport was that France reminded me of Africa. Once in Clermont-Ferrand, as I was being driven to my hostel, I had the same feeling. I have come to the conclusion that it is due to some of the architecture, the advertisements and possibly the mountains. As I think back to my time in Ghana and brief travels to Benin and Togo, I knew that Europe and Africa were closely tied at least in terms of some of the goods you could buy. For example, if you bought pop or snacks, it seemed to me that they were brands more readily found in Europe and almost no American brands. As such, many of the advertisements on walls or billboards are similar. With regard to the architecture, it must resemble the architecture in Togo and Benin.

So far, I love it. Everything I need is in walking distance. I can easily walk to a grocery store. There is a beautiful city center (10 minutes walk) that has both a modern mall and Roman fountains. This city effortlessly preserves history without inhibiting progress. I haven’t used the public transit, but there are buses, trains and trams, so I am sure getting around without a car will be no problem (although a little disappointing that I won’t need a moped). I may end up getting a bicycle and as they have true bike lanes, I think that will be a very enjoyable way to get around.

As much as I love walking around, I cannot get the hang of the city layout. Everything is at a diagonal and some streets are only a block long. So, if you are at a 7-way intersection and you need to turn left onto Rue Ramond and it happens to be only one block long, you might just miss it and end up going completely the wrong direction. Also, doing Google Maps with kilometers is a complete guessing game. The other day, in making my way to the city center, I had my instructions in meters. I’m embarrassed to say that I have no concept of meters. My first instruction said to walk 200 meters. That seemed like a lot to me. As I blew through the first four instructions in one block, I laughed to myself about how much fun it was going to be to try to operate in meters, liters and celcius this year.

One more thing. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do when I walk by someone. You know how in the US there is that awkward dance where you look down and then they look down and then you look down and then they look down until you are at the distance where you say a soft hi and smile a half awkward smile. (Unless that is just me and if so, please someone tell me!) It seems like it isn’t customary to acknowledge anyone when you walk by. On the first day, I made eye contact and smiled and they gave me a weird look. I’ve noticed that no one makes eye contact. I’m trying to do that (when in France, right?), but it’s weird. Less awkward perhaps than the American “dance”, but a hard habit to get into.

La Cuisine

Before I left, nearly everyone asked me about the food. So far, I have been trying to save money (I don’t get my first paycheck until November) and I don’t want to buy pots and pans until I know my living situation. That means, that I have been eating “les tv dinners” and “les peanut butter sandwiches”. I did have pain au chocolat (a chocolate filled croissant-type pastry) one morning when I got up too late for the free breakfast, but other than that, nothing to brag about. I intend to post pictures of my meals to instragram (with the feed on this blog) for anyone who is interested ☺