Goodbye France!

I have been back in the US for a month now and have had time to reflect more on my experience in France. I wanted to wrap up my blog with a few of the highlights of my time abroad.

  • Friends and family

First and foremost, it was special forming a real relationship with Cyril’s family, getting to know his friends to the point of them becoming my friends, and also adventuring out and making my own friends. Learning French enabled me to do this which brings me to my next highlight.

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Cyril and I with his mom and stepdad

The sunny south

  • French

I am now comfortable speaking French! It is no easy task learning another language; living in France and surrounding myself with French was necessary. I still remember how the language sounded before I started learning; completely alien and unintelligible! The process has been like a blurry picture slowly coming into focus. Very rewarding as one of my life goals was to become fluent in another language.

Thoughts on learning French

Embarrassing things I have said in French

Embarrassing things I have said in French Round 2

Embarrassing things I have said in French-round 3

  • Volleyball

I loved playing volleyball with ACBB, first as part of the Panda’s and then with the departmental woman’s team. I am not sure if the endeavor was a net loss or gain of calories though, with all of the aperitifs after the games and drinks after the Friday night practices:)

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  • Visitors

Visits in France from my favorite people were the best. I adored playing the tour guide and showing them around.

  • Paris

What an amazing city! I got to know it intimately by walking around and getting lost, biking with velib, and doing a book of paper chases. The museums are world-class and the parks are lovely- one of my favorites was right next to my home.

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Parc de Billancourt cannot be beat in March!
  • Food adventures

French cuisine lives up to its reputation; eating out and family meals were always a treat. My favorites were cheese and fresh bread. We had 4 bakeries within 10 minute walking distance, something I will miss dearly in the US.

Six week mark ramblings

Escargots

Misadventures in Easter egg dyeing

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Mmmm frog legs!
  • The Euro football championship

Last June and July were crazy with the Euro in full swing. If only France had beaten Portugal in the Finals!

Euro 2016

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  • The 2017 French presidential elections

It was a roller coaster election that unfolded with scandals, plot twists, and unlikely candidates gaining prominence. It was fascinating to see the process from beginning to end. The political atmosphere was tumultuous with the French wrestling with many of the same issues as Americans had a few months before. In the end there were many records broken, some good some bad, including the youngest president ever, the largest voting abstention rates ever, the first time that neither of the two major parties’ candidates made it to the final voting round, and the most legislative turnover ever. Even though it was long, drawn-out, and stressful at times, this was a highlight because I felt like I bonded with the French through the process.

  • Teaching

I enjoyed the challenge of teaching. I learned a lot about myself and more about English grammar than I ever cared to know. The students were really the best part of the gig. My elementary class students were so darn cute and my private lesson students all had interesting personalities and different learning styles.

Le commencement

Week one impressions

French kids say the darnedest things

French Kids Say the Darnedest Things Round 2

French Kids Say the Darnedest Things Round 3

French Kids Say the Darnedest Things Round 4

French kids say the darnedest things round 5

English is Weird

English is Weird Reprise

American and French Education, contrasted

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  • Comedy

It was a lot of fun going to the smallest, most tucked away comedy clubs of the capital and paying 10 euros to see talented comedians who weren’t famous yet.
Cyril went up on stage at our favorite open mic, first as a special audience guest, then as a performer doing his first ever 5 minute stand up set! (Pst if you speak French don’t forget to ask him to see the video).

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  • Traveling

We traveled extensively, often to visit family and friends in far off places.

In France we visited Normandy, Alsace, Angers, Verdun, Dreux, the French Alps, the Drôme, and Montpellier (more times than I can count). We also went to the Netherlands, London, Venice, Munich, Vienna, and Morocco (Blog post #2).


It was a lovely two years of my life! Leaving was bittersweet but tomorrow I am opening up a new chapter- graduate school at Rutgers in New Jersey!

À très bientôt la France!

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Resources for ESL teachers

I spent a lot of time, energy, trial, and error to find good, reasonably priced resources for my English students. I made this post to dump all this knowledge in one place. Hopefully it will be useful to English teachers, especially TAPIF program participants, that stumble across my blog:)

Songs for kids
There are a lot of great, free songs for kids on the internet. I am a firm believer that songs are one of the best tools in an ESL classroom for kids.

  • Super Simple Songs

This channel has amazing songs for children, many of which are simple enough for absolute beginners. After one or two times of listening to ‘Do you like Broccoli Ice Cream?’ kids can ask, ‘Do you like?’ and respond ‘Yes I do’ or ‘No I don’t.’ Amazing!

This next song is great for teaching ‘Can’, as well as animals and simple action verbs.

Other songs that are great from this channel: Ten in the bed, How’s the Weather?, Walking in the jungle, I have a pet, Put on your shoes, Down by the bay (more advanced)

  • Carolyn Graham-Jazz Chants for children method

I didn’t follow her method, but I did use some of her songs, including the Hello Song

This is the perfect song to sing the first lesson, especially with 6-8-year-olds. After singing it a few times, try going around and pointing to students to sing the solo part. Even if the first time they are shy and only want to say their name, it is ok.

  • Dream English Kids

His songs are a bit cheesy and extremely simple but they are perfect for young beginners.

  • Number rock

I sang this song a million and one times over the past two years.  The kids brought it up constantly, ‘Can we sing the song with the moving house?

  • ABC rock

By the same people as number rock- equally good.

  • The greetings song

Another cheesy song, but perfect for teaching good morning, afternoon, evening, and night.

  • This is a Cat!

A great, simple song for teaching animals!

  • The to be song

This song was a go to for me when teaching ‘to be’ conjugation. The kids really rock out when it speeds up at the end.

The leprechaun song

On the cultural side of the spectrum, I showed this song to students when we talked about St. Patrick’s day

  • We’re going to the zoo

A little more advanced but catchy.

  • Hello Goodbye

Sometimes popular songs can be good too, like Hello Goodbye from the Beatles:)

Cartoons

Meg and Mog is a great resource. These short cartoons are simple and very visual. For absolute beginners it is helpful to pick out little bits of vocabulary and present them beforehand. I especially like the Christmas one!


Websites

  • ESL Kid Stuff

I relied heavily on this site for my classes. I didn’t necessarily follow the lesson plans but their materials are awesome. Most lessons include flashcards, worksheets, songs, and storybooks that all integrate the same target vocabulary or grammar. It is a subscription service but at $29/year it doesn’t break the bank.

I also signed up for their newer sister site ESL Teen Stuff, but I wasn’t as happy with the quality of the materials. Stick to the kid one!

ESL Kid Stuff website

  • La Classe de Mallory

This is a great free resource for teaching English culture to French children in grades CE2-CM2. Most of the cultural explanations are in French, with some vocabulary and an activity in English. Some of the subjects covered include Thanksgiving, Halloween, the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, and the Sydney Opera House. The site also has other English resources that I never used but would be worth looking through.

La classe de Mallory English cultural files

  • LearnEnglish Kids -British council

This is a great free website for middle or advanced elementary school students. Their videos about famous historical figures’ lives and accompanying worksheets are professionally done. They also have short stories and fables that are appropriate for younger students.

Florence Nightingale-British council video

  • ISL Collective

ISL Collective is a large online powerpoint and worksheet resource. It is free but you have to make member account. You can upload worksheets to share with others and download worksheets that others have put on the site. The quality of materials varies because they are made by random people but there is some really great stuff to be found!

ISL Collective website


Workbooks for children

For one-on-one lessons with slightly more advanced young children I found two small workbooks that I loved.

  • 100 Words that Kids Need to Read by _____ Grade

These workbooks are great for teaching vocabulary and practicing spelling with games! There are several different levels, from 1st-3rd grade. They run for about $4/book so they are very affordable!

100 Words Kids Need to Read by 1st Grade

  • Scholastic Success with Reading Comprehension

These are even more advanced books for ESL children. I used them with a private lesson student that was attending a bilingual school. The activities on each page are creatively educational, providing ample opportunities to introduce and review vocabulary and check reading comprehension! There are 5 different level books, each less than $5.

Scholastic Success With Reading Comprehension: Grade 1


Story Books for Children

Very simple, repetitive books are perfect to use in lessons. My favorites included:

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? By Bill Martin Jr.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle


Adult resources

Teaching adults is completely different than teaching kids and finding the right resources is crucial to being successful.

  • Market Leader

Market Leader is my go to book for business English learners. There are 5 different levels and free samples available online to try before committing to buy a book. They are on the expensive side at around $30/book. I find that only buying the student book is sufficient. The teacher’s book is not worth the extra money.

Market Leader website

  • English File

English File is the best resource I found for adults learning general English. The 6 level series’ lessons are really interesting and seamlessly integrate reading, writing, listening, and grammar. Like the Market leader books, they are expensive, and the teacher’s book is not necessary to buy.

English File website

  • Hilfen English

This website is my favorite to use when I need to find additional explanations or practice questions on grammar points for my students.

Hilfen English website


I hope this is helpful! If you have any other ESL resources that you would like to share in the comments feel free!

 

American and French Education, contrasted

As I was working as an assistant in French elementary schools for the past two years, I couldn’t help but notice the differences between the French and American school systems. Some are small, like crossing 7’s, and some are huge, like the French baccalaureate.

As a caveat, I have never actually taught in American public schools. All of my knowledge comes from going through the system as a student, so perhaps some of it is out of date or skewed by my memories. Also I am from Minnesota, and all of my knowledge is from that area of the US. I know schools can differ a lot depending on the area of the country.

So for the info of future TAPIF language program assistants or anyone that is simply curious:

  • Small differences at the elementary school level

First of all, in France all the students use erasable pens to write. In my schooling, I wasn’t allowed to go near a pen until high school.

They are taught to write their 1’s, 7’s, and 9’s slightly differently. I didn’t want to cross my sevens or cap my ones but I ended up doing it when I wrote on the board because it confused the kids when I didn’t. (Erin? Is that a seven or a one?)

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French elementary students are very strictly taught to write in cursive as well. And they continue to do it through the rest of their schooling and into their adult life (even though it isn’t required anymore).  I remember my elementary school teachers were very strict about cursive as well, but as soon as we entered middle school it fell by the wayside and nobody used it anymore.

Split level classes are quite common. For example, I often taught in classes that were half 7-year-olds and half 9-year-olds.  It is a lot of work for the teachers because they have to teach constantly. They teach one group a lesson, then give them something to work on quietly while they teach the other group’s lesson and keep switching back and forth like that. Some teachers enjoy the challenge and think it is good for the kids to be exposed to the other lessons. The advanced kids in the younger class can learn something from older class’s lessons, and the struggling kids in the older class can review the basics from the younger class’s lessons.

The closest American equivalent that I had heard of was the one-room prairie school house concept.

The elementary schools I worked in rarely had substitute teachers. If a teacher was absent, they split up the class into all the other classes. The kids had to sit in the back of the classrooms and work quietly on their own. One teacher I talked to about this said their national education budget was cut recently so there isn’t much money for substitutes. Substitutes are first sent to small schools with only one class (or less) per grade because they can’t break up their classes easily into the other ones.

French teachers are not afraid to hold back students if they feel like they are not ready to move on, even in high school. It happens much more often than in the US, and there isn’t as much stigma attached to it. However, because of a recent education reform in France, teachers are no longer allowed to hold kids back at the elementary level (This may change again soon; every new administration that comes into power brings its own reforms.)

  • Grade names

The grades are not named the same of course

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  • THE BAC

At the end of lycée ( the equivalent of high school) there is this huge test called the Baccalaureate (often referred to as the Bac). French people don’t talk in terms of high school diplomas, they say they ‘have the Bac’.

The Bac is a cultural phenomenon, a stressful test that looms over every high school student’s head. It takes several days and there are oral and written portions for each subject.

In the US getting a high school diploma is more about passing all of the required classes. In Minnesota there are a few state assessment tests students take throughout high school, but they don’t affect their graduation and are used more of a way to judge the schools. The SAT/ACT tests are taken to get into colleges but they test critical thinking skills rather than depth of knowledge in a specific subject.

  • Earlier specialization, but more rigid

At the beginning of high school, French students chose a specialization. The three main ones are Science, Literature, and Economics and Social Sciences. They follow a relatively rigid set of coursework through high school up through the Bac. In the US, students don’t technically specialize, but as they progress, they have more freedom to choose the classes they would like to take.

This continues in college. A three year french ‘Licence’ is the equivalent of a four year American bachelor’s degree. Why? Because Americans have a lot of general education credits, even in college. French people find it strange I had to take a history class in order to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in Horticulture! I really like this type of well-rounded education, but I know other Americans who think these types of requirements are a waste of time.

In the United States it is also possible to have two different ‘majors’ or a ‘major’ and ‘minor’.  It wouldn’t have been possible for me to do an art minor in France.

  • College admissions

College admission in the US seems to be based more on a variety of factors. Admission counselors look at an applicant’s high school transcript, extra-curricular activities, SAT/ACT scores, and application essays.

In France, in order to get into good universities, especially for business, engineering and health sciences, they have to pass specific standardized tests. Only their test scores determine their entry. It seems like a very high stakes affair. In order to prepare, they often go to ‘preparatory’ schools for two years after high school.

  • School calendar and schedule

French schools start in September and go until the beginning of July, but there is a lot of vacation in between. Students normally go to school for six weeks, and then have two weeks off. In the US school vacations are few and far between. We got a week and a half for Christmas, two days for Thanksgiving, one week for spring break, and then some random teacher workdays and snow days (yeah Minnesota!).

French schools normally have all Wednesday afternoons off, but French middle and high school students have longer days M T Th and F, going from 8:30 am to 6 pm! Until a few years ago French students had Wednesdays off and half days on Saturdays.

The lunch break at French schools is quite long, about an hour and a half. Students at the elementary school can either leave to eat at home or stay at school and eat hot lunch served by the cafeteria. American students are not usually allowed to leave for lunch time, but if they don’t want to eat the cafeteria lunch they are allowed to bring their own.

  • Centralized organization

The French public school system is very centrally organized, rigid, and bureaucratic. For example, all the school vacation days are decided at the national level, whereas in the US that would be decided more locally on the state or even district level. Even the assistant program I went through was organized nationally. My district had no power to extend my contract or hire me on themselves. I knew someone who was training to be a teacher. She had to pass a high stakes entrance exam (she chose the hardest region, Paris), and when she was accepted, was placed in a school there. She could give her preference on what neighborhood she wanted to be in, but that was about it. In the future, she can’t just decide that she wants to move to the south of France and teach there. She would have to request a transfer, and have a good reason for it, for example if her partner had gotten a new job there.

  • Education level

American teachers need bachelor’s degrees and state teaching licenses. All french teachers, including those at the pre-school level, have to have master’s degrees. A teacher once complained to me that teaching is the lowest paid profession in France which requires a master’s degree.

  • Sports and extracurricular activities

Sports and extracurricular activities in the US are tightly linked to the school system. Middle schools, high schools, and universities have sports teams and mascots and play each other competitively. Sports are a bigger deal in the US because of this. There are even music and theater school competitions!

Sports in France are linked to city clubs, not schools. Kids can join a club team and continue playing with clubs as long as they want to, as they also organize adult teams.

  • Language

Kids start learning a second language very early in France, with many starting the basics of English in 1st grade. Then they pick up a third language starting between 5th and 8th grade! I know that it greatly varies in the US, but I didn’t start learning a second language until I was in 9th grade, and there were kids in my high school that never took one at all because it wasn’t required.

  • Religion

French people are super strict about their public schools being secular. Of course, in the United States, teachers are not allowed to teach religion, but in France since 2004 no one is allowed to wear any religious symbols or clothing. This law was pretty clearly aimed at Muslims but basically kids can’t wear large crosses, kippas, or headscarves at school. In the US a law like that would be brought to the supreme court by religious freedom activists faster than you could snap your fingers.

At the same time, there is a very culturally Catholic aspect of France which given their insistence on secularism is a bit destabilizing. For example, many schools put up a Christmas tree in their entrance halls, elementary school teachers often have advent calendars, and students get off of school for religious holidays like the Ascension. Hmmm…

  • Grading Scale

Grading works differently as well. Compared to the American scale, the French one seems a bit harsh.

In the United States we use the ABCDF scale, while in France it goes from 20 to 1 (where 20 is 100%, 18 is 90% etc). A good student in France regularly gets 15’s, the equivalent of a C in the US. Meanwhile, a 19, the French equivalent of an A, is almost unheard of! I know middle schoolers that regularly get 9’s.

But I have noticed that culturally the French tend to underrate things (at least from my American point of view). For example, on public rating sites like Trip Advisor, I often see French reviews for restaurants that look like this:

Excellent food and wine selection, the owner himself came to welcome us to his restaurant. We will definitely be coming back.

But it is marked 4 stars out of 5!

In the US, if everything is very good and we have nothing to complain about a restaurant, business, or museum, we will mark 5 stars. In France it has to be exceptional for them to do that.  It isn’t that they love to complain (although that is a stereotype about French people), it is just they have really high standards.

Perhaps this mentality starts at school with their grading system.

 

I hope you have found this post interesting and educational! I would like to hear your thoughts if you agree or disagree with me about the French or American education system!

Embarrassing things I have said in French-round 3

Last September, I realized that even though I was comfortable speaking French, I was very bad at writing it! I had been speaking French with Cyril for months but was still texting him in English- so I deciding to take the next step and text in French as often as possible. Even more opportunities to make mistakes!

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I messaged Cyril, Your check deposit slips stopped by! (I wanted to say that they had come in the mail)
So he messed with me and messaged back, Did they say hi?
I wrote, Who?
He said, You know, the check deposit slips!
And then I realized my mistake!

The other day I texted Cyril to bring my leather jacket but ended up asking for my ‘vest to cook’ (veste à cuire vs vest en cuir).

I recently came across an interesting article that talked about how our morality can change in another language and why. Swear words and harsh words just don’t seem as bad in a second language because there isn’t an emotional history that goes with them. F*** seems super harsh but the French equivalent ‘putain’ seems chill to me.
Sometimes when I am joking around with friends in French I use words that are actually pretty harsh. Also, some words are way heavier in one language than their literal translations in the other.
Once, a friend was talking about how he beat the odds because he has a pretty good life even though he bumped his head a decent amount when he was a kid.
I said jokingly, ‘Well you are still pretty young, you could still turn out to be a failure, and you don’t know it yet.’ Everybody was like ‘OMG that is harsh!!!!’ ‘Wow, sucker punch!’ Apparently in French you don’t joke around with the word failure.

Once, Cyril and I were talking about Harry Potter. I used the word banette for wand (that is the word that I thought I had heard Cyril use just a few minutes before) and he laughed like crazy. (Banette is a type of bread.) He said, ‘No it is called a baguette!’ And I was like ‘Haha very funny, stop pulling my leg,’ and he insisted ‘I am being 100 percent serious…’
Banette, baguette, what’s the difference anyways? They are both types of bread.
Can we all just agree that it is hilarious that wizards in France fight with baguettes?!?!
Now I know that baguette wasn’t originally the name for a type of bread. The bread was named baguette because it was shaped like a baguette, aka a stick. **mind blown**

This is an anecdote that I remembered from the beginning of my time in France and have forgotten to share before. Once, I was hanging out with Cyril and a friend in a cafe and I was having trouble following the conversation. It seemed to me that they kept bringing up Jews into the conversation- I couldn’t understand why. I jumped into the conversation, ‘Why do you guys keep talking about Jews?’ ‘Jews? We aren’t talking about Jews?! We are talking about slapping each other!’ (Which is something French people like to joke about doing to people when they say stupid things.) (juifs vs. gifles-they don’t look alike on spelling but they have similar pronunciations)

Last year I joined a club volleyball team. When we played matches competitively, I would get into it and yell encouragement. Sometimes I yelled out the same phrases I would have used in English, translating them directly into French. Occasionally my teammates would look at me strangely and ask, ‘What are you even saying? That doesn’t make any sense…’

Once I asked a volleyball friend if she was going to sleep in the next day, using the expression ‘faire la grasse mat‘ except I said ‘faire la grosse mat.‘ (to do a fat morning vs to do a big morning) She laughed, ‘Wow that is the cutest thing I have ever heard, I think I might adopt your expression from now on!’

Last Thanksgiving I cooked a big turkey for an American feast for my friends. After they had dug into their meal, I asked them, ‘How do you guys like the bird?’ Apparently in French you cannot refer to a turkey as a bird.
They thought it was the funniest thing ever…

At a restaurant once I asked for a magret de connard… the waiter laughed and said, ‘There’s plenty around but we don’t serve them.’
Instead of duck breast, I had asked for breast of ***hole/ jerk (magret de canard vs magret de connard)

Last but not least, once I was showing a class a few slides about American breakfast that I had put together. I spoke in English and then translated what I said into French (the kids have a very basic level so I translated when I talked about culture).
I said, ‘In the US for breakfast we like to eat pancakes, waffles, or French toast with maple syrup.’ However, when I translated, the class gasped, and the teacher stepped in quickly. ‘MAPLE syrup children, she meant MAPLE syrup.’ I realized that instead of saying maple syrup, I had said Arabic syrup, literally syrup made of Arabs. 😱
After the teacher stepped in a kid in the front row, Arabic, relaxed visibly, ‘Whew, I was afraid there for a moment!’
This is the second time I have messed up the pronunciation of maple (érable) with Arab (arabe).

The Beer Tower

Recently, in the foothills of the Alps, we stumbled upon a new extreme sport: the beer tower.
The goal? To stack up as many beer crates as possible without falling.

It was hosted by the local outdoor adventure base and the local craft brewery so all the necessary equipment was provided: harnesses, beer crates, helmets, belay devices, and beer!

The atmosphere was convivial and laid back. It was funny to see all of the French hippies that came out for the event, although not surprising with the craft brew/ climbing combo.

For the qualifying round there was a 1 min 30 sec time limit.
Cyril and his cousin Thomas stacked 10 each and qualified for the final round. I just missed it with 9.

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And the fall!!

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Thomas just barely got to 10 before the stack toppled!

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It’s not as easy as it looks folks! And I swear, I only drank one beer before my attempt;)

In the final round, contestants stacked as high as possible with no time limit. It kicked off with a guy that stacked 21 crates. Easy! He ended up ‘winning’ but wasn’t officially part of the contest because he was an employee of the adventure base.

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The winner

Cyril only stacked eleven before falling. He was disappointed to have cracked so quickly but in the end he got 5th place and some sweet goodies to take home.

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Thomas took home the third place prize with 17 crates. Bravo!

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And here is a video they made from last year’s competition. Enjoy!

 

 

French songs that I can’t get out of my head- Edition Aznavour

These two years have flown by too fast. I am leaving France in three weeks!  It is going to be a busy time because I have quite a few things to do, people to see, places to go, and blogs to post, including a few posts about my favorite French artists and songs. You don’t need to understand French to fall in love with this music.

Charles Aznavour is an incredibly expressive singer, songwriter, and performer. Born in France to Armenian immigrants, most of his songs are in French but he sings in eight different languages. He is 92 years old and still touring! It is hard to chose just a few songs to highlight as he has written over 1300!

  1. La Boheme

This is one of my favorite songs. I discovered it in the film Demolition on the day my grandmother passed away last year and I was touched by its melancholy tone.

In the song, an old artist describes with longing his youth when he was poor and in love in Montmartre, a neighborhood that used to be a cradle for artists in Paris.

It starts like this:
I will tell you of a time-past that the young do not know. Back then, Montmartre gathered its lilacs under our windows…

Je vous parle d’un temps,
Que les moins de vingt ans,
Ne peuvent pas connaître,
Montmartre en ce temps là,
Accrochait ses lilas,
Jusque sous nos fenêtres,

2. Emmenez-moi

I love Emmenez-moi because the lyrics paint a picture and the chorus is so fun to belt out!

A lonely dock worker from the dreary north of France dreams of stepping on a boat and sailing to the ends of the earth.

Emmenez-moi
Au bout de la terre
Emmenez-moi
Au pays des merveilles
II me semble que la misère
Serait moins pénible au soleil.

Take me to the edge of the earth
Take me to the lands of wonders
It seems to me that my misery
Would be less painful under the sun

3. For Me Formidable

This original, upbeat love song plays on words as it switches in between French and English. Charles can’t seem to decide if he wants to seduce the woman in the ‘language of Molière’, or in the ‘language of Shakespeare’.

4. Je m’voyais déjà

This Broadway-esque song is the story of a old singer who never was able to make it big as hard as he tried. But he still believes that he can make it!

J’ai tout essayé pourtant pour sortir du nombre
J’ai chanté l’amour, j’ai fait du comique et d’la fantaisie
Si tout a raté pour moi si je suis dans l’ombre
Ce n’est pas ma faute mais celle du public qui n’a rien compris
On ne m’a jamais accordé ma chance
D’autres ont réussi avec peu de voix et beaucoup d’argent
Moi j’étais trop pur ou trop en avance
Mais un jour viendra, je leur montrerai que j’ai du talent.

I tried everything to stand out
I sang love songs, funny songs, and even fantasy
If nothing worked out for me it’s because I was in the shadows
It’s not my fault, but that of the audience which didn’t understand
They never gave me a chance
Others, with less talent and more money, made it big
I was too pure or too ahead of my time
But a day will come when I will show them that I am talented.

If you love these songs, look up La Mamma, Que C’est Triste Venise, and She.

I hope you love Charles Aznavour as much as I do now:)

French kids say the darnedest things round 5

I recently completed my last week working in my schools as part of the TAPIF program. It was bittersweet. I am excited to move on to grad school next year, but I was sad to say goodbye to my kids and fellow teachers.  These past two years I have taught in the same three schools and have gotten to know people pretty well. Teaching young kids wasn’t always easy but I learned a lot about English and teaching. And the kids were oh-so-cute!

Here is the final chapter of my French kids say the darnedest things post!

*As in previous posts, dialogue in Italics was originally in French

It was funny because my students wore a lot of clothes with American or British flags on them and English words that I knew that they didn’t understand. Teachers told me that they wore them more often on days when I came in to teach because they wanted to show off their English cred.
One day a girl wore a pink sweatshirt that said America and Minnesota (my home state) on it. I was super excited, ‘Wow! You have been to Minnesota before?!?!‘ Apparently not-she looked at me like I was crazy.

One day with a more advanced student we drilled irregular past tense. So I said verbs and my student would quickly comeback at me with the answer, but the first things that came into his head weren’t always the right ones.
‘Go’ – ‘went’
‘Sleep’- ‘slept’
‘Bring’- ‘brought’
So far so good, but then it turned into a word association game (what is the first word that comes in to you mind when you hear…)
‘Feed’ – ‘food’
‘Think’ – ‘thank’
‘Ride’ – ‘read’
‘Want’ – ‘went’
‘See’- ‘ya later!’
And then later we went over opposites and I asked, ‘What is the opposite of weak?’ ‘Weekend!’

After New Years I taught my classes how to say ‘Happy New Years!’ However, because the RS combo is hard for them it sounded a lot like ‘Happy New You!!!’, which was funny because then I could pretend that everyone had noticed the haircut I got over break:)

In some of my younger classes, we never got around to doing an official lesson on classroom instructions. However, some especially naughty six-year-olds picked up on important ones early because I was always reprimanding them in English. For example, they would often mimic me, ‘Be quiet!!’, and put fingers up to their lips. It could be annoying when I was trying to get the class to be quiet and I would have one or two parakeets repeating after me. I would have to stare them down and be like, ‘That means you too kid!’
Sometimes I think ‘Be quiet, sit down, listen!!’ is what will stick with them the longest after I am gone!

I played Simon Says a lot with the kids to work on classroom materials and instructions. After they understood the vocab pretty well I would choose kids to come up and give the instructions. They could either say Simon Says….. or try to trick their classmates by just saying the instructions.
One time a kid forgot to say ‘Simon Says’, and was really confused as to why nobody was carrying out the action. He was so distressed and confused that was cute. He really thought that no one understood him.

When I did lessons about food and likes and dislikes I used this awesome song.

It is quite silly because it introduces two different foods and then mixes them and asks if you like the disgusting combo. There were always a few silly kids in the class (usually boys) who liked to insist that they loved the disgusting combos like donut juice or popcorn pizza.
‘Do you like tomato pancakes?’
‘Yes I do!!’

One day with seven-year-olds we were working with the book Brown Bear and the kids were having trouble remembering the word ‘Duck’. The teacher tried to help them, ‘You guys know Donald Duck, right?’
The kids were confused. ‘Who? Donald Trump?
No the other Donald! You don’t know Donald Duck?’

In one class when we learned body parts I described a monster for them to draw.
‘The monster has a rectangular body, three legs, and six feet.’
The children were so confused. They all protested, ‘But he only has three legs!!!! It isn’t possible to have six feet!!
I was taken aback by their squareness. ‘Seriously kids, use your imagination- it’s a monster!!

This quote is from one of my adult students. We were talking about life expectancy and things that can shorten life expectancy, like obesity. I asked her, ‘Why do you think are some reasons that obesity rates are higher in rural areas than in urban ones?’ She said, ‘I think they eat more because they are bored’, I laughed and asked, ‘Really?’ She was dead serious, ‘Yeah, I mean, I eat when I am bored.’

One day with an eight-year-old class I went through and asked everyone questions on their favorite things. ‘What is your favorite number?’ What is your favorite food?’ ‘What is your favorite color?’ When I asked one kid, ‘What is your favorite animal?’ He replied excitedly, ‘My favorite animal is a hot dog!!’

On my last day of classes in the schools a lot of students gave me drawings. When one eight-year-old handed me his drawing he said proudly, ‘and it even has my address on the back!’ …okkk. The whole class laughed, this kid is a bit out in left field in general…

Here are some of my favorite drawings I have received.

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My favorite 6 year old class made this for me. Everyone drew something. It says ‘Thank you’ over and over

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This one is so sad! I felt guilty for leaving when I saw this one!

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I got a lot of British references on the drawings, even though I have talked to all of the classes about American culture.

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This says, ‘I love the Statue of Liberty,’ but the kid drew Big Ben. 
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‘Merica!! This kid understands whats up!

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A lot of kids misspelled my name like Herine or Erine, but I get that all the time here!

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This one says, ‘Thank you Erin for teaching us many things. Thanks to you we learned many songs and also words. Thank you very much.’

Misadventures in Easter egg dyeing

Sometimes I struggle in France because I want to do things my way (traditions, recipes) but it doesn’t work out because I can’t find the right materials and ingredients. I have to remind myself that these things aren’t big deals and to accept that I can’t have everything that I have in the United States. I love the adventure and discovery that comes with living abroad but sometimes the small differences send me for a loop.

Two weeks ago, I realized that it had been two years since I had dyed Easter eggs and I missed it terribly.

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Eggs that I dyed last time around

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Perhaps being with my Minnesotan friends and family is the real reason I miss dyeing eggs.

I decided it would be fun to introduce the tradition to Cyril and his family. In France, the ‘Easter bells’ hide chocolate eggs for children to find. The Easter bells?? Seriously? But then again the Easter bunny doesn’t make that much more sense.

Because of the late notice it wasn’t easy to find a pastel egg dye kit that would ship in time, but luckily I was able to get one shipped from Germany. (The shipping cost more than the product but no matter.) Unfortunately, I forgot to pack it to bring to the south of France for the weekend…

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At first Cyril thought that they had sent me an empty package. Such a big box for such a small thing!

I decided to go with plan B: regular old food coloring. I had never done it like that before but thought why not?

After searching two supermarkets I found the food coloring and then added some crayons to my basket. Crayons are great for decorating eggs because they repel the dye from the eggshells. I had wanted a white crayon in particular because the white crayon designs are super classy, but the only pack on sale didn’t have one- oh well- I could get over that.

Last but not least, I went to find the eggs. This is where I hit the wall. I had noticed before that eggs in France had brown shells, but I didn’t realize that they are exclusively brown. Also, all eggs in grocery stores are stamped in red with the date on which they were laid. In short, impossible to dye. I had come this far only to be thwarted by the eggs!! It was almost too much to bear.

Photo credit http://www.gourmet.com/food/gourmetlive/2011/081511/fresh-french-and-gorgeous.html

However, despite my egg dyeing failure, Easter turned out well.

On Easter morning when I came downstairs for breakfast, Cyril’s mom handed me a basket and said, ‘Now before you can eat, you have to go find the chocolate eggs in the garden. I am afraid they are going to melt!’ I was pleasantly surprised and had fun searching. It had been a while since I hunted for eggs.

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After church we headed over to Cyril’s grandparent’s house for Easter lunch.

Cyril’s mamie, Roberte, prepared frog legs for the appetizer so that I could try them. Frog legs are one of France’s famous typical dishes. Last time I visited the south she made me escargots (snails). Check out that blog post here.

Roberte did an excellent job; they were very tasty.

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Tasted like chicken;)
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The second batch came from a different supplier and were smaller

In return for all of Roberte’s hard work in the kitchen, I indulged her and the family by saying ‘grenouille’, the French word for frog, several times. I can’t say it quite right and French people find it adorable/hilarious.

I hope everyone had a great Easter weekend with friends and family!

Authentic Morocco

In February Cyril and I had the fortune to travel to Morocco with our friend Chédid. He acted as our guide, and did an awesome job welcoming us and giving us an authentic taste of his home country. We stayed with him and his aunt, first in their home in Agadir, and then in the mountain village where his family is from.

Cyril went to Morocco once before with his family, thirteen years ago. However, they didn’t venture very far from their beach-side resort. This was my first experience on the African continent and in a predominantly Muslim country.

Day 1

When we arrived, Chédid took us straight away to one of the largest walled markets in Morocco. The Souk El Had (Sunday Market) is an impressive maze of 6,000 stands overflowing with fresh produce, spices, tableware, rugs, furniture, and tailor-made clothes. It is possible to buy almost anything here.

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In France, as long as I don’t dress like an American tourist, they can’t tell that I am a foreigner until they hear my accent. However, they would describe me as ‘blonde’ even though by Minnesota standards I am far from being one. In Morocco, you could spot me from a mile away. Cyril has a Mediterranean complexion so he didn’t stand out as much as I did. Cyril and Chédid gave me a lot of flack for being so pale. Chédid began referring to us as the ‘white man and the transparent woman’.

For lunch that day Chédid’s aunt, Tahra, prepared couscous for us. We ate our dessert outside in the sun while Chédid and Tahra tried to teach us a bit of Berber and Arabic. I struggled; it took me a full day before I could remember how to say hello and thank you. The words went in one ear and out the other.
Cyril was much better than me. When Chédid spoke with his aunt, Cyril would pick out random words and ask, ‘What does that mean?’ He was pretty good at remembering words that Chédid explained, but often forgot their meanings, so he would whip them out at random times and use them out of context.

Chédid speaks four languages fluently, which is humbling. He can switch easily between French, English, Arabic, and Berber. Berber and Arabic are about as different as Arabic and English. Berber is Chédid’s first language because he is a Berber, an ethnic minority from the south of Morocco with its own culture and language.

Tahra only speaks Berber, but we were able to communicate just fine. She is such a cute lady, with an infectious laugh and a great sense of humor. It was hilarious because occasionally she would embarrass Chédid with her jokes and he would just shake his head and refuse to translate them.

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I think this picture captures Tahra and Chédid perfectly

That afternoon we explored the Crocopark, a cool botanic garden/crocodile zoo fusion. It was a delightful park with a design that cleverly integrated its two aspects while making it seem much larger than it was.

It offered several opportunities to get up close and personal with crocs, as well as croc-themed playgrounds, a laboratory to see the babies, and an ecologically-themed art exhibit.
I had pushed the guys to go because I had really wanted to visit a botanic garden, but in the end they enjoyed it as much as I did.

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As we were driving through Agadir on the way home we passed a verdant green, gated estate. Chédid pointed it out as the king’s palace. I said, ‘Ooh! Can we visit it!?’ Chédid laughed at me, ‘You are so cute and so American! That is definitely off limits unless you are invited!’

That evening after dinner Tahra prepared tea for us.
Moroccan tea has no equal and Chédid’s aunt makes the best:) She prepared numerous pots of tea for us during our stay- to accompany every snack and to help digest after every meal. Even the way they serve it is elegant; I would fly back to Morocco just for her tea!

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Day 2

We started off the morning with a stroll along the beachfront and visit to the little city zoo.

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It was the perfect time to see the Bougainvilleas in bloom!

The most striking feature of the city is a hill to the north on which is written God, Country, King. It is even lit up at night, Hollywood style.

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The afternoon was chill- we ate a late lunch at a sumptuous restaurant that specializes in tajine, stew slow-cooked in a special earthenware pot, followed by a nap on the beach.

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Quite a lovely restaurant

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Chédid took us to a resort golf course on the way home so that we could watch the sunset. This was the only place of the trip where alcohol was on the menu. It was a bit strange to be on vacation and not drink alcohol, but we survived just fine.

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Enjoying the sunset
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Quel beau gosse!!

For dinner we met Jalal and Soufiane at a kebab place.  They are long-time friends of Chédid’s that Cyril got to know at grad school. With all of the time we spent with friends it was a homey vacation! The place was great too; there was a butcher counter in the restaurant where we could pick out the kebabs and the meat we wanted, and then they grilled it up at the restaurant.

When we left the restaurant we had to pay for our parking. Even at restaurants like this one with their own parking lots and at the beach far from the city, there was always a parking attendant hanging around that would ask Chédid for money as we left. Sometimes they looked semi-official with a badge or a neon vest, but other times it seemed like the attendant was just some random guy that had camped out for the day at the parking lot and claimed the territory as his own.
Once we asked Chédid if a particularly-suspicious looking parking attendant was legit and he shrugged, ‘I don’t know, but it doesn’t really matter anyways, besides I would rather have someone here watching over the car.’ In any case, it was a fixed rate that was never more than 50 cents.

After dinner we went up to the top of ‘Hollywood’ hill to get a good view of the city at night. On top there are the ruins of Agadir’s old walled city, its medina. It has been abandoned since it was flattened by a terrible earthquake in 1960. Agadir was completely rebuilt after that so it doesn’t have an old fashioned city center.

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Day 3

Off to the mountains! All four of us piled into Chédid’s car for the three hour drive to his family’s home in the mountains. We took a pit stop in Tiznit to check out its medina and have lunch.
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Another souk

As we drove to Chédid’s village the land became progressively more arid and we steadily gained altitude.

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On the way Chédid pointed out several ‘saints’ shrines. Technically saints aren’t allowed in Islam, but the Berbers have bent the rules a bit. They kinda do their own thing, the Berbers…

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This made us laugh- “Ici on fait le crédit berbére” It means, “We take Berber credit here.” aka cash only

According to Chédid, Berbers are very rooted to the land and to their families. Even though many have moved to other parts of Morocco and abroad, everyone maintains a connection to their village and their roots. People are very loath to sell their land, even after moving away. In the mountains we saw almost no beggars because people there take really good care of relatives, no matter what. In contrast, there were an abundance of beggars in Adagir, even by Parisian standards.

After settling into the house and checking out their orchard we took a hike around the area just before sunset. Chédid showed us the argan trees that this region is famous for. They dominate the vegetation here, but grow nowhere else in the world.

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Chédid’s family’s orchard
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Mostly olive trees- Cyril and I took some of their homemade olive oil home with us!
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They had a few almond trees mixed into the orchard. We came at the perfect time to see them in bloom! Their scent is heavenly. If we had come two weeks later, we could have partaken in the region’s almond tree festival.
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An argan tree- its seeds are used to make a high value culinary and cosmetic oil
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The argan tree seed shells were striking
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We crossed paths with some shepherds bringing in their flock for the night
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Chédid’s village (photo taken the next morning in better lighting)

His little village was picturesque, with its own mosque, just like the other little villages in the mountains. Religion was more present here than in Agadir. The call of prayer echoed off of the mountains 5 times a day. We even heard it at the top of the Jebel el Kest mountain.
Cyril, Chédid, and I drove to the small capital of the region to eat dinner. We met with Chédid’s cousin and one of his best friends, Amina and Hicham, who are married (what a matchmaker Chédid is!).

After dinner we walked around the village and I couldn’t help noticing an abundance of cats!
In Morocco, stray cats, some scruffy but most regal, were omnipresent. They seemed like the Moroccan equivalent of squirrels. Homeowners and market vendors put out scraps for them but people don’t keep them as pets.
There had been a cat hanging around Chédid’s family home earlier that day, so I had asked him, ‘Is that actually your cat?’ ‘No it is more like the village cat; it makes the rounds to all of the houses, as it pleases.’

That night before going to bed, we headed outside to stargaze. I have never seen stars that bright before. In the mountains, far away from blaring lights, the milky way shows its splendor and all of the little stars that make the up the backbones of the constellations are visible. It was incredible!

Day 4

My favorite day of the trip! We took a scenic hike up to the top of the second-highest mountain in the range. It merited a separate blog post.

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Before hitting the road to go back to Agadir, we stopped by Amina and Hicham’s house for a snack and to say goodbye.

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We could have spent more time in Morocco, especially in the mountains where the company and scenery was excellent. We said our goodbyes and promised return!

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Hiking in Morocco

My favorite day of our trip to Morocco was the one which we spent hiking up Jebel el Kest, the second-highest mountain of the anti-atlas mountains. This mountain range is in Berber country, deep in the south.

We drove the car a third of the way up on a winding one-lane to a scenic village called Tagdicht. We met our guide there and set off on foot.

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Tagdicht

Our guide was a wizened, surefooted old man that kept up a constant stream of chatter in Berber. Our friend Chédid translated occasionally when it was pertinent.

‘This plant is used for tea.’

‘Do you see the entrance to a cave up there? Apparently it’s huge; they don’t know how deep it goes.’
‘This path leads to a village on the other side of the mountains.’
‘Those are gazelle droppings.’

The rest of the six hour hike the guide went on about his life, told tourist stories, and gossiped about so-and-so in such-and-such village.  Chédid was a good sport, showing interest in the right places with the Berber equivalents of hmm-mm’s and yeahs. I would not have been capable of following a conversation; I spent my time admiring the plants and landscape, taking pictures, and trying not to sprain my ankles on the loose rocks.

Chédid translated one tourist story about a woman that went hiking without a guide and got her leg crushed by a rock. They had to take her all the way to Agadir, three hours away, for proper medical care. ‘So what is the moral of the story?’ Cyril joked, ‘That we shouldn’t go out without a guide or that we should tip extra well so that the same thing doesn’t happen to us?’

In any case we wouldn’t have found our way without him. The path was not always clear, its only marking an occasional cairn.

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It was quite steep in some places
The colors were magnificent. The ochre-red soil contrasted beautifully with the vegetation and the abundant yellow and purple flowers.

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A pool under an almond tree

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Taking a break at a mountain stream
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Still a ways to go!
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What colors!
The inhabitants of the village used to cultivate lentils on the terraced mountain slopes up to an hour’s hike up from the village. Now those fields are mostly abandoned, and wildflowers have taken over.  I wasn’t expecting to see so many this early in the season; the variety was delightful.
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I had trouble identifying many of the plants- so let me know if you have any suggestions!

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Rumex simpliciflorus Murb.

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Asphodelus fistulosus L.
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Fumaria
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Erodium cicutarium (L.)
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These daffodils dominated at the top of the mountain.
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Narcissus romieuxii

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Androcymbium punctatum Baker
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Adenocarpus bacquei Batt. & Pitard
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Aizoon canariense L.
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Dipcadi serotinum
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What awesome spines!

After a solid three and a half hours, we reached the summit!

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2375 m (7792 ft)

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Cyril, Chédid,  and I

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Back to civilization! We didn’t cross a soul the entire hike.
Stay tuned for more about Morocco!