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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
You asked for it and here it is! Another edition of funny quotes from my students!!
I renewed my contract with TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France) again for this year with the same district and same three schools as last year. I have most of the same teachers and a few new ones as well. For the most part my classes are shorter so I have more. For the young kids it is mostly a half an hour and for the older ones it is 45 min instead of one hour; I prefer this because when lessons are too long it is hard to keep them motivated and attentive!The kids are adorable, as usual. This year half of my students are the same as last year, which is great because there is some continuity.
My French is much better than it was when I started the program last year but this year I am really trying to speak absolutely no French at all to the kids, except if we talk about culture. It’s an adventure to be sure.
** Quotations in Italics were spoken in French
When I went back to my schools for the first time, a seven year old with the biggest doe eyes raised his hand, ‘You left before the end of the school year last year. You aren’t going to do that again, are you?’ And I told him, ‘I am sorry but my contract doesn’t last the whole school year, I can’t stay all the way until July.’ Then he asked me, ‘And next year, are you going to leave early too?’ He melted my heart!The kid thought I was a fixture of his school because last year was his first there. But there isn’t going to be a next year. Even if I wasn’t planning on going grad school next fall, one can only do the program for 2 years max.
In another class when I visited for the first time a six-year-old girl raised her hand and said, ‘Sometimes I speak English with my sister…even though I don’t speak English.’????A little while later she started singing. The teacher asked, ‘What are you singing?’
‘A song in English.’
‘Well then sing a little louder so we can all hear.’
The song was to the tune of the abc song.I listened super hard to try to make out the words. The teacher laughed and asked me, ‘That doesn’t mean anything does it?…’
‘Nope, not at all!’
I talked about Halloween in a lot of my classes. We went over some fun vocab like ghost and witch and pumpkin. For the 8-year-olds I found a small text online in French explaining Halloween origins, including the legend of miserly, selfish Jack, who had even gone so far as to trick the devil so he was doomed to wander forever with his lantern between heaven and hell.
A girl in the back raised her hand, ‘What is hell?’
For some vocabulary, the kids have a reference because of English words, brands, and characters that the French have borrowed, like ‘snow’board, Minny’mouse’, and angry birds.However they frenchify the pronunciation a bit. Because of Spider-Man and Batman, spider and bat are easy words for them to remember, although they say ‘speeder’. It drives me nuts.
‘It’s Spiiiiider, children, spiiider! Now repeat!’
Some kids are SO EXCITED to answer questions and participate- I love it! Some always keep their hand up even after they have answered a question such as ‘What’s your name’, because they want to answer it again. I ask, ‘Who hasn’t answered yet?’ And they wave their hands even more. I give them a look and say, ‘I know you have already answered!’ They smile guiltily but keep their hands raised.
One day we were playing a ‘point to’ game where I would call kids up to the board and tell them a vocab word, like cat. When they would point to the right picture I would say ‘cat’ and have the class repeat. One time I forgot to do the repeat part and started to move on to the next word and one kid yelled out the first word all by himself. I had deprived him of that simple joy of repeating a vocab word, you know?
Eating with the teachers is hilarious because they love to gossip about their kids.
One day, two of the CP (1st grade) teachers were complaining, ‘This year, one of the kids doesn’t even know his days of the week…’They used expressions like ‘They were rocked too close to the wall’ or‘Il a été fini au pipi’ This one is quite vulgar (hilarious but vulgar) so I won’t spell it out.
Also, two of the teachers confessed to me that they speak in English with their husbands when they don’t want their kids to understand what they are saying. Then one of them asked me wide-eyed as if she had just realized something mind-blowing, ‘What language do you speak when you don’t want the children to understand?’
It is interesting to see how the kids interact with each other during lessons. In the beginning in the seven-year-old class we learned, ‘Hello what’s your name?’ and ‘My name is ____’. For most of the kids it was a review. There was one little boy who had moved from another school and hadn’t learned English before. The first lesson he didn’t want to participate at all. He just crossed his arms and shook his head mutely. The other kids tried to encourage him, including this adorable, painfully shy girl. She told him, ‘I was scared at first too, but even I did it! Look at me now!’ She is the best, I love it when she volunteers to speak.
It is easy to see the different levels of maturity. In the six-year-old classes especially there are a lot of kids who giggle uncontrollably when I play them a song for the first time. It is hilarious because the few mature ones get pissed off at this and hiss at everyone, ‘Stop laughing, IT’S NOT FUNNY!’ The looks on their faces are a mixture of rage and exasperation.I can tell that they are thinking, ‘I am surrounded by idiots.’
When drilling vocab with kids right after I teach them new vocab, kids often say mushy nonsense words. Sometimes they actually say a real English word by accident, just not the right one!I mimed ‘I’m tired’ and a girl raised her hand and answered ‘I’m dead!’ The teacher and I laughed, ‘Close, but not quite kid!’
One of my students is bilingual- his mother is Canadian. As I was leaving the lesson one day I heard him sing, ‘She was drinking…’ That stopped me in my tracks.
‘What are you singing???’
He smiled, ‘Grandma got run over by a reindeer! I am singing it for my American school.’ And he started singing, ‘She was drinking too much eggnog…’
I joined in because hey, that is a great song:)
In one of my classes as we talked about thanksgiving, the teacher gave them a short text in French to read. At the end it says that every year, the American president chooses one turkey to pardon and it lives out its days on a farm, never to be eaten.The word pardon in French is gracie, which sounds a little like their word for fat, gras. When she asked them, ‘what does that mean?’, they could not get the word ‘fat’ out of their heads.
‘The president puts fat into the sauce.’
‘No, it has nothing to do with fat.’
‘The president takes the fat out of the sauce?’
‘The president puts the fat into the turkey?’
‘No, no, no!’
Kids are like that though! Once you get an idea into their head they can’t let it go!
And last but not least-One day I asked the kids if they were going to dress up for Halloween and if so what they were going to be. Kids started volunteering their costumes,
another ‘Kylo Ren!‘
Then a kid raised his hand, ‘I am going to be Darth Vader!!‘
One of the Kylo Rens shot back at him, ‘You can’t be Darth Vader, he is dead!‘
I had to step in, ‘Ok children, Calm yourselves!’
The Palace and Gardens of Versailles are a must see for anyone that goes to Paris. It is an essential place to go to understand the old monarchy of France and be wowed by the splendor and grandeur that ultimately caused the French Revolution.
I have been fortunate to visit Versailles in all four seasons with different family and friends. I love this place. Every time I go I discover something new and see things in a different way, especially in the gardens. That is one of my favorite things about gardens; everyday they grow and change, and the garden that you visit at the end of May is completely different come the beginning of July. Also Versailles is so immense that it is impossible to truly cover it all (and appreciate it) in a single day.
Another wonderful thing about Versailles is the huge contrast between the awe-inspiring grand axes and views that seem to continue forever and the surprising, intimate gardens and small fountains that one stumbles upon while meandering through.
The first time I visited Versailles was in a few years ago in January with Cyril. The gardens, although wintry-brown, impressed me with their scale and splendor. The fountains weren’t running but this made it easier to appreciate their sculptures’ forms.
We spent a long time in the palace, which was free because it was the first Sunday of the month, a lucky coincidence. My impressions: the hall of mirrors was the highlight of the palace, a truly incredible room, and court life was quite stifling. I would have hated to be the king. There were official ceremonies for when he got up in the morning and when he went to bed, and the court would come and watch him and the royal family solemnly dinner in silence to classical music.
That spring Cyril and I returned for the musical fountains show in the gardens. In the spring and summer during weekends and random weekdays, the fountains are turned on for visitors and classical music is played from hidden speakers in the garden. The ambiance is incredible: this is truly how the gardens should be experienced.
Two years passed and I returned with Jasmine, one of my best friends, during the beginning of June. We chose to go on a musical fountains show day. Unfortunately we visited the palace first. It was so crowded that we had to push our way through the different rooms. I felt bad because that ruined the palace experience for her a little bit. When we finished the palace, we went outside for the musical fountains show, but there were only twenty minutes left of it; whoops, where had the time gone?
After the musical fountains show finished, most of the people left, so we had the gardens to ourselves. We made the best of it; I had found an interesting audio guide app that did a great job of explaining the history of the gardens and the fountains’ themes.
Then as we were leaving, the suns broke through the thick cloud cover that had been there all day and illuminated one of the main fountains on garden’s grand axis. It slowly turned on and danced for us, bathed in light; the highlight of the day. It was awe-inspiring!
A few weeks after that, I returned with my brother Matthew, his wife Brooke, her sister Alicia, and Alicia’s husband Matt. The weather was fickle, changing quickly from sun to rain to sun, chasing away the crowds. After strolling though the main gardens we paid a bit extra for a side area that I had never visited before, the Grand and Petit Trianon, and the Queen’s Hamlet. What a treat! The fountains there were running there even though they weren’t in the main garden.
The Grand Trianon was a palace that the king had ordered built as a retreat for him and his family from court life. The Queen’s Hamlet is an idyllic corner of Versailles that Marie Antoinette had designed to be a ‘rustic country retreat’ for her and her closest friends, complete with a pond, stream, windmill, farmhouse, barn, and tower in the form of a lighthouse.
I recently returned with my friend Erin and was charmed by the gardens on a sunny autumn day.
Journée du patrimoine is an event organized throughout France the third weekend of September every year that celebrates heritage, a concept that the French love. Many important government buildings, private castles, and cultural institutions are opened to the public, and museums have free or reduced prices. Often of these places offer special guided tours and kids activities as well.
I just barely missed journée du patrimoine last year, arriving in France a few days afterwards. (Exactly a year ago now, wow!) A bit of a bummer because Cyril went to the Élysée Palace, the French equivalent of the White House, and ran into the French president! They had a nice 30 second chat:)
I love the concept of journée du patrimoine. This weekend of exploration, history, and learning is a huge cultural event! The government has a website where the information is centralized, although all the institutions come up with their own programs. It is better than each place having its own random open house during the year because I always seem to miss them when I am caught up in my life and not paying attention.
The only downside is that everyone else is also aware of the options and the lines can be very long, like at the Élysée Palace. To avoid this, some places have set up online reservations systems for visits. Cyril and I had originally wanted to tour France TV, but we would have had to grab a time slot two weeks beforehand. I had also tried to score places for a badass TWO hour escape game put on by RATP, the Parisian transit authority, but when they opened up the reservation site online, all of the tickets were taken in 2 seconds, and I was booted off the system. Oh well. It still turned out to be a great weekend.
On Saturday morning Cyril and I took a tour of the Crayères des Montquartiers, a system of caverns carved out of the limestone bedrock under the city of Issy-les-Moulineaux. In the past it has been used as a chalk quarry, beer brewery, mushroom farm, and WWII bomb shelter. Nowadays it is used to store wine and host events. The underground network is quite extensive but most of it was closed off to us so it wasn’t as cool as I imagined it would be.
In the afternoon we biked to Fondation Louis Vitton. They have a brand new gallery space designed by Frank Gehry. It was gorgeous! I know next to nothing about architecture and famous architects but I could recognize his style almost anywhere. He designed the WAM Art Museum at the University of Minnesota (my alma mater!) but is perhaps most famous for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
The galleries were closed but we were able to explore the building and go onto the roof.
I was pleasantly surprised to find a garden connected to the Foundation – I steered Cyril right into there as well. Cyril joked, ‘Wow, you are good, how did this happen? Somehow you lured me into yet another garden. Was this your plan all along?’ I am innocent, I swear!
The Jardin d’Acclimatation is over 150 years old, with groomed botanical gardens, a little farm with animals, birds either running around as they please or exhibited in the old ‘royal menagerie’ facilities, and a children’s carnival.
Sunday Cyril and I met friends to tour the Grand Rex, a famous French theater. With 2800 seats it is the largest cinema theater in Europe and its sumptuous decorations and starry sky ceiling give the illusion of being outside. Often it hosts the French premiers of Hollywood productions complete with the red carpet and celebrities. The Grand Rex also is a venue for concerts, comedians, movie marathons, and movie-orchestra combo performances. Cyril and I saw the Franglaises there last year and this tour made me itch to come back for another show!
Right after, we tried an additional side tour called Les Étoiles du Rex, a surprisingly fun and interactive attraction about cinema and the Rex, complete with special effects, a green screen, and an cheesy movie that featured us visitors. This was the only attraction that we paid for, although it was offered at a discounted price. All of the other places were free to visit.
Next destination: the Grand Palais, a huge glass exhibition hall built for the 1900 World’s Fair. But we settled on instead visiting the Petit Palais (a bit smaller) across the street after realizing that the Grand Palais really wasn’t open. Whoops! Still lovely- my favorite part was the interior courtyard garden.
Lastly we stopped at the open house at the Heliport of Paris, where we could see different kinds of helicopters, talk to pilots, and try a steering simulation game. At one point they landed a helicopter right next to the demo area. The wind the helicopter created right before landing was intense.
And then Cyril and I dropped dead from exhaustion and cultural overdose:p Being a tourist is draining!
It has been a while since my last post but June was a busy month with work, researching grad schools, entertaining friends and family, and soccer mania!
It’s the month of soccer round these parts. France is hosting the European Championship, which happens every four years between the world cups. The games are spread out in stadiums of several major French cities.
The atmosphere is crazy. There are throngs of soccer supporters throughout Paris. Every time I get into the subway I see groups of fans singing on their way to or from a stadium or bar.
Every night they light up the Eiffel Tower with the colors of the country whose supporters tweeted the most about their team that day. It is very beautiful to see! I saw it bathed in red one Friday night for Turkey and another time when it was blue, white, and red for France.
A lot of French people are surprised that I enjoy watching soccer because there are two stereotypes working against me- I am a women and an American. I don’t go out of my way to watch soccer, and I don’t support a specific team besides the national French team, Les Bleus, but if someone invites me to a bar or to their house to watch a game I always enjoy it.
The craziness started on June 10th. Cyril found a lovely bar to watch the games in- beautiful and spacious with reasonable prices (for Paris).
France played Romania for the opening game which they won 2-1. In their second match, Les Blues won at the very last moment against Albania.
We went to the fan zone near the Eiffel Tower to watch the last of their pool games, against Switzerland. It was a nail biter that ended in a tie, even though France had controlled the ball much more than Switzerland and took quite a few more shots on the goal. However, a tie against the Swiss was all we needed to be first in the pool and move into playoffs.
The fan zone was a cool experience because of the sheer number of people and the view of the Eiffel Tower but I think I prefer watching the games in the bar. I spent my whole time there on my feet, standing as tall as possible to see over or in between the heads of fans in front of me! Thankfully I am pretty tall- one of our short friends had to go to another area by the concession stands, where people where sitting down and chilling in order to be able to see anything.
My brother Matthew, his wife Brooke, her sister Alicia, and Alicia’s husband Matt were able to visit us during this craziness too. (Hopefully I will have time to blog more about their visit later.) Cyril managed to get tickets to a game for us, not an easy task by the way. We saw Germany vs Northern Ireland.
Coming into it, I wasn’t sure who I was going to cheer for. I had a vague notion that I would support Germany just cause they were probably going to win. However, the Northern Ireland fans were so loud and crazy and funny that their team spirit infected me and before long I was rooting for Ireland too. I don’t think I have ever seen that level of enthusiasm or endurance or coordination before; they all sang the same cheers at the same time.
They literally only stopped singing to make fun of the Germans, who I would describe as more reserved and dignified.
‘Do you hear the Germans sing? I don’t hear a f****** thing!’
‘Let us sing a song for you!’
‘Deutschland!’ Clap clap clap ‘Deutschland!’ Clap clap clap
One of my favorites was sung to the tune of ‘you are my sunshine’.
I love my Guinness, my lovely Guinness,
It makes me happy when skies are gray,
So fill a big cup with all that good stuff,
So please don’t take my Guinness away!
And of course, Will Grigg’s on fire, a song they sang over and over and over and over.
The chorus is this
Will Grigg’s on fire- your defense is terrified,
Will Grigg’s on fire- your defense is terrified,
Will Grigg’s on fire- your defense is terrified,
Will Grigg’s on fire- OOoo
Na na na na na na na….
It is the unofficial anthem of the 2016 Euro!
The Germans ran circles around the Northern Irish on the field, but because of the luck of the Irish, the Germans only won 1-0.
Nothing could dampen the Northern Irish fans’ spirits. Even after they lost they stayed in the stands and sang ‘Will Grigg’s on fire’ over and over and over again. We stayed and watched them for a good twenty minutes before finally leaving. The Irish fans were still going at it. It seemed like they weren’t going to stop until they were cleared out by security. You can see it with this link Will Grigg’s on fire.
Playoffs started last weekend, and there have been a few upsets, most notably the second ‘Brexit’ in a week. Ireland gave the French team a run for their money, and the fans quite a scare during the first playoff game, where they scored two minutes into the match. However, France game back in the second half to win 2-1.
This evening France is playing Iceland in the quarterfinals: if they win they will go against Germany and then hopefully to the championship- Allez Les Bleus!!
Making a fool of yourself is a natural part of learning another language. Overall I am very happy with my progress in French but I have made my fair share of funny/embarrassing mistakes. After writing so much about my students’ mistakes I figured to be fair I should share some of my own with you guys!
Sometimes I misunderstand questions. I feel so stupid when that happens. Someone asks me a question and I start responding, then I can tell by their expression that I didn’t really understand…
Sometimes my accent gets in the way. I say a word just slightly wrong (at least to my ears), and people don’t understand me. One time I was speaking to someone about grammaire (grammar) and they thought I was saying grand-mère (grandmother). They asked me, ‘Whose grandmother? My grandmother? Your grandmother?‘ In my defense, they sound remarkably similar in French. Also, the difference between vingt (twenty) and vin (wine) gets me every time. Those nasal vowels are hard!
One time at the end of a meal I told Cyril’s parents ‘Je suis pleine,‘ a direct translation of our expression, ‘I am full’, but if you say it in French it means you are drunk.
One time, I was trying to explain to someone that most of my ancestors were Germans that immigrated to the US, but I mispronounced the French word for ancestors and instead kept saying the French word for incest.
At a party, I asked the host ‘Ou est la salle de bain?‘ (Where is the bathroom?). The host laughed and kindly explained to me that I should instead ask ‘Ou est la toilette?‘ (Where is the toilet?) because when you ask someone in France for the bathroom it sounds like you want to take a shower. Also, the toilet is sometimes in a little separate room apart from the bathroom anyway, so they might not direct to the right place if you ask for the bathroom.
I used to say ‘Est-ce que tu est fini?‘ (Are you finished?) Instead of ‘Est-ce que tu a fini?‘ (Have you finished?) Then Cyril explained to me that when I ask ‘Are you finished?‘, it sounds like I am asking if the person is done being made, like in the womb.
I make up words all the time. Sometimes I will take an English word, give it a French accent, and use it. This works for some words like immigration, weekend, bus, but not all the words I try to use it for. But I think a lot of people do that when learning another language. It is funny when my students try to guess what the English word is by pronouncing a French word in an English way.
One day in January, Cyril and I were walking somewhere and I remarked, ‘ Hmmm! Smells like firs!‘ In French, they call Christmas trees Christmas firs, and often just firs for short. Nearby there must have been a recycling drop off for the trees. Cyril was unnerved, ‘Well actually, you shouldn’t say that in French. It is an old expression that means someone is going to die soon. Coffins used to be made of fir wood. You actually really creeped me out when you said that…‘
One time I called a ‘crèche‘ a ‘crècherie‘. A crèche is a nursery, and adding erie to the end makes it sound like a place where they grow or make babies. A boulangerie is a bakery and a porcherie is where pigs are raised.
Cyril and I were planning our skiing trip with his aunt. She had offered to bring extra skiing gear from her stash at home for us to use during our trip. She asked me, ‘So what do you need?‘ I said, ‘First of all I need gloves and a hat.‘ I used the word chapeau for hat, but the french use a different word to say winter hat (bonnet). They thought it was hilarious because they imagined me going down the slopes in a fancy lady’s hat.
Even though I have forgotten most of my Spanish and Italian, sometimes random words will come out when I am trying to speak French. One time I asked Cyril’s aunt, ‘Can I please have a spoon?‘ Blank looks… ‘You want a what?‘ ‘Can I please have a spoon?…Oh wait, that is Italian, how do you say spoon again in French?’ I used cucchiaio instead of cuillère. There are certain words, like spoon, that I always use the Italian or Spanish word for. I don’t know why!
One time I asked Cyril ‘Est-ce que tu a mangé le reste de la pain (lapin)?‘ instead of ‘Le reste du pain‘. So it sounded like I asked if he had finished eating the rest of the rabbit instead of the rest of the bread just because I gave bread the wrong gender. Like other Romance languages, all nouns have a gender. They are mostly assigned at random (it seems to me anyway). Just another layer of things to memorize!
Cyril and I were biking in the countryside and we passed a sign that said Maçonnerie (masonry) and I didn’t see the ç and asked ‘what is a maconnerie?‘ Which sounds like ‘my stupidity’ (ma connerie).
A few months ago I had Cyril correct a cover letter that I wrote in French. French is tricky because a lot of words sound the same but are spelled differently. So spell check doesn’t catch my mistakes either. I wrote ‘alaise‘ when I meant ‘a l’aise‘. So instead of saying I was comfortable with speaking French I wrote about adult diapers.
I learn a lot of words by listening to and conversing with French people. Because of this sometimes I learn and use slang words that are inappropriate or too casual.
For example, during conversations with my vb friends, a lot of people I talked with used the word bosser. So I asked one of them, ‘What does that mean?‘ ‘Oh it is another word for work‘. Then I started using the word when I spoke, until Cyril heard me and explained to me, ‘Hmm, you shouldn’t use that word… that is slang, and with your accent it sounds like you are trying too hard to speak French like a local.‘ (Kind of like a guy with an Indian accent saying, ‘Yo, what’s up man?’)
One time I asked Cyril, ‘Can we go check out that exhibition?‘ He laughed and corrected me, ‘Exhibition is when someone is naked in public. Exposition is an art show.‘ And it is hard for me to remember the difference. To make it worse, Cyril ‘corrects’ me whenever I am using the right word because he thinks it is hilarious when I talk going to this or that ‘exhibition‘.
Ski culture is strong in France. From anywhere in the country, the French Alps or Pyrenees aren’t too far away. A lot of the French people I have talked to have been skiing since they could walk. Some families take a whole week or two to go to the mountains in February. The way the school system is set up almost encourages it. Public schools are in session for about 6 weeks and then there are 2 weeks of vacation, then 6 weeks of school, 2 weeks vacay, and so on. In the end, it evens out because the kids have school until the 5th of July. This is very strange for me because we didn’t have huge breaks in the middle of school in MN. At most it was two weeks for Christmas, two days for Thanksgiving, Easter Monday, random teacher work days, and unpredictable snow days. My school didn’t even get the week-long ‘spring break’ that some other schools did. As a teacher the long French school breaks are a bit alarming; I hope desperately that my kids aren’t going to lose everything over those two weeks!
We don’t have this culture of skiing in Minnesota. I learned how to ski (kind of) on ‘Mount’ Kato. Mount is a bit of a stretch. Real mountains are just too far away from us for skiing to be a big deal, like it is for people in Colorado and other mountain states.
Cyril and I had the opportunity to take part in this cultural phenomenon. A few Saturdays ago, we caught a BlaBlaCar ride share to take us to the alps. (BlaBlaCar is an awesome website that sets up ride shares in Europe.) We left at 4 am to avoid traffic on the six hour ride. Most people go from Saturday to Saturday and the traffic on the highway from Paris is horrendous. Even with leaving that early, the traffic built up just behind us.
We made it to Megeve without a worry and met up with his Aunt Dominique and Uncle Benjamin. They had graciously offered to host us for the week.
The town of Megeve is beautiful, but has changed a lot with the skiing tourism. Dominique has been going to there to ski her whole life and has seen the transformation. Megeve has more luxury clothes boutiques and art galleries than is natural for a town of 4,000. One day when we walked through the village, she pointed to a luxury macaroon chain shop that came from Paris.’That used to be a cheese shop that sold local cheeses.‘ She pointed to a few high fashion clothes stores, ‘And those shops used to be a really nice local book store.‘ It is difficult for people who are actually from Megeve to afford to live there year round. That is gentrification for you:/ Skiing towns are also reputed to be very expensive places in general, whether it be to rent an apartment or order a hot chocolate at a cafe. Honestly, coming from Paris, the prices seemed normal.
The first day we went skiing it was so clear that it seemed like I could reach out and touch Mont Blanc even though it was 10 miles away. The tallest mountain in the Alps, Mont Blanc is saddled right on the border of France and Italy. The weather was just perfect. Sunny and not a cloud in the sky and warm, almost too warm at times (11 C/ 50F!). By the end of the day the slopes were a bit beaten up and the snow very heavy and wet.
This is my third year of skiing on real mountains but I was admittedly a little nervous before the first descent. Skiing looks easy, but ski boots are so clumsy and heavy and restrictive, and skis are so long and slippery and somehow the synergy of these two things is supposed to transform the wearer into something fast and graceful?
Well, graceful isn’t a word I would use to describe myself, skis or no skis. But I can do red slopes with minimal wipe out and hang ok with people like Cyril who have skied their whole lives. However, there was one red slope that was my kryptonite. It felt steeper than other reds, and I wiped out three times in a row. After my second fall, Cyril turned on the camera, just in case. You can follow this linkto see my humiliation. In my defense, it is much steeper than it looks on the film!
We skied for another day, but the snow was melting too fast, so we took a break the next two days and explored the village. One rainy afternoon we went ice skating, but it seemed like everyone else in Megeve had the same idea. That was the most crowded ice skating session I have ever been to. It was more entertaining than usual because it became a game to try to skate through the crowds of slow beginners that blocked the way at every turn. (I am not a good skater, but I am still Minnesotan.) Cyril and I also had a fun time watching a select few little kids that were disasters on skates. They were so cute! There was one little boy wearing a red body suit and a helmet (thank God) who didn’t actually skate. His form could be more accurately described as running… on his toe picks. His whole body leaned forward at an alarming 30 degree angle. He had the most terrific wipe outs but he always got up right away, brushed himself off, and set off running again on his toe picks towards another inevitable fall.
Another day we all went to the border to see the largest glacier in France. To keep this post from becoming a veritable book, I made a separate post for this day. Click herefor my glacier adventure!
In Mevege it started to snow again on Thursday so we jumped at the opportunity to get back to the slopes. The snow was a delight to ski on, but the big, soft flakes were not so soft and lovely when speeding down the slope. The world was one big wall of white punctuated by blurry, colorful objects: other skiers and poles marking the edge of the slopes. The bright side was that the lines for the ski lifts were non-existent. We took it easy and stopped early to have a drink at La Folie Douce (Sweet Craziness), a fun bar at the top of one of the slopes. On sunny, busy days at the ski resort, this place is hoppin’. Check it out with this link:) They have an outside bar and dance area, with a live DJ, singers, and dancers. The dancers all have super cool styles, the kind of fun, inclusive dancing that makes one want to join in even when wearing clunky skiing boots.
Our last day of skiing was perfect. The snow was fresh and the weather was clear. Now I understand why skiing is so much better with clear, sunny weather. I have skied before when it was foggy, cloudy, or slightly rainy and I always thought that my skiing buddies complained too much about it. But now I realize that the best part about skiing is when one looks up from the slopes and sees the mountains towering above. They have an amazing energy!
There is absolutely nothing better than the fatigue after a long day of skiing and knowing that you have the right to do nothing and eat everything afterwards.
Two of the nights we ate raclette, a popular Swiss/French melted cheese meal. It is so amazing and delicious that I think I am going to dedicate a whole blog post to it later. Just a warning for anyone who visits me in France-raclette is the first meal I will treat you to and your life will never be the same again.
In between the raclette meals, Cyril and I went out to a restaurant to eat a traditional Savoyard cheese fondue. A cheese revelation, but my heart still belongs to raclette.
Another interesting food encounter: on the slopes one day we stopped at a restaurant that served a ‘sandwich americain’. It turned out to be hamburger patties, onions, tomatoes, and FRENCH FRIES all smothered in a sauce of one’s choosing and stuffed into a baguette bun. I am not sure how to interpret the name of this sandwich. Is it a compliment or an insult that this creative, delicious, fatty, outrageous sandwich is named after my county?
Cyril and I caught a night train back to Paris on Friday night. We had bunk beds reserved in the sleeping cars. With the rocking of the train I dreamt that I was skiing all night during the ride back into Paris.
The kids are so cute when they venture an answer that is complete nonsense or accidentally a different word. One time when going over colors, I showed a kid pink and he exclaimed ‘Pig, pig, pig!’
In one class we were going over commands and body parts with commands like put your hand up, sit down, touch your knees, nod your head. At one point, the teacher mimed out actions for the kids to guess. She sat down, and the kids guessed, ‘Sit down!’ then she mimed, ‘Nod your head’ and one kid shouted out, ‘Yes! Yes!’
One girl kept saying, ‘Put your hands up!’ She has either listened to too much pop music or seen too many police shows.
I play bingo a lot with the kids. They adore it even though it isn’t real bingo with a card and everything. If we are working on numbers, they choose 3 or 4 numbers to write down on their white board and the first one to get all the numbers checked off gets to yell ‘bingo!’. But I use it for a lot of vocabulary, like weather and emotions and colors.
One of youngest classes is much more immature than the rest. They simply cannot grasp the concept of bingo. I tell them to to write down 3 different numbers on their personal white boards, which they do, but then when I start calling out the numbers, they erase what they have written and put the numbers that I have called.
This same class is also very talkative and hyperactive. One time they were being so naughty that I abruptly stopped the game we were playing and the teacher took over to talk to them very seriously about how unacceptable their behavior was, and how lucky they were to have me and how if they couldn’t behave they wouldn’t have English lessons anymore (a little bit of a hollow threat, but hey whatever works). She asked them, ‘Why is it important to listen and be quiet when the teacher is talking?‘ A kid raised his hand, ‘So that we don’t get punished?‘ ‘No!‘ She said exasperatingly, ‘It is so that you guys learn! That is what you are here for!‘
The next week this class was super well behaved. Even when I turned my back to draw pictures for the vocabulary on the board, they were quiet. Afterwards I remarked to the teacher, ‘Wow, they listened so well today!‘ She smiled, ‘Yeah I reiterated the threat that you would leave forever and they wouldn’t be able to learn English. Because they really adore when you come and they love English. Everyday they ask, ‘can we do English today?!?!’ And I say, ‘well it depends on how good you are…”
In some of my classes, we went over the vocabulary words big and little. In two separate classes, someone raised their hand and said excitedly, ‘Oh! LikeBig Momma!’ That is the French title of the American movie trilogy ‘Big Momma’s House.’ French people watch a lot of American movies, including the stupid ones apparently.
We are working on the days of the week and I taught the kids this chant:
School day, school day
Monday is a school day
Still at school
The same rule
I love you
We went over what it meant and the days of the week, and I asked them, ‘What does I love you mean? A kid raised his hand and told me the translation, ‘Je t’aime‘ but halfway through he turned red and whispered the second word, mortified that he was in the process of telling me that he loved me.
I have taught all my classes the question ‘How are you?’ and responses like ‘I am happy/sad/cold/thirsty/sick etc. Happy is super easy for them to remember for some reason so most of the kids like to answer ‘I am happy!’. The kids also love saying angry, because I taught them to say it while miming anger. They say it with their hands on their hips, half growling. One kid is proud of himself for remembering the word thirsty, so every single time he is asked how he is he replies ‘I am firsty!’
In one of my 6 year old classes I had the kids practice in pairs.
In one pair, boy 1 asked ‘How are you?
Boy 2 replied, ‘I am happy, how are you?’
Boy 1 replied, ‘myy…naaame… iiis ha-.’
I stopped him. ‘No, it’s I…am…happy’
He tried again ‘my…name…is…Ha-.’
‘Nope! Repeat, I…am…happy’
‘My…naaame…is…I am Ha-.’
I stopped him again, ‘Wait, listen and repeat. My name is, Dangit!’
The teacher and I laughed. In the end he prevailed and got me to repeat after him.
Even during the next two weeks he answered the same way! ‘Myy… Naaame…. Is….’
H’s are silent in French, so it is strange for them to say words like happy and hot and how at first. One of the tricks I use to help them is I have them hold their hand about two inches in front of their mouths. They should feel the hot air on their palm when they say the H correctly. After they learn how to say the H they usually start overcompensating and put it in front of every word that starts with a vowel. I get a lot of ‘(H)I’m happy!’
It is also hard for the kids to say angry and hungry correctly. I get a lot of ‘hangry’ in my classes. I think the person who came up with the slang word hangry must have been an esl teacher.
The way Americans and the French count on their hands is different. We start with our index finger as #1 and end with our thumb as #5, while they start with their thumb as #1 and go straight down the line with their pinky finger as #5. A lot of my students remark on the difference. One time, I explained to my 6 year olds that we were going to play a bingo round and that they should choose three numbers. I held up three fingers for emphasis (my index, middle, and ring fingers). One of the little boys mimicked me with both hands, and then proceeded to pretend like he was a dinosaur with claws, in the semi distracted way that children do. (Btw, this particular kid is the cutest. If I could choose one to steal and take home it would be him.)
We were going over emotions in one class. The teacher asked, ‘What does angry mean?’ A boy answered, ‘Ooo oo! Oiseaux! (Bird!)’ Somebody has been playing Angry Birds! A lot of English words have been integrated into the French language, and the teachers use these words to help them the kids remember. ‘But you already know the word snow! Does anyone here snowboard?’ or ‘You guys already know the word foot, what is your favorite sport? But of course, football!
I asked a kid, ‘How are you today?’ He answered ‘I’m caterpillar!’ He meant to say ‘I’m hungry’.
The week before we had read the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
At the beginning of February, I asked, ‘What’s the date today?’ A kid answered, ‘It is Tuesday, Strawberry the 2nd.’ This boy always volunteers to say the date and he always says it wrong!
We listened to a song with a lyric, ‘How are you, Sue?’ The kids already knew ‘How are you’ so the teacher asked, ‘What does Sue mean?’ One student hazarded a guess, ‘soûl?‘ (Pronounced the same way as Sue, but means drunk in French).
She laughed, ‘Haha, no, en fait, Sue is a girl’s name in English!‘
Some of the kids crumpled up their noses in disgust. ‘Gross! Why would you ever name your kid drunk??‘ A kid said in a sing-songy voice, ‘Sue is soûl!‘
I was teaching six year olds weather vocabulary and drew pictures on the board to explain, like clouds for ‘it’s cloudy,’ and snowflakes for ‘it’s snowy’. Just to get everyone on the same page I asked everybody what they thought each picture meant in French. When I pointed to a thermometer with a low temperature, the kids had way more complicated explanations than ‘it’s cold’.
‘It’s… it’s when the temperature keeps going lower and lower and lower!’
‘It’s when… In fact it is when it is so, so cold outside and everything freezes, and-!‘
‘Actually it is simply just‘Il fait froid!‘
The kids are getting a little bit ahead of themselves there on vocabulary! Gotta start with the basics first!
Sometimes the kids associate the vocabulary with my drawings more than the actual thing they represent. For winter, I drew a snowman and for fall I drew leaves. When we played bingo with the season and weather vocabulary I had them draw the pictures on their white boards. Whenever I called, ‘Winter!’, one girl would say under her breath, ‘Which means… Snowman! Check!‘, even though I explained multiple times that the snowman was just symbolic of winter.
A teacher and I were testing the kids one by one. When we called the trilingual kid to the back, the teacher and I had a bit of fun with him because we knew that he knew it all already. (I mentioned him before; his mom is half Canadian, half Italian, and his dad is French.) In addition to the commands we learned in class, we added for him to act out, ‘spin around, touch the floor, jump!’ And quizzed him on some extra body vocabulary,
‘What are these?’
‘What’s this?’ I pointed to a picture of a fingernail.
He paused, ‘a claw?’ In his defense it was a long fingernail. He does has a few vocabulary gaps. I think it is because he only speaks English with his mother. But still, the kid is a boss. Already trilingual with the languages that I wanted to learn! This girl is jealous.
Stay tuned for my next edition of French Kids Say the Darnedest Things!
French people love the New Year. They wish family, friends, and strangers a Happy New Year at least three weeks into January. They also say and write things like, ‘Good health to you and your family‘, ‘I wish you prosperity and success in all of your endeavors.‘ It sounds formal and strange in English, but natural in French.
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to draw and paint more. It would be a shame for me to not take advantage of being in such a beautiful city full of life and art! I started the year off right with a sketch of The Kiss by Auguste Rodin. Cyril and I visited the newly renovated Musée de Rodin on Sunday, a little jewel of a museum to check out if you ever visit Paris. (Another one of my New Year’s resolutions is to explore more Paris art museums.)
January in France means two things: la galette de rois and les soldes.
La galette de rois, aka King’s cake, is a heavenly, sweet, flaky pastry traditionally made for the Epiphany, which falls on January 12th. French people love it, and eat it as desert throughout the whole month January. This time of year, the bakery display cases are packed with the pastry and its traditional beverage, sparkling cider. If the galette de rois wasn’t so darn delicious I would get sick of it.
Hidden inside each galette de rois is a little figurine. Whoever finds the figurine in their slice is the ‘King’ for the day and gets to wear a paper crown. In addition, the person who finds the figurine has to buy the next galette, but Cyril’s family only jokes about that part. To make sure that the galette slices are distributed randomly, sometimes the youngest person will go under the table and name the recipient of each slice as indicated by the server.
Cyril is so lucky! He has found the little figurine in his slice all four times we have eaten the galette de rois so far, be it with friends and family or just us two.
Another very French January tradition is les soldes. Les soldes literally means the sales in English. In France, retail sales are regulated by the government. Most stores can only have sales twice a year, during specific periods in winter and summer. During this time, the last season’s stock goes on sale, and after each week, the prices are slashed more and more on remaining merchandise. The winter sales started on January 6th and will go for six weeks. Some people take the day off of work with their friends for the first day of the sales to snatch up the deals, because the clothes and sales items fly off the shelves. Many people buy most of their clothes during the sales. Normal people also tend to splurge during this time to buy designer items on sale. (Parisians love haute fashion, even if they can’t afford it.)
Of course, when in Rome do as the Romans; I used a gift card I received from Cyril’s mother to buy a pair of shoes. Thanks Danielle!
It has been a fun three months teaching English. I can tell that I am not cut out to be an elementary school teacher (that takes some real grit) but I enjoy teaching.
I like teaching the CE2 (8 year olds) the best. They learn reasonably fast, but they are still enthusiastic and excited about learning English, which is not the case with the oldest class I have, who are 10 years old.
The 6 and 7 year olds are the cutest, but they learn sooooo slowly. In general, all the children learn more slowly than I thought they would, but the 6-7 year olds move at snail pace. After 2 months of work they only know their colors, numbers up to 10, and some simple commands like point and look, how to respond to and ask ‘how are you?’ and ‘What’s your name? and ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’ (Kind of a weird question to ask if you ask me, but some of the teachers wanted to teach it)’.
I am not sure how much the students will actually learn by the end of the year because in some classes, they only learn English when I am there. 45 minutes once a week isn’t much. In other classes, the teachers work with them twice a week on English and I can really tell the difference.
One of the challenges for me is knowing when to move on to the next objective with a class, because the kids learn at different paces. Some kids knew all the colors after the first day, and some kids still don’t know any colors except blue, black, and red. How do teachers decide?!?
But a day teaching the kids is full of cute moments, especially because they have really adorable accents.
Here are some anecdotes for your entertainment.
**Disclaimer** The following anecdotes are cute and fun, but they were million times cuter in real life, with real French kids. Also, as in all my blog posts, dialogue in italics was actually spoken in French.
One day I went around the class checking students’ work. One kid wrote
A war u?
I was so confused!! It took me a minute to realize that what he meant was How are you?
When you say it with a French accent it makes sense:)
One teacher introduced me to her class of 6 year olds. ‘She is from the United States. Do you know anyone from the US, any famous people?’
François Hollande is the French president.
One little boy came up to me before class and asked, ‘Do you live in France or do you still live in… The country where you are from?’
I smiled, ‘I live in France.‘
Just goes to show how small the world is when you are young. And to think that I would commute from the United States every day! That would be the most painful commute ever.
Some kids get soooo excited and anxious to be called on when they know they answer. ‘Ooo Oooo I know the answer!!’ One time a girl was almost suffering, ‘Je te supplie!!!!’ Como tu dit je te supplie en anglais?!?’
I translated it to English at her command ‘I beg you!!!!’
The 6 year-olds often raise their hands even though they don’t know the answer. When I call on them, they slowly lower their hands and look surprised and guilty. I melt inside when they do that, it is so cute!
One day I had kids acting out emotions in front of the class for their peers to guess, and the first kid was really nervous.
I gave him ‘I’m happy’ to act out, and he looked completely lost, ‘I know what it is, but I don’t know how to show it!’
Another kid, when I gave him sad to act out, traced tears down his cheeks with his fingers but smiled a big smile at the same time because he was having so much fun in front of the class. The other kids were confused and tried to guess that he was happy.
We are working on the days of the week and for some reason the kids know Saturday and Sunday really well
I prompt them, ‘Monday, Tuesday….’
‘Oh je sais, je sais, Saturday!’
‘No Wednesday! Ok, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday….’
They say Saturday again!
The French people live for the weekend and holidays, apparently this mentality starts pretty young!
Two of my 6 year old classes are really huggy, when I arrive and leave at least a few kids run up to me and hug me around the waist. It tends to start a chain reaction and one time 15 of them nearly knocked me over.
Another time when I got hug attacked one of the kids who hugged me first decided he was done hugging me before the kids behind him, but he couldn’t get out of the mob. He panicked a little bit, ‘I’m stuck!‘
One day, the first teacher of the day and I had run over time with English by 20 min, when I came in to the next class, they chanted this chant for me, which they had learned in the 20 min in which I was not there- a funny coincidence.
‘1 2 3 4 come in now and shut the door
5 6 7 8 hurry up you’re very late
9 10 9 10 don’t be late for school again!’
The teacher asked the students, ‘What is one of the differences between French and English?‘ (She was trying to explain that in English there is only one way to say you, instead of in French were there is a you for addressing people formally and another that is informal)
‘When you are speaking English you don’t speak French?‘
When I started teaching one of my younger classes the colors and I showed them the first flash card for red, one of the students almost shot out of his chair in excitement.
‘Ooo ooo I know this one, Dora taught me!‘
In France Dora the Explorer teaches English to children, not Spanish.
It is funny to eat lunch with the teachers because they often talk with other about their students, they laugh about the cute and the stupid things the children do and also at the ridiculous parents. If a student is troublesome a teacher gets sympathy from the teachers who had the kid in previous years.
One day during recess break one of the teachers was correcting his students’ written tests, laughing at all the mistakes, like ‘My name is seven’
Another student wrote uno instead of one.
When I was younger, I never thought that the teachers would talk to each other about us, in fact, I never thought about their lives outside of the classroom at all.
I run into my students outside of school a lot, and they always enthusiastically greet me, ‘Hellooo!’ Which throws their parents for a loop. (Why is my kid speaking English to a stranger?)
One of the teachers showed her students English money and asked, ‘who is this on the money?‘
‘Ooo ooo la reine d’angelterre!‘
‘Yes in English she is called Queen Elizabeth’
They repeated, ‘queen Elizabet’ (in French you pronounce th like t)
‘No no, you say th! queen Elizabethththththth.’ She drew out the th at the end to make the point, but her students copied her, ‘Queen elizabefffffffffffffffffff.’ (The th sound is super hard for French speakers so they often end up saying eff instead)
The teacher was so exasperated, ‘No, no, no!’
This didn’t happen to me, but another language assistant that I know. One of her little kids asked her, ‘Do you have a lover?’ Oh my goodness, what a French thing to say! And the French accent puts the icing on the cake.
One of the kids is trilingual, his father is French, and his mother is half Italian and half Canadian. Furthermore he is kind of a stinker in a way that only an Italian kid can be. He always knows the right answer and that can be difficult sometimes because the rest of the class is light years behind him.
When I taught his class ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’, he continued singing after the refrain
‘Good timings to you and all of your kin, good timings for Christmas
and a happy new year!
now give us some figgy pudding
now give us some figgy pudding
Now give us some figgy pudding
Nah da ya na da……’ He trailed off when he couldn’t remember the words anymore.
I baked chocolate star kisses (peanut butter blossoms) for Christmas with my classes on Tuesday. I just broke apart chocolate bars for the chocolate top because Hershey’s kisses are basically nonexistent in France. The cooking session was fun but hectic, and the cookies were delicious even though some batches didn’t look perfect. The kids loved it. For many it was their first experience with peanut butter. ‘Phew, that smells!’ complained one kid about the peanut butter when his group was mixing up the batter. One thing that blows my mind is that in France (and many other countries) they cook in grams and determine the amount of ingredients by weighing them with a scale. They don’t use cups or teaspoons or tablespoons to measure. For them it is just as weird to think that we use volume and not weight. When I gave the teacher my recipe, she gasped, ‘A cup? what is that?? You mean like a tasse? You just use any kind of cup?‘ One group (being helped by two dads) completely ruined their batch because they put in about two cups of milk instead of 1 tablespoon. I am not sure how they managed to do that, but it was a soupy mess.
One of the 6 year olds tried to get my attention one day to show me a drawing, ‘Madame Anglais, Madame Anglais!!!‘ (Literally Mrs. English). The teacher reprimanded him, ‘Hey! Her name is Erin! Goodness, if she is Mrs. English than who am I?‘ The student replied innocently, ‘maîtresse?‘ The teacher and I looked at each other and laughed, he had a good point. In elementary school in France, the children call the teachers ‘maîtresse (or maître for a guy teacher)’ which basically means teacher whereas in the US, we would actually use their name and say ‘Mrs. So-and-so’.
Many kids do know my name but they don’t pronounce it quite right. French people don’t in general because the short I sound and the hard american R are very difficult for them. The sounds just don’t exist in the their language. When the kids want to get my attention I hear ‘Ereeen’ ‘Ereen’ with a french R!
Most of the kids can count to ten in English, but they just have the order memorized and don’t actually associate 9 with nine, etc. They have to count on their fingers to arrive there. To be fair, I remember being the same way with Spanish numbers when I was little. When I am drilling number flash cards with them, I have learned to count slowly to the number in my head before before calling on anyone so that I give them enough time to find the answer. I have started singing the song ‘Ten in the bed’ with them because that song counts backwards and hopefully it will help them actually memorize the numbers.
I am glad that I enjoy singing because it is a very helpful tool for keeping English fun and engaging for students and getting them to participate as much as possible. Other language assistants I know are super uncomfortable about having to sing in front of their classes. The kids love singing, especially the 6 and 7-year olds. They smile, rock out, and wiggle in their chairs. And after the song is over they beg for more, ‘Ouias!! Encore!‘ I wish I could take a video to show you guys:)
Thanks for reading, I hope to collect more anecdotes over the next couple of months for another edition of French Kids Say the Darnedest Things