Two days ago, I woke up at the crack of dawn (the two of us don’t get along) to catch a bus down to Marseille for my orientation. While the Europeans got to come in a few hours later and leisurely take in the sights, us poor ‘hors de l’union européen’ folks got to hustle through a massive construction area to make it to a physical for the French office of immigration. But hey, I did get a chest X-ray out of the deal (When the doctors were done with us, they just handed it back…what? I think I’ll tape it to my window).
The first day was basically all administrative stuff, though the Americans were invited to the consulate for a meet-and-greet. I took advantage of the location–and of some new acquaintances who had more recent knowledge of Marseille–to find a used bookstore I knew when I was studying in Aix. It seemed like they were rebounding from some remodeling, so I’ll have to go back to see their fully-catalogued selection. But I did pick up ‘Nana’ by Zola and a couple other things. I’m on the lookout for some Tahar Ben Jelloun, who is Moroccan but writes in French and is the most-translated Francophone author in the world. He has a cool (or disturbing) sounding book about a father who’s sick of having so many daughters and so raises his eighth daughter as a boy.
Anyway, I got dinner with my roommate Emily, two other British assistants from Gap (Maddy and Katie), and a German assistant, Lisa. Maddy found us a good seafood restaurant near the port that had a formule for 15 euros, which is as much as the Académie will reimburse us for. I had mussels for an appetizer and then a grilled bass (complete with head and tail).
Wednesday was only slightly less administrative, but getting to meet many more assistants tempered the tedious parts. Most of the assistants in the district are posted in Marseille or Aix, so I had to explain that ‘Gap’ is in fact a city and that it’s in the Hautes-Alpes. Besides coffee and lunch, we basically sat in an auditorium listening to people tell us how important it is to get all of our paperwork processed…gross. I was exhausted by the time I got to Gap that night.
Back in Gap, I’m starting my week of observing classes. This morning I had an extended introduction to one of my two classes in collège, middle school. The kids seem very nice, and they are apparently the most motivated students, having opted for 5 hours of English rather than the standard 3 hours. Next Friday, I’ll take about half the class (15 students…aah!) and work with them on English conversation.
Being at the middle school today was kind of refreshing, because I am clearly older than my students. Meanwhile, over at the high school, when I try to cut in line at the cafeteria (we are allowed to!), I get a hairy eyeball from the aide at the door and a quizzical ‘Qu’est-ce qui se passe?‘ (‘What’s going on?’). Even after getting through the line today, Emily and I were alone at a table that, until 12:30, is reserved for staff…only to be joined by 4 16 year-old girls who clearly had no clue we weren’t just older high-schoolers. Same thing in the staff room, as we were leaving, a teacher we hadn’t been introduced to yet stopped us to ask which teacher had sent us in.
I almost wish they’d put up ‘wanted’ posters with our pictures–“Please let the ladies pictured below use the copier and the coffee machine in peace. They’re not just students who don’t have a clue, they’re in fact teaching assistants…who don’t have a clue.”