“On est bien à Gap”

If you’ve been kind enough to have read a few of my entries this year–though not if you only read my most recent entry–you will probably have noticed that I did not pass the year in solitude.  Mom and Dad, feel free to take your ‘I told you so’ moment.

Voilà, my fellow ‘gapençais” assistants, in no particular order.

Emily

Without this one, I surely would have eaten much less chocolate and drunk much less wine, which is to say, thank you.  I, on the other hand, probably convinced her that Americans put butter and salt on everything.  Sorry, Amurica.  Emily and I lived together in an apartment at the high school where we taught.  She studies French and history at the University of Southampton (I don’t think she’s been to Scunthorpe).  She will deny it to the bitter end, but she has quite the flair for telling stories.  I don’t know what I would’ve done without her this year—probably use even more butter and salt and definitely cry from boredom.

Colee

Besides being fun and smart and interesting, Colee reminded me of something that I all too often forget.  Colee has a very strong personal faith, and she regrets that many Christians feel the need to define what it means to be a ‘good Christian.’  As an atheist, I accept a label that’s not always used in a positive way for a group that is by no means homogeneous.  Being friends with Colee has made me think twice about generalizing, especially when it comes to something as personal as faith.

But besides all that crap, she’s just a ton of fun, y’know?  Plus, she’s from Cleveland, so we’ve got some serious Rust Belt solidarity going on.

Juan

It is in large part thanks to this guy, our sole Spanish assistant and a native of Sevilla, that I got to be so close with everyone mentioned in this post.  Juan makes friends everywhere he goes.  No, seriously, we were lucky to see him as often as we did considering how many open invitations he had going in the area.  Similarly, he rallied the troops in Gap in November and was soon organizing hikes, dinners, and foosball tournaments.  I wonder whether the creator of Couchsurfing actually got the idea for it after meeting Juan?

I also love Juan for his creative take on French spelling and insulting diminutives, including the classic ‘my little piece of fish caught in my throat.’

Daniele

How could I separate Juan and Daniele, even in a blog entry?  If the non-English speakers learned one English expression this year, it was ‘bromance.’  And boy, will Juan and Daniele’s go down in bromantic history.  It was on pretty much from the beginning, but once they exchanged their ‘diarrhea in the presence of women’ stories, we knew this was forever.

Daniele, one of the Italian assistants, had a rough time this year, thanks to some vicious three-year-olds.  For the first half of our time in Gap, he had us chuckling at his emphatic ‘Il FAUT’ (‘You must,’ roughly), his very honest opinions and accompanying grimaces, and his similarly frank explanations for his needing to go to the bathroom.  For the second half, he gamely put up with us imitating all of these things.

Maddy

Between her American roommate, Maggie, and her fellow British assistant, Maddy, poor Emily was doomed from the start.  Maddy joined Colee and me in Prague, when we discovered our shared love of ‘The West Wing.’  I can only hope that my constantly raving about it will soon have her devouring ’30 Rock.’  I, on the other hand, am in awe of the whirlwind trip Maddy took with her friends last summer through essentially every major European city, and some not so major, too.

Maddy is one of the few people I’ve ever met who willingly sat through more than one YouTube video of a certain high school marching band.  We also harmonize on Lady Antebellum’s ‘I Need You Now.’  Maddy, by the next time we see each other, I promise to have learned at least one song from ‘Les Miz’!  Meanwhile, you work on ‘Rent.’

Guesses, anyone? Comment! If you don't know who the unlabeled guy is, it's because he's not an assistant and disappeared after he got mono in December. If you don't know who the unlabeled girl is, I'm surprised you even made it this far. Number 10 is obviously going to kill me when she sees this.

Ha Nam

Another assistant who continually impresses me…don’t they all!  Ha Nam, our only German assistant in Gap, has lived in Berlin for most of her life.  Her family is originally from Vietnam.  Naturally, she speaks Vietnamese, German, French, and English, all fluently.  Okay, so she picked up a bit of the southern French accent this year from babysitting for a gapençais family, but we’ll let that slide.  Check back in ten years, and I probably still won’t have reached fluency in that many languages.

In any language, Ha Nam is fun and funny.  She’s the kind of person you immediately want to be best friends with.  I can’t wait to see her in Berlin in a few weeks!  Although, as the last assistant I’ll see before I go back to the US, she may be in for some tears.

Kate

Kate ruined any chance I had at having street cred for my dad working in New York.  She’s a New Yorker, born and raised.  But I’ll forgive her, because now when I visit New York, I’ll have someone to hang with.  That is, if she doesn’t escape to the West Coast.

Kate won me over one night when she asked me, “Has anyone ever told you that you remind them of Liz Lemon?”  My heart skipped a beat.  But I appreciate Kate even more for her openness.  She is upfront about who she is and what she thinks, and after seven months, I’d consider myself lucky if just a little of that has rubbed off on me.

Anna

Our second Italian assistant, Anna, isn’t one to start a debate.  She’ll more likely sit back and observe those who do.  Then again, I would not want to piss her off.  Behind this reserved exterior, she’s incredibly intuitive, and I have often felt as if she were watching over all of us, making sure our little family stays intact.  Even if I hadn’t seen Anna for years and years, I know she would greet me, same as ever: ‘Dis-moi, Maggie.’

Also, she cheats at cards.

Sarah

Another American, Sarah definitely logged the most f-words out of all of us English speakers this year.  I know, I’m surprised too.  With her living in Portland and my having gone to school in Pittsburgh, we had a nice little East Coast-West Coast hipster bond going on.  Sarah loves food and is going to graduate school in Italy this coming year to study food science.  We are definitely staying in touch.

In addition to her filthy, filthy mouth, I love Sarah for her willingness to scratch my back (for real).  And even if she ends up living on a self-sufficient farm in the middle of nowhere, I will visit her, in the hope of curing her of her aversion to hugs.

Shane

Poor Shane.  As the only Anglophone guy around, Shane got a huge dose of girl talk this year.  He also put up with the same tired joke about his native Ireland’s favorite foodstuff AND with our referring to St. Patrick’s Day as his birthday.  Actually, don’t feel too bad for him, this kid can dish it out too (and he did get cake!).

When I was in Ireland in March, I was about to come to Shane’s hometown of Galway, by chance really, when he informed me he was actually leaving the day I was arriving.  That’s cold, Shane.  Just for that, I’ll conveniently not be around when you come to visit Lower Makefield, Pennsylvania.

Day off

Today is my day off.  Most people would be excited for a day off, and I am.  I’m excited in the same way that I am on Tuesday mornings and Thursday and Friday afternoons, not to mention on those mysterious jours fériés, national holidays.  Because I work 12 hours a week…in France.  The difference between ‘my day off’ and an average day is 2 or 3 hours of work.  No wonder I can’t help but giggle whenever a Republican throws the word ‘socialist’ around like it’s supposed to be a bad thing.  What other national government would hire a couple thousand foreigners to teach their native tongue, give them 6 weeks’ vacation in 7 months, and pay a decent stipend for working just a third of full time?

At a certain point, free time is less of a novelty and more of a burden.  I do have things I should be doing besides actually teaching, I swear.  But when you have 20 hours of free time a week, that starts to seem a lot better suited to learning Disney songs in French than writing an evaluation about a boy who likes to interrupt his classmates’ English with sexual remarks in French. (Je comprends le français, pourquoi tu dis ces choses??  I understand French, why do you say these things??)  So the actual work gets pushed back in favor of reading (optimistic), listening to French radio (slightly more believable), and slowly being sucked into my laptop to become one with the worldwide web (yeah, that’s about right).

On the other hand, this is the perfect kind of program for socializing.  We Gap assistants have really lucked out.  Gap is the largest city for miles around at a whopping 40,000 people.  There are 9 English assistants, 2 Italian assistants, 1 Spanish assistant, and at least 1 German assistant.  Not too shabby.

Plus, our Spanish compatriot is really a package deal.  I don’t think the assistants have gone one night hanging out without learning about yet another city where Juan has a friend.  He has a car and drove some of us to the nearby village of Embrun two weekends ago.  Three of us were sitting at a table at a café when we overheard Juan telling the Portuguese man the waiter had just introduced him to that they’ll ‘cross paths’ soon in Gap.  So that’s how it’s done, eh?

Also thanks to Juan and a French guy Juan introduced us to, 11 of us went on a hike outside of Gap this past Sunday.  I’m not sure we took the trail we meant to, but the important thing is we ended up back at the cars.  It was a beautiful day and great company.  My camera was at the bottom of my bookbag, so here are some photos I’m stealing from one of my hiking companions, Maddy.

   

My parents: "That's our daughter!"

Well, I’m going to find something to do with myself for the rest of my day off.  If you need any papers edited or French books translated or just some funny HuffPost links sent your way, I’m your girl.

MB

Do you like France?

This week was my time to observe the classes I’ll be assisting this year (usually by taking out small groups to work on conversation and oral comprehension).  Most of the teachers wanted me to introduce myself and then wait (…and wait) for the kids to ask questions.  This went better in some classes than in others.  Some classes cut to the chase:

“How old are you?”–For the high-schoolers, “I’ll tell you at the end of the year, but I’m not in university anymore.”

“Do you have a boyfriend?”–“No” (Avoid eye contact with ANY of the boys)

We were told to anticipate these personal questions and also not to let them know that Emily and I are in fact living in the boarding school, a few floors below the girls who board.  That didn’t go so well for Emily, who was sold out by a teacher who didn’t realize our residence is under wraps and made a face when Emily vaguely referred to an apartment ‘in Gap.’  To be fair, it wasn’t a well-kept secret.  If the baguettes and cereal boxes we carried under our arms walking through the courtyard at midday weren’t obvious enough, we made an appearance the other night at a boarding school fire drill.  We came out sheepishly at 9:30pm, desperately avoiding looking at any of our pajama-ed (or shirtless, for some of the boys) students and laughing nervously when the principal asked us if we wanted to go join our camarades.  That would be a ‘no.’  (Thankfully, the principal realized his mistake.)

There were some questions that I didn’t expect, but maybe should have: “How do you feel about the World Trade Center?”, “Do you like Obama?”, “Have you ever seen a star?” (as in a celebrity, because I mentioned my dad works in New York).  Unfortunately, no one here, much less anyone under the age of 25, knows who Ted Danson is–“but I promise, I was so excited.”  Another favorite was “What words do you know in French?”, to which I so wanted to reply with either “All of them!” or “croissant…fromage…pain…rendez-vous…escargots…”

With my youngest students, 13- and 14-year-olds, I got to discuss my favorite athletes.  After saying my favorite tennis player is Rafael Nadal and acknowledging that he’s not well-liked in France, the teacher said “Really?  You think so?”, at which the class promptly began to grumble.  At least I know enough to mention my admiration for Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils…how do you say ‘pandering’ in French?  I was hesitant to mention how disappointed I was by the French showing in South Africa for the World Cup, but it turns out the French aren’t so different from Philly sports fans.  Just because you’re the home team, doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.

More later, vacation starts in a week!  MB