Monday 1 October: Start of Language Assistant (ELA) placement
Today I was woken by an odd siren type noise. I couldn’t decide whether it was a fire alarm or not; no-one left the flat or woke me up to go outside, so I assumed it wasn’t. I peered out the porthole window. All the teachers and pupils seemed to be in the courtyard but K and Y sat eating cereal. So I did nothing. French fire alarms are as foreign as their language.
The two girls left the flat to walk about 100m to their building, and I followed them in departure but headed to town. Another unsatisfactory date with the bank, then I bought a notepad and pen, since I assumed ‘observing’ a class would mean sitting at the back; stationary and watching. Yet when I arrived at the school, the teacher placed me in front of the class like a strange statue whilst the pupils attempted to question me in English.
“Do you like heavy metal music? Have you got a British boyfriend? Do you like the Hunger Games?”
They were impressive questions, and the hours passed fairly quickly. I tried to be ‘down with the kids’ and referenced Call of Duty a few times because my brother plays it, and one of the teenage boys said, “son frere, il a l’air gentil” – “her brother seems like a cool guy!” Hilarious.
I managed to check my emails when I returned after 5, as K let me use her password in the lycée staffroom. Emails flashed from the grandparents, the parents and C. Grandfather maintained that the loneliness would pass once I got into a routine, and I’m sure he’s right. I already feel better today than I did yesterday. Having entertainment and something new is the easiest way to amuse and distract. And in the evenings, I can return home (I said home?! What!!) and relax, think of loved ones and hopefully dream of them.
Tuesday 2 October: the first faux pas
A later wake-up call led to the quainter school where I met Monsieur in the staffroom. He stood unsmiling like a bowling pin; his white face covered in hair and attentive to sentiment. He seemed to assess me before speaking. In my nervousness, I chatted away, and as we spoke he revealed a dry sense of humour which justified his lack of facial expression. Typical that my first French faux pas was in conversation with him. I was explaining how one of the teachers at the other school had been a language assistant in Scotland and that “elle était tres excitée” to meet me. That produced a shrill giggle from the lady sitting opposite us. Turns out that phrase has sexual connotations in France. As I said red-faced to Monsieur, “you learn to laugh at yourself.”
I believe I am going to need this trait many more times during my stay on the continent.
Wednesday 3 October: in the deep end
My alarm went off at 0650. I didn’t think I’d been up this early since high school. At half seven, I donned my jacket and rucksack and trooped to the faraway college. It only took fifteen minutes, but it was dark and cold. The dampness hanging in the air reminded me of home.
The teachers asked me if I’d mind taking half the class (fifteen students.) I didn’t think much of this, and said yes. Talking to the girls about it made me question my swift decision. “I’m sure we’re only supposed to teach small groups. Don’t stress yourself out, you’re an assistant, not a teacher.” The thought of managing the pupils is quite scary, even though the kids seem well behaved. I hope they actually listen to me, because I don’t want to shout. I’m glad I’m in a junior school, because from what K’s been saying, the lycée students seem indifferent and typically teenage. I’m not sure how I’d handle that.
Friday 5 October: the Friday feeling
Today I had a later start, and arriving in the teachers’ lounge, saw the gaggle of ‘profs’ surrounding the coffee bar. I spotted someone who resembled my English teacher colleague, and asked him how his birthday was. Turned out this guy was the maths teacher. Throughout the day I continued to mix them up, calling one the other’s name and vice versa – it was so embarrassing. It doesn’t help that I haven’t actually seen them standing side by side yet.
All of the ELAs have an induction in Caen, the main town in the region, in the middle of October. As it’s during the week, I need permission for the 2 days off. I sheepishly asked the principal to sign the form. She said, “Don’t you have a car? Well, you’ll have to make up the hours you miss elsewhere.” Public transport didn’t permit me to rush back, and the only car I had existed in my middle-aged dreams.
I then asked about taking the Friday before Christmas off, the only day I could viably return home. The principal adjoint stared me down. “You should really check flights from Dinard and Nantes first.” I stared back and thought, jeez – I don’t want to be stuck here for Christmas! Going home on the last day of term is not that big a deal! But I had to gracefully accept the forms he gave me which were headed “Demande d’Absence.” Bloody hell, the French and their forms.
Saturday 6 October: seeing the sights
Our first official weekend in Normandy, and we were up at 0730 to make the 0834 bus to Granville. It was dark again when I woke. And it rained and rained… and rained.
We made the bus without too much problem, though I had to ask a group of women if we were standing on the right side of the road. We arrived on the west coast of the region at about half nine, before most of the shops even opened. Some of the boutiques were really quite nice – some cute bookshops, shoe stores and as it was Saturday, there was a market which provided the crepe hit at 11am.
We wandered around the streets, stumbling upon the casino and the waterfront. As it was raining and windy, the blue-grey waves were driving up the ramp to the shore, which made quite a sight. Granville is balanced on a hill, so the coastline is striking. We found some steps that led to a viewpoint, and were gifted with a town panorama. It was far larger than the one we had come from, but the grey tone of the skies made it appear more run-down.
At ‘home’, in the evening, the three of us stepped on the damp pavements in search of a warm dinner. We frequented the same restaurant as Dad and I had done on our first night in the town. The girls seemed quiet. I tried to chat but a depressed cloud hung over the day and what was on the plate seemed magnetic. We paid and left. The temperature had lowered and I crawled back to my new bedroom, took C’s thick-knit jumper and swathed myself in it like a redemptive cloak. And to unconsciousness.