Year Abroad Diaries: 20 October 2012

Caen Induction Weekend

On Saturday, we made the monumental excursion through the town with our bags, eying our watches, scooting past the Jardin and descending the hill to the station. When I say ‘hill’ I mean a HELL of a gradient. My thighs were burning halfway down. Across the footbridge, tickets paid for, then stamped and – off to Caen.

At eleven we arrived to the oppressive grey tones of the northern settlement, leaving the dangerous ‘gare’ area behind us towards the hotel. We creaked through an ancient wooden door and stuck to the stairs; the decor getting darker as we climbed higher. Y unlocked the door to a dark green and sunshine box-room; rather like grass and daffodils. The strange imposing colours melted into the toilet’s sliding door where the non-soundproofed walls gave us the ‘ultimate privacy’.

The first thing the girls wanted to do was scope out Caen – and of course that meant shopping. Day One’s muggy atmosphere precipitated a postcard shop in which we spent a glorious hour, a salty omelette and then the real shopping. Needless to say, my sole purchase of the day was a pair of gloves. That’s right – the Scottish one was cold. Finally, we turned our backs on the lights, materials and hubbub of the centre and returned to our room.

We had heard that another assistant was staying in our hotel, so we texted her and she came down to chat with us. Her name is R and she’s in a tiny village about an hour away from us. Inland. Literally in the middle of nowhere. She looked shyly at the three of us and explained the new life she found herself in. “I live with another teacher, who’s French. The first thing she said to me was, ‘I am having an affair with a married colleague. Don’t discuss this with anyone.'” Said colleague then turned up five minutes later for a nice bit of amour. How awkward. I sympathised with R in her tiny town in the rolling hills, and realised how lucky I am to be with two other girls for company.

The next day was Sunday, which we christened a ‘cultural dimanche.’ First, we trooped to Wiliam the Conqueror’s castle, then the Musee de Beaux Arts where we stumbled upon another English language assistant from India. She was wandering around the museum by herself since she didn’t know anyone in Caen, so we adopted yet another ELA into our group then marched to McDo for wedges and a salad.

Monday, the reason for our travels north, was our ‘stage’, the assistants’ induction day. After developed discussions of the bus schedule, we caught the 0920 from just outside the hotel, the seats slowly filling. Most of the occupants were under thirty, and we began to take bets on which passengers were assistants. However, the mass dismount at an out-of-town stop was a tell tale sign.

We began speaking to some Americans; I found myself next to Canadian, and as we filed into the hall it became apparent that there were more ELAs than I’d anticipated – Americans, British, Irish, Canadian and Indian. The leaders split us into school-related groups, so Y and I remained together in the cold, ‘college’ classroom. Everybody exchanged contact details and clarification ensued on class sizes, speaking English, managing students. “You should speak English all the time; if you’re relaxed, teaching will be easier,” etcetera. I had arrived, cynically, to the stage – I had already started teaching so was wary of how relevant the day would be. Problems had already arisen for which I’d sought answers alone.

We concluded by returning to the lecture hall. I magnetised towards the only other Scottish girl in the room. She was from Edinburgh – a refined tone to my west coast drawl – and on her left sat another, English, assistant. The latter was listening to our broad dialogue and said, “I feel a lot of hatred between you two,” (referring to the west-east ‘divide.’) “But you hate English people too, right?” in a very assured tone. I must have looked confused – more shocked, to be quite honest – and she repeated her question again as if I was mentally, or culturally, incompetent. I blinked and recovered. “Actually, a lot of my friends are English.” My fellow flatmate, K, bless her, piped up, “I’m English, and she likes me!” I turned around in irritation and disgust from what was too sober to classify as banter.

That assistant joined a gaggle of girls from Caen who disappeared at the end of the day without a backwards glance. The rest of us split into those who were staying in the area, or heading home. We amassed a dozen specimens of transatlantic teachers and descended into a seedy cafe opposite the gare. 

Our Caen adventure concluded with a final cultural explosion of museums, Norman exposées, H&M and cider. A tram towards the suburbs delivered us to S’s car, a kind teacher from the lycée who drove us back to the sticks. It took about an hour; K and I swooned in the back with the heat, the black tarmac absorbing and reflecting the rays. The motor climbed the awful hill to our town and deposited us at the peeling white door of our property. We fell in the door and rolled into bed, the jet lag of cityscapes and stark noises catching up with us.

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