Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

Across the pond…

Greetings! The recent lull in the blog department corresponds directly to a bit of jet-setting that took me to London for a brief tour and then to Paris to settle into my room chez Mimi (that’s the family friend I’m living with).  And I know the story about the road trip has ended on a cliff-hanger…never fear, the conclusion will be revealed in a later post.

Now, I know you’re all itching to see pictures of London, and hear about my adventures there…but there was a mishap with my camera.  I have somehow, despite all precautions to the contrary, managed to get some more dust in my SLR’s sensor.  So I had to use the English boy’s camera…and the pictures are with him.  But don’t worry, they’ll show up on the blog by the end of the month!

What I do have pictures of, despite the dust embedded in the camera body, is my room! I was a bit antsy about moving in, as I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it’s a beautiful apartment, and my room is just *so* quaint.  I’m sure it’s a complete coincidence, but it’s decked out in reds, yellows and oranges – and as we all know, orange is my favorite color! So it worked out perfectly.

My room with a view.

My room with a view.

I have plenty of room for my clothes in the armoire (the door in the back, far left), a couple of shelves for my books and art supplies, a private shower and sink (the door in the back, far right) and a WC right next door, plus the piano (which Mimi says is a bit out of tune, but that’s better than nothing!).  I get a private entrance through the kitchen as well, and about ten paces out the door I have a view of the Panthéon (I didn’t realize how close it was on the map, not even a minute away!) and in the other direction, a view to the Eiffel Tower.

So far in Paris I’ve been trying to settle in and sort out some paperwork.  I arrived on Sunday via train, took the Eurostar from St. Pancras in London to Gare du Nord in Paris.  I sat next to a really sweet Australian family, and as usual, wound up spending the trip chatting about cultural differences and what not. A lucky thing, too, that I got along with my co-passengers, because they were able to help me lug my two HUGE suitcases from the train to the taxi stand.

After unpacking I met with a couple of other American assistantes.  We had dinner at a small restaurant in the Latin quarter, and I must say, for €12.40, I got a pretty decent 3 course meal and a couple of glasses of wine.  Plus, the view out the window was of an old church, and I entertained myself by watching pigeons squabble.  The rest of the girls seem fantastic, we’ve exchanged email addresses and I’ll be seeing them tomorrow during our orientation.

Monday was a productive day…I discovered that nothing really opens until 9:30 or 10:00 anyway, so I let myself sleep in a bit, then wandered over to Les Halles to purchase a mobile phone.  Now, here’s a bit of a challenge: I got the phone just fine, and it came with €5 of minutes (11 minutes), and I was told I could recharge it online or via the phone itself.  Well, when I try to recharge it online, it won’t accept my American credit card, and when I try to charge it via the phone, it asks for some random password that I wasn’t aware I had! So I’m thinking I’ll need a French CB (carte bancaire) before I can refill it online…but I don’t get a CB until I get a bank account, which won’t happen until after Saturday…which means another trip to the phone store to purchase minutes manually so that I can actually use my phone in October.

While at Les Halles I also grabbed a map of Paris – one of those Paris par arrondissement deals that’s in a little book and doesn’t make you look like a tourist unfolding the largest map in the world while standing on a street corner muttering to yourself, “Where’s the damn Tower again?”

After a break midday for some lunch (un sandwich jambon beurre – how I’ve missed those!) I did some shopping.  No, I didn’t get any cute French clothes…just the essentials.  There’s an Ed supermarché (kind of like Kroger, but different) right down the street and I bought some basic groceries – pasta, sauce, some fruits, cheese, etc.  On the other side of the neighborhood there’s a Monoprix which is kind of like Target or Walmart (but also completely different) and I bought some cute dishes and silverware and the regular assortment of shampoos and soap.  I didn’t think it would be an adventure, but let me tell ya, I have a hard enough time deciding which shampoo is right for me when the descriptions are in English…at least they had Garnier and the color coding made it a bit easier to figure my way through the massive choices! Interestingly, they didn’t have any conditioner, just shampoo…or if they did, I was completely lost as to where I could find some! I’m still on the hunt for some chapstick; oh, and gum here is ridiculously expensive.  No way am I paying €3.50 for only 12 sticks!

Today’s plan had me hunting down the Navigo pass.  Mine’s a bit pricey, because I’m staying in Paris (Zone 1) and working in Roissy-en-Brie (Zone 5), but I’m supposed to get a 40-50% discount from the school.  I also went and scheduled an appointment to set up a bank account.  I’m meeting with a representative from Le Crédit Lyonnais on Saturday, and will be rounding up my paperwork this week.  Still to do: add money to my cellphone, send off some paperwork for immigration, and grab a FUSAC to find some part-time boulot. Allons-y!

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LDAH: Long distance apartment-hunting.

It’s harder than a long distance relationship, let me tell ya.

The very second I found out I was going to be teaching right outside of Paris I started scouring the internets for places to stay in the city.  Last summer, when I interned in DC, my only regret was not staying closer to the city.  I stayed in Reston with some family friends, which was fantastic, but it meant that I had to be home by a certain time so that I didn’t miss the last bus (yay public transportation!).  So this time, I’m going to do the reverse.  I’m teaching in a small town outside of Paris, and since I’m only teaching 12 hours a week, I figure I’ll want to spend most of my time in the city anyway, so I’m going to try to look for a place in the city that’s within my budget.

So that’s the first problem: budget.  As my maternal unit can attest to (and as she more often than not mentions) I’ve led a rather cushy life.  My parents have paid for pretty much everything so far when it came to my education, which included tuition, supplies, room and board, etc.  I’ve spent my pocket money (comprised of the random cash I’ve earned from freelancing and savings from summer jobs) on travel and fun stuff (i.e. movies, dinners out with friends, etc.).  Now, not only am I out on my own for the first time, I’m out on my own in a foreign country!

Anyone can tell you that a teacher’s salary is nothing to brag about.  I’m not even going to be a full-time teacher: so I guess you could say that my salary is something to shove under the couch cushions and never mention. But I’m going to say it anyway – I’ll barely be making enough to sustain myself.  We get paid €950 per month, which after taxes is €750 a month.  A small studette in Paris (a tiny room 9 m2 with a mini-kitchen, a sink and a shower – not necessarily a WC) costs between €350 and €550 on average.  The nice thing is, because I get paid such a paltry sum, the government wants to help me! If I fill out a whole bunch of paperwork (here’s that word again), I can apply for an aide du logement through CAF, basically, welfare.  But the amount of money I get back is based on the type of place I’m renting (size, furnished/not, etc.), its cost, my income and the income of my roommates, if any.  And the predictor online is a) hard to understand and b) not very accurate.

And then there’s the whole bit about looking for a place that’s a couple thousand miles away.  I may not have apartment-hunted before, but even I know that you shouldn’t sign on for a place if you haven’t seen it.  And odds are, the French landlord won’t rent it out unless they’ve got proof I’m paying: I’ve been told I’ll need a garant, or co-signer, on some places (but not on others…which ones don’t need one I have no idea).

And if that’s not enough, I have to decide what kind of place I want to stay in: a studette? a studio (slightly larger than the former)? an apartment with a couple of roommates? rent a room from a family? a foyer (dorm-room-esque)?  One of my friends who did the whole teach-English-in-France gig a while back said I should make a decision quick, so that I can narrow my search.  I’m thinking my order of preference is as follows:

  1. A room with a family. This will hopefully allow me to better my French.  And I’d be happy to give English lessons to the kids or baby-sit for a night or two in exchange for a reduced rental rate.
  2. An apartment with roommates.  If they’re French roommates, it’d be nice to improve my French.  However, there are a couple of American assistant(e)s that will be living in Paris, so that would work as well.
  3. A room in a foyer.  I hear it’s the cheapest, and gets you the most money back on your aide du logement. And ideally, I won’t be spending much time in my room that isn’t spent on sleeping or cooking a quick meal, because I’ll be out exploring!

I suppose the best I can do from the US is ask around if anyone is renting a room, and work via references (that way I don’t get a super sketch landlord and a shoddy apartment that I’m sharing with Ratatouille and his family – though come to think of it, if the critter wants to cook me a pasta dinner, I wouldn’t protest) – and maybe check out the foyer.  But I’m hesitant to book an apartment without seeing it, or meeting my potential roomates.

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Roissy-en-Brie and gay Par-ee

Mairie de Roissy-en-Brie

Mairie de Roissy-en-Brie

After a long drought of communication (read, since April), my inbox is now filled with emails from the French Embassy and their compatriots on the other side of the pond.  This is a good thing.

I now know that I will be teaching 15-18 year-olds at the Lycée Charles le Chauve in Roissy-en-Brie, a town 30 minutes from Gare du Nord in Paris, from October 1st until April 30th.

I, of course, as an information-searching nut, went online and scoured the internet for any dirt I could gather on Roissy-en-Brie and the lycée, as soon as I received the email.  And here’s what I learnt learned:  Roissy-en-Brie is a lot like Fontainebleau, minus the château. So it’s pretty, and close to Paris, and has outdoorsy things to do like hunt in the woods by following dirt trails and trees marked with street names, and quaint downtown streets with cafés that charge an arm for 3 boules de glace.

The lycée‘s website gave a bit of insight into the titular Charles, but was not as forthcoming with information about the English program.  It seems, however, that they have a fantastic music program, and it might be nice to get back into some piano playing – perhaps I can learn some contemporary American pop pieces to share with the class.

Speaking of the class, I’m slightly terrified of teaching 15-18 year olds. I mean, I’m turning 22 in October, so that makes me what…4 years older than the oldest and 7 years older than the youngest of the bunch? How much did I respect the young-ish teachers when I was in high school? Well, I do recall wondering if they knew what they were doing (*cough* and harboring crushes on the younger male teachers *cough*)…do *I* know what I’m doing?

I’ve tutored kids before, and TA’d 2 university-level courses, even come up with lectures for both and led discussions…I suppose it shouldn’t be too difficult to translate that for a high-school audience, since the students I was working with at uni were 18-20-year-olds. I read (in my pursuit of all things France-and-teaching-related) that it helps to set your foot down at the beginning of class: only English in the classroom, no disrespect, strict grader, etc., etc. Which makes sense – once a push-over, always a push-over.  And that shouldn’t be too difficult for me anyway, as I tend to expect a lot of other people, mostly because I expect a lot of myself.  I think deep down I want to be that tough professor that everyone hates and loves at the same time.  Some of my best professors have really made me work for their approval (hmm, there might be some psychology to this worth exploring), and didn’t Colton say that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery?

Anyway, it seems the easy part is over: I got the gig.  Now I just have to get my visa, book my flight, figure out health insurance, get travelers insurance, find a second job, get a French bank account, fill out more paperwork, get a French cellphone and find some place to stay.  Oh, and breathe.

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