Thursday, 21 October 2010

Soft shock

My timetable for this week so far has been:

Monday - Nothing
Tuesday - 8am - 10am
Wednesday 10am - 12pm
Thursday - Nothing
Friday - ???

I have two hours of classes scheduled for tomorrow, where I have to lead groups of final year students in conversation practice. However, I doubt anyone will turn up. Every day this week the entrance to the school has been blocked by wheelie bins, although a second entrance about five metres to the left renders the blockage rather symbolic. As far as I can see, a few students are hanging around outside the entrance next to the "STUDENTS ON STRIKE" banner, but most of them seem to have stayed at home. This is compounded by the fact that as half-term draws nearer, fewer students attend lessons. 

It's a culture shock, to say the least.

Talking to my responsable (who I will subsequently refer to as Dave) about the political and education system in France this morning, I asked whether there was any consequences for students choosing not to attend classes. I should point out that this is in a lycée, where the students are aged between 15 and 21. Schooling is compulsory until age 18. There are no consequences, because

1. Most of the teachers support the strikes.
2. Half of the teachers are on strike anyway.
3. There's no register taken.
4. There are no detentions.

Detentions aren't run because (duh!) the teachers aren't interested in staying after school to run them. Teachers have 18 hours per week of timetabled lessons, although class preparation obviously takes longer than that.

Coming from a school where an untucked shirt could results in a detention, this was obviously a shock to me. My school had uniforms, playing fields, tennis courts, PE, music, art, technology, sports clubs, pictures on the walls, assemblies, PSHE lessons, common rooms, careers advice, an identifiable ethos implemented by the senior staff, school plays, productions, an orchestra, a school hall and religious education. The school I am working at  now has none of the above, and that is typical. It is a building with numbered rooms, white walls and a canteen. The staff are appointed by the Ministry of Education.

The system is fairer here. I doubt any of my students will retain either allegiance or resentment towards their secondary school, unlike at home. Beyond the fact that certain schools have a different atmosphere depending on their catchment areas, there is no diversity in the state education system. I don't know whether it's better or worse, it's just different.

France is the country I know best after my own, but I am still experiencing a lot of culture shock. The people seem to be threatening to take down the government thanks to the raising of the retirement age to 62 (and full benefits until 67). I'm not entirely sure what's going on at home, but I don't think there'll be a million person march through London despite the fact Gideon Osborne has just driven a stake through the heart of our welfare system. 

Essentially, I marvel at the socialist munificence of this country at least twice a day (rent subsidised to the tune of 200 euros/month by the French government, my Navigo pass half reimbursed by the school, a full-time salary for 12 hours per week work on top of an ERASMUS grant, free museum entry, wonderfully maintained parks and libraries, free cultural events, a metro that runs for 21 hours per day). But all I keep hearing is about how Sarkozy is transforming France into a neoliberal hellhole. 

It's all very strange.

A bientot

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Ten ten ten

It's been a nice weekend, again. I was trying to work out just now how long I have actually been in Paris. I couldn't work out if it was two or three weeks; turns out it has only been 10 days. It feels like much longer.

So, my five day weekend (I only start full-time this coming week) has been blessed with amazing weather. Yesterday it was 27 degrees and I was walking around in a dress sans tights. I was actually getting burnt whilst sitting on the roof on Thursday afternoon. Let's see, on Friday I wandered over to the Parc Floral with my flatmate which was really nice. She invited me to a party in the evening, which was in one of the coolest apartments I've seen so far; all exposed piping, modern art and bright painted walls. I met a few other assistants and ULIP students there; unfortunately nearly all of my socialising so far has been in English, but I had a great time nonetheless. On Saturday I wandered around the floral park which was gorgeous in the autumn sunlight. I would taken so many photos but GAH! my camera has broken.

On Saturday night I met up with a fellow Warwick student, Sarah. I think blogging etiquette involves me linking to her (very interesting) blog; she is at, and posting a photo a day for her year in Paris. We had a few glasses of wine and a good chat before deciding we really wanted some crème brulée. Luckily she had her camera with her so I can post here at least one photo of the evening. Me with a creme brulee the size of my FACE.

Seriously, I couldn't even finish it. It was very nice though. After that, we tried to meet up with some fellow assistants who were on a night out on the Grands Boulevards, but it turned into a bit of a wild goose chase. After a drink with a few other assistants/random people I didn't know, we headed home. It was good to get out, nonetheless.

To borrow a topic from Sarah, one of the negative things about this city (aside from the dogshit on the streets and obscenely high price of coffee) is the amount of sexual harassment. I've been here 10 days and already been harassed more times than I can remember. This has involved being yelled at from moving cars, but mainly random guys on the metro and on the street just come up to me and hassle me for a bit. It is totally fucking annoying, and it always in happens the same way. Some guy will come up to me and say "Ca va?", which is just on the boundary of "interactions it is OK to have with strangers". So I can't win - if I reply politely, they take it as an invitation to start talking, which I obviously don't want. When I ignore them, they become aggressive.

Today on the metro some guy just asked me "Can I talk to you?" to which I replied simply "Non". He then asked me why not, and I was only saved further annoyance by the arrival of the next train. Had this been late at night, and were I on my own, I would have been genuinely scared about my safety. As it was, I felt pretty comfortable giving him my most pissed-off glare and dismissive "Non". Anyway.

This behaviour is not a desire to interact with a girl, and even if it was, their desire to do that does not trump my obvious desire to be left alone, not to mention my right to feel safe whilst walking around. The chances that a woman of 20 would respond positively to a creepy 50 year old introducing himself by saying "T'es belle" are non-existent, and if they were truly just trying their luck, they would back off as soon as I made I clear I didn't want to talk to them. I see it more as a petty display of arrogance from men who, knowing they can't have something, decide instead to try and destroy it. Destroy is too strong a word, of course, but there is an element of trying to bring me down, ruin my day, make my time in this city just a little bit less enjoyable - because I exist, am presumably desirable (without wishing to be conceited - this goes for any woman between the ages of 15 and 50) and won't interact with them.

They are kids who, not being able to build a sandcastle themselves, decide to kick down somebody else's. That's a bit of a tortured metaphor I know, but it's the best way I can think to describe it. Of course, the idea that random men in this city see me as part of the landscape, to be provoked as they see fit without any kind of consequence, is infuriating. It's also a display of social dominance - they can afford to annoy me without the slightest chance of a repercussion, when they wouldn't dream of doing the same with a man, unless perhaps one who looked particularly vulnerable. I think the men who do it are those who feel weak and powerless in some way, and who like reminding themselves that no matter how powerless they feel, there is always someone around them with less power (in certain situations). Or maybe they are just entitled arseholes. Oh well.

Oops, I was definitely going to keep the feminist theory separate from my Paris tales.

The rest of Paris is wonderful, though. Especially in this weather (autumn leaves falling with a background of bright blue sky; zero clouds but a cool breeze), I can't get over the beauty of the city. There is something aesthetically pleasing at every corner; a beautiful building with wrought iron balconies; a fountain; a boulangerie with glossy patisseries arranged like artwork in the window. I wish so much my camera hadn't broken, or I would be posting lots of photos on here as well. I intend to get it fixed as soon as possible, though.

Oh, last thing - I have an interview tomorrow with a company called Babyspeaking. As far as I can see, it's an English-language babysitting service that also offers some tutoring for older children. The pay is pretty good, and it seems like you can choose your hours, so if I get it, I can fit the job around working at the lycée as well.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Books and the Cité

There are no photos for today, because sadly I left my memory card in my computer.

Today I finished "Norwegian Wood" whilst sitting on the roof of my building. Then I went into the city and wandered down to Shakespeare & Co. I ended up hanging out with this guy:

J'adore cette ville/ I love this city.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Le Weekend

The most eventful thing that has happened so far is the "Nuit Blanche" which took place in Paris on Saturday night. For those not in the know, La Nuit Blanche is a night dedicated to art and culture, where firstly large museums stay open until 1 or 2 in the morning, and are free for the night. Secondly, there are lots and lots of small exhibitions and installations dotted around the city. Some of them were in public places, like this one which was by the Pont d'Alma:

Some were hidden away inside buildings, like this giant rotating robot:

This was inside the courtyard of an old building somewhere in the Marais. I could give you the name of the artwork, or the artist, but really for me the interest wasn't the artworks themselves so much as the incongruency of seeing them at 4 in the morning, off a side street somewhere with hundreds of other people milling around. 

Here's some more artworks that we saw - aside from the museums, which included everything from small galleries to the Louvre - all of the art on display veered towards the modern and surreal. I didn't "get" any of it, really, but I don't know much about art. Here's some more:

This was probably the most memorable. A room filled with hundreds of those plastic alarm clocks which were apparently all timed to go off at 7am. We didn't stick around to hear it, but the effect of having so many versions of the same object was quite disconcerting. Here is a picture without flash:

And with:

The Hotel-Dieu was covered in coloured lights. Each of them spelt out "Love difference" in about 20 different languages.

Sunday was a lazy day. I really wanted to try out the vélib, and go for a bike ride around the Bois de Vincennes, but the station wouldn't accept my debit card. For those not in the know, the vélib scheme is a public bicycle hire scheme available to anyone with a Navigo pass (vélib = vélo (bike) + liberté). Here is a picture of a cycle station with most of the bikes gone. As you can see, they are heavy, utilitarian things, all coloured beige. There are stations like this literally all over the city. After paying a small subscription fee (5 euros per week, or 30 euros per year), the bikes are then charged by the hour: the first half hour is free, then the second costs 1 euro, the third 1/2 hour costs 2 euros, the third costs 3, and any subsequent half-hours cost 4 each. The ascending charges are designed to keep the bikes in circulation, but seeing as there is a station nearly every 300m in Paris, it is easy to swap bicycles every half hour and thus pay nothing but the subscription fee.

 Anyway, I sadly couldn't get it to work, so instead I decided to buy myself an apricot tart and sit on the roof of my building to do some reading. The weather this weekend was bizarrely warm for October.

Here is my book (Flaubert's Parrot), and the rest of the rooftop. It's a lovely place to sit.

Here are some more shots from the top of our building. I think it's most picturesque during twilight. I don't think I could ever get bored of this view.

I have Mondays off, and yesterday, again, I didn't do much. I ran a few errands and ended up walking to Bastille - a good few miles away. There are currently lots of posters up protesting the proposed increase in the retirement age. I know it's a cliché, but France's political system is very noticeably to the left of the British one, as shown by these posters below.

They benefit
They get fat
They pollute
They lie to us
They exploit us
They "spoil us"
They give us nothing, they give in!
Striking is a tool of both defence and conquest.
It's a right!

Do not interfere with retirement at age 60!
The cartoon shows (I think) a working person telling a financier "Stock market money/a grant for retirement! Quickly!" (La Bourse referring both to the Paris Stock Market and a grant or bursary (source of funding)) 
This one says "Save retirement at age 60! Let's tax finance revenues!"

Although it seems crazy to me that people can protest having to retire at age 61, yeah let's tax some finance revenues.

Finally, here are some pictures of the Place de la Bastille.

Well, I had my first day teaching today, but that's a story for another day. I feel like it went pretty well. Beforehand I was terrified, but knowing that I just had to do it somehow stopped my worry. Sometimes it can seem there is a thick glass wall between what you imagine yourself doing and what you actually do, but, in my case, it seems like the nearer I get to the wall the more gauzy it appears, and when you get really close (like 3 seconds), it melts away. The secret is there is no barrier; this goes for everything from moving to a foreign city to jumping in front of a train. Or standing up in front of 15 French high school students saying "Hello, my name is Eden and I'm your English Assistant for this year..."

Oh, a little slapstick anecdote from this morning. I have a key to the staffroom that I hadn't used before today. As soon as I turned it in the lock, a really loud bell went off (obviously, of course, it was the school bell). In my confusion and nervousness, I thought I had managed to set off an alarm by turning the key the wrong way - Shona will know what I'm talking about here. Anyway, someone ran up to me and I started saying "Desolée, umm.... je sais pas ce qui se passe" and generally panicking like a mad person until realising what was actually happening. How embarrassing.

I'll leave you with one more classic Paris picture.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Premiers jours à Paris

Bonjour mes petits and welcome to my blog. I've decided to keep a blog about my year in Paris, partly as as record for myself, and partly as way to keep people informed about my goings-on without having to write the same thing over and over again in Facebook messages! I'll also be putting up lots of photos of my time here.

So what to say about my first few days? I arrived on Tuesday and came immediately to my apartment to meet my new flatmates. Three of us are English, but there is also a German girl to ensure the flat isn't entirely anglophone. I really like the flat, and I like my room, which has bright yellow walls and a wooden floor - I've painted this blog the same colour. 

Wednesday was spent waiting for a delivery, before heading out to explore the neighbourhood. In the evening I went to a bar in the 15ème to meet some other assistants, which was nice. There was a lot of swapping of similar information, but it's great to have made some contacts already. 

On Thursday, I went to my school for the first time. It's a lycée (ages 15-18) in the Marais, which is a very central district of Paris - my responsable (mentor). It's kind of like a Parisian Soho; very gay, very bohemian, with lots of boutiques, chic cafés and Haussmanian architecture. The day was somewhat nerve-racking, as it dawned on me for the first time that I will be spending my time with people 2 years younger than me, but I am more akin to a teacher than a student in that environment. Before applying for the Year Abroad, I was certain I wanted to teacher older and not younger students as I thought it would be more interesting. Perhaps it will, but at least in a primary school I'd be unlikely to be mistaken for a fellow student...

My responsable is really nice, and I spent the day observing lessons, with a couple of small tasks. Firstly I had to read out a list of English words to help the students with their pronunciation, and then later in the day Dominique decided to walk out of the room and tell the students "This is Eden. I want you to ask her some questions about why she's here", and then there followed a five second silence where the students all stared at me, and I at them, before I said loudly "So, who has a question?" and thankfully, a girl asked me one. The idea of me having any authority over those students is laughable. Being in a school environment reminded me of being back at secondary school myself, and how much I hated that, so I don't think that I will especially enjoy the job. However, I think I'd spend 12 hours a week (the hours I am doing) cleaning toilets for the chance to live in Paris, so I'm not complaining.

Let's see, yesterday I had a welcome day for all the assistants which was incredibly dull. Afterwards I had lunch with another student from Warwick, which was nice. I will never get bored of eating Croque Monsieurs in brasseries in the Latin Quater... EVER. Which is just as well because I paid over 10 euros for the privilege of lunch and coffee.

All the photos in this entry date from today, when I properly explored Vincennes. I had a lovely afternoon and the only thing I spoke to was a dog... I swear I get more solitary as I get older. But anyway, Vincennes is a town in its own right, but so near to Paris (literally just outside the ring road) that it feels to me like a suburb. It's most famous for the Bois de Vincennes (Vincennes wood) and the chateau, both of which are a 10 minute walk away. The Bois de Vincennes is perfect for cycling, as it has lots of pavement trails and it's entirely car-free. Here follows some photos of the neighbourhood:

One of my favourite things about the building where I live is the view from the rooftop. My friend Tiffany is living in a studio up there, and this is the view. 

  Next door to Tiffany lives Guy, who is 84. This is his balcony. Perhaps I shouldn't have taken this photo without his permission, but seeing as he doesn't use the Internet or speak English, I doubt he will find this blog.

 C'est moi. WIth the Eiffel tower just distinguishable in the background. It is seven miles away; the Ile de la Cité is 4 miles away.

Finally, here is my room, with Tiffany sitting on the bed.

Au revoir tout le monde. It's time for dinner and then I'm heading out to the Nuit Blanche!