Thursday, October 9, 2008

Why if the commute doesn't kill me, the bloody hamburger surely will

I have completed my first week at school (otherwise known as, oh right, I'm not just here to eat croissants all day), and by week I actually mean three days, but believe me when I say it feels a lot longer than that. My grueling 12 hour a week schedule occupies me for part of each Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, leaving me otherwise unencumbered and fancy-free (and, unpaid maid duties aside, also quite bored) the rest of the time. And yet for some reason, legally I am not allowed to get another job, and so I hope to find something, as they say, sous la table.

To provide you with a quick idea of what my "week" has been like, I woke up to my alarm at the ungodly hour of 5:45 on Tuesday morning. (The life of an English assistant in France, it is not glamorous). Plus, the extra added bonus (like a Jagged Metal Krusty-O in your breakfast cereal): a debilitating migraine! I showered and then staggered around limply brushing my hair and swiping mascara at my eyes, took some Advil and then crashed back onto my child-sized bed. (Like cars, beverages, and everything else, twin beds are also smaller here). I dragged myself up 15 minutes later and managed to get myself out the door and on a train. With a good hour commute as a buffer, and after dozing off against the train window, the headache and nausea were pretty much gone by the time I arrived, and were replaced instead with a general, full-body exhaustion, leaving me craving the benefits of about a 12 hour nap. Good thing I only had to be at school for the next nine hours!! (High school ends much later in France; at 5:20, in this case). My schedule left me three completely undesired hours of breaks between classes, one in the morning and two in the afternoon, and with nothing to do and nowhere to go to pass the time. (A problem I temporarily solved with flan and sitting on a bench. [Again, with the glamourousness of my life here. I know, you can hardly stand it. Flan! Sitting on a bench! Woo!!]). Luckily I didn't have to do anything too grueling on my first day, and after a brief question and answer session (Do you like France? -yes. Is there a lot of violence in the U.S.? -it depends. Can I have your phone number? -no) I was free to zone out in the back of the classroom and "observe." (Observations: She was disappointed, not deceived, and although they are both the same word in French, in English they are two very different things, and also, you're seriously killing me with all the grammar mistakes, but I will continue to sit here quietly and not undermine your authority on my first day, but please don't mind me if I put my fingers in my ears and lalala I can't hear you!) The long day finally over, I returned to the train station and found myself in transportation limbo; what had only taken an hour that morning took much, much longer coming back, and I finally stumbled through my front door some 12-plus hours after I had left. Pretty intense for a job that's supposedly only 12 hours a week, non?

Wednesday was fine, since I only had to be there in the morning, and I sashayed right back onto a train afterwards and was home by lunchtime. Today was another story. Today was one of those days (you know the ones). The days when you probably never should have gotten out of bed in the first place. It started out well enough, since, as I didn't have to show up for the first day at my new school until 10:45, I was able to sleep in until the leisurely hour of 7:30. This late start was actually a blessing and a curse, and ended up being the cause of my undoing. The odd hour put me in yet another transportation limbo, and so I researched time tables and selected a recommended itinerary from the Ile-de-France transport website, going with a bus-train-bus combo (instead of the usual train-train). First I couldn't find the 19 bus. Great, I thought. I'm going to be late on my first day. But then I found it and all was well. Until I got to the RER station, tapped my pass at the gate, and was flatly rejected. "Pass déjà valide," it said. Ok, I did tap it in the bus, in which case it was already validated, but now in a catch-22 situation, no matter how many times I tried again, it wouldn't let me through. I scurried back and forth behind the gates like a trapped animal for a few minutes, fretting and looking for an authority figure for help, and finding none. Great, I thought. If I'm late on my first day because, though I have a pass, I'm stuck on the wrong side of this gate... I finally caught the attention of a girl around my age and asked her opinion on the situation. "I don't know," she shrugged. "Jump it?" I was mildly horrified by the suggestion, and pictured myself, in addition to merely late being arrested as well, but a quick look around proved that perhaps mine wasn't a unique situation, and so I followed the lead of some other turnstile-hoppers, and jumped it. And it was fine. But really, what if I was eighty years old? What if I was in a wheelchair? What then, France??? I made the train, and completed the second leg of my journey. Only one more bus and then I'm home free, I thought. I made my way out of the train and into the bus lot at Disney (since apparently all roads lead to Disney here), searching every dock for number 62. I glanced at my watch and thought idly, Well, they didn't give me much time to make this connection, did they? My search for the elusive 62 became slightly more frantic, as I thought, But no, surely not after all this...and looked ahead to see a familiar-looking seafoam green bus pulling away, at the very last quai. Merde. And a quick look at the schedule showed that another was not due to arrive for another hour. And so I had to call my school and explain that, although 10:45 actually seemed a very reasonable hour to be expected to show up on my first day, that I wouldn't in fact be able to make it until 11:45. Give or take. I explained the situation breathlessly and apologized over and over, and I felt so bad about the whole thing, and the lady I spoke with, whoever she was, bless her heart, was so sweet. "It's ok!" she said. "These things happen. Especially on your first day. Sit down and have a coffee, and we'll see you when you get here." And so I did just that. I sat and sulked into my café crème, staring out the window at those ubiquitous gates once again, and with the gray, overcast skies and the damp chill in the air, it felt far from the happiest place on Earth. And then, even though I wasn't really hungry, I ordered a pain aux raisins, too. Because if there's one thing I've learned here, it's that when life really gets at you, sometimes all you can do is take a seat and eat a pastry.

To make a long story short (too late), I finally did arrive, and everyone was very nice, and I was basically given my schedule and told, Ok, so we'll see you next week! Yes, seriously. Although I did get a three-course cafeteria meal for €1,53 out of the deal, and if the first courses were all gone by the time I got there, and if the main course consisted of a pink, gooey hamburger patty and a side of pureed cauliflower, it was more than made up for by the île flottante for dessert.

Eventually I did make it home, too, although the transport home is a story that will have to wait for another day, as you've been more than patient already, Internet, and I will not test your attention span further. Stay tuned for this and more, as I navigate bureaucracy and red tape and attempt, against all odds, to open a French bank account. What could possibly go wrong, you ask? Who knows!! And such is the beauty of life in the land of Gaul, where even the most basic, everyday endeavours are rendered unnecessarily complicated. It makes life interesting. It's a challenge. And, perhaps, perversely enough, it's why I keep coming back. (That and the pastries, of course).

A bientôt.


  1. Imagine, though, if you had a car there. You'd have to concentrate so much that you wouldn't be able to eat pastries while in route.

    This sounds like a perfectly good tradeoff to moi.

  2. I'd recommend against opening an account at the Iceland bank, which apparently a lot of Europeans did on line.

  3. I'm so jealous. I always wanted to study abroad... I'm living vicariously through you in France.


  4. Welcome, white flower! I'm living at least a dozen vicarious lives right now. Hooray for the internet, and hooray for blogs!