Archive | February 2011


In January I was at a party at Louise and Julia’s (former BTL teachers) – Louise had just finished a six-month diploma, during which she had been living like a hermit under all her books, and was celebrating the end of her imprisonment.

As we were playing drunken Jenga, I realised how happy I was, and it surprised me.

Now that my time in Paris has drawn to a close, I’ve been very reflective. I keep trying to pinpoint when the scales tilted but, try as I might, I can’t find the moment when my giddy excitement and calm contentment started to outweigh my loneliness and frustration. I also can’t figure out whether the change was circumstance, or me.

In August I was desperately trying to find a UK visa for which I was eligible, and even went to London and back one day for a job interview.

Now I keep thinking about all the good times I’ve had, and wondering when I can come back.

Although I haven’t had a romance here, I’ve had romantic moments – sitting on the Seine on a balmy July night and watching the sun set with a guy I liked, eating a home-cooked three-course meal by candlelight with another . . . even though neither one led to anything more, they were wonderful moments.

And maybe I haven’t made any close friendships, but I still grin at memories with the friends I have made: racing down the conveyor belts at Châtelet with Simon, a French friend; talking to Mr Frog; going out with Manuela (former flatmate for 17 days); dinners with other teachers in Belleville; and, of course, party after party at Louise and Julia’s. Even my classes put me in a good mood.

True, the recent issue with Bénédicte and my deposit was frustrating, but it doesn’t actually change the fact that she did give me somewhere to stay. Because of her I was dry and safe and warm, and all of the things that I was thankful for before our conversation are still there.

And although it’s often frustrating trying to deal with the French way of (not) doing things, the French way of doing things created this marvellous city which continues to sweep me off my feet.

I’m truly grateful for my time there. Admittedly, it wasn’t the fairy tale I’d imagined, but I like that – it means that the dream of Paris is still ahead of me.

And that dream gives me a reason to come back.

Bénédicte’s verdict

I am so angry!

She isn’t giving me my security deposit back.

Yes, I understand that I broke a chair. Yes, I understand that I burned some bedding. But I expected that to add up to €100. Maybe €150.

I’ve asked her several times how much money she would like for the bed. I tried to replace the chair myself, but it is out of stock everywhere. I asked her if I could pay her for the chair, and she told me that she would have to work out how much I owed, including the bed.

Then I told her that I was leaving Paris. Upon giving her my one month’s notice, I asked how much she would like. Again. And she said she would get back to me.

Finally, I managed to speak to her again today.

Bénédicte, je veux te rappeler que je pars Paris ce samedi.

Oui, okay.

Je pars vers 19 heure, donc je voudrais savoir combien tue veux pour le fauteuil et le lit, et aussi si tu prefers que je te paie, ou de le prend de ma caution.” (I’m sure there are many things wrong with this French, but she makes me nervous.)

Then she dropped the bombshell – she was going to keep the entire deposit. All €450.

I gasped, “mais c’est €450. C’est beaucoup.”

Oui, je sais que c’est beaucoup,” Bénédicte shrugged, and went on to explain that:

1.      She had not been able to replace the chair, because it was out of stock, so she would take the money for that

2.      She didn’t know how much it would cost to fix the bed (the bed is okay, but the lights that I left on are now stuck in the frame so she can’t change them)

3.      She wasn’t going to replace the mattress (which isn’t damaged – it was just the blankets that I damaged), but when she did it would cost more than my deposit

4.      She had expected me to look up the cost of fixing the bed and, because I hadn’t given her a figure, she had to keep the deposit

5.      As I’m leaving earlier than planned (originally it was June) and I hadn’t found anyone to replace me, this was going to cost her the money she was expecting to get

I take issue with points 4 and 5.

4.      She didn’t tell me she expected me to find the cost for the bed. To try to replace the chair yes. The bed, no. At least, I don’t think she did. Admittedly, my French still isn’t too good, but I’ve been asking her how much I need to pay since December, so I think I would have picked up on it if she did tell me.

5.      Although I originally intended to stay until June, this wasn’t a guarantee, and in our initial emails to each other she just told me that we each needed to give one month’s notice*, which I did. It also isn’t my job to find someone new, though I did put up an ad in the BTL teachers’ room.

Again – I’m so angry! I feel sick and I’m shaking as I type. I don’t know why I bothered giving her notice – I should have left without a word.

I feel like I’m being punished for doing the right thing (not the accidental breaking of stuff, but the giving notice). It’s like when I resigned from BTL – I honoured my contract by giving two months notice, to be sentenced to 49.5 hours of work in January, and 35.5 hours of work in February.

It’s not fair! (Cue me stamping my foot.)

I know I’ve had bad luck here and my absentmindedness has caused a few problems, but this is the first time I’ve had any issues with a landlord. I’m not malicious. I’m respectful and clean and I don’t smoke. I’m very happy to socialise, but I can also stay out of the way if I must (which I think I’ve done quite well here). It’s not like I came here and intentionally trashed the place – I forgot to turn some lights off. I sat down too quickly (and I’m not heavy – a chair shouldn’t break when I sit on it).

Part of me is mad that she isn’t giving the money back, but mostly I’m furious that she didn’t tell me until now. And I had to chase her about it. The least she could have done was let me know last month when I told her I was leaving – then I could have considered this in my holiday planning.

Lately I’ve been thinking about my time in Paris and how grateful I am for the experience. The one thing that has consistently dampened it has been living with Bénédicte, which is quite stressful at the best of times (she seems to be very tightly wound, and she takes over the apartment when she’s home, stomping up and down the hall. I just feel tense when she’s around). However, I’d reached the point where I was grateful to her as well – she gave me a room in a beautiful apartment in a good area for a good price. Maybe it wasn’t what I’d imagined, but because of her I have been safe with a roof over my head.

I wanted to leave on good terms and, two days before I leave, I feel like she’s poisoned any chance of this. I want to be grateful. I really do. I want to be the bigger person and appreciate what she’s given me and release her with love and do everything that a generous and spiritual person would do, but it’s so hard!

I just want to throw myself on the ground with my fists balled and my face red and kick and scream. I want to have a tantrum and a cry.

I know it’s uncharitable, but I hope she learns English and finds this and reads it and feels bad.


*Quote from email: je voulais juste rajouter, en ce qui concerne le congé de la chambre, que nous nous donnions 1 mois de préavis chacune. If I’ve misinterpreted this, I’d appreciate it if one of my French readers would clue me in.

Le meilleur chocolat chaud à Paris? part quatre

Laduree - Rue Bonaparte

On Monday, Mr Frog and I sampled the last of his recommended hot chocolates – Ladurée.

The salon on Rue Bonaparte is not what you’d expect from a Parisian salon de thé – the ground floor is decorated in a Chinoiserie style with leafy bamboo and flowers painted on the wall, echoing Ladurée’s pastel pinks and greens. In contrast, the top floor is very dark and intimate. It is all blue, with dark carpet and thick, tasselled curtains and plush little armchairs printed in blue and gold. Warm and cosy, it is a perfect hide-out for a rainy winter day.

So would the chocolat chaud measure up?

The waiter came with the traditional two glasses of water, two china cups on saucers and two metal jugs of hot chocolate, and poured each of us a cup from our respective jugs. I smiled in anticipation as the liquid seeped thickly from the spout of the jug and pooled in the bottom of my cup, the volume rising steadily. It was reminiscent of Les Deux Magots – molten milk chocolate.

Then I took my first sip . . . nothing. I took another one, trying to savour the texture in my mouth, but it left me unmoved. At Café de la Paix and Les Deux Magots I hadn’t been able to keep the smile off my face, and even though Angelina could not match, it was worlds above Ladurée, and I still enjoyed my chocolate’s silky texture and taste.

The Ladurée hot chocolate had somehow managed to have all of the texture and none of the flavour of the first two. It tasted dusty and stale in comparison to the others. Little spots of fat glistened on top of the liquid, like in a soup that has used butter or oil, and I found it harder to drink as I continued.

It was like Cadbury chocolate in comparison to Lindt. As a child I liked Cadbury but, as an adult hooked on dark chocolate, Cadbury now tastes like wax to me. However, Lindt milk chocolate takes my breath away– like velvety cream as it melts on my tongue. I pause and savour Lindt, whereas I eat Cadbury very quickly to try and capture the same rapture.

The Ladurée hot chocolate was like this – although it was thick, I found myself taking bigger and bigger gulps as I chased the memory of more intense flavours at other cafés. If it weren’t for the texture, I would have found it very difficult to rank this chocolate above those that standard cafés sell for €2.50 – €4.00.

So I wouldn’t recommend this €6.50 hot chocolate – spend another €0.50 and go to Les Deux Magots, or if you would prefer something thinner and satiny, spend an extra €0.40 and go to Angelina.

That being said, Ladurée is still worth a visit – the salons de thé are a Paris institution. Although the salon at Rue Bonaparte isn’t very French, the salons on the Champs-Elyseés and Rue Royale have chic patisseries and comfortably elegant salons like Angelina, with dim lighting, moulded walls and carpeted floors. And the beautifully presented pastries and macaroons are easily a good enough reason to enjoy the ambiance.

But, if I was going out for a chocolat chaud, I’d go elsewhere.

Rankings so far:

  1. Les Deux Magots
  2. Café de la Paix (second because the price is higher, though the quality is just as good as the first and the taste is more intense)
  3. Angelina
  4. Ladurée

Salon International de l’Agriculture

The International Agriculture Show is a yearly event that takes place in Paris in late February or early March. In 2011 it is taking place between February 19 and 27, and theme is ‘Farming and Food: the French Model’.

So over 1000 exhibitors and 3500 animals from 34 countries will be on site, focussing on France’s regions, technologies and traditions, with about 600,000 visitors expected to come and see their wares.

It is also where many politicians, hoping to snatch the rural vote, make an appearance to shake influential hands. Nicolas Sarkozy went on the Saturday morning (apparently after a faux-pas at the show in 2008, he prefers to keep a lower profile).

I went on Saturday, fortunately missing any Sarkozy brouhaha, and started with Pavilion 1, where the livestock was on display. When I walked into the enormous Pavilion, the perfume of hay wafted over me and, cut off from all natural light in the cavernous space, I felt as though I’d departed from Paris entirely.


This was completely different to being in some sanitised museum – I was looking at living exhibits, with famers and producers who were only too ready to talk to me and let me touch and taste their produce.

I was shocked by the size of some of the cows. Being a born and bred city girl, I’d always though cows were about the size of horses, but a bit bulkier – these were like buses in comparison! And the pigs – the sleeping giants at the Salon de l’Agriculture were four times the size of Babe.

In contrast, the chicks were scraps of feathers, smaller and softer than anything from a Kleenex ad.

And when I reached the cages of birds and rabbits, I felt like I was in a giant pet store. Excluding Bénédicte’s incredibly skittish cat, the only pet that was ever in my family was my sister’s goldfish, which I think died after a month (neat freak that my mother is, I think she changed the water too often). So my sister and would always press our faces up against pet-store windows to look at the puppies and kittens tumbling over each other, and the long-eared bunnies dozing peacefully. Here I stared at the rabbits – small balls with little, pointy ears, Angoras which were just ears sticking out of their fluffy coats, and the long-eared rabbits with their ears tucked against their bodies.

I ached to run my index finger and thumb down one of those ears to see if it felt as velvety as it looked.

And then I moved on to the food. Pavilion 1 had an area devoted to cheese and dairy products, and Pavilion 7 exhibited produce from the different regions of France. I tasted sample after sample, one chocolate and hazelnut biscuit good enough to make my cheeks flush . . . but I’d already spent my money on caramelised and chocolate coated nuts by that stage, so had to slink away. One day I’m going to have enough money to go to one of these shows and buy everything I want.













I was even lucky enough to see some demonstrations.

One was of a girl making a soft white cheese – large disks of cheese rested in cylindrical casts with holes for the whey to seep out. All of the cheese casts sat on a wooden table with a groove cut out towards the edges, down which the whey slid into a bucket at one end of the table. As a man was explaining that the cheese needs to be left until the mould can form a rind, the girl quickly flipped each disk of cheese onto her palm and deposited it back into the plastic cast upside down to keep the shape and texture uniform.

I also saw a man preparing a Millet aux pommes du Perche. First he whipped up crème anglaise, whisking it until it seemed artificially bright.

He sautéed some thinly sliced apples in butter, then coated them in honey and flambéed them with local alcohol. Next he spread a canary-yellow layer of custard into a casserole dish, topped it with the apples, and then added another layer of custard. After garnishing the dessert with chopped nuts, he put a green bowl of butter over the stove to soften the butter for a glaze. He lifted the bowl . . . and left a ring of green plastic on the stove.

Yes I did get to taste it, and it was lovely – the butter and apples melted together perfectly.

The next pavilion also focussed on food, but international food this time, where 34 countries each had stalls presenting their specialties (Australia wasn’t one of them, though I’m not sure what we’d show).

After visiting one of my students, who was working at the show that day and had told me about it, I took a brief tour of the crops and plant section and made my way home.

TEFL Lessons Learned – the first class, private students

The first lesson with a private student is different to the first lesson with a BTL student.

The main reason is that you don’t know the student’s level, so you can’t prepare much.

So, after introducing myself, I start by saying that my objective of the lesson is to determine their level and that will help me prepare activities for the next lesson. This gives you a bit of leeway – unlike BTL students, whose companies pay for their lessons, private students are paying themselves, so they expect value for money. Saying this takes the pressure off the first lesson, but means you’d better bring something good on the second. I lost a private student by bringing activities that were too simple on the second lesson, so it’s probably better to overestimate than under estimate their levels.

But back to the first lesson! It’s just a conversation class. If the conversation is easy enough, I let it flow naturally and wait until the end to ask them about what they want to achieve.

If the introductory small-talk doesn’t branch off to other areas of conversation, I ask about their goals and bring out my fail-safe activity – Have You Ever.

Have You Ever is a pile of question cards, each beginning with the words ‘have you ever’.

  • Have you ever done a job you really disliked?
  • Have you ever met someone famous or important?
  • Have you ever called the police?
  • Have you ever experienced problems in a foreign country?
  • Have you ever eaten something strange or unusual?
  • Etc.

It’s good if you’re teaching the present perfect, and it’s excellent for conversation, it usually averages about 40mins, which is plenty of time to observe someone’s level and pinpoint the errors they make.

And I know that whenever I cut a sheet of paper into smaller cards I feel like a much better teacher. :p

TEFL Lessons Learned – course books

Since I often write about using course books in my classes, I should probably discuss their value.

At BTL you are expected to use them – as part of their course, the students are entitled to a book, so you should use it. I’ve had a couple of students complain about not liking the books or finding them boring and, in those cases, I’ve stopped using the books. Most of the time, however, I use the books about two thirds of the time (about 60 minutes of a 90 minute class, as well as in two of every three classes – for more advanced students, I just use the book in one of every three classes).

For private students I also use the books, but not as much. If I do use it, I’ll generally just photocopy some grammar exercises.

Here are some pictures taken from one of my favourite books, Market Leader Intermediate.

© Pearson Education Ltd - Market Leader; Cotton, Falvey and Kent

© Pearson Education Ltd - Market Leader; Cotton, Falvey and Kent

© Pearson Education Ltd - Market Leader; Cotton, Falvey and Kent

© Pearson Education Ltd - Market Leader; Cotton, Falvey and Kent

This is how I’d use this extract –

1.      Conversation about brands. I wouldn’t have them open their books (or give them a copy of the first page), but would leave mine open for conversation prompts, if needed. My questions would include:

a.       Do you buy brands? Which ones?

b.      Do you like brands? Why, why not?

c.       Why do you think people buy brands?

d.      Branded items are often more expensive than unbranded items – do you think there is an increase in value when you buy a brand? Do you think that value justifies the price? (use an example of a branded bag costing €300 more than an unbranded bag – is it really €300 better, or do people just want the name?)

e.       What are some examples of good brands?

f.       I’ve heard that there are no school uniforms here, and sometimes children can get bullied because they don’t wear branded clothes? Is this true? Has this happened to your children/anyone you know? (this is a France-specific issue)

2.      Listening activity C – I would verbally ask what reasons the speakers give for liking/disliking brands, and talk about it afterwards. Do the students agree?

3.      Vocabulary exercises A and B – may need to teach words like ‘stretching’, ‘awareness’ and ‘endorsement’, and use process of elimination to find the right definitions.

4.      Listening activities A – C. This interview discusses how important it is for brands to arouse emotions and create loyalty, and uses the examples of Apple and Orange (the computer and telecoms companies, not the fruits :p ) as being companies that create fierce loyalty because they have a personality. Ask if the students agree and if they have any other examples.

5.      Grammar – the present simple vs. the present continuous.

a.       Explain the structure

i. Present simple – Regular verbs use the infinitive form and take an ‘s’ for the third-person singular – I do, I go, I walk, etc.

ii. Present continuous – Be + verb-ing – I am doing, I am going, I am walking, etc.

b.      Explain the usage and give examples

i. Present simple – routine activities

– permanent situations or factual information

ii. Present continuous – temporary situations

– continuing actions

– things happening at the time of speaking/writing

– future plans

c.       Do exercises A – C

And that will generally take an hour to 90 minutes – the rest of the lesson is made up of homework correction, a vocab quiz, conversation, and maybe a card activity if there is time. If I’m doing a part of the book that doesn’t have a grammar focus, I might bring in some grammar exercises revising what we did the previous week as well. In the third part of a first lesson I would just do the first two pages, so steps 1-4.

And for homework I would set page 3 – the students would need to read the article and do exercises C and D.

I like this book because the units (Brands, Travel, Advertising, Culture, etc.) are quite generic, so you can do them with most students of this level. Some of the higher level books have more specific business topics, which can be really dry (Public Private Partnerships, Takeovers and Mergers, Building Business Relationships). It might be one of the reasons why I use the books less frequently with more advanced students . . .

So, do course books have any value?

For me, yes, because:

1.      This is my first teaching position and, when I started, I wouldn’t have known where to start without some structure in place. Although now I could manage without them, I still enjoy how much material they put at my fingertips, including audio files and DVD-ROMs. They also give me a lot of material which is at the same level – when I use external material, sometimes it ends up being too easy or difficult for a student.

2.      They save preparation time – on €16.50 an hour you don’t want to spend 30 minutes preparing for every class. Now I know the books and my favourite activities so well that I can plan a class in a couple of minutes.

3.      I think they are good for the students – a course book is something tangible they can take away from the course when they’re finished and continue using. It also gives them a measurable way to mark their progress.

However, I have some criticisms:

1.      Grammar is often not explained very well, (look at page 4 of the extract for example), and some of it is introduced too late in the book. I have so many students who make tense mistakes and, if I followed Market Leader Pre-Intermediate in order, they wouldn’t start doing tenses until the end of their course (it covers the Present Simple and Continuous in Unit 3, the Past Simple and Continuous in Unit 4 and the Past Simple and Present Perfect in Unit 5 – in a 20-hour course, I usually only get through three units).

2.      I know I’m supposed to be teaching Business English, but some of the topics are so dry! And business doesn’t have to be boring – talking about Brands, Advertising, Media and Communication, and Business Ethics are interesting (to me, at least).

3.      If the course book is all the teacher uses, it can be boring. I was shocked when I discovered that Berlitz literally goes through the course books page by page.

In conclusion, I think course books are valuable when used wisely. They provide a good basis, but please use other materials too – there are a wealth of podcasts, news stories and ESL activities available with a quick Google search, and often your life experience is the most important thing when you want to create conversation. Especially if you’re an expat learning about your students’ culture/s.

TEFL Lessons Learned – the first class, BTL

After confirming my travel route on RATP, I take the metro to the company of the day (I don’t take buses in Paris for two reasons: first, because I have a tendency to drift off and miss stops (this happens on the metro too, but it’s less common). Second, Paris traffic could result in me being late).

The first time I leave with 20 minutes to spare, with the aim of getting there 10 minutes early. If there are any problems, I need to call BTL.

Upon arriving, I greet the receptionist with a cheerful “bonjour! J’ai un rendez-vous avec [insert name here].” The student’s folder is at the ready, so I can show the receptionist the name in case there are pronunciation difficulties.

The student usually comes to reception to collect me, greeting me with a “bonjour.”

“Hi!” I reply with a big smile, “I’m Jolie.”

“Hello,” they reply in varying levels of English, and we make small talk as they take me to the appropriate room or office.

Now, onto the lesson!

The first lesson is broken into three parts – getting to know you, admin, and English.

1.      Getting to know you – 30-60 mins, depending on how talkative the students are

For elementary and pre-intermediate students, I have a set of interview cards that I use – these ask questions about their work and interests, and I can use these to go off on tangents if they’re comfortable enough. If they’re shy, we ask questions in turn and I give them lots of praise and take notes of problem areas.

For intermediate students, I draw a number of circles on a page – usually between seven and ten. In each of these circles I write a word that is related to me, e.g.: London, Melbourne, 92 (the department in which I live in France), 8 (the number of months I’ve been in Paris), my siblings’ names, etc. They need to guess the significance of each word by asking me questions (“Where is London?” isn’t good enough, I’m looking for “have you lived/worked in London?”). This is a good activity because it gives me a chance to see how good their speaking is and how comfortable they are taking the lead in a conversation. It’s also good for conversation – when intermediate students get something right, I turn the question back to them.

For upper-intermediate and advanced students, we do the circle activity. After they finish (some of them do it surprisingly quickly), they need to draw circles with facts about themselves which I, or another student, need to guess. It can be a lot of fun if you have two students – either they know nothing about each other, or they know each other so well that they need to write really obscure facts to stop it being too obvious.

2.      Admin – 5-20 minutes, depending on how frustrated students are with their current level of English

Next I open the class dossier. First I show students the presence sheet and tell them they need to sign it every week. Then we talk about cancellations – I explain that they need to call BTL to cancel a class at least 48 hours in advance or else they will lose the lesson, and give them a paper explaining this (in French – courtesy of BTL) with BTL’s number and my name on it. We then go through the calendar of classes, and they tell me if they have any holidays planned over the next few months.

Then we discuss objectives. I show them the Fiche D’Appreciation and explain that they will need to complete this at the end of the course. On the back of the form, there is a list of areas of  language – grammar, professional and general vocab, oral expression and comprehension, reading and writing. I ask them what their top priorities are – where they want to improve the most. Generally it’s oral expression and comprehension.

This is also when we talk about the student’s previous experience in English, which can sometimes lead onto a torrent about how frustrated they are with their level, which situations they find difficult, and what they didn’t like about their previous courses.

3.      English – the rest of the lesson

When we get a student’s dossier, there is a report on the student. If it’s an initial report, it was done over the phone by BTL, and should be taken with a grain of salt. If it’s an Evaluation de Fin de Stage, it was completed on a previous BTL course, and should still be taken with a grain of salt.

Initial evaluations grade students on a scale of 1 (beginner) to 30 (better English than me). My students have all been between 7 and 22 (we’re going to ignore my level 28s, because that’s really unusual). Based on these levels, we can choose a coursebook for them.

Why do you need to take the evaluation levels with a grain of salt? Because grading someone over the phone can be inaccurate. And because you can put whatever you want into a final report – if your students don’t progress, it reflects badly on you as a teacher. This means that someone who’s done a number of courses will continue to improve on paper, even if they have a twelve-month break between courses and forget everything. I’ve inherited a couple of students who have been on books that were way too high for them, and it’s incredibly frustrating – for the teacher, because you’re unprepared, and for the student, because they feel like their English is awful. The reverse is also annoying, mainly because you look like an idiot who’s giving them children’s work when they can clearly do much more.

So, for this part of the lesson I photocopy a couple of pages from the course book of their level and we work on that – I prefer to just use the book because it’s the easiest way to quickly check their listening and reading skills, and to determine what level they really are. If the book I’ve prepared is inappropriate for their level . . . it used to be rather embarrassing for me. However, now I know the material quite well I know I can quickly photocopy something appropriate or steal an activity from one of the folders for my other students that day. In a worst case scenario (i.e.: I have no other material), I can go into a grammar refresher with a lower-level student, or whip out a podcast with questions for a higher-level student.

If there’s any time left, I’ll quiz or play hangman with the new vocabulary from the lesson, then I set some homework for the next week and we’re done!


Relais de la Butte

Rue Poulbot

Although I’ve visited the Sacre Coeur several times, as well as a few other cafés in Montmartre, I’ve realised that I barely know the area at all.

Chez Marie

Today I set out to remedy this. Instead of getting off the metro at Anvers, I left at Pigalle and snaked my way up the hill of cobble-stoned streets. Although Montmartre became a part of Paris in 1860, the village retained its character despite Haussman’s renovations.

From the 1880s artists gravitated to the area, giving it the bohemian atmosphere for which it is still known.

Though, on a Sunday, everything was very calm. People sat under leafless trees on park benches, in tiny parks squeezed into street corners. They posed for photos under iron lamp posts on flight after flight of stone stairs, and they slowly perused café and restaurant menus before choosing whether or not to sit down for a drink.

Street performer. That’s a vase containing a goldfish on his head!

The streets were filled with boutiques, bars and bakeries, many of the glass-front shops dark and empty.

However, the energy changed as my path wound closer to the Sacre Coeur. The crowds increased and soon the shops were all dedicated to souvenirs. Suddenly the quartier was alive with street artists – not the usual hip-hop dancers you see around Anvers, but a swing band, a cellist and a tap-dancing, balloon-animal maker.

The latter was the most impressive – he would select a child in the crowd and make him or her a balloon animal while tapping away, balancing a vase filled with water on his head. And there were three live goldfish in the case.

He was performing on the corner of Place du Tertre, a square bordered by restaurants and filled with artists selling their wares.

Place du Tertre

One half of the square had painters with easels displaying images of Paris for sale, and the other half of the square had portraitists who were sketching greyscale images of tourists – there must have been twenty or thirty of them.

I continued to the Sacre Coeur, where more artists were standing with sketch paper on clipboards, drawing people while standing.

I considered going to the hill in front of the Sacre Coeur to see what entertainment was there (past examples have included hip-hop dancers, jugglers and a man walking down the hill on his hands), but walked behind it instead.

I was shocked to discover a completely different world.

Place du Tertre

The crowds ceased abruptly, and I was in a residential area. It was still Montmartre, with its stairs, lanterns, cobble-stones, park benches and architecture, but it was quiet. I strolled down Rue Saint Vincent and only saw two couples and an old woman walking a white poodle wearing a red vest.

From here I walked to the mansion and tree-lined Avenue Junot and turned down Villa Léandre. Villa Léandre is reputedly one of the most expensive streets in Paris, with colourful houses and gardens lining the street.

As I left Villa Léandre I saw a sign pointing to Place du Tertre and a small group of tourists coming my way, and realised that I was heading back to the beaten track.

Villa Leandre

I followed the sign, passing a sculpture of a man coming through a wall. This sculpture is of the protagonist of French writer Marcel Aymé’s short story Le Passe Murielle – at 42, the character Dutilleul discovers that he can “pass through walls with perfect ease”. This talent drives Dutilleul to sinister pursuits until he is trapped in a wall on Rue Norvins in Montmartre, where we can see him today.

I returned to Place du Tertre, and window-shopped my way along the beaten track back to the metro.

After an hour of walking, I still don’t know Montmartre very well, but I think we’re becoming better acquainted.

The man in the wall

Sacre Coeur from back

Men and their shoes

I left BTL after my last class today and a man on the street stopped to look me up and down.

I blinked, bemused, and turned around the corner towards Saint Lazare.

Pardon Mademoiselle?

I turned and he was behind me – 6’2”, wiry with glasses and greying brown hair. “Hi,” I said.

Vous ne parlez pas le français?

Oui, un peu, mais très mal.”

“Okay,” he switched to English. “I work in fashion and I saw your beautiful shoes.”

I looked down to remind myself of which shoes I was wearing (no, I’m not much of a shoe person. Yes, I think many of them are beautiful, but they aren’t usually ones that I can comfortably walk in, and I’d prefer to spend my money on moisturisers). They were black suede heels with patent-leather toes and heels – a gift from my mum from Myer. They were lovely, but after 18-months of wear and tear I wasn’t expecting compliments for them.

“When did you get them?” he asked.

“Oh, over a year ago in Australia.”

“And that’s where you are from?”


“And what brand are they?”

I had no idea (have since taken them off and checked – Annapelle). “I don’t know – I know where I bought them, but it’s a big department store.”

“Okay,” he nodded with a smile, “and are they comfortable?”

I frowned in confusion – where was this going? “Yes . . . as far as heels are concerned.”

“Oh, you don’t like high-heels?”

I shrugged, “as long as I don’t have to walk.”

“Then you only wear high-heels for work?”

“Yes,” I nodded, “I need to wear business dress.”

“And you think that means heels?”

“No . . . not all the time.”

“Then why are you wearing them today?”

I shrugged helplessly, “I don’t know, I felt like it?”

I’d taken a departure from my usual teaching uniform today and was wearing a knee-length red winter coat over black pants and a black woollen turtleneck – as I’ve been feeling a bit plump lately, I was after the sleekness that top-to-toe black can provide. I must say the end result wasn’t bad. I wore the shoes because they went with the outfit, they make me feel pretty before my feet start hurting, and, as I’m not taking them with me when I leave Paris, it was one of my last chances to wear them.

“Because the weather is nice?” he prodded.

“Yeah, because it’s a beautiful day.” Agreeing seemed to be the quickest option.

He nodded and smiled again, “well I just wanted to say that your shoes are beautiful.”

“Okay, thank you,” I grinned and turned back towards Saint Lazare.

TEFL Lessons Learned – teaching uniform

My uniform is always the same – a brown or grey Portman’s suit (purchased on sale in a previous life) with decent, but comfortable, shoes and a knit top or shirt. The shoes have to be comfortable – when things are busy I often find myself working at four different companies in a day, which entails a lot of walking to and from metro stations and up and down metro stairs.

Most of the guys at work also wear suits. Most of the girls don’t, which leaves me looking a bit dressy. We’re supposed to wear “business casual” but, as long as you stay away from jeans, runners or swimwear, you’ll be fine.

Even though it means I’m dressed more formally than most of my students, I prefer to stick to a suit (weather permitting – summer was shirt and skirt time). First, because I have suits here, so I might as well wear them. Second, because I’m one of the younger teachers here, I think I get a bit more respect if I look professional. Third, suits make me look like I know what I’m doing.

That’s not always the case, but let’s keep that between you and me. :p

For private students, I wear a suit for the first lesson. After that, if I go to class after my day-job, I continue to wear the suit. If not, things seem to grow progressively more casual – I’ve been teaching Sebastien, a former BTL student, privately since January and now I wear jeans with a nice top and shoes. I’ve been teaching Patrizio since September, and now I sometimes wear runners with my jeans – next step, pjs!