Tag Archive | expat

Finding a room – take 3

Room 1 – 3/07/10, 15th arrondissement, €320 a month, source: Cité Université

Cité Université - so pretty I'm considering doing a Masters just so I can go here

One of the guys at work suggested looking at the bulletin board at Cité Université for room ads and, when I found one that specified a young Anglophone girl for €320 a month, I thought it must be the one.

There were two phone numbers on the ad – one for Vera, the girl renting the room, and one for her mother, probably to protect her from creepy French men.

We arrange to meet on a Saturday, and I call her when I reach her building. We start in French and switch to English, as she tells me she has just gone to the shops, but will be back soon. After a couple of minutes I can hear someone running. I turn around and there is a gorgeous, petite girl in a maxi-dress bounding down the street, with an abundance of dark curly hair bouncing behind her. I like her already.

As we ride in the elevator, she explains that she is going to have the flat painted, so it won’t be ready until August. The rent is €320 a month, plus bills, and plus a few hundred euros to help her pay a fee that she will be charged at the beginning of the year.

We get inside and I can see she hasn’t lived here long – all of her furniture looks like it has been donated. This might have worked, but on a rather grey day and in a flat with walls in desperate need of a paint, it all looks very old and dirty. However, I really like Vera (who is 18 and about to start a degree in English literature, hence the ad for an Anglophone) so I decide to wait until I see the room before making a decision.

The room is dark with an old (read: dirty) double-mattress on the floor and peeling green walls. Think bathroom, or public-swimming-pool changing-room green. I ask what colour they are going to be painted, and she tells me that she’s only having the living room and kitchen area painted.

Okay – not this room.

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Room 2 – 6/08/10, 13th arrondissement, €350 a month, source: www.kijiji.fr

Due to being on the opposite side of the road, where there is a one of those corners of grass that is considered to be a park here (I miss space), I walk past the building. After realising that the road has changed names, I turn back and find myself in front of a block of flats. I call Eric’s number (after accidentally leaving a message in French for one of the teachers at BTL, who coincidentally shares a name with someone else who was showing me a room) and tell him that I’m waiting on the street and am here to see the room.

“Oh, okay. Levelatet.”

“Pardon?” I ask, confused. I don’t know this word.

“Levelatet.”

I frown, looking around. He then starts to repeat himself in a sing-song voice, “levelatet, levelatet, levelatet!”

Eventually I look up to see someone leaning out of his window, waving both arms. Oh! The realisation strikes – levez la tête! Basically, lift your head, or look up (I’m not very good over the phone. This is why figuring out how to recharge my credit was such a proud moment).

He directs me to the right floor, and when I arrive his door is open for me. I take off my shoes (upon seeing that he is barefooted and there are other shoes waiting by the door) and walk in. The apartment smells familiar . . . like stale gingerbread.

He takes me into the salon and I get a sinking feeling – there are A3 photos of a toddler everywhere. I already wasn’t taken with the area (the 13th seems to have some lovely parts and some dodgy parts – this one was a bit dodgy and dirty), and the photos of the are enough to turn me against the flat. You will have observed that I prefer the shared parts of my flats to truly be shared – too much personal memorabilia leaves me feeling like I’m a guest, and I don’t really have the right to call a place my temporary home.

I ask if his family lives here, and he says that it’s just him, but confirms that the child in the pictures is his daughter. The flat is a decent size, and in the spare bedroom there is enough room for one of those beds that looks like the top-half of a bunk bed with a desk underneath, as well as a separate single bed. I ask whether the room is for two people and, after finding out that I don’t want to share, he tells me that it isn’t. So this room could be okay as a backup – it’s definitely a good price.

We sit on the couch afterwards, and he seems to be very interested in hearing about Australia and why I came to Paris, and what I like about Paris. He then gets up, saying that he has something for me. I get a little worried, wondering how I’ll make my escape (we’re on the 5th floor). He goes to the kitchen cupboard, and comes back with a box of Ferrero Rochers. Next he gives me some sort of sweet which I find to be too sugary, and when I finally excuse myself he gives me another Ferrero Rocher for the road. I start feeling like I’m falling into a modern-day Hansel and Gretel trap.

I don’t think I’ll be taking this room.

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Room 3 – 8/08/10, Joinville-le-Pont, €380 a month, source: www.kijiji.fr

The first thing I notice as I take the RER A out of the city is how many trees there are. True, I have looked at other rooms outside of the Boulevard Périphérique, but not this far. When I get off the train, I take the wrong exit and start walking down a highway on the wrong side of the Bois de Vincennes, and feel like I’m well on my way to the country.

Hamdi, the gentleman showing me the room, calls me after about 10mins when I’ve realised that I’ve been going the wrong way and have started heading back. He meets me back at the station and walks me to the flat, which is only two minutes away (much easier!).

Like previous flats, I know it’s not for me as soon as I see the living room. There’s just too much decoration there – Tunisian table cloths, ornate candle holders and family photos. This isn’t a share flat – this is a flat that clearly belongs to a family which has a spare room.

Then Hamdi (who is very cute, by the way – full lips, dimples, fine features) mentions that he has a wife and a baby. They are currently on holidays, but will be back in a month. No matter how good the price is, I don’t really want to live with a family.

In general, the flat is fine – the price is good, it’s only on the second floor, which is good because there’s no elevator, and the rooms are all good sizes. But it’s not in Paris.

I’ve discovered that Paris is not like London or Melbourne. In London or Melbourne, you’re still considered to be a part of the city if you live in the suburbs. Not so with Paris. If you’re not within the Boulevard Périphérique (i.e.: in one of the 20 arrondissements), you’re not in Paris. You’re either in, or you’re out. I decide that being in Paris is now one of my essential criteria.

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Room 4 – 8/08/10, €385 a month, source: www.kijiji.fr

The Sacre Coeur

Back in Paris, I visit Michel, who is renting a room at an extremely good price for Paris. I reach the front gate of the building and start to call him, when an elderly man who was waiting outside approaches me, asking my name.

It is Michel. He explains that he didn’t know whether to look for a girl or a boy, but that he was glad I was a girl because he was hoping the rent out the room to a young woman.

Just some background info: only wanting to rent out a room to a young girl isn’t creepy. In fact, it’s quite common. We have a reputation for being cleaner and quieter (sorry guys), and even houses with both girls and guys sometimes request girls because they are worried that things could get out of hand if there are too many guys.

And the question about my gender is a result of my name. My nickname is generally reserved for girls in Australia, but here it’s generally reserved for boys. I’ve had French teachers become very confused, and students be unsure about whether or not I am really their teacher.

Due to his age (probably mid 60s to mid 70s), I assume that Michel is the landlord. He takes me up to the apartment (eighth floor with an elevator – yay!) and shows me the room. It’s rather bland, but it has a double bed and plenty of wardrobe space, as well as a balcony that I share with the kitchen. The kitchen is long and narrow, but with plenty of counter space and is very warm and well-lit in the afternoon.

I ask if Michel lives here, and he says yes and takes me to the living room, which has been set up as an office/bedroom – almost like a studio. Then he takes me out to the balcony where I can see the private park (there are four apartment buildings which form four walls around a small park – maybe 100m2) and I think about how nice it will be to sit under one of the trees reading, without having to worry about a strange man approaching me. Then I look up and see that he has a view of both the Eiffel Tower and the Sacre Coeur. At that moment, there is a break in the clouds over the Sacre Coeur, and it almost seems to be glowing in comparison to the surrounding buildings.

I only have one reservation about this room – socialising. Having been living in a French flat-share for the last month, I’ve realised how important it is for me to be able to talk to my housemates at the end of each day, especially since I still meeting new people. I’d also really like to find an English flat-share (Michel only speaks French). Although I know it would be bad for my French, I want to be able to relax at the end of the day, and it’s impossible to do that if I’m trying to speak in French.

However, the price, the location and the private garden are all so tempting that I start to think that this might be my room. I tell him that I’ll think about it and let him know in a couple of days.

Suddenly, Michel gets a bit strange.

“What’s wrong?” he asks me. “Is the room not a good price?”

“Uh . . . yes. It’s the best price I’ve seen in Paris . . .” I reply, unsure where this is going.

“Am I not well presented?” he straightens his tweed jacket and flashes me a smile.

I smile, “yes.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Um, there’s no problem, but I have other rooms to look at before I can make my decision,” I reply.

Then he gets agitated, talking about how he is offering me the base price because he wants a young girl to live in the room, and that if it was a man he would be charging €50 more a month, and he moans about how difficult it is to find a girl, then proceeds to take out previous rental agreements to show me how the price has dropped. In 2008 the room was €450 a month, then in 2009 it was €500 for a guy who rented it for three months.

“Yes, I know it’s a good price,” I say, unsure where this is going.

“Then why can’t you give me an answer?!”

“Because I have other rooms to see,” I say, looking for a way to escape. “I can tell you on Tuesday.”

“But all the girls say they will call on Tuesday or Wednesday, and they never do.”

I firmly tell him that I won’t make a decision now, and tell him I will call or email on Tuesday. When Tuesday rolls around I’m not sure what to do – it’s still the best value I’ve seen, but I still want someone I can socialise with, and I’m a little uncomfortable following his insistence on the weekend. But I only have two weeks and a half to find a room – what if I don’t find anything?

In the end I decide to sacrifice the room, and send him an email saying that I found another. Then I start looking for rooms on Craigslist, where most of the ads are in English.

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Room 5 – 12/08/10, 18th arrondissement, €495 a month, source: paris.en.craigslist.org

Earlier in the day I’d realised that, although I checked ratp.fr for directions to this room, I forgot to write them down. Luckily, I remembered which station I had to go to and had the address written down, so I figured I could find my way using the map at Stalingrad station.

After locating the street on the map, I take a photo of it so I can find my way when I climb back up to the real world. Unfortunately, I attract the attention of a gentleman who looks like he is drunk and homeless, though he may just be an unsavoury frog. I ignore him as he follows me to the intersection, and then I stop to check my map. As I stop, I can hear him mumbling in French under his breath, but figure that he’ll wander away if I continue to ignore him. Then I hear what he is saying:

“I want to have sex with you. I want to have sex with you. I want to have sex with you . . .”

I look at him and gape, and he starts talking about my culottes before returning to the previous refrain:

“I want to have sex with you. I want to have sex with you. I want to have sex with you . . .”

I tell him (in English) to leave me alone and that I don’t speak French, then speedily walk away. And he follows me!

After another 100 meters, I turn around and tell him that I don’t understand him, that I don’t speak French, and ask him to leave me alone. He doesn’t. After another 20 meters I whirl around and snap the same thing, but with more force.

The next time I turn around he is gone. Strangely, I’m not feeling too enthusiastic about this area, even if I can see the Sacre Coeur over the train tracks. This feeling doesn’t get any better as I walk through streets of rundown flats and over the wide expanse of train tracks that leads into Gare du Nord.

Ironically, the street where the room is located is the nicest street I saw in the area. I call Guillaume, the landlord, from the street and he comes down to collect me. After walking up four floors of stairs (no elevator) we reach the apartment. It’s tiny – the kitchen has a bar fridge that also functions as a bench, there’s no living room, there’s no bath and the room is pretty small. But the room has a double bed, and the toilet and bathroom are separate, and the shower has a red curtain (I have a thing for red). And la cuisine may have been ridiculous, but it felt so Parisienne.

I prepare to tell him that I’ll think about it, and leave it as a backup option if none of the other rooms are okay, but he decides to introduce me to the housemates. There are two other girls – one Italian, one Spanish – and we spoke in French about the quartier, my job and how bad my French is (“mais non, ton français est bon!” they tell me encouragingly). I don’t know what it is – we don’t talk for long, or about anything significant, but I already feel welcomed here and have a feeling that this could be the place for me. Despite the man in the street who wants to have sex with me.

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Room 6 – 15/08/10, 13th arrondissement, €450 a month, source: paris.en.craigslist.org

That weekend I still had three rooms to see, but I figured they were just a formality as I had pretty much decided on Guillaume’s room. Then I exited the metro at Maison Blanche to see Camille’s room in the 13th.

There are no creepy men. The streets are quiet and clean. I restrain myself from getting too excited – I’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by a nice area before. This room also isn’t available until September 15th, and I need a room for August 31st, so I can’t really get my hopes up.

The flat is on the fourth floor (no elevator) and across the road from the bakery. I knock on the front door as Camille is saying goodbye to someone else looking at the room. I enter and the room is beautiful – warm yellow walls, a window in the corner where the afternoon sun streamed in, a double bed and a desk, and a fireplace which has been filled with mini-bookshelves.

The bathroom is small but spotless, as is the kitchen, which even has enough space for a small table. There’s also a storage closet, where I can stash my suitcases until I leave. And the rent is lower than Guillaume’s room (€415 a month plus electricity, which makes it about €430 in the summer and €450 in the winter). The only disadvantages are that there is no washing machine, and that the room has no door – it has a beige curtain that goes across the doorway – but knowing that Camille will be my only flatmate, I’m not worried about my privacy.

I tell Camille that I’m interested and ask whether she can bring the move-in date forward. She says she can’t, because the other girl who lives there won’t be leaving until September 15th, but she’ll let me know if anything changes. So I repeat that I’m interested (I’ve also lost a room before by not seeming interested enough), and say that I’ll look for something else for the two weeks. We end up talking for about 40mins about everything – in English, because she wants to practice – and I leave feeling like I made a good impression.

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Room 7 – 12/08/10, 12th arrondissement, €525 a month, source: paris.en.craigslist.org

After Camille, this room is definitely a formality. Though when I leave the metro, the area is even nicer – two rows of leafy trees down each side of the main road, there is an ornate roundabout and all the major shops are on the same street.

I reach the front door and give Andreea a call. I’m not actually meeting Andreea, the girl I’ve been emailing, today, but she said her boyfriend could show me the room. However, I don’t have his number, and she doesn’t pick up her phone. I send her a text and wait on a bench outside the front door.

A few minutes later I hear something, and see a boy leaning out one of the third-floor windows waving at me. I wave back and go in. It’s the third floor (no elevator – I don’t seem to be having much luck with elevators in this room search. I know it won’t usually be a problem, I’m just worried about the initial move) and he has the door open for me.

I walk inside and he comes to greet me. I’m immediately put off – B.O. The flat is a decent size for its price, and it’s in a good area, but nothing can compare to how pretty Camille’s was. This one is also a mess, and you need to go through my potential room to reach the bathroom, which is not ideal.

I thank the boyfriend for showing me around, and make a note of this place as a possible two-week solution while I wait for September 15th.

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I realise that Room 8 is outside of Paris, and I need to get a bus from the station to get there (I don’t take buses here – it’s one of the fears I need to overcome), so I cancel that appointment and wait for Camille to get back to me.

Yesterday, she did. As the room isn’t available until September 15th, she doesn’t want to make the decision until September. As I only have my current room until the end of the month, this doesn’t really work for me.

Logically, I should call Guillaume from Room 5 back, but I have some things in the pipeline, and don’t know how long I can commit to a room just yet.

August 10 – A day in my life as a Business English teacher

I know, I know – I recently did a couple of posts about a week in my life. However, I have been persuaded to risk repeating myself for a great, selfless and noble cause.

. . . okay, maybe it’s not so noble. And it’s definitely not selfless. But I still think it’s pretty great – by writing about a day in my TEFL life, I can win a two-week holiday! Rate my post here. Just highlight and select the stars at the bottom of the page.

I wake up at 7:30 – strangely, always one minute before my alarm goes off – and get ready for my day. At the moment breakfast is a bowl of cereal, but when I’m a little richer I might splash out on daily croissants. At 8:15 I leave and take the metro (lines 12, 4 and 5) to Gare d’Austerlitz. From here it’s a five-minute walk to my first class.

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9:00-10:30, Groupe Prima, Upper-Intermediate

Having three people, this is usually my largest class. However, the two ladies are on holidays so I only have Olivier – I’m guessing he’s in his late 30s, but he still has the approval-seeking mannerisms of a school boy. Last week I asked, since he would be on his own, what he would like to work on.

He replied with ‘listening comprehension.’ Fair enough – I haven’t done much listening with this class because my iPod doesn’t like the audio tracks from this course book – although it plays them perfectly in iTunes, they keep skipping when I open them in class. This means preparation takes a while, as I search for suitable podcasts. I stumble upon two gems:

1 – The Ethicist

The Ethicist is a podcast of letters written to the New York Times asking questions about moral dilemmas, and their replies. Tracks are generally under five minutes and contain 2-3 letters ad responses. These are great for class because they can lead onto debates after the comprehension questions (so, was it a good idea? Was it right? What would you do in this situation), and can also spin-off into letter-writing exercises.

2 – NPR Story of the Day

This podcast discusses front-page stories, so we get to talk about news, and the episodes are quite short. This is advantageous because anything over about 4 minutes is too long for the students to digest.

So Olivier and I discussed three ethicist letters, an NPR podcast on US employment statistics, and a 5 min excerpt from a Cambridge Conference podcast on ‘Becoming Barbie’. Issues related to female stereotypes and beauty have always interested me, but I’m a bit worried about how Olivier, being a man, will react to an audio activity that mentions both breast and bottom augmentation. However, I reason that if I’m interested in a topic, it will be more interesting for the students, and my reasoning proves correct! He answers the questions I set, takes nearly two pages of notes and we have a great conversation about beauty, plastic surgery and feminism.

Admittedly, I was only able to do this activity because he has a very high level of English, but I think some intermediate students (even strong pre-intermediate listeners) could cope with The Ethicist and NPR.

My next student is on holidays, so I walk to Gare de Lyon and take the metro (line 14) to Saint Lazare, then walk to a replacement class on Rue d’Astorg.

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11:30-1:00, Guillaume, Upper-Intermediate

The receptionists direct me to the fourth floor and, when I leave the elevator, there is a gorgeous man waiting for me. He introduces himself as Guillaume and takes me to the meeting room where our class is booked.

As we do the getting-to-know you activity (a page in my notebook filled with circles, each saying a word about me – students need to guess the significance of each word, which makes it great for practising questions), I realise that he has eyes just like Eric Bana (swoon!). Miraculously, I don’t offer myself to him on the conference table and we get to work. The lesson follows a unit from his course book (In Company, Upper-Intermediate) on Information and Media. As a rule, I find lessons that just follow the book can be a bit of a bore, but this is a topic we’re both interested in, and the listening activities (which list several surprising facts behind newspaper headlines) provide ample material for discussion.

Afterwards I take the metro from Saint Augustin to Grands Boulevards (line 9), and plan to quickly by a sandwich before my 1:30 class. There’s a wonderful blue boulangerie on Rue Montmartre that makes the most heavenly sandwiches – I almost which I had class in this area every day so I could eat more of them! The bread is lovely and soft with a divinely crunchy crust . . . but my hunger is not to be sated! I walk past the little boulangerie and it is closed, with a steel door rolled down over the windows. I desperately pray that this is temporary.

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1:30 – 3:00, Group Lazaar, Pre-Intermediate

This is my least favourite class of the week. There are two students, Samya and Florence, but generally I only have them one at a time due to holiday and work commitments. Samya is lovely and talkative, and we get along really well. Florence is also lovely, but I don’t think she likes me much. In two of our classes she has been close to tears of frustration over the work, and she frequently snaps when she doesn’t understand something, and then rushes through everything afterwards. Even when I do lessons around topics that she has said interest her, we still don’t seem to build a rapport.

Surprisingly, today ends up being our best lesson so far. We start with half-an-hour of ‘have you ever’ (a card game with questions that begin with ‘have you ever’ on each card) before checking her homework on modal verbs and doing a section from her course book (Market Leader Pre-Intermediate) on negotiating. We try a negotiating role play, but she starts to get frustrated, so I ask whether she would prefer to do some listening, or some vocab.

She chooses listening and I play a podcast about stress and holidays – after she easily does the comprehension questions, we talk about the two-week holiday she is going on next week.

Next I’m back on the metro (line 9) and I travel from Grands Boulevards to Havre-Caumartin. I arrive at my school’s office at 3:20, which gives me plenty of time to plan Wednesday’s class before my 4:00 lesson. Yes – you read correctly. Wednesday’s class. Singular. Being August, many Parisians are away, including many of my students, so things can be quite slow.

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4:00 – 5:30, Magali, Pre-Intermediate

My final class of the day is with Magali, who works for Medecins du Monde, which means she has seen many incredible places and has many stories to tell. After a vocab quiz, a homework check and doing a few pages from a unit on Selling Online (Market Leader, Pre-Intermediate), we play ‘have you ever’ and have a great time talking about all of the things she has seen and done and tasted (some interesting dishes include caterpillar and some sort of flying marsupial!).

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So on a Tuesday I start at 9:00 and finish at 5:30. As I only get paid for my teaching hours, I get six hours of pay for the day. That’s right – no paid preparation or travel time (though I do get partially reimbursed for my public transport costs). Based on the other interviews I had in June, this seems to be fairly standard and, as this is my first position, I didn’t have the leverage to negotiate a high hourly rate.

Being rather poor at the moment, I meet up with a friend after work for a walk around the 14th arrondissement and a late dinner of spaghetti with salmon. I wasn’t literally expecting plain spaghetti with a piece of smoked salmon tossed on the top, but I’m not one to complain about a free meal.

Mistress Jolie?

As I only have my current room until the end of the month, I have begun my third room search. Here is one of the responses I received to my ‘Jeune fille australienne cherche une chambre’ ad:

Je suis un homme soumis et je propose colocation gratuite longue durée si vous aimez humilier un homme.
Aucune relation amicale, esclavage total de ma part.
Qu’en pensez vous ?
Merci d’être franche.
Mes respects Mademoiselle.

Translation (not exact):

I am a submissive man and I can offer you a long-stay for free if you would  like to humiliate a man.
No friendly relations, total slavery on my part.
What do you think?
Thank you for being frank.
My respects Mademoiselle.

. . . what’s strange is that I’m considering this :p


Conversation Exchange

Having realised that I wasn’t using any French in my daily Parisian life, and that I needed to expand my social circle beyond the teachers’ lounge, I joined conversationexchange.com. Conversation Exchange is a website where you can meet people who want to learn your language, who can help you practice their language.

So, I registered as a person who speaks English and wants to learn French, and people who speak French and want to learn English have been contacting me. In fact, a lot of them have been contacting me – I have 50 unread emails from the site in my inbox. There are only so many people I can meet!

Centre Pompidou

My first conversation exchange was with Chris. We met at the Centre Pompidou, where there was an exhibition that mainly consisted of women dressed as Snow White twitching around a banquet. A couple were also walking around with machine guns and at random intervals some of them would break into dance, collapse, or shout in gibberish. I didn’t get it.

The conversation exchange was good – we spoke for two and a half hours, and at least half of that was in French (go me!). When we started in English II was worried that I wouldn’t be able to switch over, but I happened to say a French phrase and suddenly we were speaking in French! We kept this up for another hour, at which point I was pretty drained and started trying to think of an excuse to

Snow Whites - Centre Pompidou

leave.

We’ve met up a second time since then, and the same thing happened – I got tired after a couple of hours and struggled to get away. Now I think he might like me – the second time we met up was on Monday after work. When I got home on Monday night he’d already sent me an email asking if I wanted to meet up with him on Tuesday, and he listed some other things he’d like to do (Montmartre, another exhibition, etc.). I didn’t reply and on Tuesday there were another two emails with suggestions. I replied that I was booked out for the week with conversation exchanges (which I was), and he said that we could go for a drive to a castle in the country on the weekend. I’m not sure how to get rid of him – I can’t say I’m not

Snow Whites - Centre Pompidou

interested when he hasn’t formally declared that he is . . . suggestions anyone?

My second conversation exchange was with Thibaut. Thibaut was lovely. Having had a rather stressful day at work (mainly getting lost on my way to new classes), I just couldn’t get my brain around the French language, so we started in English. After meeting at Opera we went to a bar – my French needs work at the best of times. Add background noise to the mix and I’m useless. So we continued in English, which he handled easily – he’s from Strasbourg and has lived in Germany and the US, so has fluent English. One of the things he couldn’t adjust to in the US was the standard of everyone’s personal presentation. Apparently the other students at his university couldn’t understand why he was always so dressed up (wearing a nice shirt and jeans). He couldn’t understand why people would leave the house in their pyjamas. I felt a bit bad when I told him that people went out in their pjs in Australia too – though I quickly assured him that I didn’t.

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

David’s English wasn’t as good as Chris or Thibaut’s. He has quite a strong French accent and frequently punctuated his sentences with ‘oh my god’, which I thought was very cute. We met under arch in front of the Louvre and sat for an hour in the Tuileries gardens – unlike Chris, where there was a French part of the session and an English part of the session, David and I kept switching between the two. I would speak in French for a few minutes, until I came across something that I couldn’t say, then we would switch to English for a few minutes, until David came across something that he couldn’t say, at which point we would return to French.

Afterwards we went to get ice-cream on Rue de Seine in the Quartier Saint Michel. The Quartier was beautiful and quiet, with narrow, winding streets and tiny, tranquil gardens on some of the corners. That is, until we got to the ice-cream street. A road of bistros, brasseries and pizzerias cut through Rue de Seine, and on the other side of the intersection there was a large fruit and veggie shop, a stall selling smelly cheeses, sausages, salty meat and loaves of bread, and another stall selling olives, pâté and salads. We had ice-cream at Grom – an Italian ice-cream parlour with a queue trailing down the street. The ice-cream was worth the queue.

The next Tuesday I met with Aurélien. I was looking forward to this one – after meeting three different guys over four different meetings, I couldn’t wait to just hang out with a girl for a bit. So I was a bit shocked when, as I was waiting at a metro station, a guy approached me and started talking to me in English. For some reason I thought Aurélien was a girl’s name; and I had to pretend that my surprised daze was due to being incredibly absorbed in my book.

Aurélien was nice, but I doubt we’ll meet up again. My emails were starting to pile up, so I didn’t see much point in regularly seeing someone about whom I felt lukewarm when there were so many other people to meet.

Parc de Bercy

And on Thursday I met Nathalie – who really was a girl! We met at Cour Saint Emillion after I finished work, and spent a couple of hours walking through Parc de Bercy as we conversed – the first half in French, the second in English. Nathalie was awesome. She is an Engineer who wants to move to Canada, the US or Australia to work, and who has already done a lot of travelling in the US and Canada. It was just really nice to hang out with a girl – maybe it’s because I went to an all girls’ high school, but having close girlfriends is really important to me. She also seemed to think I was hilarious in both English and French, which helped get her into my good books. I’d really like to meet up with her again.

On Saturday I had two conversation exchanges organised – Pierre in the afternoon and Inés in the evening. I met Pierre one station down from where I’d met Nathalie two days before – first, because he lived in this arrondissement, and second, because I already knew I liked the area. Unfortunately he asked for the address of this blog, so I can’t give you too many dirty details. :p

Seriously, though, it was a lovely, laid-back afternoon. We had some ice-creams and strolled around Parc de Bercy, and (because I’m lazy and my brain doesn’t work well in humidity) we spoke more English than French. He was also good at correcting my frequent errors – the most irritating one is that I keep conjugating verbs that should go with être in the passé composé with avoir.

After I left Pierre I went to meet Inés (my second girl – yay!) at Saint Michel, but she cancelled at the last minute. Suddenly I was in the middle of Paris with nothing to do on a warm evening – one of the first times this has happened to me since I arrived. I’d been so busy organising work, rooms, a bank account and conversation exchanges over the past month that it had been ages since I’d just enjoyed being in Paris.

I left Saint Michel and headed to Paris-Plages, crossing Ile de la Cité and pausing as I passed the Notre Dame.

Paris-Plages is a few kilometres of artificial beaches that runs down one of the banks of the Seine during summer – form 20 July to 20 August this year. As most Parisians leave the city, the tourists and the humidity over the summer to visit France’s real beaches, Paris-Plages was instigated for residents who had to remain in the capital. When I was first told about it a few weeks ago, I rolled my eyes.

Now, I have visited it twice and I love it. The road is closed and dotted with potted palm trees. People relax on banana lounges on the grass and the sand, and there are several ice-cream vendors and kiosks along the stretch. Although you can’t go swimming in the Seine (at least, you wouldn’t want to), there are a number of fountains and showers that spray a fine mist across the road to keep you cool, and there’s even a swimming pool for children. There are also a couple of playgrounds, a picnic ground and an area where you can play lawn bowls. Underneath the bridges that cross the Seine, there are frequently musicians – ranging from A Capella opera to bands of five. There are also regular events – including dance lessons from 5pm to 8pm near Pont Neuf. On both visits I have been too late to see the actual lessons, but it’s a lot of fun to watch all of the couples switching from salsa to le rock to the waltz as the music changes.

As I left the rock and roll dancers on Saturday night, I stared at the small groups of people drinking wine and continued my stroll down the bank of the Seine, calm and happy. It may not be London, and it may not be Melbourne, but Paris isn’t a bad place to be lonely.

A week in the life of a new TEFL teacher – part 2

So, last Friday was a bit of a stressful day. I had two new classes in the afternoon, both in areas that I didn’t know that well (Genvilliers and La Défense).

Friday, 12:00 – 2:00, Latifa, Cella (currently working for EOS ITS)

My first class was at 12:00 and I knew that I was going to be late as I waited for the train. I had to get RER C, and RER C (overground train which goes to the suburbs) only runs every 15-20 minutes during the day. Having missed the last one by a couple of minutes, there was no way I’d be on time. However, having been told that if you’re less than 30mins late in France you are still considered to be on time, I assumed that 5mins or so wouldn’t damage my reputation too severely.

At 12:05 I arrived at the right station, Les Grésillons. As I left the station, I started to worry – it was an industrial wasteland. Across the road was an empty factory with a barbed-wire fence. I turned left, and reached the right road after a couple of minutes. Across the road was another closed factory – number 279. I needed number 222. To the left of the factory, I could only see vacant blocks – squares of green grass, fenced-in rubbish, or abandoned housing projects. To the right, there was another factory. I turned right, and started to get anxious – there were no street numbers! The building went on and on – there were cars parked on the street, but I don’t know where their owners were as there were no sounds emerging from the factory’s broken windows. 12:15 – I walked on, still searching for street numbers, and hit the end of the road. I’d gone the wrong way!

I did an about-face and powered-on in my suit and heels, determined not to lose any more time. I passed number 279, and marched past vacant block after vacant block until – finally – I saw an ‘Alliance’ building. The company I was looking for was called EOS ITS, but I figured that I could at least ask for directions here. I went through the gate and saw the number – 222.

After apologising profusely to my student, Latifa, and offering to add an extra 10mins to our next three classes, we got to work. Latifa has the lowest level of my students, though you can’t actually tell it by talking to her. Her general conversation is very good, she can make herself understood very easily and I haven’t had to use French to explain anything. However, she has forgotten the alphabet and days of the week and many simple things – so she probably learnt English at school and hasn’t used it since. I’ve really enjoyed the last couple of lessons with her – although the topics we cover are very basic, I love going over the basic grammar. I love grammar in general – it’s the only time I really feel like I’m teaching anything. The rest of the time my students are just putting it into practice.

Friday, 3:00 – 4:30 and Monday, 9:30 – 11:00, Valerie, Société Générale

Société Générale

I finished my class with Latifa at 2:10, to start compensating for the time I missed at the beginning of the lesson. As RATP told me it would only take 40mins to travel from Les Grésillons to La Défense, I figured I still had enough time to be early.

However, I didn’t take into account that I might be stressed and my brain wouldn’t be working properly.

Société Générale is one of my school’s biggest clients – we mainly work with companies in the financial sector, and this is one of them. This means that I can’t mess up.

After reaching Les Grésillons, I realised that I might be late (again). Once again, I would have to wait 15mins

La Défense - Grande Arche


for the RER. But I didn’t panic – I figured I could just say I was stuck in reception. I hopped onto the train and looked at the map of the RER to confirm at which station I needed to change. Neuilly – Porte Maillot.

Now, because my brain wasn’t in the best condition, I read the map as if I was travelling from a station called Porte de Clichy, instead of Les Grésillons. Because of this, when I hit the next station (Saint Ouen), I thought I was going in the wrong direction and bolted off the train and across the platform onto the train going in the opposite direction. As I walked through the doors, I asked a man whether the train was heading to Porte Maillot. He told me it was, and I sank into a seat, relieved.

The man then approached me and gave me a bit of paper, saying that he and his children were starving and needed money for food, etc. He did a lap of the carriage then returned to me. I don’t usually hand out money (mainly because I don’t have any, but also because you see so many of these people on trains that your sympathy starts to wear thin), but I decided to give him a couple of Euros because he’d been so nice to give me directions.

After I gave him the money, he told me that I was, in fact, on the wrong train. Apparently Porte Maillot was in the other direction!

I was not happy. I started having a rant in my bad French:

“But I asked you the question whether this train went to Porte Maillot, and you told me yes! Why did you tell me that? Oh God, I’m so late.”

The train pulled into Les Grésillons and I went back to the platform where I had been waiting 10mins earlier. 2:40. Time to call my school. I called BTL and explained what had happened and they were surprisingly understanding – they offered to call my student for me and let her know I would be late. After another few minutes I hopped onto another train, and stayed on until I was supposed to get off. I then switched to the metro, and got off at La Défense – Grande Arche.

Earlier that day I had been getting directions from the other teachers at school (it was one of the reasons I was late for my first class). They told me to take the exit of the shopping centre, and then explained how to get to the building. They didn’t tell me how to get through the shopping centre.

Quatre Temps, the shopping centre at La Défense, is huge. I’m talking Chadstone big – probably larger. This means it doesn’t have one entrance/exit, and I didn’t know which one to take. I managed to get through it without much difficulty – and, although I didn’t choose the most convenient exit, I was able to orient myself once I was outside and easily found Soc Gén. I was only 30mins late.

My student, Valérie, was lovely. She is having two lessons a week, so I see her on a Friday afternoon and Monday morning. She’s very attractive and has three daughters who she likes talking about – we did a lesson on brands and she loved telling me about not letting her daughters have branded clothes, etc., because she wanted to ‘keep them simple’ (i.e.: stop them from becoming vain). She loves going over grammar, and picks things up really quickly (I know – I’m easily won over), and she hates getting English phone calls.

Valérie is an SP2 class, which means that 30-50% of the material in our lessons should be things she brings in from work. She has to host a meeting in English later in our course, so we’ll probably work on that then, but so far she hasn’t had many ideas about things we can work on. That was until yesterday – when I got to her office she was in a panic because one of her associates from Hong Kong called and she couldn’t understand his accent. She told me that she dreads getting phone calls in English and always avoids answering them, because she prefers to be able to listen to the message a couple of times and then email them back. As an example, she had saved a couple of messages for me, so it looks like we’ve found our SP2 work!

Monday, 11:30 – 1:00, Xavier, Société Générale

After I saw Valérie on Monday, I met Xavier. From his test, I know that Xavier has a very good level of English. This is all I knew – I hadn’t been able to find any other information about what his job was or whether he had and previous courses and course books from BTL.

So I prepared quite a long lesson, so there would be plenty of backup material.

I needn’t have worried. Xavier’s course is another SP2 one. Having had classes with BTL before, he came in prepared with more material then I would go through in a week of classes. It turns out that Xavier is a financial lawyer (I know – holy crap). The material he brought in on Monday was for a meeting he had on Wednesday in Brussels with the European Payments Council (EPC). Apparently the EPC is having an argument with the European Commission about something to do with mandatory payment dates – from what I gathered, the EPC thinks mandatory dates are necessary, but the European Commission (EC) doesn’t want to enforce them due to the extra regulation this would entail.

So, after about 40mins of learning about this and what France’s position is, and what his role in the scenario is, I wondered what to do with all of the documents he’d brought in. There were hundreds of pages of contracts and legal correspondence that were on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting – there was no way we were going to get through much of it in one lesson. But he also needed to do some work on it before his meeting.

I asked him which document was the most important – it was a summary of the European Commission’s position. I asked him to read it to me and summarise it to me. We then went through some vocab that he didn’t understand (there was one I couldn’t help him with – some sort of bank account. I told him what the word he didn’t know meant, but I had no idea what it was in relation to finance), and argued about the EC’s arguments. I took the EC’s side (pretty easy, as the points were written for me), and he had to argue with me and explain why the mandatory dates were a good thing. I’m not sure how much he learned, but I thought it was useful to get him thinking about it some more before the meeting.

This Monday I’ll find out how the meeting went – I wonder if I’ll still have a student? :p

Tuesday and Wednesday went as per usual – I’ve had those students since the beginning.

On Thursday, my morning class was cancelled. Although this was logical (one student was going to be away for four weeks, and the other was going to be away for the next three), it means that my only income for that slot over the next month will be if I get some replacement classes. It’s a shame, because I really liked the area that class was in – it’s like a small village in the middle of Paris. Bercy Village is a group of 19th century wine warehouses that have been converted into specialty shops and cafes, and the neighbouring park, Parc de Bercy, is beautiful with a rose garden, trellises covered with vines and a number of water features. Luckily my Thursday afternoon classes are only one stop away, so I can easily wander around.

Bercy Village

Thursday, 1:00 – 2:30, Marie-Maud, Flammarion

Marie-Maud was another very advanced student. The most advanced of all of my students, I was worried that none of the books would be challenging enough, and that she’d spend our lessons bored.

Again, it seems I was worrying for nothing. Although advanced, Marie-Maud was lovely. Being in her late 20s, we had a lot to talk about and laughed quite a bit, and she enjoyed doing idioms. She said her priority was to go practice her grammar (no wonder I like her), especially her tenses, though I didn’t notice her make any mistakes.

This seems to be a common concern for many of my students – they want to do a lot of grammar revision, and they want me to correct their mistakes. This is all very well and good, but it borders on being paranoid, as they don’t actually make that many mistakes.

All in all, things are going well. Because many of my students are going on holidays over the summer, I have a number of replacement classes coming up over the next few weeks – I’m a bit nervous, as I seem to prepare better lessons once I know my students, but it’s all a learning experience!

Proud Moments

Regarding the progress I’m making here, I’m always surprised by the things that delight me.

In my first week I really needed eye drops. I’d visited several pharmacies (there’s no shortage in France) and hadn’t even seen an ‘eye’ section, let alone eye drops. Eventually I conceded – I would have to talk to someone. I went to a pharmacy near my hotel and, after the initial greetings, the conversation went like this:

“I need something for my eyes. They are . . .” (at this point I realised that I’d forgotten the word for ‘dry’) “thirsty?”

“Oh, you want artificial tears.”

“Yes, that’s it”

“Do you wear contact lenses?”

“No.”

“Okay, this is what you want,” she handed me a box, no more questions asked.

I was also unreasonably chuffed when I first recharged my French sim card. You can’t seem to do it online here, so I had to deal with the recorded voice instructing me in French. Admittedly, I did need to listen to everything twice, but I now have credit! (As an aside – I also know how to check my messages.)

Another proud moment (though not language related) happened on the day I signed my work contract. I was travelling from language school to work drinks (I know – work drinks before I’ve started working – how Australian am I?) and my Navigo pass wouldn’t work at the metro station. I swiped it again, and a red cross appeared instead of a green arrow. I grumbled in frustration – this was a weekly ticket and there were five more days before it expired!

I swiped it again and a message came up: already validated. So I couldn’t validate my pass because it had already been validated, and because I couldn’t validate it, the gates wouldn’t open. And there was no information desk in sight.

So I did something I’ve only ever seen teenage boys do here.

I jumped over the gate.

The proud moment? I jumped over on my first try, without tripping over and falling flat on my face. I also did it in a skirt and, although I don’t think I flashed anyone (don’t worry dad), I was wearing nice underwear.

. . . I might need to determine a new way to measure my progress.

A week in the life of a new TEFL teacher – part 1

I loathe waking up. That’s probably not the most optimistic beginning, but I never want to get out of bed in the morning. I cling to my doona until the last possible minute then grumble through my morning routine with a passion that I never had at home.

Once I’ve been on the metro for a few minutes and my day is officially unrolling, I perk up. I usually have a seat (I’m assuming this is because it’s summer and most of Paris is on holidays on the coast) and read. Between the metro and my classes I pull out the appropriate dossier for the class, so I can show the receptionist my students’ names in case she can’t decipher my accent (this happens frequently).

I usually wait in reception for one of my students to collect me, and during that time I go over my lesson plan. After three weeks of teaching my plans have shrunk dramatically – originally I wrote over a page of dot-points on activities with discussion questions and estimates for how much time each exercise would take. Today my lessons had single paragraph plans. As long as I have spare material on me and know what I want to cover from the course book, I figure I’ll be fine.

Last week my main concern was that I wouldn’t have enough work – on my first week I worked 11.5 hours. On my second I worked 4.5 (Bastille Day cost me 5 hours). Being on an hourly rate, I knew that if this continued I wouldn’t be able to afford to stay in Paris. My calendar for next week is below. Look how it’s grown! Grey and purple appointments are regular classes (grey is SP1 – meaning general business English, purple is SP2 – meaning general business English plus English documents that the student provides from his/her work environment). Blue are replacement classes or intensives (replacements are when other teachers are on holidays and intensives are 30-hour courses that students do over a week at my school’s office – if I get one of these it’s usually only one of their morning or afternoon classes, not the whole week). Green appointments are to be confirmed.

Class timetable

As each course is from 10 to 20 hours, this means I have guaranteed work for the next couple of months!

A couple of my classes don’t start until next week, but here are the ones I’ve had so far:

Tuesday, 9:00 – 10:30, Groupe Prima, Natixis

This is by far my favourite class. Having an upper intermediate level, they are very good at getting into debates and making jokes in English – we always end up laughing at some point. It also means I get to bring in newspaper articles and other supplementary material that’s too advanced for some of my other students. There are three students – Charlotte, Anne-Francoise and Olivier.

Olivier is the most advanced of the three – while the ladies are reading he goes onto the reading comprehension activities. When I brought in the news articles, he chose an opinion piece on the Russian spy story – I think many native English speakers would have struggled to summarise it accurately, but he did a brilliant job and managed to condense the contention into a couple of sentences. I worry that I don’t have enough challenging material for him, but he never complains. He sometimes seems like a school boy seeking approval.

Charlotte and Anne-Francoise are at a slightly lower level. Although Anne can keep up, she does take a bit longer to read and I worry about leaving her behind. Both of the ladies are tan with short blond hair, though there is about a 15-year age difference between them. We have had three lessons so far, and they have been late to all of them (actually, I was late to the first one, so I can’t really blame them) – on the second week they both forgot that they had class, and on the third week Anne happened to get to work while I was waiting for Olivier to collect me from reception. She dropped me off in our regular meeting room then left to get a coffee and returned 10mins later.

Tuesday, 11:00 – 12:30, Sandra, Natixis

Sandra detests the course book. On our second week it was just the chapter (Companies), but this week she announced that she hated the book and slammed it on the desk. Sandra has a beautifully coiffed Posh-Spice bob (sorry, I don’t remember the name of it) and always wears beautiful heels with skinny jeans and a top that shows off her cleavage. She has a pre-intermediate level of English, so she can converse quite well but has a limited vocabulary and pauses frequently. And she doesn’t like business English. As she doesn’t really use English at work, I’m going to try a travel-focussed lesson next week.

Tuesday, 1:30 – 3:00, Groupe Lazaar, Natixis

This class has two students – Florence and Samya. In the last three weeks I have had two lessons with Samya and one with Florence – I have yet to see them in class together. My first lesson with Samya was really good – although she was the same level as Sandra, her oral expression was much more fluent and she rarely had long pauses. She also was like a sponge with grammar – accepting whatever I said then putting it into practice. At least, that’s what she was like on the first week. Last week she had just come back from a week on the beach (she was so brown I looked anaemic) and her head was in the clouds. She was nowhere near as talkative and her English was littered with French phrases – I hope she’s back in the mood for work next week.

Florence was interesting. She was lovely, but a bit shy and I think she approached tears of frustration at one point when she couldn’t answer my questions (I’m not a mean teacher – I promise! I felt awful). I hope she’ll be a bit more comfortable when she’s in the lesson with Samya.

All of my Tuesday classes are in Natixis offices (Natixis is a bank) – in a week I have four different Natixis classes in four different offices. The company is huge! My Wednesday classes are in Noisy-le-Grand, which is in zone 4. This means I have to take RER A to the suburbs in peak hour – not fun.

Wednesday, 9:30 – 11:00, Joelle, Groupama

Joelle has an intermediate and loves to joke and talk. She told me that she likes doing written exercises but would prefer to do them at home and spend our class time talking. However, having seen her homework last week, I’ve realised that her speaking level is higher than her written and grammatical level, so she might not get her wish. She’s a bit difficult with regular classes. Admittedly, it is summer and people go on holidays, but she is going on two separate holidays, as well as missing a week for a doctor’s appointment and missing two weeks for work seminars – she’s missing seven weeks! I’m trying to reschedule them, but two weeks after her course ends she goes on holiday again! I’m not sure she will improve as much as she wants to.

Wednesday, 11:00 – 1:00, Bruno, Groupama

Bruno has a low pre-intermediate level. Although he’s friendly and likes to talk, he often doesn’t realise that I’ve asked him a questions. His listening skills need work (not just because he has trouble understanding me sometimes, but listening activities take us a long time), and he used Google translator for his homework. We also had some issues with ‘how’ questions in his first class. However, I think we had a breakthrough this week! I got him to answer the five w’s and how about a story he’d read in the news, and then did a worksheet and had him ask me questions – I think he gets it, but the true test will be how he goes on his homework, which is answering the questions about another article.

Wednesday, 1:30 – 3:00, Stephane, Groupama

This guy really reminds me of a young Daniel Auteuil (see the picture). I don’t know what it is.

Daniel Auteuil

But he really likes to talk. I mean really. In our first lesson, he spent an hour talking. He could have happily spent the whole 90mins talking, but I managed to twist what he was saying so it was related to the exercises I was doing. But I don’t think he really wants to do much work – he’s working on a thesis at the moment and also has a full-time job and four children, so I think English class is like a bit of a rest for him. He has done courses through my school before, and when I asked him what worked and didn’t work for him, he told me he liked the first teacher because they talked a lot and had coffee. He didn’t like the second teacher who was very academic and used the book.

Hmm . . . I want there to be some sort of structure to our lessons, but I also want him to like me. I ended up bringing in one of the News Lessons from the One-Stop-English website last week and he really seemed to enjoy it, so I’ll probably do more of that.

Thursday’s classes are in the 13th arrondissement, which I don’t think I’ve visited before. When I leave the metro I already know I’ll like working near here – there’s a park on one side of the metro and on the other there is a stone passageway that cuts through an arcade of cafés and gourmet shops – the feel is very similar to the Prahran market. And it’s so quiet as I walk down the paved pedestrian road towards the Seine.

Thursday, 10:00 – 11:30, Groupe Laudic, Natixis

I get to this office 10mins early and ask the gentleman at reception to call Daniel, one of my students. At 10:10, I return to the desk and he says that he couldn’t reach him. I ask him to try Antoine (my other student) as well. At 10:15 I call the office and tell them my situation – if the class doesn’t go ahead then I get paid anyway because the students didn’t cancel 48 hours in advance, but I need to wait here for half the length of the lesson before I can leave. Lisa (a lovely English girl who works in the planning department at BTL and has perfect French) says she’ll send the students an email. At 10:30 Antoine collects me, saying no one called him. I ask the gentleman at reception if he tried calling Antoine, but apparently he only called Daniel who is in a meeting.

Antoine is lovely and polite – he worked in aeronautical engineering before moving to banking. He explained why he switched industries (he needed a change), but I don’t really understand why – aeronautical engineering sounds cool! The lesson goes smoothly, but it turns out that Daniel will be away for the next three weeks, and then Antoine will go away for four weeks after that. This means that they will both miss a fair chunk of their 20 hour courses, and spend less than half of their lessons learning together. At the moment this course is back with the planning department, who will determine whether it should continue like this, or whether we should postpone it until September.

Thursday, 3:00 – 4:30, Muriel, Flammarion

This is the first lesson I have outside of the financial sector – Flammarion is a publishing company, so I’m immediately interested. Muriel is lovely. Her English tested lower than Bruno’s, but she seems to be much more adept than him at the exercises I set. What is interesting is that she is perfectly capable of having a conversation, but she has forgotten a lot of her basics – we ended up revising her numbers as well as her parts of speech. She picks things up quickly, though, so I think she’ll be okay with a pre-intermediate book, as long as I continue doing elementary grammar as a supplement.

I’m really surprised at how good I feel when I get out of our first lesson – she seemed so quiet and shy when she first approached me, and when the lesson started I was worried about it being strained and awkward. But by the end she has loosened up so much that I can’t help but feel buoyant.

I’m surprised by how much I enjoy teaching here – this was never a career plan for me, it was just a job I could do that would allow me to travel. But I do enjoy it – I love seeing the different parts of Paris and meeting different people, I like learning what students are interested in and tailoring lessons that they’ll (hopefully) enjoy, and I love that I’m making a difference, even if it is small.

I have a bank account!!!

I have a bank account! Some of you may be questioning my excitement – surely three exclamation points in the title is a bit extravagant for something as mundane as a bank account? Not so – after all of the effort it took to open an account, I’m not sure that even three exclamation points can accurately represent my triumph.

Before I left Australia, I Googled ‘opening a bank account in France’. Several sources told me I would just need my carte de sejour or visa, along with my proof of address, so a utilities bill or a rental contract.

Having signed a 17-day rental contract in my second week here, I headed to an LCL branch near my hotel. Upon announcing I would like to open an account, I was asked:

“Do you have an electricity bill?”

“No,” I said, handing the woman at the front desk my rental contract. “But I have this, and I also have my passport and visa.”

Apparently that wasn’t good enough. She told me that I needed a long list of things, the only one of which I understood was ‘electricity bill’. She also said I’d have better luck if I tried a bank closer to my address.

Scratch LCL off the list.

A few days later I went to a HSBC branch near my flat. Within a few minutes I was in an office with a staff member – this was already more promising than LCL.

I was asked where I lived, how long I would be in France, whether I had a HSBC account in Australia (no), whether I had any money (no), and whether I had work yet (at that stage, no). Unfortunately I would not be able to open an account without a work contract.

I waited until I’d signed my teaching contract before trying again. After I signed my contract, my employer recommended BNP Paribas, as it was the bank the school used and they were used to people heading straight over there with their contracts to open accounts.

I headed to the closest BNP branch and was taken to the director’s office (apparently everyone else was away or busy). She asked for my employment contract, then asked for my proof of address. I handed her the rental contract.

She shook her head, “this is only until July 9th.”

“Yes, because another girl is taking the room from July 10th, so I only had this address for three weeks.”

She sighed and said that they couldn’t do anything for me until I found a permanent address. I protested, saying that I couldn’t get paid without a bank account, and she said there was nothing she could do. She could make an exception if I knew someone with a permanent address who would be willing to receive my mail but, having only been in Paris for two weeks, I knew no one.

After complaining about my predicament in the teachers’ lounge at work, I was introduced to Mary-Louise – another teacher; and an Australian who had managed to open a bank account in Paris! She recommended the Banque Populaire (BRED), and said they had been really helpful.

Regarding the address, the other teachers said I would have to get an electricity bill from my landlord with a letter saying that I lived at that address, as well as a copy of his/her National Identity Card or passport. As my current landlord was in Russia, I would have to wait until I found my next room.

Jordane, the girl who pays the bills in my current flat, was very helpful and wrote a note on a photocopied bill saying that I lived there. The next day I went to the BRED with my documents and said that I would like to open an account. They booked an appointment for me later in the week, and I showed them my documents (my passport and visa, the electricity bill, a copy of Jordane’s passport, and my employment contract) to confirm that I had everything I needed. They said everything was fine, and I eagerly awaited my Thursday appointment.

On Thursday I was taken into an office and the woman started filling out my paper work on her computer. Then there was a problem. The number on my visa was the wrong length for her computer form. She called someone, who didn’t appear to be able to help. She explained the problem to me, saying it was impossible for her to complete the online form with this number, and asked if I had a carte de sejour. No, I didn’t, because my 12-month visa has a note on it saying it can be used as a temporary carte de sejour! She said I might have luck at another bank, but I couldn’t open an account here.

Scratch BRED off the list.

On Monday I returned to BNP Paribas with all of my documents. I was taken to see a different person this time, who looked through my documents and took the relevant copies.

“Everything is excellent,” he said, “but I need one more thing.” He handed me a form that read ‘Attestation d’Hebergement’. I needed to get Jordane, whose name was on the electricity bill, to complete the form saying that I lived there (all of the details were covered in the letter she wrote, so I’m not sure what the problem was).

“I have a problem,” I told him, “Jordane is on holidays in South America until the end of August.” (I neglected to tell him that I was renting her room until she came back.)

“Can you fax it to her hotel?”

“I don’t think so – I don’t think she has a hotel. She is working for one month and then travelling.”

Hmm – an impasse. Would I have to try another bank?

“Could your employer write an attestation?” he asked.

I thought for a moment – my employer was used to hiring foreigners, surely this wasn’t the first time this had happened? “I think maybe they will.”

“Okay – they need to write a letter attesting that you work there, and that you live in the 18th arrondissement at Mademoiselle Pineau’s place,” he kindly wrote instructions for me. We made an appointment for Thursday, and I headed back to the office to get a letter written on the official stationery.

I returned to BNP Paribas yesterday. I arrived at 8:50, early for my 9:00 appointment. As the bank didn’t open until 9, I waited inside next to the ATMs.

I could see a couple of women inside through the roller doors but, as the clock ticked closer to 9, they remained closed. At 9:01 I started to get annoyed – why hadn’t the man booked an appointment with me half-an-hour later if the bank usually opened late?

The two women inside kept running back and forth from some sort of control panel next to the side door – apparently there was a problem. I’m not sure what it was, as they neglected to tell their waiting customers (customer service – French style). This continued until 9:15, at which point all of the staff members (who had been waiting outside) were called in. I had my 9:00 appointment at 9:20.

The guy ended up being so flustered that he barely glanced at my Attestation from work – he just saved it for his files and then gave me a million papers to sign. Most f them I understood, but one had someting to do with €750 over a three-month period – don’t ask me what the €750 were for or where they came from. I’m only getting a debit card, so I don’t think it would be a limit. Maybe my overdraft amount? I hope I don’t need to pay it – I haven’t even earned that much yet.

I told him I didn’t understand, so he gave me examples with different euro amounts – 800, 900, etc. – and divided them over three months. I was fine with the maths, I just had no idea what this money was for. In the end he said it wasn’t important and had me sign another bit of paper. I left with a booklet as well as a copy of everything I signed, so I might go through it with a French-English dictionary and see what he meant.

So I now have a bank account! I have officially given my payment details to my employer and (after I follow some instructions in a letter to confirm my address – because the electricity bill, letter from Jordane and letter from my employer weren’t enough) I’ll soon have  a debit card!

For those of you who are looking at coming for France – don’t believe the websites! You can’t get an account with a visa and a rental contract.

At a minimum you need:

  1. A passport
  2. A visa (if you are staying for up to 12-months and your visa can be used as a carte de sejour) or a carte de sejour (if you are staying for longer than 12 months)
  3. An employment contract
  • A utilities bill in your name, or
  • A utilities bill in your landlord’s name, accompanied by a copy of a piece of his/her identity and an ‘Attestation d’hebergement’ – you may get away with a letter, depending on the bank, but it would be a good idea to get the official form from the bank as well as the letter

Other things that could be helpful:

  1. Copies of three months of pay checks
  2. A rental contract (as well as the utilities bill, not instead of the bill)
  3. A reference from your last bank in French

Finding a room – take 2

Given that I was only in my first room for 17 days (I’m moving out today), there was a second search for rooms.

This time I looked on Appartager, the bulletin board of the American Church of Paris (this is updated daily and features English as well as French ads) and Kjiji (this is the French equivalent of GumTree – although most of the ads are in French, there are a lot of them).

There were also a number of ads that were clearly scams, but I’ll save them for another post.

Room 1 – 25/06/10, 5th arrondissement, €500 a month, source: Kijiji

As I climb out of the metro I see a market. My heart leaps – in the 5th arrondissement this room is a stone’s throw away from the Notre Dame, the beautiful Latin Quarter, le Jardin des Plantes and the Luxembourg Gardens. And it’s near a market too!

This room was advertised in both French and English – I’d replied to the ad in English, but we’d organised the viewing in French over the phone. I get to the door and Marco – a tall, slim Frenchman in his early 30s with short, sandy hair and glasses – greets me and takes me up to the first floor. He’s very talkative and friendly, but it’s all in French. For the first time I realise what an effort everyday life will be here, and how much of an effort my

Notre Dame from the Seine

non-anglophone housemates in London must have made. I’d expected that my life in the outside world would be a bit trying at first, but I was hoping to be able to relax when I got home at the end of the day. Not likely if I want to improve my French.

As we talk I realise how much I remember – my sentence structure is still okay, though Marco frequently corrects grammatical slip-ups that I never used to make. Although the language is starting to come back, I’m translating in my head whenever I run into trouble, which means I’ve lost the rhythm that I used to have and find myself speaking in a halting manner, punctuated by winces and apologies for my bad French.

As for the apartment – we talk in the living area, which has been set up with Marco’s double bed, a desk next to the window and two upright pianos on opposite walls. A red curtain can be drawn to separate Marco’s area from the tiny kitchenette, which consists of a table against the wall, a sink, a stove and some cupboards above the sink/stove area. The bedroom is small with a single mattress on the floor and an old-fashioned English desk under the window (one of the ones where the table surface folds up and can be locked closed). Access to the bathroom (and the fridge, which is in the bathroom because it doesn’t fit in the kitchen) is through this room.

All of this for the bargain price of €500! Or so I thought – on top of the rent are taxes, utilities and the internet, so it’s likely to be at least €650, which is €150 over my budget. The price, combined with the fact that anyone wanting to use the bathroom would have to come through my room, helps me decide not to take the room – thought its location had me sorely tempted.

Room 2 – 26/06/10, 20th arrondissement, €550 a month, source: Kijiji

At €550 a month, this is slightly more than I want to pay, but the picture online showed a double bed and it’s in the Paris centre, so I take a chance. When I arrive Kim, the landlady takes me up to the apartment. She opens the door, and I’m immediately drawn in by the abundantly stocked bookshelves that fill the wall opposite the door.

To the left is the living area, with a large couch and an office area decked out in stylish red and black furniture. The room is a decent size with a double bed and a balcony that is shared with the girl who rents the other room (there’s not much of a view, but hey, it’s a balcony!).

I’m already picturing living here – Kim and I switch back and forth between English and French, so there shouldn’t be any communication difficulties, the price is a flat €550 (no bills on top), and although the main thing the area has going for it is one of Paris’s main cemeteries, the apartment is only two minutes from the metro, which makes me a 10-20 minute trip from the rest of the city.

I ask when the room’s available. Not until August.

Hmmm – I need a room on July 9th. If I take this, then I have to find another place for three weeks. I tell her I’ll think about it.

Room 3 – 27/06/10, Neuilly sur Seine, €450 a month, source: American Church of Paris bulletin board

La Defense - view from metro Pont de Neuilly

This room is available immediately, and it’s only when I get the metro there that I realise it’s right between Paris and La Defense. If I end up teaching in businesses near La Defense, this will be really convenient.

When I leave the metro at Pont de Neuilly I walk down Boulevard du Chateau, and I start to get excited. Turning off a highway, the Boulevard is one of many with rows of large, leafy trees which shade the streets with their thick canopies. Although they don’t help with the humidity, it’s a relief to be out of the sun. The buildings in this area are lovely – ornate and clean with flowers in their window boxes. On the walk from the station I pass a small shopping area surrounding a round-a-bout adorned with pink, purple and white flowers, and there’s a beautiful boulangerie/patisserie that is selling gelato in the heat. I turn down the street towards the room, and there is a primary school on the corner. At the end of the school day, parents are collecting their children, and the kids who are still waiting are running around and playing ball sports.

I reach the building and call Quiterie, the girl who is showing me around. The room is on the seventh floor, and I follow her into the tiny elevator – I feel like I should know her better before we get this intimate. On the seventh floor I breathe a sigh of relief to get out of the confined space, and wipe the sweat from my forehead (it was 30 degrees and about 90% humidity that day).

She takes me to the room. Having seen pictures online, I know what to expect – there’s a single bed against one wall and a desk under the window. She points out the book cases and the plastic boxes under the bed as storage space, and then reaches for the wardrobe door. I expect her to talk about the storage. I was not expecting the wardrobe to be fitted out with a bar fridge, a microwave and an electric stove on one side, and a sink, mirror and pots and pans on the other. I’m immediately turned off – it’s already roasting in here, I wouldn’t want to cook in here in the summer, and I also wouldn’t want everything to smell like food. Also – where would I put my clothes? I spent so much time trying to pack them at the airport that I’m not sending any back now!

She then shows me the bathroom. Oh, wait a minute – there’s no bathroom. It’s a shower in the wall. The toilet is also in a tiny space behind a door. And this shower and toilet are shared with two other people.

Apparently this is quite common in Paris – back in the days of nobility when people could actually afford entire buildings like this, the maids used to live in these rooms on the top floor. Now, if someone owns a floor or two, they rent these out to students and young expats. I decide not to join their ranks.

I get home and email Kim about Room 2, saying that I’m interested but will have to find another room for July 9-31, and ask whether I can email her in a couple of days.

Room 4 – 29/06/10, 1st arrondissement, €500 a month, source: American Church of Paris bulletin board

The Louvre

Although I’ve pretty much decided on Room 2, I’d already planned to look at this one. The location immediately has me suspicious – it’s only a two minute walk from the Louvre, right in the centre of Paris, and only €500 a month. However, the ad said it was ‘bright and sunny’, and the ad was written in English, so I take a look anyway.

The woman who was advertising the room was away on holidays, so she has her son show me the room. He’s probably in his late 20s, and says that his mother stays in this apartment when she’s in Paris, but is often away and wants to rent out the spare room.

In Paris, a lot of the older buildings have large, heavy doorways at their entrances that lead into private courtyards. This was one of them – when I walk in, I start to get excited. We take the elevator to the top floor (the fifth, in this case) and go inside.

I try to like it. I really do. Although the room is a decent size, the paint on the walls is peeling. The kitchen and bathroom desperately need renovating and there are clothes horses with jackets hanging off them and other clutter littering the formerly spacious rooms. The kitchen is also interesting – although large, for Paris, it has a single bed at one end under the TV (“in case you like to lie down while you eat,” the son tells me) and there is a bird cage with some birds on the other. I have some issues with birds. Nothing too severe, but I do prefer to keep my distance, and I’m not sure the pecking and fluttering sounds against the wall of my bedroom would be conducive to sleep.

I get home and email Kim about Room 2, asking whether it’s still available.

Rooms 5, 6 & 7 – €400 a month, source: Kijiji

I’ve grouped these rooms because these were all rooms that were available over the summer, where I could stay until Room 2 was ready in August.

Room 5 – 29/06/10, 18th arrondissement, available for both July and August

The area looked a little dodgy, but the house reminded me of where I spent most of my time in London – the housemates like to hang out together, sometimes eating and going out together, and have a relaxed attitude to household responsibilities. There were three people living there and they had two guests over, and they invited me to hang out with them for a while. I couldn’t say a lot in French, but they spoke to me in a mix of French and English and I could follow most of the conversation. The place was okay – a bit of a mess, but very large for Paris. The housemates seemed nice and the rooms had double beds, and I only needed it for three weeks. They told me that they’d prefer to find someone who could stay for the whole two months, and I said I’d confirm the next day after I’d heard from Kim in Room 2.

Room 6 – 3/06/10, 14th arrondissement, available for July

There were only two people living here, and the one who was going to be staying over July didn’t seem to speak any English. The rooms were large, but lacked personality, and it was quite difficult to talk to the girl who was showing me around. However, they were okay with me just taking it for three weeks.

Room 7 – 3/06/10, Malakoff, available for July

I’d decided against this room before I got there – the walk from the station was just too long, and I couldn’t do that twice in three weeks in summer with a big backpack and a wheelie suitcase. It was similar to room 6 – the rooms were so large that they had no personality. The room was interesting – a double bed which was basically the top level of a bunk, with floor space underneath. Unfortunately I’d have to go through the other bedroom to get to the bathroom.

I got home and Kim had emailed me back about Room 2, saying that she’d already let it to someone else, and that she was surprised to hear from me as I didn’t seem that interested (I guess I should have sent an email after she didn’t reply to the first one where I asked if I could let her know in a couple of days).

So I emailed Room 5, and agreed to take it for July and August. I’m a little nervous about living with a couple of very sociable French people, but it will be good for my French – I’m not going to get fluent using English at work!

First TEFL classes

I’d already done two two-hour intensive classes at my school, but intensives are planned by someone else so they don’t really count as real teaching. So the pressure was still on when I had to do my first in-company classes.

RATP (the Parisian public transport website) told me that I would need to leave at 8:15am to get to my 9am class on time. Wanting to give myself a bit of breathing room, I left at 7:55am.

If you look at a map of the Paris metro, the south-west end of Line 10 (the Boulogne end) breaks off into two parts, and joins up again for the last two stops. I originally thought that alternate trains took each route. Not so – trains going east take one branch, and trains going west take the other. I needed to change from Line 9 to Line 10 at Michel-Ange-Molitor, which is closed for renovations until July 27. However, as Line 9 also connects with Line 10 at the next station – Michel-Ange-Auteil – I assumed I would be able to change there instead. Not so – Michel-Ange-Auteil was on the wrong branch. I walked around the station for several minutes trying to figure out how to get to Gare D’Austerlitz, then realised that I would have to head back to Boulogne (basically going back the way I came for three or four stops), change there, and get a new train into the city.

Not to worry – I’d left early, so with this hiccup I should still have had enough time to get to the office by 9.

I reached Gare D’Austerlitz with 12 minutes to spare (according to the website, it would take 9 minutes to walk from the station). And I couldn’t find the exit I wanted. I could find the other four of the five exits, but not Quai D’Austerlitz (where the office was).

I stayed calm. I looked at the map of the area and figured out how to get there from another exit. Boulevard l’Hopital intersected with Quai D’Austerlitz, so I took Boulevard l’Hopital and turned left when I hit the river . . . the street sign said Quai Saint Bernard. I’d turned the wrong way. I quickly went back across the road I’d just crossed and was on the right place – Quai D’Austerlitz. I didn’t have enough guts to check the time.

I walked as fast as I could in my skirt and heels to number 47 and told reception that I had a class starting at 9. She looked for the names on her computer and couldn’t find them. I handed her some of my paperwork with my details.

“Oh, I’m sorry Madame, you’re at the wrong address,” she pointed to the address on my paper.

What?! Oh my God, I was already running late.

Luckily the right address was in a street behind Quai D’Austerlitz, so it only took a couple of minutes to get there. I went through the same routine with this receptionist (the clock on the wall said 9:10) and she said she’d call someone to get me. At 9:15 that someone came and, nearly twenty minutes late, the class was underway.

This was my first of three classes for the day (don’t worry – for the others I was a model of punctuality). The first one was great – the three students (two women and a man, two in their late thirties and one in her late forties) had an upper-intermediate level, so we got to joke around a bit and had a few laughs while still getting everything done. We did a unit on presentations, and there was an activity (not mine – from the book) where each one had to persuade the rest of us to buy a washing machine/dishwasher/coffee machine with our fictional social club’s money – I ended up pitting them against each other by getting them to argue why their product was better than the other ones, and watching the debates unfold was very entertaining.

My next class (which was at 47 Quai D’Austerlitz – I didn’t just make up the address) was with one girl who was pre-intermediate. Having only had classes with intermediate and upper-intermediate students, I was surprised at how much of a drop there was in her fluency. I think a lot of it is a practice issue, but I realised that I need to improve my vocab definitions (I have a habit of explaining words with more difficult words). She was also fun, but it was more difficult to figure out what interested her, and to figure out how to make the topics relevant to her.

My third and final class of the day was with two pre-intermediate girls, though only one showed up. She was lovely, and very receptive to grammatical concepts – we did some work on modal verbs and I was just able to give her some simple rules, and she accepted them, no questions asked. She then did the activities using the rules – after one of my intensive classes it was a bit of a relief, she just followed the rules and accepted that they worked, and didn’t really care about why. Unfortunately in this class I hadn’t copied the right audio files, so half of my lesson plan was gone, but I had a number of other activities on hand that I could use. However, this didn’t result in my most dynamic lesson of the day, and at 2:20 I was debating whether or not to give her some more work, or just finish a bit early.

The first lesson went from 9 to 10:30, the second from 11 to 12:30. The third started at 1:30. At 2:25 we’d finished talking and I said that I could give her another activity, or we could finish five minutes early. We decided to finish five minutes early, and it was only after I had left the building and was on my way to the metro that I remembered it was a 90 minute lesson and I’d finished it 35 minutes early. I know – my bad.

I thought about going back, then decided against it – 10 minutes had already passed, which meant that by the time I returned and we’d settled back down there would only be 10 minutes left (the real reason was that I didn’t want to look stupid in Paris and chickened out). So I went to my school’s office to prepare tomorrow’s lessons, and spent two and a half hours hanging out with other teachers in the teachers’ lounge – more importantly, I spent two and a half hours speaking English with fluent English speakers!

So the first classes have gone well, and I’ll try to restrain myself from writing again for a few days :p