Tag Archive | France

Paris

Rooftops

I had a final stop in Paris before going home.

Originally I was hoping to spend time meeting up with the teachers from BTL for drinks, getting a last chocolat chaud with Mr Frog, and maybe a drink with Manuela.

But when I sent out texts, I discovered that neither Mr Frog nor Manuela would be in Paris. And of the seven teachers that I considered to be the core of our group at BTL, two had already left Paris, two were flying to Toulouse on Friday, and I didn’t have one’s number.

D was going back to London after Rome and I panicked – how could I spend four days alone with nothing planned?

Eating out has always been a social activity for me, so it was off the list. After two and a half months of being a tourist, I didn’t want to see museums and monuments. Especially not ones I’d already seen.

I didn’t want to spend the next four days agitated, especially with one of the world’s longest flights ahead of me!

So I changed my flight home and breathed a sigh of relief. I would only be in Paris for two days now (or one and a half, if you subtract airport time).

Then I reached my hostel, on a beautiful street in the 18th at the top of a tree-lined staircase, neighboured by a brasserie and an up-market boulangerie, with a chocolaterie, a couple of bars, and several fruit shops down the road. Out the window of my dorm room was a vista of lead roofs, brown chimneys and dark windows.

I felt that familiar thrill.

Oh why had I worried?

My one and a half days ended up being plenty of time, and it was probably better that I spent them alone, as I was deep in thought and my emotions rocked in waves.

When I reached the buoyant crest, I felt that Paris had revitalised me. I had a real croissant for breakfast instead of the horrible packaged equivalents from the hostels in Italy. The round tables of brasseries spilled onto the streets, with patrons lighting cigarettes over coffee in the morning, to be replaced by wine in the
afternoon. As I walked I could smell the perfumes of pungent cheese and dark chocolate when I passed open shop doors. The market produce shined brightly, colours ripening in the sun. It all seemed so familiar to me.

Whenever the breeze rose, I felt as though I was swept into a lover’s arms and waltzed down the street. I could travel for another month. Even two! There was so much more I wanted to see!

At Place des Vosges I ate a light and sweet strawberry mille-feuille and one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in Paris (courtesy of Boulangerie St. Antoine) – no need to toasting here, as with many of Italy’s day-old paninis – the bread was crunchy and the ham, gruyere and salad so fresh that no dressing was necessary. I returned the phone that a former student, Marie Maud, had lent me when mine broke in February, and learned that she was engaged and planning to move to London. When I closed my bank account, the ease of the process made me so jubilant that I did a little dance on Boulevard Haussmann once I’d surrendered my carte-bleue.

Then my mood would start to descend. When I came upon Rue du Pot de Fer and wandered down it for the first time, I wondered how many more streets like this the city was hiding, just waiting for me to discover. I turned down Rue Moufftard and decided that I liked it even better than Rue Montorgueil, my previous market-street favourite.

Paris beckoned me. She had seduced me time and time again, and now it was my turn. She smiled coyly, flashing a bit of calf as she crossed her legs, leaving her skirts below her knee. Stay a little longer – give me a look, a smile, a touch. Pause a moment, and I’ll tell you my secrets. The leaves whispered as they rustled in the wind, and I debated whether I was leaving too soon. After nearly nine months in Paris I was still an outsider – was I walking away from my chance to get in? My chance to sample a French life?

Then I would sink into the troughs, tormented by worries about going home, and haunted by ‘what ifs’. As the afternoon crawled in, I started to feel as though I was losing a loved one and at some moments the grief was so acute that I ached to curl up and lick my wounds.

And then I would be happy again, soaring on the crest of another wave.

That day I walked around Montmartre, down to the Parc Monceau then Boulevard Haussmann, past Madeleine and Place de Concorde to the 5th and 6th arrondissements, then to Bibliothèque François Mitterrand and Parc de Bercy before heading back through Bastille, Le Marais, Les Halles and up Rue Montorgeuil and Rue Montmartre. In the evening I left for another walk around Montmartre.

That night I collapsed into bed exhausted. And I worried about my return to Australia.

When I returned from London in 2009, it took me some time to find work, and then I’d only done it with help from my mum and her contacts. I’d never imagined that I’d have trouble finding a job – it shattered my confidence, and this affected several areas of my life.

I was determined that this wouldn’t happen again, and formed a plan of attack as I fell to sleep.

The next morning I woke, feeling at peace. In the few hours before my flight I strolled. Yes, Paris was still alluring, but I didn’t feel as I’d felt the previous day. I was no longer torn.

Paris and I had had a brief and beautiful affair. But it was over.

And I was ready to go home.

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 – finding a job

A quick Google search will give you thousands of TEFL job sites. Finding one for jobs in France is much more difficult.

These are the sites that I used:

TEFL.com has a good selection of jobs that is updated regularly, and you can sign up for job emails. The only problem with this site is that you need to use their online form to apply, which is really restrictive. Craigslist is Craigslist – many dodgy ads, but also many legitimate ones and it’s targeted at expats. Fusac is a French and English classifieds magazine that comes out every month or so, and you can view it online or download the pdf version – you can also find the hardcopy at W H Smith, the American Church of Paris, some language schools and other expat hangouts. There are lots of jobs for expats advertised, ranging from teachers to aupairs to bilingual secretaries. It also advertises rooms, conversation groups and other activities for Anglophones.

And i-to-i, the school through which I did my TEFL course, gave me a 477-page pdf of contact details for English language schools around the world, including 14 pages of schools in France. If I hadn’t had any luck with the job ads, I would have started knocking down classroom doors, begging for a job.

So, what goes into this resume and cover letter if you’re looking for your first TEFL job?

Luckily I’d done some English tutoring at university (two 1.5 hour classes on a Saturday morning for a class of three seven-year-old girls and a class of eight eight-year-old boys). So I divided my work experience into ‘teaching experience’ and ‘other experience’. Under the teaching experience I made this tutoring job sound like I was teaching English as a foreign language, and left out the dates so they wouldn’t know that I’d only done it for three months in 2007.

The ‘other experience’ section of my resume was my regular resume – because I was applying for Business English positions, demonstrating that I had some business experience was advantageous.

In my cover letter I tried to emphasise my language skills and my English skills, and structured it like this:

  1. Information about my course – how many hours it was, how many of these were in person, and a list of some of my appropriate specialist certificates
  2. Information about my degree – I have a BA with a major in English, including several subjects on grammar and writing, so I cashed in on this
  3. Information about my teaching experience – in my case, the tutoring I did at university. If I didn’t have this, I probably would have referred to work that I’d done with people.

I didn’t hear back from everyone, but it was enough to get me six positive emails, four interviews, two job offers and one job!

French châteaux

Chateau de Fontainebleau

Interior

Interior

Library

I’ve had a weekend of châteaux! Yesterday I went 40mins south of Paris to the Château de Fontainebleau with Imogen, Andrew, Julia and Jess (an English teacher from another school), and today I visited the Château de Vincennes.

Despite being annoyed that they made me buy a ticket (if you’re under 25 you’re supposed to get in for free, but it turns out that because I’m not a European I needed to bring my visa to prove that I live in France to get free entry), the Château de Fontainebleau was incredible. It’s so lavish that it’s astounding – sitting room after sitting room of antique chairs, chambers with royal beds framed by curtains thickly woven with gold thread, and countless chandeliers, statues and murals.

The castle was a sovereign residence for eight centuries, the first reference of it being in a royal charter in 1137. Although the castle fell into disrepair after the French Revolution, Napoleon later transformed it into a symbol of his grandeur.

As an alternative to the former royal Palace of Versailles, Fontainebleau is where renaissance architecture and the Italian Mannerist style of interior decoration were first introduced to France. Consequently, the French Mannerist style is known as the “Fontainebleau style”.

Like Versailles, Fontainebleau’s walls are sumptuously decorated with gold-leaf, large murals, heavy tapestries and elaborately carved exposed wood, stained in different shades. I loved the smell of the wooden rooms – some of them were dry, like sawdust, and the others were musty and warm, like empty wine barrels. I kept leaning into the walls with my eyes closed to try to taste the scent.

Gallery Francis I

Chapel of the Trinity

I gasped when I entered several of the rooms – the wood-panelled and frescoed Francis I Gallery, the Ballroom looking onto the castle’s lake and gardens, and the Chapel of the Trinity being cases in point. We first saw the Chapel from a second-floor balcony, and it was like looking out over the theatre from the grand circle. When we made our way to the ground-floor later it was like we’d made a great discovery by finding it again.

Chateau de Vincennes - model

And today I saw the Château de Vincennes (being the first Sunday of the month, this was actually free), at the opposite end of metro line 1 to me. When I hopped of the metro I was stunned by the size of it – the walls of the castle are over a kilometre in length. Oh how I wished the weather was better so I could get some decent photos! The weather is the only criticism I have about this weekend out – it’s nearly impossible to enjoy royal parks and gardens when the sky is grey and you’re being battered by foggy winds.

Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes

First I went to the Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes. When I entered, I passed a man handing out small leaflets

Mademoiselle!” he called out, “avez-vous un billet?

Non,” I replied, reaching for my wallet. Wasn’t it supposed to be free?

He handed me a ticket, “c’est gratuit aujourd’hui.”

Chatelet and Donjon

If it was free, why did I need a ticket? I don’t think I’ll ever understand the French.

Found in 1379, the Sainte-Chapelle has a single nave with soaring ceilings and large windows down each side. With sand-coloured stones and the natural light streaming in, I think it may be the most open and airy church I’ve ever seen. It was calming in its simplicity.

The end of the church is decorated with six stained-glass windows depicting scenes of the apocalypse, created and put up in 1555-1556. After admiring them I turned to leave, catching the eye of the man with the tickets. I don’t like it when staff are standing guard at small places like this – I always feel like I haven’t shown enough appreciation.

Déjà?” he asked.

Oui, déjà,” I said with a smile then skipped out and crossed the lawn to the Donjon and Châtelet.

Built in the fourteenth century, the Châtelet was originally a residence for the royal family and is the last medieval Royal residence remaining in France. As the rest of the modern castle was constructed around it, the original fortress became a dungeon. And, at 52m high, the Donjon is the tallest medieval structure in Europe.

One prisoner was the Marquis de Sade who was notorious for his libertine lifestyle, as well as the pornographic passages in his works supported by philosophical justifications. He was imprisoned at Vincennes twice – once for fifteen days for ‘outrageous’ behaviour in a brothel, and in 1977 he received a life sentence after poisoning a prostitute. He stayed at Vincennes for seven years before being transferred to the Bastille in 1784 (he gained his freedom in 1790).

Prisoners' graffiti 1

Prisoners' graffiti 2

Prisoners' graffiti 3

As I continued through the rooms, I found the Treasury where Charles V kept his gold and silver. Apparently the Treasury lead to Charles’s private rooms and, when he was away, the rooms were locked and the doors sealed shut with wax. When he left Vincennes, he took with him the only key.

So I was curious to see what was so important. I walked through the door into . . . the latrine. Fair enough, though I might have taken the wrong door.

On the way out of the latrine I saw a second sign on the opposite wall to the one that identified the room as the latrine, this one identifying it to be the study. Look at that – a man who can multi-task!

Unlike Château de Fontainebleau, the Châtelet and Donjon at Château de Vincennes are raw, with naked stone, cracked tiles, pillars decorated with faded dye and empty fireplaces large enough to stand in. A true medieval fortress.

I loved seeing both the renaissance luxury and medieval relics together – you get a real sense of how people in different time periods lived. And it’s such a relief to get out of Paris and its congestion, even for a day.

Gare du Nord

I always get a small shiver of anticipation when I’m at Gare du Nord.

Gare du Nord

Until recently, I frequently changed metro lines at Gare du Nord – either when I was travelling to classes for looking at rooms. And even changing lines gave me that thrill.

Because Gare du Nord is large and light and busy. Because I can hear a mix of languages as tourists with suitcases and backpacks negotiate their way around poker-faced parisiens. Because I can hear the four-note chime before the SNCF announcements – one of the first sounds I remember from my first trip to France in December 2006.

Gare du Nord represents freedom and escape.

I can travel to France’s northern regions on the SNCF. I can voyage to Belgium and the UK on the Eurostar. And there are trains from Gare du Nord to Charles de Gaulle airport, which means the entire globe is within reach.

Whenever I’m at Gare du Nord I feel like I‘ve already left Paris – and even before I board the Eurostar, I feel like I’m no longer on French soil.

Gare du Nord represents possibility.

La Défense


I love La Défense. I know it sounds strange because it’s not actually a tourist area, but I do.

Although I miss the space of home, I’m a city girl at heart, and La Défense is one of my escapes from Paris. Standing over the metro Esplanade La Défense I can see the Arch de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower when I look towards Paris. When I turn around, it’s a futuristic maze of shiny glass and metal towers surrounding huge pedestrian areas and courtyards framed by trees, shrubs and park benches, with Grande Arche de La Défense as its focal point.

Yesterday, it was incredibly calm and serene. I went to a class in the neighbouring area of Puteaux and the entire region was like a ghost town – it was the first time I’d been back since my two Société Générale students went on holidays. What I hadn’t realised was that the rest of white-collar Paris had gone with them.

After yesterday’s class I sat on a step near a fountain and let the breeze ruffle my hair and my skirt, feeling safe in my sense of anonymity – something that you can only really achieve in a city (yes, I’m aware that Paris is a city, but each arrondissement is like a little village – I already have a following in mine).

Jazz music washed over my stone steps and I watched kids wading in the fountain, ignoring the ‘no swimming’ signs – if I hadn’t had been wearing a skirt, I might have joined them. It was very tempting, at the fountains were stunning in the afternoon light – when each stream of water hit its peak, it broke into crystal-like fragments and crashed back down to the pool.

La Defense - Fountain

I usually like La Défense because it is filled with business people and I can pretend that I’m one of them in my power suits (we’ll ignore the fact that I burned one of these suits with the iron, and I have to balance my bag over the now-shiny material until I sit on it). But yesterday, being there when it was so peaceful, I started to think of what it would be like to live in one of the white apartment buildings in Puteaux, and to have a career in one of these towers.

As I watched the clouds turn pink and the shadows lengthen over the courtyards, my heart filled with love for this amazing city.

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.

Mon français est un escargot

Yes, you read correctly. My French is, in fact, a snail.

French snail

It is progressing at a glacial pace, leaving a silver ribbon of rolled-eyes, confusion and snickers in its wake.

But the speed of my progress wasn’t what gave birth to this metaphor. My French has been getting better, and I’ve been getting more confident, due to the Conversation Exchanges I’ve been doing. However, I didn’t realise how fragile this confidence was.

Last weekend I was leaving La Villette to look at a room to rent. As I was walking to the metro, a man interrupted me. After some pleasantries, I told him that I needed to leave to see the room, but he insisted that I stay and tell him about Melbourne and Australia, how my homeland is different to Paris, whether I like Paris, etc.

This would have been fine – he seemed nice and it was an opportunity for me to practice my French. However, he continuously corrected me. He would repeat every sentence in the way I should have said it, and I eventually left feeling as though my French was terrible and I’d been getting nowhere.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of constructive criticism. But by constantly bombarding me he basically poked the escargot that is my French with a fork, and it has retreated back under its shell.

Now I’m trying to be very gentle, so that I might coax it to venture out again and continue its slow trail through poorly conjugated verbs and adjectives that don’t agree with their nouns.

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