Tag Archive | Paris

The Panthéon

Today I visited the Panthéon, and I think it may be my new favourite Paris monument.

I’d only seen it from the outside before and, knowing nothing about the building, had always assumed that it was some sort of national assembly.

Originally the Panthéon was intended to be a church, and Jacques-Germain Soufflot was commissioned to design it in 1755. The foundations were laid in 1758, and the building was finished in 1789, coinciding with the start of the French Revolution. Thus, the Revolutionary government ordered it to be changed from a church to a monument to great Frenchmen.

Since then it has been through a political and religious tug-of-war, twice being changed back to a church, only to again become a monument to French intellectuals.

Not knowing any of this when I walked in, I was surprised at the mesh of different atmospheres – the building looks like a church. It is made in the shape of a Greek cross and the dome is reminiscent of St Paul’s in London or St Peter’s in Rome. But many of the paintings on the walls (separated from the central area by a wall of columns) are not religious, and neither are the statues. And, on a quiet Sunday afternoon, it felt like I was walking through an ancient, cavernous library.

It was only when I went down into the dim, echoing crypt that I learned of the history of the building, and when I returned to the main level I tried to look at all of the changes that were made as the building changed identities – many of the windows have been blocked in, so it’s darker than many churches of this style, and though many of the main paintings are not religious, the smaller ones above them show angels and saints, and are done in a completely different style with a lot of gold-leaf.

I was so caught up in the paintings that I didn’t actually see the pendulum – one of the things for which the Panthéon is known – until I was on my way out.

In the centre of the building, hanging from the dome, is a gold pendulum. It swings back and forth over a table that represents a 24-hour clock face and tells the time by swinging over the hour. The original was built in 1851 by Léon Foucault who demonstrated the rotation of the Earth with the experiment. Basically, because the pendulum isn’t touching the Earth, it continually swings back and forth on the same line, but because the Earth (hence the Panthéon and the clock-table) are rotating under it by 11 degrees an hour, the pendulum appears to be moving as the day progresses. Very cool.

(Btw – the Pendulum picture is from Somewhere Else as I forgot to bring my camera today.)

The Panthéon is one the monuments that has left me awestruck by its size. Maybe it’s because I haven’t looked at many buildings like this for some time, but I found myself staring at the ceiling, unable to comprehend how high it was, or the size of the pillars which line the walls. Even the model with a cross-section taken out was twice my height! Although it isn’t as well-known as the Louvre, the Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower, I think this is a must-see for anyone visiting Paris.

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


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.