Tag Archive | Travel

I have a bank account!!!

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

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

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

“Do you have an electricity bill?”

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

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

Scratch LCL off the list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scratch BRED off the list.

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

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

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

“Can you fax it to her hotel?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At a minimum you need:

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

Other things that could be helpful:

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

Finding a room – take 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notre Dame from the Seine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Defense - view from metro Pont de Neuilly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Louvre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First TEFL classes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

French school

With my second at interview at BTL scheduled for Monday June 28, I didn’t think I’d be starting work until the following week. Hence I decided to enrol in French language classes. Although I’m speaking a little more than I was at the beginning, I’m astounded by how much I’ve forgotten, and think the refresher will be useful.

I arrive at Ecole France Langue at 8am for my entrance test, which will determine what level I am. The test gets progressively harder, and while I’m confident at the beginning, that confidence soon deteriorates as I stop knowing and start guessing the answers to questions.

When I’m finished, a man takes me to another room to have a chat in French and to correct my test. I only said about 5 words, but I think my accent being fairly decent and my comprehension led him to believe that my level of fluency is higher than it actually is. Then he attacked my test with his red pen. I breathed a sigh of relief as he started doing little ticks – tick, tick, tick – suddenly, a big red cross! And another. And more! Some of the questions I hadn’t read correctly and had to answer them verbally (and passed with flying colours), but by the end of the massacre my test was a mess of red ink.

He looked at the test, sighed, and then looked at me. “I don’t know what to do with you.”

Really? I thought. You’re not the only one.

Apparently I demonstrated knowledge of a number of advanced parts of the language, but I also made a lot of elementary mistakes. This meant that he didn’t know what level to put me in. I left him to the decision, and somehow I ended up in level B2 (upper-intermediate), which I think is a level higher than I was last time. Don’t ask me how I’ve progressed, not having spoken nor read any French in years.

Learning a foreign language as an adult is like going to school as a child again. Not only does your ability to communicate drop to that of a primary school student, but there’s a larger focus on games as a method of learning. As an adult, you get used to receiving lectures and taking notes. When learning a language, you are expected to speak more than the teacher does, and games are a good way to ensure this.

How many students can you get into a phone booth - first attempt

For example, when I arrived on the Wednesday our class had been put into the same room as another. A woman then told us we were going on ‘missions’ – there were six stages we would have to complete over the next three hours, each of which would involve us having to ask people in the streets for help so we could answer questions or take photos of certain things. For our first stage, my team and I had a sheet of paper with eight photos on it, which we had to replicate, as well as going to one of the school’s other offices and taking a photo of someone who worked there.

My team and I identified the first few images, and suddenly the other two girls started running for the targets –

How many students can you get into a phone booth - second attempt

I don’t remember the last time I saw that kind of enthusiasm at school. When we went to the school and took a photo of one of the teachers giving a class, I was politely explaining what we were doing as I took the photo, while one of my team mates had already run back to the front door and was calling out ‘hurry up Jolie – we’ll lose!’

Now, I’m all for winning, but it was a hot day and I was in a skirt. And it was just a class activity – it’s not like there were any prizes (go on – ridicule me for being soulless and for having forgotten how to be childlike).

Other challenges included finding a museum and getting photos there, fitting as many students as we could into a phone booth (see the photos – entertaining, but very sweaty), taking a photo with a child, getting the brochure from a chocolate shop and matching shop names to pictures of products that they sold. It was fun, but it was in the low 30s and most of us had tired of the activity before the three hours were up.

The ability to communicate (or lack thereof) is the other childlike aspect to learning a foreign language as an adult. Grown men and women start to act like eight-year-olds, being attached to their ideas, but not knowing how to express them. I did a month of language school in Vichy at the end of 2006, and I grew incredibly distressed when I couldn’t say what I wanted (one time I was close to tears). This time I’m more detached, which makes it more amusing to watch other people get increasingly passionate about little things. There were two girls in my class in particular – one of them clearly felt very strongly about a number of issues, but because she couldn’t say everything she wanted to, her volume would just increase and her gestures would get bigger as her monologues continued. The other would get extraordinarily attached to grammatical structures, or he said/she said debates, and because she couldn’t use many words she would just keep repeating the same couple of statements – it didn’t seem to matter how many times the teacher said he knew, she would keep saying the same thing until she realised she was just saying the same thing.

Do I think the week at school helped my French? Yes, in the sense that it got me speaking again. However, I don’t think I was there long enough for it to stick, and the fact that I speak English at work means it will be a while before I start having in-depth conversations in everyday life.

TEFL Interviews – second round

Of my interviews, BTL and ICB were the only contenders. After my Wednesday interview, BTL called me back on the Friday to organise an interview on Monday with a gentleman called Paul, who would be asking me pedagogical questions.

We met at 9am, and he asked me a number of questions, including the following:

  • How would you use a newspaper article in a lesson?
  • Explain the difference between the present perfect and the past simple.
  • What would you do to make a shy student more confident?
  • What games could you play in the classroom?
  • What information would you need to know about your students before the class begins?
  • How would you expose your students to different accents?
  • How much would you use course books in a class?
  • How would you structure your average lesson?

Luckily, Renée had asked me the first three questions in my first interview, so I had ready-made answers for those. As for the others, I had revised some of my TEFL course on the weekend, so I was quite confident by the end of the interview.

Afterwards, Paul went to speak to Renée about me. After a few minutes he returned, saying that she was on the phone to the company director, but that I shouldn’t be waiting for too long, and gave me a course book to look over.

Sometime later, Paul returned and said that the company director wanted to meet me. I panicked inwardly – did Renée tell Paul that she’d asked me the same questions? Was I in trouble for cheating?

When the director was ready, I was escorted to his office. I entered the room meekly – like entering the principal’s office – but he immediately put me at ease. A tall, tanned man with impeccably styled, greying hair, he was the very image of a French businessman from the Riviera. Then he started speaking to me in a Cheltenham accent (English Cheltenham, not Australian Cheltenham). We sat on opposite sides of his desk, and he asked me to tell him about myself – education, work experience, teaching experience, etc. Every time I started a sentence, he would start talking and go off on a tangent for about 5mins, then remind himself that he was learning about me and ask me another question (which would lead to him going off on another tangent). As a result, it was the most enjoyable interview I’ve ever had – he was very entertaining and there were a lot of laughs.

Later he said that he really didn’t need to interview me – Paul and Renée already wanted to hire me – but just wanted to meet me to see what type of person I was, and whether students were likely to come back to see me for class week after week (he thought they would). He called Renée in her office to organise a time for me to come back to receive my official offer of employment and, after two hours of interviewing, I had a two hour break before I had to return and shake hands.

To celebrate my triumph (and to give my poor, blistered feet a rest after two days walking in heels) I decided to go out for lunch. After walking for another 45mins in heels (it took that long to find a place that looked decent with spare tables), I sat down in a brassiere. After 10mins I was reminded why I don’t like to eat out alone. The waiter approached me and I asked for the menu.

“For food?” he asked.

“. . . yes.”

Then he took one of the blackboards with the menu from the wall, sat it on the chair opposite me, and started to read it aloud to me in English. The two chic French women on the table next to me looked on. I was mortified!

Luckily I had an ‘official offer’ meeting to brighten my spirits. So, the verbal offer was made on the Monday afternoon, and I signed my contract on the Tuesday morning. The next two mornings I was at the office for induction activities.

Wednesday’s induction was with an awesome American called Dan for three or four hours. He told me about the school, did a grammar refresher course (my grammar’s quite good, but he went through the six main grammar questions that French students ask and gave me succinct answers for them so I already have them on hand), and brainstormed some classroom activities. We then picked up the folders for my first scheduled lessons (next Tuesday) and I did some lesson plans for them, on which he provided feedback. We then went to the teachers’ lounge and bemoaned French bureaucracy and how difficult it can be to get set up (I’m struggling with the bank account, but that can wait for another post).

On Thursday I had Microsoft Outlook training with an English guy called Jeffrey (very cute in his mid-thirties with greying hair – no wedding ring, but I can’t tell if he’s gay or not. He’s very well groomed and very proper, but he might just be English). As I’ve had a number of office jobs, this didn’t take very long, and we then went onto my lesson plans for next week. After briefly looking at what I did yesterday, we returned to the teachers’ lounge and he pulled out useful worksheet after useful worksheet, and showed me useful book after useful book, and gave me useful classroom activity idea after useful classroom activity idea – they were all great, but I’m just not sure how to fit them into my courses with the course book, without overwhelming the students.

The good things about the Outlook training were that I got to see my calendar, which is filling up quickly. On Wednesday I had two hour-and-a-half classes next week. Now I have 16 hours worth of classes (once I’m settled in, it should be around 20-25 hours a week – at €16.5 an hour, this is less than I was earning in London, but I suppose that’s the price I’ll pay for living in Paris) and the first one is on Monday. Wish me luck!

TEFL Interviews

I had set up four interviews in Teaching English as a Foreign Language before I left. One of my TEFL teachers said to never accept the first job you’re offered. Looking at the rundown of each job’s conditions below, I can see why.

Interview 1 – Formaland, 18/06/10

This school was just outside of Paris (surprising), but teachers get sent to companies in Paris to run courses. Each course is 20 hours split into 1.5 hour classes twice a week – no materials are provided to the teachers, so the teachers need to create the whole 20-hour course from scratch based on the results of the students’ initial placement tests. Already this is unappealing – although I have a good knowledge of English and have a TEFL qualification, I don’t have any real teaching experience, so I don’t think I would be capable of doing this.

A teacher would only start with one contract (so two 1.5 hour sessions a week), and then get more contracts based on student feedback – this means it could be a while until this job would cover my living expenses. The pay is 25 Euros (I don’t remember whether this was an hour or a class) for one-on-one lessons and 30 Euros for group lessons (the groups get up to 4 or 5 students). There would be no paid preparation time which, considering the amount of preparation time required in the job, greatly lessens the hourly rate.

They wanted to hire me. I don’t want to work for them. I haven’t gotten back to them yet, as I’d like to hear from some of my other interviews first, but I don’t think I’ll accept this even if I get nothing else – I just don’t think I’m capable.

Interview 2 – Transfer, 21/06/10

Printemps

This school was in one of Paris’s main shopping areas (the Opera district, down the road from Printemps and not far from the Galleries Lafayette), so it’s probably a good thing that we get sent to schools, as working in this area would not be good for my budget.

Materials are provided but it’s up to me to choose how I use them, so I have freedom over my lesson plans. Students are automatically given levels based on their initial test results. In busy times I could expect 6 hour days at 18.21 an hour, in slower periods I’d only be working 3 hour days. In slower periods I can negotiate more work on the side.

Class sizes are usually 5-6 (10 students at the most), and 50% of your travel expenses are covered in central Paris.

Downside? There wasn’t actually a job available; they just wanted to meet me for future reference.

Interview 3 – BTL, 22/06/10

I received an email for this job when I was between France and Australia, asking if I’d be able to do an interview on the 16th and start immediately, assuming things went well. I tried to call on the 15th and the 16th, but Renée (the interviewer) was in meetings. I then emailed, and she suggested an initial phone interview on the 22nd. Don’t ask me why there was so much urgency in the original email.

So I originally rang up for the phone interview using Skype, but because the internet connection is really bad where I’m living for the moment (more details next email), I ended up disconnecting a couple of times. As I didn’t have a French sim card yet, Renée, the interviewer, called me back on my Aussie phone, which charges me when I receive calls over here. My credit ran out in 5 minutes (I’ve learned my lesson – I bought a French sim as soon as the call was dropped).

Interview 3; take two – BTL, 23/06/10

I waited in reception for 10 minutes, during which time I was referred to as ‘the Jolie girl’ (I know – I already have a reputation. One of the girls in the office was the one on reception the day before when I was calling for the interview).

In this job materials are provided and they offer a lot of assistance to new teachers – you meet with a coordinator every week to get feedback on lesson plans and there are regular out-of-hours training sessions. All of the teachers use the same series of books, which helps course quality remain consistent, reduces preparation time, and makes it easier if you’re new.

The pay is 16 Euros an hour, 60% of your lunch is covered, 50% of your travel expenses are covered and you get paid holiday leave, which is calculated pro-rata (12% of the time you’ve been teaching). They also give free French lessons starting in October – 1.5 hours a day.

Classes range from individual to 6 or 7, and in busy times I could expect 20-25 hours a week.

So far this has been the most appealing position. However, I may have messed up the interview. We were getting along really well just talking about my background and the job details, and then she decided to quiz me on some class room situations – one was how I’d teach the present perfect tense, another was how I’d use an article in a classroom setting, and I don’t remember the third. I crashed and burned – generally I started well, but ran out of steam after one or two examples. The problem is that I did my TEFL course in the second half of last year, starting in July/August and finishing in early November. For anyone else considering doing this – do your course in the few months before you travel, or revise before you leave.

The interviewer actually made a comment that this is why BTL is weary of online courses (my course consisted of 100 hours online and 20 hours in person). Trinity and Cambridge seem to be respected here. I did i-to-i, thinking that because it’s the one STA Travel organises (though I went directly to the company) it must be a good one. Although the course was good, it didn’t provide teaching experience, so going to Asia first to get some experience may have been more sensible than coming straight to France.

Interview 4 – ICB Europe, 23/06/10

My fourth interview was a two-hour group interview with ICB. The school’s office was in a great little area, right near the Rue Montorgueil.

There were seven of us in the group – four girls and three guys, and I was the only one not from the UK. All of us either had a TEFL qualification, or had tutoring experience. We should find out the results of the interview next week, at which point the successful candidates will get a one-on-one interview.

This school has a training department where everyone gets a 3 hour session before they start to determine whether they need some more training or whether they are ready to go out to companies.

Classes, as with all the other schools, are based in companies and teachers can expect 25 hours a week. Unfortunately we don’t get to find out any details about payment until the second interview.

I performed much better in this interview. We started with a general introduction to the school, then had two written tests – one on grammar (ten sets of questions, each starting with a sentence that you had to correct, then explain what the problem was, how you fixed it and why you fixed it) and one on financial services terms (I knew about half of them and made up the other half – argh, if only it had been a year ago when I was in London reading finance articles for work!) – then a general discussion. This morning’s interview’s discussions about classroom activities had given me some examples I could use, so I plagiarised them and think I did quite well :p

Expat anxiety

It’s interesting – I finished my uni exams at the end of 2007, then left Melbourne for London for 18-months. So far this trip has been different to my London one. Not just because it’s a different place, but because I’m different. I don’t seem to know how to relax here – I’m not sure if it’s because I’m not as tough as I was when I first started travelling, but I feel a bit like being taken care of, as if I’m not ready to rush into the French rat-race just yet. I left home because I didn’t want to be trapped in a 9-5 world that wasn’t leading anywhere. I wanted to be free, yet I don’t seem to have found the escape for which I was looking.

I know that I shouldn’t be expecting my life to sort itself out immediately, and that it’s difficult to be carefree when I don’t have a permanent roof over my head or an income coming in, but I almost wish that I already knew whether or not I was going to find work soon. If I knew that I wasn’t, then I could go travelling for a couple of months. If I knew that I was, then I could commit to life in Paris.

I haven’t been committing yet. Formerly I would have immersed myself immediately. If someone started talking to me, I would have a conversation in French. I would compensate for any of my verbal failings with laughs and batting eyelashes; playing on the flirtatiousness of the language.

This time I have been lazy. Torn between wanting to stay here and wanting to travel, having a friend from London here for my first week also prevented immediate immersion. Then, as I realised how bad my French had gotten, I avoided speaking. If someone spoke English, I wouldn’t even try, and if someone approached me in the street, I would pretend that I didn’t speak French.

Almost French - Sarah Turnbull

On the plane, I started reading a book that I received as a gift before I left – Almost French by Sarah Turnbnull. It’s an Aussie journalist writing of her experiences in Paris. On my second day here I was reading it when my visiting Londoner was napping – I was so frustrated that I was merely reading about Paris instead of experiencing the amazing world that was right on my doorstep! Now, one week later, I don’t want to put it down. I’m in the final couple of chapters and I’m trying not to read it too quickly, because once I finish I’ll be forced to have my own adventures instead of vicariously devouring someone else’s. It’s like I’m about to lose a  friend who had already experienced everything I’m going to, and then it will just be me against the world.

. . . packing for Paris

I moved to Paris on June 15th. The plan was to live and work here for a year and see some more of Europe. So far, things have not been going to plan.

I knew I would write about things being needlessly complicated very early in my trip. I never imagined that I would start writing it before I left. When I originally wrote this, I was sitting at the gate in Melbourne airport, 90mins before my flight. It took me an hour to get from the check-in desk to passport control. Without having to wait in any lines.

When I arrived at the check-in desk, I was asked something I had never been asked before. This is my third extended trip to Europe, I have been on shorter trips to Asia and the US, and numerous domestic flights. And I have never been asked this.

Brace yourselves – they asked to weigh my cabin baggage. Who does that?! Now this is a year-long trip, so I stuffed my checked baggage (a very large backpack) with all of my clothes, then put my shoes, books and laptop into my cabin baggage (a wheelie suitcase, measuring approx 50cm x 30cm x 25cm). The checked baggage weighed in at 20.3kg (I was allowed 23). The cabin baggage weighed in at 17.86kg. I was allowed 7 (though they raised this to 10 because I had a laptop). My options were:
1. To move 3kgs from the suitcase to the backpack (which was already so full it was ready to burst) and send another 4kgs home with my sister
2. Pay another $700 to check the second bag and take the lot

Now, my bank balance as of last Monday was -$10 (not including my mortgage) so option 2 wasn’t really an option for me. So my sister and I went to a corner and repacked, switching some clothes in my backpack with some shoes in the wheelie suitcase, and moving my books to my handbag (Nine West, slouchy, soft purple leather).

Second weigh in:
Big backpack = 21.8kg
Wheelie suitcase = 12kg

Back to repacking – I gave Rhiannon, my sister, a small pile of things to take home (I couldn’t give her too much – I was going to Paris after all!), moved another pair of shoes to the backpack and unpacked a second handbag into which we put my resumes, notepad, portfolio and a jacket.

Third weigh in:
Big backpack = 20.8kg (I have no idea how it got lighter)
Wheelie suitcase = 10.5kg, which they accepted. Success!

My backpack checked in, Rhiannon and I hid behind a pillar and proceeded to put some of the items we’d removed from the wheelie suitcase back in (I figured now I was safe). We said our goodbyes and I walked through the international gates. I showed my boarding passed, turned the corner, and there was a blonde airport employee standing next to some scales and weighing cabin baggage (I knew we shouldn’t have put everything back!).

There was no escape. I put the suitcase on the scales. 14.8kg. The blonde advised me to move my bulky things to my handbag, and I was sent back to repack my things for the fourth time.

Rhiannon returned to help me – I gave her some more things to take home, took out the second handbag again and put it over my shoulder, with my long jacket hanging over it so it wouldn’t look too conspicuous.

We said goodbye. Again. I showed my boarding pass. Again. I put the wheelie case onto the scales . . . 10.5kgs!

Then the blonde asked me to put my handbag on top of the case. 15.4kgs. I told her that she was the one who had told me to put my heavy stuff in the handbag, and she said she hadn’t realised it weighed that much. A man came to help her and the verdict was unanimous – I have too much baggage.

I went back out to my sister in tears, sank back down to my knees and started unpacking again. Rhiannon flew to my defense, saying that we’d already been through this several times at the check-in desk and were told the weight was okay. So we were sent back to the check-in desk to get a special stamp and signature on the tag of my suitcase. They did this without any issues and said that the blonde shouldn’t have been weighing my handbag at all.

I went to the gates and the blonde’s accomplice was there. I showed him my boarding pass and the stamp, and he told me to see how I went. I went through the gates towards the scales.

The blonde wasn’t there.
I looked left.
I looked right.
I make a run (well, a swift walk) for passport control.

And that’s how it took me an hour without waiting in any lines.