vendredi 18 février 2011

Looking forward to a great weekend

Last weekend I was planning this coming weekend. I couldn't handle being alone again in the school, yet didn't want to spend too much on travelling. Last weekend I spent a fortune. Around 250 euros on the train tickets, the hotel, food, tourist attractions, souvenirs and whatnot.

I decided to go and visit my friend I met through CouchSurfing. It would be perfect. It's not too far away so the train ticket doesn't cost much and I get free accommodation and I get to see my friend again after almost 4 months. And after feeling sad for an entire week I really wanted to see my friend. I'm looking forward to it a lot.

If I haven't mentioned enough already I hate Fridays. I have half my entire week's classes on a Friday. I've gotten sick twice since I've been here and both times occured on a Friday. I am just mentally and physically exhausted by Friday lunchtimes. And then come Friday afternoon when the whole school becomes empty I'm left alone and feeling very sad and lonely and bored...

This afternoon, though, I had a "Sliding Doors" moment. I was walking to my last class of the day at 4:30pm. I can choose 2 ways of getting there. One is entirely outdoors and one goes through a passageway. They are both the same distance but I usually choose the second one when it's cold and it's been rather cold today (around 2° all day).

If I had chosen the other way it would have ended badly... For one thing, I would have walked all the way to the other side of the school for nothing because the teacher I work with would not have been there. I doubt he would have called me but even if he did I didn't have my phone on me.

I walked the second way and bumped into him. He told me the kids were having a class inside a big truck that drives around to various schools teaching kids about science. It was parked out the back somewhere and we had to walk through the gymnasium to get there. It was the FIRST time I had been inside the school gymnasium and it was much bigger than I thought (I had seen it from the outside already of course). There was a huge rock climbing wall!

Anyway, so we both went into the truck and checked out the little experiments inside (the kind you find in hands-on museums). I LOVE stuff like that! It was so cool. To think that was considered as 'teaching' when all I was doing was playing. So. Much. Fun. There were various experiments and the one I looked at was about skiing. I felt very sad on the inside that I still haven't experienced yet here in France. I'm kinda annoyed actually given I paid a fortune for travel insurance that covers me for skiing/winter sports too.

Anyway after the kids and the other teacher went home I got talking to the science teacher. She was about the same age as me and we got along well immediately. She said she had to get to the library before they closed so I went with her. By some strange coincidence someone had handed in a letter of mine that I dropped earlier today there and the librarian gave it to me. I would never have known about it otherwise as I almost never go to the school library (which the French call a CDI - Centre de documentation et d'information).

Since she lives in another town and would be staying overnight and since I have nothing to do during my horrible hated Friday nights we mutually decided to do something together. I was so happy and over the moon! OMG human contact. What a novelty ;)

We had dinner at a kebab restaurant in town that I'd been to before with my CouchSurfing friends (story no. 1). We talked about all sorts of stuff. About ourselves, our lives, about the truck.... She said she was really disappointed that the principal (at my school) didn't help much, nor did the town. It's quite hard for a school to get the truck as only half that apply that get it and it never goes to the same school twice. So not many people knew about it. I hope tomorrow when it's open to the public people go and check it out. Such a shame. It's the kind of thing you expect to pay money for but it's totally free and nobody knows about it :(

Anyway, it was so nice to have a conversation like that with her. I love meeting new people and talking with them 1:1 and finding more about them. It was like the kind of conversation I'd have with someone on a first date where you try to find as much information about them as possible...

I asked her about her boyfriend. I love hearing "how we met" stories. She's been with him for 4.5 years and tells me she thinks he's "The One". She was gushing about all the great things about him and I saw her eyes sparkle talking about him and how they got together. I love hearing these stories as it gives me hope...

After that she dropped me back at the school/internat and I invited her in for a cup of tea. I also showed her the rest of the place and we played table tennis. It was so much fun. I have not played that in about 4 years. I kind of wish I had a friend that would come and visit me (from Australia) so I could show them my school, the internat, my town, my new life... since noone has come I felt kinda excited to show it to her.

She reminded me of a young Jodie Foster. She said I was welcome to visit her in her town any time and we could hang out over a weekend.

She told me that she had spent a year in the US when she was 18, and then a year in Canada during her university years.

I know it may sound like a generalisation but I came to this conclusion a long time ago. Those French people who have been nicest to me are those who are open to new cultures, people and languages and who love travelling. Usually those who have lived abroad too. It's not just a French thing either. I find that people who enjoy travelling and learning foreign languages are just so much more OPEN to all the possibilities out there. Other people are just closed and have this, "my world/country/city/language/ culture/people are the best, why do I need to know about the other ones?"

The staff didn't allow her to stay in the internat on a Friday night so she had to go to a hotel. I asked her what it was like (expecting that it'd be nice) but the way she explained it... it was pretty hilarious. She was saying that she got the impression that the couple who ran it had never left this small town. They seemed like characters in a film or a book. And also the way she described the hotel too - the wallpaper, the smells.. oh it was all too funny. But the way she described the owners is exactly what I feel about a lot of people in this town, even some of the teachers.

It's really why I am dying to go and live in a bigger town. It doesn't have to be huge, but just bigger. I find that the people are far more open and welcoming. Well at least that's what I've experienced after visiting all the towns that I have...

So back to the "Sliding Doors" thing. If I had walked the other way, I would not have met the teacher, I would not have known where he was, I would not have known where my students where, I would not have known about the truck (I heard about it on Monday and Tuesday but thought it had already left), I would not have met this nice girl, I would not have gotten back my letter, I would not have had someone to have dinner with, and have great conversation and play table tennis with, etc etc...

I'm so glad I decided to walk that particular path!

I was feeling rather sad all day long but now I feel much happier. It always makes my day when I have 1:1 interaction with someone. It's one reason I realise I could never become a teacher. I can't stand big classes. Even 12 people is too big for me. I much prefer small groups of 4 or less. Also I can't stand teaching people who just don't want to learn. Because, when I was student I loved learning and I loved getting good grades. But there are those students who are the opposite and don't give a stuff and I hate being the one who has to force them to learn. I mean, I'm not their parent and I don't feel like doing the job of a parent either but I'll leave this topic for another post...

Anyway I feel much much better now. I always feel so much happier after having a conversation with someone, like yesterday morning when I spoke with a newish staff member (not a teacher). It's taken a while for us to get to that stage where we can talk freely with each other. She's close to my age, well maybe slightly younger (I assume) and is also single and I find that singles are usually more welcoming to making new friends so we have that in common too...

I'm trying very very very hard to forget my ex but still have my sad moments.. every little thing triggers a memory of him (songs, clothes, smells, food, places, objects). I'm sure it'll get easier in time. For now I can look forward to a great weekend ahead! Fingers crossed for nice weather.

Now all I need is for it to snow soon and I'll be back to my old, happy self :D

Bon weekend, everyone!

Ce qu'on laisse à nos momes - Soprano

A super depressing song but for some reason I like it. I find the tune soothing. My ex played it in the car... Something I really miss is listening to songs and singing in the car (and making up the lyrics).

Ce qu'on laisse à nos momes (What we leave to our children)

Il passe son temps a regarder le ciel,
en espérant avoir des nouvel de sa mère,
Il ne fait plus attention au coup d’feu de tous ces militaires,
Cours! lui dit le colon car cette terre n’est plus la tienne,
Il se retourne est lui répond avec une bombe autour de son abdomen.

He spends his time looking at the sky,
hoping to have some news about his mother,
He no longer pays attention to the gunshots of all these soldiers,
Run! He says the colonel because this land is no longer yours
He returns and replies with a bomb around his abdomen.

Oh !! Mon dieu regarde ce qu’ont n’a fait du Monde. (x3)
Oh !! Mon dieu regarde ce qu’ont laissé a nos mômes.

Oh!! My God. Look at what we've done to the world
Oh!! My God. Look at what we've left to our children.

Elle passe son temps a lui faire l’amour,
en espérant avoir des nouvel du cigogne,
après plusieurs tentatives,
Elle se dit cette fois c’est la bonne,
Nan lui dit le gynéco vous ne pourrez jamais être une mère,
2 jours après elle apprend qu’une femme enterre ses gosses dans un frigidaire,

She spends her time to make love to him,
hoping to have the news from the stork,
after several attemps,
She tells herself that this time is the right time,
The gyno tells her you could never be a mother,
2 days after she learns that a woman buried her kids in a fridge

jeudi 17 février 2011

The French are ethnocentric...

• The French are ethnocentric...
• Buying skincare and make-up in France...
• Shopping for your favourite products from home is almost impossible in France
(wasn't sure what to title this blog post)

ethnocentrism (ˌɛθnəʊˈsɛnˌtrɪzəm)
— n

belief in the intrinsic superiority of the nation, culture, or group to which one belongs, often accompanied by feelings of dislike for other groups

I loathe to use that word racist because as soon as you accuse someone of being racist, they deny it vehemently and then give you various eye-rolling examples of why they are not.

After 4.5 months of living in France I have definitely come to the conclusion that the French are very very VERY ethnocentric. That is, they truly believe that their culture is superior to that of others. Unlike many neighbouring countries which have become far more 'anglocised', the French are still very... well, French.

They also like sticking to the past. This is obvious by how well-preserved their cities are. Going to any French city is like taking a step back in time. I loathe all the cars I see because if it weren't for them I actually feel like I've gone back in time 100 or 200 or more years ago. Living in France also feels like living in Australia 30 years ago with their restricted shop opening hours. There are other examples I could give.. there are just so many. Not that I'm complaining that much. I actually dislike the fast-paced modern lifestyle.

When you ask an expat what sort of things they miss from home most people will mention some kind of food but I actually didn't miss anything much from home (as in supermarket type food), well, maybe Tim Tam biscuits. The things I missed were random things that I couldn't find here!

I am very particular about skincare and make-up brands and the things I used at home I could NOT for the life of me find here. For example, I used a Maybelline foundation called Mineral Power. I bought it one day in Target and I was onto my 3rd container (they are small). Could I find it here even though Maybelline is widely sold everywhere? Nope. Does not exist here. I was going crazy trying to find it, even online, then I gave up and bought something similar here by Loréal - Poudre Accord Parfait Minéral (which then of course does not exist in Australia or the US so I couldn't even read reviews about it!) It was a spur of the moment decision and I bought it at a supermarket without even testing the colour. Luckily for me, it was perfect.

The weirdest and most frustrating thing was... The make-up giant Sephora is a French company. Yet, the US Sephora sells far more brands and products! Figure that out. I like to read reviews before I buy stuff but it was useless because the stuff sold in the US was mostly not available here except the high end stuff like Chanel. As much as I'd like to, I don't really want to spend that much on make-up and prefer mid-range brands/prices.

Then I have another favourite product that I've been using forever and nothing else even comes close. It's Blistex lip balm. It's the only thing that works wonders on dry, chapped lips (the original in the round white container, not the lipstick-shaped ones). It does not exist in France. I ended up buying it from an online pharmacy in the UK.

Then, whilst travelling during the Toussaint holidays I lost my beloved Polaroid sunglasses. I like this brand because it's mid-range and mid-priced and I know the polarised lenses are really good. I know EXACTLY where to go to buy them in Australia. I was going out of my mind trying to find a replacement pair in France. They don't exist. I had a funny incident where I went into an optometrist and asked if they sold Polaroid sunglasses and he said, "No, but we have Polo Ralph Lauren!" Ha. Once again I contemplated buying them online from the UK, US or Australia but it would have been a dumb idea to buy something like that without trying them on first.

Eventually I realised that the brand is sold in Switzerland so I bought a pair when I went to Geneva. Later when I went to Germany I saw that brand sold widely there as well.

Then, I went through a phase where I was obsessed with buying a handbag that fitted all my requirements - size, style, colour, fabric, price, etc. No matter how many stores I went to, they only had the same brands. Almost all FRENCH BRANDS. Not saying French brands aren't good but for me the choice just isn't wide enough. There was either the expensive like Longchamp or the cheap and crappy. I eventually bought one by the brand Lancaster which is mid-priced and very good quality.

Do you see where I'm going with all this? Whereas Switzerland and Germany ('next door') are very open to Anglo brands.... The French are really obsessed with only selling French brands. This is apparent in almost every store and for almost every sort of product. Of course if you go to Paris and go to a big department store you can find other different brands but I'm talking about a general feeling.

Speaking of shopping, I hate to admit it but French fashion doesn't really float my boat. Only one of my favourite fashion shops/brands is French: Promod. The rest I like are: Zara (Spanish), H&M, Camaieu (Swedish), (Spanish) and Mango (Spanish). I've also bought stuff from UK online shops because their styles are much nicer. My favourites are: Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins and New Look.

Not sure where I'm going with this post. It's just a feeling I get that the French are really resistant to change, and do not like other cultures infiltrating theirs. It's not all bad though. In some ways it's actually nice. I mean I lived in Shanghai, one of the fastest changing cities in the world. It was heartbreaking to see all the culture and history being destroyed in the name of progress and in the name of Westernising everything. Don't they realise that people go to China to see Chinese looking buildings from a time long ago, and not Western/Anglo looking modern buildings? That really saddened me. And it's because of that reason that Paris is so beautiful. All that gorgeous history preserved for generations to come...

mardi 15 février 2011

Other people can teach you things

A belated Valentine's Day... sort of.

The funniest thing happened tonight. OK it wasn't that funny.

I was sitting in the tv room by myself watching The Simpsons (as I sometimes do from 7:30-8:30pm) when all of a sudden, one of my friends, Y, comes in with 2 other students. One (S) presents me with a bunch of flowers and the other is playing a... mandolin? I was shocked and actually replied with, "What the hell?" I had no idea what was going on. The flowers from S were actually for his girlfriend... I don't know if they were just doing it for fun or if Y put them up to it but I guess it cheered me up.

I've never written about S before I don't think. But he is truly an amazing person. He's a student who lives in the internat but I never teach/see him during the day. He's only 16 but is wise and mature beyond his years. I really enjoy talking to him and am amazed that I can get along with someone so much younger than myself.

It all started when I first arrived and my now good friend M took me to the supermarket to buy supplies and food. While we were there, she introduced S and I to each other (he also happened to be there during one of his free periods I guess). He's actually Canadian and moved to France when he was 6 and still speaks English really well (with no hint of a French accent). He seemed so happy to meet me, an English native speaker (which are rare in this town). I felt welcomed by him and ever since then we've been friends. (Well it feels like we're friends even though we don't go out on weekends or anything like that). It's weird to say this but I feel like I can talk about almost anything with him, the same topics I talk about with my other friends.

Not that long ago when I was still 'dating' K, I wanted his perspective on relationships. I didn't tell him anything about my relationship though (as I don't really think it's appropriate to discuss my personal life with students). I had noticed over the past couple of weeks that he'd been spending a lot of time with this blonde girl (who also lives in the internat) and that they were quite close. I just assumed they must've been girlfriend and boyfriend.

I asked him about her and he tells me they've only been girlfriend/boyfriend for one day. And I asked, "How is that so? I've seen you two together for weeks." And he replied, "Yes we've been together for a while but I only officially asked her yesterday. Just because she's pretty and I like her doesn't mean she should be my girlfriend. I wanted to take the time to get to know her first before I asked her.." and on he went...

And I thought to myself, "Wow. That's a bloody mature thing to say for a 16 year old." While speaking to him I always feel that he is really mature and he is a nice, decent guy with a good head on his shoulders. He's definitely someone I'll miss when I leave this school/town.

Actually there are a few students I have that I really like too and I'll miss them a lot too. They have taught me so much about French life and culture (far more than the teachers here have). It's sometimes so nice talking to youngsters. They have such an innocent view about life and the world. I often wish I could be like that again.

Actually, almost all of my friends in Australia and here are younger than me. It's not a conscious decision, it just ended up that way. Perhaps I am a bit immature, I don't know but I just like hanging out with people younger than me. I always feel that older people are more bitter, stressed, restricted, set in their ways... younger people are happier, freer and more open, etc.

It's funny how friends will give you totally different advice.

Regarding my breakup..

Yesterday M got the shits with me asking me why I was so angry and rude. I didn't think I was angry and rude at all. I was extremely tired from my weekend and emotionally drained. I felt confused by her attitude towards me when she'd always been so nice before. I didn't get it so I avoided talking to her.

C gave me the most bizarre advice. Not really advice, but a suggestion. She said that I should get together with one of the other teachers. A teacher who has been chasing HER. No thanks. I was completely shocked by her suggestion. I know she was just trying to help but still...

Y didn't really give me any advice per se, and it was obvious he didn't know WHAT to say to someone who'd just been dumped. When I talked about it with him tonight he changed the topic rather quickly. I get the feeling he's never been in a long-term relationship so I don't hold it against him that he couldn't possibly understand what I was feeling.

A gave me the best advice of all. He was kind and supportive and really seemed to understand the feelings I was going through. He was the first to reply to me Friday night and said something like, "We'll help cheer you up next week and we can do something together soon" or something along those lines and it was pretty much exactly what I wanted to hear. Tonight when I saw him I told him what had happened and he really seemed to listen and understand and not judge. I actually thanked him for being so supportive because I always go through life feeling like noone understand how I truly feel. And then he thanked ME for thanking him! If that doesn't make someone feel all gushy inside...

I guess I should be honest and say that I KNEW K was not looking for a relationship from the start (I'm not stupid and I've been in enough relationships and gone on enough dates to read the 'signs') and I wasn't either. I just got confused and maybe somehow hoped deep down it could turn into one. But the truth is I'm not looking for one right now and I'm not ready. What I really wanted was a friend. A really really good/close friend. It's something I've always wanted.

I've always had a handful of close friends (which changed throughout the years) but I've never had one best friend. It's just something I always wanted and never had and then every time I got a boyfriend I relied on him to be my best friend too.

What I've wanted for a long time was not necessarily a boyfriend (although that would've been nice) but just a friend who would be always there for me to do stuff with. I think ALL single people go through this feeling. It's always a struggle to find a friend to do stuff or go on holidays with. You either end up dragging along a sibling or going alone. The reason is because everyone has their own agenda, and sure, often you find friend/s to do stuff with but then half the time they'll turn you down too.

When you have a best friend or a boyfriend/partner it's less likely that they'll turn you down. If you are really close it's impossible that they'd turn you down unless they were sick, injured, or had something REALLY important on.

I don't know if that makes me selfish...

I read that to be a good partner or to find a boyfriend you have to first learn how to live with yourself and be happy with yourself. I think most of the time I succeed. I do everything by myself. People think I'm "weird" because I go to restaurants, movies and holidays alone. But what other choice do I have? To stay inside cooped up watching tv? I actually had this conversation with A tonight. He asked me if I went to Avignon alone and I said Yes.

I get tired of EVERYONE asking me who I go with, or did I go alone, when I talk about travelling. Like seriously, what choice do I have?! If my friends don't want or can't go with me... I HAVE to go alone. Most of the time I'm OK with it but every now and then I do feel lonely and bored. Hey, I'm only human.

One of my French friends who lives in Australia told me that he's finding it harder and harder to find the energy to travel. He loves travelling too and uses his spare time to do so (and has seen a heck of a lot more of Australia than I have during his 1.5 years there). He didn't need to spell it out for me. I knew EXACTLY what he meant and what he was thinking. We had a brief conversation when he came to visit me here back in October.

We were talking about how it's nice to travel alone, you get to do WHATEVER you want however and whenever you want without any consideration of anyone else's wishes. You feel like you have unlimited time and no time is ever wasted doing some shitty thing you didn't want to do just to please someone else, etc. And for me your senses are heightened because you have the time to ABSORB everything and soak it all in (with the absence of someone to talk to). I love listening to my ipod as I stroll around a beautiful picturesque location (ie almost everywhere and anywhere), it feels like I'm watching a movie and listening to a soundtrack. Except it's better because I'm IN the movie :)

Sure it's great, but after a while it just gets tedious and boring. And of course lonely.

So, we could really understand each other. So when he wrote me this email I knew EXACTLY what he meant. That he got tired of travelling because he was sick of doing it alone and I admit I feel the same way.

Sure it's great to see all these beautiful places (and have your friends say that they're jealous of you) but when it comes down to it, it really isn't that special if you have noone to share those memories with.

I can honestly say that I enjoy myself infinitely more when I travel with someone else. My happiest memories are of when I was with a local who drove me around and showed me places I was unable to get to by myself just by walking or public transport. Those were my fondest memories because it felt like they truly CARED. When you spend so much time alone it's easy to feel like noone gives a shit about you (well, except your family who live on the other side of the world and can't be with you anyway). Like seriously, who would know if you got sick or injured or got lost? Who would check up on you?

But when someone takes the time to actually drive me around for hours or days and show me THEIR parts of the world, I'm truly touched. And that makes the memories a billion times stronger and better for me. It doesn't even matter who they are, whether I know them well or not, whether they are male or female, one person or two or more...

As a human it's normal to want to interact with others.

I feel like it's something I've wanted my whole life. Just someone to spend time with. Someone to do stuff with. Someone who's always available to do stuff with. I'll never forget that weekend with K, which will still stay in my memory as a truly memorable, magical and remarkable weekend because he took the time to show me some beautiful places that I'd never been to and which blew my mind (he also brought me to meet his family - yes, something I never mentioned before). And despite what happened in the end, I believe that you don't just do that for anyone. I'd like to believe that he did care for me during our short time together.

PS - it snowed overnight in the mountains near here! Fingers crossed more snow is coming so they can re-open the skifield. Another reason I wanted it to snow soon is because at the back of my mind I knew our relationship wouldn't last long and I really REALLY wanted to go skiing with K, my personal ski instructor who knows the skifield like the back of his hand. Guess that'll never eventuate now :(

PPS - I spent so long talking to A,Y and S and then writing this blog post that it's now after 11pm and I have a class at 8am tomorrow and I haven't even prepared what I'm going to teach them yet. Oops! I'm a bad teacher ;)

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