Year Abroad Blog – #2 Do You Like Manga?

SO MY FIRST week at school is complete… OK, I didn’t really teach anything per se but instead observed classes and introduced myself to the students. You know the sort of questions: ‘what’s your name?’ ‘how old are you?’ and ‘do you like manga?’, which an unusually high number of students asked me before going on to say ‘I like manga’ was one of their favourite hobbies (?!). Anyway, I’m working in two schools (annoyingly around 16 miles apart), one is a collège where the children age between 11 and 15, and the other is a lycée professionnel, a kind of vocational college for students between 15 and 20. Some of – in fact a lot of – the boys at the lycée are as tall and nearly as old as me, so it’ll be a small miracle if they pay much attention to me next week when I start working with small groups of them. That said, they all seem quite keen to know more about this strange alien creature from England, so I’m slightly optimistic.

Well, I say slightly optimistic. One afternoon, some colleagues and I were talking about films, and one of them told me about how their students couldn’t believe that the bottles of milk and newspapers left on Americans’ porches don’t get stolen by passers-by and greedy neighbours. And, when I was in the office one morning, one of the teachers hastily suggested I keep the door closed because students will pinch something if not. I found it quite surprising – shocking, even – that they would even consider so much as a newspaper at risk of being stolen. But alas, my colleagues sadly shook their heads and seemed to accept that stealing was just a part of the French way of life. I’m fairly paranoid as it is, but after hearing that, my bag and belongings are never out of sight. For some reason I can hear the passenger security announcements of South West Trains echoing through my ears…

Chateau d'Amboise

Something tells me this won’t be the last chateau I see…

Away from school, we (some of the other assistants and I) took a trip to the small town of Amboise on Sunday, its crowning glory the modest but charming royal chateau overlooking the Loire. It’s a pretty place, but there isn’t a huge amount to do in Amboise except the chateaux (the other being the house where Leonardo Da Vinci spent his final years) and subtly helping yourself to the copious free samples in the delightful biscuiterie d’Amboise. The latter I would heartily recommend.

But any post-biscuit joy is marred by the bête noire that is French administration. I had to say something about the amount of paperwork I have had to deal with so far in France; it’s unbelievable. I arrived here armed with copies of my passport, copies of my birth certificate (in English and an official French translation for which I had to have stamped by a certified translator beforehand) and copies of my job confirmation letter thinking that would probably be the worst of it.  But for a country known for its more relaxed way of life (they did, after all, come up with the term laissez-faire), the amount of bureaucratic rigmarole the people living in it have to go through every time they need to do something even slightly official is baffling.  I wish I could give you a clear breakdown of what application requires what, but the truth is that everything is one big tangled mess of paperwork, photocopies and signatures that I’ve honestly forgotten. It’s a nightmare – you can’t apply for this without having obtained that, which you can’t get until you’ve done this, this and this and reached the North Pole in a pair of platinum clogs and got the chief polar bear to sign and date your passport on the way back. Apparently one even needs official proof of address for a library card. Yes, library card. Applying for a transport card around town requires it too, something I didn’t find out until I walked half an hour to, and queued for just as long in, the transport office – all done hungover, by the way. Woe was me.

I’m hoping the bulk of it is now over and done with and that I can now sort of a little bit maybe begin to relax…

Speaking of which, last week we headed to a club for a night out. After paying the ten Euros to get in, the place was empty! It was a Friday night, in a city, and yet I’d seen more life in a nursing home. Fear not – after at least an hour and a half of having a club to ourselves, we discovered a second room. French nightclubs (well, at least this one anyway) look and sound very similar to British ones, but I did notice one difference. Rather than the grinding-which-more-often-than-not-turns-into-groping approach guys go for in British clubs when they’re looking for it, French men seem to get the girls in a sort of hold, as if about to break into a tango, and slowly go round in circles on the spot. And then, bizarrely, he breaks away and doesn’t really come back. I felt a bit awkward watching it. What’s more is that not only were we the youngest in there by at least nine years, but the room was fringed with some strange-looking men, closely watching the women around them like a perverse game of battleships, with the women either completely oblivious or fine with it. Nevertheless it was a good night, all the more so as I didn’t need to bring proof of address to get in.

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