I’m at about the six week mark of my adventure here in France, and the weeks just get busier and busier. I’m finally starting to feel like I’m getting into the routine of teaching, even though I’m only in the classroom for 12 hours per week, I spend a bit of time planning lessons each week, as well as spending time at my lycée to get to know the teachers a little bit.
I originally had planned to do a more general update on life in France, but instead I’ll share a story about pumpkins and porn, which happened this past week in the middle school where I was teaching.
I teach for 4 hours per week at a collège, or the French equivalent of a middle school. In general, I’ve found this level a bit harder to teach because their language level is not quite as advanced as my lycée (high school) students, and I have to speak more French in class (which is not a problem, unless I can’t explain myself the way I want to, or they laugh at my mispronunciations).
I started my day by taking a trip to the school secretary, where I needed to buy a lunch ticket to eat at the cantine, or the school’s restaurant. After a few minutes of rapid fire french about why I didn’t have a cantine card (I only work for 4 hours, and only need one meal per week) the secretary then wrote me (by hand) a receipt and a meal ticket, after asking several times for me to spell my name.
“zed-oh-euh deh-eeh-ah-zed ehm-see-ehl-doobluh-euh-ess-euh”
After I had sorted out the meal ticket problem, I started teaching for the day. I’m still learning the students’ names, and since they change every week, I am having a real problem with remembering them all. So I ask each class to write their names on a sheet of paper like a name tag. One of my students sitting in the back decided to put a name that was not his own on his makeshift name tag. The name tag said “Jackie Michel.” I assumed that he was just trying to be funny by putting a fake name on his name tag, so I decided to call on him a lot. I also thought it would be a good opportunity to explain the fact that in the USA, “Jackie Michel” would be considered a girls’ name, but in France “Alexis” is considered a boy name. I was counting it as a win for cultural exchange!
Every time I called on him, the students laughed. When I asked why they were all giggling, no one would answer me. I moved on, not wanting to spend more time on such a silly thing as middle schoolers giggling at me.
After the class, it was time for lunch. First of all, we have an hour and a half for lunch. I kid you not. When I told the room full of teachers that I get a half hour lunch in the States, I was met with groans and “oh la la”s and a few “c’est pas possible”s (impossible!). When one teacher asked me how I could eat in such a short amount of time, I replied, “well I don’t really talk to anyone. I just eat a sandwich a read a book mostly.” I have figured out that the more “la’s” one adds to the end of “oh” the more serious it is. I got a few, “oh la la la la”s. I’m pretty sure having a lunch less than an hour, without copious amounts of conversation and coffee is a cardinal sin in France.
As my teacher and I were walking to the lunch room, she asked me how the class went. I told her that they were really giggly and silly, but overall nice and it was a pretty good class. She said, “well, one of the students told me that he [the student in the back] wrote ‘Jackie Michel’ on his name tag.” I responded, “yes, and everyone kept laughing but I’m not sure why.”
“Jackie Michel is the name of a porn site in France.”
I froze. I didn’t even know what to say… I tried to apologize, explain that I didn’t know, and that was why they were laughing. Since I’m not a horny middle school teenager, I had no idea what was so funny about that particlar fake name. I was MORTIFIED. My teacher assured me that it was no problem on my end, and that she gave the student the French equivalent of detention – and would call his mother.
Then came lunch. Lunches are pretty standard, but just much better than my lunches in the US. There’s always salad and fresh vegetables (they’re fond of shredded carrots and I’m not sure why but I’m also not opposed). They also have cheese, a dessert (I’m partial to their cream puffs), and a hot meal. On this particular day it was mashed potatoes and a meat that I couldn’t identify but also smelled really good. In the lunch room, there was also wine to celebrate the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau, which was quite good.
During lunch, I was inquiring about where to find several foods to make a Thanksgiving dinner. It was recommended that I go to a butcher to get a turkey, but I have to make sure they take out all the innards. Potatoes, corn, and beans could all be procured at the local Auchan, or Carrefour if I prefer. When I asked about the possibility of canned pumpkin to make a pie, there was a collective sense of confusion from the teachers.
One of them asked, “why buy it canned when you can make it yourself?”
Why would I make it myself, I wondered, when I can buy it canned?
After being directed to the best store to find pumpkin already cut up into pieces (because cutting a pumpkin is, in fact, too much work – but peeling, boiling, roasting, and mashing said pumpkin is not), it was time to head back to the classroom and finish the day.
On our way back to the classroom, my teacher said, “can I ask you a question?” to which I responded, “Of course.”
“Do you often eat rabbit in the United States?”
I thought for a moment, and replied, “no. I don’t think I’ve ever had rabbit at home. I usually stick to beef, pork, chicken, and turkey for my protein.”
“Oh, you just seemed to really enjoy the rabbit at lunch today.”
“That was rabbit?” I could not help but think of Thumper from Bambi in that moment.
“Yes, and it’s quite good. Very lean,” she replied.
The rest of the day passed without incident. I tried to explain why the president pardons a turkey every year on Thanksgiving, and my students stared at me with wide eyes. I tried to get them to think about what being thankful means, and realized there is not really a direct translation. And asking middle schoolers to think about things they are thankful for means a lot of Xbox references and jokes I don’t understand.
I returned to my little studio exhausted, embarrassed, but also in a good mood that night. I was embarrassed, annoyed, and a little incredulous. But more than that – I was amused. France is a country in its own league. I wanted to learn how to live in this country, and I think I’m finally starting to do that. Porn sites, whole pumpkins, and all.
C’est la vie, oui?