The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Stupid Tower of Babel...

I made this joke to one of my colleagues yesterday, and he laughed for about 5 minutes. I told him that this reaction was an improvement over the last time I'd tried to make the joke, which was Saturday night. This information just made him laugh harder. The guy I was talking with on Saturday claims to have read history at University, but apparently either didn't understand me or didn't know what the Tower of Babel was. Granted, I was speaking French on Saturday night and English yesterday, but still. I told my bilingual friend how I'd said it in French and he said it was right. This means that either my French is so bad that no one can understand me, or my jokes are so dorky that not even a history major gets them. Or there's some kind of sense-of-humor barrier. I'm going to say it's a mix of all three.

Anyway, my dorky religion joke and its mixed reactions made me miss my Drury peeps, especially Brock, who so would have gotten it instantly and thought it was cool. (right?)

My apartment is really damp and it's starting to get on my nerves.

Last night I went to Texti (kind of a dollar store) to buy a big pillow for my couch, and lo and behold, what do I stumble upon but Fulla, the Islam-friendly Barbie-doll! I'd read about her in Bitch magazine a few years ago and I was completely excited to see her in the plastic. Basically she's a standard Barbie wearing a head scarf and a really plain, modest dress. I think it's awesome. She was only 3 euro so I totally bought her and now she sits in my apartment and makes me happy.

Last night I read the French WALL-E picture book I bought on my second day here. I understood most of it without having to consult a dictionary much, which was encouraging. The style was very simple, but there were some surprisingly elegant moments, and I'm not sure if this was the result of good juvenile writing or just the fact that it was in French. I think my favorite phrase was "parmi les ├ętoiles," or "among the stars." This was how they described the humans' location in the story. The people are on a spaceship, away from earth, which I think an English writer would usually describe as "out in space," but oh no, the French write "parmi les ├ętoiles." It's things like that which remind me why I wanted to learn this terribly difficult language in the first place.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The French Scorecard: Call it a Wash

+1: I'm getting internet! In my apartment! And TV! And a VoIP phone number on which I can call the US unlimited! Yay! You'll all start getting annoying, long-winded phone calls from me at 3:00 am. =D

-1: Stupid immigration laws say I can't go to the UK for the upcoming fall holidays. Even though my American passport lets me go wherever I want as a tourist, APPARENTLY there is some weird thing with my work visa, etc, that says I can't travel until I have a receipt from my carte de sejour (green card) application. Poo poo. Oh well, I guess I'll just go to Paris and see Amanda Palmer in concert instead.

+1: I'm going to Lille (the regional capital, very large city) on a weekly basis now for a French class with some other assistants. This is great because it a) fulfills my scholarship requirement b) is paid for by my scholarship c) will help me improve my french d) will allow me to see the other assistants often and e) gives me a reason to get out of Berck once a week.

-1: The last train back to Berck from Lille leaves at 5:21 pm everyday. This means that I spend 3 hours on the train in the morning, get to Lille just in time to go to the class, then have to literally RUN from the class to the train station as soon as it's over in order to get home that night. This means I don't have time to do much of ANYTHING in Lille besides the class itself, which is 3 hours long, including hang out with the other assistants. :(

+1: I live about 30 seconds from the ocean, which is really pretty.

-1: I live about 30 seconds from the ocean, which means some nights when I go home the wind is so strong that I can hardly make it up the hill. Oh well.

+1: Pain au Chocolat.

-1: Rabbit.

+1: Everyone here speaks French!

-1: No one here speaks English!!!

+1: I live in France now!

-1: I live in France now.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Grade A American, Passed Inspection

I went to Lille on Monday for my governmental medical exam, which I was a little freaked about. I was worried that a) They'd deport me because I have the lingering remnants of a cold, b) They'd do freaky medical things to me in French that I wouldn't understand, and c) I would be immigrant cattle with a bunch of other immigrants.

Of course, as usual, the reality was much less glamorous than my colourful imaginings. Except perhaps for the cattle part. I got to the place early, so I went to the cafe on the corner for a cheap sandwich and a comforting cup of tea. I went back, still early, and checked in. When I entered the waiting room I discovered a jolly group of assistants. We all started discussing our posts and where we're from, and were slowly called in by twos. We exchanged rumors about what the exam would entail, and the consensus was that we'd get upper-body naked for a chest x-ray (hopefully not all together), and beyond that we didn't know. When I was called, along with another girl, we were put into little individual vestibules that led into one x-ray room. The doctor was really nice and somewhat cute, but he spoke really quickly, so if I didn't already know what was going on I would have had no idea. When he left I undressed from the waist up, but they didn't even have one of those little half-size paper cardigan things that mom always makes fun of. Since I didn't understand him, I was still unsure if I should take off my bra or not, but I quickly realized that this doubt was a combination of wishful thinking and paranoia of extreme humiliation due to undressing *too* much and being all "full headlights" unecessarily when he opened the door again, which by the way he did very quickly and without knocking. I felt weird standing there half naked waiting for him to open the door, so I decided to be tricky and put my cardigan back on for decency. It worked out well, because this way I didn't have to walk the six steps or so to the x-ray machine feeling completely undignified.

They clearly were used to shuffling people through these things at an accelerated pace, because the 8 or so assistants that were with me in the waiting room seemed to move through the stages as a group and I was out of there very quickly, even before several people who had been called in for the x-ray before me. After the x-ray I got dressed in the vestibule and then went into a sort of holding pen in the hall with the others. Then it was into a second room, where they checked my height and weight and eyesight with one of those big E charts. Since I've had an eye test every six months for the past ten years, and since I'm a big dork, I thought it was vaguely fun to do it in French. After that it was back to the holding pen, then into the last room, which was more of an office. A third doctor checked my blood pressure and pulse, and listened to me with a stethescope. All of this was done very perfunctorily. The last doctor asked if I'd ever been hospitalized, had surgery, etc, then looked at my x-ray briefly and signed the forms. That's it. Not that I wish it would have been more involved, but really, if all you're going to do is take a chest x-ray and a pulse, what's the point of going to the trouble? They basically check to see if you're alive or not, which I think would be obvious from the fact that you traveled to France in the first place. I would have thought there'd be a blood test for AIDS and other dangerous diseases, but I guess that's all too expensive and possibly dangerous. I suppose the main idea is just for a doctor to see you face to face so they can check for any obvious problems. If you drag in looking like you're at death's door, they probably look at you a bit more closely. I hope.

I think the part I like most is their preoccupation with lungs. Before I came, I had to send in a medical form filled out by a doctor, and the most detailed part of the form was concerning the health of my lungs. They wanted a "complete description." I thought that was weird anyway, and now this exam was all about the lungs too. It seems rather charmingly Victorian of them, as if their main concern is tuberculosis, that glamorous Victorian disease that gave one that ever-trendy emaciated, pale, and delicate look. Well, no romantic TB here, I should think. I'm actually not sure that I've had a chest x-ray since I almost died from scrubbing bubbles when I was five, so it's kind of interesting to have one. They gave it to me afterwards, so now I have a nice picture of the inside of my body cavity, which is cool.

Today I'm getting on a train for Calais to spend the night at a teacher's house. She offered to drive me into Lille Thursday morning so I wouldn't be late to the assistant's orientation again. I think I may sign up for the language classes they offer to assistants there, so I can fulfill my scholarship requirement and get out of Berck once a week.

Over and out.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Immigrant Experience

When we were at Ellis Island in New York, Courtney and I made all kinds of immigrant jokes, mainly that we felt like immigrants when we were on the Ferry to get to the Island, being herded like cattle, being inspected thoroughly, etc. Now I really do feel like an immigrant. There's a lot of paperwork, and I even have to go for a medical exam on Monday. I'll be glad when all this administrative stuff is over with and I just have to worry about how to feed myself.

It's really cold and windy here now, and raining a lot. Of course. It will probably be like this for the next 6 months, so I guess I better get used to it. I was expecting the weather here to be really similar to London, because after all, London is only a couple hundred miles north of here, if that much. Still, the weather is much worse here for some reason. Puh.

I actually got to work yesterday, and I am again today. Mostly I stand in front of the class and have them ask me questions about myself in English. Then I ask them questions in English and they have to respond. Most of the time it's kind of boring stuff, from the standard vocabulary they teach in every high school language class ever: How many brothers and sisters do you have? Do you have any pets? etc. Still, sometimes there's a jewel in there, such as from this morning: "How big are the fries at McDonald's in America?" At first I thought she was asking about an actual fry, and then I realized she wanted to know how big an order was. I drew an approximation of a Super Size fry on the board (though I don't think I've seen one in years, so I wasn't sure). They were of course shocked by the monstrosity. If anyone wants to mail me something like an empty fry box or something else equally american, I would be most grateful. ;) Yesterday I told them that there was a movie theater in Springfield that has 16 screens, and everyone gasped. It was rather amusing.

Last night I went to the Brasserie on the corner and had hard cider and pizza for dinner. It was great. The waiter there knows me on sight and waves to me on the street. It is a bit boring to be living in such a small town, but the upside is that everyone is very nice. Another nice thing about France is that everywhere I go, they all have a huge selection of hot teas. It's quite nice.

Wednesday night, season 4 of Grey's Anatomy premiered on french TV. It was awesome. Watching American shows in French is not just a great way to work on my language skills, but it's also hilarious. Last week I watched CSI, which they call "Les Experts," and I've also seen Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives. My students love Grey's Anatomy, and House is very popular is well. So is Prison Break, which apparently all the girls love because they think the guy in it is hot. Yesterday I found a kindred spirit in the form of a girl who said her favorite shows were Angel and Buffy. I totally lost it. I actually brought almost all of my Buffy DVDs with me and a few of the Angel DVDs. I've been watching Buffy as I eat my dinner (alone, all alone, in my empty apartment). Last night, however, I watched portions of Mean Girls with the French audio on, which was also cool. I can tell my listening is getting better, at least with films and such.

I'm excited to start traveling soon. I hope to go up to London sometime in the next few weeks, and perhaps meet some of my old Londonite friends there. Craig facebooked me the other day, so we'll see.

Well, I've got to go to another class, so a bientot! Write me letters!