November 28, 2003

Will I be paid, or won't I?
Believe it or not, but I've been working here for two months and I just got 80% of my October pay on Friday. That's right, they won't pay me the rest of my October salary, nor any of my November salary, until the end of December when they will also pay me my December salary.
Happy American Thanksgiving
Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the U.S. (it's in October in Canada). We decided to have a Thanksgiving celebration, and almost 30 people showed up. The only things that were missing were the stuffing (no Stovetop stuffing in France), cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.
For a lot of the people, it was their first ever Thanksgiving celebration. We all sat at one really long table in the cafeteria of the MAJT (with special permission of course). Before eating, we all went around the table and introduced ourselves (there were some friends of friends there), then said one thing that we were thankful for. All in all, I'd say it was a sucess.

November 27, 2003

Two hours late...
Well, to make a long story short, I was two hours late for work today. Now for the story...
One of the girls from Vimy, Patricia, is thinking about doing the Canadian Assistants in France program next year, so she asked if she could follow me around for the day. I got permission from both of my schools, and we got everything worked out.
We got to the meeting point, where one of the teachers was to pick us up this morning. OK, we were 5 minutes late, but the teacher is usually 15 minutes late. As it turns out, he waited until 7h45, but we arrived at 7h40, so we should have seen each other - except for the heavy fog (like pea soup, literally), and large amounts of traffic. By 8h10 we figured that he wasn't coming, so we took the metro to the end of the line, then got onto the bus to Armentieres. The bus was late, so we missed the connecting bus to the small town where I work. After waiting for 50 minutes in a little cafe across the street from the bus stop, we got the next bus, then walked to the school.
By the time that we got to the school, two hours and two classes after I was supposed to start, all of the teachers looked shocked that we even showed up. Evidently the story had spread around the school.
I feel really bad, but I still don't know how we missed the car with only one windshield wiper (it's right in the middle of the window in case you're wondering) which was to give us a ride to school.
Just another day in the life of a language assistant I guess.

November 25, 2003

Beaujolais and Arras...
Last Thursday was the first day for the new beaujolais. The arrival of Beaujolais is celebrated as the first wine of the year (in this case 2003). As usual, it wasn't a good wine. I think that it's just another reason for the French to celebrate!
I went down to Arras again this weekend. I met up with Kyla's parents at the car rental place, then we headed down to the Vimy memorial. In the evening, we went to M. Devloo's place for dinner. He's an old French guy (about 80), who picks Canadians up from the Vimy train station and drives them to the monument. He visited Canada this past summer, and his story was published in a lot of newspapers. I spent the night in the Canadian house in Arras.
The next morning I met up with Kyla's parents again, and we headed to Beaumont-Hamel, a site where the Newfoundlanders fought and lost many men during the First World War. I met some of the Canadian guides there, that I had met at previous occasions at the Arras house.
Then we headed to the Ulster Tower, and Thiepval. Thiepval is a memorial to over 73,000 missing British soldiers from the war. It's an amazing site. Next we headed to a German cemetary at Fricourt, before going to Lochnagar. Lochnagar is a giant crater that was blown up under the German lines. Lastly we visited a giant French cemetary at Rancourt.
While waiting for the train from Albert to Lille, I ran into Patricia, one of the Vimy guides, who was going to spend the night with the Beaumont-Hamel guides in Albert. She invited me to wait at the house for my train, which was great because I had to wait for 1.5 hours in the freezing cold train station.

November 20, 2003

Hot water or NOT?
Well, there have been problems with the hot water in my building. I was able to have a hot shower this morning, but the hot water was off all weekend, and then off and on throughout the rest of the week.
I went to see Michel Vaillant with Genevieve on Monday night. It's a French film based on a comic book. The film was pretty good. The American guys French accent got annoying though, and it was odd to hear English words thrown into French sentences.
I'm still waiting to get paid, and to get my carte de séjour. I went to social security yesterday to see what has happened to my dossier, and the guy didn't know. In fact, I'm not even registered in the computer system as having given him my documents. Hmmmm, photocopies of all of my important documents (including my bank account info, and copy of my passport) are lost in French Bureaucracy-land. So, I have to go back in with copies of everything, again.
I'm going to a Christmas market in Germany on December 5th with my school! That is, if my carte de séjour comes through in time...
Anyway, I guess that's about it for now, A+

November 18, 2003

Punched in the head...
This story comes via Brian, a Canadian English assistant living in Douai (not too far from Lille).
"I went to what we Manitobans would call a 'law faculty social'. A party to raise money for those not in the loop.
Before going I met up with five other assistants: a Spanish guy, a Canadian girl, an Austrian girl, and two German girls (their sex is actually important to the story, so don't think that I'm just flaunting my good luck). We were walking, talking, getting to know each other a little bit, and I was feeling pretty good.
Suddenly I was hit by something in the back of the head. I turned around to see that it was a fist... and it hit me again in the face twice more.
I jumped back a few meters so that I could asses the situation more carefully. Sure enough I we were being attacked, for no real reason.
Approximately seven drunk French guys decided that it would be fun and fair to try to pick a fight with me, a fairly large Spanish man, and four skinny female language assistants.
People have told me that when you're in this situation you typically have a fight or flight reaction. I didn't have either. I just stood there as three of the seven drunks called me names and told me that they would win said fight if it were to take place. I believed them, so I left without saying anything. I guess I lost that one. I'm not usually one to turn down a new experience, but I was getting a no feeling from this one.
Anyway, I left the scene with my five new friends with a bloody mouth and a bit of a headache. The Spanish guy was also hit once, and kicked in the rear I think. The four female friends were only emotionally shaken up.
All in all not a big deal, but it could have been a lot worse."

November 17, 2003

Going to Germany?
Apparently I'm going to Germany on December 5th. I'm not sure where, or for how long though. One of the English teachers just said last week, "oh yah, I signed you up for the field trip to Germany. You'll be going on Friday the 5th." I'm looking forward to it, even though I don't know much about it, lol.
Hopefully I'll get my carte de séjour this week so that I can legally return to France... On attends comme toujours. I'm still waiting to be paid for October.

November 13, 2003

Another Police Incident...
Earlier this week, there was another police incident in the Lille Metro. It didn't happen to me, but to a friend of mine. The police stopped him in the station, much like they stopped me. "Can we see a piece of ID please?"
Being from the EU, there shouldn't be a problem, but they make a mysterious call to check up on his drivers' license.
They ask if he has any hashish, guns, or weapons. Of course he doesn't, but the cops don't really care. They fully search him anyway.
They then start to ask vague questions, trying to find out if he's 'fully European', or partly something else. Racist would be the word that pops to my mind.
Then they ask why he's here, "I'm working as an English assistant." "But if you speak English already, why are you here?" "Because I'm working to teach French students English."
Then they get a call that his drivers' license is OK, and that he's good to go. They cop tries to 'smooth things over' by making light of the number of languages he speaks.
I thought that I had gotten over the whole cop thing; I had rationalized that it was just a one in a million chance that I had been stopped. Then, just over two weeks later, it happens again (but luckily not to me). Going into the metro and seeing six cops glaring at you walking by can be very intimidating.
I saw the lady that went through my wallet when I got off at the metro station a couple of days ago. I know that she doesn't remember my face, but it still makes you wonder...

November 11, 2003

Wrong bus...
I accidentally got on the wrong bus on Monday, on my way to work. Not completely the wrong bus though; it was the right line, just in the wrong direction. By the time I figured out what was happening, it was too late. I was headed in the wrong direction, and would miss my connecting bus out to the school. At the end of the line (we weren't that far from the end when I got on the wrong bus), I asked the driver if he was going back the line, but in the other direction. He said no, and that he was done for the day. Hmmmmm. I told him that I had gotten on the wrong bus, and he said that he'd drive me back to the train station, where there was a connecting bus. I sat back down, the only person on the bus. I checked my schedule, and realised that the next bus that I needed would arrive at the station after I was supposed to start working. I was a little worried as I'm sure you can imagine.
Then, for some reason, the guy asked me where I had to go. I told him the name of the school (there's a bus stop there), and he said that he'd drive me there! He lit his cigarette, then proceeded to drive me, the only passenger, completely out of his way to the school where I had to work. I couldn't believe it. I said thank you several times, and shook his hand.
Who said that all French were arrogant, snobby, and stuck up? I certainly didn't find that today. That experience starts to restort my faith in French people (after all the paperwork, and bad experiences with certain members of the police force).

November 10, 2003

Ceremony at Vimy...
Yesterday, November 9th, I went to the memorial service at Vimy Ridge (near Arras). I took the train to Arras from Lille with a Canadian guy named Carter, who was staying at the youth hostel in Lille. Franc (a French guy who is a friend of the Canadian guides) gave us a lift up to the site. There were tons of Canadians there, who were living all over France and Europe. I met up with Kyla, (the girl that I met last weekend in Arras) and met some of the other Candian guides.
The service was really amazing. I can't really describe it. Just imagine hearing the last post played on the memorial to the soldiers (specifically the Canadian ones) that died during the Great War. Then hearing a lone bagpiper playing in the breeze. After the ceremony, there was a short ceremony at the Moroccan memorial, which is also at Vimy Ridge.
We all headed down to the town of Vimy for a reception. I said hi to the lady at the consulate that helped me after my little incident with the French police. I also tried some black caviar, which was rather fishy and salty, yet tasted pretty good.
We then headed back up to the site, and Stephanie gave us a tour of the tunnels, and briefly explained the trench systems.
A bunch of us headed down to the infamous "Canadian house" in Arras for dinner. The house is where the ten (that's right, 10) Canadian Vimy guides live. I say infamous because even some of the American assistants in Lille, who have not visited Arras, have heard about the house. Anyway, we ordered in 10 large pizzas, then did a chocolate fondu for dessert! All in all, I had an amazing day in Arras.
There's some CBC coverage on Vimy that you can check out if you want more info on the site and on the battle.

November 06, 2003

One week down...
Believe it or not, but I actually started working this week. I didn't do anything special; I introduced myself, then asked the students questions in English to get an idea of their level of English. The first three classes went well, although I was stretching for things to ask the kids at the end of the hour. The next day at the second school didn't go so well. The kids were a lot rowdier.
Anyway, at least they haven't eaten me yet.
I'm heading to Arras on Saturday, and I'll be going to the Vimy Ridge memorial on Sunday.

November 03, 2003

Arras, Amiens, Vimy...
I had a good trip over the Toussaint holiday. I went to Arras (about 1 hour south of Lille by train), and spent two nights in the youth hostel there. The first day I wandered around the town, which wasn't really that exciting. I did the underground tunnels tour which was cool though. The second day I took the train out to Amiens (further south, but still north of Paris) for the day. The city was so beautiful! The cathedral was amazing, one of the best in France I've heard (and I can believe that). They have a relic in the cathedral that's supposed to be the head of St. John the Baptist, which they took from Constantinople during the crusades.
The third day I went with a Canadian guy who had rented a car, and a Canadian girl who works as a guide at Vimy Ridge (she had the day off). The guide got special permission for us to go into the backwoods of Vimy, where the public isn't permitted as there are still unexploded bombs. We went into a crater where two German soldiers were just found after the rains last spring. There was an unexploded bomb marked by a red tag on the path in. I was hunting around for spent bullets (keep in mind the war was 1914-1918), when I accidentally touched the handle of an unexploded German grenade (unexploded = could still explode). I found a few used bullets, and Kyla (the Canadian guide) said I could take them home with me. It's amazing to think that in 1998 three school children were killed at Vimy because they were playing with unexploded bullets. Some British engineers went down into some of the tunnels just last week and found forks, knives, food cans, cigarette packages, and garbage left behind from the First World War. It's just mind boggling.
Then we went to see some old German blockhouses in the area, before seeing a Commonwealth cemetery, then a German cemetery. Next we went to an Indian memorial from the Great War, before seeing a Portuguese cemetery.
Genevieve and Marjette went to Ypres on Saturday, and bought some real Belgian chocolate for me! It's absolutely amazing. Now I know why it's got such a great reputation.
I went to see "Un film parl?" (Un filme falado, A Spoken Picture) on the weekend with Jacinta (the Portuguese assistant), a Japanese assistant, an Albanian guy, and two Italian girls. It's a Portuguese film that is spoken in Portuguese, French, Italian, Greek, and English (with French subtitles of course). It was a good movie, but the ending was a complete surprise. I'm hoping to see Hero (a Chinese movie) this week.