InterExchange Working Abroad Ambassador Sarah, Teach English France
When you travel, some days are chock-full full of jaw-dropping sights and unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, while other days are quietly filled with a lot of little "somethings." I do not lament the fact that Monday ("lundi" in French) was one such day. I document it here to give you an idea of a typical day in the life of a tutor in France.
8:45 a.m.—I mosey out of my bedroom and head straight for the pantry. Toast with Nutella and strawberry jam. My host family has already had breakfast together, as they do each morning. On Mondays, school starts at 9:15, so I soon get a hug goodbye before they ride their bikes out of the gate. On her way out, my host mom attempts to coax me into eating some cake, even though I know NO ONE ELSE ate cake for breakfast. I decline and instead savor a spoonful of Nutella, like a sensible adult.
9:45 a.m.— "J'ai des démangeaisons." This is the humble phrase I practice on my 20-minute walk to town. It means, "I have a rash," and I do, I'm afraid—strange single dots that have appeared on my hand, shoulder, and ankle (please stop me if this is too much information). Ready to take care of business, I stroll into the pharmacie…and then wave bye-bye to my confidence. I can't even remember how to ask in French if the pharmacist speaks English. Answer: she does not. I break out my French phrase book and manage to feebly recite the aforementioned phrase while making all sorts of charades-worthy gestures. Crossing my fingers that I won't be diagnosed with a flaky croissant allergy, the pharmacist instead hands me a cream for bug bites. I finally locate some French in time to blurt out a "Merci beaucoup!" before sailing out the door. Not my best work.
12:00 p.m.—Nan gets a nearly 2-hour break every afternoon for lunch. We all meet around the picnic table outside that rests under a pergola covered in vines of grapes and apples. I arrive a little later than the others to find that my plate has already been loaded with about 3x as much rice and chicken as anyone else. My host mom knows me so well. Nan tells me they are learning about capital letters at school and then proceeds to make animal noises for the next 5 minutes. Rather prodigious child when it comes to squawking birdcalls.
1:00 p.m.—I hear Nan singing "Hakuna Matata" at the top of her lungs from the next room as I clear the table. Upon turning the corner, I see her sitting on my toilet, door wide open, singing her heart out. Kindred spirits.
2:30 p.m.—My host mom tells me that I should visit the tourism office in Maisons-Laffitte to get a map of the town, so I follow her advice. I do not, however, follow a normal route to town and am certifiably lost for a wee bit. Coulda used that MAP I was on my way to get. When I at last reach the office, I load my arms with about 15 brochures and maps. Next, I scatter all 15 brochures and maps on the floor in an otherwise silent office. Between this and the pharmacie incident, I don't feel like I'm doing America any favors today.
4:30 p.m.—Time for an after-school snack of chocolate cookies and chocolate milk. This home is a friend to the cocoa bean. Nan is my responsibility for the next three hours. Trying to get a 5-year-old child to want to work on her third language after a full day of school is not an easy task. Nan requires a healthy amount of enthusiasm, action and variety. First, I read the story of Peter Rabbit while she paints a plaster horse and covers it (and herself and the table and the chair and myself and somehow the toilet seat…) with silver glitter. When I ask her if she's ever been naughty like Peter Rabbit, she doesn't hesitate and shakes her head, "Oh, no! Not naughty." Does blatant lying fall under the "naughty" category? I'll have to check on that one.
Bookwork must be broken up by a smattering of invented games. While I don't want to accuse Nan of being a lowdown, dirty cheater, it's safe to say that she organizes these activities in a way that ensures she will emerge victorious. For example, to score a goal in soccer, you must hit a tree with the ball. Pretty much anything Nan hits is a goal. The stool by the picnic table? "GOOOOAAAAL!" The fence that surrounds the yard? "GOOOOAAAAL!" "Wait a second. Those aren't trees," I argue. "They're wood. It counts. I have two. You have zero." Making matters worse, I miraculously manage to hit every tree that is out of bounds. Okay, she cheats.
7:30 p.m.—Dinner consists of baked fish and steamed vegetables, including a pumpkin from the garden. Scrumptious. I repeatedly catch Nan trying to feed the dog, Valentino, scraps of her fish and baguette. I had become suspicious when Val, who typically merely tolerates our existence in a palpably condescending manner, was eagerly wagging his black tail under the chair of the tiny tyke who likes to squeeze him until he loses his cool. Busted.
There you have it. These are the little "somethings" that made Monday something.