Monday, November 15, 2010

What a wonderful weekend & Why I don't miss England

After a few down days for various different reasons, I had a wonderful weekend with wonderful people! There was a wine festival at the Parc des Expositions, around 15 minutes by bus from the centre of Reims. I had gone there at the beginning of this year abroad for a chocolate festival so I loved and we managed to get free tickets so off we went on the bus! I have to say it was AMAZING and probably the best activity I've done since I got here. There were literally hundreds of wine stalls selling thousands of different bottles and giving free samples so if you really wanted to, you could easily get very drunk.

It was so overwhelming and we didn't cover all of it - its almost impossible but we did try lots of amazing wines but I quickly decided that I had to go back on Sunday to actually buy wine so I returned two days later. I decided that on the Sunday, I wouldn't try very many so I could concentrate on buying but I have to say I did get a bit merry! I ended up buying 3 bottles - a Medoc red from Bordeaux, an Alsace white wine called Gewurztraminer and a champagne! I'm hoping to take at least 2 home for Christmas. The festival was really good & I learnt so much about French wine including new vocab!

On Saturday, I went with another assistant and her 2 friends to Epernay to see other assistants who we had met at the stage & go to Moet & Chandon. I had been with my parents already but this time did the French tour. It was ok but I much preferred the English tour that I did previously and felt it was more comprehensive. I was however pleased with the knowledge I have acquired since arriving here and asked the tour guide some questions in French! It was a pleasant day and lovely to catch up with everyone in Epernay!

This time next month I will be getting ready to go back to England for the Christmas holidays. Personally I have mixed feelings about going back. On one hand, I am looking forward to going back to see family and friends and celebrate Christmas. I'm looking forward to having fast internet, reading British newspapers & eating lots of great food! I am really not missing England though despite a few small things that I can live without (Eastenders for example!) Of course I miss my friends and family but again its very easy to keep in touch and everyone leads very busy lives anyway.

I think this whole experience has confirmed to me what I knew before- that I don't really want to live in the UK forever and ever. I don't miss England because back home I always feel that I'm on a treadmill, leading  busy life with something to do everyday and I get little time to relax. On the other hand, in France the way of life is so much more relaxed and people seem to have more time for you. Whilst Britain is the 25th happiest place in the world behind Lithuania and Uruguay, France is the happiest country in the world to live in according to a recent survey. And France has come top for the last 5 years and to be honest I'm not surprised. The French really chill out and enjoy their  lives whilst retaining family values. They are much more cultured than the Brits, have an excellent healthcare system and a pretty good state education system too. And they have excellent food and drink!

I'm not saying France is a perfect country but I can see why people are so happy here!

Well that's all for me now but I will be back soon!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Armistice Day

Today is Armistice Day and is a public holiday in France so no school for me! To me its a great thing that its a public holiday as it gives us the opportunity to pay our respects to those that fought for our countries, for making the world a better place. We also remember those fighting today to free the world of terror & ensure democracy all over the world. Whatever your opinions on various wars are, today is the one day where we should forget our differences and remember those who were killed & to those who are prepared to put their life at risk for their country.

I decided to go and witness the local Armistice Day memorial ceremony and we arrived in time for 11am. I have to admit I was a little bit disappointed by the ceremony. At the UK ones that I have attended, the national anthem is sung, hymns and prayers are carried out and someone usually gives a reading. I find the British memorial services so much more moving and personal. My concern with the French one was that it was impersonal. There were no readings, just a short speech about the event. It also didn't help that we got there very early and had to stand out in the cold for a long time but I'm glad I went. It felt right to go and pay my respects, witness a French ceremony and I met some lovely French people with whom I chatted to. I also got to see the Mayor of Reims, Adeline Hazan who I have since read is a finalist for the World Mayor Prize!

It was also strange not wearing a poppy this year but I have now learnt the French word for poppy - un coquelicot which has now become my favourite French word!

In other news - I have had a nice couple of days relaxing and spending time with my friends here. This weekend, we are thinking of escaping Reims and perhaps going to Epernay to enjoy some fine champagne.

To end, I wanted to post an American poem which I hadn't heard of until today - its very inspiring!

It’s the Soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us the freedom of the press.

It’s the Soldier, not the poet, 
Who has given us the freedom of speech.

It’s the Soldier, not the politicians, 
Who ensures our right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

It’s the Soldier who salutes the flag, 
Who serves beneath the flag, 
And whose coffin is draped by the flag.

God bless them all. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The joys & woes of teaching

Its been a hard couple of days. I'm now teaching on my own and I have mixed feelings about it although I'm pretty optimistic that I will warm to it fully. I've had some really fantastic classes - classes with pupils who are intelligent, passionate about the subject & eager to learn more! When I have these classes, I feel proud that these young adults are the future of this country- they really deserve to do well in their studies. Today I did American politics with one of these classes discussing various key issues from immigration to healthcare to the death penalty. The pupils had very interesting opinions and it was great to discuss it with them.

On the other hand, I've had classes which have not been so successful where the kids have shown no real desire to learn English & look bored. Some of them often talk in French to themselves and refuse to contribute to group discussions. This annoys me because they are going to benefit by having the assistant & everyone knows that English is a necessity in today's world and that without it you really can't be successful. I've had to use discipline a couple of times already - something which I don't particularly want to do. But I don't want to be seen as a push over who can't control a class!

One thing I'm finding hard is the size classes. I usually get classes of around 14 people which is too much in my opinion. I think it would be far better to have smaller groups like I was lucky to have at school with my French assistants.

Other aspects of school life are annoying me too. For the best part, the teachers are warm & welcoming. I've received dinner invitations and teachers have approached me for my advice with English, for example. This has been great and this is a big reason why I'm enjoying my stay in France. The English teachers in particular are awesome. However on the other hand, I've found some teachers to show a complete lack of interest in me, barely say bonjour and probably see me as the assistant who is only going to be here for one year. I sometimes eat in the school canteen but have become rather put off as it is always the same teachers there who always sit together, gossip but never really welcome me and ask me how I'm getting on etc. This always puts a downer on my day because I want to practice my French with them and get to know some more people. My eyes always light up when I see teachers I like in there!

I also find the canteen staff really petty too! Today a friend came to visit me at the canteen and I had the intention of paying for both of us with my id card but the card wouldn't work as I had used it once. I then asked them to take me name and they could take the money off the system but they refused and made me go all the way to the administration office to sort it out with them and get a permission slip. I feel that they treated me a bit like a naughty student & they wasted my time. As payback I took extra food!

But I'm glad I'm a teaching assistant & not working or at university and I'm glad to be in Reims at a pretty good  school academically rather than in a smallish town in a difficult school perhaps! I also only have to work 12 hours a week and get a nice little salary! I'm not missing England either which is great. The year abroad so far has confirmed my desire to live abroad on a more permanent basis.

Sorry for today's rant - its been a tiring day!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Midterm elections

This week has been an interesting week politics wise because of the midterm elections - an event I always look forward to. I know this isn't strictly a politics blog but as a keen enthusiast of American politics, I felt it appropriate to blog about the midterms. Occasionally I will blog about something political but it will mainly be about my experiences in France.

This was the first election since I began following American politics where I endorsed neither party. I felt I couldn't endorse the Democrats because they've done very little in Congress during the last 4 years, were absolutely disgraceful in their treatment of Hillary Clinton during the primaries, weren't bipartisan despite promising to be so & weren't vigorous enough on key political issues like healthcare. On  the other hand, the Republicans haven't offered a viable, appropriate alternative, have no positive vision for the country & I still disagree with them on several key issues. So the verdict the American people gave, I believe was.... appropriate! They gave Obama a thumping which he rightly deserved in  the House but it wasn't an enthusiastic endorsement of the Republican Party either. I believe that the Republicans could have taken the Senate too, had they selected more moderate candidates.I'm hoping that by losing the House, it will encourage the president to work more closely with & cooperate with the Republicans to ensure the best compromises for America. Lets hope its like 1994!

The Tea Party movement really did do terribly. They tried to put some very interesting and particularly women candidates to try and capture the women's vote but failed miserably. Tea Party darlings like Sharon Angle, Carly Fiorina & of course the infamous Christine O'Donnell all failed in their attempts to get into the Senate despite the former 2 running against very unpopular incumbents. Sarah Palin thinks it was a great night for her & her movement but the Republican Party desperately needs to find a more moderate candidate to present to the electorate in 2012. If I had to put money on the presidential election right now, I predict that President Obama will be re-elected by a comfortable margin, possibly even a landslide.

I was particularly thrilled to see that Nikki Haley was elected Governor of South Carolina. She's an Indian-American whose parents hail from Amritsar and is actually orignally from my ancestral village Pandori Ran Singh. Her family's story is incredibly inspirational and gives me hope in the UK that perhaps one day an ethnic minority could become Prime Minister. Although I disagree with Governor-elect Haley on a number of issues, her victory is a win for Indians overseas & I wish her all the very best of luck!

So now we start looking towards 2012- thats all from me today,  I promise to blog soon about ma vie française!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Les vacances de la Toussaint!

Sorry I haven't been very active recently. Its currently les vacances de la Toussaint which is the All Saints Holiday so I've had just under 2 weeks of holiday. It has been a wonderful break and I've been travelling with my friend Paddy. We went to Luxembourg, Trier Germany, Brussels & Bruges! I had such a great time & was nice to get away from France and see a few new places. 

Me in Luxembourg 

Our adventure started in Reims where Paddy arrived at 9am last Tuesday. We went to the Cathedral & went to the Pommery champagne house before going out for drinks in the evening in Place d'Erlon - our town centre. We then had an early start the next morning for the train to Luxembourg. Neither of us knew particularly much about Luxembourg and wanted to go there because its probably the most random EU country & just wanted to tell people we have been there. It was a very charming, pictoresque country and moBst things are very expensive with the exception of cigarettes due to low taxes on them! But it was nice to take the beautiful scenery in, visit some of the sights there & see some delightful architecture.

The next day we took a train to Trier in Germany. Its only 45 minutes away and is best known as being the oldest city in Germany & the birth place of Karl Marx. We wondered around this wonderful city - it truly is something special & I would definitely recommend a visit! We also bumped into my friend Emily & her family who were doing a similar tour to us. The food and drink in Germany is incredible. We tried the local delights of Bratwurst - a German sausage Glühwein - a warm white wine! It was nice to be able to visit Germany for the first time & I will definitely be making a return soon. 

After spending the night in our hostel in Luxembourg; we took the train to Brussels. Brussels holds a very special place in my heart as 3 years ago I went there & undertook work experience at the EU Parliament. Brussels has since become one of  my favourite European cities, for its Europeaness; its delightful beer, food & of course chocolate. Walking along the streets of Brussels brought back lots of memories & I was especially glad to see the European Parliament again. However extreme tiredness meant that we didn't experience the Brussels nightlife centred around the Grand Place & instead went to bed early.

The next day we took a train to Bruges- a city probably best known as the capital of chocolate & for the movie In Bruges. Paddy had wanted to go specifically for the latter reason & I was more inclined to go for  the chocolate! Bruges, I have to say Bruges was incredible & may perhaps be my favourite EU city at this moment in time! We climbed up the Belfry of Bruges, a medieval bell tower which was a central feature of the movie In Bruges! It was funny as at the top of the building people had written quotes from the movie. We also went to the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a beautiful church which houses a vial of Jesus Christ's blood. We also tried the beers; including one called De Garre that is only sold in one old fashioned, backstreet pub! And we went to a lovely restaurant where we had the traditional Mussels and Fries & then to a pub that sells over 400 different types of beer- a great way to end a great trip!

We met some interesting people travelling too including an American guy who had been travelling round Europe for 3 months, an Australian lady visiting Bruges following a business trip & 2 fellow teaching assistants from Lille & Dijon doing a bit of travelling round Belgium.

One of my aims in life is to visit every EU country & I'm glad to have added another 2 to my list in a space of 6 days. I'm pleased to be back in Reims now- back to the comfort of my own bed. I've been feeling a little drained out and definitely need to rest but this wasn't helped by me wanting to watch the US midterm election results but I will blog about those later!