Thursday, March 24, 2011

The most controversial woman in France

Marine Le Pen hit the headlines in January by winning the leadership election of the Front National succeeding her father, Jean Marie Le Pen who shocked the world by coming second in the 2002 presidential election and going through to a run-off round with Jacques Chirac.

The FN has traditionally been the racist, anti-immigration party. Her father denied the holocaust calling it a "detail of history". Despite the party's surprise second place finish in 2002, the party went into decline and did poorly in the last presidential election. But since winning the leadership election, Marine has tried to soften her party's image. A 42 year old, twice-divorced mum of 3 children, she has tried to convince the middle classes and women especially that she is their candidate. She is trying to present herself as the only candidate who can defend the French Republic and the values it stands for.

And to a certain degree its working - Marine Le Pen has begun to win the hearts and the minds of many French people who are angry with President Sarkozy particularly over law and order, immigration and high unemployment. In last Sunday's local elections, her party did pretty well getting 15% of the vote (not much less than Sarkozy's UMP). In Reims, the Front National came first in one canton and second in a handful of other cantons. The second round of local elections take place this Sunday and the Front National have qualified for the second-round ballot in over 400 cantons. Polls are suggesting that Marine could theoretically come first or second and get through to a run-off like her father.

But many in the country are fearful of Marine Le Pen and are shocked that she is doing so well in the opinion polls. They feel her party hasn't changed and it is still the racist, xenophobic party that her father led. She has targeted the Muslim community saying that Islamophobia doesn't exist in France and that if elected, she would completely clamp down on immigration. She even visited the Italian island of Lampedusa where many Muslim refugees have arrived since the Tunisian revolution telling the refugees that they weren't welcome in Europe and that the EU couldn't afford to keep them. This certainly goes against "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity" and the idea of showing compassion to those who need our help.

Marine Le Pen is definitely gaining support and this should be a wake-up call to the two main political parties, the UMP and PS. They need to think at why French voters are turning to the FN and what they can do to stop this. They have to recognise that immigration and law and order is a big problem but need to consider the best ways to tackle these problems.  The government and the opposition also need to think about how to integrate immigrants, particularly the 6 million Muslims, most of whom love France and are proud to be French. They need to find a way to persuade immigrants to embrace French values of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Only one month left

In 4 weeks time I will take my last class as an English language assistant at my high school in Reims. I have to admit I'm a little sad about the prospect of leaving and really don't want this experience to end. On the whole, I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I am also a little nervous as I don't really know what I'm doing after the programme ends- I am hoping to get another job and stay in France a bit longer before having to go back to the UK to complete university at the end of September so hopefully I will find something soon.

It has been a while since I last blogged and so much has happened since then so I thought I'd just quickly sum up what has happened since:

  • Alyson and Emily (two of the assistants) threw me and another assistant a fantastic birthday party. I had a really great night and it was so nice to celebrate with everyone.
  • The assistants in Reims presented me a really nice present- a book entitled "This is your Reims life" full of pictures and messages to me - I was so touched. It is perhaps the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me :)
  • I went back to the UK and spent a few days in Bristol to see my university friends and see where I'm living next year- I had a great time and it was so awesome to see everyone/catch-up after so long. 
  • After the UK, I along with other assistants embarked on a fantastic interRailing adventure round Europe. We covered Vienna, Budapest, Prague and Munich (as well as a brief stop off the train in Bratislava). It was an amazing trip and we saw lots of amazing things/ate lots of yummy food. We also stayed in some pretty cool hostels and spent lots of hours on trains doing all sorts from admiring Austrian scenery to sleeping. I would definitely recommend all of these places but Prague was my favourite - its so picturesque and combines the traditional with the modern - I can't wait to go back! 
  • Celebrated both Shrove Tuesday and St Patricks Day in Reims. 
  • Have enjoyed a few nights out to local Reims pubs/clubs.
  • Collected food for a charity collect at my school. 
  • Visited the Musee des Beaux Arts- a fine arts museum in Reims. 
  • Continued to enjoy teaching -got some new classes which has been nice. 
That's all from me for now but I promise to write again soon!

Bon weekend à tous! 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Birthday fun & Paris

On Friday 28th January, I celebrated my 21st birthday in Reims. 15 of my family and family friends came to France to celebrate with me & we had a very enjoyable weekend. On the Friday night, we went to a lovely restaurant called Le Millénaire where we ate lots of yummy food! I was also presented with a very nice chocolate cake :) It was nice to show everyone the sites of Reims and visit the Mumm champagne house! For me, it was the first birthday celebrated outside the UK and it was awesome - I hope there are many more to come!

Last Saturday, I took a day trip to Paris to escape Reims for the day and see a few friends currently spending their year abroads there. I along with 2 friends of mine went to the Notre Dame. I had never been inside and it was beautiful & big! We also climbed up to the top where the views were absolutely incredible. After Notre Dame, we went to the Panthéon which is a beautiful buidling where many famous people are buried. It is situated in the Latin Quarter and was an interesting experience. I got to see the remains of several people including Voltaire, Rousseau and Victor Hugo. It was very special too to see the burial place of Jean Jaurès as my school is named after him! I had an enjoyable trip to Paris and am looking forward to my next visit.

Otherwise teaching is going well. Today I gave a presentation to 17 pupils on India which went well and I showed them a clip of Slumdog Millionaire. This weekend, I along with another assistant are celebrating our bdays with our friends which I'm very much looking forward to!

That's all for now but I will write more soon!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What I've been up to recently

Sorry I must apologise for not blogging for a while. It has been a rather busy few weeks which have really flown by but its been really nice. On Saturday 15th January, I & four other assistants went up to Nancy for the day. Nancy is a city in the North-East of France, not far from Germany and a short train ride from Reims. Its a very attractive city and I was particularly impressed by the town centre, Place Stanislas which was built by Stanilas, the Duke of Lorraine & former King of Poland at some point during the 18th century. There's not a whole lot to do there but it was very pretty and it was nice to just get out of Reims for the day, have a wander, explore the little shops and eats lots of yummy food! 

Otherwise I've been getting on with teaching which has been going well. Having done lots of stuff on the UK last term with my groups, I've begun to focus more on the USA with the majority of groups. Although I'm a British assistant, the school see me as an international assistant because of my strong interest in US culture and politics as well as my Indian heritage therefore I've been encouraged to do things like US politics/Indian culture with my groups.

I've also been enjoying Reims too! On Friday night, we celebrated Adrien (one of the American assistant's) birthday. We went to a karaoke bar which was a lot of fun ! We've also been doing regular games nights playing articulate which has become a little addiction of mine & everyone gets very competitive. I've also been trying to plan a trip I'm taking next month with 4 of the other assistants. We are going interrailing and going to Vienna, Budapest, Prague & Munich. I'm really looking forward to it especially as I've never been to any of these places.

That's all for now. My next blog post which I plan to write asap is going to be about my verdict of the year abroad so far as we've just hit the half way mark of the teaching assistantship !

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Games night, football and les soldes (just another example of French socialism)

Since I last blogged a week back, I've had a really nice week in Reims. On Friday, we had a games night at 2 of the English assistants' appartment. We played articulate, had a few glasses of wine and laughed over the most random things. The game got very competitive but I was pretty pleased with my performance at the end of the night - winning the first game & coming second in the second game. We all enjoyed it so much that we have decided to have another one on Friday.

On Saturday, we decided to make our way to the Reims football stadium to see my first French football match (and second ever). Reims were playing Montpellier for la coupe de France (the French cup). Montpellier were the favourites to win as they are in the division above Reims but we went to cheer our local team on! The tickets were really cheap (only 5€) and we had pretty good seats. It was a really good match and Reims scored a goal at the 77th minute winning 1-0!! We all really enjoyed the match and were so ecstatic that Reims won! I would definitely be up for going back to the stadium and seeing another match soon.

Another event that began yesterday was "les soldes d'hiver". This is the French winter sale. The sales are very different here than to the UK/US as they only officially by law take place twice a year for 3 weeks - the winter one being in January and the summer one being in July. The soldes are regulated by the French government who decided that the winter sale will begin on the second Wednesday of January.  They command that all shops do the sale at the same time. French shops can do promotions and things at other points in the year but they can't officially call them sales. In the soldes, there is a markdown on the first day then next week, there will be another markdown and there is usually another one during the last week of the sale. In addition, French law also forces shops to have the items out in the shop for at least before the start of the soldes.

So like almost every other French person in the land, I headed over to the soldes yesterday. The shops were a lot busier and there seemed to be lots more enthusiasm. There were lots of good discounts but I didn't want to spend too much on the first day so I picked myself one shirt for 20€ which I liked the look off! I do however plan to return to the soldes.

However whilst I enjoy shopping for bargains and see this as a French tradition, for me the soldes are just another example of how socialist this country really is. The nanny state is once again meddling in people's lives again as shop owners do not  have the freedom to put sales on at any point of the year. If a French store breaks the law then they are fined by the French government - a bit harsh if you ask me!


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Long time, no write

I'm sorry that I haven't written on here for a while. I had been meaning to write a post over the Christmas holidays but just didn't get round to doing so. So I want to wish all my readers a very happy new year or bonne année et bonne santè. I hope everyone has a great 2011 and hope that everyone has success, luck & happiness.

I went back to England for the first time in 3 months for Christmas. Unfortunately my trip home was rather eventful and I mean eventful in a negative way. The terrible snow caused my Air France flight to be cancelled on the Saturday (18th December). I wasn't very well at the time and was running a fever and all I wanted to do was go home to bed which of course I couldn't do! I went to see a representative from the airline but they refused to give me any help (hotel accommodation, food voucher, taxi, train ticket back to Reims etc) as I had purchased my ticket in France & they claimed they only helped passengers on the return leg of their ticket. Despite pleading with them for help, I got nothing and I along with a friend, I made at the airport - a very nice American girl named Ana decided to check-in to a hotel. The next day, we learnt that Heathrow Airport remained closed so we booked Eurostar tickets. We had to wait because of the weather conditions at Gare du Nord for around 7 hours and then when we finally got on the train, it took 5 hours as it couldn't go fast so I didn't get back to Croydon till nearly 4am and I was still ill!

So overall my visit to England wasn't great. I spent most of it not feeling very well and in bed or on the sofa watching telly. Christmas Day itself was nice and we ate good food, had lots to eat and it was nice to relax! I then went to Barcelona on the 29th December for 2 of my university friends' 21st birthdays as well as for new years! I had visited Barcelona around 8 years back but had forgotten a lot of it so it was really nice to return. The birthday party itself was very good with excellent food and stunning views as we were on the 23rd floor of a really nice hotel. The people there were also really nice & it was nice to get to know some new people as well as see some old, friendly faces! We also went out clubbing so got to experience the Barcelona nightlife!

On New Years itself, we went to my friends appartment where we ate delicious Spanish food and drank sangria & cava (I probably shouldn't say cava too loudly as I might get arrested by the Reims police for treason!) But it was awesome and great to see the new year in a different place. We also did the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes (1 at each chime) after midnight before wishing everyone a happy new year which I did successfully.

During the daytimes I saw a bit of the city walking along the Ramblas, going to the Sagrada de la Familia (although I couldn't go in because the queue was too long). I also went to Parc Güell which was really magical with sculptures and other little houses! I also saw the Cathedral of Barcelona, the Columbus monument and went to a couple of museums. I walked around the port and even got to dip my feet in the sea! I'm so glad I visited Barcelona - I had a really nice time & would definitely like to go there again.

Now I'm back in France and really glad to be back here. This week has been about getting back into the swing of things, preparing for lessons and giving a few classes. Next weekend, we are planning a trip to Nancy which I'm really looking forward to!

So that's all for now but I thought I would put some pictures up from Barcelona-

Just one of the displays on the Las Ramblas. I liked the fact that they have Carrefour in Spain too!

 A very awesome sweet shop where you choose the sweets you want and put them in a jar!

 Market de La Boqueria - a market that does all sorts of amazing food (just off Las Ramblas).

Me at the Sagrada de la Familia.

Boats at the Port of Barcelona.

The view of the city from Parc Güell.