Monday, October 20, 2008

Good times...

Let's start with the not-so-good news... Sunday morning, I ran, right? Well, actually, I don't think you could really call it that. I walked my three miles. And then, because I hadn't trained all week (partly because I was still aching from the ten-miler and partly because I'm a woman with menstrual debts I have to pay for a week every month which renders me nearly incapable of getting off the couch without taking Ibuprophen), I walked yet another mile, hoping to warm up. It never happened. But, I thought, "Well, I had better get running, warm or not, so that I can get in my 8 or 9 miles and get back home so we can go eat cheese." I put my ear buds in and pray that my MP3 player (which I forgot to plug in the night before) has enough charge to carry me through the running parts. I pick up my feet and start running.

I'm doing an 11 and I'm not feeling too bad. I'm winded and I'm heavy because I'm wearing my hydration belt (which, by the way, REALLY slowed down even my walking time... still, I'm going to have to train with it because I'm going to want to wear it for the marathon... I NEVER get to the water stations while there's still Gatorade, so I HAVE to have my own stash) AND since I didn't eat enough the day before, I'm a little weak. But I'm huffing along and thinking I'll probably make the 8 at least.

That's when the MP3 goes kaput. After just two or three songs. So, I'm running, with not enough sleep, not enough eat, too much weight and not enough music.

I get to the end of mile 5 (the running mile) and give up. I'm not gonna make it.

The BAD news is that I only did 5 miles. The GOOD news is that that's okay. If I train this week like the schedule says to do, I should be able to do the half marathon distance that the rest of my training group is going to do this coming Saturday. So, cross your fingers on that.

Now, on to the REAL news.

In order to have your carte de sejour (it's like a long stay visa thingy) you now have to sign this contract saying that you'll go to a few day-long classes in order to learn more about French culture and politics so that you can better integrate into French society. If you'll remember, I got them to waive most of it because I've already lived here before, my husband is French and I'm bilingual. BUT, there's this journee civique that I just couldn't get out if since it talks about not the nuances of LIFE in France but rather the rights and responsibilities (which I find interesting that they call it "obligations" in France... don't you think that seems to take away some of the individual agency? I do) of being a part of the national community.

Well, it's an all day affair. 9-5. They even serve you lunch. I was dreading it. I figured it'd be like classes here, where some over-dressed, pompous asshole would stand in front of a classroom walking back and forth (I can't remember what you call that in English... where you walk back and forth... *sigh*... Dammit... what's it called...PACING... DUDE, I HATE losing my English!!!) and spouting out his "knowledge" so he can fill your empty brain. Blech.

But, it wasn't that at ALL. First of all, it was an independent company who is hired out to teach these classes, so it was this really cool chick who actually did a great job of both summarizing history, politics, linguistics, etc. into a concise explanation AND did so while using accessible language!!! I was impressed and actually--the nerd that I am--on the edge of my seat, excited about what I was hearing. VERY cool. ALSO, because I was in a room full of 20 other foreigners, there was very little intimidation between us. We all were able to talk to one another freely and comfortably. I think I even made a few friends (we ate lunch together, talked about profound subjects in French and exchanged email addresses... I call that the start of a friendship... but hey, I'm American *shrug*... I can make friends while standing in line at the grocery store *grin*).

All this is terribly good. It's good because it reminded me how proficient I can be in French and in the subjects that are important to the world, if I just GET OUT of my apartment for a day and SPEAK FRENCH with someone other than my kids and my neighbors. Sure, it was rusty going in the morning, but by lunch, like I said, we were talking philosophy and religion and politics and science!!! AND ALL THREE OF US SPOKE ENGLISH, but chose to converse in French... !!!!!!! THAT'S integration, my friends.

It was a good experience in that it lit a fire under my ass. I've been thinking lately about SOME day, MAYBE looking for a job here. Just to get me out of the house. Wellllll, I talked to the instructor after the class, and she told me that there's still a HUGE need for English instructors here. In EVERY sector (private and public school, business English and even something she called an orientation center). It's this centre d'orientation that really piqued my interest. It's a place where French students (not students of the French language, but actual French people who are students) who are scheduled to go abroad, go to get an orientation about the country they are going to visit. She said that I could probably find a position teaching an orientation for students who want to go to the States.


Can I just say how wicked awesome that would be? I would LOVE that! LOOOOOVE, no, LUUUURRRRVVVEEE that!

This day-long class reminded me of these college prep classes I used to take when I lived in Lyon before. Where I had scads of foreign friends all getting together to talk philosophy and politics and drink coffee between classes and go over to each others' houses, etc. So, guess what? I'm thinking I might sign back up for that. The start date for the second semester is January 26th. Right when I'd get back from doing the marathon. I'm going to look into it and get back to you on that. I'm optimistic.

While the day was positive and entertaining and... what's the word... like "engaging" but not really...kind of like, "enlightening"... AAARGH! I give up. I can't remember the word. SEE? That's the kind of shit that happens after a whole day of speaking French. Of assuming one's French identity. I'll think about it and try to remember the word later... It's like "enriching"... one of those good "e" words... If you think of it, please tell me. Anyway, while the day was positive and some elusive "e" word, it also had its tense moments.

Like, though I thought *I* was late (cuz I got there ten minutes after it was supposed to start), there was a girl who got there about ten minutes after *I* did and the instructor gave her a hard time. Like, I thought the instructor was going to tell her she couldn't stay. And THEN, another lady showed up at around 10:15 or so and the instructor actually took her out into the hallway, telling her she couldn't stay. That she'd have to make a new appointment. That lady left, but came back a half hour later or so with her husband or boyfriend or whatever (a French guy) who stood in the hallway and argued with the teacher--I heard him say that they left home at 7am, but that they had to sit on the highway in a traffic jam for over two hours because of an accident. Judging by how bad the traffic is here and how frequent the accidents, I tend to believe him. However, from the instructor's point of view, this poor woman has already missed two hours of information (that is, admittedly very compactly organized) and thus, really SHOULD reschedule. They left in a huff. The whole time they were out in the hallway, I was really sad for them. For all three of them. I wanted to go out there and hug the poor lady who couldn't stay because I could tell she was crying.

Another tense moment came later. At the beginning of the class, the teacher assumed by my dress or my accent that I was Canadian. But during the introductions, I told them that I was from the States. Throughout the morning, I could feel something a-brewing. How is the U.S. so different from Canada? Why, now that they all knew I was/am American, are they suddenly staring and whispering? Well, because stupid f-ing Mr. Bush--or The Shrub as we like to call him in my family (that's the more polite thing we like to call him)--went around spouting how we are the greatest nation on the planet. *sigh* So, I'm standing there, wearing the weight of the rest of the planet on my shoulders. Such magnificence is sorta heavy, y'all. Back-breaking, in fact.

We danced around it all day and I thought I was going to escape without having to, in SOME capacity, defend my country. But it wasn't to be.

After the mid-afternoon coffee break, we started talking about laicite (I don't know the word in English or even if there is one, but it's about separation of church and state). The instructor asked me about it, about how it works in the States. I just shrugged because, dude, it wasn't a class on the States, it was a class on France, and if I get started talking about the States, we're going to waste valuable France-talking time, right? So, I say so. But she presses. So, I start talking and then she starts ridiculing and criticizing us having "In God we trust" on our MONEY (stressing the money part because of course, ALL Americans are money-hungry, planet-raping, Bush-ass-licking Republicans, right?) and in certain government documents and placing our hand on the Bible (or some other holy book) when we are sworn in or have to testify in a court--All of which I AGREEEEEEEEE is not very laique, but not something I criticize about our country because ours is so steeped in religious culture (um, it's what our country was founded on... we WERE religious refugees at our beginnings, folks). I'm not usually THAT defensive of the States, but it was turning into a bloodbath. And while I'm usually the calm feline licking my paws peacefully, I turn into a stray tabby when cornered.

I came out of that corner claws beared.

The discussion had moved on to more of my own personal political leanings, so I indulged them and said that I'm very much a centrist. That I'm an environmental hippy and a huge supporter of many social causes, but that I am fiscally conservative in that I don't think that there should be government-sponsored healthcare. I think the individual right to decide one's destiny is a basic American belief. One with which I strongly relate. I don't want the government telling me I HAVE to pay for everyone else's healthcare. Just like I don't want to be FORCED to buy insurance if I don't want to. I agree, everyone should have it. I also agree that we should all pull together in the sense of brotherly love and basic human concern to help each other out... the one factor with which I DON'T agree is the government's hand in all of it. I don't trust rich mofos who sit up on capital hill or in the White House, in their expensive suits ON THEIR ASSES driving their SUVs and flying around in their private planes and living in their McMansions deciding what I MUST DO. I personally prefer to GIVE of my own volition. And I do give.

And I said all of this.

She jumped in on me and started talking about how poor people in the States don't have good healthcare. I said that I was raised on Medicaid and food stamps and never went hungry or sick. She said, "Well, you don't get to choose which doctors you go to whereas here in France, you can go to any doctor you want." I told her that NEVER in my LIFE had I been treated worse by a doctor than in France. It tripped her up and she wanted to know which doctor, which hospital, etc. She said that I had just had a run of bad luck.

Then, she turned the direction away from me and looked at the rest of the class and said, "Well, either way, France has one of the longest life-expectancies of any developed, Western country." She paused and laughed and continued, "We're also one of the world's largest consumers of anti-depressants."

And I lost it. I said, "You see, you all live a nice, long, healthy life of depression. You have to choose what you want to do for the rest of your life when you're sixteen years old and then you have to crawl around on your hands and knees being subjected to ridicule and discrimination to find a JOB which is usually a job you HATE because you chose what you wanted to do during a time when you were distracted by things like drugs, alcohol, tobacco and SEX but now it's too late because you live in a culture where you're not allowed to change your mind about what you wanna be when you grow up. So, you go to work, you take your medecine and you hate the world around you... Fraternite my ass!!!"

I said it with a smile on my face and a twinge of laughter in my voice, so everyone in the room laughed and the teacher blushed.

I said, "I'm not trying to criticize, here, but you pushed me to it. There are good things and bad about both places. I have LIVED in both places, so I feel like I have the credentials to speak about it."

She blushed again and changed the subject. I felt like I had won.

I also felt like I had let her get something off her chest. ALL of them in fact. I think they all thought and felt the way she did until they heard my side. I also told them all (at another point) that when I first came to France in '98 that I thought it would be all wine and perfume and flowers and baguettes but that I didn't bargain for the homelessness, joblessness and crime. And I reminded them not to think that THEIR own impressions of the U.S. which come from the popular and news media, are any more realistic than my Disney images of France were before I got here.

For a brief period, *I* was the instructor and it felt GOOD!!!

On a side note, and just as positive, guess what I saw in the basement of that building? Just outside the cafeteria in the basement, there's a waiting area. Guess what's painted on the walls down there? BIRDS. SMASHED birds to be exact. Like the ones of a certain graffiti artist? This was no graffiti, folks. It was bona fide art that had obviously been contracted because not only was it on the walls down there, but it went all the way up the stairwell. I wonder if the guy lives there. It's a "foyer" which is like a student apartment kind of place thingy. I took a picture of it with my phone. If I can just figure out how to get it onto here, I will!!! I took it as a sign. A good omen. I'm superstitious like that. *shrug*

Oh, well, I gotta get outta here and go run. Thanks for all the emails of support and love. Right back atcha.

And for those of you worried about my immenent slip into the abyss... Thank you. I appreciate (I mean it, I'm not patronizing here) your concern and I take it and wrap it up in flannel blanket and put it in my heart's closet. But trust me, Depression has become a good friend of mine. He pops in every once in a while to remind me from whence I came. He comes over, talks about our good ole days together and then, when I get a little weary of him sleeping on my couch, he takes the hint and packs up. Sometimes it's hard to get him to move his car out of my driveway, but ... well, you get the picture.

I've never been more optimisitic about my life. I'm just a little iffy about my situation. I'm very fortunate to be able to change my situation... even if it would take some work.

Okay, gotta run... Ha ha ha... get it? *eye roll*


Rachel said...

Run Joelie run!!!!

Erica said...

oh the job... it's sounds so neat

Erin said...

Um, hello!!!! The elusive "e" word????? ERIN. nuf said.

Erica said...

I'm totally in a funk today, I could really use a story about smashed birds or homemade bread or something. Wait, maybe I should make some bread...