A Travellerspoint blog

The White Wolf

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The last couple of classes have been evaluation-oriented, with all of us doing practice exams to give students some idea of whether they are making the progress that's required for them to pass the final exams in order to be promoted to the next level. I aced the written comprehension one but struggled some with the oral comprehension, as is my history. I can understand the words and meaning as a whole but when asked to identify particular words in each of the sentences, complete with contractions and tenses, it is more difficult. Likely I should have gone into the next level to obtain more practical knowledge and vocabulary; however, orally, this level has been the right fit for me. Around the family dinner table, I've noticed I understand a lot more than I did at the beginning, and can participate more in conversations. And when I am one-on-one, the conversation flows more easily. I don't know that I have improved much in my conjugation and sentence structure but certainly, I can have very long conversations with people on interesting topics and still be understood (which is sometimes even tricky in English). One evening this week, Thierry and I discussed salaries, our kids, education, and work history and we marveled at how we were able to keep up the exchange. But, then, I know that the spoken word merely makes up a small portion of understanding; the tone, expressions, body language and such convey a lot more.
My goodbyes have started, with the first being to my classmate Phuong Vi, the au pair with whom I was typically paired during my classes. She doesn't attend Thursday's class so we exchanged emails and may yet keep in touch a bit. She is really dedicated to her learning and will progress quickly, I think, no doubt outstripping me even further shortly.

Next came Josiane at Emmaus. I have really treasured her companionship over the course of the time here as she's 'très agréable' and very patient. She also tries to practice her 40-year-old English language skills so that's something we also have in common. I will see most of the people here tomorrow but as I gave Josiane's keychain to her, I distributed some to the others with whom I worked most often as well. I also took a few pictures of them to help with my memories.

At one point during the day, I overheard someone at the desk ask "Où est le candaienne?" My head whipped around to see who might be asking. She introduced herself to me, saying she was Thierry's good friend and colleague; in fact he had just had lunch at her place that day with her and her husband. Afterwards, I put on airs with Josiane and said "Tout le monde me connaît." France or Canada, everyone knows me. She then taught me the French expression for this: " Je suis connu comme le loup blanc." The French have an expression for just about everything.

Posted by mzemliak 04:40 Archived in France Comments (3)

Riding beside the quenelle

Sun, October 16, 2016

Given I was a bit behind on the blogging, I tried to make a concerted effort this weekend to address that. The weather cooperated on Saturday by being poor but on Sunday, we were treated to a beautiful sunny day, with temperatures hovering about 18 degrees. I just knew I couldn't stay inside so commissioned Nico to provide me with a good walking or bike route. Thierry then readied his bike for me and off I went to explore. For part of the way, I was able to ride next to a nearby canal (not to be confused with the 'quenelle' (a French morsel), which apparently is how I pronounce it). I appreciated the quiet water route and the even quieter country scenes between 'les petites villages' of Ludres, Messein and Fléville-devant-Nancy (usually truncated to Fléville). Having enjoyed the first part of the route immensely, once I reached Fléville, I had to pay the piper as it was uphill all the way back to Ludres. It's likely the first time I've biked between three towns in one afternoon, but that's Europe for you.

Upon my return, I took advantage of the leftover 'tartiflet' Myriam had made for lunch; it's much like a scalloped potato dish we might make, with lots of bacon, and covered in cheese, baked to a golden brown. I had made pumpkin pie on Saturday with my cache of pumpkin pie filling (imported all the way from Canada!) and that went over well until it was superseded by Myriam's mirabelle cake. It seems we all prefer what's familiar to us: I, the pie; and the others, the cake.

I also went to see another French movie at Ludres' movie theatre; this one was a comedy called Radin and stared Danny Boone, a French actor I had seen in another movie recently with Myriam. It seems, like the British TV series actors, there are only a handful of well-known French actors and they keep getting recycled for the popular French films.

Posted by mzemliak 13:14 Archived in France Comments (2)

A(nother) Meal to Remember

Friday, October 14, 2016

With my new teaching routine, Fridays are now quite full. Today, I learned how to play the longstanding French game,' jeu des 7 familles,' so that I could lead some of the younger classes in playing it with English cards. Usually, the game has seven families with members ranging from a young boy to the grandfather but, for pedagogical purposes, teachers often create their own laminated knockoffs using categories (i.e., families) with various sets of things, such as colours, numbers, etc. Such was the case Friday, when the school constructed an English version with sets including days of the week, fruit, and equipment and ingredients used in making pancakes (to build on what I'd taught them earlier). Kids then use the cards in a 'Go Fish" like manner, with the objective being to get as many full sets as possible. For each class, I was to review the thirty English words, teach them the phrase "In the ____family, I want ______" and oversee and assist the five groups as they played.

The first bit of bad news came when we found out one of the teachers was ill that day. Consequently, when the sub arrived, five minutes before the bell, he was quite harried as this was his first time with the class. Secondly, after I reviewed the words with the students and was trying to get them into groups and teach them the instructions (which proved fruitless in English), he was desperately trying to get a handle on the day's work ahead and totally ignoring me and the students. I finally had to interrupt him to get him to explain in French and from time to time, would ask him to help certain groups. I understood he was in a difficult situation and had a need to plan a bit for the day but I was disappointed it came during my session with the kids. As a result, I don't think too much learning actually happened, but they still seemed to have some fun. The next class was much better, as the teacher had taught them many of the words already, had reviewed how to play the game, and actually participated in the class!

Once again on the playground, during recess, I ran into the same hoard of young girls who had talked to me in previous weeks. They were braver now and attempted more English. I was also braver and attempted more French. While assisting in Myriam's class a bit this morning, I was able to observe her students more closely. When she would ask them to tidy their desks, readying themselves for the next subject, most of the girls were able to do it within a few seconds, many of the boys followed shortly thereafter, and then there was Valentin, the little lad I had mentioned before. He is like the Charlie Brown character Pig Pen, with constant chaos in his wake. His desk is covered with an ocean of unbound loose-leaf, various pens and pencils, math instruments, and texts. On the floor are bits of paraphernalia: pencil crayons, an eraser, Myriam's carefully-written list of corrections for him on a sticky note, and a glue stick. When he works, he is either sitting on his feet or has them up on a neighbouring chair rung. When his neighbour tried to help him, I could hear her exasperatingly ask, "But where are your corrections, Valentin?" At one point, Myriam asked me to help him with metric conversions so I oversaw his work while he completed a few questions; however, it was not without him attempting to pose some off-topic queries first.

The final class of the day was with Vincent's 10-year-olds. For them, as they were older, Myriam had prepared a worksheet and I reviewed a condensed version of my earlier presentation with them, the objective being that they had to glean bits of information and fill in the blanks on different Canadian aspects. We then played 'Canadian bingo' with pictures of Canadian animals, food, and sports so that they could improve their oral comprehension. The whole hour was really interactive, and a few kids tried to me ask additional questions in English, which the teacher was quite pleased about. At the end, I received an impromptu round of applause, likely their usual way of thanking a visitor. Again, it was another interesting and successful school day.

Immediately following the end of the school day, I had a hair appointment with the 'coiffeuse.' Hoping I didn't screw things up too badly in my explanation of what I wanted done, I tried to relax and allow her space to work. It's only hair, I thought, it will always grow back. Her 'patron,' (boss) was a comedian wannabe, which I knew from my previous encounter with him when making an appointment. With my glasses off, I could not see my newly-shorn hair, but blanched a bit when he said in French, "Oo la, that's very short, hein!" It turns out he was just trying to be funny and I recovered when I saw all was actually OK. The coiffeuse was very amiable, and while we kept conversation to a minimum, we did go through some expected topics (children, work, where we live, weather, hairdresser apprenticing, la famille Poirot). If anyone's interested, the cost is about the same as in Canada for a woman's cut and colour, but I'm not going to mention it explicitly because I try to shield Ben from numbers like that, knowing he has been paying less than twenty dollars for his cuts for years.

Vincent and his wife had wanted to host a meal for me so Myriam and he had agreed on tonight. We made eight at the table, with Myriam, Thierry, Vincent and his wife and daughter, and another teacher and her husband. He and Claire had taken pains to ensure they mainly served only recipes or products originating in Lorraine. Hence, for the apertif, we had a champagne sourced locally, served before the meal with light snacks (pickles, pretzel sticks, capers and radishes rolled in small portions of raw trout, and slices of a dried sausage stick known as 'saucisson'). When we sat down at the table, Vincent served the meal, noting that it was 'rustic.' Claire had made a traditional potée Lorraine, which is a meat and vegetable stew, and generally includes pork and cabbage, as this one did. Vincent first ladled out the vegetables onto each of our plates. He then individually portioned out a small piece of each of the two types of sausage and the cured pork, to which he added a too-generous quantity of pig lard (considered a real treat). This was finished with a ladle each of white beans. By the time he was finished distributing these 48 ladlefuls, I was definitely ready to eat. But the process of serving seems important to the whole experience too. After this plat principal, they offered the remaining bouillon in soup bowls, to be drunk, not spooned. It was all really delicious and very filling. Disappointingly so, as there were still three courses to go: a selection of eight cheeses, served with bread and a red wine; salade vert; and a thin tarte aux pommes with coffee.

As I said, it wasn't all about food -- there was ample conversation too, this time a bit easier to follow as they all waited for each other to speak, indicating that they weren't as close a group as the other ones to which I've been party. During the evening, the topic of Ben's trip to Paris came up and was oohed and ahhed over once again; I noted that all three women gave their husbands meaningful looks. Vincent is an artist and once we had confirmed that we had both been to Morocco, he for a sketching course and me, with my family, he offered me his sketch book to peruse. I was tickled to discover a sketch in there of the very hotel we stayed at, the Hotel Continental, which is a bit of a landmark in Tangiers, given its once-grand past.

As with most French evening gatherings, we started nibbling at 8:00 and didn't finish till about 11:30. Goodbyes took a further half hour so we weren't on our way home till after midnight, rolling out the door like stuffed 'poules.'

Posted by mzemliak 09:58 Archived in France Comments (1)

Just A Smattering

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Aside from going to French class, at which we played a game where we had to generate sentences using passé composé, my focus was on catching up with some blogging. I also made the family a small carrot cake, something which they had never had before. Thierry remains dubious -- all this combining of vegetables with sugar unnerves him. I only made a small size because some of them remain lukewarm towards Canadian baking; however, this cake went in a flash. I was determined to try cream cheese icing as well but Myriam said it would only be for myself as everyone else preferred cake without icing. They don't know what they're missing. In the evening, after she made "Hannah's salmon recipe" (a holdover from your stay, Hannah), Myriam and I watched Les Choristes, a 2004 French movie that was popular with the public, if not with the critics.

Posted by mzemliak 09:53 Archived in France Comments (1)

What's That You Said?

Wednesday, Oct 12, 2016

Over the course of these months, I've come to recognize some of the common words and expressions (and even sounds!) used over and over in everyday language here. I'll try to explain what they mean, or what they CAN mean, as some of them seem to have more than one meaning, from my read of the situation. I think the main reason several of these noises developed was to fill dead air space, as the French prefer sounds to silence. In fact, when there is a prolonged silence during an otherwise animated conversation, people use the expression "un ange est passé" ("An angel has just passed by"). The fact that Myriam will state this after an approximately three second lull will tell you such silence is rare.

I can't count how many times I have heard 'alors,' 'hop,' and 'hein.' It numbers in the several hundreds, though. 'Hop' is pronounced 'op' (as there's no 'ha' sound in French) and is used when finishing a task, or signaling the move from one action to another, like getting up from the table or parking the car. 'Hein' is sort of a verbal cross between 'uh?' and 'eh?' and can mean "what did you say?" or is used in place of a rhetorical "isn't that right?" 'Alors' translates literally to 'so' and is often used when transitioning from one subject to another, or in trying to bring the discussion to a conclusion. Then there's the ubiquitous "Bah, oui!" which means "of course, goes without saying" and punctuates many heated conversations where both parties are in strong agreement. Exceptionally common is the 'errr' sound with which many of you will be familiar already in French speech, used when the speaker is contemplating what to say; again, it's a real space filler. 'Tack' (or sometimes 'tack, tack, tack' if you are Thierry -- but the others have said this is a Thierry-ism) means 'there it is' or 'that's done now,' and often accompanies a completed physical task. I know I've spoken of gestures before but there's one that comes under both a gesture and a noise and that's the 'raspberry' sound (you know, the one you use on a baby's tummy). This sound/gesture is very common and translates to 'I don't know' or more explicitly, 'I haven't got a clue' and, as it is often used in exasperation, even 'Why are you asking me, I don't care.' Continuing on, we come to 'oo la la.' Truly, the French use this expression often but there are variations denoting the seriousness of the event to which they are responding, with the phrase either shortened to a brusque 'oo la' or lengthened as appropriate to include the number of la's that seem called for (I have heard as many as six). And for those of you who may remember Grade 10 French in the BC curriculum thirty-five years ago, they still, from time to time, say "Zut" but the more common expression now is "Mince" ("Darn") or something stronger, and *I* will not be the one to teach you those words!

Continuing with well-used phrases, I must mention "On y va?," ("Shall we go?"), "Comme tu veux" ("As you like," meaning 'whatever you want'), " Qu'est-ce qui se passe?" ("What's happening?"), "Coucou" (Hi there"), "Ce n'est pas grave" ("It's OK," or "It's not important"). "Ca va?" is the common "How are you?" greeting, literally meaning "It goes [how]?" to which the respondent often replies back in the same wording "Ca va" but the real answer lies in the tone that is used to reply; if it's half-hearted and weak, that means it's not going too well; if a bit more upbeat, then things are fine, and if really chipper, it's going great. Another oft-used word is the multi-faceted 'Voila,' used, of course, when producing an object, but also exclaimed when the listener (perhaps finally, as is often in my case) comprehends what is being said, or said when the speaker has finally finished a task.

As it's challenging to describe the gestures explicitly, I'll have to wait till I'm back to show you but, so far, I've learned (and started to use!) the gestures for 'he's drunk,' 'crazy,' 'they went/they go,' 'very strong,' 'whatever/I don't care,' 'that's boring,' and 'I don't believe you.' Ben, you're going to need to give me even more space than usual with all these hand gestures I've picked up.

Posted by mzemliak 13:13 Archived in France Comments (1)

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