My son and I are leaving our small town in southeastern United States to live for a year in a small town in southeastern France. It couldn't possibly be THAT different, right?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A day in Montélimar

My mentor, Caroline, met me at city hall to help me register Jed for school this morning.  We paid our whopping annual fee of 11 euros for the after school program and signed up for lunch at the cantine for the year.  Hélas, Jed will not be able to bring a peanut butter sandwich to school every single day!  It is not allowed.  He must eat what everyone else eats.  We'll see how THAT goes!  After registering for school, we stopped by the Wednesday morning market and bought pears, kiwis, tomatoes,
and honey dew melons.  
We then went to Jed's school to show the principal all of the required documents:  immunization record, birth certificate, and a letter saying that he is no longer enrolled in school in the US.   That last part seems sort of obvious to me, but what do I know?
A trip to the bank to open a checking account for me rounded out a pretty dull day for Jed.  The high point for him was being told that he could have his very own bank card on an interest-bearing account.  The first 15 euros are a gift from the bank too!  He is thrilled, but I think that that is only because he thinks that the bank just "gives" me money any time that I want it.  This should be a good lesson for him.  
I convinced him to take a train tour of Montélimar after our bank transactions, and we both fell asleep.  So much for learning something new about where we live!  
We came home just as ignorant as before, but Jed was happy because his friends were waiting to wrestle and swing from vines and chase each other.  Here is a photo of the very international crowd.  From left to right their families speak Spanish, Italian, Arabic, English, and Moré (Burkina Fasso) at home.  All four friends are fluent in French, though, so Jed needs to get to work in order to say something other than curse words to them.   

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Musée du Nougat Arnaud Soubeyran

The town of Montélimar is known for its nougat so Jed and I thought that we should learn a little bit about it today.  We left the downtown area where we live and travelled just a few miles south to Le Musée du Nougat Arnaud Soubeyran for a free visit where we saw real bees working hard to make the honey that goes into the nougat as well as men rolling it out and forming it into rectangles for us to buy.  We came away with just one small purchase: orange-flavored chocolate nougat with bits of almond in it.  Jed liked the old Peugeot delivery cars and trucks more than the production line.  

Monday, August 29, 2011

Chez nous

Here are some photos of our new home.  We live in the top right apartment.  I love the shutters that cover the windows and block almost all light at night as well as the windows that open wide and let in the cool breezes.  
This is the view from the living room window.  Jed and his friends play under the weeping willow in the afternoons.
This is the fifteen-year-old Renault Laguna that I get to drive this year.  Its owner, Jean-Marie Vieux could not be nicer.  I took him for a drive my first afternoon in town, and he still accepted this crazy car-exchange deal after hopping and stalling around town with me.  I drove to my new school this afternoon to meet my new principal and stalled at least five times on the way.  Damn those roundabouts!  The trip back to the apartment was much smoother, but I sputtered to a stop while trying to park.  It's a good thing that I'm not trying to impress anyone with my smooth moves this year.
Jed having dinner on our balcony.  Yes, those are chicken nuggets that you see!  You can take the boy out of South Carolina, but...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Promenade en Ardèche

    I am living in the region of France called the Rhône-Alpes in the department, La Drôme.  Just across the Rhône river is the department of Ardèche where Jed and I spent the day hiking with Caroline, her family and four other couples plus their children.  We had a wonderful picnic by a stream and then climbed to the top of a "rock" (translation:  "mountain" by South Carolina standards).  Jed was not impressed.  Even the magnificent view from the top did not stop him from wondering what the boys back at the apartment were doing.  His needs are pretty simple really.  He wants to run a little; throw something; kick something (or someone), play a video game, and eat chocolate everyday.  Anything outside of these parameters is pretty useless to him.  It's going to take a while for this new culture to sink in, I think.    

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Des amis

    There are many people who have told me that this is a wonderful opportunity for Jed, but there are almost as many who have questioned whether this year will somehow be a setback for him---either academically or socially.  I admit that I have had the same questions.  As a language teacher, I know that he is at the perfect age to learn a second language, and I feel that he will pick up French pretty quickly.  I also feel like he will be able to stay on track in his math skills.  As a mom, though, I fear that he will be lonely and that school will be overwhelming.  He is not painfully shy, but he is not a raging extrovert either, and he has never really liked the regimentation of the school year.
    Thankfully, some of my fears were allayed today when Jed met French kids for the first time.  My mentor, Caroline, came over with her entire family this morning so we met Manon, Louis, and Paul who are all very close in age to Jed but speak little to no English.  It was not long, however, before the boys were all playing with Jed's Bey Blades, Pokemon cards, and wrestlers.  They didn't say much, but they laughed easily.  After they left, Jed asked if we could go see them sometime.
    I took Jed to the park in the afternoon fairly confident that we would meet kids there, but the crowd was young so we just had a photo session, ate some ice cream, and came home.  Jed must have felt less certain at that point that friends would be in his future because he looked wistfully out of the window and said, "I guess that I'll really learn how to play by myself this year, Mom."  Lord!  That just broke my heart!  I grabbed a ball game that we had bought at the grocery store and put off making dinner so that we could go downstairs to play.
    We had not been outside very long when three boys appeared out of the woodwork.  They watched us and listened to our English for a bit and giggled on the sidelines before calling out, "Hello!"  in their adorable dropped-H accents.  I told them that Jed did not speak French, but they didn't care.  They asked if he could play with them.  I stepped aside and watched for the next hour while they played ball and chased each other and swung on the vines of the weeping willow, communicating somehow in a mixture of English and French.  Jed got his first bloody nose when a stray elbow caught him in the face, and he didn't want to come inside to clean up because he was afraid that the boys would disappear.  We ran up the stairs and got a paper towel, and I sent him back down by himself and finally started dinner.  
    All three boys will go to Jed's new school, and they told me that he would be well-accepted.  They said that people are friendly here and that anyway, they would play with him.  Jed's new friends are Lorenzo, Sofiane, and Ange (which means "angel" in French).        

Bon voyage

    For the first time in recent memory, I had an uneventful flight.  It was on time; our video players worked; the food was tolerable; and our luggage arrived on the same flight as we did.  When one pays almost $2000 per ticket, these things should not be too much to expect really!
    The only travel unpleasantness that we encountered was of my own making.  Please take note of this:  when traveling by train  in Europe, it is unadvisable to bring monstrous suitcases in any quantity but carrying three that weigh almost fifty pounds each is INSANE!
    Jed did not sleep on the flight so the gentle rocking of the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse), put him into a coma.  As we approached Lyon (where we had twenty-four minutes to remove ourselves and our embarrassing luggage from the top floor of one train and find and board the next one), I began trying to wake Jed up.  He was so deeply asleep that he did not respond in any way.  People around us started laughing at my attempts while I started panicking inside.  I finally had to haul him to his feet and drag him down the aisle.  Fortunately, there were nice people all along the way who took pity on us and helped carry the suitcases and load them onto the trains.  Merci mille fois to these unknown French people!
    When we arrived in Montélimar, a welcoming committee of three awaited on the platform.  Caroline is my mentor for the year; Françoise is another colleague in the English department; and Jean-Marie is the amazing friend of Béatrice's who is letting me borrow his car for the year.  They each carried a cumbersome suitcase to the parking lot where we had to use one entire car just to transport them to the apartment.  They then helped me carry everything up four flights of stairs to our new home.  As if this were not enough of a good deed, the two women went to the grocery store and bought us enough food for at least three days and would not accept payment.  What a relief it was to be taken care of when Jed and I were both so mentally and physically exhausted!
    Please do not ever tell me again that the French are rude and unapproachable.  I just have rarely seen evidence of that.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Packing list

Here are the things that Jed and I apparently cannot live without for a year.
Jed's essentials:  Pokemon cards, wrestling action figures, baby Henry (a doll that he has had since he was about two), his DSI and video games, peanut butter, and lots of books.
My essentials:  computer, four books, camera, big hats, boots, gifts for my new students and colleagues, Walk the Line DVD, jewelry, three packets of chili seasoning and twelve packets of instant grits.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Permission to leave

Our long-stay visa finally arrived on our doorstep around 10:00 this morning.  Since we began the application process back in May, you can understand why we thought that this day might never come.  A small mistake on one of the dozens of forms that I filled out held up the entire process, and I thought that I would at least have to arrive at my new job one to two weeks late.  Thank God THAT did not happen!  I would have been a nervous wreck!
I am now throwing myself into the job of packing.  Jed's suitcase was a breeze because he has outgrown most of his clothes so I just put in the ones that were left, and we'll buy a few new things in France after we  learn about his new school's dress code and no doubt discover that his entire wardrobe is embarrassing and uncool.
I have also outgrown a lot of my clothes, but unfortunately, there are many more to replace those so packing my gigantic, oh-so-American suitcase is more of a challenge.  How does one pack for an entire year?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why on Earth are we doing this?

    About fifteen years ago when I was in graduate school, I met a woman who had just returned from a year in France where she participated in a Fulbright Teacher Exchange.  I have dreamed of doing the same thing ever since I heard her stories.
    Why now, though?  This seems like a good time in my life for an adventure.  I have been teaching French at the same school for twenty-three years, and I expect and hope to teach there for another twenty years.  I need something to recharge my battery, though.  My French feels rusty, and all of my cultural references are ancient.  (Any Yves Montand fans out there?)  In addition, my son is old enough to be a good travel companion and young enough to benefit from the total immersion experience.  I cannot wait to see how quickly he picks up a new language!  I know that we will face some challenges as we adjust to a new life, but I think that it is going to be a wonderful year.  Obviously, I'll keep you posted.