Thursday, October 22, 2015

it’s about to get real

It’s been a week already since my last real update. October is flying by faster than I can enjoy it. While I am super bummed that the rest of the world does not celebrate Halloween the way Americans do, I can at least be excited that one week from today, I will be riding the Eurostar through the French countryside on my way to Jolly Old England to spend a long weekend in London. I haven’t been to London in 10 years and I am so excited I could cry. I still need to make a list of all the things I want to do, but I can’t wait! Perhaps I will find something Halloween-y to do since I’ll be there on the 31st

To be honest, I haven’t spent much time in Paris this week. I went out to a movie near Palais Garnier, home of the Paris Opera, and that was an adventure. I was super excited to check out this beautiful movie theater called Le Grand Rex. We get there and turns out none of their movies, including American movies, are shown in English with French subtitles, but are dubbed in French. Such a bummer. Perhaps when I get better at the language I’ll go see a movie there. So my friend and I set off in the direction of the Opera house, per the instructions of the nice gentleman at Le Grand Rex, to locate a theater that does show movies in English with French subtitles. We had pizza at a cute little sidewalk café, complete with outdoor heaters which made it nice and cozy, and then headed to see Crimson Peak.

After that, I’ve spent the majority of time at home this week, which is exactly what I’m doing right now. Lounging with G and watching some obscure Nickelodeon show. Schools here in France work differently than in America. The kids go to school for 6 weeks, then have 2 weeks of vacation. So this week was G’s first week, and I have him home with me. I can’t go to my language classes this week, which is a bummer, but it has been nice to relax a bit and play with G. I can tell that this week having to spend so much time together has really been good at establishing our relationship. There’s been lots of hugs, laughs, and I even got to take him and his friend to see Hotel Transylvania 2 in La Défense. I’ll be honest, that was a bit nerve-wracking because I had 2 kids to guide on and off the metro and through a very urban part of town, both of which don’t speak English, so it was a difficult experience overall. But the kids liked the movie and I saw lots of smiles, so overall it went well. We also went to the local carnival the other day, so there’s been plenty to do.

At home with G, he loves to draw, loves French rap and likes to play the same song over and over and over trying to learn the words. We play a lot of soccer, watch a lot of Disney and Nickelodeon, play cache-cache (hide and seek), and he LOVES to guili guili (tickle tickle) me. It sounds like “gilly gilly” in English. And he loves to be tickled back, proven by the fact that right now as he is playing on his iPad, he’s putting his feet in my face saying “guili guili.” He’s been super affectionate, and will cuddle up to me on the couch if we are watching TV. The kid also has the most addicting laugh. When he really gets going, it’s impossible not to laugh with him. And he does some of the most hilarious things. For example, last night there was a commercial for some show on TV, and there were a few mostly naked guys, and he looks at me and says in perfect English “turn around” while motioning for me to turn. I busted out laughing. I can tell he loves to make me laugh, and when I start laughing like crazy when he’s tickling me, or if he says something I find hilarious, he starts laughing along with me. All that to say, we are bonding and it’s been really good. I’ve also enjoyed spending more time hanging out with the family when they get home. There’s been time for conversation, and I’ve felt much more comfortable and at home.

Last night, my host mom told me that when I come back from London, she is going to start speaking to me only in French. Up until now, she and I have been communicating in English, and despite the fact she thinks her English is terrible, it’s actually very good and I haven’t had to use French at home when she is here. But she knows the best way to help me learn the language is to force me to hear it and then use it when speaking back to her and the rest of the family. She’s right, and I know that it will help me learn, but I’m incredibly nervous. I’m not good at French. The few times I’ve attempted it with G, I generally get some confused expressions. I’ve picked up on a few words that he has said and that I’ve started to use myself, such as quoi (what), arrêt (stop), viens (come), alle (go), prends (take), attend (wait) and fais (do). When he says one of these, depending on the circumstances, I can generally figure out what he wants me to do, but having to speak it back and use the correct articles and conjugations and it make sense…I’m not quite there yet. I guess I won’t have much of a choice here soon. But I know this is how they have helped their previous au pairs learn, so as difficult as it will be, I know it will be beneficial in the long run. Like I said though, I’m incredibly scared about this.

The family will be heading to Bordeaux all next week, so I will be heading to class Monday through Wednesday, then heading to London. I plan to go through all my French notes and try to commit to memory everything I’ve learned in the last 2 weeks of class. It’s a lot, and it’s hard to imagine a day when I will actually be able to speak it decently well. I guess only time will tell.

I’m now being asked to go play soccer outside, so that’s all for now.

À bientôt!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

a day strolling the Gardens of Versailles

So this is long overdue since I went to Versailles the first Saturday of October, but I wanted to post some of my favorite pictures of the day. I didn't have the full day to spend since I had to watch G that night, but to be honest, trying to do Versailles in one day is kind of insane. I spent a few hours just wandering around the gardens taking photos with my fancy new camera. I didn't even go inside the palace or to Marie Antoinette's hamlet, which is the little village she had built on the grounds. Sometime this winter I plan to go back and do the palace and in the spring when it's warmer and everything is in bloom again, I'll finally go visit the hamlet and the Petite Trianon (both of which I'm dying to see). I will probably rent a bike next time, and even take a boat ride on the Grand Canal.

The gardens are more extensive than I realized, and although I stayed for probably 3 hours, I still didn't see all of it. Keep in mind, I spent a lot of time taking pictures and just enjoying the beauty of it all. It really is an incredibly beautiful place, and I had a gorgeous day to explore. Below are some of my favorite shots.

The Grand Canal in the distance. It's hard to tell from here, but it's a long way off and goes a long way down.

The Latona Fountain and a peak of the palace in the background. The giant circular mirror in the background is pretty cool because you can get pictures of yourself with the sites in the background. I have one further down.

The beautiful Apollo Fountain with the Grand Canal in the background.

The other side of the Apollo Fountain with the palace in the distance.

The musical fountains. They run the fountains every so often with a musical show. It was really pretty.

Around the South Parterre. My favorite palace views.

Pictures of the Orangerie from the South Parterre.

South Parterre

Palace selfie thanks to the giant curved mirrors. :)

I'll be posting a lot more photos on Facebook here soon. Just for fun, if you are curious to know exactly how extensive the grounds are at Versailles, enjoy this link of a map of the entire Versailles estate!

Thursday, October 15, 2015


I'm in shock that we are already halfway through October. I've been so busy since I arrived, that the days slip by quicker than I realize. Most days, I can't even remember the date, and I have to whip out my phone to check. Don't get me wrong, I love it. I love that I have so many things to fill my time that I can say I'm busy. Before I left my job at LUO, most days (weekends included) I had to try hard to find things to do. Those days would generally end with me binge-watching some show on Netflix. Whenever my family and friends would ask me what's new, the answer was always the same..."Nothing new. know, same old, same old." But not now. There's always something to do to the point where this week after my French class I've just come back to relax a bit at the house, which is exactly what I'm doing right now. Today was my first French test, and I think I did ok, but I'll have to wait until Monday to find out how I did. But overall, things seem to finally be settling into a rhythm, I have my routine down, and I am seeing much better days.

This week did not start off well. Sunday morning was terrible. Writing about it now, it doesn't sound like that big of a deal, but in the moment it was just one of those everything-going-wrong kind of mornings. My normal RER was not running, which meant I had to take a train way out of the way to get to church. I left the house as the first service was starting, and a couple delayed trains and a long bus ride later (never riding the bus again), I arrived 20 minutes late for the second service. On the way to church, I was stopped by the Metro controllers and got fined €33 on the spot for not having my picture on my Navigo pass. I knew this was something I needed to do, but I didn't know how to or where to do that. Turns out, there are little photo kiosks in every metro station, and it costs only €5 to get a set of 5 photos. How I missed these booths, I'll never know. Needless to say, I have my photo on my Navigo now. On top of that, the stress of still not having renters for my house, and some other things just compounded into one sucky morning. I ended up hanging out with friends later that day, so that was fun. Plus, my friend's husband was able to get the SIM card my host family gave me working on my phone. Finally back to my Galaxy. The only weird thing is that I can receive texts but not send them. Still need to figure that out.

As far as how things have been in the house, they have been much better. My host mom had read my last blog post, and asked to talk to me about it. She was really great about it, and we had a good talk, and since then things have been 100% better. The thing is though, I realize now that most of the problem was my perception of the situation. Whoever said "perception is reality" is totally wrong. My perception of how things were going was not at all the reality of the situation. While my host mom did talk to G about being more understanding in terms of my inability to communicate in French, the fact of the matter is I somehow just didn't stop to think about a few things. First, I know he loved his last au pair, and when the family told me this on my first day, I thought she had done something to get G to like her that I was just incapable of doing. But during my chat with my host mom, I'll call her C, she told me that the last au pair started exactly where I did. She had to build that bond with him over time, and he was the same way with her. The second thing is that, as C stated, G is acting no different than any other 8 year old in the world. And she's right. He's a normal 8 year old boy that is going to like me and not like me sometimes. As I went back to my room that night, I felt kind of dumb for not connecting these dots. Maybe it was just me being all over the place and being a bit culture-shocked, but still...I should have just realized that these things take time. I also think that I've been a bit shy around the family. Some people may not realize I have a shy side, but I do, and when the family is sitting around the table, my first instinct is not to walk in and join them, but to go to my room. C told me that this is not what they want, and that I am always welcome and that they want me to interact with them more. So I've made more of an effort to step out of my comfort zone and do just that. I started to wake up early enough that I can have my morning coffee while G is eating breakfast. It's pretty silent right now since he is a) not a morning person just like me and b) the language barrier. But I'm hoping the language clicks with me soon, and I can have something to chat with him about. 

Some of my au pair friends that I've made have had such horrible placements. One already switched families, and the other is trying to get out of her situation. It made me realize how fortunate I am to be with the family I have. And with G, a few things I've noticed and I'm going to make a prediction right now. He is a great soccer player, and I'm willing to bet that he is going to be a pro player one day for Barcelona (I asked who he wanted to play for), will be famous for his amazing hair, and he is going to be a heartbreaker. I've noticed when I take him or pick him up from school that he a leader among his peers and the guy all the girls flock to. I laughed so hard one day because I showed up to pick him up, and there were a couple of girls hanging on his arms. When we left, I used my translate app to write that all the girls seem to like him. As he paused to read it, he got this cute grin on his face, then shrugged his shoulders like "what can I say?" It was so funny. He's been better with me too, and one thing we've started to do together is drawing. He came in my room late night while I was studying for my test and just started drawing pictures on my spare notecards. 

Other than things at home, I've also gotten used to a few other things. The French "bise" greeting of a kiss on each cheek threw me off for about a week. I knew it was a thing before I came, but when you are conditioned your entire life to shake someone's hand, it resulted in an awkward pause the first few times it happened. Now, I expect it so it's not a big deal. Another thing I've noticed (and even brought up to someone else who agreed because it was freaking me out) is that I'm convinced the friends and family I have in America all have a doppleganger walking the streets of Paris. I've seen probably a dozen strangers that could pass as the twin, or at least the sibling, of someone I know in the U.S. It's caused me to double and sometimes triple take a look at a random person. They also have pink toilet paper in the house. Apparently, you can get a variety of colors, and I'm not looking forward to only having the boring white selections when I return to the States. haha

The biggest hurdle I've encountered this week has got to be the RER. As I wrote previously, I do feel like a pro at using the railway systems. But one thing I have not gotten used to, and it goes against every fiber of my being, is being late for things when the trains are delayed (and they are delayed a lot). I'm probably about 20-30 minutes late for class every day. Even today, G had a field trip so I had to take him to school 20 minutes early. "Sweet!" I thought, I can be on time for class today! Well...that didn't happen. I got to the station in my town at 8:10, and stood there for 30 minutes as the 4 upcoming trains were all delayed. It only took a total of 40 minutes to get to class, but I was still 20 minutes late. My teacher is totally understanding, but anyone who knows me at all knows how punctual I am, and this has been the biggest adjustment for me to make. Normally, I don't mind the commute times because I don't often have somewhere to be at a specific time. The exception is going to class, or meeting friends at a specific time. I can easily spend an hour each way (or longer) on the RER and Metro with the multiple changes I have to make. Maybe most people here are used to delayed trains and long commutes. Or maybe I've found the reason so many Parisians are chain smokers? After braving the metro each day during rush hour, I can hardly blame them.

That's about all the updates I have. Next week, G has 2 weeks off of school. I will have him for the first week all day, and I have some plans for some outings to the movies or to the park planned. The second week, he will be on vacation with his family in Bordeaux, and I'm headed to London for a long weekend to visit my family friend Kate that I haven't seen in almost 19 years exactly. I'm pretty excited for that. 

À bientôt!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

the honest truth about the last 2 weeks

Hello my friends. I’m coming to you today from a quiet little corner of Jardin du Tuleries. It’s a lovely fall day, so I thought I’d write outside.

So let’s get real. I’m not one for sugarcoating the truth, and in the interest of keeping this record of my journey here in Paris as authentic as possible, there are going to be times when my updates are not warm and fuzzy. This is one of those times.

Before I came, I had a realistic expectation of what my transition was going to be like. Yes, I was (and am) excited to be moving to Paris, but as I said in one of my first posts, I’m expecting hard days. I’m expecting the culture shock. I’m expecting to cry. And well, I’m here at the 2 week mark and all of that has been true. Let me first talk about the difficult things, but I do have some good things to talk about as well.

One of the first questions I am asked about my host family is “Are they nice?” The answer is yes, they are nice. However, I can tell they like their space and that they want me to have a social life outside of the home. This is obviously not a bad thing, because I know the family needs their time together. But I feel pretty in the way most of the time, not like a part of the family. Maybe this will change with time. But the other side of the coin is that as much as I do not regret becoming an au pair, I do regret that I didn’t do this when I was younger instead of as a 29 year old. I own my own house in Virginia, have lived alone for several years, had a safe haven and place to call my own, and a place to relax at the end of a stressful day. Now, I am in tight quarters with a family, the only “me” space is my bedroom, and I’m sharing a bathroom with 3 other people. The only shower in the house is in the parent’s bedroom, so I can’t even shower while they are home, which means I typically shower in the middle of the day after I get home from classes and before I pick up G. I don’t feel like I have a home, because well….I don’t. I have a place I’m staying, but I don’t have a place that is mine. I know it’s not forever, so I can deal with it until July when G’s school year is over. But only being 2 weeks in, it’s definitely already difficult. There are no locks on the bedroom doors, and G likes to sometimes just walk in when I’m doing homework or something. I also feel like I have to tiptoe around, and it’s just difficult feeling like you don’t really belong in someone’s home.

All of this would be better if my relationship with G was more solid. The kid is sweet, but he also has a sour side. I can never tell if it’s my fault, or if he just doesn’t like me, or what his problem is sometimes. Like Thursday, he was so sweet. We got home, he wanted me to draw with him so I did, I made him dinner which he liked, then we watched tv and he wanted to play marbles with me so we did that until his mom got home. Then later, when I was in my room doing my homework, he came in, got some pictures with me on my computer and was just hanging out all sweet. I thought I was making progress and he was starting to get used to me. Then yesterday, I pick him up from school, and immediately I can tell he’s in a pissy mood. I try to ask if he is tired, and instead of answering, he just yells at me in French correcting my crappy pronunciation. We walked back to the house in silence, I made him dinner and got a thumbs up that it was good, but then he didn’t say much. This morning, I come downstairs to plug in the phone the family gave me (which has a communal charger in the middle of the living room and it dies way too fast…super irritating), and when I say hello, he doesn’t even acknowledge me. Instead, he starts yelling to his mom, and I hear my name, and I have no idea what I’ve done in the 10 seconds I’ve been downstairs. She comes over and sees me and is trying to figure out what he’s saying. She tells me it’s something about the charger, then she looks at him, then looks at me and tells me I’m fine to plug in my phone. I guess he was pissed I was using the charger (which was not being used to charge his iPad at the moment). I mean wtf kid? Then I quickly get ready so I can just get the heck out of the house and for whatever reason leaving was so awkward when I said goodbye to the family.

I have this anxiety that if G doesn’t like me then I’ll be fired or something, but I don’t think that’s allowed with my contract. Or maybe it is? I have no idea. I don’t understand how I can be so good with kids, but for some reason this kid seems to be hot and cold. I also have started to dislike taking him or picking him up from school, because he will start talking about me to his friends and I get the distinct feeling the kid is talking trash. Maybe it’s in my head. But body language speaks pretty loudly. It’s frustrating and disheartening, especially when I live under the same roof. I don’t want the parents to think I’m doing something wrong, but in reality they will probably believe what he tells them.

Maybe it’s worse in my head. But I can’t understand any of them when they speak to each other in front of me, so it’s like I’m standing there not knowing what G is saying. I swear I’m not doing anything to piss this kid off, he is just….I don’t even know. I can’t even explain. The one thing that is keeping me mentally grounded is reminding myself that I feel completely where the Lord wants me. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be learning from all of this or what He’s going to do, but I really don’t feel like I’m somehow in the wrong place. I just wish things would start getting better with G. Waiting for the train this morning, I started tearing up on the platform just completely overwhelmed and feeling like I don’t have a place to call home and feeling like the 1 kid I have in my care doesn’t even like me.

On the upside, I have loved living in Paris. I have made a lot of new friends just this week, and got to go out for the first time last night with a friend from my French class. We hit up a bar in the 5th arrondissement (which are districts, there are 20 total within the city borders) called Le Violon Dingue. It was a pretty chill bar, and actually run by English-speaking expats.

What I really love and am starting to feel more comfortable doing is heading out by myself if I don’t have anyone to meet up with. I don’t want to spend my time at the house or in my room, so I have to find things to do at all times. This morning, I decided to head to a restaurant I found on Pinterest before I left the States called HolyBelly up in the 10th arrondissement. It’s an English-speaking place, and I set out for it to have brunch by myself. I felt a little awkward at first, because it was packed when I got there and the only single seat was at a long table that multiple parties could sit at. I was right in the middle and felt super out of place, but I sucked it up and just ordered coffee and food. The coffee was amazing, and this cheered me up. I pulled out the book I brought with me (tons of people usually have a book in hand in this city on the metro or wherever) and just read until my food came. Oh my word…the food. Holy amazingness in my belly. Pancakes with 2 eggs sunny side up on top of it with bacon and maple syrup. Eggs on top of pancakes? Oh yes….and it was freaking incredible. After a few bites, part of the table cleared up, so I moved down to the end to feel less awkward. This older couple sat down next to me, and after a while a girl about my age came in alone and sat across from me. When she ordered, I could tell she was American, so I started chatting with her, then the couple next to us started chatting with us too. They are in Paris because the husband works for the government and has a 2 year post over here. The girl my age works for a wine company and is here for 6 months. I actually had a really good time just chatting with them. I ended up staying for about an hour and a half, and we all swapped stories of where we’ve been so far, and I got some good tips on what else to check out in the city. This is the part of my trip that I really love. You really have no idea who you are going to meet and where, but once you find another expat, it’s super easy to just strike up a conversation because they are in the same boat. They all encouraged me with my rough couple of days with G as well and told me that he’ll get over it and things will get better. That turned my day around.

Yesterday, my normal train was down and it will be down for the next couple of days. When I started to take my normal trip home, I was in the La Défense station and the train was docked, but not moving and the lights were off. However, there were some people sitting inside, so I got on in case it started to go. Then there was an announcement over the intercom, of course in French, and people started filing off the train. Alright, I guess this means I should follow too. I get back onto the platform, and this super tall guy about my age comes up to me and asks “Parlez-vous anglais?” “Yes.” “Oh, you’re not French.” “Nope, was kind of hoping you’d know what was going on.” So we walk over to some station workers and can’t find out any info. Since we are headed in the same direction, we went together to find an alternate route home. We get to talking, and turns out he’s from Australia and is moving back in a month. I jokingly asked about his wardrobe choice since he was in spandex shorts and had clearly just been working out in the middle of Paris when his stop was so far out of the city. “Oh you know…I just love awkwardly walking through Paris like this.” About an hour later and a couple of metro switches, we end up at Saint Lazare station, which is huge and really beautiful, and has trains that go past the closer suburbs of Paris. Looks like these are the only trains I can take until the RER is up and running again. Super annoying because it’s so far out of the way, but what can you do. After all of that, he ended up inviting me to hang out tonight with him and his other Aussie friends that came into town today. We’ll see if it happens, but all that to say, I love how often I meet new people here. Not only new people, but people from literally everywhere around the world. There’s a few girls in my French classes I’ve become friends with, and one of which is from Columbia. There’s no shortage of topics to discuss since everyone I meet has such different stories and they come from all walks of life. This is what I hoped Paris would be, and is has not disappointed me. I wanted to meet new people, see the world from other points of view, and just put myself out there and be spontaneous and I’ve had so many opportunities to do that and it’s only been 1 week since I made my first friends.
After my last paragraph, I packed up my stuff and headed to meet my friend J and her friend A at a cute little place called Saint Augustine. My first sidewalk café experience. After a while, they invited me along with their friends to a wine festival up in Montmartre right outside the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and its surrounding streets. It was fun, and the view of Paris at night from up there was super pretty. But it was crazy crowded. Annoyingly crowded. But we got some food and wine and chatted for a while, then headed out.

Overall, it has been a really fun day. Tomorrow, I have no idea how I’m going to make it to church since the RER A is not running. I haven’t tried the bus system yet and I haven’t even attempted to find out how it works. That might be my only option though.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. Feel free to pray for me and G to bond because that’s pretty much the thing that makes or breaks my mood for the day. I know that overall this experience will be the best of my life, but not having my own space and everything else I’ve already said are making it hard. However, after meeting so many au pairs lately, I can honestly tell you that I have it so good, even with everything I’ve already said. Many I’ve talked to ended up switching families or want to switch families because they are treated so poorly. So at least my situation isn’t that bad. I just want to feel like I’m belong here, not like I’m a rude house guest.

Anyway, enjoy the rest of your weekend everyone. J

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

church, the metro, and being a student once again

Has it really been 5 days since my last post? I can't believe how fast the days are going. Probably feels that way because I'm still trying to get my routine down, and on top of that trying to put myself out there so I can make some friends. I feel like I have so much to update everyone on, that I'm not even sure where to begin. I guess the biggest things that have happened over the last few days have been making friends, attending the church for the first time, mastering the metro, and starting language school.

On Friday night, The Bridge (the church I started a few days later) was having a ladies night out. Even though I hadn't started going to the church yet, I was invited to come. I'm so happy I went. I made some new friends, one that actually just moved to Paris from DC a week before I did with her husband and kids. There were probably around 16 of us that were there Friday night, so I was able to meet a lot of new, friendly faces. It was refreshing and I needed it really bad. I know that at that point, I had only been in Paris for 6 days, but there are only so many amazing places you can visit alone before you think...I wish I had someone to share this with. So I really had to put myself out there and find ways to meet people. 

Saturday, I went to Versailles for the day. I spent several hours just walking around the gardens because it was such a beautiful day. It was pretty crowded, so I didn't go inside the palace or visit anywhere outside of the main gardens. I finally got to use my new amazing camera, and I took tons of pictures. I'll be posting them to Facebook soon, along with some others from my time here so far.

Sunday was my first day at The Bridge International Church. It's small and intimate, and I really enjoyed it. I sat in the back row (which is not far from the front since it is pretty small), and I wasn't prepared for my emotions to come bubbling to the surface. It was at that point that I realized just how drained and exhausted I am. Since my last day of work on September 18th, I have not stopped moving. My brain has been continuously occupied with some errand or task, and I don't even have time to appreciate completing something before I have to focus on something else. I feel like my last day of work was 2 months ago, not a mere 2 weeks and some change. So there I am, in the back row, trying to hide my wet eyes throughout the service. I feel like I haven't been in church in ages, when in reality there had only been one Sunday I missed between my last day at GCC and starting at The Bridge. But for that 1 hour I felt at home. I felt like I belonged somewhere. I know I said this in my last post, but it can't be said enough. The Christian community is a family, and no matter what city or country you're in, you all have at least 1 thing in common. I've never seen any other group be able to meet one another for the first time and it's like instant friendship. The church is a refuge and safe haven, and just being around those who have the same beliefs and same hope can just bring so much comfort, especially when I feel like a fish out of water in such a different environment. We happened to take communion on Sunday as well, and it was just one more reminder that whether it was my first day or not at the church, we are still one body of believers. After church, I ended up meeting 2 other really nice girls that weren't at the ladies night out on Friday. I even had lunch with one of them, which led to my first Paris restaurant experience (I had brunch...freaking amazing pancakes with fresh fruit).  

Conquering the metro has probably been my biggest accomplishment so far. It only took me a few days to really get the hang of it, and I've already given directions (correct ones) or told some poor guy today how to use his metro ticket. I'm actually really fortunate, because my host family pays for my transportation. Instead of getting a metro ticket every day, I have a monthly Navigo pass that allows me to use any of the 3 railways, the RER, Metro, and Train, as much as I want. 

Usually, you have to pay a different amount for each zone you want to travel, and which railway you want to use. So this card lets me not only come and go as I please, but I have to say I feel like a local when I scan in and out instead of putting in a ticket each time. I've gotten used to the longer commutes and switching from RER to Metro back to RER and so on. It's definitely a different way of life having to walk and use the railways instead of driving a car and being at my destination in 15 minutes. But it's been fun, and to be honest, being able to ride right to some amazing museum or monument is pretty incredible. 

My thoughts on each type of railway would be that the Metro is the lowest on the scale in terms of how nice and clean they are. It's basically your typically subway that makes the most frequent stops. Today was particularly crowded and hot since it was really only my second time riding during rush hour. The Metro only runs within the boundaries of Paris. The Train, at least the one I was on, was a step above the Metro, and goes the greatest distances to allow the far out commuters a way into the city. And then the RER, my favorite and the station closest to me, have the nicest and newest cars. It goes into Paris, fewer stops than the Metro, but goes to the closer suburbs as well. All in all, I don't mind the system and it has been fun learning how to use it. And of course, highly satisfying now that I'm a total pro.

Yesterday, I started my language courses. Long story short, there was an issue with my school and originally I was supposed to join the au pair classes that allow for shorter hours during the week. It was only supposed to be 6 hours of classroom time with 4 hours of homework throughout the week. There were some registration issues, and I didn't actually have a spot secured when I arrived. After going to talk to them, I was able to get into an intensive type program where I go 15 hours a week from 9-12 Monday through Friday, with 5 hours of homework during the week. It's a bit more expensive, but they cut me a bit of a deal since I was in a bind. I actually have to leave class halfway through on Wednesdays so I can pick up G at 11:30. I'm actually thankful though, because that means I will get more classroom time. I really love my teacher, and there are some cool people in my class. It's pretty small. I am 1 of 3 Americans, and there are also 4 or 5 nuns, and a few other people. The class size is pretty small, but I love it because the teacher makes sure everyone participates. Today went well and I was much more prepared than yesterday. But let me back up and talk about my first day. So I drop of G at 8:20 and class starts at 9. I was told late on Friday that they had a spot for me in this class, but I didn't know if I would be able to leave early Wednesday to pick up G. So I went in not knowing if I'd actually be able to stay and attend the class, which actually started last Monday. But everything was fine, and I was able to stay. I walk in, and the teacher introduced everyone to me by name and home country. She uses worksheets to teach the class, which are super helpful, but my first 30 minutes or so were quite intimidating. The teacher, of course, is speaking only in French. From the time I walked in, through introductions, all of it....French. If she can tell you are really on the struggle bus, she'll quickly explain something in English, then it's back to French. But I'll be honest, I was sitting there feeling so out of my element. I actually thought of the look my friend Kristy Clark would have on her face if she was in that room and laughed to myself, which lightened my mood a bit. Kristy will be the first to tell you that she has this complete inability to follow along with any heavy accents, and she has no poker face. I'm laughing right now again picturing her in that room (love you Kristy :D). 

It didn't take long though for me to feel comfortable, and today I came prepared with a notepad and pen as well as a snack since I was starving by the time class was over yesterday. I actually really like how much time I will get to be there, and I like the people in there. Having to factor class in has finally given me more of a set schedule and routine that I can rely on now. Last week, I was still learning how to take care of G and also didn't know what my class schedule would be like (or if I'd even be able to get a spot at the school for that matter). So things are finally settling down. I'll be interested to see how things are within a month or two. It's been a really incredible experience so far, and I've really enjoyed meeting people from all nationalities and walks of life. It's definitely an adjustment, and there are many American comforts I miss. On Sunday, I would have given anything to just be in my own home in my own living room relaxing and able to just have some peace and quiet. But knowing how limited my time is here in the grand scheme of things means that I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts and try to live as local as I can between now and the time I leave. The family only needs me for the duration of the school year, so technically I will only be here with this family until July. Seems like a long time, but time already feels like it's flying. 

Alright, I have homework and I have to pick up G in an hour and take him to soccer, so that's all for now!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

the first 4 days au pairing

Hello my friends. This morning I write to you from Starbucks right next to the Louvre Museum (or Musée du Louvre if you want to sound French). Why on earth am I at Starbucks when there are a thousand very Parisian sidewalk cafes everywhere you turn? For 3 reasons: 1) I have yet to get used to black coffee, which is all my host family drinks, and even with a little sugar I find myself willing to do anything for a good cup of coffee I know I can get quickly. 2) I know it has free WiFi and I don’t have to pay to use the bathroom and 3) I know that I can walk through the door, speak a few English words after asking Parlez-vous anglais? and know that I'm not sounding like a fool and I'm getting exactly what I want. The only downside is they don't seem to have my beloved cinnamon dolce latte or some of the other drinks I'm used to seeing, so I have to resort to the oh-so-basic-American pumpkin spice latte. Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to a good PSL, but they do get old.

I'm also at Starbucks because I've found that I've become very shy about trying to speak in French. I guess this is a normal thing, but I wish I'd just get over it. But when push comes to shove and I have to say something en français, this bashfulness washes over me and I’m afraid I won’t say it correctly and won’t be understood. I mean, I’m gonna be honest. I don’t know a lot yet. I’m not great at French. I’ve been really fortunate though, because until yesterday, there have been enough people around that speak broken English that I can communicate to Gaspard (the boy I care for). His older brother Hugo, who is 20, knows quite a bit of English, and since he goes to college very close to their home, he is back and forth quite a bit. Lucky for me so I can ask him to ask G things. On the way to school in the mornings, G’s friend and his mother who live across the street walk to school with us. G will chat with his friend, and I’ve gotten to speak to Charlotte who knows a lot of English as well. Another mother of another friend even asked if I would give her and her husband English lessons, so that might be a way to make a little extra cash…although I’ve never done that before so I’m going to have to figure out the best way to conduct lessons.

Yesterday was probably my most challenging day so far. Here, the kids stay in school late for activities and to work on their homework. I guess they do that so the parents can pick them up after their work times. So each day except Wednesday, I pick up G at 6 PM. Tuesdays he has soccer, so there’s not much time for us to really spend time together. But I’ve found that Wednesday is going to be a hard day of the week. Wednesdays are half days at school, so I pick up G at 11:30 AM. I have to make him lunch and dinner, make sure his homework is done, and then find ways to entertain him. Have I mentioned that he and I can’t communicate without someone translating? Yesterday’s walk back to the house was a quiet one. Although I did pull out a few French phrases I came prepared with to ask how school was, if he was hungry, and what he wanted to do. Problem is if he responds with more than a few words, I can’t understand him anyway.
When we got back to the house and I fed him lunch, it was pretty quiet for a while. Eventually, he asked if he could see if his friend next door, I’ll call him B because I have no clue how to spell his name even if I can at least say it. We went next door, and B’s mom answered. Another English speaker (yes!) even though not as much as others I’ve met. We both ended up staying because as it turns out, the kids want to watch Harry Potter in French. Umm yes I will absolutely stay. After all, I have those movies basically memorized, so hearing the dialog and seeing the subtitles in French could be helpful. The boys were bored 30 min later, so they went to play in B’s room, which meant I could go back to the house while his mom watched them both. A few hours to myself. When G came back, I made him dinner and asked if he had homework. He didn’t eat much again, and at this point I’m thinking great, how do I get him to eat? He snacks a lot though, so at least the kid isn’t starving.

I noticed that things are a little tense between us when it’s just he and I. How can it be tense with an 8 year old? Well, when the 8 year old seems frustrated and unresponsive, and when the first thing he says to his mom when she comes home is that I’m not speaking enough French, it’s tense. She obviously tells him that it is fine that I’m speaking English. In fact, she specifically asked that as I learn more French, I still speak to G in English only at least 1 hour per week. The one thing G and I do together (that I typically initiate) and I can feel us bonding is when we play soccer outside in his yard. He smiles, uses the English he knows with me, and he has fun. He loves soccer, and is actually incredibly good for an 8 year old. The dad even said his son is the best. I’m thinking he’s probably going to be a famous pro player one day.

G is very affectionate sometimes too. He thinks it’s funny to tickle me (me…not so much), and sometimes he’ll come in my room and play with my Rubik’s cube and make me solve it. He also pointed out my Harry Potter 3 book in French that I brought with me. The next day when I was making his bed, I noticed he had his own Rubik’s cube and own copy of HP 3 in his bed that he must have been reading before he fell asleep one night. That made me smile.

But back to yesterday. When the parents got home, they asked that I watch him a little while longer while they went to their swimming lessons (yes, the mom and dad are taking swimming lessons). G and I had about an hour together again, just the two of us, and I’m racking my brain trying to think of things to say or things for us to do. Finally, I used my Google translate app to write him something. Thank God the kid is old enough to read. I could tell that this immediately had the affect I had hoped. When I asked him something else, he acted like he was typing on the phone as if to tell me write it and then he read it and responded well. At last I typed I’m going to learn more French so you and I can talk more. Bingo. He smiled and said Ok and then I asked if he wanted some chocolate I picked up in Iceland. We sat there and ate and watched Nickelodeon shows dubbed in French (more entertaining, but still dull). When he went to bed, I got a shouted good night Chelsea to which I responded bonne nuit G.

Today I just had to take G to school, and the dad is going to pick him up and take him tomorrow. So I’m free, but I will be watching him Saturday night so the couple can go to dinner in Paris. Lots of time for me to explore, but it’s still quite lonely without any friends yet. Sunday, I will be going to the church I found, which is an English-speaking church (thank you Lord). And I have already been in touch with 1 girl who works there. This morning, I was on their website checking out their life groups, and turns out, there was one this morning, and a phone number to another girl who works at the church. I texted her and she gave me some info about the group (which isn’t starting till next week), but she and I are meeting for coffee today at 2:30 PM. Finally making friends. It’s only been a few days, but I can feel my need for a social life more than I ever did back in Virginia.

And that’s another thing I just want to marvel at for a moment. I appreciate the Christian community so much because we literally are one big family that spans the entire globe. No matter where you go, you have the most important thing in common, so you can literally feel welcomed like you are part of the family…because, well, you are part of the family. I haven’t met these 2 girls yet, but I can already tell you that I’ve felt welcomed, accepted, and have been invited to some outings with them before I’ve even set foot in the church doors for the first time. I’m so thankful for that. I’m thankful for people that share my values, and of course, speak English, in a place where I feel like a fish out of water.

I will likely write more later because this day is just getting started, and I have lots of pictures to share from today and Tuesday when I went to Luxembourg Gardens, so keep an eye out.

À bientôt!