You can take a Brit out of Britain, but you can’t take Britishness out of a Brit. In other words, as Michael McIntyre astutely noted, complaining is our national sport – be that whinging about the weather (wholly justifiable here, it’s -7°C in the mornings), lamenting the lack of cheddar cheese in the supermarket (sorry, but emmental is just rubber masquerading as cheese) or fussing over the French aversion to queues (a near-constant source of frustration). The highly-anticipated Vacances de Noël were a welcome respite from all of the above: England was positively balmy compared to freezing France; cheddar cheese was in steady supply; and queues formed naturally. (This is all intended in a very tongue-in-cheek manner; for all my complaints, I do still love France.)
For many aspiring assistants, the prospect of standing in front of an attitude of teenagers (that is, apparently, the collective noun for the youth of today) with, most likely, zero TEFL-related qualifications to your name is fear inducing. Awash with acronyms, brimming with bureaucracy and crammed with conjugations you’ve probably never heard of, it’s not always easy to stay afloat in the ever-evolving world of EFL. I’m by no means an expert on all things TEFL, but having spent my year abroad as an English assistant in Alsace and the past five months (and counting) working in the English department of a French university, it’s fair to say I’ve learnt a few things along the way. With application deadlines looming, I’ve decided to offer a few pointers for any assistants-to-be.
The start of December heralded the end of term – or rather the end of teaching, for there were still piles of marking to come and several surveillances (sleep-inducing invigilating – which ironically derives from the Latin word vigilare meaning ‘to stay awake’). Instead of toasting the end of term with a glass of Côtes du Rhône, I celebrated by binge-watching The Crown (which in my defence I had almost finished anyway), Paranoid and Luther on Netflix.
November kicked off with 25°C sunshine in sunny southern France, and is ending with sub-Arctic temperatures here in Lyon. The leaves in the park have gone from lush greens to fiery oranges and reds to non-existent; the streets are now bedecked with fairy lights, an enormous Christmas tree complete with giant bears is the new centrepiece of the Part Dieu shopping centre, and the Christmas markets have opened. Christmas is well and truly on its way – and the festive-themed lessons have begun before it’s even hit December.
Forget idyllic snapshots of the Mer Méditerranéenne, for over the past month I’ve been drowning in the Mer de Bureaucratie – my apologies for the horrendous pun, but the analogy is just indescribably accurate. Practically a cultural institution, the formidable administration gleefully creates more paperasse (red tape) than anyone should ever have to deal with in their lifetime and, more often than not, not even its devout worshippers (read: personnel) can be bothered to deal with it. Fortunately, there’s an exception to every rule and last week the marvellous Mme Goudet resolved 99% of my administrative problems with one swipe of the keyboard. The reason for my problems? There were two Mme Mahers at Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3, and someone, somewhere, had muddled up the details in the system. I’ve never come across someone with my surname before, so imagine my surprise when that turned out to be the reason behind the timetabling chaos!
La rentrée: a uniquely French phenomenon which bears little-to-no resemblance to its British counterpart “Back to School”. Otherwise known as administrative chaos, wall-to-wall lengthy réunions and a near-constant torrent of paperwork – but with a few delights from my favourite pâtisserie du coin thrown in to take the edge off it.
Already, it’s been a week since my (delayed) flight touched down on French soil. The old adage of time flying when you’re having fun is, so far, holding true. The sight of Flybe’s automated baggage-drop machines at Manchester Airport was a relief, not least because it meant no-one was ever going to know how overweight my hand luggage was! A hot chocolate and a teary goodbye to Laurence later, and the baggage scanners at security were having the last laugh. My bag was scanned not once, not twice, but three times – by two different machines – before it was hand-checked and my large number of chargers and plugs were deemed to be the culprit.