Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ecole des Entrepots

  The girls and I went to their school today.  The director is a lovely woman who was very helpful, and it turns out that there is another American family in the school, who have been in France for two years.  (The mom is French, but the dad is American and the kids didn't speak French when they arrived in France.) Quite happily, Kate and Molly have one of each of their kids in class with them, which should be quite helpful.  We also met another dad and his sons; the dad is Russian and the child doesn't speak much French at all.  (The dad speaks almost none; I ended up doing quite a bit of translating between the director and the dad, as she gave us a tour of the school together.)
  Molly is very excited for school to start, as they have badminton, fencing, and ping-pong as sports.  Kate is less excited, but she picked up a number of sentences that I said, so she's clearly already learning some French.  Lucy was quite overwhelmed by the end.  The communal bathrooms were the last straw.  After she saw how public and open the toilets were (they just have small, low dividers between them), she started crying.  It may be a bit of a struggle to get her to go, though she is excited about the play structure in the courtyard.

Monday, August 27, 2012

School Enrollment

   When I preregistered the girls for school, I was told that I had to meet with the director (principal) of the school in order for enrollment to be complete and that I had to call James' school in order to set up a meeting with them.  I quickly figured out that no one would be available until the week before classes, which meant that today (August 27) was the first day that anyone would be in the office and available to set up a meeting or talk about school enrollment. 
   I made some notes for myself and got out the girls' forms, then I called James' school to talk to them.  I got transferred right away to the director, who told me that it is the correct school for the location where we live, but they can't take him, because they don't have any assistance for French as a foreign language.  She took my number and said she'd call me back.
   I called the girls' school before I could get too nervous about the possibilities, but I got an answering machine.  Rather than stutter a message, I hung up.  About forty minutes later, the phone rang, and the director of the school said, "You called?"  Um yeah, when I had all my notes in front of me and was mentally prepared to talk to you....
   She was very nice, despite my stumbling though the explanation of what I needed.  They also have no extra resources for the girls, and she offered to see if they could transfer to a school with some support.  As she and I talked about it, though, we decided to leave all the girls in the same school, figuring they'd catch on.  (The extra support is mostly grammar-oriented and is only once a week; I don't think it really matters, given that the kids will only be in France for 4 months.)   I'm going tomorrow to finish enrolling the girls.  They'll come with me to see the school, too.
    James, however, still doesn't have a school....

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The universal language of insecurity

     When I was talking to some fellow travelers on the train from Lyon to Toulouse, one of the French women in the seat next to me observed that "The French are well-known for not having good language skills."  I kind of goggled at her and told her that was not my impression at all, and that I had the impression that France was not at all known for a lack of language facility, especially when compared to the United States.  Another woman chimed in and said that she agreed with the first woman and that though students study language, their study tends to be formal and written, so that many French people are not facile speakers and are uncomfortable about speaking foreign languages.
     I have had a couple of other conversations like that since then, with French speakers expressing their discomfort with their English language skills -- when in fact, most of the time, I hope I sound as fluent as they do! 
     Today, I hurried out to the courtyard in order to run into the woman who lives in the apartment above ours as she was walking her dog.  My kids have been playing in the garden and, from time to time, making enough noise that her dog (a smallish dog, maybe a Yorkie) yaps loudly at them.  I wanted to catch her in time to introduce myself, apologize for the noise, and make it clear that I'm trying to get the kids to keep it down.  Also, I planned to mention that the kids don't speak French, so if they're in the garden, they can't really understand anything that is said to them.  (Just in case she decided to tell them to keep it down and thought they were ignoring her or something...)    She was not only exceptionally kind about all of it -- mostly a "kids will be kids, and sometimes dogs will yap" response -- but she wanted to warn me about a couple of places in the garden that she thought were a bit dangerous (and why).  As we spoke, I made my usual apology for not always having access to the right words, etc., and she smiled kindly and said, "I would be happy to speak English as well as you speak French!"  We haven't spoken English yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that in fact, she does speak English as well as I speak French.  It's nice to know that I'm not alone in my insecurity, though!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Récépissé de demande de carte de séjour

     Now that it's after August 15, I am in possession of all the proper documents to apply for my residency permit, so I went to the Prefecture this morning. 
     When I got in line (the right line!) at 7:45 am, there were already about 35 people ahead of me.  (The line begins to be admitted to the building at 9:00 am.)    When we were admitted, I was given a ticket with the number of S700, which meant that I was the very first person in line for a residency permit attached to a scientific visa/research visa. (Ie, none of the 35 persons in front of me would be dealt with by the same administrator as the one I needed.)
     Despite that, my number was not called until 9:35 am and when I went to the proper window, the same man who had been giving out tickets was the one processing my application.  In other words, he had been giving out tickets for the past half hour, so there was no way that I would have been called any sooner than 9:30 -- though if I had arrived later than I did, I could have been waiting substantially longer than I did.
     The process took about 25 minutes.  He first asked if my dossier was complete in a very serious and almost cranky tone of voice, making me quite glad that he was not the person I encountered the first time I went to the Prefecture!  I told him that I believed it to be and mentioned that the last time I was there, I was told that the only thing I needed was a translation of my marriage license, which I kind of waved at him.
     He asked for my passport, which I gave him.  He told me that he'd never heard of Bozeman, Montana and it must be a very small town.  I told him that there aren't any big towns in Montana.  He said, "Yes, just a lot of open space."  I said, "But it is beautiful country..."  He said, "If you like open space and you don't like big cities."  Fair enough, but probably not as friendly as the last bureaucrat.
    He looked at the copies, then asked if I had the originals.  I said I did and started to pass the packet of them over.  He gave a wave as if to say, "Whatever.  I don't need them.  I just need to know that you have them."  He then confirmed that I'd been married in Saint Louis (not Las Vegas, he said, offering me a glimpse of a sense of humor...) and confirmed that I have four (yes, four) children.
    It took him awhile to fill out all the forms -- and pass them over to me to sign, but by the end, he had warmed up substantially.  When he was careful to note that my first two signatures had to remain within the limits of the box, I asked if there were any requirements about where I ought to put the final signature.  He smiled and dryly said "No.  Feel free to express yourself."
     By 10:00 am, I was in possession of a paper certifying that I have applied for my residency permit.  And no one ever even glanced at the very expensive translation of my marriage licence, which took me hours to arrange.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Are you German?

At least three times in the past month, when I've told someone that my French is imperfect and asked someone to speak more slowly so that I could catch all of what they said, I've had them stop and look at me and say, "Are you German?"  When I say, "No, I'm American," they seem surprised.  I am sure that some of it is that there are more tourists in Lyon from Germany than from the United States, but some of it may also be that they don't expect Americans to speak French.  In either case, it may indicate that my accent is not as terrible as I thought (or differently terrible).

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Waiting at the bank

     Today I made a second trip to a local branch of HSBC.  I've been there once before to sign the papers to open my account, but this time, I needed to pick up my debit card and give them a signed paper that would authorize the deduction of my rent payments from my account.
      The bus stop is nearly directly in front of the bank and when it dropped me off, my watch read 2 pm, but I could see that three employees were waiting in front of the bank and at least one was smoking a cigarette.  Since the bank is supposed to re-open at 2 pm, I figured that my watch might be fast.  Rather than stand and look as if I was trying to speed them up, I took a few minutes and went into a nearby supermarket and bought some small things that I needed.
      I took my time, but when I got done, my watch read 2:15 and the employees were still outside.  I mentally shrugged and went across the street.  When I got there, they apologized profusely and said that there was something wrong with the electronic opener on the door, so we were all locked out.  They said it might be an hour and did I have any shopping to do instead?
      Since buying a pencil sharpener and a birthday candle for Molly had already been more than I was planning on doing, and I didn't have a grocery sack with me, I didn't really want to go do any shopping, so I told them that it was fine and I was willing to wait. 
     This bothered them, so the supervisor got on the phone and called whomever was supposed to be bringing the physical key over, to ask how long it would be.  Eventually, they agreed on 15 minutes.  While that 15 minutes passed, I chatted a bit with the employees -- who were very kind -- and they checked my paperwork and discussed whether or not they thought that my debit card was in fact available in the branch.  (It was.)   They kept peppering the conversation with apologies for how long it was taking, especially as, at the 15 minute mark, the man bringing the key called and said it would be ten more minutes.
     I observed that even if my debit card turned out to not be in the branch, I'd waited at the mairie for much longer than 30 minutes for what ultimately turned out to be a fruitless search.  That didn't seem to make them feel any better.  They told me that this is the first time it's happened with the door in 13 years (which would seem to demonstrate that they shouldn't feel bad at all about it!), that he would be there soon, that they were very sorry.
    All in all, I was surprised that they were so concerned about my half hour wait; it's not the kind of attitude I would have expected.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Good Mother and Rhubarb Jam

Finally actually bought some rhubarb jam.  Let me say that a good mother might buy rhubarb jam -- or if she doesn't, it is because it tastes like rhubarb pie and it's too much of a treat!