Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Troubles in Paradise

I have filled out more paperwork , and signed more forms, in the past two days than I have ever before in my whole life. Cutting through French red tape is rather like pulling oneself out of lightning sand without a Wesley. That might be stretching a bit much for the metaphor, but you get the idea. I have applied for renters' insurance (obligatory), general health insurance (obligatory), supplemental health insurance (not obligatory, but highly recommended and about 16 Euros a month for 100% reimbursement), a French bank account, direct deposit....The list goes on and on. Soon I get to apply for my temporary French residency card, the excitement for which is wearing a little thin. Now that I'm here, and so far away from everyone I know, I am reconsidering my fervent wish to be French. There may be some problems with applying for this, however, because apparently I am here illegally. My visa requires that I get my passport stamped by the French police upon arrival, but there was no one in the airport doing such a thing. Eh, if 37 million can do it in the US, I can certainly do it here.

I was supposed to move into my studio apartment yesterday, but when I arrived, it turns out that there was no an internet or te
lephone hook-up. Even though the studio is in the high school, which clearly has internet access and telephones, I have to set up a private account. You would think they could just include the studio apartments within their coverage area, and charge more for rent, but no. Which means I would have been entirely without means of connecting to anyone I know back at home if I had moved in. Rather than hole up alone in an empty, disconnected studio with no kitchenware, I am staying with Celine's family until internet and telephone access is set up. Which means I am still living out of suitcases. On a positive note, I did get my address in France, and I am living on a street called Avenue Albert Camus. Ahh, France.

While out and about with Celine yesterday, I visited the College Albert Camus, one of the two middle schools that I will be teaching at, and the one that is next door to my future domicile. While people can praise France's social system, their health care system, their fashion, their wine, their bread, and their cheese all they want, their education system seems to a be a little lacking. During my visit, I was given a tour of the school, sat in on a geometry class, used a computer in the staff lounge, and ate lunch in the school cafeteria. While the school is old and in need of renovation, it seemed that there were more problems than just that. The library is one small room, about the size of an office. The classroom that I visited did not have a computer in it, a projector, a clock, or white boards--just chalk boards and weirdly bare walls. The computer in the staff lounge was the slowest computer that I have been on since 1996, I think. And it was not dial-up, just old. Looking at Albert Camus, it seems that more money should be allocated to education, and not just that amazing health coverage. It's possible that this is not universal for French schools. It turns out that both of the schools that I am teaching at are in poorer areas in the city. Albert Camus is next door to several HLMs--habitations a loyer moderes, or low-income housing, i.e. the Projects--that are mostly populated by Northern African immigrant families. These people are, unfortunately, not the French government's top priority.

There has always been some level of tension between the "French" French, and the immigrant French, just like in any other country where immigration is considered a problem, and not just a fact of life. It is interesting how quickly I encountered racism and discrimination of this sort in France. It is perhaps the area that I am living in (in the south of France and in Paris, there are more immigrants, and thus the tensions are more apparent), or it is possible that the French are just much more open about their (racist) views. I have heard the teachers at my school speak disparagingly already of the students' work ethic, indicating that it is directly related to the fact that they are immigrants, or that they are gypsies. Most respectful families apparently don't send their students to the schools that I am employed at. While I could fall to sleep at night with dreams of changing the students' lives through inspiration and encouragement, mostly it just means that I will be in a more diverse area than I have ever been in during the course of my white-bred, Bothell-suburban, Pacific Northwest life. Indeed, the math class that I sat in on was arguably the most racially diverse classroom I have ever been in (aside from the Intensive English Program at Western), and the playground during break was even more so. But I don't intend on changing the work ethic of these students, or their lives. While I do not harbor any pre-formed, socially instilled prejudice against these students like my French colleagues might, I do not have idealistic ideas about changing them, either. Take the Lead was just a thin disguise to watch Antonio Banderas dance, and the diversified classrooms in which I will teach are just classrooms with students to whom I am supposed to teach English. It doesn't matter if they are Northern African or from the wealthy French countryside. They still have to learn English on my watch.

Oh, and Heather, I tried some Roquefort. Delicious, sharp, and unavailable in the United States. Yumm!

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