Daniel and I arrived at CDG (I have learned that the French call it “Roissy”) on Sunday morning, June 28, after a turbulent flight from Atlanta and some fun speaking German in the Frankfurt airport (Taschentücher = Kleenex). This year we were the advance team who came over early to set up the office and classrooms and make the last-minute arrangements before the students’ arrival on July 1. We hit the ground running but we also hit the ground sweating, arriving in time for France’s most severe heat wave in a dozen years. And I had to hit the ground speaking French, as we’d decided to be 100% Francophone once we arrived in Paris. For 3 days I spoke French almost exclusively; by the time the group arrived yesterday I actually felt a little strange speaking English. Not to say that my French is perfect but it’s easier when you’re surrounded by it. Immersion: it works!
This year is my third on the European Council Paris program and I am amazed by how my reactions to Paris have evolved. Last year I was surprised at how much I remembered from year one. This year, it feels a little like I never left. And people remember me, which is always a surprise. Mme. Gabrielle, who is the concierge at IPT (our classroom building), knew who I was, and even the front desk staff at Maison des Étudiants d’Asie du Sud-Est (where I stayed last year) remembered me. Probably because I went all Loud American in their lobby last year while checking students in. This year I am back in Maison des Provinces de France where I stayed in 2013. Daniel and I have a “Studio” room which has a double bed, a huge desk for the his-and-hers laptops, a kitchenette, and a decent-sized wardrobe. It is an improvement over the hotel room we used for our first 3 nights, which was as small as only a Parisian hotel room can be. On the other hand, the room was impeccably clean and the staff were very nice. In fact, we have dealt with so many friendly people on this trip so far. Perhaps the Parisians’ reputation for coldness owes something to Americans being intimidated.
We spent Monday and most of Tuesday preparing for the students’ arrival–interspersed with a few breaks on café terraces–and trying to beat jet lag while simultaneously learning to sleep through Paris street noise (I’m getting pretty good at it). On Wednesday, arrival day, we took the RER out to Roissy to meet the first group of students that landed at 10:45 a.m. Everyone stayed until the last group came in around 1:20; then, we loaded the buses and most of the students slept through the ride into Paris.
I almost did not get on the bus myself–a student lost an important item on her ATL-FRA flight and I went to the Lufthansa desk to pursue its retrieval. I was unsuccessful but I learned something: when you think someone might tell you “No,” but he also hasn’t really committed to saying “No” (“Eh ben, vous savez, c’est difficile parce que . . . Fin, peut-être si c’était . . . Mais ça c’est différent . . . Alors”), the trick is just to keep standing there till he decides to help you. (“Je peux téléphoner à quelqu’un.”) I got the definitive “Ce n’est pas possible” just in time to get on the bus, and today we managed to replace the lost item.
Today was also a pretty good day for passing as French, as I had to take a student to the doctor and then to the pharmacy, and we were asked twice for our Social Security cards. The doctor said I spoke French very well (which I always like to hear). Then I wanted to tell the pharmacist that her English was very good but I was afraid it would be patronizing. I guess I think everyone but Americans knows a second language (most likely English).
The week has gone by in a flash so far. We had orientation today (presentations followed by a quiz game with prizes and then a scavenger hunt), tomorrow is the first day of classes, and Saturday is our first field trip day. Once we get into the routine I hope to post more regularly. Meanwhile here is a photo of me with some of the students from MGA. Arrival day was also our first official day as Middle Georgia State University so I wanted a photo to commemorate: