Thursday, August 13, 2009

Extra curricular activities

Oliver had mentioned that he was taking some French classes near the Pompidou Centre and I decided to go along and sign up as I felt I could use the practice, especially since, according to Oliver, they focused specifically on conversation and oral exercises. Having taken the entrance test I was placed in the intermediate group and signed up for nine hours of lessons each week for two weeks. My first lesson was so reminiscent of my GCSE French classes at school that I could hardly bring myself to go back. Everyone sitting to attention with their dictionaries at the ready, a wealth of tedious listening exercises centred around outdated ‘current’ affairs and D-list French celebrities who no one had ever heard of. And, of course, hot shots who loved the sound of their own voice so much they would talk for 15 minutes and give a detailed account of all the activities they had undertaken when asked what they had done at the weekend.

I knew I would certainly not perform well in this sort of environment and got so frustrated that after my third lesson I went to ask the receptionist if I could have a refund for my remaining three lessons. When she asked why I explained (as best I could in French) that there were too many people in the class, not enough oral exercises and that I couldn’t really understand the majority of my classmates who were Spanish and had extremely thick Spanish accents. Unfortunately, at this point, the owner of the school happened to hear me and immediately directed a torrent of abuse at me in French to which I could only respond ‘ce n’est pas grave, ce n’est pas grave!’ before she went to get my teacher whom I had made sure was well and truly occupied before saying anything to the receptionist. I felt myself getting redder and redder and no doubt I wouldn’t have had the vocabulary anyway but when placed under such pressure (with the receptionist, the owner of the school, my teacher and another teacher all watching me intently) my French almost completely deserted me and all I could mutter was ‘Je suis desolĂ©’ and ‘Ce n’est pas grave’. It was ultimately arranged that I would switch classes and attend those run by the other teacher who happened to be there. These, as it turned out, were much more successful but whether they were worth the embarrassment of the interaction described above I am not sure.

Within my first couple of weeks Emily and I decided to set aside a day to try and get all the irritating but necessary admin tasks completed such as opening a French bank account and getting a Navigo card. Emily is my friend whose apartment I am renting and has been living in Paris for almost two years. As such, she speaks almost perfect French and would act as my translator for the day. We made the mistake of going out the night before for a few drinks and, as a result, didn’t manage to meet until around 2pm the following day. We started with lunch, sushi in fact, which may not have been the most appropriate choice considering we were both feeling rather delicate, and then proceeded to search for a bank.

Aside from acting as my translator, Emily also had to vouch for the fact that I had a permanent residence in Paris – a stipulation of all the banks in France. The French banking system works in such a way that, although you may have an account with a bank that has branches all over the city, should you want to do anything, such as transfer money or pay a bill, you have to do it at the branch you belong to; where you set up your account. Emily and I traipsed round several branches, standing in queues for 15 minutes, before being told we had to make an appointment or didn’t have the necessary documentation. Eventually we got lucky and were shown into the office of the Account Manager at Credit d’Agricole. He was rather a large man, in his early 30s, with a blonde comb over. He was wearing several gold rings on each finger and had a short sleeved yellow shirt on that matched the colour of what hair he had left. He seemed very friendly though and proceeded to open an account for me.

By this point in the afternoon I was feeling very tired and rather jangly. I was still quite hungover, had eaten sushi for lunch and had been waiting in several banks for a total of about an hour and a half. I remember how gentle and finicky the man was with everything, making sure all his pieces of paper were perfectly ordered, making absolutely sure the envelope was properly sealed and methodically signing each document with precision and care. I was surprised this didn’t make me furious but it actually had the opposite effect and seemed to calm me somewhat.

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