Monday, October 19, 2009

Parisian Personalities

Every one of my classes at Anglais Oral Accéléré contains different personalities and I have encountered a wide range of people. Some have an excellent sense of humour and are friendly and pleasant. Others are not so easy going and are so over confident in their own abilities that it takes a great deal of energy just to convey the necessary corrections. One of my favourite groups comprises Katie, Nadia and Hung. Hung is an extremely enthusiastic guy from Vietnam. He is fluent in French and in Vietnamese but has a great deal of difficulty pronouncing English words. Nevertheless, he tries hard, is very keen to learn and, the atmosphere in the group is such, that each member feels comfortable enough to laugh, either at their own mistakes or at those of others without any malice.

Nadia is an interesting character. She is, I suppose, in her late fifties and usually arrives late accompanied by a wave of expensive perfume, perfectly coiffeured hair and designer clothes. She apologises profusely for her lateness before settling herself into her chair and adopting a look of utter concentration which is only interrupted by fits of laughter at Hung’s mistakes. Last week we were discussing music and, when asked what kind of music she liked, she replied R and B. Interested as to whether or not she was just responding with the first thing that came into her head, I probed for a little more information. As it turns out Nadia is a fan of all the modern R and B artists including Chris Brown, Ne-Yo and Kanye West and listens to them on CD in her car. I have no doubt that this is, in fact, the case and I ca picture her cruising round the affluent 16th arrondissement in a brand new Mercedes sampling the newest tracks from her favourite artists.

One of my lessons yesterday was a new group and I could tell instantly that they were going to be an easy and rewarding group to teach. Firstly they were scheduled to complete the book in 15 hours as opposed to 30 - if people do very well in their original assessment, but not quite well enough to do the next level up, then this is what we recommend. Secondly they were friendly and adapted to the method very quickly. They seem to be a particularly studious group and when they were checking their dictation for mistakes it was highly amusing to listen to the low murmuring coming from each person interspersed with jubilant cries of ‘ahh oui!’, ‘J’ai oublié ca’ and ‘Ca s’ecrit comme ca!’. I had a big smile on my face by the time they had finished and I went round to each person to double check for errors they had missed.

Last weekend was particularly eventful and started with the Saturday night shift at Breakfast in America. Ian had been working since 11am and was to take an hour break at 6pm before coming back at 7pm. In the hour Ian was away Ellie worked behind the bar and I took care of the floor with Lucy who would be leaving for the evening at 7pm. The first point of contention arose when Ian returned. Ellie asked him to go behind the bar for the evening but, since he had already been behind the bar for seven hours that day he didn’t want to do it for the evening shift as well. I should point out that Ellie has no more authority than Ian, in fact, she doesn’t have any more authority than me either but does have the advantage of having been there longer. As I have mentioned before Ellie tends to flap and as a result loses her patience fairly soon into a busy shift. It didn’t help matters that almost every party were ordering milkshakes - something that vexes Ellie over anything else is making milkshakes – you have to ask the kitchen for the ice cream AND clean the blender afterwards, I mean, honestly!

As a result, Ellie was in a foul mood and snapped at Ian and me all evening, that was, until she needed stock from the cellar. She asked Ian who refused point blank and this was when things really came to a head. I was on the floor when I head Ellie scream something from the kitchen and Ian retaliate with a volley of abuse. Ellie banged down to the cellar and Ian returned to the floor looking a little sheepish. No one really spoke for the rest of the shift and when all the customers had left they really flew at each other. I went outside to sweep the pavement of discarded cigarette butts left my people waiting in line for a table and when I came back things had quietened down somewhat. By the time we left they seemed amiable enough to one another and we each went our separate ways to join our friends around the city who were taking advantage of ‘La Nuit Blanche’.

‘La Nuit Blanche’ involves artists displaying installations all around the city for one night only. The whole city comes out to view these attractions and there is a wonderful party atmosphere. By the time we had finished at Breakfast in America and had a couple of drinks after the shift it was nearly 1am and I went to meet the others in a pub. Needless to say I saw very little art that night which is inexcusable. Instead we moved from venue to venue before consuming a huge amount of food bought from a Greek take-away shop. The night ended with my struggling with the velibe system but eventually managing to release one and cycling home.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Schedules and Schemes

My classes at Anglais Oral Accéléré are mostly very enjoyable and the type of work affords a schedule that results in my having some time off during the day, either for lunch or a siesta, which is always nice. Since my working hours change each week it also doesn’t feel like a routine which prevents me from getting bored. There are two offices; one on Boulevard Voltaire near Oberkampft metro and the other in the prestigious 16th arrondissement on rue Paul Valery. I have to walk right past the Arc de Triomphe when at the Paul Valery office and it is then that I feel most like a true Paris resident as I’m casually listening to my iPod rather than snapping away at the arc or the Champs Elysees with a digital camera.

One day last week I had a two hour break between classes at the Paul Valery office so John and I decided to get something to eat. Most restaurants that we came across were very expensive and in the end we settled on a somewhat dubious looking Chinese in the next street along from the office. It was a tiny little place and all the food was pre-cooked and sitting in trays waiting to be micro-waved by the staff behind the counter. There were just two other guys inside sitting at the counter talking quietly. I strolled in feeling rather confident of my French at that point and, as a result of being so used to working at Breakfast in America, announced to the room ‘Bonjour, vous etes deux’, what I should have said was ‘nous sommes deux’ – there are two of us, instead of there are two of you. The people behind the counter looked at me, somewhat puzzled, whilst John burst out laughing and I hurriedly ordered my food and went to sit down with a very red face.

Yesterday I was, once again, given a demonstration of how much poverty there is in Paris and, as a result, the numerous scams people come up with in an attempt to save money. I was exiting Oberkampft metro on my way to teach a class and as the automatic barriers swung open to let me through a homeless man with filthy clothes, a wild mop of tangled hair and a stench unlike any other shoved me to one side in an attempt to get through the barriers before they closed. At first I naturally assumed I was in his way for some reason so made an attempt to move to one side before my brain caught up and I came to the conclusion that, for once, I wasn’t in the wrong. He was far too late anyway and the barriers had shut behind me long before he had a chance to get through. Nevertheless he kept on struggling to get past me and when faced with an unusual situation I usually switch back to English and so, in my best English accent, I asked him to ‘please get out of the way’. When I was clear of the barriers I looked back to see him struggling with the queue of people who were exiting after me, none of whom looked at all impressed with his efforts.

After this little episode my student who I was supposed to be teaching that afternoon was an hour late. It wasn’t worth going home again so I was getting some fresh air outside the office when a man walked past me and bent down to pick up a ring he had allegedly found on the pavement. In fact, he had had it in his hand all along and I had been warned of this scam before. He offered it to me and I said I didn’t want it but he kept on persisting and in the end I raised my voice and said that he should have it if it was such a nice ring. The scheme is such that when some unsuspecting individual accepts the ring, along with the unexpected kindness of a complete stranger, the scammer demands five euros for it. Since they have owned it all along it is probably made from a worthless metal and spray-painted gold. I wanted to explain that I didn’t want a great fat gold wedding band that he had ‘found’ on the pavement, that I knew he hadn’t found it at all and that I certainly wouldn’t pay him for something if he had found it on the street, but I don’t think my French would have been quite up to it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Art and History

The other day I was exploring Montparnasse and out of nowhere suddenly loomed the Montparnasse Tower – a huge, black, imposing skyscraper that, at night, is especially dark except for the red lights that shine out from every other floor giving it a demonic presence. The tower itself is very reminiscent of Centre Point in London but is newer and not nearly as friendly looking. It has, in fact, caused a lot of controversy and Parisians generally hate it for destroying the skyline of historic Paris. I took the metro home just past midnight and just as we had left the station the train lurched to a halt, the carriage was plunged into darkness and it suddenly became very hot. Whilst I quietly waited for the dementors to arrive another girl was not quite so calm and started screaming and jiggling around in her seat. Her friends consoled her in a half joking, half serious manner and within a couple of minutes we were on the move again. Nevertheless it was rather un-nerving especially since there was no explanation from the driver.

I paid a visit to The Louvre the other day. I have to say I was somewhat disappointed. It was too big, there were too many people and it was too hot. Despite my having timed my visit for a weekday afternoon it was still absolutely packed and rather than spending time looking at the works of art I seemed to spend more time dodging people who were taking photographs. Instead of wandering peacefully from room to room as one does in London galleries you can either fight against hoards of people surging through the various galleries or you can simply go with them, which, although might make for an easier visit, certainly doesn’t make for a more pleasurable one. Aside from all this, very few of the paintings seemed to have blurbs written about them and most just had a line or two giving the name of the artist, where they came from and the date. They say that if you spend just three seconds looking at every piece of art it will take you three months before you’ve seen everything.

Once I’d found my way out I decided to go and sit in the gardens just in front of the museum. It was a lovely sunny day and as the rats scampered back into the hedgerows I settled myself in a quiet spot in the shade. I was teaching in an hour so I set my alarm and dozed peacefully for 30 minutes. I woke up feeling refreshed and energised. I stood up to leave and caught sight of a used condom that had been lying just a couple of feet from where I had been sleeping. Needless to say it marred the experience somewhat and I hurried off to get the metro.