“Une Texane dans la ville flamande”

Yesterday, an article was published in L’Indicateur des Flandres – a regional newspaper for the Flanders / Northern France. The headline? Une Texane dans la ville flamande (A Texan in the Flemish city). It wasn’t necessarily an article about me, but more about how I was received in the city of Bailleul, which is in France, right next to the Belgian border.

When I first met Michel, he played in a band called Catsberg, which later became Hoffender. The group was started by his friend Nico, who is also a journalist for this newspaper. Nico reached out to me a couple of weeks ago and asked if I would like to spend the afternoon in Bailleul, testing how the city’s residents act towards tourists. Of course I was in.

The article was published in French, but for all my lovely readers, here is a very rough translation of the whole thing!

A Texan in the Flemish city

We tested the level of English in Bailleul… in stealth mode with the help of an American

I’ve already been told that I have the composure of a Brit. But my English accent being what it is, I would have a hard time passing for a foreigner in Bailleul. Especially in a city in which I’ve been working for ten years. No, I needed a real foreigner to carry out this experiment. With a real accent. That’s when Haley became part of the plan.

The young woman, 26 years old, comes from Dallas, Texas. She’s lived in France for 3 years and teaches in Lille: an ideal profile to test the welcoming of foreigners in Melusine city. Her first target: the Monts des Flandre tourism office. Haley has to speak exclusively in the language of Obama. “Ask what you can visit in the city this weekend,” I tell her. The blonde opens the doors to the tourism office. She comes out five minutes later, a smile on her lips and a few brochures in her hands. “When I started to speak in English, the lady shrugged her shoulders, a little surprised,” says our undercover tourist. “But she quickly took control of the situation and started responding to me in English.” Haley now knows that she can visit the school of lace and the Benoît-de-Puydt museum. They could’ve recommended more specific things to do or see, but I’ll make do with all of my brochures,” she notes.

We walk to the Benoît-de-Puydt museum. Haley crosses the threshold of the bourgeois house and finds two men, totally unsettled by her speaking English. “Oh! No, no, no…” they let out with a certain fear. Our Texan fakes some bad French. “Les heures, hmm… time,” she says, pointing to her watch. The men are able to execute and tell her the operating times of the museum. “They were super nice; they did everything they could so that I would understand,” says the American.

The café owner wants to drive her to the train station

We continue the journey to the area near City Hall. New mission for Haley: ask how to get to Bailleul’s train station. She heads over to the parasols of a nearby café. The boss doesn’t get flustered – he speaks in French to a Belgian client who speaks English. Haley almost gets caught in her own trap when the owner offers to drive her directly to the station. “We’ll be there in two minutes!” he insists. A little embarrassed, our accomplice finds a way out. “My train is in an hour, I still have a little time,” she lies.

Next, I send Haley to the front desk of the Mayor’s office. Ten minutes later, I see her come out of the building with a lady gesturing how to go somewhere. I hide so they don’t see me. Haley comes over to me, laughing: “It’s so funny to do that! The lady was like ‘oooooh la la’ when I started speaking to her in English. I said ‘train’, she said ‘SNCF’… it was very hard to communicate verbally but she was really nice. It’s not really her job to give directions to a foreigner.”

We finish the experiment in the main square. Haley, still alone, stops passers-by to ask them how to get to the train station. Out of four people, only a high schooler is able to easily express himself in English.

Haley’s assessment is quite positive. “Each time, the people were nice. Everyone helped me. At the tourism office, the level of English wasn’t amazing, but I still got the information I needed.”

-Nicolas de Ruyffelaere

Thanks for including me in this experiment, Nico! It was so fun to play the role of “innocent American tourist who speaks no French”. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to do that, so I must say I enjoyed it.

Michel and I went to the market in Bailleul last night and one of the farmers we like to buy from recognized me.”Didn’t I see you in the newspaper today…? Ah yes, the Texan!”

:)

Les nouveaux casselois

As of Wednesday morning, a hazebrouckois and an américaine who had been lillois for about a year and a half became the newest casselois. And let me tell you, the change was a big one.

We went from a 500 square foot apartment (plus large terrace and basement) in the popular Wazemmes neighborhood of Lille to an 800 square foot house (plus terrace and backyard, sans basement) in the village of Cassel, population 2,300. We had one bedroom, now we have two. We also went from being woken up on Sunday mornings by the loud bass coming from the bar across the street – they often stayed illegally open all night and continued the party at 8am on Sunday morning – to being woken up by the sounds of birds coming from the uninhabited land behind our house. In Lille, customers of the bars across the street used to gather in front of our 1st floor apartment window, allowing us to listen to their deep conversations. In Cassel, the only people who will walk in front of our house are perhaps our neighbors. We went from having to walk 5 minutes to our rental garage in Lille to being able to park directly in front of our house.

The entry to our house in Cassel. There are two houses on either side of ours that share the parking area with us.

The entry to our house in Cassel. There are two houses on either side of ours that share the parking area with us.

The sliding glass doors in our living room open up to a nice patio area. Wooden stairs lead down to the backyard, which is just big enough!

The sliding glass doors in our living room open up to a nice patio area. Wooden stairs lead down to the backyard, which is just big enough!

We went from being able to hop on a bike to go to work (and getting there within 15 minutes) to having to drive 3 minutes to the train station to take a 40-minute train into Lille (and having to walk / take the metro a few stops) to get to work. We used to walk to the grocery store; now there’s a 13km drive to get to the nearest “big” supermarket. This has been the biggest change for me. I don’t mind the train or the short drive to get to the station; it’s a straight shot there with no stop signs or lights. However, learning to drive a manual car has not been easy.

Now that I have no choice but to drive myself around, I’ve already had my fair share of embarrassing moments. M is in Portugal this weekend on a work trip, so I’ve had to drive myself around a few times: home from the train station on Friday after work (made it all the way home and then stalled while trying to park in front of the house), to Hazebrouck and back to pick up Bunny Boo from M’s parents’ house (didn’t stall the whole way there and then stalled on the way back after waiting on a very slight incline for a train to pass), and to get groceries yesterday morning in Hazebrouck. This was by far the worst experience ever.

The way there was okay – I only stalled once in a very small roundabout – but the way back was miserable. I took a different way home and, while trying to enter a large roundabout on a very, very slight incline, I stalled. Several times. To the point where the cars behind me were pulling up around me on the curb to pass. I had my hazards on, and was trying desperately to get moving. The lady in the car behind me came up to see what was wrong. After seeing me in my state of panic, she told me not to worry, to take my time, and that she would wait behind me. (I stalled again at a stop sign later, once again encouraging those behind me to pass me.) I believe I’ll be taking a break from driving today… Sunday is the day of rest, right?

We can still go out for a drink in Cassel, but most of the restaurants on the main square are closed during the week and open Friday – Sunday. Just like in Lille, we can still walk home from the main square and not have to drive everywhere.

We were apartment owners in Lille. M bought the place back in November 2013. We tried to sell it, but after two months with no offers, we reviewed our budget to see if we could manage keeping the place and renting it out while we rented our house in Cassel. Thankfully, it worked. We have a young couple that will rent out our apartment in Lille while we go from owners to renters ourselves in Cassel.

I’ve already vacuumed twice and mopped once, so I think it’s safe to say that we are settled in.

Living room and dining area

Living room and dining area

Kitchen

The kitchen, where we can now both be in there at the same time

back from outer space

It has been nearly three years since I’ve published a post here. I have reasons, I promise! I went home for a year, I came back in 2013 and studied like a crazy person at Lille 3 to take the national concours to become an English teacher in France (spoiler alert – I passed!). In 2014, I started the second year of my Masters degree while teaching part time at a high school in Lille. As of last Friday, I have officially finished my first year of teaching and can say that I am a professeur titularisée, which basically means I have the right to a job for life teaching middle school or high school English in France. Not too shabby!

The past two years, I have been living in the Wazemmes neighborhood of Lille, France in a cozy apartment with my boyfriend – or should I say pacsé? – and our fluffy rabbit. In only nine days, we’ll be starting a new adventure in Cassel, France. This small town of 2,300 people will be a welcomed change compared to our very lively neighborhood known for things like its giant market and the annual accordion and soup festivals. We’ll have a real backyard, two bedrooms, and a normal sized kitchen. We’ll also have to take the train to get to work, but it’s worth the compromise!

As I’ll have the whole summer off – yes, teachers can still brag about this – I’ll be writing about some of the more interesting things that have happened in the past two years, which include but are not limited to:

  • our fabulous neighbors in Wazemmes (just search “cheval blanc wazemmes” in Google images to get a preview)
  • anecdotes from my first year of teaching French high school students
  • transitioning from life in Lille to life in Cassel

Thanks for reading!

the TAPIF process.

When I applied for TAPIF in the fall of 2010, I had some knowledge of the program but no real idea of everything I was getting into! The application for next year, 2013-2014, has just been made available online and can be viewed here and more information about the program can be seen here.

For all of you new, interested applicants, here’s what the timeline of my application process looked like…

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pause

Next weekend is the start of one crazy week!

After nearly 3 months in France, I decided that the best option for me at the moment is to go home, work as much as possible, save as much as possible, and come back to France sometime after March. The job hunt here was frustrating but I feel like I did my best. I’m definitely considering doing my masters in Lille next year (studying modern languages), and with a student visa, I’d have the right to work 20 hours/week anywhere I’d like (or anywhere I can get hired). The main problem this time around with interviews was never the conversation, but the fact that I didn’t have valid working papers. As a student, I’d have already jumped through that hoop, so hopefully it would be much easier to support myself.

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quirks

Even after living in France for a combined total of nearly 15 months, there are still little quirks that I discover about this country along the way.

A fantastic picture book by Vahram Muratyan depicting differences between two of the world’s best known cities. Examples: Amélie vs Carrie, baguette vs bagel, cancan vs Gaga.

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Bruges for a day

The boy and I found ourselves browsing airbnb.com for villas in Bali one night when we decided, why not spend a day in Bruges? It was a much more feasible plan, being that this Flemish city is only a 1 and a 1/2 hour drive from our house, and we wouldn’t need to spend $10,000 to stay there for a night. So the next Sunday, we set off on the road along with his mom, dad, brother, sister, and sister’s boyfriend to spend a nice little afternoon in Bruges.

Group shot on a side street of Bruges, taken by the boy’s brother

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