Friday, November 12, 2010

settling in

We've been in our new place for over two weeks now and we're settling in quite nicely. Most of the boxes are unpacked, the kitchen is workable, the lighting is better and we're enjoying our new surroundings. I can't say there is much I will miss about our old place, but here's a top 3 list just to pay homage to it.

Top 3 things I will miss about our apartment in La Pouëze:
1. the light
We were on the top floor of a three level building and we had windows and skylights facing east and west, so we had morning and evening sun. We could see the horizon and watch amazing sunrises and sunsets. We now live on the ground floor, with tallish buildings blocking the light on one side and tall trees blocking the light on the other side. In the afternoon we get a bit of light reflection off one of the buildings, but we have no view of any horizons, mostly just walls and trees. At least there are trees.

2. the warmth
We had linoleum floors and water radiators that were powered by gas. The heat was included in the rent, and with the place being so small it stayed nice and toasty all winter long. We now live in a place with cold ceramic tile on the floor everywhere (this confirms my dislike of tile floors!) and we have electric heaters that we have to pay for ourselves, so we're scared to turn up the heat too much! Electricity is prohibitively expensive here! I've put down a bunch of area rugs and we've taken to wearing wool socks (I'm on the lookout for wool slippers) and sweaters to keep ourselves warm.

3. the woods
We lived in an ugly village, but there was a little castle with a little forest behind it. That's where I used to go running and I loved seeing the changes in the trees and plants, and listening to the birds as I ran. We have exchanged the woods for the river and we can go for lovely walks along the walking trails that wind through the local vineyards and connect the villages along the Loire. I love the scenery here and I'm glad to be so close to the river, but I will miss the woods where I used to run.

Other than those few things, we both much prefer the village of Savennières and our new place. So much more space and a real office! There's even a real closet where we can hang our clothes (unusual in France) and a bathtub. Jean-Marc's missing the shower stall from La Pouëze, but I'm happy with the option to take showers or baths!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

my weeks are numbered

I should perhaps start by saying that I'm absolutely fine! What I'm referring to is an administrative way of talking about time that I had never used in my life before working in France. It all started at the Chamber of Commerce when I had a training session about how to fill in all the weekly room reservation and personal availability sheets. My director said "you fill in the number of the week here - next week is week 4, so you you would put 4 here." I asked what he meant by week 4 and he said that in France they refer to weeks by their number in the year, as opposed to "the week of January 24th" or whatever. I saw that it made sense and I easily started to refer to my weeks in that way, but then when I started teaching at the professional high school, I found out that they refer to weeks starting with September as week one. So now I have two numbering systems to maintain. Did you know we are in week 45 on the regular calendar and week 11 in the school calendar? It certainly makes for a lot of extra notes in my agenda!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

permis de conduire: check!

Well, it seems all those hours and euros given to the auto-école paid off. Two days after moving last week I had my driving test. Even though I've been driving for a long time I was still nervous, and when I met the inspector I became even more so. Of course I got there early (20 minutes) and of course my test was an hour later than scheduled, but I was ok with waiting and having a chance to talk to the other people waiting for the same thing.

There was a waiting room with two offices on either side and each of the offices belonged to a driving inspector. There was no reception area, nobody to check in with, and no signs indicating the purpose of the space. It was just a room with chairs. The inspector arrived after my monitrice (representative driving teacher) arrived and I was asked to show my ID and my Canadian licence. The inspector said that I if I failed today, I might be asked by her colleagues to provide an official translation of my licence. Not a nice way to start!

I had to wait for her to go away and do an exam and then 35 minutes later, she was back for me. The monitor was in the back of the car and the inspector up front. I was asked to settle into the car (adjust seats, mirrors, seat belt) and I knew that this could a) take up some time and b) earn me up to 2 points. I adjusted everything and then she asked me to work the lave glace. I turned on the windshield wipers (oops!) and she said no, that's the essuie glace and then I turned on the windshield wiper fluid. This was definitely a language issue. I know what the difference is between the two, but in the moment I heard "clean windshield" and didn't think about the liquid part of it!

We left the parking lot and entered into a neighbourhood that is full of priorité à droite streets where there are no stop signs in any direction, so you have to slow down just in case anybody arrives on your right. I think I caught them all but this was definitely one of my weak points in my lessons so I was scared to miss one! As I was driving the inspector and monitor chatted non-stop about how difficult it is for the driving schools to book exams and then every once in a while the inspector would give me a direction. We drove around for a bit, got on the highway, got off the highway, took a busy roundabout and headed to a park with a large gravel parking lot. I was asked to park anywhere I liked using any method I chose. I decided to back into a stall and then when that was over we took off again. In no time we were back at the office and she said "merci et bonne journée" and I was asked to get out of the car while she filled out the exam paper. They don't tell you the results right away and since my exam was on a Friday of a holiday weekend, I had to wait until Tuesday for the mail to arrive at the driving school saying that I had passed. I got a mark of 31/30, with bonus points for éco-conduite and courtoisie on the road. Yay! The passing mark is 20/30.

Did I learn new things after 23 years of driving experience? Yes, especially the right of way and busy roundabouts. Was it worth the €860 it ended up costing me? I would say no, but I had no choice in the matter. In retrospect I could have gone to a province in Canada that has direct licence exchanges with France and, pretending to move there, I could have gotten licence from that province, but it's not what I did. I do feel a lot more confident on the road and I officially know the rules of the road, so I suppose I can't complain too much. Now I just get to wait a couple of months while my pink paper licence arrives and then I'll have to figure out how to carry it around because it's too big for a wallet and made out of *paper* so it can easily get wrecked! (I think the paper licence is an old world / new world thing and I believe that France should look into the plastic card technology that they use for bank cards and health care cards!).