I thought I was a pro at moving. I’ve unpacked and repacked so many times, that, on several occasions, it may have made more sense to just leave things in their boxes. I can swaddle dishes in newspaper, label boxes, have yard sales, and ride 12 straight hours in U-haul without batting an eye, but, when it comes to logistics, my “expertise” dwindles. I have moved many times, but (thanks Mom and Dad!) I realize now that I was just along for the ride. In the week and a half since my last post, I have rented a miniature moving truck, opened a bank account, taken out a home insurance policy (which, incidentally, covers me up to 100,000,000 euros anywhere...in the words of the bank clerk who helped me you could, say, go to a party and accidently burn down at least 10 houses and this is fine) switched the gas and electric bill into mine and Lauren’s names (okay, okay, Lauren actually did this), signed two work contracts, had a meeting at the prefecture to get the equivalent of a green card, filled out a federal housing aid form, filled out an immigration health form, etc., etc.
And, obviously, all of these things had to be done IN FRENCH! Here’s a simulation:
Go to your files and get your lease, mortgage or an insurance policy. Count the repeating words that have more than three syllables and cross out 2/3 of them. Then, scribble out every legalese phrase, and, should you find any acronyms, make sure to black out the words for which they stand and leave only the acronym. Read…..and, in my case, sign :)
To all the adults out there, I’m wondering, does bureaucracy ever stop feeling like a board game and start feeling like real life? Lauren and I keep vacillating between severe annoyance and incredible amusement. Before I come back for this meeting in December, I have to have my birth certificate shipped to France, translated into French by a certified translator, stamped by the rectorat of my town, signed by the head of each of my schools, sealed in a blue envelope that measures no more than 7.84 centimeters, and stamped with the right half of my left thumb print? Right.
Because of all the paperwork, I won’t be receiving my salary for the first three months until December, I won’t be receiving my green card until probably February...which means that I can’t receive my housing aid or my medical insurance until then as well. To really top it all off, it may actually be kind-of, sort-of, maybe a bit illegal for me to leave the country before I get my green card, which is really ridiculous because as an American I can travel freely in the EU for I think 4-6 months without ever needing any kind of visa. In this case, being more legal might cause more problems than being illegal.
My, I’m afraid that this all sounds like too much whining…I really just want you to share in the humor of all of this ridiculous absurdity! Aside from the paperwork, everything seems almost too good to be true. Between my host family and Julie’s parents, our apartment has been completely furnished and decorated for free. Mr. Ouvrard drove the moving truck to Clisson (thankfully since me + Lauren + moving truck + tiny windy French roads + round abouts = an adventure I’m not ready for) and my host sister picked Lauren and I up at Ikea so we didn’t have to try to haul pots and pans and bedding and a coffee table back in the tram. Without the friendship and help of the people that I already know and love in Nantes, this would be a completely different experience. Thanks to them, we have the most charmingly eclectic apartment anyone has ever seen! It’s a sort of fusion style of French-great-grandmother meets Ikea in which the color scheme ranges from purple to lime green to yellow to pink to bright red to forest green to cream…. The response to the question “Do you think this will go with the living room?” is inevitably, “Yes.” Somehow it’s really all come together. It actually doesn’t look like the Salvation Army floor display. It’s quirky chic: a possible result of setting the Design on a Dime team loose at the Antiques Roadshow. I wish you could all come see it.
In addition to being busy with paper work, moving, unpacking, and decorating, in the last week and a half I’ve also been to both of my schools, a 9 hour language assistant orientation, and an island with a giant mechanical elephant. My job, though it’s only 12 hours a week, is going to be challenging. The middle school where I work is one of the top-five at risk schools in Nantes. The students come from rough backgrounds and the classes seem to reflect the current racial/cultural tension in France. Although I’ve never worked in the inner-city in the US, I think my experience in the middle school will be quite similar to the experiences that my friends doing Americorps and Teach for America are having/ have had. Needless to say, I don’t feel quite prepared to manage a classroom full of rowdy, at-risk 13 year olds in my second language. But, I’ll only be in charge of smaller groups (10-15 students) and, though they’re rowdy, the students are curious. Thankfully I wear high heels and dress like I’m 35, so at least they’ll take me seriously :) I start in the classroom next week. I’m sure there are more details and plenty of stories to come.
Last Friday was the orientation for all of the English assistants in this region. It was a long, boring, inefficient day...but I did get the chance to mingle my mind numb. Lauren and I made a handful of friends, some of whom stayed the night at our place. (Crazy side note: One of them, Claire, is from Charlotte and she goes to Forest Hills! Neither of us remembers ever meeting the other, but we went to youth group together, went on the same skiing trip, and know a several of the same people! She saw Bethany Chadwick the Monday before she left. What a small world.) So, between the English assistants, the Spanish assistants that I met a week ago, Julie and her friends, and the friends of my French friends in Holland….Lauren and I seem like social butterflies on the weekends. I think I’m going to be much less bored than I had anticipated. (Though I have almost finished The Brothers Karamozov).
This is getting long, whew. If I lost you in the middle, at least scroll down and look at the pics. They’re a trip. To zip everything up into a snack-size summary, it’s been a rather hectic week, but I’ll soon be settled into a routine. I’m living in a great space, a lovely town, surrounded by a couple dear friends and lots of fun acquaintances. I’ve been cooking meals with fabulous ingredients, drinking great wine, reading great literature….and wondering how this can possibly be real life.