Tag Archives: french

Test Day

Last week, in the wee hours of the morning, I headed off to the train station to make my way to Clermont-Ferrand, where l’Office français d’immigration et integration, aka the OFII, had ordained that I and a couple hundred other immigrants to this fine country should take our test of the French language.  It was still dark outside as I half-walked, half-ran to the station – and not because I was late, but because it was so freaking cold.  The streets were bare save for one truck shooting salt out onto the pavement and another picking up garbage.  Just me and the streetlights and that most silent part of the day, before the world has kicked into gear.  Then – at volume:

“Ann!”

Criminey.  I nearly peed myself.  It was M, a former classmate – Ukranian – making her way the same direction.  We did that penguiney power-shuffle together the rest of the way, not talking much as our faces were buried in our scarves.  At the door of the station was M2 – Romanian – and Y – Chinese, the former waiting for M and the latter for me, both of them standing with hands shoved deeply in pockets and chins tucked deeply in scarves.  It was not warm.

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It ain’t all fun & games in the partie profonde*

I was an infant when my mom started taking me into the water.  I don’t remember ever not being able to swim, although it was sort of a freestyle doggy-paddle rather than anything proper.  My grandfather tried to sort me out one day in the summer, but alas, my swimming experiences in this life since that day have been almost exclusively recreational, so I never really mastered the coordination of it allFace in the water breathing out through the nose for one-two-three strokes, kicking legs almost-straight, toes pointed, arms digging, thumbs first, then face up to the side – inhale, face back in the water, breathing out…

We didn’t have a pool when I was little, and by the time we moved to a complex that did, all anybody my age was doing was sitting in the jacuzzi and occasionally diving into the deep end when nobody was looking.  In the summer, my friends and I would wake up early and board the bus before 7 to get to Huntington Beach as early as possible.  We’d snooze in the sand and talk trash to each other for the first twenty minutes or so, willing the water to warm up under the California sun.  I learned to dive into, jump over, and even catch waves with grace, and I could swim out so far my friends on the shore were indistinguishable from the other beach bums dotting the white sand.  But this wasn’t proper swimming.  It was playing.  I could swim, but I couldn’t really swim.

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A contradiction, sort of…

Remember that time when I was all like, “Yeah – you have to give to get, the more you put out the more you bring in, blah-freaking-blah-blah”? OK – most of the time, that’s true.  But I think I’ve found my first exception.

Last weekend I had to attend an obligatory course on la vie en France – a full day learning about how the health system works, buying or renting a home, getting French citizenship, and getting a job.  That last bit was particularly interesting.  I learned that if a person has a degree, or a whole bunch of paid or voluntary experience in a particular field, France will often honor that background by giving said person a French equivalent degree or qualification, thereby making it much easier for employers to find an immigrant appropriately qualified for a post.

Excellent, I thought.  Sign me up!

So I made an appointment with the lady who handles that for our region.  At first I thought Chris would definitely need to go with me, but after speaking with her over the phone, I decided I could hack it alone…she was nice, spoke slowly, and obviously was accustomed to dealing with foreigners like yours truly, so we’d be OK.

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On Friendship. Or, You missed me!

There’s this saying in English that goes something like, “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”  Chris never particularly liked it – he’s always like, “Look, here’s the cake, and I’m eating it, so I’ve had it and I’m eating it!” and I’m like, “But you don’t have it anymore…” and he’s like, “But I had it,” and I’m like, “Yeah – you don’t get this expression, do you?”

I, on the other hand, have always really clung to it as one of the few really and truly grown-up things I get.  I don’t, for the record, stand by or even too closely to such classics as, “That’s just the way things are,” or, “Life isn’t fair.”  Those are dumb.  But the cake thing I get.

So it goes:  living abroad has its many wonderful qualities, but there are lots of things one loses in the decision.  I do love the oomph it gives to living: learning new customs, hearing a different language, learning that language, learning that the customs make a lot more sense when one has the language, etc.  There’s also the different food, architecture, weather, currency, music, and just general way of going about life.  And while it can be a bit tiresome after a while, I’m so unaccustomed to the norms of my place of origin by now (it’s been a few years, after all), I think I’ve become more accustomed to the not-knowing.  On the other hand, particularly in my late-early thirties, particularly in a place where my native language is not widely spoken, making new friends has become a right pain in the arse.  So much so, I haven’t really done it for a number of years.

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Spit it out. Or don’t.

Picture it:  we’ve just flown into Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.  It’s nearing midnight, we’ve been flying for 12- and 16 hours respectively and are destroyed.  We know that our accommodation won’t be perfect – the last time we stayed there, we had to wait an hour for the room to be prepared, the trash bin in the bathroom was strategically placed under the sink’s piping since water gushed into it each time the sink was turned on, there was no air conditioning and no screens on the windows to keep out potential roaches, mosquitoes, etc.

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Apparently I’m staying.

Day before yesterday, Chris ran to the local tabac (offy / liquor store – sans liquor) to spend a whole bunch of money to buy these little tiny pieces of paper that quite closely resembled a mix between stamps and monopoly money.  On each of those little pieces of paper was a unit of money:  1€, 8€, 50€.  This mysterious task was required in order for our subsequent trip, yesterday, to the prefecture, which is the same word in English and therefore not really necessary to italicize.  But whatever.  I do because I can.  I hope you read it with the appropriate pronunciation.  Moving right along…that trip to the aforementioned prefecture was to pick up my carte de sejour, or card of stay, more appropriately translated as “staying card,” or for you boring folks out there who like to keep it simple, my visa, for which they only accept the aforementioned monopoly-stamp-money .

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