The most wonderful time of the year: a tour of French Christmas markets with tales of adulting and continually battling up against the teacher question

It has been a couple of weeks since I posted last, and I must be honest. I have honestly forgotten about this blog here. As I have settled here in this quaint, small city of Laval, France, I have developed a routine, oft forgetting that I have a story to tell. Not only am I a rather forgetful person, but sometimes, my life is so extraordinarily normal that it does not come to mind to tell people about it, but alas, here I am, telling it, knowing that many of you back home are wondering what I’m up to and how this whole France adventure thing is working out for me.

So, here’s what I’ve been up to the last few weeks: teaching, mostly. I have discovered how difficult this profession is sometimes, and I am just an assistant. If it’s this difficult while I’m just assisting, I can only begin to imagine how difficult it must be for actual teachers. I find myself constantly head to head with the teacher question, that question that lurks around in the back of my mind every time I give a lesson or I assist a class, the question that makes my heart soar while simultaneously making me want to pull my hair out, that question being, ”am I making a difference?” Well, I guess it’s a series of questions because I also find myself asking: ”Am I doing this right? Is this lesson going to be too difficult for my students? Are they going to be able to follow? How do I make a lesson plan that will equally keep the attention of the students that are a little more advanced than the rest but also allow the other more average students the ability to follow along? Are my lessons interesting enough? Are they actually learning anything about my native language and my native culture from this lesson? Am I actually succeeding at this job? ”

Sometimes, the answers to these questions are an epic, absolute win, and sometimes, the answers to the questions are nothing but an epic fail. You would hope that the wins come more often than the fails, but to be truthful, it’s about 50/50, which can be discouraging at times. I suppose that’s the main reason that I’m here though, to push that 50/50 more towards a 100/0. It definitely is going to take some more practice though. Thank goodness I’m contracted to do this job for another 5 months.

When I’ve not been in class or lesson planning, my books, my journals, and Netflix have been my best friends, along with my first round of actual sickness. Now, something I’ve discovered about myself is that I miss my mother more than I initially realized. Now, my mother, whom I’m sure is reading this, is probably saying, ”oh you miss me, and you are just now realizing that? Well, geez thanks! *slight sarcastic tone*” Yes, mamma, I miss you, and sometimes, I still need you around. Living by myself is a fantastic experience. I’m finally learning what it’s like to be independent, truly independent, how to budget, how to discipline myself, and how to motivate myself. However, this past week, being sick, I have longed for my mother’s presence more than I care to admit. Living alone is great, until you get sick, and then, it’s really not so great.

It first started as slight light-headedness and body aches. I thought I needed to eat (as I hadn’t eaten yet that day), but upon eating, I realized that no, I’m actually getting sick. Then the body aches progressed to headaches, chills, more light-headedness, more body aches, a runny nose, and sneezes. All I could think was ”oooooh no.” I really didn’t want to have to deal with this by myself, but alas here I was dealing with it. Next came a fever that made me feel like I was on fire, a sore throat, coughing, congestion, sinus pressure, and a lot of discomfort. Being sick really makes you realize how independent you are, or whether or not you are independent at all. I had to force myself to get out of bed to make myself tea, to lesson plan, to go to work (because let’s face it, I wasn’t puking, and I only work 12 hours a week. How ridiculous would it be if I missed work only working that much?), and to run errands like an adult. Usually, doing that is fine, actually no, it’s great. It makes me feel like I got this whole adulting thing down, but then, doing all of that while sick sucked big time. I found myself aching for my mother’s care, so maybe, maybe I don’t have this adulting thing quite down fully yet. The struggle is still all too real.

Being sick also made me realize how difficult it continues to be to live as an expat. Many people asked me if I had gone to the doctor or had gotten any medicine. My answer has been no, firstly because I just have a cold. Yes, it’s kind of an intense cold that’s lasted a whole week now (and I’m still fighting it.), but it’s still just a cold nonetheless. I don’t really like to take medicine to begin with, let alone for just a cold.

However, I must be also honest about the main reason I hadn’t done either of those things. Going to the pharmacy is such a struggle. I don’t yet have the proper medical vocabulary to describe my symptoms and to find what I’m looking for. So, I would not only have to force myself to go to the pharmacy, but I would have to look up the proper vocabulary beforehand and then hope that I found the right words to describe how I’m feeling. Next, I would actually have to use said vocabulary to describe how I’m feeling to the pharmacist while feeling sick and hoping that they understand me. You would think that I could just go and find the medicine that I would need if I were in the US, but my friends, it’s not that easy. Firstly, France doesn’t have all the same medicines, and then, some of the medicines that are over the counter in the US require a prescription here in France.

As for the doctor, I don’t have one yet because I haven’t needed one yet, and my health insurance hasn’t actually come through yet (yes, I’ve been here for almost three months, but welcome to French bureaucracy. Legal stuff takes forever). Well, I would have to go through the hassle of trying to find one and then hoping that they would take me in. See, especially for a small city like Laval, doctors are, many times, already full of patients, so I would most likely be turned away anyways, making it takes days or even weeks to find a doctor that would accept me. It’s a nightmare. So, do you blame me for not wanting to go through the hassle just for a cold, even an annoyingly intense cold such as this one when my body will probably get over it soon anyways? Again, the struggles of living as an expat.

Well, now that you have learned more about France and the differences in the French culture, I have done some fun things in between working and being sick. I took the liberty of going to a few different Christmas markets here in France. Christmas markets are a huge thing here in Europe, and even though they are just now starting to become a big thing in France (because they are normally more of a German thing), it was quite nice to see a few. It definitely got me in the Christmas spirit.

I first went with a few other assistants to Angers to visit the Christmas market there as well as the city. To be honest, the Christmas market itself was a little disappointing, but as it was my first of the season, I was okay with it. Besides, the lights were pretty, and the castle there is amazing.

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Pretty amazing, eh? Medieval architecture is pretty fantastic.

 

Where the Angers Christmas market failed me, the Strasbourg Christmas market more than made up for it almost 20 times as much. The Christmas market in Strasbourg is world renowned, and Strasbourg is known as the Christmas capital. I went just for a day with my friend Sara, another English assistant, and even though it took us about 12 hours plus to get there and back, it was totally worth it. We spent an entire Saturday there, and it was one of the best days. We had so much fun together, and there were 11 different markets all over Strasbourg, so we definitely were not disappointed. In addition to that, there were Christmas decorations and lights literally every where. It was amazing!!!! It legitimately took my breath away, and Strasbourg is already in my top 5 favorite cities in France list. The market and the lights mixed with the sound of the bells of the cathedral was magical, absolutely magical. There is no other word to describe it. I fell in love with Strasbourg all over again.

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These pictures do not fully capture the beauty, but you can at least get a glimpse.

Not only was spending time in one of my favorite French cities with one of my close expat friends so much fun, but seeing all of this was beautiful. It got me in the Christmas spirit and made me reflect quite a bit on the Christmas season. Despite the struggles and despite the fact that I am not, unfortunately, coming home to spend time with my family for Christmas, I am living a blessed life. For that I am extremely thankful. God has truly blessed me, and I am beyond grateful that I get to have this awesome experience despite the struggles, the homesickness, and the frustrations. It’s all pretty amazing. Sometimes, it just takes a bit of laughter and some pretty Christmas lights to remember that.

The last Christmas market I happened to swing by was the one here in sweet, little Laval. Being sick, I only went out when I was feeling slightly up for it one evening this past weekend. It was quite the surprise though. It blew my mind compared to the Christmas market in Angers, and with the lights, it made it super magical. My favorite part was the fact that there were booths to represent different countries and cultures, including the USA. Of course I went up to it! They were selling doughnuts and license plates with states on them (So random I know). Unfortunately, they only had California (which I get) and Virginia (this one stumped me), and I know because I asked the woman there. She asked me what I was looking for. Telling her that I was looking for Indiana and that I was an American, all she said was “Oh yes, I can tell!” In French, of course, and really? Is my accent that noticeable? Again, expat struggles. I can pass for being French, I’ve been told, until I open my mouth. Then, that’s where my façade is completely removed. Oh, tant pis as the French say. I guess I can never truly be French anyways, so might as well face up to the facts. Also, at least she didn’t switch to English! That, in and of itself, is a victory! Despite me being sick and slightly uncomfortable, it was a nice last Christmas market to go to. I love Christmas. It’s my favorite!

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Well, now that I’ve fully talked your ear off (well, if you were to imagine me actually talking to you), I must be off. Hopefully I won’t wait so long the next time to update you all on my French adventures.

Thankfully, I am not spending Christmas alone (in case any of you were wondering), but I will spending this wonderful day celebrating our Savior’s birth with my French family from when I studied abroad. I am thankfully still in touch with them, and I absolutely love them. I also get to spend some time in the city I consider my first French home, Nantes.

Well, I hope you enjoyed hearing about all of this despite the ridiculously long update, and until next time….

A plus mes amis….

Bonjour encore Paris!

After Iceland, Stephanie and I took the same flight to Paris. We arrived at 6:30 in the morning, and we were both feeling the lack of sleep and the fact that we had walked about 20 miles the day before. So that to say, we were struggling a bit. Both tired, hungry, sore, and in desperate need of coffee. We needed to take care of logistical things first. My train later in the evening was departing directly from the airport, whereas the train she was taking to the city she was placed in was departing from a different station in Paris. So, first, after we obtained our bags, we took mine to luggage storage in the Paris airport then took the RER (a commuter metro) to the city center. From there, we walked her luggage to Gare Montparnasse, the train station she was leaving from, so that she could store her luggage there. All in all, it took about 3 hours and a lot of struggle. We thankfully made it though and made it to a cute little cafe where we had lunch and, of course because it’s a necessity, coffee!

We decided that after our epic journey in Iceland that we’d just relax in Paris. It was Stephanie’s first time in Paris, so we did do some sight seeing, starting first with the Jardin du Luxembourg, or for you non-French speakers, the garden of Luxembourg, my favorite garden in Paris. It’s really beautiful, and it’s a great place to relax.

beautiful fountain that we sat at in the Jardin du Luxemourg.
beautiful fountain that we sat at in the Jardin du Luxemourg.
cute little picture of Stephanie and myself.
cute little picture of Stephanie and myself.

From there, we stopped by La Sorbonne, Le Panthéon, and, bien sûr, le Notre Dame de Paris. It was so amazing being able to see the Notre Dame a second time. It is just as beautiful as I remember it being. It was also a little warm and sunny the day we were in Paris, which helped our moods and our day of traveling immensely and basked Notre Dame in the most beautiful lighting, displaying her glory.

The beautiful lady herself.
The beautiful lady herself.

We also stopped at a couple of bookstores, because I’m Lindsey. That’s what I do when I travel. I go, and I find all of the bookstores. I’m obsessed. Can you tell? The first one we stopped by I actually saw the last time I was in Paris. It’s called the Abbey Bookshop. There are only two in the entire world, one in Paris and one in Toronto. Most of their books are in English, with some in French, and it is the epitome of a European bookshop. All of those pictures you see on the internet and Pinterest where the books are towering and are everywhere, where there’s barely any space to move because there are so many books? Yeah, that’s this place. I absolutely love it there, and I really wanted to share it with Stephanie. They also offer you a free cup of coffee while you browse the books. I ended up buying Le Petit Prince en français bien sûr because, and I have to be honest, I have yet to actually read The Little Prince. I feel like such a fraud. How dare I call myself a francophile if I have yet to read and to own The Little Prince, especially in French? Well, I can tell you that I will for sure be reading it within the next 8 months since I finally acquired it in French.

We also visited Shakespeare and Company, which is another bookstore in Paris that I had not actually heard of until this year, even though I’ve been in Paris multiple times. It mostly just has brand new books, and it is very touristy. So, we only stayed for about five minutes and didn’t buy anything. At that point, we were both getting very fatigued, and I’m pretty sure I sprained a muscle in my left foot because my foot felt like I had daggers going into it at that point. It was awful.

Pretty cute bookstore. Also, definitely love the name.
Pretty cute bookstore. Also, definitely love the name.

We grabbed some sandwiches for dinner, and actually the hour before I departed, we were rushing around trying to figure out our cell phone situation. So, she and I bought prepaid SIM cards from the French cell phone company Orange. Our data and calls were working just fine, but for some reason, if we turned our data off, our texts wouldn’t work. We were scrambling going from one Orange store to the next trying to figure out what was happening. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any answers and we were running out of time. So, I had to leave Paris without having figured out the problem. So far, my texts are working just fine without my iMessage on with other people’s phones, but for some reason, it won’t work with Stephanie’s number. It’s really bizarre, and I’m probably switching cell phone carriers after my prepaid days are up anyways. So, I’m not even going to worry about it. Just another struggle along the way.

So, I rushed back to the RER so that I could rush back to the airport, pick up my luggage, and make my train. Thankfully, I unintentionally took a direct RER to the airport without realizing it which helped a lot with my time. So, I ended up having about an hour before my train left to relax. At this point, I had only had 5 hours of sleep in two days and was struggling hard core.

Even though I struggled around Paris for about 12 hours, being there made me realize so many things. Firstly, I did not realize to full capacity how much my heart was aching for France. It is so good to be back here at my second home. Secondly, it made me realize that my French is actually not as bad as I had originally thought. Yes, my verbs tenses aren’t always correct, and I struggle with remembering vocabulary from time to time. BUT, French was just coming out of my mouth like it was no big deal when I had to order food and or ask someone a question. I was so impressed with myself and so thankful that I was re-adapting to my second home.

Speaking French and being in France bring me so much joy and comfort in my life. I don’t even feel nervous about being here now that I’m on this side of the pond. When I walk the streets of Laval, I feel at home, like I already know the place, even though this is my first time in Laval. I belong here. This is where my heart is and definitely where I feel God is leading me right now in my life. I definitely miss home and everyone there, but this is where I need to be right now in my life. Right now, and I’m sure this will change, I’m not even afraid that I’ll be away from home for 8 months. I’m all smiles, perfectly content with my life and the people loving me and supporting me throughout all of it. I’m feeling so blessed right now. Merci à tous for your love and support and encouragement. So thankful for this opportunity and the adventures to come! Until next time…

Gros Bisous!

A plus mes amis!