Sunday, January 8, 2012

tales of a french schoolgirl

monday morning jitters

Annabelle is rapidly learning French like the little sponge we had hoped she would be. In addition, she has picked up a few choice expressions, compliments of the British contingent. According to her seatmate and first mutual crush, using the bathroom is going ‘wee wee’ and erasers are ‘rubbers’. Pencils are ‘sticks with rubbers’. And yes, Annabelle has a reciprocal crush.

It went something like this:

When the two found themselves alone outside the bathroom, the British boy said to Annabelle, “I know you like me.”
To which she brazenly replied, “I do."
The boy answered back, “I like you, too.” And that’s all. Or, at least, that’s all I know. She obviously has a thing for accents.

French school is a goldmine for writing material and un-PCness. It's like traveling back in time to my childhood, when boys pounded one another on the playground and gave girls wedgies at regular intervals. Annabelle says that French schoolboys take play fighting much farther than boys back in the states do. She was initially astounded by this but is now accustomed to their antics, having concluded that they need an outlet to offset the confines of apartment living.

We were amused the first week, when Annabelle relayed her experience playing tag at recess: Because the school yard is much smaller than playgrounds in the US, being ‘it’ is a walk in the park. She claims she could tag “at least 10 kids in one fell swoop”. She exaggerates. The space isn’t really that small. The best part: In France, when you tag someone, you say ‘touché!’

IMG_0151 wednesday at the park

I still can’t get over the fact that French children have a four-day school week. It’s bizarre, yet surprisingly pleasant to have a day mid-week to break the monotony of the school routine. It affords us the opportunity to reconnect and to take a deep breath. It is also our unofficial letter-writing day. We are determined to keep in touch with friends and family abroad and I'm all for reviving the lost art of handwritten correspondence.

bringing back snail mail

My favorite aspect of school is the lunch routine. I either leave Annabelle at the cantine (cafeteria) or pick her up for an hour and 45 minutes. In other words, I never have to pack a school lunch. Hallelujah. On the flipside, non-cantine days are quite a trek, with eight 15-minute walks to and from school for me, and four for Annabelle. My feet protest but the scenery is terrific. I vary my routes as much as possible and manage to take in many interesting sights along the way. Annabelle, on the other hand, has an annoying habit of scrutinizing the prolific piles of dog poo and exclaiming over their various attributes. She’s closer to the ground, so it’s hard to miss, but I could do without the lively commentary.

DSC_6671 a beautiful day in the neighborhood

One of Annabelle’s school highlights is wearing her smock. She absolutely adores it. Rather than a full-on uniform, children wear mostly navy or complementary shades of blue and a mandatory navy blue ‘smock’. A lot like it sounds, the girls’ smock is a long-sleeved navy affair with a button placket down the front and white ric-rac accents. The boys’ version is shorter and without frills. Many children have their names embroidered on the front. I’ve heard a rumor that their French grand-meres (grandmothers) do this for them.

The most fascinating tidbit about school occured shortly before winter break. At the end of each term, the school director visits every classroom and orally relays each child’s ‘report card’ to the entire class. This is equal parts brilliant and outrageous, but mostly brilliant. It borders on public humiliation, but it's not as if fellow classmates aren’t aware of one another’s foibles. Annabelle gave me a play-by-play, as translated by her boyfriend/seatmate, who wasn’t, by the way, in the clear. So, that’s just great. She’s already gravitating toward the bad boys. Fortunately, her crush’s biggest fault is talking in class (according to his translation). Annabelle has clearly met her match.

In reality, my child clings to English-speaking children because they are her lifeboat in a sea of Frenchies. Her French classmates are sweet, welcoming and eager to know her, but the language barrier does pose a challenge. In order to break down the barrier, she is embracing language with great ease and determination. One French girl spent an entire recess teaching Annabelle how to tie her scarf and count past 39 in French. Whenever she and her French friends can’t find a way to communicate, they seek out one of the British children to act as translator. Those British kids deserve a medal. Annabelle would be lost without them.

the final leg: heading home

We are grateful to be a part of such a wonderful school, though it wasn’t by chance. Back in 2007, we vacationed in Paris and met a lovely American mother and daughter at the park. They were from New York and had been in Paris for seven years. I expressed my desire to move to Paris and we exchanged contact information. I kept in touch once or twice over the years and held on to her business card, just in case. When we decided to make the move , I wrote once more and was thrilled to hear back and receive a glowing recommendation for their children’s school. We couldn’t imagine not taking this advice when everything else felt like a shot in the dark. We are so glad we did.

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