A weekend in Normandie for La Fête Nationale

Granville 4Bonjour tout le monde !

In my last blog post, I said I would be going to Normandy with the family for the long weekend to celebrate the la Fête nationale.

We set off by car shortly after I got back from work, and I have to admit, as I am sure you can imagine, I was running about like a headless chicken sorting everything out. The journey took about three hours, and involved more broken crayons, a lot of maquillage (children’s make-up), and more arguments about music choice. The little ones won, and were over the moon to hear the classic Magic in the Air on repeat and full-volume. The music filled the car with life. The toddlers’ dancemoves increased my morale, if not everyone else’s too. The songs the children have introduced me to will stay with me when I leave Paris, as they provide a sort of soundtrack to my time in France.

We were welcomed with kindess and generosity by the grandparents at their house in the countryside, not too far from the port town, Granville, marked on the map below:

Map Granville

For this long weekend, we were a smaller group than usual – just the two youngest children, plus two of their cousins, were staying in Normandy with us. This meant that dinner and bedtime routines were a lot more manageable than the previous two weekends I have spent away with the family. I also had company and help, in the form of the aupair who will take over from me when I leave, and the cousins’ nanny.

As always, though, I felt a great responsibility to keep an eye on the four under-fives racing around the garden on their bikes, and to run over whenever there was the slightest accident or crash.

On the Saturday, the two other nannies and I enjoyed a day in Granville together – we visited the old city including the cathedral, went for a walk along the coastal path, and visited the Musée d’art moderne Richard Anacréon for a Courbet exhibition…

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I enjoyed the long apéritifs before dinner, listening to the grandfather’s stories (which reminded me a little of my own grandpa’s story-telling, from which I have learned a lot). We had some lovely meals altogether, in which I go to know the other side of the family. We sampled some delicious seafood typical for the Normandy region, including snails, langoustines, and crab. The taste made up for my allergic reaction to the shellfish!

On the evening of the 14th of July, the fête nationale was celebrated across France. Months ago, I was expecting to be in Paris for this day, but instead I ended up having a very different experience: I stayed up to watch fireworks from the top floor in the house, which although was undoubtedly not as magical as the real deal, was still special. I watched the processions taking place in Paris live on the grandparents’ television, with the whole family.

Granville 3Back in Paris, the réceptionniste has just returned after two weeks’ holiday. Although I had the company of the other stagiaire réceptionniste for the first week, which was a great help, I was by myself for the second week. Sorting through and stamping the post, a task that would normally take up to two hours on a normal day, took me five hours on the Monday. I got there in the end, though, more efficiently than the last time I was alone. The German assistant was, as always, happy to help me when I had questions. I admit that I did panic that same afternoon, having to multitask by myself: colleagues’ demands, phonecalls, packages arriving, messages to leave, clients to be welcomed… After leaving the desk to run an errand, I had misplaced the key to the reception desk drawer. Inside the drawer was my bag, including my phone. The spare key was also locked inside the drawer, and I had to stay at the office until I had calmed down enough to begin rationally looking for the key.

I am convinced that this sort of juggling, the phenomena I described in a previous post, would overwhelm anyone. It really can be a struggle to remain calm, efficient, and logical. The colleagues who stopped at the reception desk to tell me that I have been doing well and that they will miss me when I leave, or the postman who smiles and mouths “bon courage” (good luck/keep going motivation) reassure me that they maybe do understand, to some extent, this struggle.

The family has just left for their holiday, and whilst they are away, I have been tasked with watering the garden… Wish me luck!

I aim to write another post next week, as I prepare to leave Paris in exactly one month’s time. How time flies!?

Merci à tous de suivre mon blog ! (Thanks again for your support in following my blog).

Bisous,

misspraxic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return of “La Petite Anglaise”

Hello again tout le monde !

I planned my favourite sort of trip for the beginning of June (une visite surprise !): I went home for the weekend to surprise my family.

The Eurostar train from Paris to London was delayed, so I missed my connecting train, and arrived home somewhat later than I originally planned. In my haste to grab my tickets from the self-service machine in the two minutes before the train was due to depart from Paddington Station, I left my return ticket in the machine. It was a classic misspraxic mistake, and I was very lucky to have both tickets reimbursed by the kind and understanding station staff. Such treatment would not have been the case in Germany or France, where rules and regulations tend to override when it comes to transport, in my experience.

Next time, I will try even harder not to rush around, because it is not worth the trouble in a big, busy station. I would also recommend booking a connecting train with a departure time of at least two hours after your first train is due to arrive! That way, you can sit back with a book instead of anxiously sprinting down escalators. You can also arrange to pick up your tickets in advance of the journey, or pay extra to have your tickets posted directly to you. If you’re like me, it might be worth it!

Home 2
Surprise visit home: wandering through an orchard by the sea

Despite the unfortunate timing, my visit home was a great success. A couple of  weekends later, I returned to London again, but this time I didn’t go home. I went to a conference on something I care a lot about – the future of languages and cultural relations in the UK post-Brexit.

I can understand why some might be skeptical about the idea of interrupting a placement abroad with a visit back home, and all that entails (planning ahead, travel complications etc.). For me, though, the occasional return to the UK during my year abroad has been very worthwhile. It has sunk in just how much I have learned and achieved within a short period of time. My mind was overflowing with colloquial French expressions, even in the middle of the British countryside. I realised how immersed I had been in the language and culture, which in turn boosted my morale on my return to Paris. Dyspraxics are often known for having a particular attention to detail – this applies to me, as I am aware of being more sensitive and critical to cultural differences, for example reflecting more on the behaviours of people around me…

Party
Big corporate summer party with clients and colleagues – there was even a red carpet, would you believe!?

Back in Paris, I have developed a nickname in the office – I am known, particularly to the other réceptionniste, as la petite anglaise (the little English girl)! The name amuses me, as I am actually plus grande (taller) than many of my colleagues. The past few weeks have honestly been testing and tiring, following more débâcles with the scanning machine and its frequent bourrages, as well as disappointed and disgruntled colleagues following my inadequate phone messages or manner. There are some days when I feel like I will never be good enough at the job due to the nature of it: I need to stop blaming myself for saying or doing the ‘wrong’ things, as some of the tasks or knowledge expected of me is not reasonable. Dyspraxic or not, if you are in a similar situation to me, I hope it helps to know that you are not alone in struggling with a stage (internship) in a high-pressured office environment.

During a year abroad or during any stay in an unfamiliar place, it is likely you will feel isolated or stressed or both. Each week I try to make sure I go out to a new place, or let myself enjoy strolling around a new art gallery, or going to a café for lunch. It makes up for long and often tedious hours at a computer. Recently, my free time in the city has been completely enriched with art, music, and culture! Let me tell you more…

Last weekend, I enjoyed a visit to Emile Zola’s house in Médon, a small rural village to the west of Paris. Although the house, museum, and château that inspired Cézanne were unfortunately closed, I enjoyed chatting to the local people in the village, and relaxing on the bank of the Seine. I suggest checking the website thoroughly for practical information before getting carried away at the prospect of visiting a new place (which, in my case, is easily done)!

 

A couple of weekends ago, I took the children to a public farm at Saint-Cloud, where we got to watch the animals being fed. Afterwards, we had a lovely picnic in the Parc de Saint-Cloud (outside of Paris in the banlieues – suburbs). All was going well until the little ones decided to take the older ones’ lead to climb trees in the farm’s garden! I didn’t have enough eyes to follow all the children’s fast movements, and was afraid of someone falling. I had to step in – that led to more tantrums, and my glasses fell to the ground, but thankfully none of the children got hurt, and my glasses survived to tell the tale.

Ferme
A Sunday afternoon in Saint-Cloud

 

I also enjoyed la Fête de la Musique on June 21st there were all kinds of concerts and performances all evening in Paris, as well as in other towns in France, and in other countries. A concert called Komm, Bach attracted me – it was probably the German title, or the prospect of harmonies involving an Organist, a soprano singer and an African Djembe drummer. On the night of the festival, I made my way to a church in the 8th arrondissement – an area I don’t know very well. It was an absolutely incredible concert, and without a doubt one of the best I have experienced during my year abroad. A few days later, I had another great evening at the La Défense Jazz Festival with a friend, and got to know one of her Germans friends too – it was fun to all chat in German together, and it was a welcome change from French.

Have a look at the photos from la Fête de la Musique, as well as other events and exhibitions I have recently experienced:

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For the long bank holiday weekend next week, I am going to Normandy with the family to celebrate la Fête nationale also known as Bastille Day on 14th July. I will let you know how that goes!

Bonne semaine et à plus,

misspraxic

 

 

 

 

 

A piece of cake… or not?

Bonsoir à tous,

The past two weeks have been chargées: full of new challenges, new routines, and new adventures. Last weekend was La Fête du Travail (Labour Day), the first of the May bank holiday weekends. ‘Holiday’ might be misleading, however, as the weekend was arguably as busy as my week!

La Vie Parisienne
Relaxing Saturday night play at the theatre with my friend: “La Vie Parisienne… ou presque?”

The family was celebrating a special occasion on Saturday, so I looked after the little ones in the morning. I had also been given a list of instructions to pick up a pièce montée (tiered cake) from a local patisserie (cake shop) later on in the morning, and also unpack a food delivery afterwards.

Typically, however, this task was far from a simple ‘pop out to collect a cake’! I eventually tracked down the right patisserie, but only thanks to trusty Google Maps. As I handed over the details for the order, the shop assistant looked at me with concern, as if questioning my competence in safely transporting such an exquisite cake: “How far are you planning to go with that cake?” The assistant strongly recommended I take the bus back to the house, and warned me to take extreme care.

It wasn’t just the sales assistant who was concerned. On the bus, my hands were haphasardly gripping the huge cardboard box that was protecting the cake (and also obscuring my vision). Before I had time to look for a seat, the bus started to move again. Both my hands were still on the box, afraid of letting the cake fall, so I had zero hands grounding me to the bus handles. I started to wobble and lose balance, and so did the cake’s delicate decorations. In the end, both the cake and I arrived back in one piece (sorry for the pun), even though I was late for the food delivery. I must say this, though: I admire the couriers who manage to deliver goods from A to B everyday without disaster. The skill and responsability involved cannot be underestimated.

Montparnasse
56 étages… incroyable !

After the cake chaos, I went off to meet a friend who was visiting for the weekend. Our first stop was Tour Montparnasse (Montparnasse Tower), an attraction both of us had wanted to visit for some time. It involved stepping into a lift packed full of people (think Eiffel Tower minus the lift attendant) and zooming up 56 floors. The view from the terrace at the top of the tower was the perfect backdrop for our lunch: it was an incredible feeling to be looking at the world from such a height once again. I felt surprisingly calm rather than anxious, and having my friend at my side helped to put me at ease.

Vineyard
Exploring les vignes de Montmartre !

On Sunday morning, we explored some hidden gems of the arty 18th arrondissement (Montmartre). Our guide was excellent – she took us to less known corners, such as an English-inspired street with its own 10 Downing Street, the Place Dalida (a tribute to the singer Dalida complete with bronze sculpture), as well as small cabarets such as Au Lapin Agile (frequented by Picasso and Matisse).

Fete du Travail
I did find this lovely little bouquet to brighten up my room, though – it’s symbolic of bonheur (happiness) and traditional on Labour Day.

As I mentioned above, Monday was the Fête du Travail, also known as Labour Day. We had the day off work, although I did babysit in the morning and again in the evening. It was naive of me to hope shops would be open, and foolish to leave my food shopping until the end of the bank holiday weekend. Note to self: forward-planning still requires improvement, as the only shops open were florists…

On Tuesday, I joined the Marketing and Communication department. My first task was a creative one – to write my own article in French for the online newsletter – which I enjoyed doing. I was left to take my time on it, and apart from a few grammatical errors to correct, the result was very positive. Following that, my tasks have involved a lot of precise data-inputting, which is far from the creativity I crave to express. Before my arrival in Paris, I hoped it would be possible to attend a life drawing class one evening a week as I did in Germany. In reality it is just too much to fit this in – relaxing is really the best use of any free evening time.

When I do something wrong at work, it triggers physical symptoms of panic: a tightness within my chest, a sudden breathlessness, and then uncontrollable tears. The feeling subconsciously reminds me of being at school, and of the drama teacher who put me off the subject. It is absurd that here in France, I feel more like a child, rather than remembering I am an adult who taught whole English classes, and supported refugees of all ages in Germany.

To end on a positive note, though, just over a week ago, I had a wonderful evening with an English family distantly related to mine, who are also coincidentally living in Paris at the moment. Some of them had also spent years abroad and been aupairs, and I gained a lot from sharing our stories and experiences.

This past weekend (les elections), I went away with the family again, this time to Normandy. I will post my update on that very soon.

Bon courage (I need it too),

misspraxic

A Bretonne experience and Parisien chaos

Pont Aven 2
Wanders in Pont-Aven

Last weekend, I escaped Parisien chaos for the second time in two weeks: I spent the Easter weekend with the family in beautiful Bretagne, in an area close to the picturesque “artists’ town” of Pont-Aven, where Paul Gauguin and others were inspired to paint in the late 19th century.

Despite the early start on Friday, our taxi trip across Paris to the train station was exciting: the views across the river Seine and of the Tour Eiffel in the morning sun were stunning. Four hours later, after toddler tantrums, broken crayons, and shredded origami paper boats, we arrived at our destination.

Easter meal
Coquillages – I liked this typical dish more than I expected!

There were twenty of us staying at the grandparents’ house in the countryside, so this was a good opportunity to get to know some of the children’s extended family: aunts, uncles, and six of their cousins.

We had some lovely walks and meals together, and I was able to experience family traditions at Easter. On Easter Sunday, we enjoyed a delicious meal of Coquillages de Paques (seafood), followed by une chasse aux oeufs de Pâques (an Easter egg hunt) for the children.

Positions of responsibility are, however, continuing to test my judgement and reasoning skills. Keeping tabs on five young children at the same time was a challenge, as it required me to think quickly, but act calmly: two children were working on their den in the garden, and two others wanted to tie all the bikes together with rope. Meanwhile, the remaining and youngest toddler was mid-tantrum, and wanted to get off the trampoline. I had to pick him up carefully, whilst getting down from the trampoline safely myself. Putting on the socks and shoes he had just removed, at the same time as tying my own laces, required more dexterity than I have. I am always the first to fear an accident, and I am convinced that it is not just dyspraxics who find these sorts of situations difficult at times.

BaladeI had two hours to myself on Sunday afternoon, in which I visited the Musée de Beaux Arts in the centre of Pont-Aven, as well as some boutiques. I really enjoyed my time in this museum – many Gauguin and Monet paintings were on display, as well as other local and lesser known artists’ work.

On Monday morning, we set off on our return journey to Paris. By the time we had pulled into the station mid-afternoon, the tune of trois petits chats, trois petits chats, trois petits chats, chats, chats was successfully stuck in my head. As soon as our large group had stepped off the train, one cheeky toddler grinned at me, and suddenly dropped my hand. Predictably, he started to run off down the platform… Strangers and signs everywhere, my instincts told me the only option was to run after him. Of course I panicked, but I did find him in the end.

At work last week, I managed by myself at the reception desk! Although the multi-tasking moments were inevitably stressful, I found that it actually helped to have space at times – it meant I was able to develop my own coping strategies without interference. I have the feeling, however, that colleagues were more lenient about any mistakes made last week in the absence of the other réceptionniste

This week, I have had recurring encounters with the temperamental scanning machine. There are lots of different folders, into which hundreds of scanned documents must be tranferred. If I pick the wrong folder, or mix up the order of the documents even slightly, colleagues are understandably not well impressed, and I have to start from scratch. All it really takes for such a mistake is for me to get distracted – the phone rings, for example, and when I return to the scanner five minutes later, I am in a complete pickle.Pont Aven

On top of the scanning struggles this week, I have been taking clients to the wrong meeting rooms by mistake, receiving some pretty perplexed looks. Yesterday, someone asked me to renew the bill stamp, and I ended up getting ink everywhere in the process. On the same day, I noted down a phone message incorrectly – as a consequence, the colleague was not able to call back their client. In my haste to fulfill coffee orders, coffee was spilled, and I jammed the coffee machine.

These are all just little issues, which fortunately do not matter in life, but knowing this does not stop me feeling breathless – alongside the panic, frustration continues to build.

But, guess what? Yesterday someone else pressed the emergency button and set off the security alarm! It isn’t just me. Justice.

Next week, a new intern is arriving. I will continue to be on reception in the afternoons, but it has been confirmed that I will be moving to the Marketing and Communications department in the mornings! I am looking forward to the change – even though I doubt there will be any less multi-tasking involved.

A tout,

-misspraxic

A circus of sorts: the dyspraxic dance to juggle tricky tasks

A circus?“, you ask? “Has misspraxic given up on her internship in real estate and joined the Moulin Rouge instead?

Champs Elysees

Not yet, although I do feel like I am performing some sort of circus act. The amount of intensive tasks as a stagiaire réceptionniste (receptionist intern) is pushing my capacity to multi-task to the absolute limit. Imagine a trapeze artist who has to perform complex acrobatic sequences whilst singing, juggling, dodging rings of fire, and then add a large and daunting audience to that. I don’t think I would cope in the circus, and have a lot of respect for those who do!

I am still struggling to operate the office phones efficiently. I have to flick the switches in my brain instantly between all the different steps of the process: noting down all the caller’s details / putting them on hold / scanning through a long document of colleagues’ phone numbers to find the right one / transfering the call. I very often press Transfer when I mean to press Retake, and more often than not I don’t hear all the details completely. There is a pressure to race against time, so that the caller is not left hanging on hold for too long.

Eiffel tower
A wander up to the top of the Arc de Triomph one evening.

Today, for example, I received an urgent call from a landlady who couldn’t access something – it had something to do with a car park. I didn’t catch the name of the property even after asking her to please repeat. I keep screwing up my eyes so tight to try to understand, but I feel incredibly exasperated when I simply don’t.  I feel responsable after making even a small mistake, or bétises as they are called here, and this exacberates the tight pain I feel in my chest, as though the phone cord is tying me up in knots.

During lunch hours and afternoons I man the reception desk alone. It is easy to feel out of depth and for panic to set in. I do think, however, that it is just a case of getting to know the business and colleagues better, because I have been here for less than two weeks after all. In theory, the more often I practise handling tricky phone situations, the calmer I should feel.

I completed my first full translation piece the other day. Unfortunately, I had to multi-task; focusing on the translation at the same time as manning the desk / looking up to say bonjour to anyone walking past / scanning important documents / welcoming the occasional client / making coffees / looking up unfamiliar property vocabulary. Meeting the deadline for the translation was a challenge because it was difficult to juggle all these distractions. People kept coming along to chase me up about it, and I felt increasingly inadequate!

drawing
Seven children to babysit? TIP: always carry emergency sketchbook!

Looking after the children in the evenings is a completely different kind of task. I still have to concentrate, but I can be more natural, more myself. At the weekend I accompanied the family to the Bois du Bologne (Paris’ largest park) and the weather was lovely. Whilst people were playing sport, I played with the children in the playarea. I have to say that I don’t have much babysitting experience, so keeping tabs on seven children was a new one for me. I am finding it very fun, though – swerving through town on a scooter with the eldest son (luckily I didn’t end up in hospital!), creating elaborate stories to tell the little ones, and doing drawings with all the children.

The challenging side of being an au-pair is definitely the tasks which require good fine/gross motor skills and balance. Many people with dyspraxia tend to struggle with self-care tasks. I am looking after two very young children who need help with such tasks: getting in and out of the bath, drying themselves off, getting dressed, eating, brushing teeth etc… It is taking me time to learn the best way to hoist them out of the bath. I know I will get there in the end, though, and I am very glad to be with them.

Bisous et à bientôt !

-misspraxic

 

 

 

 

From one direction to another: falling at the last hurdle?

Hallo Leute,

monschau-2
Monschau / Montjoie – a charming town near the Belgian border

Last week was my penultimate week in Germany. It was full of reflection, and even a few wonderful new experiences. About a week ago I made a trip to the Roman town of Xanten, despite the cold weather I enjoyed exploring the archeological park’s ruins. I even found my way back to the Bahnhof (station) with five minutes to spare, and conveniently bought some Pommes (chips) just before the train pulled away. On Saturday, I visited the beautiful resort town of Monschau, somewhere I have been hoping to visit for months. To me, it felt like the town was stuck in time – it was incredibly peaceful, especially looking down at the medieval streets from the woods above. I took my sketchbook, and just appreciated having the time by myself. The only background noise to my thoughts was the rhythm of the streams, and the occasional bird tweeting sweetly.

I didn’t get seriously lost on either trip, despite having to change buses/trains multiple times. I can only hope I take this newly-developed confidence with public transport with me to France…

At school I had some good lessons, even if there was another oral exam thrown in. I also spent some time getting to know a few of my international friends even better. It did feel like I was more or less going in the right direction, gradually coming to a largely positive end.

But – and I suppose there is always a but just when I feel like I am improving, little things start to go wrong. I struggle to ignore them and what they might represent. After months of not relying on lists and not having to writing dates down in my diary, I completely mixed up times to see a friend, so that she ended up missing out on something we were going to do together.

In my apartment I had a problem with the sink being blocked (although the positive to this was learning the German word for “plunger”…) The next day, the spout of the taps decided to jump into my face, spurting out a flood of water onto the kitchen floor. On Sunday, during the tech set-up for the carnival concert, I got in a mess with all the microphone wires – there were too many people to maneuver around. I ended up in the front row of singers, not by choice. I kept stumbling on the song lyrics (most of which were in the Cologne dialect, Kölsch) and for this reason felt even more conscious of the camera focusing on me. I then left my water bottle in the church despite someone reminding me to take it.

At this point things started to feel like dominoes, culminating in the next thing to go wrong: I managed to lose my phone whilst on a hill. The phone screen was already cracked after I walked into a lampost earlier on, and considering I had dropped the phone in a toilet two weeks prior to this (!), I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised for my luck to have run out this time.

We searched the area again (my friend kindly helped and has better eyes than I do), but didn’t have any luck. What followed the realisation that I had definitely lost my phone was a launch into panic. The reception staff were very helpful, especially when I phoned them the following day. At first they were quick to want to finish the call, telling me there was nothing more they could do to help in the search. I got in a muddle with my German numbers, was put on hold several times, and could sense the language barrier was frustrating the assistant – this was all increasing my anxiety. I was about to give up, but with some final perseverance, I eventually persuaded one woman to walk out into the place in which I had lost the phone, so that I could attempt to contact the phone via Google’s Manage Your Device function. The lady chuckled as I enquired in a British way, “I would be so grateful if that were possible, although I appreciate what I am asking.” and then thanked her excessively. After all that, the phone wasn’t found, and whilst I still feel guilty about the woman’s wasted lunch break, at least I tried. I would advise backing up all your photos and contacts to a computer or online drive, because I have now lost all of mine.

Sometimes it feels like I am taking many steps forwards, then a sudden jump backwards and a fall through a hole (like in Snakes & Ladders). And that always threatens to get the better of my mood. Since Sunday I have also managed to break yet another glass. That brings my total up to four broken glasses since September. It might seem like such a small thing to happen, that could really happen to everyone, but nevertheless it is a reminder of what I continue to struggle against, and that is very upsetting.

I am, however, looking forward to Karneval (carnival) this weekend, which happens just before I go home. My last day at the school coincides with the school’s own carnival celebrations – all the children and even teachers will dress up. I have never been very good at costumes, but I intend to make a small effort this time! I will write another post before I leave, and tell you about the carnival-themed choir concerts in which I am also involved.

I am equally looking forward to having a rest at home for two or so weeks, before I start the process all over again, and move to France. I will be doing an internship with a company in Paris, and I am already expecting great changes – in language, lifestyle, landscape, cultural subtleties, and new people.

Bis bald for one final Germany post,

misspraxic