Creativity tends to be a major strength in dyspraxic adults and young people alike, as we can think “outside the box” in highly valuable ways. These ways might include, but are in no way limited to, creativity in art, music, and our use of language. Creative writing can be a cathartic practice for all of us, particularly in testing times, and I know that this is certainly the case for other dyspraxics too. When you are pushed to your limits, your struggle can fuel a creative energy that enables others to feel and connect with your experience. My students sharing their own powerful poems on handouts in the staffroom this week has motivated me to do the same.
This first poem is entitled “Corridors of coping”, and expresses some of the logistical challenges involved in starting as a teacher this September.
Corridors of coping
armed with dog-eared downside-up seating plans
scrawled with hieroglyphs that hold your gaze –
today’s performance is masked by a face drenched
in sanitised regrets. i only tried to
sanitise my mind, yet my mind is a magnet
for lost words stuck down the back of yesterday’s trimmer.
i misread my timetable and arrived five minutes late,
asking you to fill in today’s missing pages,
not to fill the room with your fits of giggles.
but i can decipher the codes clues to your
barrier to learning familiar to my own barrier to teaching
for i am the teacher who catches you
dropping to the floor without a back-up plan
like a pile of clumsy papers lost along the
one-way maze at rush hour on a weekday.
i am the teacher tired of pacman-style manoeuvers
that create chaos in the corridors of not coping.
i aim to be the teacher who builds a bridge past the haze,
I had planned a series of daily posts for Dyspraxia Awareness Week 2020, including sharing my own poems and illustrations to raise awareness of dyspraxia in these challenging times. However, I missed that boat, which sailed away three weeks ago in the storm that is coping as a new teacher in a pandemic – my endless to-do lists scrawled onto post-it notes lay strewn across my floor, alongside literally hundreds of dog-eared worksheets destined only for the recycling bin… To make up for missing Awareness Week, here is a timely(!) post about the challenges of managing your time as a dyspraxic adult, along with some worked strategies that can help.
Time seems to be in short supply as a dyspraxic teacher, yet time feels like the secret ingredient to survival. There needs to be sufficient time and mental space away to reflect on the “bad” lessons, to properly process the criticism from observations, and to feel satisfied enough with the “better” lessons. According to the Dyspraxia Foundation, time-management, planning and organisation are issues that present in most dyspraxics to some degree, and affect their experiences in both education and work. A quick search shows that time management tends to be a challenge specifically for dyspraxic teachers too. Timing and pace come under the Teacher Standards, yet a greater understanding of how dyspraxia affects timing and pace is important in discussions of teaching and learning.
Teaching is a great performance, but I don’t pretend to be a perfect performer: I tend to be one step behind my beady-eyed students at least half of the time, and I know they know this too! The sound of “Miss, the date is wrong”, “Miss, we don’t have that on our sheet”, and “Miss, the board is frozen” are only too common occurrences in my classroom, which leave me wishing the remote-control could freeze the whole lesson at times, Hogwarts-style. Or even better, a rewind button to back-track on my dodgy explanations. This week, when I was in full flow with my noisy Year 8 class, I could have sworn I had ten more minutes left. I was determined to get my silence, insisting on “five minutes silent working” – I even dared to put a timer up on the board. But to what end? In less than a minute, the brief tranquility was shattered – most of the class was shouting out over my gentle voice: “Miss, the lesson is OVER. We’re going to be LATE. We need to GO”. I felt a deep sense of self-frustration with my mess-up of timings, yet again, despite thorough planning and best intentions to get this right.
To top things off, last week I lost track of the time and nearly paid for the consequences. I was multitasking again, trying to achieve five different tasks with ten different tabs open, flitting between them all and in reality achieving nothing. It was half past three and my teaching was finished for the day and I had the innocent aim of taking less work home with me – I was catching up on some lesson-planning, logging reports, tracking student data, marking tests, and then thought why not stick around to make some phone calls home. I was utterly caught up in an all-consuming bubble: somehow, it was now half past five. My line manager had made it clear to me at the start of the term: you must leave before 6pm, or the doors will lock. But this wasn’t clear enough for me. I seem to have to learn from experience…
Armed with two Tesco bags full of exercise books to mark, I wobbled along to the School Reception at 17.50. I was in a state of panic when my keycard refused to open the doors. I took a deep breath, consoling myself, this can’t be possible, and I tried the outside doors. They were padlocked too – no luck there. I was reminded of that time in Paris, when I set off the emergency security alarm by pressing the big red button. Only this was worse, because there wasn’t anyone at the end of the intercom to hear me. Trapped. Just as I was starting to despair and give up on my hope of leaving the school for the evening, envisioning the worst from horror films, I was very grateful to see a member of the site team emerge. She wasn’t best amused, but did let me escape. It is in these moments that you either laugh or cry. Choosing to laugh comes from a place of strength and resilience, knowing that it could always be worse – after all, I know that I won’t have been the first OR last person to have got locked in the school. Hopefully – can anyone back me up?!
Dodgy organisation anecdotes aside, here are some time-management strategies that really do work well for me:
Break down to-do lists and use separate post-it notes for different classes – ideally different colours, to keep my thinking separate between the different groups. I recommend the strategies on Twinkl, to compartmentalise your to-do lists and prioritise. So as not to feel overwhelmed, limiting the list to 3-5 key actions can help. Organising the tasks in terms of priority (from non-negotiable to thing that can wait) helps me to feel less overwhelmed too. I have to physically tick off each task once I have completed it.
Stick to “cut-off times” – each evening, I aim to not to work beyond a certain time. Accepting that at some point you have done all that you can and sleep is more important.
Prepare 1) lunch, 2) clothes and 3) bag the night before school – again, as a list of three actions to do before I can sleep, this makes it easier to remember.
Create mini-rewards for ticking off tasks on to-do lists – this helps me resist the urge to procrastinate. Easier said than done to complete one task properly rather than flitting between five different ones and not finishing any of them, but I try to complete tasks as they arise.
Similarly, plan the next lesson as soon as possible after the previous one – this logic also works for things like essay-planning and preparing presentations. When information is fresher in mind, you can make your future self grateful by at least setting up the steps for you to come back to later. In this way, I make use of ready-made templates for emailing, which might help you if you are a slow emailer like me!
My dyspraxic students struggle with timing and pace too – in their daily routines, this often presents itself in them arriving late to my lessons, mixing up which lesson they are in, having the right equipment or books but for the wrong day, and seeming like they are “in the clouds”. A large part of me being a teacher, of course, is needing to be the teacher I didn’t have myself – a teacher who noticed what made me different, for the right reasons. I find myself in the unique position of identifying with the student who can’t remember where he sits in my class, and take it seriously when the other students snigger at him. I feel for the student who bursts into tears about the low grade she got in the test, because I can see that she defines herself by it. I have admiration for the student who comes to my classroom to show me her purple Irlen lenses with pride: “Miss, look what’s finally arrived!” She puts them on for me and grins. I feel a surge of purpose and my why re-surfaces once more, after being knocked to the floor minutes earlier by my relentless year 9s. I think to myself, if only there could have been a teacher who encouraged me to use my coloured overlays and wear my coloured lenses, a teacher who could see beyond my quirks.
I’ll blog next with some thoughts on maintaining a sustainable well-being in the face of anxiety in education settings during this second lockdown. Take care everyone, and do reach out to me via the website if you have a comment or question.
Further links and research on time-management and dyspraxia:
I started writing this post in mid-August, when both life at the office and life in Paris were considerably quieter. What people say is true: the city tends to empty out each August as a large proportion of parisiens go on holiday, leaving mostly tourists. The métro was generally quieter because of that, but it remained as busy as ever during rush hours. A year on from my summer school in Heidelberg, one thing has certainly not changed: I still find myself losing balance, slipping, and stepping on peoples’ toes. It makes it harder to “laugh along with myself” in Paris, though, because there are rarely smiles of amusement when this happens.
I mentioned in my last post that the family was going on holiday for most of the month of August. In their absence, I attempted to water their garden. Supposedly, this should be a manageable task that doesn’t take too long. The reality for me, and I imagine for many others who struggle with their coordination and spatial awareness, was the opposite. The greatest challenge was not tripping up in the hoops of the hose pipe as I moved from one area of the garden to another. I can only hope the family remained blissfully unaware of the stalks that snapped as a result of my awkward maneuvers around the garden… On a few occasions, water wouldn’t stop spraying out everywhere from the hose pipe. It took many attempts at fiddling with the setting and turning the lever backwards and forwards before I managed to stop the fast flow of water, by which time it was not just the poor patio that was covered in dispersed soil, but also my legs… thank goodness no neighbours were about at the time to witness the drowning.
I made the most of my final month in Paris, by exploring most of the remaining musées and parcs on my to-do list. I was fortunate to have a few visits from friends and family during the final six weeks of my placement, which made it a lot easier to focus on office work during the week. I saw an incredible cabaret show at the Moulin Rouge, and experienced some great classical and jazz concerts indoors as well as at the Parc Floral. I have increased my tolerance to loud music – oddly enough, it hardly bothers me now (depending on the quality of course!). I enjoyed a few wonderful days with one of my German friends who came to visit – the photos above are courtesy of her talent! We had a great day in Chantilly together, visiting the château pictured above. A few days later, I travelled out of Paris by train again, to catch up with one of my French friends in the town of Auxerre. Back in Paris, I also fitted in some final visits to art museums before the end of my placement. My favourite museums within central Paris include the following: Musée Marmottan, Musée de l’Orangerie, Musée national Eugène Delacroix, Musée d’Orsay, and Musée Rodin. Go and visit their exhibitions if you get the chance! Needless to say, of everything I know I will miss, I will miss Paris’ vibrant arts’ scene the most.
It is now the beginning of September, widely known as “la rentrée” to parisiens, who have been reluctantly returning to work – and school – following the quiet month of August. The métro is no longer so calm. The office is no longer empty. There is once again a sense of colleagues buzzing around the office, after two weeks of less activity. The rushing-around starts all over again, and fortunately, it is now that I leave – just in time! My départ from the hectic world of Paris was not dramatic at all – my year abroad ended quietly, in contrast to some very loud moments along the way.
I feel a mix of relief and pride as I claim my seat on the Eurostar train back to London. I saw my final placement through to the end, an achievement which at times felt doubtful. I have proven to myself that I can often accomplish a lot more than what I initially consider to be possible. With the right support along the way, a year abroad can absolutely be realistic for a student with specific learning difficulties.
I intend to continue my blog in time, with advice on some of the practical challenges I have not been able to detail in my posts, and more reflections on what I have learned this year. I will also update you on how my final year at university goes! Misspraxic adventures, although not abroad for the time being, will definitely continue.
Thank you to anyone who has read my posts this year. Thanks to your support, I have achieved my biggest challenge yet. I will now be taking a break from scanning machines for the foreseeable future!
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:
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…
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.
Back 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).
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!
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 andI 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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 circus?“, you ask? “Has misspraxic given up on her internship in real estate and joined the Moulin Rouge instead?”
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.
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!
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.
I arrived safely in Paris last weekend, and have now been here a week. I took the Eurostar, and was full of nervous excitement for the duration of the journey. I kept opening and closing bags, zipping and unzipping pockets, constantly checking that nothing vital had been lost or forgotten. Fellow dyspraxics can probably relate, and after the phone-toilet-lampost-hill scenario now a month ago, I wasn’t taking any chances.
Last year, during the planning stage of my year abroad, I had almost ruled out the possibility of spending the French half of the year in Paris as I feared my struggles would deem me inadequate for an internship in such a fast-moving place. I changed my mind through listening to the advice of those around me – “you can do it, you’ll love it”, they said. I believed them, because privately I loved the idea of living in the Ville des Lumieres and being in close proximity to renowned musées d’art and cafés around every corner. Most of all, though, I anticipated a completely new challenge, which would contrast to my experiences at the school in Germany.
On my first day as an intern at the real estate advisory company, I was greeted with a flood of information. Within minutes I was introduced to the receptionnist with whom I would share the front reception desk, handed my guide sheets, and given a series of forms to return to Ressources Humaines (Human Resources). I also needed to send my photo to someone ASAP. I didn’t catch the name.
Before my first hour had ended, the other receptionnist had given me a tour of the office and its various departments. I was introduced to about a hundred new people, and my first worrying thought was this: how on earth am I going to remember a hundred new names and faces? I retained one name, which I suppose was was un bon effort, and certainly better than none at all.
When the brain’s capacity is reached, by means of defence mechanism we often just stop taking in any more information. But of course this wasn’t an ideal time for my brain to play this trick on me. I needed to clear space for yet more information – how to operate the phones and transfer calls, how the scanner and photocopying machines work, how to sort through post(actually using the letter opener efficiently was my biggest challenge). Following this, a challenge arrived in the form of something many of you probably do without a second thought: making coffees. I wish I could say the same; that I too were able to make coffees without thinking.
The truth is that I struggle to make coffees even with intense, focused thinking. I need to repeat the instructions several times and regularly in order that I retain them. As I don’t like the drink at all anyway, there hasn’t been much of an opportunity for me to master this particular skill. It might seem like a silly thing to be proud of, but I do feel satisfied to have managed to make several coffees today by myself, and to have carried them to the clients sans spillage. Touchwood. I better not have jinxed it!
The phone lines are extremely quiet, so I find myself being pulled further into the desk, as close as physically possible to the phone box, to try to understand what is being requested. I screw my eyes up tight in order to help me concentrate, but often this results in panic, especially after saying pardon, je n’ai pas compris (sorry, I don’t follow) three times. It certainly will be interesting to see how I cope alone when the receptionnist goes on holiday in two weeks time…! I might need a lot of luck.
My colleagues in the office are all very friendly and smile warmly each time they pass by the reception desk, which helps to put me at ease when I do make mistakes. I have even met a German lady and have to deliver the post to her each morning – exchanging even a few words with her helps to bring back the contact to the German language and people, which I already miss.
To continue on a positive note, I have surprisingly not got lost (yet)! I managed to take the Métro to and from the office without too much confusion – the more often I take the journey, the easier it should become… in theory! I worried I would accidentally travel in the opposite direction, as I have done many times on the London Underground, and again on the Heidelberg trams in August. Looking out for specific road names or objects in certain fixed places – i.e memorable shop fronts – helps me figure out my approximate location, especially when my friend Google is unavailable.
The family whose children I am looking after are absolutely lovely, and I am enjoying being around little ones again – their energy never fails to put a smile on my face. I will give you an update on this, as well as some other aspects of my life in Paris in my next post.
Bon weekend alors !
PS – Today I was sent to the nearest boulangerie to buy croissants and pains au chocolat for some clients. The scene in which fashion magazine assistant Andrea (Anne Hathaway) is sent to fetch coffees, skirts, and a number of other items ASAP in the film The Devil Wears Prada sprang to mind. I have felt a bit like Andrea this week!