I’m slowly but surely getting used to how work, well, works in France. But there are moments where I see how easy it is to slip back into the American mindset. This morning started like any other, except that instead of helping out or observing, I translated texts that are going to be put in the new exhibition and the activity books. As I sat in front of the computer, typing up the texts and wordreferencing any words I didn’t know, I immediately felt like there was a deadline hanging over me. I got completely focused on my work, staring at the screen for two hours straight. Even when I finished the first part, instead of taking an early lunch I kept moving through. I finished both texts and was only a little bit late for lunch, but I felt horrible afterwords. Staring at the computer had given me a headache, not moving made me jittery, and I hadn’t spoken French all morning so it felt like I had just walked in. I completely understand why the French take so many breaks and why they were so confused that I’d finished translating so quickly.
I made sure to take a long lunch though, I wanted to be sure I felt normal again before dealing with the kids. While sipping my tea, I ended up sitting in on a meeting. It turns out my teachers were right, the French really do use their breaks for business, they just hide it in conversation. For instance, everyone was just eating lunch and they were talking about the next couple weeks and before you know it there’s a meeting about stagiaires working the weekend (something I’m hoping to avoid). It was really interesting to watch the different interactions and all the little details that go into running the museum. Like how many people need to be there during the weekend, who has the key, who’s going to close up, who’s trained to do what. It’s a lot of details to wrap your head around, and these people did it during lunch break, no grand documents just their coffees.
After lunch I headed downstairs to watch a visite. It was the calmest group I’ve ever seen, they all listened and took their time completing the activites. I really didn’t have to do anything besides point them in the right direction and tidy up after they left. After that I helped with an art workshop where the kids made their own version of this painting:
It wasn’t my favorite activity because there were a lot of rules: you had to make the background the same way, the cloud had to be on top and the flower had to fit in between the cloud and the earth. But it was still fun to watch the kids.
After that I took a long tea break. I didn’t do it on purpose, I was just sitting talking with the stagiaires in between workshops. But then, somebody offered me a tea, and I thought “I’m in France, I’m gonna drink some tea!” Before I knew it the next workshop had started, but instead of rushing outside I realized “There’s two people out there, and two other stagiaires with me, and nobody is freaking out, enjoy your tea.” So, for the first time I took a break, I enjoyed my time, and I had a good conversation with my fellow stagiaires. We actually got talking about the internet, and I put in my two cents about how I check about 10 sites every day, half of which I check twice. This shocked the Frenchies! Turns out most of them didn’t have internet until the end of high school, and they check mail and facebook rarely now, seeing internet instead as another form of research. It really put the U.S. in perspective and showed me just how much I need to learn how to translate “Americans are attention whores.” I think I’ll wait a bit to tell them about my blog….
When the time was right, the tea drunk, and the conversation finished, we all wandered to our perspective activities and everything was wonderful. I ended up helping the cutest little boy with his art work. When you’re only three feet tall it’s hard to reach the other side of your painting and when you’re too young to know if you’re right or left-handed it’s hard to use scissors, but his painting came out wonderful anyway. Then I helped the little ‘uns wash their hands, which always leads to the most interesting conversations. One girl offered me her silly band after showing me all of hers and discovering that I only have two. Another little girl asked if I was German. To which I responded, “No, guess again.” A little boy piped in “Portuguese?” “Nooo, which country speaks English?” “England” “True, but what other country, it’s really big” “Russia!” Which doesn’t quite speak English, but they got the U.S. on the next try. It made my day to see a little girl not thrown off by my accent, just curious, and then have a fun conversation about it. Sometimes it works out to be l’americaine.
After work, I was invited to join the other stagiaires to go for a drink. It was really nice to just talk with the group and be able to really get to know people. It feels really good to know that I was able to follow the conversation, and anything I missed was either funky French tv show references or drowned out by the band practicing at the table next to us. After a while one of my favorite stagiaires turned the conversation towards the U.S. We talked about whether New York City is a different culture than the rest of the US, whether Americans really are obese, I taught them that Wendy’s is the best fast food in the world, and then she asked about 9/11. I was kinda surprised because no body here has asked me about it before, and all the questions before were pretty typical. But after telling them my experience, how it basically was a day of complete confusion for me, it turns out they had very similar experiences. Many of them were picked up early from their various activities (being 3pm here when it happened they were out of school as we were starting it), and knew what was going on just as much as we did. It was interesting to see how what I’ve always thought of as ‘our day’, the day when the US was hit and not somebody else, really had an international impact.
One of the reasons I’m so happy with my stage is because of how welcoming the stagiaires are. Throughout the night they always made sure to include me in the conversation, even if it was just to see if I’d heard of a certain TV show or if I understood the story. Even on the train ride home, they kept the conversation going, sincerely interested in where I live and how I like the museum, which likewise gives me the opportunity to see where their coming from. It turns out a couple of the stagiaires finished their required stages and just kept going because they like it so much.
Well, it’s time for me to turn in so I can wake up and see what tomorrow brings. 🙂 Hopefully I get some more cute kid stories to share. Bonne nuit!