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

 

 

 

 

 

Normandie in May: a Renaissance château, celebratory Champagne, and sketching in Monet’s garden

I am sorry my updates on the rest of the busy month of May are so late. In between work, babysitting, and everything else that I have been doing, I have not left myself with enough blog-editing time!


Following La Fête du Travail, the next May bank holiday was La Fête de la Victoire (Victory Day): an important day in France to mark the end of the Second World War, and to remember lost soldiers.

The family kindly invited me to accompany them to Normandy for the weekend, which provided another opportunity to take a break from Parisien routines. We had to leave as soon as I finished work on Friday evening, and one of the main Métro lines was temporarily closed for repairs! I had to take a different Métro, then an RER train, followed by a very packed bus, which took double the amount of time. Fortunately, my lateness did not matter at all, because we were travelling by car instead of by train. There was no point in rushing, and as my parents regularly tell me, it is often the case that “if you slow down, you can get there faster.”

I enjoyed getting to know even more of the cousins, aunties, and uncles who didn’t go to Brittany in April. Most of the children stayed in bedrooms in the renaissance castle pictured below, which I couldn’t quite believe, but I stayed in a comfortable gite (cottage) just down the lane.

Chateau
A château of overwhelming grandeur!

We could not have been luckier in being given a guided tour of the château by the grandmother’s cousin. As we climbed up dusty steps and paced through pitch black rooms, we discovered the secret side of its history. Family anecodes were documented in the form of black-and-white photos, sketches, geneaological trees, and even original paintings that apparently belonged in the Louvre! The château was an absolute haven; a treasure passed down from generation to generation, and how lucky I felt to be included in this one-off special occasion tour, involving 25 of us, aged 2 to 82, traipsing up to the top of the castle towers you can see in the above picture.

Normandy landing beachOn le Jour de la Victoire (Victory Day), we visited the musée du débarquement (D-Day museum) at Arromanches, which overlooks the remains of one of the Mulberry Harbours. The cinematic exhibition was particularly well done, and moved me. At work, coincidentally, I have been involved in translating some articles for a memorial project on the same subject, so visiting the landing beachs a few weeks prior provided me with a sense of context that I couldn’t find in a book.

I had to closely watch the younger children, who were climbing onto and into concrete bunkers, through very tight gaps. Inside, the bunkers were full of puddles but no daylight to see sudden steps or sharp edges. Needless to say, it was not the easiest part of the trip to chase them all – it may be a dyspraxic trait that I am less agile than many toddlers!

I also stayed up to watch the long-awaited results of la Deuxième Tour Présidentielle / the Presidential Election with the whole family (even all the little ones), and some neighbours. It was a moment in history that I was fortunate enough to share with a French family, listening to their debates, and asking them questions.

On Sunday afternoon, we celebrated the grandmother’s birthday with a delicious buffet in the castle grounds, with the whole family as well as neighbours and other local guests. It was such an experience – even if I did need eyes in the back of my head to keep tabs on all the little ones playing frighteningly near the unfenced stream.

All in all, it was another enjoyable weekend getting to know the children better, as well as experiencing more of French culture in the régions outside of Paris. It was great to have another break from the repetitive office environment, but it did take me a few days to get my energy levels back to normal after a physically and mentally tiring weekend.

Upon my return to Paris, it was the Nuit européenne des muséesso most of Paris’ museums were open and offering free entry, along with a variety of special performances, for one night only! Regrettably, I was not organised enough, so I ended up waiting in a queue for two hours, and only managed to go to the one museum, where I had been before: Musée de l’Orangérie. I did, however, get into the museum just in time for the second and final Japanese taiko drumming performance of the evening. Monet’s Japanese bridges and waterlilies provided the perfect setting for the music – it was well worth the visit!

A week or so later, I returned to Normandy to make a trip to Giverny near Vernon, which many of you will know as Claude Monet’s hometown. I had a wonderful time exploring the gardens which inspired the Impressionist artist’s paintings…

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I found a free bench in a quiet corner of the garden, where there were fewer tourists, and I sketched for some time… until I heard the footsteps and voices of a large group of American tourists approaching. Their guide said, “Look, just there, where that girl is drawing, that’s actually Monet’s bench. This is where he would have sat.” What a coincidence, I thought…!

In my next post, I will give you a less retrospective update on my life in Paris.

A très bien tôt,

-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

Mademoiselle Catastrophe

Like it sounds, the French word catastrophe describes someone prone to calamity and disaster. Someone like me, maybe. Though I don’t quite ressemble Mr. Hargreaves’ creation.

Grace image
The monsieur at the ticket office may have been having a dyspraxic moment too… He miscounted my change, handing me 35 euros instead of five. This made my day, so merci à vous !

This week it was my birthday. I still remember how I felt during my first ever visit to Paris, a day-trip during a school exchange which coincided with my 15th birthday. On that day, I was ecstatic to taste my first tarte aux pommes sitting on a bench in the sunny Champs de Mars garden, and can only describe my memories as magical.

Six years later, just by myself sans teachers or friends, after work I decided to do something I have previously felt unable to do – ascend the 1063ft height of la Tour Eiffel in a lift packed full of tourists. I was surprised to feel so calm in a situation that used to cause me extreme unease. I was in awe of the beauty below me, and of the good fortune that had somehow brought me to this place on two of my birthdays. On the left is a picture of a very appropriate birthday present from my parents. I unwrapped it whilst up the tower, to the amusement of some tourists.

At work on the morning of my birthday, I was touched to find a selection of sweets, cookies, and even a German chocolate bar on my desk. On that note, I have been enjoying regular conversations with the native German assistant I mentioned before. Our exchanges are training my brain to switch between languages more fluently: I need English to greet a colleague from London, then French to answer the phone a minute later, and then German to distribute the post.

This sort of fast processing does not tend to come naturally, though, as many of you will understand. I had my worst disaster yet on Thursday afternoon, alone on reception since the receptionist’s departure for the Easter holiday. It was all happening at once – within five minutes the courier arrived, followed by two clients to greet (and they wanted coffee), then the phone started ringing, and I was halfway through writing an email, not to mention a translation. The colleague who was expecting the clients was visiting from the London office, so she didn’t have a fixed phone number. I set off to try and find her in person, abandoning the desk. She had to be somewhere in the office. I was rushing about like a headless chicken, and even opening the doors proved to be a challenge. They had been locked securely following complaints. I pushed and pulled with all my strength, and in my haste pressed a big red button next to the door. Only seconds afterwards did I see that this was a button solely for “cas d’urgence” / emergencies! I had triggered the emergency security system; alarms sounded and a concerned security guard on the voiceover was asking me what on earth was going on. “Tout va bien, tout va bien, j’ai fait une erreure, désolée désolée désolée.” Though the words didn’t flow fast enough. Since then, I have implemented an anti-catastrophe technique: I am slowing my pace right down. 

The family was away on holiday this week, which gave me extra time to sort out some bank-related complications, as well as topping up my SIM card. I also enjoyed spending time with some friends from university, school, and my time in Germany. On Saturday I took the train down to Nevers, a town situated along the Loire and famous for its ceramics. I plan to go on more day trips in the future to give me a rest from the often draining atmosphere and fast pace of life in central Paris. Fresh air helps my mental state.

I will be spending the Easter weekend in Brétagne (Brittany, region in the north-west of France) with the family, and I am already looking forward to it.

A tout à l’heure et bonne semaine,

misspraxic AKA Mademoiselle Catastrophe

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Arrivée à Paris: settling into new routines

Bonsoir à tous,

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.

Montmartre 2
A studio at the Musée de Montmartre – my first visit to the artists’ quarter!

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 !

misspraxic

 

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!

 

 

The blind leading the blind: my trip home

Hi everyone,

I have been back in the UK for about two weeks.

I flew from Dusseldorf into a provincial airport, and took a train back home from there. On the train, I happened to be sitting next to a delightfully warm elderly woman called Doris*, who was longing for some company – “nobody would talk to me on the way up”, she reflected glumly.

On this day, I felt very fortunate to have Doris’ company too, rather than being entirely left to my thoughts during the journey. Fellow dyspraxics might share my tendency to overthink. My mind was processing on overdrive: experiences from Germany still whirring around. I think it takes me longer than most people to process one experience before I can move onto another. Doris filled my mind with names, dates, and details, and oddly enough, that’s what I needed on that day.

My temporary neighbour was taking a cross-country expedition from her home in Leeds to Plymouth to visit family. Or was it Penzance? Or was it actually that she lived in Plymouth, and had just visited Leeds? She was losing memory and struggling with the fact. Dyspraxic waves often leave me feeling unsettled and ungrounded, so I could relate to this woman’s unease to a certain extent – she kept misplacing her phone, and later her train tickets, in a very large handbag, and this distressed her. “Oh come on, Doris!” she cursed herself. I tried to calm her, as I would myself. So in this sense, perhaps it was a “blind leading the blind” scenario. Doris kept generously offering me parts of her picnic – ‘spare’ Twix bars, fruit salads, bottled water… As our onlookers smirked, I was aware of the lack of connection between others in the coach. Although of course, back in Germany, there was 90% of the time an unspoken expectation of distance and silence on the trains. Might this be a cultural difference?

Dog on BeachBeing reunited with family and dogs was a relief and a comfort, as was the familiarity of my bedroom, after seven months in Germany.

In less than a week I will take the train to Paris to start my second placement – I will be an administrative assistant intern at a real estate company. This will definitely be a jump from my comfort zone, and to make the approaching experience even more of a challenge, I will be an aupair in my spare time, looking after four French children. Despite people reassuring me not to worry about it, I feel anxious about what is to come. It feels like an onerous responsibility to be looking after someone else’s children, so it is probably understandable to fear I will accidentally do something wrong.

Background noise and an already slower auditory processing speed than most can affect my concentration, so it will be interesting to see how I manage the pressures of a French-speaking office environment. On the upside, I know I can be very creative, and have an eye for detail, so I can only hope these qualities will be in my favour in the months to come.

I will update you all at some point after I have settled in.

cliffs
Getting some fresh sea air up on the cliffs

 

A bientôt mes lecteurs,

misspraxic

 

*I changed the name of my fellow passsenger to maintain confidentiality.

Karneval and final reflections on a German experience: Halt Pohl!

In the last few lessons with Class 5, Lena* has been asking me the same questions: “When do you leave?”, “Will you be here for my birthday?”, “Will you come to Karneval with us? Are you dressing up?” “Maybe…“, I reply. “But you’re a teacher!” they chant.

It was a coincidence that Hana* from Class 6 sat next to me on the bus home from school the other day. She was asking similar questions: “But why do you have to leave? Will you come back and see us? Do you have Whatsapp? Can I have your Whatsapp?”

karneval-at-school
Karneval performance by years 5 and 6 on Altweiber-Donnerstag – “Old women’s day”

For those who are unfamiliar with the tradition, the carnival period started last Thursday (the week before Lent). The children had Thursday afternoon until the following Wednesday off school. Because the end of my placement coincided with carnival, my last day was on Thursday, known as Altweiber-Donnerstag, and it was full of mixed feelings. I prepared an Abschieds-Frühstuck (goodbye breakfast) – fresh bread rolls, Cheddar cheese (I’d managed to find some in Aldi the week before!) plus some Marmite – for the teachers of staffroom 5 to try. Although I wasn’t able to say goodbye to everyone due to the busy carnival season and others’ prior commitments, my last day was very happy. The children performed an impressive series of dances and songs in their many colourful carnival costumes, and the carnival party felt a party celebrating the end of my assistantship. It marked the fact I had seen the experience through to the end, despite the challenges and knocks along the way.

 

venn-karnevalkonzert
“Jecke Friedach”: The Prinzenpaar / prince and princess on stage

Following this, on Friday evening my choir was singing at the local carnival night at a Gasthof (pub) in my village. After watching the dance troupes, brass bands, and stand-up comedian (whose jokes I am sure were brilliant if you were fluent in both dialect and humour) all take to the stage, it was soon our turn to perform. We sung my favourite song in the local dialect (Kölsch) – here’s an excerpt if you’re interested… can anyone understand it!? Luckily one of the choir members volunteered to be my Kölsch Translator!

Et jitt kei Wood

Bear in mind we swapped Köln (Cologne) with Gladbach (Mönchengladbach). I felt so happy to be muddling through the words together on the stage with my friends. I knew this would be my last time singing with the choir for a least a few years, so I enjoyed simply being with them in that moment. The evening ended up being the most fun I had had in a long time.

kolle-alaaf-2
Kölle Alaaf! (The “Schlachtruf” or call for Cologne.)

I was invited by my lovely teacher friend to spend Saturday evening in Cologne with her and some friends. I have to say I was not prepared for the throng of people flooding the streets: in every direction there were unicorns and pirates. Before I knew it, I found myself trapped in a tight crowd of people chanting carnival songs, many of them already inebriated. kolle-alaaf

Unfortunately, I challenged myself too much here – the situation set me into panic because the crowds and noise level were overwhelming. Finding my way back to the central station via side streets was not without its stress, so I would recommend staying in a group at all times, or choosing quieter times and locations to experience carnival if you know crowds are not your favourite thing. Following that experience, I decided to keep out of the way of the chaos in Cologne on Rosenmontag (traditionally the highlight of the carnival period).

 

 

karneval-prinzenpaar
The Prinzenpaar – the carnival prince and princess, which reminded me of my childhood experience of being a princess at carnival.

Veilchendienstag (Shrove Tuesday) was the last carnival day, and incidentally my final day in Germany too. Before meeting up with a few friends to say farewell, I took a walk through the city centre, where a carnival parade was starting at exactly 13.11. I waited in the old market square, wondering if I were in the right place. I got talking to a lady who was anticipating the procession too, and she insisted that I follow her to the best viewing spot. Here, we picked up sweets as each carnival float went by, chanting “Halt Pohl!” – interestingly the words used as a call vary in each town and even district, making this a regional and local tradition.

eulen
Eulen – owls hitting the streets of Moenchengladbach

My unique German experience ended on a high with Karneval. In a nutshell, from my time in Germany I will certainly miss the children, the staff, the strangers, the friends, the neighbours, the volunteers, the choir… the conversations, the bridge between generations, and the intercultural connection. In short, the solidarity, despite political goings-on. It was a privilege to have been able to get to know the young people and their stories from war-torn countries, but the downside of this was having to absorb and process their trauma, which still haunts me. The smiles and warmth of their final embraces, however, will stay with me forever.

gladbach-umarmt-die-welt
“Gladbach umarmt die Welt” – Gladbach hugs the world. I was touched by the international gesture of a small community festival.

I will write again in the next few days to tell you about my journey back home, and my preparations for moving to Paris – it’s happening in just under two weeks!

As I have finished the first part of my year abroad (I still find that hard to believe as I write this), I want to say a big thank you to those who have been reading the blog and given their support.

Halt Pohl and love,

misspraxic