a TAPIF language assistant blog / un blog d’une assistante d’anglais

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Time for a BREAK!

Most of you are in the loop, but just in case you haven't gotten the memo... I'm on vacation. Again.

That's right, mes amis. It's time for the THIRD (and final) two-week long school break of the year. This time, it's our vacances d'hiver (winter vacation).

Listen, a girl can only take so many 12-hour work weeks before she needs a break.

And by "so many" I mean seven. It's been seven weeks since my last vacation.

What adventures await me this time, you may ask?!

You have no idea how many attempts it took us to get a couple good ones of these.

For the FOURTH time in a calendar year (March '12 - Texas, September & December '12 - Germany, February '13 - France), I am getting to spend time with Irene. She is spending a week with me in southern France, just hanging out, fighting the wind, trying to soak up the sun (when we're not being blown away), watching movies, eating pastries, drinking tea, riding trains, meeting my friends, and generally having the fun. So far? Narbonne, Carcassonne, Montpellier, Sète. Coming soon? Perpignan & Toulouse. We're trying to profite au maximum from our time together - the most time we've been able to spend just relaxing together since 2009. 

And then...

That's right. Both photos feature alliteration. Get on board.

YES. On Saturday, I am heading with several other Narbonne assistants to MOROCCO. As in AFRICA. As in I'll be on a whole brand-new continent within the week. (!!!!!!)

I know Morocco is kind of cheating when it comes to traveling to Africa as it's comparatively westernized, but hey, it's a start. And this is the most adventurous/"different" place I'll ever have been. HERE. WE. GO.

Lottie & Emily (two other English assistants in Narbo) and I will be joining Carmen and Violeta in Marrakesh. We'll also meet up with Zack (the Canadian assistant of recent kebab fame) and his girlfriend Lyndsay. It's going to be a smashing good time, and our #1 goal is to ride camels, so stay tuned.

Tons upon tons of pictures will be showing up at some point. That point is not today.

Adventure awaits!

ps: It is someone very special's 8TH birthday today! Maddie, you officially have my permission to turn 8! JOYEUX ANNIVERSAIRE!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Frustration, Anticipation, & (finally) Immigration!

What seems like a billion years ago, I started the process of French immigration. Let's take a walk down the paperwork-paved memory lane that led me from the beginning to where I am today.

1) January 15, 2012: Online application to TAPIF due online (actually submitted three weeks earlier, because I'm me)

2) April 4, 2012: TAPIF Acceptance email received

... and there was much rejoicing!

3) May 1, 2012: Demande d'autorisation de travail (request for work authorization) submitted by mail to CERFA (Centre d'enregistrement et de révision de formulaires administratifs (Center for Registration and Revision of Administrative Forms))

4) June 16, 2012: Approved Demande d'autorisation de travail received in the mail, along with the arreté de nomination (work placement) - This is when I found out I'd be teaching high school in Narbonne!

First thing to receive in the mail from France, the BEST day!

5) July 5, 2012: Visa appointment at the French Consulate in Houston, Texas

             Form to turn in: Demande de visa pour un long séjour (request for long-stay visa).
             Form to have stamped: Demande d'attestation OFII (long-stay visa - request for OFII certification) - first OFFICIAL immigration form. OFII: Office français de l'immigration et de l'intégration
             Treasured item to be left: Passport (gulp!)

Leaving your passport is terrifying. The fact that the guy told me they'd lost four passports the previous week wasn't comforting. Also, driving 9 hours in one day is not the most fun ever.

6) July 11, 2012: Received passport with brand-new long-stay visa inside. This is where it gets real!

Remember this? Ta-da! Visa-ed.

You'd think that'd be it, right? Check out my visa, I'm legit?

You'd think so.

But you would be very wrong.

7) September 18, 2012: Passport stamped in Charles de Gaulle airport proving entrance to France

Yes, later I will have to prove I am indeed in France with this stamp.

8) October 8, 2012: Application for Sécu (social security) completed and mailed in to the MGEN (Mutuelle Générale de l'Éducation Nationale (general healthcare for employees of the National Education)), along with proof of residence and a copy of my birth certificate, translation, and apostille

9) October 11, 2012: Demande d'attestation OFII (request for OFII confirmation) completed (including French address and phone number) and mailed to the regional OFII office (with trace and delivery confirmation), along with copy of passport and visa showing entry stamp

Yes. This is where I prove I'm in France. From France.

10) October 23, 2012: Attestation de droits (confirmation of rights) and temporary numéro INSEE (social security number) received from the MGEN

Why is there a temporary social security number? Why not just skip ahead to the real one? This just seems like an extra step to be ridiculous on purpose.

11) October 24, 2012: Convocation à la visite medicale received from the OFII

Get excited. This is indeed a formal invitation letting you know you're cordially invited to wait in line with all the other immigrants to take your shirt off and get your lungs photographed. ALSO! This is where I found out I needed my shot records, which NO ONE had told me before this point (and I read everything possible this summer). Dad to the rescue with the scanner and email.

12) October 25, 2012: Demande d'autorisation d'absence (request for absence authorization) submitted to school office

They didn't really have a choice.

13) November 13, 2012: Visite medicale in Montpellier, France

             Examen radiologique at 10:30

This is pretty quick and efficient. It's also pretty weird because you're all "Oh hey, Bonjour!" and they're all "Take your shirt off, s'il vous plaît." and then you're definitely 100% topless, and then three minutes later it's all over and you've got an hour and fifty-seven minutes until your next appointment. Hmphf.

However, this is all okay because at the end they hand you a picture of your own lungs

Hello, free souvenir!

And the best news is that now all the French people can rest safely knowing that I don't have tuberculosis. A good two months after I arrived in their country. (?!?!)

             Examen clinique général at 1:30

Height, weight, eye exam, investigation of shot records, general health questions. I'm thankful I don't understand kilos because that way I didn't have to pay attention to how much weight I'd gained due to pain au chocolat.

14) November 13, 2012: Titre de séjour vignette (basically a green card in sticker form that goes in your passport) received at OFII

This was a bit tricky. At the end, the lady was all "Okay great, here's a piece of paper, you have to take it to the préfecture to get your carte de séjour," but I KNEW that I was supposed to receive the vignette (passport sticker) right then and there, because I'd talked to Kimberly (remember her?) who already had hers. And so I brought this up to the lady, who insisted on the form and the mailing. And then I did some more insisting, actually describing the vignette because I'd already seen it. Luckily, this other lady showed up and was all "Oh yes, of course, you can't leave without your vignette," and so we (me and the other 6 or 7 assistants with appointments at the same time) were rescued from not having our vignettes.

It should be mentioned that without this vignette, we'd all be illegally living in France and could get kicked out while traveling.

Yeah, OFII lady #1. 'Cause THAT'S what I need.

Look Mom, I'm legal!

15) January 9, 2013: Correction de numéro INSEE (correction of social security number) received from the MGEN

Here's your permanent number! See #10. This is a ridiculous step.

16) January 11, 2013: Request for documents (signature, serial killer photo, copy of passport/visa/vignette) for the Carte Vitale received from the MGEN

The Carte Vitale is a fabled card which is said to be your key to the socialized medicine system. Basically, it's the national insurance card. Up to this point, I'd thought it was kind of just a joke to mess with us assistants or an urban legend, as I'd been here for four months and had yet to see any sign of my card (or any other assistant's for that matter). But alas, here is at least something with the words Carte Vitale on it, so I must be headed in the right direction. 

Also, I say "serial killer photo" because they don't let you smile at all. Seriously, France. Come on. You can still identify people if they smile.

17) January 30, 2013: Documents necessary to receive the Carte Vitale sent to the MGEN

... it took me a while to find time to go get that serial killer photo taken.

18) February 20, 2013: Carte Vitale received from the MGEN

Achievement unlocked: 

(Just in time to have medical insurance for the last quarter of my contract time. Oh, la douce France. Typical.)

And now, after a paper trail seemingly wide enough to flatten the Amazon, I now declare myself fully française!

.... kind of. ;)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Team North America: Kebab Style

Two posts in one day?! Yes. Because of the following:

Scene: Facebook Chat, not that long ago (read: an hour ago)

Katy: i wish i could get a kebab delivered, right now
Zack*: what do you have on your kebab?
Katy: i just get it regular kebab-y way, with white sauce, why, is there a lot of flexibility i don't know about?!
Zack: meet me outside chateau diderot in 30 minutes
Katy: i don't understand what is happening right now
Zack: sometimes when you have a porsche (velo**) its nice to do things for people from your continent, have you not read that in books?

............ 30 minutes later ............

my first kebab in months!

And of course he showed up on his bike (after three tries to find an open kebab place) in his "CANADA" sweatshirt and I was wearing my "TEXAS" shirt,*** because we ARE North American.**** It should be noted he didn't get himself a kebab. Just me. How nice is this random act of kindness?! So nice it gets its own blog post.

There's your breadth of detail offered in the kebab section, mon ami.*****

*Canadian assistant and only other non-European


***It's a Texas Rangers shirt, y'all.

****And we're soon to be joined by another North American, Lyndsay, Zack's precious girlfriend! We're 'bout to be rollin' 3 deep!

*****Just in case we didn't have enough **** in this short post.

French Schools vs. American Schools

As I'm nearing the end of my contract (6.5 weeks of work left, WHAT?!), I realized it's high time I do a comparison on schools in France and the States. These are not blanket statements, they are just observations based on my own personal experiences. (It should be noted that my personal experience only includes two years teaching high school French in Texas and five months kind of teaching English in France, so I'm by no means an expert.) Maybe you have had a totally different experience with French students and/or American students. That's okay. (Add a comment if you want!) Also, these are generalizations, and there are always exceptions. This is not an attempt to prove that one system is better than the other, because there are good and bad aspects of both. It's just another glance into French culture and my life this year!


In many ways, French students and American students are similar. There are more motivated students, there are less motivated students. There are more and less organized students. There are well-behaved and not-so-well-behaved students. It happens everywhere. However, there are some general differences.

French students are very organized. When you walk into a class at my school, you will see a trousse (pencil pag) on each desk. It will have pens, pencils, white-out (called TippEx because of the brand), scissors, tape, glue… the works. They regularly take exercises that their teacher has printed for them, cut them out, and tape or glue them into their cahiers (notebooks). They take notes to the point of obsession. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “I forgot a pencil today” by an American student. (Seriously, where do they think they’re going, the zoo?! It’s school, bring a pencil for the love.)

trousses galore! 

from blablasblog.typepad.fr

from blablasblog.typepad.fr

from voixlibres.org

What I find most interesting is that French students are generally much more self-driven and self-motivated than American students. I have had many students in the States (especially last year) that would not do ANYTHING unless there was a grade attached to it. Here, even though what I do isn’t graded, students are almost always driven to complete it, and most of the time to give it their best effort. They seem generally eager to please, to the point of being adorable. (I realize not all assistants have this same experience.) In the States, we reward for everything. Everyone gets a gold star! Everyone wants a reward. Everyone wants a good grade, and if it’s not for a grade, we don’t care. It’s not about the practice or knowledge/skills acquired, it’s about the “what do I get” at the end. This is bad. Being intrinsically motivated makes you successful. Reacting solely to external motivation is not good, because if the “what do I get” isn’t easily visible (or attainable), we lose desire to continue with our task, even though the process is equally if not more important and educational than the end result. (Of COURSE there are many American students who are self-motivated and driven; I have also had the privilege of teaching numerous students with fantastic attitudes toward education, regardless of the external reward.)

Additionally, French students generally fear discipline from their teacher or their parents, despite the fact that discipline isn’t nearly as serious as in the States. They have a little notebook that’s their cahier de correspondence  (correspondence notebook) that goes home to their parents and they have to get signed if they misbehave. They don’t like when that happens.  I haven’t seen a student assigned detention. I haven’t seen a student sent to the office. Yet you threaten to tell their teacher something or write something in their cahier de correspondence (or take away their “going with the assistant” privileges), they generally get it together. Quick. In the States, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told a student I’d a) call a parent, b) give a detention, c) call the office, d) whatever else, and the student just flat-out does not care. I believe that discipline goes back to the home, and that in the States many parents have the idea that they want to befriend their children rather than parent them. This leads to nothing good. If you aren’t willing to play hardball and reinforce the teacher’s/school's authority (i.e., give consequences at home), you take away all authority from the teacher. Congratulations, you’ve just decreased the quality of your student’s education. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to try to talk to a parent about something that happened in class only to have the parent tell you their student could never do [whatever thing you just saw them do with your own faithful eyes]. (I have also had tons of beautifully behaved American students and incredibly supportive American parents. I've been blessed that way. But again, these are generalizations.)


First of all, teachers here have to pass a more difficult test (the concours) than we do in the States in order to become teachers. (In the US, teacher certification tests are determined by each state.)

Second of all, they don’t get to pick where they work (or go on interviews for placement like we do). The education system is national, so you work for the Ministry of Education of the country of France, and once you're in, they can send you anywhere in France. There’s a point system, and the more points you get, the more pull you get in your placement. You get points by years of experience, amount of children, having a spouse who works, years worked in a ZÉP (Zone Éducation Prioritaire, like a low-income area school – Title 1, basically). They have even more job security than we do,* but there’s always a chance you might get sent somewhere you don’t really want to be (at least when you don’t have that many points).

Additionally, full-time secondary teachers give classes for 18 hours and have 1 supplemental hour of duty a week. That’s right. 19.hour.of.work.per.week. #?$?!%#?!?%!%%%!#?$$. (That was just an exclamation of speechlessness, not gros mots (cuss words – literally “fat words”).) The rest of the time they can use to grade, prep, etc. So that they can actually have lives. If you’re a teacher in the States, your jaw is dropped right now, I know. In the States, we work “40 hours/week.” Which usually means maybe 45-50 hours/week at school, minimum. And THEN we prep/grade. Time to move to France, mes amis professeurs?! In the States, young teachers regularly wear out and stop teaching within the first seven years of their career because it's just so time-consuming.

When a French teacher is absent for a day or two, they don't get a substitute.** They're just absent and class is cancelled. This seems like a huge issue for an American teacher, but keep reading; when you get to the "schedule" section, you'll understand what it's no big deal if there are kids with nowhere to be for an hour. A remplaçant (substitute, literally "replacement") is only called in for long-term absences.

The teacher-student relationship is also different in France. It varies, of course. I have some teachers who use the more traditional vous (formal you) to address their students, and some that use the increasingly common tu (informal you). I have some that have the students stand upon entering the classroom and only sit down once the teacher has greeted the class and given them permission to sit, and some that have done away with this tradition. However, regardless of the level of formality the teacher uses with her students, the relationship is still more distant than that between an American teacher and her students. On one hand, I find this beneficial as it lends itself to better behavior in general. On the other, I think that a lot of the joy from my job would be taken away if my students didn’t tell me about the 3-pointer they scored at their basketball game, or their weekend trip for their sister’s wedding, or come by just to ask me my opinion or advice on applying for colleges.


Administrators are actually that - administrators - and not as much of disciplinarians as they are in the States. A good administrative team in the States will be visible in the school, walk around, observe classes, parole the hallways, etc. (Not all the time obviously, but enough so that the students and teachers are aware of their presence.) Here in France, the administrators mainly stick to the office. There is a department called la vie scolaire ("school life") that takes care of discipline issues (along with attendance, etc) before the administrators have to get involved.


In France, students stay with one group all day. They switch rooms and teachers, but they are always with the same group of ~25-35 students for one school year.

For their première (junior) and terminale (senior) years, they pick specialties (science, literature, technology, economics, marketing) and they study with a group of students with the same specialty. They can choose special designations (like the certification européene) which include extra classes and tests. I think that this is a good idea, because it creates an environment of similar-minded students and the teacher can cater her lessons to be interesting to a particular group. Plus, it’s known that certain specialties are more likely to continue to universities while others will most likely be finished with their education after high school. Again, this can help the teacher know how to tailor her class work. (It's extremely difficult in the States to teach Jimmy who doesn't even want to graduate high school, let alone go to university, in the same classroom as Johnny, who is applying to Ivy Leagues.) We have this idea in the States that everyone is the same, and it's not true. There's nothing wrong with a little differentiation.


Classes at my school run from 8:00-6:00 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and 8:00-12:00 on Wednesday. (Some secondary schools have classes Saturday morning, but mine does not.) Neither students nor teachers have class all of those hours. Students may have class from 8:00-10:00 and 1:00-5:00 or maybe just 8:00-1:00. They have an hour or two spread throughout the day of off periods. This means that there are always students in the courtyards and outside of campus just hanging out during school hours. Which at first really made the American teacher inside me want to say “Where are you supposed to be right now?!” … but I refrained. And now I’m used to it.

By the way, lunch is at least an hour (compared to the possible 25 minute lunches in the States), and students and teachers alike have a 15 minute break at 4:00 called la récréation, or la récré for short.


Teachers and students switch classrooms all the time, so teachers don't have their own classroom. You can't save all your documents on the computer, write down your objectives at the beginning of the day (French teachers don't actually have to do that anyway), hang up notes from sweet students, or decorate with Ratatouille posters. If I taught in France, I'd miss having my own classroom SO much. You have no idea how much easier that makes it. (Also, as an assistant without actual assigned classrooms, I've gotten kicked out of a classroom so many times by other teachers and had to run around to scrounge up a new one at the last minute with 4-15 French students trailing behind me like baby ducks. That's always exciting.)


Grades in France range from 0-20, 0 being exactly what you think – the worst. Grades higher than 15 are very rare. Generally anything above 10 is considered “good,” from what I’ve been able to tell from my students. There is no concrete “fail/pass” line, like our 70 in high school or 60 in college. (This seems strange to me, as I feel like there should be some consequence for low grades in one area other than possibly failing a test three years down the line. However, think of the decrease in necessary parent contact if you eliminate the idea of failing a credit. Hmm.)


In France, the numbers of the “grades” start at the top and go down (confusing). So senior year = terminale, junior year = première (1ère), sophomore year = seconde (2de), and so forth. They meet up in the middle (I use that as a reference point)… sixth grade = 6e.

École maternelle: 3-6 years old

École primaire: 6-11 years old (starting with 11e and going to 7e)

Collège: 11-15 years old (starting with 6e and going to 3e)

Lycée: 15-18 years old (starting with 2de and ending with terminale)

BTS: (optional) This is a two-year post-high school program. You choose a specialty, such as accounting, international business, negotiation & client relations, etc. You can either stop after the two-year program or continue on to a university and complete one year of studies to get the license or license professionnelle, the standard three-year degree which is the equivalent of our four-year Bachelor’s degree.

The Bac exam

In order to graduate high school, you must pass the Baccalauréat exam, shortened to the Bac. Students sit for this huge exam at the end of their terminale year. It’s a national exam in every subject they study (including sports), and their accumulative score must be a certain number (I don’t know what it is, and I think it depends on the student’s specialization). It’s an exit exam, but an exit exam much harder than ours (well, at least more difficult than the TAKS test). It’s not just written, but oral as well, and not just the four core subjects. It’s a pretty big deal.

Additionally, it’s interesting to note that this test is the only thing that determines whether or not the students pass high school. They don’t fail classes. You could theoretically consistently get a 5 (out of 20, remember) in math every year and still keep moving on to the next math class. There’s no “getting credits” component of the diploma. It’s 12 years of preparing for one test that determines everything. (No pressure!)

Speaking of "no pressure," if a student fails the Bac, he or she repeats the entire terminale year over. The whole thing. The students seem to live in fear of this their entire academic lives.

Extracurricular Activities

In France, there aren’t really school-sponsored extracurricular activities. School is for class and that’s it. There are sports classes, but there are no team sports. There are optional music classes somewhere, I think, but there is no choir, band, theater, etc. There’s no student council, pep rallies, musicals, or football games. They don’t have school colors or mascots. They don’t have televised school announcements or school newspaper.

In a way, this is good, because it means that school is 100% about classes and education. There’s nothing to distract from what the actual purpose of school is. (It also makes education cheaper – the States has one of most expensive education systems in terms of tax dollars per student, mostly due to technology and extracurricular activities. Here's looking at you, football in Texas.) With less money and energy spent on extracurricular activities, we could focus more on improving actual education in the States.

However, I also see a negative side. Extracurricular activities do help students find a way to get involved, provide them with a place to belong, connect them to other students and teachers, promote well-roundedness, and help students to explore and develop other interests. They also create an environment of school spirit and a sense of unity (for those who get on board). Plus, it’s fun (for those who are into that kind of thing).


There's just not as much in France compared with what I'm used to in the States. Of course, this varies in the States as well (thanks to educational disparity, your school might have iPads for every student or you might have one old-ish computer in each teacher's room), but the States generally have more technology present in the room. I don't know an American school that doesn't do attendance electronically, whereas here someone comes around to pick up attendance sheets every class period. Some rooms have computers, some don't. Some have projectors, some don't. Some have speakers, some don't. It's pretty much just a gamble. Add in the fact that as a teacher you're not always in the same classroom and it's pretty exciting. What will work/not work today?! Will someone have stolen the speakers for another classroom?! Always an adventure.

National System

I mentioned that France's education system is a national system. This means that the curriculum is a national curriculum; you can move from Nice to Lille or Bordeaux to Marseille and have basically the same curriculum in all your classes, making transition easier. In addition, they don't have as much educational inequality as we do in the States. Because American school districts are funded by property taxes, of course the areas with nicer houses have nicer schools. The poorer areas suffer. This isn't fair. As a developed country and a world leader, we should look around at other developed countries and be able to see that.

*Ha. If you don't know me and therefore don't know why I say "Ha," and you'd like to know, read this post which tells my personal story.

**Substitute teachers are called supply teachers in England (and probably some other Anglophone countries). Random fact of the day.


Well, these are the basics! I wanted to preserve this all for posterity in one post rather than in several. If you have any other questions about the French education system, let me know in a comment!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Meanwhile at Magic Jump

So this one time, Violeta and I went to a French 10-year-old's birthday party.

At Magic Jump.

Which is basically a giant room full of bounce houses/bouncy castles/Jupiter jumps/awesomeness.

It went a little something like this...

Easy for them to say.

The left off the from ?? to ?? years old. This is what happens when you don't make limits, people.

... and then we had crêpes. I mean, let's not forget we're in France, y'all.

This is all courtesy of Cathy, one of the fantastic teachers I work with, remember? We were invited to her son's 10th birthday. (How adorable is THAT?!) The day basically consisted of her 6-year-old daughter and her BFF pulling me and Violeta by the hand and running from house to castle to obstacle course to harder obstacle course. It took us on average about 4x longer to arrive, and just as we arrived, we'd be grabbed by the hands as little two little French voices cried happily "Un autre! Un autre!" (Another! Another!) and we'd "run" (fall) off again. We laughed harder than should be humanly possible, and eventually got so tired we had to hide in a hidden bounce house for the last 20 minutes of the jumping portion of the day.

And then Cathy took us home for lunch, where we had delicious chicken tagine and met her parents and 92-year-old grandmother.

Basically, it was the best day. I mean... seriously. Ma vie française.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

From Private Lessons to Perpignan

You may remember me talking about giving private English lessons to a group of 70-something friends on Thursday nights. The group includes Gilbert and Danièle (married couple), Odette, and Marie-Émilie. Gilbert and Danièle are going to the Philippines this month, and so they decided to take some English lessons, and Odette and Marie-Émilie decided that sounded good to them too.

So in November, our story began. Odette came to pick me up and we went to Gilbert & Danièle's home. We had tea and cake and started with "Hello," "How are you?" "I'm fine." "Not so great." "My name is..." "How old are you?" etc. I'm talking basic. We've worked our way through the topics of transportation, restaurants, airports, hotels, etc. They are enthusiastic, motivated, and so much fun to teach. They regularly say "We should only speak English from now on - it won't be difficult with Kate, she's not like a teacher, she's like a friend!" They even remembered my birthday (despite not having seen me for three weeks) and sent me a text message on the actual day when I was in Germany. 

I had mentioned to them that I'd like to profite more from France, and they mentioned that we could take a little excursion together. Last week, I got the following text message: "Dear Kate. Please, can you to be available Saturday 09 Feb go to Collioure. Your's four students. :-)" a) How sweet! Yes, please! b) Check out that English, eh?!

So this past Saturday, we headed out. We actually went to Perpignan instead of Collioure as the latter is right on the sea and it was too cold and windy (surprise, surprise) that particular day. Funnily enough, we actually got started about 45 minutes late because Gilbert & Danièle forgot and went to the fiançailles (engagements) at City Hall. (Danièle: "I remembered we had something at 10, or 11, and I had a doubt. Then we went to the finançailles, and I didn't see Odette, so I had a second doubt. Then I didn't see Marie-Émilie, so I had a third doubt. Then Odette called and told us we were supposed to be picking you up... and then I knew.") Hilarious. Adorable.

So off we went to Perpignan (Odette told me to sit in the seat with the best view so I could check out the views of the Mediterranean on the way). Enjoy the pics from our adventures!

another "aux Dames de France" building like the one we have in Narbonne - I've really gotta figure what these building are. Right away, my impressions of Perpignan were: palm trees, sun, color! (More color than Narbonne.)

Just the bank. Regular ol' Caisse d'Epargne, Art Nouveau-style

bridges along the River Bassa

This is one of the old gates to the city. Also, you can see the Catalan flag in the top right. (You may remember me talking about Catalan culture when I went to Barcelona.)

Here are my friends entering the gate. From left to right: Odette, Marie-Émilie, Danièle, Gilbert.

This particular gate is the Porte Notre-Dame.

a model of Perpignan back in the day, this gate was part of the ramparts

Notre Dame (as in Porte de Notre Dame) - quick French lesson: Notre Dame means "Our Lady," so anything Notre Dame is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. (Also it's pronounced "no-truh dahm;" only the university is called "no-ter daym.") :)

I love the colorful buildings! Also notice how far the houses jut out over the shops.

As we were walking by, we heard bells... just this random exterior clock & its bells.

statues performing different Catalan traditions

signs in French then Catalan

la Cathédrale de Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Perpignan, built in Catalan Gothic style

We showed up at the Cathedral, and it turns out that Odette had printed out guides from the internet on the Cathedral, the Palace, and the building where we ate lunch. She had added hand-written notes and page numbers. COME ONNNNN too sweet.

the building where we ate lunch. It was formerly some kind of building for fishers. I can't really remember. See the little boat top left?

Scene: Lunch (in the building seen above)
moi: "Hmmm, I think I'll have a pizza."
Odette: "Are you sure? Are you very sure? That's not a good idea to have a pizza, you can get pizza anywhere."
moi: "Oh yes, I'll get the Pizza Catalane."
Odette: "No, no, I really don't think that's best. Why don't you think about getting something special? Some seafood, the duck? We're offering it to you. Are you sure?"

Merci d'insister, Odette. Merci d'insister.
Seriously this was delicious.

And crème catalane for dessert, again at their insistence. :) It was basically crème brûlée with a little twist.

the Hôtel de Ville (city hall) - I'd really like to know what's going on with those arms. See 'em? Hmm.

We did a little shopping in this really cute fabric store - I got my very own French trousse (pencil bag) - VERY important here in France. I'll include more details when I do a post about French students.

Perpignan actually kind of reminded me of New Orleans a bit - colorful, wrought iron balconies, palm trees...   And we all know that I love New Orleans. (Did you know that I love New Orleans?)

This random tucked-away building looks a little Gaudí-esque to me (also see Barcelona post).

On the to the Palais des Rois de Majorque, or the Palace of the Kings of Majorca. Here you can see the ramparts.

History lesson! (Skip if you're not interested.) I had no idea about this one, so here we go: From 1231-1349, there existed the Kingdom of Marjoca,* which included the four Balearic Islands (in the Mediterranean and now belonging to Spain) as well as Roussillon (as in Languedoc-Roussillon, which is the French region in which I live) and Montpellier. The palace was situated in Perpignan.

gorgeous day

view from the top - Perpignan rooftops and some Corbières (the little rocky mountains), I think...

You can check out this video for a panoramic view, a good insight into the windiness of our region, and a little peek at my sweet French friends.

Not sure if you can tell, but the Mediterranean is visible along the horizon here.

The sunshine is kinda stealing the thunder of the Pyrenees right here... but you can kind of tell they're there.

This guy's just chillin'.

You can see the more Gothic arches on top (added later) and the more Romanesque arches on the bottom.

some chapel views...

Marie-Émilie was walking around with a pad and paper looking at different things (floor patterns, doors, tables, etc.) and writing them down for ideas to remodel her house.** I realized that it was basically old school Pinterest happening right in front of my eyes.

Just a typical "driving through Languedoc-Roussillon" scene - Corbières and vineyards.

I had a lovely day with my "students." I feel so lucky to have found them; not only has it been a source of a little pocket money, but also more insight into French people, their culture, and their life. In teaching them, my French improves, as well. (Bonus!) They weekly give me tea and dessert. And this day, they took me on an excursion and spent time with me (and spoiled me!) for no reason. The whole day, they were talking about other possibilities for our future excursions ("Oh, we could show Kate Collioure next time." "Kate, have you seen these abbeys?") as if they haven't already done enough. LOVE it. Love it all. So lucky. Adorable in any language.

Also, I listened to my brother Brandon play piano basically the whole time I wrote this blog post. Just hangin' out via Skype on a Sunday. Technology is fantastic. 

You know how it is.

*As I'd only heard of the island of Majorca and not the Kingdom of Majorca, and I wasn't associating Majorca with France, I kept hearing "Palais des Rois Mages" ("Let's go to the Palais des Rois Mages," "Later we'll go to the Palais des Rois Mages"), which means Palace of the Three Wise Men. I was a bit confused.

**Yes. Remodel her house like a palace. How cute is that? I LOVE THESE PEOPLE.