Month: June 2014

Monday Musings #1

It can get quite lonely living in a hotel room, so I have taken to watching TV in the mornings whilst I get ready for the day ahead. There’s an impressive array of 26 channels, purely French, and it’s definitely an entertaining way to learn the language. My personal favourite is Cherie 25, which features all sorts of girly programs that are right up my street. However, it turns out the French are rather lazy when it comes to creativity of the televisual kind. Aside from the news channels it’s mainly American and English programmes dubbed into French. There are dubbed episodes of Ugly Betty (Hilda is so much sassier en Français) and endless re-runs of The Real Housewives (the fact that people have made the effort to dub such a low quality show is both baffling and brilliant). British programmes have also been subjected to the voice over treatment: The Hotel Inspector and Wife Swap (or Ma Nouvelle Famille as they call it here) add to the apparent obsession with reality TV. After much research, I have discovered an original French programme that I love. Le plus beau jour de ma vie follows couples as they plan their weddings. It’s a bit like Don’t Tell the Bride, minus the incompetent groom.

I think it’s fair to say that I’m loving being able to watch trashy telly for educational purposes, I am being sociable too though, I promise. In fact, tonight is France’s latest world cup match, so I will be watching that in reception with the rest of the guests and staff. Allez les bleus!

Finding my feet

I have completed my first two shifts! I have been waitressing non-stop so far, apparently I will be working in reception eventually but new ‘stagiaires’ usually start in the restaurant. I am actually pretty relieved, I’d rather not deal with a French booking system just yet and I am doubtful that I could provide any useful tourism information having just arrived myself.

I worked last night 6pm until 10pm, this morning 10am until 2pm and I have another evening shift tonight. My day off tomorrow will be much needed that’s for sure. It is surprisingly tiring work: setting tables, clearing tables, cleaning tables, serving food, and repeating all of the above. The instructions from my boss have been limited so I am mostly using my initiative or copying others. There have been some frustrating moments; I painstakingly set all the lunch tables only to be told AFTERWARDS that I had used the knives that were ‘pour le petit déjeuner’ because they had a slightly blunter edge. Brilliant.

I am learning quickly though and I enjoy serving the food because the guests are really friendly. They are on their holidays so are generally relaxed, patient and chatty. One of the highlights is serving the ice cream, I get to use the scooper and explain what each flavour is. I think I need improve my pronunciation of ‘menthe’ though, that’s the one that seems to produce a look of confusion followed by ‘ah menthe !’

My main coping strategy is smiling and nodding, which seems to work quite well. A few times I have understood someone’s comment or question about 3 minutes after I gave them a wrong answer. Very frustrating. It seems that I understand the vocabulary deep down but it sometimes takes a while to process it. Some simple mistakes include enthusiastically producing a spoon (cuillère) when a guest asked for more cherries (cerises). I can assure you that I know the word for cherry, but the cutlery had been running low and it must have been on my mind…

All in all, I am definitely surviving and it can only get easier. Plus, the weather tomorrow is meant to be 28 degrees of pure sunshine – pool anyone?

First day drama

I have arrived ! One plane, two buses, and an emotional breakdown later, and I have made it to Hotel Vacanciel, where I will be working for the next three months. My year abroad has officially begun, however I’m hoping that the rest of my adventures will be slightly less stressful than today’s experience…

The plane journey was very smooth, as was the first bus ride. When I arrived at the second bus station I had an hour and a half to wait for my next connection, so I made the most of it and relaxed on a bench in the sun. However, the excessive hydration I did on the plane soon kicked in and I found myself searching desperately for toilets. I found a café with the required facilities only to be told that I had to buy a drink in order to use them. Slightly counter-productive if you ask me but I was very grateful. It was really fun to be speaking French and to hear it around me, which is obviously the reason I am here.

When my bus finally arrived, I told the driver the name of the hotel, he SEEMED fairly sure of where it was and so I sat down happily and enjoyed the scenic drive from St Raphael, through the pretty town of Frejus, enjoying the many palm trees and pastel-coloured buildings.

When we reached Roquebrune Sur Argens, the driver stopped at the first bus stop and told me that this was my destination. Admittedly it didn’t look convincing (a dual carriage way by a large roundabout), but when I reminded him of the hotel name he nodded and said it was just up the road. I was a bit dubious but followed his directions for about 10 minutes, precariously walking along a busy road on a dusty, makeshift pavement, wheeling my two suitcases behind me. However, it became clear after a while that the hotel was nowhere in sight. The sun was scorching, I was completely exhausted, I couldn’t see any signs for the hotel and what I’d researched on Google street view was scarily unlike the road I was walking on. I had obviously got off the bus way too early.

I started to panic. It was really hot, there was absolutely no shade, I was on a busy road and it dawned on me that I didn’t even have the hotel’s phone number. When I eventually found a different bus stop, I read that the next bus wasn’t for and hour and a half. I roamed around hopelessly for a while and then began to cry.

In the hope of finding help and/or shade, I took a side road and found an old lady in her garden. I must have looked as traumatised as I felt because she asked me what was wrong. I burst into tears again and had to explain my ridiculous situation in tearful French. She made me drink some water, sit in the shade and try to calm down. She had never heard of the hotel but said she would ring her son. I then decided to ring home and get the hotel’s number from them.

Whilst her son was on his way I pulled myself together and managed to get hold of the phone number. He then arrived, kindly rang the hotel, found out their address (which turned out to be about a ten minute drive away) and drove me there himself. To me, the risk of stranger danger was preferable to collapsing in a heap of suitcases and sweat at the side of a major road (he also had a 5 year old little boy who was very cute).

When we pulled up outside the hotel I was so, so relieved. It is really pretty, surrounded by trees and has a swimming pool with incredible views. I am now sat in my new room, enjoying both the air-conditioning and the prospect of not having to carry a suitcase for another three months. I start work tomorrow, but my first shift is not until the evening.

The lady and her son who helped me were so kind. They told me the first day was always going to be hard, they complimented my French and wished me luck with the rest of my trip. They refused to accept money for rescuing me and simply said that they were glad I was ok.

So, amidst the trauma of today’s events, I learned two things:

–       The kindness of strangers is truly remarkable

–       I will be making the return journey, in September, by taxi.

Stationary Dreaming

I am getting really, really, really nervous about flying off to France next week. However, one of the things helping me to get excited (other than writing this blog), has been the thought of filling brand new journals with my thoughts and experiences.

I have always had a stationary obsession, there is just something lovely about pretty notebooks, pens and letter-writing sets. It is no surprise that Paperchase remains one of my all-time favourite shops.
Conveniently, their new summer collections are travel-themed. The prints this season include bright florals, tropical palm trees, as well as vintage-style maps and stamps. As if the amazing stationary wasn’t enough, Paperchase have also started selling travel accessories and bags.

I was lucky enough to receive two travel diaries for my birthday so I decided not to buy anything this time. However, my love for stationary cannot be contained and I thought I’d write this post in appreciation of the beautiful new designs.

Perhaps by the time I head off to Spain in October I’ll be able to justify some new purchases..