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Record-breaking and wrong-doing

I seem to be surviving here in France, in fact its coming up to a month now so I thought I’d do a little update on my progress as an inept intern in a luxury boutique.

We established fairly early on that I was lacking in retail knowledge, specifically of the men’s-formal-wear-in-French variety, however, you’ll be pleased to hear that things have improved. Due to a collection of fortunate events I have inadvertently broken the store’s sales record, with a huge transaction last Tuesday morning (unfortunately I do not work on commission).

Basically a nice man from Kazakstan came in looking about as clueless and out of place as me. I was manning the shop floor alone so unfortunately he had no choice but to seek my ‘expertise’ in his shopping mission. I helped him find a nicely-fitted suit, he then went on to by the suit in another colour and found a winter coat to go with it. Four shirts and an overpriced pair of socks later and he’d wracked up 1650 euros! The nice part was that this customer wanted my opinion on every single item, he didn’t speak French so we communicated in a mixture of English and hand gestures, I nodded a lot and gave big thumbs up to express ‘wow that looks great!’ and it seemed to work. Anyway I was alone in the shop at the time and my boss was super-impressed upon his return to find me scanning through all these big items.

Unfortunately, I then rained on my own parade by making a huge numerical blunder on the till and overcharging the man by €200, however we soon sorted this out and he left the store about as patient and smiley as he entered – just with a few more bags. So maybe a career in retail could be promising! Except I don’t really like folding, or rude customers, or standing up all day….

And actually, as this little example shows, I still make plenty of mistakes. In fact I do multiple things wrong every single day. Despite breaking the sales record I am bottom of the league for the number of customer details I’ve taken (and I don’t mean chatting up the French men by asking for their numbers, although incidentally I’m terrible at that too). I’m supposed to ask each customer for their details when they make a purchase, in order to send them an electronic receipt, add them to the mailing list and all that. I hate asking as most people don’t like to give out that kind of information and I feel pushy. However last week 81% of my transactions were without customer details and apparently this is bad. I like to think I just respect people’s privacy more than the rest of the team, tant pis.

I also feel bad encouraging people spend money. Every person who enters the shop is obviously a sales opportunity and I’m told to try harder to encourage purchasing, but I find it hard to do this. Plus I’m secretly happy when people don’t buy things because it frees me of the pressure of operating the till and making an inevitable faux-pas (please don’t tell my boss).

Anyway, hopefully next month will be filled with fewer mistakes, especially as I can’t play the ‘sorry I’m new!’ card for much longer. I have a much-needed weekend off now so I’m going to explore more of Paris and catch up on sleep, à bientot!

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Paris

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For my first two days off I headed into central Paris for some sightseeing. I’ve been to Paris a few times before, on family holidays and French exchanges with school, however it’s such a huge city that I don’t think you could ever really see everything. Luckily I’ve got all the weekends from now until September to explore as much as possible. Yesterday I got the train from my suburban home straight to the Arc de Triomphe, where I was greeted by the most terrifying roundabout in history, I then walked down L’avenue des Champs-Élysées to the Eiffel Tower to meet a friend for a picnic. From here we walked along the river all the way to Place de la Concorde, through the beautiful Tuileries gardens to the Louvre. To finish the day I then hopped on the metro to Place Monge where I met another friend for some Moroccan tea (I can’t get enough) at La Grande Mosquée.

I should also mention that it was 37 degrees this weekend in Paris. It’s been boiling all week and let me tell you, the metro is the last place you want to be on a hot day. It’s basically a furnace packed full of sweaty tourists, sweaty Parisians and probably all the sweaty people in the world, and their children. I don’t think anyone quite knows if its better to walk for miles in the midday sun just to avoid the cattle-transportation experience. I was weighing up sunburn and blistered feet against extreme armit-to-face proximity and limited oxygen. A tough call. In the end I settled for the metro because at least the pain is short-term. Anyway it’s beautiful in Paris so I should stop complaining.

Here are some pictures of my day… As I only photographed the pretty things it’s like the metro never even even happened!

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My last day of teaching

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Teaching in Spain has been a rollercoaster of hilarity, intimidation, confusion, misinterpretation, frustration and exhaustion. Incidentally, I have also learnt that most Spanish kids struggle to pronounce words ending in ‘tion’.

In all honesty I’ve loved the experience about 64 times more than I ever thought I would. Equally, I would never want to do it again. 8 months was the perfect amount of time, the perfect amount of responsibility and pressure. I know that being a proper teacher is significantly harder, I mean I worked just 12 hours a week, speaking my native language at a slow pace and loud volume, occasionally whipping together a PowerPoint entitled ‘What is a Roast Dinner?’. I’m fairly sure professional teachers have to work a lot harder than that.

I like to think I imparted a lot of wisdom throughout my time here, and hopefully I did a lot to improve my students’ English. What I can be sure of though is that I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot myself. Ironically, I am now better informed on British, American and Irish culture as I had to give lessons on various cultural topics. Never before had I researched the story behind Halloween, the history of St Patrick’s Day or the rules of cricket (we did an entire lesson on this), wikepedia has definitely been my friend.

Perhaps less surprisingly, I have also learned a whole heap of English grammar. At the beginning of the year I’d be asked, on the spot, to explain the use of ‘the future perfect tense’ and I’d stare blankly at the teacher for a good four minutes. We know and use so much grammar instinctively but when it comes to explaining the rules or the reasons behind our bizarre language it gets quite complicated. I’ve learned about countable nouns, uncountable nouns, the present continuous… the list is endless (and tedious) but it’s been enlightening nevertheless.

There have also been numerous amusing classroom moments, some of which I have already shared here, here and here. Last month there was a listening task in which students had to identify sports from audio clips. The sound of a bat hitting a ball was clearly tennis, hearing quick footsteps on tarmac was obviously jogging but Judo was less straightforward; the clip was a medley of rude-sounding grunting and shuffling on the floor which prompted a class of stifled laughter, me included. Another case was when students were given titles to invent their own storyboards with; one group was given ‘Getting Dirty’ and thankfully wrote about a dog swimming in a puddle. Less innocent students could certainly have taken the title in a very different direction and I was VERY grateful it was a young class. My friends working at neighbouring schools have not been spared the amusement either. One of Emmy’s 13 year old students was asked about her weekend and answered “On Saturday night I sleep with my friend Lara” to which the Spanish teacher corrected “NO! You SLEPT with your friend Lara, past tense!” before Emmy had to correct them both and said “I think you mean you slept at your friend Lara’s house?” It’s never-ending fun.

The highlight of my teaching experience however, as I’m sure most non-monstrous teachers would agree, has been the students. They were (mostly) funny, cheeky and kind, occasionally hard working, attentive and studious, often challenging but never boring. I’d be lying if I sad I didn’t have favourites; in every class there’d be at least two or three particularly funny or sweet kids who would make the lessons so much better. In the younger classes I had really cute ones who would make me paper flowers or drawings, in the older classes there were girls who filled me in on the school gossip, giggled with me over mutual love for the attractive Portuguese teacher, there was Juan-Manuel the Pretty Little Liars super-fan who I discussed episodes with. Having these allies was also integral to discipline, whenever I spoke these students would yell (in a passionate Spanish way that I could never replicate) for their classmates to shut up and listen – VERY useful if you’ve ever experienced the sheer chaos of a rowdy Spanish high school.

I will also undoubtedly be using my teaching experience in any future job interview; it has tested so much more than a year at university ever would. Can you give me an example of a time you when you had to work under pressure? Insert Spanish teaching experience here. Tell me about a time where you had to think on your feet? Insert Spanish teaching experience here. Please explain how you would handle a challenging working environment? You get the idea..

Like waitressing, I can tick ‘teacher’ off my future career list that’s for sure, however, now that the time has come to leave I’m actually quite emotional. As cheesy as it sounds, it has been so nice to make connections with students who I would never have met otherwise and will realistically never encounter again. Yesterday was my last day and it was very special, I taught 3 classes the ‘ChaCha slide’ dance routine and we did lots of goodbyes and present exchanging. In one class four of the students had clubbed together to buy me an impractical but adorable HUGE pink teddy bear. It’ll take some serious packing tessellation to get him home but I’m determined to do it. I’ll remember these 8 months forever and I can’t wait to read my diary in years to come to relive ALL the memories, both disastrous and wonderful.

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Granada

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I have now visited all the sights on my spring travel list! Last weekend I concluded my travels by celebrating my 21st birthday in Granada.

Granada is famous for the stunning Alhambra which sits in the centre of the city on top of a huge hill. It’s recommended that you buy tickets well in advance (we bought ours in March) because they sell out about as quickly as a One Direction concert.

The Alhambra experience was very special, and worth the planning. There are palaces, towers and gardens to visit – all with spectacular panoramic views of the city below. Like a One Direction concert there were plenty of people, however the site is so vast that other tourists are dispersed amongst the various buildings and foliage so it doesn’t feel too intense.

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You can easily enjoy many hours exploring the Alhambra, I was there all morning and I’m pretty sure I still didn’t see everything. The highlight is undeniably the Nasrid palace which is probably worth the entrance fee alone. it’s just as pretty as the alcazars in Sevilla or Córdoba but on a much bigger scale, I loved it.

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The rest of the weekend was spent eating and drinking in Moroccan style restaurants and tea rooms (another great thing about granada) and it was all kinds of wonderful. I enjoyed frozen yogurt, my favourite treat, and even had a wild night out (complete with mojitos, crazy dance moves and 5am hostel return).

I now have just two weeks left before it’s time to say goodbye to Spain..

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The Spanish summer has begun

photoExtremadura is known for it’s extreme temperatures (as the name suggests) and I am finally appreciating why. We are currently experiencing spell of extreme heat and its almost unbearable. It was 40 degrees today, it is also May. The locals are wearing shorts and all conversations begin with ¡Qué calor!, so you know it’s pretty serious. I checked the weather and it’s currently hotter than Morocco, Greece and Uganda. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the school classrooms were hotter than the Earth’s core.

The main problem is that it’s very dry and desert-like here; there’s no nearby beach, no lake and very few trees around the town. Unfortunately I walk to my students’ houses for private classes at around 3.30pm each day and I’m fairly sure I’m the only human braving the sunlight at this scorching hour. Everyone else is sensibly en casa with the shutters down. I actually have to apply sun cream for my ten-minute walk down the road, I also have to arrive an extra two minutes early to allow for cooling-off period during which I lurk outside the students’ house for necessary brow-mopping and water-guzzling.

I’ll try to find some silver linings to avoid sounding too whiny and spoiled: I’m lucky to be getting a healthy glow, I am grateful that this town is not at all hilly and I am pleased to have quite a decent deodorant.

But madre mía, any increase in temperature and I’ll have to be forcibly removed from the town fountain. Seriously.

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Thoughts about May

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I can’t believe its May already. I couldn’t believe it was March, or April and then suddenly here we are. May is my final month in Spain and it’s also the month I turn 21 so it’s simultaneously sad, exciting and strange.

This weekend I popped to Seville to see the Alcazar, a place I hadn’t visited but knew I needed to see before I left Spain. It was really, really beautiful, with sprawling gardens, fountains and courtyards. They use it as a location for the Game of Thrones TV series and you can definitely see why, it’s a magical setting and quite incredible that it all sits within a big city centre.

Unbelievably it was 40 degrees in Seville the day I visited. 40 degrees on the first of May, blimey. It was around 30 degrees on the first of November if I remember rightly, so I’ve probably had one of the shortest winters ever. I am now appreciating the perks of a Spanish apartment too. The white tiled floors may have been icy in winter but they now cool my feet all day long and it’s fabulous. Gone are the January days of me cursing the drafty windows and echoing rooms, mi piso was built for the summer and I now realise how great this is.

So, my final month in Spain will consist of a trip to Córdoba to see the famous los patios festival, a weekend in Granada – where I will celebrate my birthday in the beautiful Alhambra, then two final weekends of parties and goodbyes. I will be making the absolute most of the hot weather too because a British summer can’t always be relied upon.

**I’ll also be negotiating the cancellation of my wifi and phone contract, closure of my bank account, deep cleaning the apartment and packing my belongings into suitcases. I’ll then be lugging the contents of the past 8 months onto various modes of public transport before inevitably collapsing in a heap of emotion and exhaustion at Heathrow arrivals. But we won’t dwell on this.**

Time to enjoy the rest of the month!

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Expectations

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Back in January 2014 I attended a rowing ball with my boat club at Durham (yes it was as pretentious as it sounds). Unusually, to encourage mingling between members of different colleges, there was randomly allocated seating at this event. Now initially this situation filled me with great excitement at the prospect of being paired with a hunky oarsman who could later become my husband, passing his chiselled jaw line and natural athleticism to our future children (the dream lives on…). This expectation was soon dampened however, when the seat next to me was filled by a very posh, ponytail-wielding rower, who turned out to be a bit of an idiot. Despite immediate disappointment, I told myself that hairstyles were temporary and ploughed ahead with the small talk. We quickly covered the usual topics before moving on to discuss my impending year abroad.

The reason I’m telling you this anecdote is because when I mentioned I would be spending the Spanish part of my year in Extemadura, this boy, who we’ll call Charles, had a very strong opinion to declare. He raised his already up-turned nose a further two centimetres and loudly scoffed ‘That’s the ugliest of the Spanish regions, it has a bland landscape of nothingness and its not worth visiting at all’.

Now this was a bit of a conversation killer for me as I was soon to be not only visiting, but living in this ‘bland region of nothingness’ for a whole eight months. I didn’t bother asking, as I should have, just what evidence or experience qualified him to make that statement, instead I turned to focus on eating my garlicky chicken and wallow in self pity.

What Charles said went on to stay with me long after the garlic aftertaste that evening and I added his comment to my growing list of reasons to be anxious about my year abroad.

After living here for six months I can safely conclude that Charles was wrong. There are definitely more beautiful regions in Spain (the absence of a coastline is a bit of a downer) but Extremadura is still really, really beautiful. As I described in my previous posts about the waterfalls and cherry blossoms in Plasencia, the roman ruins in Merida, and the beautiful parts of my own town Zafra and nearby Badajoz. This region is actually really diverse, interesting and pretty. I am not sponsored by the local tourist board, but I have spent a lot of time in this part of the world and I now feel qualified to prove Charles, and anyone else wrong.

Yesterday for example I went for a hike with my friends and found fields and fields of wild poppies. The other beautiful thing is that the area is mostly untouched and sparsely populated, possibly due to Charles spreading his ill-informed message.

So, the moral of this story: DON’T trust men with ponytails and DON’T write off places before you visit for yourself. I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend!

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