Thursday, July 28, 2011

Identity Change

OK, not too sure what the deal is here, but I've been checking out a few random blogs using the "Next Blog" function, and have been coming across a disproportionately high amount of Jesus Creepers. Now, you want to be a Catholic - go ahead and be a Catholic. But What is going on? I refuse to believe this is pure coincidence.

Annnnnyhoo, today is a fairly big day for me, because I am finally making my identity formal. Having lived with the ghost of my bastarding biological roots permanently haunting my existence (note: administratively, not emotionally), today is the day the papers have been signed, and my name is now officially the name I want and have been using anyway for all these years. Which is important as:
  • France has up until now refused to give me any respect whatsoever, due to this birth cert/passport mismatch debacle: goodbye social security, and with it, free healthcare. I also just know the university is going to want to know my blood group, my grandfather's shoe size, and countless other all-important details before they will let me enter their grounds, so I'm glad to be gathering all this documentation now
  • It allows me some freedom psychologically, and allows me to make a permanent statement of the rejection of 50% of my blood 'family'. All I need to decide now is whether I should inform them of this change (and whether they'd care).
Changing your name is surprisingly easy. You order the deed poll documents, they come, you sign, you get a witness to sign, you send them off. I'm at the stage now where I'll be sending them off today/tomorrow, and then sitting back and waiting to get the actual official document, which I can then spend yet more money on getting translated. This Deed Poll Service has:
  "issued Deed Polls for fun names such as Jellyfish McSaveloy, Toasted T Cake, Nineteen Sixty-Eight, Hong Kong Phooey, Daddy Fantastic, One-One-Eight Taxi, Ting A Ling, Huggy Bear, Donald Duck, Jojo Magicspacemonkey and James Bond."
If you were looking for ideas to get you started.

So anyway, because I live abroad, my 'witness' needed to be a notary or solicitor. I emailed a couple, and started talking to this one woman who suggested we meet at a local cafe at 10.30pm today. Bit weird, but who am I to judge? Maybe she's an insomniac? Maybe she's the sort of person who starts work around 4, and finishes up at midnight. Maybe she's a psycho killer luring me into her psycho killing trap using a 'oh I'm a solicitor, let's meet in a dark alley way so I can sign your documents' facade. Or maybe, she's just a flake.
I got a call at 10.30am saying she was at the cafe, and where was I? Ummm, sitting in front of the telly eating Craves? She apologized, she'd meant to say 10.30am in her email. I ummmed and ahhhed, basically not wanting to say "Look, you're a working woman, and I...well, I'm actually still in my pyjamas, so can you sit there and make your coffee last another half hour please?". The best I could manage on the spot was a weak "Oh, I just need to put my contact lenses in...." but luckily she suggested coming over to my house, which is just next door (or as I disgustingly put it via email, 'a spit away').
So, she came over, gave me her life story, waxed lyrical re the holiday value of cottages in county Wexford, which was embarrassing, as just minutes before I'd been discussing Wexford, in the context of: "Who the hell would ever want to go there on holiday?" Apparently it's the 'Irish Riviera'. We talked about how she is the 'poor one in the relationship' with her partner, about her struggles career-wise during the recession, about house prices in the Churchtown area, and finally, almost as an after-thought, we signed the documents.
She needed to check my photo ID first, and she held the passport up to my face (thought people only did that in films?), and said "It's funny, you look different here". I completely froze. Personally, I always feel suspicious when I am in an environment in which people are looking for suspicious people. At airports, for example. I feel convinced they're going to put my bag through X-Ray, pull me over and say "Now, I'm just going to have a quick look in your bag if you don't mind", and pull out a million dollars worth of crack along with a selection of firearms. When I walk through the metal detector, I don't know what to do with my eyes - look frankly at the officer? Look away? I usually end up doing some weird 'oh, look how relaxed and unguilty I am' smile whilst simultaneously scanning the other side for signs of my bag.
It's the same with banks. I walk into a bank, I automatically feel like some shady pauper, even if I have money in my account. And even if I didn't - who cares? Not their problem. And yet, I'm always slightly on edge, as if the guy behind the desk could any minute now say "I've got some bad news Madam - your account is overdrawn by 10 grand, and my sources are indicating that you spent it all on lingerie and cigarettes. I'm afraid I'm going to have to close the account, and issue you with a court date if you do not pay back this money within 24 hours".

So anyway, after feeling suspicious and getting the documents signed, I stood up (fairly brusquely I might add), and essentially frogmarched her out of the house, calling after her as she wobbled her way down the drive, making futile promises of checking out holiday rentals in Wexford, before slamming the door and immediately striding out the back for a cigarette. It made me think how well I handled this situation, compared to when I was 18 and starting out in Germany. Jesus Christ, I was such a pushover back then. I would listen to life stories for hours on end, out of a fear of hurting the other person's feelings if I showed a little impatience/fed-upness. I listened to this little old lady's life story on a train in Germany once - it lasted an hour and a half, and I literally understood not a SINGLE WORD. She didn't seem to mind though, and took my occasional "Oh ja?", and "Oh ja!" and "Oh....ja."with grace and style.

Entente Cordiale Scholarship

Here's something that may be of interest, and something that is allowing me to spend the upcoming year studying in France: the Entente Cordiale Scholarship. You can have a little click and find out more about it yourself, but the basic gist is:
''Long term scholarships cover a whole academic year and are best suited for students wishing to study for a Master 1 or a Master 2 in a French university or grande ├ęcole. Scholars receive a maintenance award of £8000 (in Paris) pa or £7500 (outside Paris) pa and a maximum contribution of £3000 pa towards the payment of tuition fees. Please note that the scholarship is for one year only and is not renewable''
It's also only for British applicants, although there is an equivalent for French students wanting to study in the U.K.

  • To apply, you need to download the documents at the bottom of the page - and FYI, it is seriously time-consuming. The questions are fairly indepth, and abviously if you want to get past this step in the process you're going to need to make sure your answers hold some weight. Once you've filled it all in, stick a photo on it, attach your CV, cover letter and copies of your degree, post it, and wait. I believe the deadline this year was the 15th of March, so I'm assuming roughly the same will apply for next year. You're also required to provide two (academic) references. The application form is a bit strange in that the questions jump from English to French. I played it safe and replied in whatever language the question was asked in.

In the third week of March, I received a letter inviting me to interview in London on the 3rd of May (btw guys: I'm not an OCD time-obsessive: am just looking up the dates in my inbox to give you as precise timeline info as possible, because I know when I was applying for all this stuff, everyday was a ''FFS when am I going to find out, I can't stand this wait'' day).

  •  Next comes the interview. I'll admit - I was terrified of this interview. You generally are, except I knew this one was going to be pretty intense since the panel is made up of five people, and more precisely, five academics. I arrived in London the night before, and the next day had a bit of a total disaster. Firstly, the new shoes I had bought were a size too big (never thought I'd see the day when this would be the case). So I shuffled my way through one of London's posher areas, met up with a good friend and had a great day - pub, BLTs, catching up. Then the time for the dreaded interview arrived. Except I'd gotten the wrong place. For the love of Christ, future applicants: make sure you're in the right place. After a stilted gallop down a few miles of broad, bustling street, I arrived at The Place. Luckily, the woman who greeted me was incredibly nice. She put me at ease straight away, ushered me up the stairs, and plopped me in front of the jury. I shook hands, sat down, and the interview began. I started with a presentation of my path so far, my goals, what I want to do, and how I'm going to achieve it. I started - and then faltered. The combination of nerves and having ran/panicked my way to the interview meant I was completely out of breath, and I couldn't get my first 2 or 3 sentences out without gulping for air. I had to excuse myself and start again. Then came the actual interview. I'm not going to lie - it was quite tough, in that they were constantly keeping me on my toes. Nothing I said went unquestioned. Any answer I gave was immediately picked up by another member of the jury, and I was asked to justify it. The questions were a mixture of the personal (but not banal), and academic/cultural. I'll say this: it was the most interesting interview of my life. And when I came out, as you always do, I had a few facepalm moments where I regreted answering a question in a particular way, or I found solutions to their queries that hadn't come to me on the spot. But mostly, I felt like I'd had an interesting exchange with the panel, and it was something that was challenging. What was inspiring about it, was the fact that I didn't feel like I'd just given them the usual pre-formatted corporate answers, because that's not what it was about. I'd had to show a bit more intelligence and provide a higher standard of thinking than in any job interview I've had.
  • I found out the result by letter in the second week of May.
  • The subject you want to study does not have to be French, or even French-related, although I imagine that would help (?). The interview is, however, all in French, including the mini-presentation you have to give, so if you're interested in applying I would recommend starting brushing up now.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

DSK syndrome 1

See, the problem I'm starting to have with this whole ''French men, ooh la la'' thing, is - well, it's bullshit.
When I first came to France, I thought men asking me to suck their dicks whilst on my way to the boulangerie was sort of sweet. They must just be more liberated than their awkward Jeykll-Hyde, drunk-sober British counterparts, I thought. Now, after quite a bit of time here, I've finally had it.
Don't even get me started on what it's like to actually engage in a relationship with one of these men. Let's start at street level, or DSK Syndrome part 1.

This week has been fairly hard on the old blood pressure. I wasn't a nervous child, but I was the sort of child who, when asked to babysit her younger siblings at the age of 10, would sit on the stairs, eyes fixed on the door handle, waiting
a) for some leather-jacket wearing psycho to break in and perform the Human Caterpillar on me, and
b) for my selfish parents to come home.
My eyes literally did not leave the door. I sat there, my body crisp, jumping at every sound, resenting my heavy-sleeping sister, and my parents who, I imagined, were sitting in a bar somewhere laughing their heads off, oblivious to the terror suffered by their eldest daughter.
What's my point? My point is - I do not like being in houses by myself. I plan escape routes. Note which objects are lying around that I could use as a weapon. Calculate which neighbours would hear my screams. My imagination runs wild, when I'm left home alone.

So imagine my fucking FEAR when, walking home to my empty flat a few nights ago, I pass a group of guys a bit older than me, guys I don't know, who say ''Oh, c'est la petite anglaise du coin'', ''eh, do you like ze franch kiss honey?''. Firstly - how do they know I'm English? Secondly - AHHHHHHHHHH! So I call my flatmate (on holiday in the South of France), and start ranting in a way that makes me sound seriously deluded, and she tells me about how one night when I wasn't there, a group of guys threw stuff at the windows and started shouting my name. Couple this with the usual light sexual harrassment you get in the streets, and the fact that this one ex-student of mine has been calling, and calling, and CALLING all day (he's literally calling right now as I type, had to put the phone on silent), and I have had JUST ABOUT ENOUGH of this.

It's not even like it's because I'm some irresistable sex elf: it's just because men here feel like they have the God-given right to have any woman they want, and it's just a matter of pressure and time before they get them. That is the basic psychology. And it's a psychology that is beginning to infuriate me. The other night, I heard guys throwing pebbles against the window, and based on my flatmate's story, I'm guessing it's the same guys as last time. I couldn't do anything other than cower in the shadows, pulling my holey jumper tighter around my bony, shaking shoulders, because what am I gunna do? Storm up to window, cheeks flushed, throw it open and in a high-pitched reedy attempt at salvation tell them....what? ''Arretez! Qu'est-ce que vous voulez? Je vais appeler la police!'' They'd fucking love it!

Now see, if I were a man, the problem wouldn't exist. I would feel I have every right to walk down my street, and ain't nobody nowhere NOHOW gunna make me feel afraid. I would walk up to that window, get my shotgun out, and tell those muthafuckers to muthafucking beat it. (I would, obviously, be a very mannish man).

It's going to be a long time before France gets something like this RESPECTED and SUPPORTED by the majority of the community. Try and talk about this sort of sexual intimdation to your average French man, and you just get a snigger and a ''ah, les anglo-saxons...''.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Having a beautiful home on a trampy budget

[Isn't it interesting how my T9 dictionary will allow me to type 'ing': basically approving the customisation of the English language. You can '-ing' up anything you like. I love that about English].

My fantasy is to one day live in a place that is comfortable, cosy, and clean. A lavish fantasy, I know, but a girl's gotta dream. Having spent the past few years living in places ranging from rapey 'foyer' rooms, to dingy student flats, I think I'm ready for it. I don't want a kitchen table that wobbles. Or to sit cross-legged on an over-sized cushion because I can't afford a couch. I don't want to watch television on my computer, or have people over and resort to binge drinking on my bed because the minute living room is taken up by my Italian flatmates and their pasta orgies. I don't want to handwash my shirts, because the nearest laundry place is a half hour walk away. I don't want to use a tray as a coffee table. So many student rooms, so many little comforts. I want a big massive plaid throw on top of a big massive soft couch. Carpets my feet sink into. Heavy linen curtains. A huge Arabic coffee table made out of an old mosque door. A giant bed with a duvet the thickness of a bouncy castle, and pillows stuffed with the biggest and most luxurious feathers known to man. Crisp white sheets, and thousands of cushions strewn across the vast expanse of the bed. A massive armchair I would sink into as I sipped on my fine Italian espresso, produced by my hand-assembled swanky hotel-style coffee machine, whilst sitting in my opulent living room. Oak bookcases, crammed full of literary staples such as the latest Douglas Kennedy and Jodi Picoult. A washing machine. A dishwasher. A balcony, with ivy framing it's beautiful stone carvings, a (non-tacky) swing chair nestled between two wide pots of lavander, in which I would sit on summer evenings, my Siamese kitten purring in my lap as I gently smoked a cigarette and took in the balmy summer breeze.

Unfortunately, that doesn't look very likely in the forseeable future, so I'm going to have to make do with the sort of transient, peasant treats that companies like 'Yankee Candles' create in order to make all of us plebs feel that little bit more luxurious. Yes, I've been trawling the web, gorging on glossy photos of beautiful candles:

 I just want them. I want my bedroom to smell like a garden sweet pea, and if I have to pay €22.90 and €5 shipping to make that happen, then bring it on.

My mood

On April 7th of this year, I wrote a post because I thought I'd start a blog. I never actually felt like I wanted to continue with it. Here's what I wrote:
This is a place for me to talk purely about my thoughts and moods.

I have made a lot of progress over the past few years, but still I am weighed down by uncontrollable feelings and mood swings. It usually seems to worsen during times of particular stress.

Lately, I have been under a lot of pressure. My family are in another country, which I should be used to, and yet somehow I can't help but feel isolated, like I'm alone dealing with these issues, although I know it is by choice. Currently, I am applying to Masters programmes, which is extremely competitive and requires copious amounts of paperwork, applications, exams, interviews here there and everywhere. My job is coming to an end, and although I am working on getting a Masters, nothing is set in stone yet, and I feel a bit lost at sea.

It's an exciting time, but also a bit nerve-wracking. Yesterday, I lost a pen that I had bought just a few hours earlier. It cost me €2.85. I had been having a good day, but losing this pen made me sink into a foul mood. ''Why do I have such bad luck,'' I said to my flatmate. ''My life is completely pointless, I can't see any good in it.'' This darkness stayed with me for about 2 hours, until I eventually got back into a positive state. I have been seeing a guy I'm really, really into for the past 4 months. These last 2 weeks, I have noticed myself becoming more and more irrational with him. I jump down his throat and misinterpret things he says. I am by turns sullen and enraged if he comes over 10 minutes earlier than planned. I can be harsh and hurt his feelings out of frustration, anger, fear. I would use the word ''irrational'' to define myself when under extreme pressure. It is difficult for people close to me: my mum, The Guy - they can never predict my moods, and neither can I, and I feel guilty and angry at myself for it. I always think ''what is WRONG with you'', and ''next time, I will be nothing but calm and collected'', and yet of course, rarely does that happen.

I decided there was only one thing for it: I need to help myself. The only way I can see that this might be possible, is to slowly try and re-train my outlook on life. Correcting myself when I feel myself slipping into a dark mood. Checking myself when I think something angry. Ignoring completely irrational moods. So far, it seems to be working.

I think I'll use this blog to record my moods, and to talk myself out of some of the worse ones whilst remembering the good uns :)

A few things:
  • I've actually been doing a lot better emotionally since I found out I got the Masters. Obviously stress had been weighing on me.
  • All of what I said above is true, apart from the feeling shit about The Guy - he is a dickhead, and therefore I think it was completely normal behaviour for me to feel 'sullen', 'enraged', and 'hurt'. In fact we're no longer together. It's sometimes difficult when you've got emotion-streaming issues (sounds way better than 'mental health', no?) to accept that maybe you're justified in feeling a certain way. The tendency is to blame your own perceived irrationality.

Becoming an assistant + CROUS accommodation

So the money I will be receiving from the scholarship clocks in at a ''not-too-shabby-but-not-too-glamorous-either'' €800 a month. I'm getting a room from the CROUS in a university residence - which is apparantly a privilege, since they are very hard to get. Essentially, the way it works in France is getting government-owned university accommodation is linked in with getting government grants. Around April, you fill in a hefty pile of papers, send it off, and if you're poor enough, you get:
a) grants, and
b) a CROUS room.
Because all French parents look after their children financially (food, accommodation, cinema tickets, trips to Subway, holidays, new clothes, pocket money, etc) until they are 32, you could be 18, or you could be 23: the CROUS don't care. They want to know what your parents earn. If your parents are poor enough, you could be eligible for a grant. Only if you're French though. You can still be eligible if you're an EU citizen, but you need to prove your parents have been working here in France for 2 years. So basically - not very many of us foreigners are going to get the gift of government aid during our stay here in this delightful country. Which means that I am extremely lucky with this room.
I didn't know this was part of the deal, so was surprised when I got a random email from a CROUS person informing me of the situation. As far as I can gather, here is what you're likely to get in any CROUS residence:
  • A studio: pretty self explanatory. The most expensive (although all CROUS accommodation is cheap)
  • A 'renovated' room: this means a room with bed, desk, storage space, shower and WC
  • A 'non-renovated room: as above, but with shared showers and WC per floor
What I'm hoping for is a renovated room - I don't mind sharing a kitchen, but I have been down the dark, dingy road of shared showers, and I do NOT want to wash my hair in a little box full of floating plasters and leg hair. Having said that, since I am also not a pussy, I will not be totally freaking out if I do have to.

Anyway, that little info de-tour did have a point, the point being: my rent isn't going to be very much. I'm going to estimate it at around €300 a month, but I'm fairly sure it'll come to less. This gives me €500 to play with, which is already not bad going (I can get by on €100 a week), but let's face it - I want to buy stuff. Which means, one of my best options is going to be picking up that trusty (rusty?) old card: being an English assistant. There's two ways you can get this gig (and if €700 a month for 10 hours work a week sounds like a good gig to you, then give it a go):
  • A programme. You apply through the British Council if you're, you know, BRITISH, or TAPIF if you're American. No idea what the Irish/Candians/Australians/Jamaicans/South Africans/New Zealanders/you get the idea do. But I'm assuming you could just type 'language assistant france [your country]' into Google and find out. How do these programmes work? I can only speak for the British Council, but as far as I can gather, it works the same for everyone. You apply (don't sit around picking at your fingernails: do it a.s.a.p). In your application, you select your preferred areas/towns. You wait for their letter. You get placed somewhere. You go.
  • If you forgot to apply/couldn't be bothered/didn't know in time it would be something for you to do, you apply through the more chilled out yet more precarious way: you go directly to the 'rectorat'. Think of the 'rectorat' as the local education authority. Basically, do a google search for the rectorat in the region/town you're interested in, and then send them your CV and cover letter (non EU people need to have their carte de sejour/visa shit sorted. No one will be taking care of that for you). If you're EU, no worries, just send your stuff off. To be honest, I'd advise calling (as much of a pain in the ass as that is) first, or at least emailing, so the woman in charge of English assistants has a vague idea of who you are. I'd also advise POSTING your application and not emailing it, because for some reason French 'fonctionnaires' don't like to use their email (or don't like replying to emails, rather). The crap thing about this system, is that you are basically a second-class applicant, in the sense that you will only be offered a job if there aren't enough assistants coming through the programme. Or if an assistant drops out. Or if a school suddenly decides they want an assistant at the last minute. Which means you will only find out whether you have a job or not in September or October.
So I sent my stuff off today to the rectorat in Strasbourg. If I can secure an assistantship, I'll be doing something I quite enjoyed when I was in Chartres (much prefer teaching kids, as opposed to the supposed 'adults'of the university), as well as something that will bring my monthly income up o a quite comfortable figure - AND, with 18 hours of lectures, and 10 hours teaching, I will definitely not be rushed off my feet.


I wonder at what point my life will stop being ruled by the academic calendar? When ''next year'' stops meaning September? For the moment, that is how it seems to be.
As all good years start,this one will begin with a few resolutions:

Stop dating fuckwits: the past....6 years, have been spectacular in terms of the amount of absolute total douchebags I have met and started relationships with. I used to blame them. Up until my last break-up, which was 4 days ago, at which point I started blaming myself. I'm not buying into that California Sunny D Smile psychology shit: yeah, sometimes you do need to blame yourself. From this year forward, I am not going to engage in romantic relations with anyone who isn't spot on. Perhaps a summary of all the knobs I went out with is in order, so that I can assess where exactly I'm going wrong.

Stop buying retarded clothes: pretty trivial really, except not when your wardrobe only consists of weird clothes. I buy stuff like orange beaded handkerchief tops, and bizarre dresses, and jumpers and t-shirts that are a colour that goes with nothing. Need to make an effort to buy clothes that go with at least one other item of clothing I already have, and avoid looking like homeless woman/half-teenager half-grandad/mentalist.

Sort out money shit: Must get a better handle on finances. Pretty straightforward, really. Spend less, check statement more.

Smoke less: Some types of smoking are fine (albeit lethal). Other types are also fine, until you reach the stage where they are having the following effects on your (shaky) psyche: light paranoia, apathy, disconnection from reality. Don't worry - I'm not going mad. I'm just realizing it may be better to take a bit of a step away from the old rolling papers.

Take off!

Following a long few months of filling in application forms, going to interviews, sitting exams - the verdict's out, and I am heading off to start my Masters at the good ol' university of Strasbourg. Or Strazzyburger as it shall now be known.

Not only that, but in my pocket I have a scholarship which will allow me to pay the (pretty damn high!) fees, as well as be able to scrape by living-wise.

This blog will hopefully allow me to document some changes that are coming up. I want to be able to look back on this, and see whether any improvements have been made. I'm generally happy with myself, but I realize some things need to get straightened out as I move faster towards the terrifying world of fully-fledged adulthood. In no particular order: my mental health, my appalling way of handling money, my catastrophic relationships with men, my conflicting desire for change and stability - you get the idea. The sort of trials and tribulations that affect all 20-somethings the world over, I'm sure.

The other point of this blog? To vent, to remember things, to give some sort of structure to my inane thoughts, and possibly to provide help to others in a similar situation. I'm not sure how I'm going to go about it just yet, but being the sort of person who embarks on an adventure or path, and then spends as much of her free time scouring the internet for tips on how to pull it off, I think perhaps my experiences could be useful in some way. Information on the scholarship programme, for example, which I was completely unaware of until just a few days before the application deadline. An account of living in student residences in France, help with particular procedures when moving to France...that sort of thing. There's going to be a bit of binge posting now - just so that I can get the foundations set, and begin keeping updates on situations as they unfold.

I'm not going to worry about it, and rather - let the blog take the form it does.