14 November 2007

The Unglamorous Life of an Exile

Now I know what you're thinking; What could me more glamorous than cocktail receptions at UNESCO? Or pastries with gold leaf for breakfast? Or an intimate tête-à-tête with Linda Evangelista?

While those things do have all the Max Factor blingyness that I was expecting from Paris, let me start off by saying that the UNESCO headquarters building is such a hideous concrete monstrosity that it makes a Soviet polytechnic university in Albania look like a Loire château! Drop-tile ceilings with panels missing, water-damaged walls, blinding fluorescent lighting like a high-school cafeteria. Ugh! How can people working a building so hideous and banal make any kind of decisions about culture and heritage? At this rate we might as well house the United Nations in an airplane hanger too. UNESCO headquarters building, you are officially: Dead to Me!

Hideous modernist eyesores aside, my problems in Paris have been twofold. First, it's been much harder to make friends than I'd expected. French people generally tend to be reserved, so it's to be expected that it will take time. I was surprised, however, that the school does nothing for new students to meet each other. No frosh week or pub night, nothing. Doubly surprising since they make such a big deal about how 50% of the student body comes from other countries - yet everyone is left to fend for themselves. I'm starting to get to know people now, but for the most part its still just a 'say hi in the hallways' kind of friendship. It's hard being so far from the people you care about.

The second problem is the school itself. Although my school, ESIT, is regarded as one of the best translations schools in Europe (if not in the world), I have been rather shocked by the caliber of things so far. Teachers often cancel class or show up late. When professors do turn up, they often don't teach the subject, go off on tangents, contradict themselves, or each other. Staff are not able or not available to answer student questions, or don't know what's going on. And, most surprisingly, there is no schoolwork - just a final exam worth 100% of your mark! (WTF?) Also, in third year you have to write a thesis, which is something that I wanted to avoid at all costs and immediately discounted any school where this was a requirement (lucky for me ESIT failed to mention this small detail anywhere on their literature!).

I know now most of these things to be typical of French universities. Since it's practically free to go, they don't have any money to do anything properly, nor do they care. A rude awakening to be sure.

A further problem with the school is that I had to have a meeting with the programme director when I enrolled in my classes. She told me there was a concern that English wasn't good enough -this clearly didn't make sense to me, so over the course of several consultations and discussions the problem morphed into my Spanish not being good enough, then my French not being good enough, then back to Spanish, and now to both my Spanish and French not being good enough. (See what I mean about the school being disorganised?). Regardless of what the problem actually is, why wouldn't they have told me before I uprooted my whole life, quit my job and moved to a different continent?! So negligent and irresponsible!

The whole thing has left me very frustrated – and confused since my Spanish is clearly the best in the class. I have always been extremely sensitive about my French though. When I was younger, my French-Canadian mum put so much pressure on me to speak French. This made me intensely self-conscious of the fact that I didn't speak it properly, thus less likely to speak, resulting therefore in more pressure (and ultimately disappointment). –A downward spiral of franco-badness really. While I would say my French is neither the best nor the worst in class, this situation has really played into all my worst fears that my French, in fact, is not good enough after all. Très déprimant.


Tokyo Tintin said...

By the by, do you think it's safe to take John Tory off my 'Dead to Me' list as he, in fact, is a persona non grata?

jolie-chan said...

i just wrote a whole inspirational message and fucking blogger ate it up on me, claiming some "error" occurred...

here is the coles notes...

i adore and miss u muchly

dont let them frenchies get you down, you french is awesome otherwise they wouldnt have let you in!

u are great at making friends! dont let your shyness get the best of you!!!


djörk said...


Clearly you don't actually need to know French, as evidenced by this video:


Keep yer dobber up...it will get better!


Tokyo Tintin said...

Aw thanks! I miss you too.

Loves it. From here on, my new response whenever I get into a bothersome situation with a French person will be "Foux du fa fa. Ai ya!"

Miss Ash said...

Aww!! If it's any consolation, I think your French is fabulous, you got us past those mean border guards in Benin afterall!!

If you're desperate, maybe the *shudder* Religious Gay has some friends you could hang out with....that is IF you're desperate haha!

Michael Motor-Cyclorama said...

Oh Dan,
Missing you mcuh. I think you should write a blog about the good things that happened in spite of all of the shit. BTW, I am jealous of your ability to maintain a blog. I know I am lazy but, you are so good.

It shall improve.
I wish that made more sense. but maybe you get the idea.


Tokyo Tintin said...



我看不懂。'Tell France that I am his mother'? Is that like 'who's yo daddy?'

I'm sure that eventually, at some point while I'm here, something will probably go right for something or other. I just that it certainly hasn't happened yet. But I'm comfident that at some point it might happen.

I miss you too. How is your poor tummy?