Latest update: new job and feeling homesick

Woop woop! I’ve just scored myself a new job teaching English at a Grand Ecole! This deserves a big pat on the back as the Grand Ecoles (of which there are several different types) aren’t just your average university. They’re France’s equivalent of Ivy League institutions!  Students work for 2 years to pass a preparatory entrance exam, and once they graduate from their course they usually end up in managerial and leadership positions.  In short, its where the country’s bureaucrats are made, so its an entry to the corridors of power.

To teach at a Grand Ecole is a huge achievement for me, and I’m really excited, especially as I get to work in a learning environment again – something I’ve been missing since I left university. I won’t lie, I’m a tad nervous about ensuring that I’m teaching according to their needs, given that this particular Grand Ecole is an engineering school. But mostly I’m really excited about this challenge. Not only will it give me the most stable form of employment since I’ve been in France, but I will surely grow in knowledge and confidence. But while studying up on english grammar/vocab is an ongoing process, I really do enjoy the teaching aspect. And if i’m to be completely honest, it feels like vindication. I was accepted at the political Grand Ecole, but I couldn’t afford to accept my position. So being offered a job in a Grand Ecole feels like gaining recognition of my various achievements. Yay me 🙂

That aside, life has been a bit bizarre in the last wee while. If we use the iceberg analogy to discuss cultural differences, I never had a problem with the superficial tip of the iceberg stuff. I suppose the more bleedingly obvious things are much easier to accept. But now I’m getting down to the nitty gritty, below the surface, subconscious values, and to be perfectly honest I’m really not sure why people fall head over heels in love with French culture. I’ve often heard about the French paradox, and I understood that at a superficial level. But the further I fall into the rabbit hole, the more I feel that these paradoxes are tricky things to manouevre. Just when you think you have everything sussed… BOOM, the rug gets pulled and you’re still falling down the hole!

So because of this, I’m finally starting to feel homesick. It’s only taken 2.5 years. The timing could have been better though. Over the summer holiday the hubby and I did a bit of a road trip around Europe. It was EXACTLY what I needed. It was super frustrating being an international relations geek, living in Europe and not having seen Geneva or the UN headquarters, nor having seen Switzerland which is part of the hubby’s whakapapa. I think it was one of the best decisions we’ve made since living in France because it helped me to appreciate my adopted homeland, as well as recognise just how damn lucky we are in Aotearoa-land. So while travelling around Europe meant that I couldn’t go home this year, I would have regretted it otherwise.

But a myriad of things have happened in the last six weeks and they’ve made me feel like I’ve taken 5 steps forward and 3 steps back in terms of my understanding of France… or at least life outside of New Zealand. And its somewhat destabilising.

One of the biggest issues I’m having at the moment is with values that I take for granted back home but which just don’t exist here. Concepts like mana, manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, acting with integrity, loyalty and taking care of relationships. These don’t feel very important values beyond our shores. But a world without these things, well…. it feels a bit like the matrix. Like NZ is the reality and outside of it, things just don’t quite feel right.

So i’m missing home. I miss the values, norms, customs and traditions that provide people with a framework on how to behave (or how not to behave). Which provide you with support and give an element of legitimacy to fall back on when there are transgressions. So it’s quite a rude shock to come to the realisation that what I consider most important in relationships – be they familial, work related or otherwise – are not considered so over here.

On a less personal level, take an incident with one of my students. A couple of weeks back, a student of about 50 years old pretty much threw a tantrum in class, exclaiming “ça m’énerve ça!” (this pisses me off), pushing her work away and scowling with her arms crossed like a child. It was a bit of a shock as I’m not used to grown women behaving like that. Her outburst was completely disproportionate to the situation, especially given she was in the wrong. She hadn’t done the homework I’d set, and instead of taking responsibility for not having done it, she gave attitude. In fact I’d given her the tools she needed to complete the task, but she really needed to apply herself – no-one ever said language learning was a walk in the park! I asked if she needed help, but she proceeded to sit out of that activity. At the time, I respected her feelings. I understood that she felt insecure, possibly unsafe and embarassed and I wanted her to feel safe and comfortable. I reassured her, explaining that I wouldn’t force her to do anything she didn’t want to do, and I left her to sit out. I thought I was doing the right thing by allowing her to save face – even though she hadn’t extended that courtesy to me.

I was later told by French friends that her behaviour illustrates she doesn’t respect me or my authority, and my subsequent actions served to reinforce her view. I was told that I should’ve put her in her place by reprimanding her, and by embarassing her in front of her peers, illustrating the consequences for not following through and for disrespecting me. Someone even said that people who behave like this are craving boundaries and are demanding to be put in their place. Doesn’t it just sound so odd? It sounds like the type of advice I need for managing toddlers or children, not grown adults who should know better. Needless to say I felt pretty stink after realising all this. But even if it is sage advice, I’ve come to realise that, actually, it’s just not in my nature to reprimand someone like that. I feel incredibly uncomfortable, even when there is just cause. Which is why I won’t seek to do it, unless I really, truly have to.

But what happens when you find yourself in this situation, time and time again? What happens when you realise YOUR values aren’t worth jack? What should you expect from people and how do you manage relationships when your values just don’t exist for them? That’s where I’m at. I’m trying to figure this out.

I can’t begin to understand how/why it’s like this, but as the French say, ‘c’est comme ça’ – it’s just like that. Maybe its ‘coz people don’t shy away from conflict nor care about keeping any sort of harmony. So there’s just no incentive to take responsiblity for one’s behaviour. What’s more, if you rise above a transgression, allowing it to slide and saving face for everyone involved (as i thought I was doing for my student), you look like a pushover that doesn’t deserve to be respected.

So far, the only thing I’ve worked out is that if you want to be treated with respect, you ought to grab it, like a mana-muncher of sorts. But that’s just not me. At the same time, after years of being told ‘you’re too nice’…. what am I left to do? I’m sick of other people overlooking mine and my husband’s needs like “she’ll be right”,  as if our needs or feelings don’t mmatter as much as theirs.  Seriously, I’m over it.

God I miss home right now.

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