28 November 2006

Le Foot.

Some of my younger students took part in an annual football event this afternoon. Irritatingly, football is known simply as 'foot' here in France - the 'ball' part apparently being superflous. Still, in the spirit of bastardising the English language, I dubbed today's event Club Foot because it's the right thing to do. Also because the double-entendre amuses me to no end.

Moving right along, thanks to the beautiful and unseasonably warm weather here in La Meuse, we all profited from the hours spent in the sunshine. (Sara, that was for you!) Voici quelques photos que j'ai pris:

This was taken right after Kerem, the boy in the foreground of the photo, informed me that in Canada there are restaurants where women do 'Sexy dance'. I'm not sure what exactly that means, but as you can see, the girl in pink is demonstrating her own interpretation.

One of the stars of Club Foot. Ronan went far above and beyond the call of duty. What a legend.

And finally, a lovely group shot. Just another hard day here in France for me....

22 November 2006

Convocation Medicale

So I finally got my crisis resolved with Banque Postale. Thank goodness. At my final appointment with the bank, the lady who had been 'assisting' me throughout this debacle informed me she'd called her daughter who is currently in the US to ensure she wasn't experiencing banking problems such as I had. I'm not certain as to why her telling me this was so bothersome - perhaps it's because she was the one largely accountable for the problems I'd experienced and was inadvertantly telling me that I had indeed been jerked around. Moving right along, I have finally been paid so there's no need to worry about me perishing here in France.

Now I'd like to tell you about a queer little procedure all foreigners living in France must be subjected to called the 'Convocation Medicale'. In order to ensure that we, as foreigners, are not vectors of Tuberculosis to the good people of France, it is necessary to have an x-ray at a state hospital. The fact that I'd already had a rather intensive medical exam back in Canada in order to participate in this program is moot. So is the fact that I've already been working in close proximity to my children at school and would have certainly transmitted TB to them by now. Nevertheless, I went to this all-day examination in Nancy where I had to trek out to the largest and most depressed-looking hospital I'd ever seen (thus leading me to the conclusion that all hospitals constructed in the 1970s should be torn down and replaced by more cheerful buildings). Upon checking into my appointment in the bowels of this monstrous building, the nurse instructed me to go into the cabine and take of all clothes above my torso. This is where I will admit that I am a product of a prudish country. There are very, very few times in a Canadian adult's life where they must disrobe to the point of nudity beyond the bedroom, including medical visits. Luckily I'd been forewarned by another assistant that I would need to do this, so I'd spent the preceeding week morning gearing myself up for it. My French colleagues found it hysterical when I told them I was nervous about taking my clothes of for my impending medical visit and asked if we kept our coats on in Canada for the procedure. Cheeky.

The procedure itself was pretty painless. I waltzed into the x-ray room topless, pretending I hadn't a care in the world and about 45 seconds later I was back in the cabine getting dressed. All that worrying for nothing. And the best part is that I got to keep the x-rays for myself.

Oh, and that I don't have TB, of course.

08 November 2006

I hate you, Banque Postale.

I'm reluctant to post about my current woes here in France, but I think if I repress it anymore, I may explode.

Following the well-intended advice on the Wikibook for Assistants in France, I decided to open an account at La Banque Postale. The initial meeting went smoothly enough, bearing in mind I was opening an account as foreigner (non-EU) in a small town that isn't accustomed to dealing with internationals. I wasn't surprised during those following two weeks when I received a phone call every other day at 13h30 telling me "On a besoin une autre formulaire avant 15h00 aujourd'hui" which would have me running around like a madwoman to try and get whatever obscure paper they needed in on very short notice. I figured that this was probably the case for many other assistants so I didn't let it bother me (much). I was thrilled to get a RIB, the requisite document from the bank in time to apply for the October salary advance after some 'minor' problems. I didn't complain all that much when the bank asked me to give the last money I had to support myself as an initial deposit in order to open the account, which would then be held for 'about a week', according to Madame Bank Lady. I figured I could live those 7 days without that money if I was very frugal...

Well, imagine my lack of surprise when I receive another phone call requesting me to come in with another piece of paper, a full three weeks after the initial meeting. I figured we'd sorted everything out but I cycled over as optimistically as I could, paper in bag. I walked in to the bank, preparing to give la Madame said paper when she bluntly told me there has been a problem with my account. I need my Carte de sejour before the head honchos at the bank will even consider opening my account a document which won't arrive until at least the end of December.

So the outfall of her telling me was this: it being October 22nd at the time, my salary had already been released by the Rectorat. Even if I did open another account elsewhere (which I did asap, believe me), I had to wait first for the salary advance to be sent to my inactive account at Banque Postale where it was required to sit for 15 business days before it was returned to the Rectorat who would then direct it to my new, functional account at another bank. A huge problem in its own right, this situation got worse when she told me that they couldn't return the money that they forced me to give them until 3 weeks later... leaving me with no money to live on to this day.

I hope no one ever has to deal with Banque Postale in their lives. It's just not worth it.

07 November 2006

Kinderen voor Kinderen song - Two Fathers

If there's one thing I love, it's people expressing our need to embrace our differences as a single humanity. This sentiment is increased ten-fold when I see children propogating such a message, as they truly serve as a litmus test to collective societal attitude. This video features a Dutch boy praising his fathers through song and really is worth viewing. (Thank you to my lovely friend Frank who sent this to me, and who will one day make a most fantastic father himself.)

My kudos to Dutch television for broadcasting a very positive piece on same-sex parents from the perspective of a child, especially on a children's program! This is a huge step towards teaching children from a young age we should celebrate our differences by teaching through such a positive manner (I can only imagine what would happen if this was aired on American tv....)

Sadly, this climate of acceptance isn't universal. I'm reposting something Becca wrote about the institutionalisation of homophobia by the Polish government on a blog she contributes regularly to:

I was going to write a post about the upcoming local elections. They fall on my birthday, and as I’m an EU citizen registered to vote in Warsaw, I’m going to have to take time out of my partying and present opening to go and vote, but I don’t know who to vote for. I was going to ask for your help in choosing. First though, I need your help for something so much more important.
I came to Warsaw originally to take part in a European Voluntary Service project. This has now finished, and I’m running a second follow-up project, but a few days ago I received an email from a current EVS volunteer. She’s working with the Campaign Against Homophobia organisation, here in Warsaw, and the Ministry of Education seems to have decided to wage war on them.
I’d better give you a bit of background, or it’s not going to be clear how the ministry could have such an impact on a section of civil society. EU funds for EVS are managed by National Agencies for the Youth Programme in member countries. The Polish National Agency is governed by the Foundation of Educational Development, which was established by the Ministry of Education.
EVS projects have to be submitted to and approved by a committee in the National Agency. This brings us back round to the Campaign Against Homophobia, whose latest project was rejected on the following grounds:
[The] “majority of members of the Selection Committee stated that [the] project of [the] Campaign is against the policy of raising children and youth, which is implemented by the Ministry. The policy of [the] Ministry does not support actions that aim to propogate homosexual behaviour and such attitude[s] among young people. Also, the role of [the] Ministry is not to support cooperation of homosexual organisations.”
When I first read that my brain hissed and fizzed and then my head exploded. Oh sure, we all know this country’s administration is homophobic, but to have such a blatantly discriminatory statement from the Director of the Youth programme in Poland (a programme whose aims include giving young people “a better understanding of cultural diversity and the fight against any form of racism and xenophobia or discrimination”) is just very simply wrong.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski knows how to sweet talk the Brussels lot. “I ask you not to believe in the myth of Poland as an anti-semitic, homophobic and xenophobic country… People with such preferences have full rights in Poland, there is no tradition in Poland of persecuting such people.” You can ask me not to believe what you like Jarek, but when a ministry is persecuting organisations that are working against discrimination, I’m just not going to believe you.
The Ministry of Education is spitting out homophobic statements left right and centre, with absolutely no shame nor the slightest inkling that what it’s doing is wrong. A different LGBT project that was funded by the Youth Programme last year was considered a “depravation of young people” and it was said that “as this project was financially supported under the Ministry of Education, we seriously need to review the criteria of supported projects. […] The rules and priorities of the programme under which such projects get money, need to be changed in order to prevent such projects getting money in the future.”
These attitudes get me foaming at the mouth with rage, and when I hear Giertych and his cronies have got their way so far, and have managed to block projects that deal with homophobia from getting EU funding, even accusing organisations of fraud, when the project documents prove otherwise, I want to scream.

I’ve had enough and I hope you have too.

If you do one good deed this week, hell, this year, let it be this: write to someone.

The European Comission has a responsibility to stand up to member states that propogate such poisonous attitudes. Write to:
- Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission
- Vladimir Spidla, Commissioner of Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities
- Anyone you like at the Directorate General for Education and Culture

Your Member of the European Parliament has a responsibility to target discrimination, wherever it rears its ugly head and get the issue into the public sphere. Write to:
- your MEP

The National Agency has a responsibility to distribute EU funds according to the principles stated in the Youth Programme and the founding treaties of the EU. Education ministry bigots cannot be allowed to retain the power to pick and choose projects according to personal preferences. There are clear guidelines for EVS projects. If the requirements are met, they should be funded. Write to:
- the National Agency

We all have a responsibility not to sit back and watch as Poland sinks in a bog of ignorance and discrimination. Those of us who went on the equality parade have already showed solidarity with those people fighting discrimination. Don’t stop there, do more.

Then you can tell me which of the Warsaw candidates is the least homophobic, so I can go out and vote on Sunday.

More information here.