Sunday, March 20, 2011

Excursion to Belleville

As usual, I have signed up for the 'full-immersion' language experience. Here in Paris, this corresponds to 29 full contact hours of instruction per week. The breakdown is straightforward, and quite doable, based on the first week's experience. Every morning from 9 until 1 there is class with my core group of classmates. Our teacher is Andre, who is an excellent instructor and an absolute sweetheart. The remaining 9 hours are filled out by picking 3 from a menu of available afternoon workshops ('ateliers'); one can vary one's choice from week to week, according to one's interests or perceived weak spots. This past week I chose grammar on Tuesday, conversation on Wednesday, and Parisian culture on Thursday.

Weather permitting, "Parisian culture" generally involves a trip to a gallery, museum, or maybe a neighborhood that's a little off the tourist track. On Thursday, we went to visit the outlying quarter of Belleville, which was completely delightful. The only snag was that both Marie (an Austrian classmate) and I caught narsty colds, which left me hors de combat for much of the weekend. Mais, c'est la vie.

When I got back home on Thursday evening, there was moderate panic, as they had changed the entry access codes to the building, and I didn't have the new codes. Fortunately, the nearby internet cafe was still open, so I was able to e-mail the owner. Even before I heard back from her though, a neighbor had come by and - after inspecting me for about 2 seconds to see I was respectable - had shared the new codes. Although I had a brief instant of panic, all in all what was reassuring about the experience was how genuinely helpful everybody was - the guys at the internet cafe were totally sympathetic, the neighbor was truly helpful, the landlady was abjectly apologetic. Nobody gave me the big city reaction of "that's your problem, not mine"; everyone gave the sense of being involved until a solution was found. And when you are 6000 miles away from home, little stuff like that makes an enormous difference. So far I have found Parisians to be gracious, friendly and charming in every way.

I've added some pictures from the afternoon in Belleville to this post. Since it's very hard to manipulate them after they have been added, the order might seem a little random - basically, they are self-explanatory - either street scenes or classmates, or both. The top photo shows Marie (on the right) and la prof, Anne; immediately below is "l'autre David", who is German, from somewhere near Cologne.

It was a really pleasant afternoon.


  1. Glad I am not the only person that had a good time with the Parisians, despite the stereotype.

  2. Sounds like a great class program. Is your French pretty good already? It sounds like a class for more advanced students.

  3. Paolo: I agree completely. Parisians get a bad rap, which seems quite unwarranted, at least based on my experience.

    Jerome: The first day of school, everyone takes a placement test (written and oral) to determine level, and is assigned to the appropriate class group. I placed into level B2.2, which corresponds roughly to advanced intermediate. Given that my last French class had been in 1993, I was a bit surprised. So far it's been a bit of a stretch, but nothing I can't handle. For the afternoon workshops, as well as the morning classes, they group students of comparable levels, so it works out pretty well. I have to say that, while I thought the don Quijote schools I attended in Spain and Argentina were great, this school in Paris is even better. Pure luck of the draw, as I chose it basically just on the basis of a (fairly careful) internet search. (Once I had picked the school, then I just looked for an apartment within the right walking radius - about a mile away, so that I am guaranteed to get at least 4 miles of walking in every day).

  4. Well, when I retire I'm doing that!