Friday, December 6, 2013

Color / Control

"Will you be sorry to leave France?" my fellow student Tiffany (pronounced tee-FAHN, because this is France and we rarely pronounce the final letter in any word, just to mess with your mind) asked me yesterday. She was giving me a ride back into Pau from the school, after we'd finished the fourth exam of the day and the final one for most of the classes we've been taking since October. The only one for each class, actually. We'll be graded on the total points we get on these exams over the year, and also on the final project paper, and our personal project. We're supposed to also be evaluated by an on-site visit that someone makes to the businesses where we're working, but the program secretary told me yesterday that they probably won't do this visit in my case, because I'm not the right kind of student. First I wasn't the right kind of student to get paid for my farm work, and now I'm not the right kind of student for the evaluations. And she also told me that she was going to give me another set of "apprenticeship contract" papers since the first set had room for some other program director's signature and that person is not going to sign my papers because I'm not the right kind of student to use that type of contract. I asked the program secretary if, in the end, I would be not the right kind of student to be given the professional license I'm working for and she hastily reassured me that in all other aspects of the program I'm perfectly normal. Given my history here so far of French school administration, however, I am less than entirely confident that I won't be told in June that yes I passed all the tests and got a good score on my final paper but oh, sorry, it seems that for such and such reason which we could have explained ten months ago you don't actually qualify to be officially awarded the professional license with all its attendant value (even if I may never be able to leverage that value into a job in France) but here's a pretty piece of paper saying that you went through the motions, merci beaucoup, au revoir!

It will not be a pretty sight, if that happens. I will raise no end of hell in every way possible. I think it's unlikely that this scenario will play out anywhere other than the worried corner of my mind that expects the worst - and given the up-and-down yes/no/maybe/okay really no we mean it this time experiences I've had so far it's not an entirely unreasonable expectation - so I'm going to shove that to the side and keep on working.

"Where will you be going next?" asked Mailys last week on the way to school, when I mentioned that my new carte de sejour expires mid-July. That depends. My personal project for this program is to discover what it would take to set myself up as an independent house/farm-sitter for people with small-scale cheesemaking businesses, preferably goat cheese, in France. It is very unlikely I will find a way to make this work, but I'm not sure what would be next. Except, as I posted in on my Facebook page, a need to find a place to make cheese, because that makes me happy, with chickens and cats around me, living with the cheesemaking family so I don't miss my own family so much, in a new and different place that I've never visited before. I am currently eyeing places in Iceland and Italy and Ireland.

The word for "exam" or "test" in French is contrôle. I almost lost control today at the end of the morning session where the program secretary was talking to us about what we'll be doing in the next school session, and what we need to focus on to make our dissertation papers better (the mémoires we have to write about where we're apprenticing, and what issues they're facing, and how to solve any problems), and what we need to do for our personal project papers which are also due in June. And nearly everyone was talking all the time to each other, even though the secretary kept asking them to stop, and finally I had just had enough. I raised my hand and said I had a question, and no one even stopped chatting to hear the question, so I waited until everyone had finally stopped talking, and then said what I'd wanted to say ever since the first week: that it was really rude to talk all the time, that it made the whole class slow down because people were always asking to have things repeated they didn't bother listening to the first time around, that it was annoying the professors (two of which have already complained to the secretary, and all of which spend more time than they should trying to keep order in the classroom) as well as some of the other students, myself included, and that I was there as a student to learn and that it was hard enough for me dealing with the classes in a different language without having to try to pick out the lectures from the gossip that disrupted every single class, every day, all the time. My hands were shaking, and my voice trembling, and I could feel that my face was flushed bright red, and I almost started crying when I said that I just couldn't take any more of that behavior and the stress that it creates in the classroom. There was dead silence for a minute, and then the secretary said, "See what you've done to a fellow student by your rudeness?" and followed that by another lecture on being polite and how even if you, personally, are bored with what the teacher's saying, keep your damn mouth shut so that you don't disrupt other students who want to hear it. I doubt that either my near breakdown or the secretary's lecture will have any lasting effect, but one can hope. At least I have a month of nice relaxing bloody pig slaughter coming up, and don't have to deal with them.

And it's a month in which I can eat more vegetables, like the salad I made last night of Treviso radicchio (soaked in cold water for half an hour to get rid of the truly bitter edge) with roasted yellow peppers and ripe avocado, in a lemon and sweet onion vinaigrette. Mme Bergeras always has vegetables for lunch, unlike the food at the school cafeteria which, while tasty, is very much meat and potatoes. Sometimes the only green thing on the tray is the lone lettuce leaf underneath a hard-boiled egg half. A month in which I don't have to impose on other people for help in an hour-long commute, when I can help two people I like a lot to grow their business, when I can spend enough time on my feet during the day that sitting is a luxury rather than spending so much time sitting that I forget what it feels like to move, my only exercise the walk I take before or after lunch and the stretches I do three times a day. When I don't have to cramp my hand writing out pages of answers to questions like these, which appeared on the exams on Thursday:

What are the strategies of attack and defense that a market leader can take?
What advice would you give an agricultural producer who wants to maximize his profitability and optimize the quantity produced?
What are some examples of each of the three types of rural tourism?

There was also a multiple-choice test of five questions for the analyse sensorielle class which took about 30 seconds and was a shocking contrast to the one and a half hours it took to write 7 pages on methods of improving economic viability, and by the end of the last exam my hand was cramped after all the writing, which uses different muscles by far than typing, and my handwriting had devolved into a scribble and my grasp of French spelling and grammar was fading fast, so my apologies to Mme Gaya because she's going to have a hard time deciphering exactly what I wanted to say. On the other hand, that class was only worth 0.25 points overall, as opposed to the 2 points each for economics and marketing, plus I got 1.75 out of 2 for the first accounting test, so I'm doing rather well so far, I think. And, as stressful as it can get sometimes, by god I am doing it in French.

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