I was a little skeptical about the guy leading the training course. He was oddly dressed in a purple corduroy button-up, faded black jeans with a homemade hem, a Brighton-style leather belt, white sport socks and shiny, black shoes. He unenthusiastically gave us a breakdown of the day's schedule, cursing and then tossing out the dry-erase markers that stopped working after each new word (it seriously irks me when people throw perfectly good writing utensils away because they don't understand how they work!). And after a minute or two of unsuccessful attempts to turn his his Power Point presentation into a slide show, he announced that it was time to start the class. He asked us to give a short description of ourselves - our name, our ville, our home country and our profession. I was the only American, but there was a large group of (loud) Slovakians accompanied by a translator, quite a few Moroccans and a couple of North Africans.
After our intros, class began, and my initial skepticism flew out the window. Even though I couldn't understand every single word our civic trainer was spouting, I was seriously captivated by all the information he was so passionately filling my brain with. He knew his stuff. And, it was so easy to listen to him rattle off dates and names on a subject that we all had some previous (albeit limited) knowledge of. It probably helped that he started by giving us a full history lesson of the world, starting with prehistoric times. I never really liked History class (I know, gasp!!), but for once I was really curious. He talked of Vikings and Barbarians, of Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, and of the migration of humans across the world. The time flew. He talked right through our first scheduled break without anyone taking notice, until the antsy young immigrant sitting to my right asked if we could have a p'tit pause. By the time lunch arrived (nothing fancy, just some chicken, fries, salad and yogurt), we had barely covered the Moyen Age!
He covered a lot of important French milestones in history, but for the most part I felt like he was giving more of a European history lesson than a French civic lesson. When he finally got to the fifth (current) Republic, it was 3:30 and we were due for our second break. As thorough and interesting as his presentation was, I think it would've served the training more to be a little less long-winded. I appreciated the random trivia and interesting anecdotes he threw out, but towards the end of the day, I was getting tired of all the tangents, and both my neighbor and I were getting annoyed with all the Etats-Unis d'Amerique comparisons he was so blatantly making.
Still, training day was far better than I expected, and I felt like I came away with more knowledge about France (and Europe) than I had before. I learned that a good way to become the president of France is to be Prime Minister first; that the executive branch of government never deals with issues of justice; that Versailles had something like 6000 servants and workers for its 2000 residents. And, perhaps the most interesting thing I learned is that regular "encounters" with a mistress is good for the health of a king, and thereby French men, in general (or at least it was). Which really explains a lot about the basic principles of life in France.