Monday, November 24, 2008

Training Day

Today, I attended my first "civic training day" as part of the requirements to fulfill my integration contract with France. It's a day-long class that outlines the basic values and principles of life in France that must be observed in order to live here, and it explains the various French institutions that govern and guide the country. I had little hope that I'd be able to stay awake, much less attentive during the 8-hour training, but I went prepared with my documents and armed with caffeine to give it my best. Since I live outside of Paris-proper, I was requested to attend the class in Nanterre, which is just outside La Defense and kind of a pain-in-the-neck to get to from our place (especially early in the morning). Nonetheless, I woke up on time and headed out the door with fifteen minutes spared for inevitably getting lost in the black hole that is La Defense. But, despite my good intentions to make it to training day in a timely fashion, I was late. In keeping with my recent bus luck, the bus to the tramway did not arrive when the "real-time" indicator indicated, but instead, 10 minutes later. And, when I finally arrived at La Defense, it was already 5 minutes 'til, and the second bus was (you guessed it) late by five minutes. Luckily, I wasn't the only one running behind, and when I arrived at 9:20, the class hadn't even started.

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.

3 comments:

Zhu said...

I didn't know you had to do that as a foreigner/ future French. Nothing similar in Canada...

It reminds me a bit of the "journée d'appel à la défense" that I had to attend when I turned 18. However, mine was boring and the colonel or whatever was his rank kept on yelling at us.

Nicole said...

They didn't do integration classes when I was going through my paperwork and maybe thats a bad thing, after hearing how interesting your day was! I spent years saying that I had to get myself a history book about France because my total lack of knowledge was such an embarrassement. I finally found the perfect book just a few weeks ago- so perfect that I would recommend it to all foreigners in France. 'The Discovery of France' by Graham Robb. Its not a typical, chronological type history book but organizes the story of France under subjects (like 'The Development of the French Language', 'Mapping the French Territory', 'Relationships with Animals' (actually, that makes it sound dead boring. I'm doing such a bad job of selling this book...). Honestly, it was so fascinating that I read it non-stop til I had finished.

Amber said...

wow, sounds like you got the pick of the litter for your training day. Mine was spent listening to an immigrant stumble through historical facts that she knew nothing about in second-rate french. The students kept correcting her pronunciation. She called class off four hours short on account of her inability to teach. It would have been nice to have an interesting teacher for once.