While I have really come to love living in Northern France (beloved Nord Pas de Calais), my homesickness has recently kicked into overdrive. That's not to say that I want to leave the program at all. I'm even toying with the idea of staying in France for another year. But I certainly do need that two-week break in the United States, only 17 days away from now.
The lonely feeling became palpable last week. It started with teaching my French students about American Thanksgiving for three days straight before last Thursday. My lesson covered all the bases, starting with a radio clip from Voice of America that discussed the reason behind the holiday, the history of the first Thanksgiving, the famous Macy's parade and, most importantly, the food. I also included two video clips for discussion: an excerpt from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and the infamous first Thanksgiving summer camp scene from the Addams Family sequel.
But teaching food vocabulary, including turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and stuffing, made me extremely hungry by day's end. It didn't help that all I've been able to afford for the last few weeks have been bread, cheese and ham. It's not just me, but most of the Americans in my program were living on no more than 30 to 50€ for half the month until we were finally paid last Friday. (We don't get a full paycheck at the end of October, only an "advance," thus just a little amount of Euros left over after paying rent, or go back to exchanging dollars, if there were any left.)
My Thanksgiving Day wasn't the most traditional. The two highlights of the day were getting my visite medicale over with (after waiting for an appointment since October 1), and eating pizza with some of the other American assistants in Lille. Some of the assistants did plan traditional dinners for Friday and the weekend, but I was in London. So I guess I can't complain too much then.
My medical visit was quite easy, although it took awhile.When I arrived to the OF-II office in Marcq-en-Baroeul (just outside of Lille) after two hours on the train from Montreuil, I found the office closed. For lunch. From 12-2 PM. But then the time on my appointment letter said 1:30 PM. Of course this would happen. It's France. Apparently about 10-15 other people had the exact same appointment time as well, including four other Americans. But they re-opened at 1:30 for us, so it worked out. The visit included an eye exam and a chest x-ray. They also took my height and weight numbers, and since it was metric, I had to convert them outside the room on my iPhone to figure out what they said I weighed. My chest x-ray was also simple, which I got to keep. I'm not sure what I'll do with it. The best part was that's all free, and I have a big new sticker in my passport proving I'm healthy to live and work in this country.
Although I couldn't have Thanksgiving here, I do get to experience my other favorite holiday from a whole new perspective. Christmas is huge in France. Les Marchés de Noel (Christmas Markets) are very popular, particularly in regions that border Belgium and Germany. Thus, Lille has set up a huge ferris wheel (The Lille Eye?) and Christmas tree in the Grand Place, as well as a marché in another plaza nearby. The little wooden stalls are adorable and festive, looking more like Santa's village than any holiday fair I've seen in the U.S. Although, a few friends have mentioned to me that it pales in comparison to the one in Strasbourg, possibly France's grandest Christmas market. I wish I could see it for myself, but I just can't afford it this year. I still haven't even been back to Paris yet this year, which also depresses me.
At least I finally saw London at Christmas time. All of the big streets around Oxford and Piccadilly Circuses were decorated with big, bright lights and signs saying "A Christmas Carol." I've always imagined what it would be like to experience a Dickens-like Christmas. Although, without any snow and millions of rude shoppers crowding the streets and Tube, the dream was a bit crushed.