La Vie Simple: French festive (re)flections

At the moment, I’m reaching child-like levels of Christmas excitement. Not for the holiday itself, nor Santa bringing me a Nintendo DS (or whatever the weans are playing with these days), nor am I a female incarnation of Elf: I’m so, so excited for a break. A gin and some new socks wouldn’t go amiss, either.

‘A break? You work hardly twelve hours a week!’ I can hear you cry from level nine of the library. Yes! A break! You heard right. I’m not studying but having an Important Job has been a kick up the backside, for sure.

My Monday mornings for the past two months have been spent with groups of fourteen-year olds who are far too energetic for nine o’clock; my Friday afternoons trying to decipher just what language a student has just been speaking in. Of course, it’s not just work and no play – but the work is a lot more important, given that you’re an Actual Teacher to these students. It’s always learning, and not learning grammar and vocabulary: it’s learning the hard way that playing a game involving a mini football, with a class of teenage boys, will not be the peaceful task you envisioned.

There’s been times, too, where I’ve been absolutely gutted to be missing stuff at home. My email has been full of information about events I’d love to go to, from societies I’m involved with, to talks on subjects I love,to a buffet lunch (because who doesn’t love free food?) But then, of course, I can’t have my cake and eat it. Being in France, despite my seemingly endless complaints, has forced me to jump into the deep end – that’s not necessarily
always bad. There’s a fine line between genuine fear and challenging yourself: I’d like to think that even if I cross that line, I’ve at least tried to learn something in the process. Trying and failing is better than failing outright, or something.

I’ve always considered myself someone stubbornly independent. In the years at university before moving to France, I’d maybe had pangs of homesickness twice, and one of those times was me, longing for my mum to come and deal with our flat’s resident rodent. I’m still not sure if I’d describe my feelings here as homesickness, either. If I miss people, it feels good to speak to them on the phone or make plans for a trip somewhere. It’s less longing for something abstract – of ‘home’ – but places and people. I miss my favourite coffee shop, and I miss pints of cider black.  Those feelings can be averted, at least somewhat, with something material. In living in three places in three years, I’ve learned that home isn’t a place. Home is where you find it, and home isn’t singular.

Two and a half months ago, I was apprehensive if I’d last two and a half weeks here. I’m not one for praise, at all, but I’ve managed – somehow. What’s next, then? I still have a few more classes left, and then I’ll head home for the winter break.  There’s mulled wine to be drank, roast dinners to be eaten, and Christmas specials to be cried over. I fly back to France on the 2nd January, because schools wait for nobody – not even inevitably hungover language assistants,it seems. People have told me that the return after Christmas can be harder than leaving in the first place, but we’ll see. There’s no point worrying just yet.

Christmas and the holidays can be hard, especially if you’re forced to change your circumstances. I’m lucky to be going home to family for two weeks, but if homebound flights were too expensive, your family circumstances have changed, or you just don’t want to celebrate – that’s completely, utterly fine.

However and wherever and with whomever you’re spending the next few weeks: have a good one. If you celebrate holidays in December, have a wonderful time. If you don’t, take the time out to reset your batteries ahead of 2017 – god knows we all need to!

[Amy Shimmin – @amylfc]

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