More on my first French class when I first moved to France.
What can I say about Victoria? She turned out to be a wonderful friend almost immediately. She had a great sense of humor and an interest in people and a warm personality. Everyone loved her. She was older, like me, with short brown hair starting to turn gray and sparkling eyes behind her gold framed glasses. She was a little over-weight and didn’t care.
Her husband wasn’t French, but Australian. She knew he had always been a Francophile, a lover of all things French. He took French classes all the time and belonged to a French club. He worked for a computer company in Sydney while she worked for the government helping businesses cope with change. She was very high up on the management ladder. She had a couple of master degrees , one in business and one in psychology. She made me smile a lot with her psycho babble such as “And how did that make you feel?”Or “Thank you for sharing that with me.”
Then her daughter went to Belgium as an exchange student and became fluent in French. A few years later the family went to Belgium on vacation firing up even more Jeffrey’s love of France. A little later they arranged a house exchange with a couple in Paris for a month. While they were there Jeffrey decided to check out the job situation and see if it was possible to find a job in Paris. He found one immediately and wanted to take it. As Victoria said, “I found out how much I love my husband.” In retrosepect she thought it was kind of a midlife crisis for him but that he chose a different country rather than a different woman. She would come to find out that it was just the beginning of all that would change in her marriage.
Of course, his midlife crisis led to one of her own. She had to give up her job, which she loved, along with retirement benifits. It was a hard decision for her to make, but she did it to support Jeffrey.
After they moved to Paris they found it extremely expensive and it didn’t help matters that the company that had hired Jeffrey decided that they were paying him too much and lowered his salary since they told him he was still on probation.
Jeffrey handled living in Paris well as he could speak French. Victoria found it much more difficult. She wasn’t used to being a non-working wife and wanted to find some sort of job. The French government makes it very difficult for a foreigner to work, legally, in France. She went through all sorts of problems trying to get papers to teach English for just 3 hours a week at a primary school after we had started our class but she needed the school to pay over 100 Euros to get the paperwork processed, which it wasn’t willing to do. Plus, the government has to decide if the job a foreigner wants takes a job away from a French person. Usually it does.
She had tried another French class but it didn’t help her French at all. It was a class that was all lecture and taking notes, but with no help in speaking French so she found the same class I did.
She and I had so much fun discovering Paris. We went to art showings in museums, to too many lunches to count, and excursions outside of Paris on trains. I had done a lot of things on my own before starting the class, and I didn’t mind that, but having a friend along to explore made it a lot more fun.
As I said, she was the social director of our class, always planning things, inviting people over to her house for her wonderful meals, just showing an interest in everyone. It was because of Victoria that I got to know everyone as well as I did. She was the one that got us together for our first coffee after class.The girls who joined us turned out to be part of a regular group that did many things together. There was Natasha, from Russia, Zima from Iraq, Yoko from Japan, Mary from the Philippines, and Jane from Singapore. All of them smoked except for Victoria and I. I think the stress of living in a foreign country contributed to this.
I don’t know what I expected but I didn’t expect to be the center of everyone’s attention. They were all so curious about America and my opinion of it.
“What do you think of Clinton?”(This was some years ago, as you might have guessed)
“Well, I didn’t vote for him. I don’t like what happened with the sex scandal with Monica. I think it’s horrible that it happened in the oval office.”
“But what’s so bad about it? Don’t all politicians seem to have mistresses or affairs? I don’t think the French think it is awful. It happens in France and it isn’t a scandal.”
“Yes, that’s probably true. It’s just that he got caught and lied about it and I read that there were other women, many women, who he had sex with. I just think he has a problem keeping his zipper up.”
This got a laugh.
“But what about George Bush?”
“Apparantly, he is going to be a one woman man. He seems to be very loyal to his wife, and religious on top of it.”
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Texas. That’s actually the same state that George Bush is from.”
“Where is that?”
“It’s in the middle of the United States.”I made a little map on a napkin with my pin showing California, Florida with Texas in the middle and Mexico to the south.
“What’s it like?”
“Very hot in the summer, fairly mild winters, with some really huge cities like Dallas and Houston.”
“Did you ever have a horse?”
“No. Not everyone in Texas wears boots, rides a horse, or lives on a ranch. There are areas that are very rural where you see hats and boots on men and they all have pick-up trucks, but in the larger cities we all dress just about like here in Paris.”
“Does everyone have guns?”
“I guess there are a lot of illegal guns. Actually, I had one back in Texas. I didn’t bring it with me to Paris.”
“Why would you have a gun?”
“I just felt safer when I was by myself.”
“How did you meet your husband?”
“On a blind date set up by mutual friends.” Then I had to explain what a blind date was.
“A blind date is when you go out on a date with someone you have never met or seen before. Usually, someone who knows both of you sets up the date.
“How do you like Paris?”
“I love it. I love taking metros all over and exploring.”
It was then I found out that most of them wouldn’t take the metro. They were afraid of being robbed or worse. In fact, Angela, our teacher, surely an alert Parisian, had her wallet lifted on the metro one day. I carried a big back pack to carry all of my books for class and thought it would be easy for someone to lift my wallet out of it so I started putting my wallet in my coat pocket. One day a group of 3 girls about 14 years of age or so got on at one stop pushing through everyone rather rudely. At the next stop they pushed back to the doors of the metro and I heard a man next to them start saying, “No, No.”And slapping at one of the girls. It turned out she was in the process of taking my wallet out of my pocket. Thank God he saw her. Now I am always alert to small groups of young people, especially if one of them approaches me and trys to ask me something. I always carry a digital camera with me, too, which I am very cautious about.
During our first coffee we discovered that Victoria was actually an American, which explained her lack of an Australian accent.
I asked her, “How did you end up in Australia?”
“I lived in Conneticut and was teaching English in a high school. One day we had a horrible snow storm and it ended up that several teachers and I plus 15 students were trapped in the school building for 12 days. It was really taxing to not only keep them busy and entertained, but also keep the boys and girls separate. Anyway, I was getting tired of the cold weather and the difficult winters when I happened to see an advertisement for teaching in Australia. I pictured all of that wonderful sun and the beaches and signed up. A month later I was there.”
What was rather ironic was that we were going though a terribly hot summer and early fall right then in Paris and she was really miserable in the heat. She always sat directly in front of the fan in our hot classroom. Once it got cold she was in heaven and loved it. We all came to class bundled up in sweaters, coats, mufflers and hats which she and I would shed immediately. Some of the younger girls got cold with the fan on and would pull their sweaters on.
We wanted to know how she met her husband.
“He lived in the same apartment building that I did. I was friends with a lot of people and he was one of a group that I did things with. I was dating someone else, someone more dangerous and unavailable when he pointed this fact out to me and said maybe I should be dating someone more reliable and dependable, namely him. It made sense to me and we started dating and he talked me into marriage.”
Did she like living in Paris? She loved it like me. She was very curious in nature and loved exploring new places. But she had left a lot behind in Australia including her job, her house, her daughter who was in college. Her life. She had such a cheerful disposition that she made the best of what she now had.
Victoria and I struggled the most with French in our class. I blame part of this on our ages. Children, of course, learn languages much easier with their brains beings like sponges while mine, at least, had become coral. I found it very hard to incorporate it into my brain. Victoria made friends with a lady who spoke French in a discussion group where French was spoken and who tutored Victoria on the side and helped explaned some of the more difficult aspects of French grammar.And although Victoria came to understand more, she found it almost impossible to speak French.
In the end, Victoria ended up back in Australia back at her former job but she had lost her retirement benefits and had to start from scratch. Her husband was supposedly going to move back too but stayed in Paris and eventually got a French girlfriend, a lady who lived in their apartment building. He also lost his job but managed to find another one in a year or so. Victoria went through a terrible time and even made a trip back to Paris to try and get him to move back to Australia with her but he wouldn’t do it. By then he was heavily involved with the other woman. I think they would be divorced by now but it is very expensive to do in Australia and she doesn’t have the money to do it and Jeffrey not only won’t do it but doesn’t send her any money to help with house payments. She is back in their old house which they had rented out while in Paris and is baraged constantly by the memories of being married their and raising their children. Maurice and I visited her in Australia while there and she has a really lovely home in a fabulous neighborhood. She is slowly coming to terms with it all. I am hoping that one day she will come to see us in Provence.