Category Archives: Personal

I am unpatriotic whore, apparently.

The first time my “whoring” became apparent to me was 15 years ago when my parents invited a couple of friends over. The discussion at the table, at which I was expected to stay, somehow ended up on my speaking English on the Internet: have status in English on MSN chat for instance, taking active part in English-speaking forums about footballers I fancied and more broadly on my listening to practically only English.

The husband had objections and I can’t recall exactly how it came to that but I said: “Using English is also easier to communicate and look for things you need.” To which he replies “So you are prostituting yourself.” He had the idea that my speaking English on the Internet instead of sticking to French, and especially using English when French could be used (i.e. on MSN with some of my French friends) was like a prostitute who can’t be bothered to get a proper job to make a living. She instead opens her legs because she is certain to get the money and akin to her, I was willingly selling out my culture, myself, my identity to get what I want instead of sticking to my language, no matter whom I was interacting with, because it is easier that way. I should be working hard to establish myself as I am but instead I was sleeping with the boss to get there.

As I was mentioning this very conversation to a friend, she bounced back on my use of English, something I never used with her, but when she fathomed the scale of my willingness to learn it, speak it and use it, she simply asked “Why do you want to lose your mother tongue?” For her, actively learning and enjoying the speaking of another language to which I had no family ties whatsoever was an act of forsaking my own language. In her mind, I couldn’t have both. One was going to take over. It wasn’t about whoring myself to get it easy anymore but willingly rejecting my whole self for unfathomable reasons.

The questioning of my patriotism came with another former friend. “Former” because there are certain things I only take from foes, not friends. Again, we were on the subject of my listening to almost exclusively English-speaking music. She was going through my CD collections – no MP3 players at the time – and ruing the absence of French but for a couple of artists out of a 100 or so. She asked why and my answer prompted her to tell me I was “unpatriotic”. I was buying music, giving money to some strangers that are the very reason why French musicians struggle. I was part of the problem regarding the suffocation of anything native in the face of the American music industry. More, I was betraying my culture when I could be expanding it. I was serving the enemy.

I have been wondering why these people reacted as they did for the past 15 years. Not that it’s the first or only time I have been getting that kind of remarks but they usually come from people who call themselves “proud, real French”. The either country-side-living or poorly-educated or highly nationalistic person who, for various reasons, reject anything foreign on various degrees of violence and easily buy into the American invasion. All the while never going to a single French movie because they are “boring”…

I get that at work at the moment. For the first time, I am not in teaching languages but took a job at a supermarket because the next country I want to move to is very expensive so I need massive savings, and I am surrounded by people who don’t speak English. When I do, even and mostly to myself, most of them have this knee-jerk rejection of it. Fear of someone who knows more? Feeling of exclusion? Both I think.

However, those three people aforementioned belong to a type of population I know very well, due to my travelling and living abroad: the bi-nationals. The man is Franco-German, the former friend was Franco-Vietnamese and the other is French but both her parents are Argentinians who moved to France as teenagers.

Most bi-nationals I know embrace both their cultures, languages and the question of identity is one that resolved itself easily: I am a citizen of the world. I am a human being. Borders are irrelevant, languages are relevant in that they open doors and help you in life. If nationalities are two boxes on paper, they are endless opportunities in real life. A former colleague whose mother is Jamaican and father French, because born in Guadeloupe, was once asked the usual question: “What do you prefer most? Being French or Jamaican?” She replied that this type of questions was akin to asking: “Who’s your favourite, your dad or your mum?” This is irrelevant and ignorant.

A bi-national will appreciate and critique their culture equally but for very different reasons and the questions of identity, culture and belonging is a open pick & mix buffet. You take what you like in whichever side you wish. For instance, when talking about homosexuality, she said she was more French because France embraces same-sex marriage but when it comes to race issues, she was more Jamaican because, unlike in France, she was not “black” in Jamaica, just a normal person.

Nevertheless, not all bi-nationals are like that, as shown by the people who called me a prostitute who was unpatriotically forsaking my whole heritage for something I had no reason to embrace. They belong to the bi-nationals for whom the question of identity has been a black or white issue and they were faced with choosing sides for a variety of reasons so it took me to know them to try and understand their apparent rejection of anything but France and French, although they should be the expression of multiculturalism.

The husband, for instance, was born from a German father and a French mother. First, as a child whose father is the foreigner, he spoke little German. It’s something I noticed amongst all my friends, either parents or children in multicultural families: if the mother is the foreigner, the child will more likely be bilingual and open to both his heritages. Fathers tend to speak their native language less for reasons I still need to explore. So he grew up speaking just a bit of both languages and when his father left his mother, the conflict of love became one of cultures. In the rejection of his father, it’s also Germany and everything that comes with it he forsook. Hence the name-calling: for him, my tending to another culture is abhorrent, a betrayal to France who “gave birth to and nurture me”. He chose France and French because, in his mind, they are family and one cannot belong to two families. I was indeed just a whore, trying to please some stranger culture by overly speaking its language because I had concluded that the English family was more profitable.

The former friend has both Vietnamese parents, she spoke, ate, drank, sang, read, danced Vietnamese culture but this was the privacy of her home. Outside, casual racism based on her looking Asian, and therefore being “Chinese” – because, of course, all Asians are Chinese – led her to work extra hard to integrate to France and become she could never look “it”, she would forever act and sound it. She therefore ended up internalising extreme ideas as to what makes a good French person and a bad one. I was the bad one, she was the good one because I embraced English culture when I should have done what she has always been told to do and eventually did: solely embrace French culture and eventually leave the rest behind. I remember her saying she was fighting with her parents because she would not marry a man from Southeast Asia, and she refused to carry on with learning Vietnamese. She was the product of our idea of assimilation of immigrants centered on the concept of leaving your roots behind altogether in order to become someone else, someone new, someone fitting for the role, someone who would not think twice if the day of confrontation with your ancestry would come. You would defend France because you have become French through steps I was overlooking. Maybe because I had the privilege of being French by ancestry…

The second one was the same somehow, except she only took in the words, not the outrageous nationalism needed to compensate others’ racism based on her looks because her family is of Spanish descent. The parents spoke perfect French after 30 years in France. they had jobs, they owned a house, she was a high-achiever at school. If the name was Spanish, they were nothing but fully integrated into the French society. The perfect immigrants, some would say. “You would not know they are not French”

If the parents spoke Spanish to each other, they spoke French to their daughters. If she enjoyed her Argentinian heritage through music and dancing, she however had this idea of having to make a choice between two options. I think it comes again from the idea of opportunities in life. Being as French as possible had probably been carved into her head by her parents so to ensure she had the best chances but it also meant she couldn’t possibly understand that my love of English was not making me any less French than I am, I was just expanding my horizon as wide as her had always been on the international scale.

I have now become very wary of these types of bi-nationals who, for reasons usually not fully understood by them, are overly patriotic and judgmental when it comes to embracing more than one culture. French politics is a perfect example with people like Sarkozy (Hungary) and Manuel Valls (Spain) who were sometimes as damning of social, cultural diversity and foreigners as the far-right can be. For me, this is one of the far-right’s and racism’s greatest victory: to have made some immigrants and their children willingly reject their own culture, reject multiculturalism as fake and treason to the soil you live on, point out variety as source of a problem instead of a solution.


A teacher’s words: Respecting students’ choices

As a teacher, you learn constantly from a lot of people about how to do your job but amongst the biggest inspirations regarding the Dos and Donts are your own teachers when you were younger. One thing I learnt from a PE teacher I had throughout my lycée years, so 16-18 years old, was to respect pupils/students’ choices when it comes to major decisions, even, and especially, when you would disagree with them.

I was 17 and that was the final year before university, the one that can only be cleared if you pass the Baccalauréat, which is terribly difficult and daunting in France. That was the first day of PE (or sports) for the senoir years – Terminales – and all of us were to be sorted in three groups so the on-going examination could start. You never sit a PE exam, what you do throughout the year will be your final grade.

So we were offered three options:
1. Swimming/Basketball/Athletics.
2. Gymnastics/Volley ball / Badminton.
3.Volley ball / Basketball / Swimming.

As I said, how you are going to fare during the three trimesters at each sport is going to determine your final mark and the extent to which the door to university is open. Having a terribly weak spot in Maths, I was not going to risk it so I put myself in Group 2 because I used to be a gymnast, I love volley ball and have a killing serve, and am unbeatable at badminton.

However, Group 2 found itself overflowing. The teachers needed an evenly spread number of students in each group, about 30, and we were 45 in Group 2. I guess the choices of sport were poor and, frankly, as teenagers, we pretty much all wanted to avoid the pool at all costs for it meant tiny speedos et al… So there we went for 20 minutes of three teachers standing in front of their seating groups, with Group 1 particularly empty, trying to convince almost a third of Group 2 to join the others.

Some are convinced, stand and go sit on the opposite corners. I don’t really pay attention that we are coming close to 30 in my group until my name echoes in the building and the PE teacher I had the past two years singles me out so I would switch. She knows I am obedient, quiet and would rather die than make a fuss but I refuse. She then proceeds to tell I am “too fat for gymnastics”…In front the whole year and I am “good at basketball”.

I am fuming. I have been struggling with my weight for over 7 years, secondary school was five years of endless bullying that drove close to suicide countless times and during my lycée years, I was stubbornly refusing to eat anything during the day and would only eat in the evening.

But I keep it down and refuse, again. She insists, piling up on the insults and spreading my whole performance sheet of the last two years for everyone to hear and which turns out to be highly erroneous. This goes for a couple of minutes until I stand up in front of the whole assembly, boiling, my hands shaking, clenched into fists so it doesn’t show and I tell her she is wrong.

I am 1m76 tall, I say, which doesn’t not bode well for basketball, a sport I absolutely loathe and being forced to play it every single year since primary school has not helped. I find the ball too big, too hard, the rules are inexplicably complicated and I have never managed to actually net a single ball in my life. As far athletics, I walk faster than I run. I need 20 minutes to walk my 3.2 km to school every day morning then evening but still require almost 50 minutes for the same distance when running.

She retaliates with javelin and discus in which I am indeed quite good but she can’t commit to them being as important as all the running we will have to do. As for swimming, I tell her she should know I can’t do it after teaching me for the past two years. Indeed, the chemical in the pool and the endless diving we have to do trigger debilitating ear infections and cause all the tiny blood vessels in eyes to burst. There is no discomfort in terms of vision but I do look like I am coming from the Village of the Damned. My eyes are entirely red with blood except for the iris and it takes weeks to recede. On other hand, she does know I was a gymnast and I have always been top of the class in volley ball and badminton.

She doesn’t give up so I go on the attack and tell her this is my exams, my future, my decision to take, not hers. She actually made those two first points very clear before presenting the groups. I know why I am being singled out, because she assumed I would bow and do as said but this is the most important exam of my life. Would she to overrule me, I will go the school authorities, if not enough the Rectorat de Versailles, which rules over every academic questions in the west of Paris, to get my way. It’s about me, not about the school’s poor decisions in setting up the options and limiting the numbers.

It’s been 16 years, half of my life ago, and I remember every word I said, the stunt silence in the room in the face of someone who has never caused any trouble and is now standing up to a his teacher. The silence felt endless.

We stare at each other. Like with my dogs, I will not let go until she lets go. She eventually does, looks at her two colleagues and signals for me to sit down in a resigned manner. Group 2 remained with 34. Come to think of it, there seemed to be a general feeling that I was talking sense and some would follow my lead so the case needed to be closed asap.

As a teacher today, I am still using that day to know how to behave when my students are facing my life-altering choices: GCSEs, A-Levels, university pick…even adults when deciding whether to sit an exam or not. Why? Because I am the one who makes the final call for I sign the papers or am the link between the hierarchy / exam boards and the student so I try to be everything that PE teacher wasn’t that day.

What I wanted from this teacher was for her to realise that my choice was not whimsical. I didn’t sit on the part of room assigned to Group 2 because I followed my friend or I wanted to avoid something. I chose because I listened to the options and I went for what I knew would benefit me the most. I chose excellence before anything else but she disputed that in the worst possible way. I would have accepted her trying to understand my motives behind my decision but she didn’t. Maybe because of my age or because she didn’t care about me, which is worst as a teacher, she just flatly countered me, called me fat in front of a room full of teenagers and relentlessly picked on me until I had to threaten her.

I also wanted her to realise there was a much bigger question behind getting an even number of students in each group: our future. At the end of the year, every single of the 14 or 15 subjects I had to sit for my Baccalauréat mattered towards the end grade and, as we were told constantly, this was our responsibility to ensure we succeeded. We were not children anymore, school was not compulsory anymore at our age so teachers were there simply to teach us and we were there to ensure to get and make the best out of it. All of that was irrelevant to her: she needed numbers to match her administrative expectations.  At the time, I felt she could have made the case for a bigger group because of badly chosen options and learn from it. Today, I am sure of it because I experienced it.

Nowadays, if there is a numerus closus or an obligation for me to ensure the best results and therefore the best candidates for any kind of selection process, and if I am in disagreement or have my doubts regarding the choice of X or Y: I ask questions about choices but never question them as such. I interview the ones I think would struggle considering the present data so I can give them the information I have, the conclusions I drew from them so I can assess their motivation for I know someone motivated and willing can achieve greater than someone who might be better to begin with but takes their talent for granted. And I do that privately, one to one or with parents and selected teachers because they lead in the subjects in questions, not name and shame in public.

At the end, I was vindicated with a reasonable 10/20 in gymnastics, a 16/20 in volley ball and a 18/20 in badminton. That’s a overall of 14.5/20 in PE.

2002 – 2017: Le sacrifice de mes convictions.

En 2002, j’avais 18 ans et étant né en avril, j’ai pu voter pour la première fois aux élections présidentielles.

J’ai toujours aimé le vote. Je me souviens très clairement, quand j’étais petit, accompagner mes parents au bureau de vote le dimanche qui se trouvait dans l’école maternelle. On les attendait dans la cour, je les voyais parler à des gens, montrer leur carte d’identité (une chose que je n’avais pas), puis ils allaient dans un truc avec un rideau qui ne laissait voir que leurs pieds. Après, ils mettaient une enveloppe dans une boite transparente, quelqu’un disait quelque chose, ils signaient puis on jouait dans la cour avant de poursuivre la journée.

Voter était normal. Ca n’arrivait pas souvent mais quand ça arrivait, ça faisait simplement partie de la journée. On y allait sur le chemin de la forêt ou du parc, des terrains de tennis ou de la piscine. Ils n’en parlaient pas mais je savais ce qu’ils faisaient et alors que je grandissais, me passionnais pour l’histoire, la géopolitique, la politique, la longue et pénible car fragile construction des démocraties, le vote devenait pour moi le principe même de l’histoire en marche.

L’année précédente, on avait étudié la Ière puis la IIème République, la mise en place du cens qui ne permettait qu’aux riches de voter puis sa disparition sous les coups des penseurs, des philosophes et des grands hommes. L’année même, on avait fini la Seconde Guerre Mondiale et on avait parlé du droit de vote des femmes, puis de la baisse de la majorité à 18 ans. Je voulais faire partie de cette évolution, en profiter comme quelque chose de spécial qui m’attendait.

En 2002, c’était le doute. Mes 18 ans étaient moins de deux semaines avant le premier tour des présidentielles. J’étais lycéen et me sentais quelque part comme un imposteur. Je ne payais pas d’impôts, ne travaillais pas mais la loi me l’autorisait donc j’avais bien l’intention d’exercer ce droit. L’administration prend toujours son temps donc même si j’avais tout fait comme il me l’avait été demandé, receverai-je ma carte en temps et en heure? Oui et ce fut une catastrophe.

Je voulais voter pour m’exprimer vraiment, faire compter ma voix, faire parler mes convictions mais nous sortions d’un gouvernement de Gauche qui, comme beaucoup d’autres, avait trahi ses électeurs. Les jeunes, surtout, avec une précarité accrue qui devait eliminer enfin le chômage, avec des CDD qui n’ont rien changé sauf à rendre ma génération totalement à la merci du patronat.

Néanmoins, je suis socialiste par convictions et non par intérêt donc j’ai voté pour le PS comme j’ai toujours voulu le faire. Enfin, non, pas exactement: entre 12 et 15 ans, j’étais Marxiste. Féministe Marxiste avec l’idée que les femmes devaient prendre le pouvoir pour faire subir aux hommes les millenaires de servitude qu’elles doivent encore supporter. Le lycée et les cours de philosophie m’ont ammené à réfléchir au Marxisme et à m’en détacher pour une approche plus centrée sur le travail en commun que sur la division de la société en factions qui doivent se battre.

Mais 2002 reste 2002 et je me retrouve à dévoir laisser mes convictions derrière moi pour sauver la Révolution française. Je dois laisser derrière mes idéaux, l’utopie et mes rêves d’une France qui change pour soutenir un démocrate corrompu face à un fasciste négationniste. C’est l’histoire en marche. C’est 1914, Jaurès et l’Union Sacrée. C’est 1932 et la resistance aux ligues d’extrême droite. C’est 1940, De Gaulle et l’appel du 18 juin. C’est l’altruisme intellectuel, c’est savoir abandonner ses convictions personnelles pour le bien de la nation, de son histoire, de ce que mes ancêtres ont construit.

Les années qui suivirent, j’ai pensé ce temps révolu. J’ai voté Royal face à Sarkozy, ai quitté la France de Sarkozy pour l’Angleterre où j’y ai découvert et analysé sous toutes coutures le New Labour, une Gauche que j’admirais de loin mais dont les réalités sont loin de l’image qu’elle se donne. Tout comme la France.

Une Nouvelle Gauche qui est très vite devenue l’exemple des autres Gauches d’Europe: une Gauche qui se plit au monde construit par la Droite, qui accepte la mise en retrait de la société face aux impératifs économiques. Une Gauche qui n’est qu’en opposition, qui n’a plus d’idées ou qui a honte de les défendre parce qu’elles ont été détournées par un Bloc qui fut “vaincu sans même avoir à faire la guerre”.

Cependant, à mes yeux, le PS résiste encore donc, depuis Birmingham, je vote pour Hollande aux présidentielles mais les Verts aux législatives. C’est toujours comme ça, je vote “utile”. Pas de dispersion quand c’est une personne pour éviter que 2002 ne se répète. Oui, le traumatisme reste. Puis je vote au plus près de mes convictions pour que les députés représentent au mieux la diversité des courants, des idées, des classes,  des sexes, des origines à l’Assemblée où les lois sont écrites, discutées et votées.

Les choses sont difficiles mais Hollande tient le cap puis arrive Valls et tout bascule. Le New Labour est dans la place, la realpolitik de Gauche qui se veut adulte et responsable, qui regarde de haut l’idéalisme et l’utopie de la Gauche dite traditionnelle, comme senile et paradoxallement immature. Hamon en fait les frais puis Montebourg et surtout Taubira. Pour la première fois, je ne pas pour qui voter. C’est politiciens créent un parti? Je fonce mais ils restent fidéles au PS qui garde cette tradition d’auto-critique.

Que faire? Je le sens dès 2015 comme j’ai senti venir le Brexit et ai quitté l’Angleterre en 2014 avant d’en faire les frais: le PS va à sa mort. Comme quand les Radicaux de Gauche sont devenus le centre droit (UDF) au fur et à mesure du temps et des gouvernements, une nouvelle gauche renaîtra mais sera-t-il temps comme en 1936?

Aujourd’hui, on est en 2017. 15 ans après avoir été obligé de sacrifier mes convictions sur l’autel de la République et rien n’a changé. On sort d’un gouvernement socialiste qui a une fois de plus courbé le dos et a trahi ses électeurs, sans aucun résultat concret. Pire, elle attaque: les électeurs, la démocratie à coup de 49:3 et la dissidence.

La Gauche se doit d’être utopiste et idéaliste, d’imaginer des choses nouvelles. Qu’elle se fasse ridiculiser par la Droite paternaliste et arrogante, c’est une chose mais que le Premier Ministre et les ministres du PS eux-mêmes attaquent cette vision du futur, c’est dévastateur. Qui va nous faire rêver et espérer si la Gauche ne croit plus qu’en la realpolitik et abuse de son pouvoir?

Soudain, Valls est vaincu et les autres aussi. Hamon est là, celui qui a fait les frais de cette trahison et j’espère, je crois à nouveau. Je ne m’attends pas à ce qu’il gagne mais je suis d’accord avec lui, ces idées, son utopisme et son idéalisme parce qu’on ne va nulle part en restant fixé sur le passé et peignant d’une autre couleur des échecs pour les faire passer pour de la nouveauté. Il faut imaginer, inspirer les gens à inventer quelque chose de nouveau.

Cependant, ça reste un choix difficile parce que je ne veux pas avoir l’impression de voter “inutile”, par seul intérêt alors j’y retourne: dans les programmes, au délà des discours – je ne connais que trop la valeur trompeuse des discours. J’étudie les autres et aucun ne s’approche autant de ce qu’en quoi je crois qu’Hamon.

La Droite sous toutes ses formes, on oublie. Cheminades, je pensais sérieusement qu’il était mort. Mélenchon joue de la division et je ne supporte plus entendre dire que c’est la faute d’untel ou untel, sans compter sur son anti-européanisme qui n’a rien de constructif et son admiration non-assumée pour Poutine. Poutou est intéressant, il parle sans mâcher ses mots, sans être bêtement poujadiste mais je n’ai rien vu qui aille au-delà. Macron, c’est simple: j’ai vécu sous Tony Blair donc je connais les réalités de cette Gauche.

Je reconnais qu’Hamon est un peu maladroit quand il s’exprime. Sa performance pendant le débat était misérable mais ca n’enlève à ses idées qui sont les plus proches des miennes. Alors, oui, aujourd’hui j’ai voté Hammon.

Néanmoins, je ne suis pas aveugle ni stupide et je sais qu’une fois de plus, dans deux semaines, 15 après ma première fois, je vais devoir sacrifier mes convictions pour le bien du pays, même de ceux qui ne le veulent pas parce que je ne que connais trop l’histoire.

A teacher’s words – First rule of teaching: Enjoy yourself.

I am surrounded by people in my profession who are constantly asking why I spend so much time making “cute” PowerPoint presentations for my lessons. Why the cats, kittens, puppies and  other funny animals memes? Why the omnipresence of colours? All in every shades of blue, white and red with instructions in purple for French lessons. Red, yellow and orange for Spanish. Red, yellow and black for German. Yellow, blue and green for Swedish…

“It takes times, it must be a drag. No wonder you work so much!”

It is true that I can spend 50 hours every week planning for my 25 to 29 hours of teaching. That’s a lot, yes so why not just put some words and occasional fancy font on a couple of slides and go home?! Why am I doing this to myself?

Because I am not. I like it. I need visual stimulation to enjoy something and if I myself don’t enjoy my lesson, who will? That’s whence the very precisely aligned Comic Sans is coming, so are the little pictures on every slide. it’s not just perfectionism and hatred of emptiness, it’s something that brings me joy and a feeling of accomplishment in little things.

The colours came because, for years, I was teaching the same kids but in various languages, sometimes one lesson after another. French then Spanish. Same kids, same age so I decided that beyond the language itself I would make it more obvious for them. We were also changing moods. I took inspiration for respective flags and stuck with it every since.

On the one hand, I will admit that it used to be a drag somehow, at the beginning, but now it’s a reflex and one that allows me to be creative. Language-teaching is not always the most exciting of lessons. It’s hard and painful for all, as teachers, you are facing with kids who get impatient or demotivated very quickly, even in lessons where their native language is spoken, so imagine when everything is in another language. And when it’s Friday afternoon. So you have to constantly resist going the easy way and explain everything in your learners’ native language so you can save time and finish the unit in time for the test.

For the learners, especially teenagers, it can be a killer. Especially considering that a lot of school rationalise timetabling and put language lessons at once. It’s fine if only one is compulsory, better if optional (for the kids, not for the MFL teachers of course) but it’s torture for all when you have to teach Spanish to 30 kids for an hour and twenty minutes, get them out then get the same lot in again, just a couple of minutes later during which you switch to your German lesson. And there we go for another eighty minutes of hard work…

Beyond the mood, the need for a break and for clear, attractive visuals to keep their attention, it’s important to mention that I always have the highest expectations on everyone, regardless. I believe in the brain’s abilities to do and learn and that’s why I also like to somehow soften the blow with visually pleasing slides.

Not just games where they are learning a lot without realising it but also cute pictures of animals and funny cat memes. I love them, they love them, it makes them laugh between two exercises when I keep asking for even more of them. Put a cute kittens and you win over a classroom full of sullen girls.

However, before the kids, it’s for me. It is selfish before selfless for it allows me to be constantly creative which soothes my anxieties and when too tired to think of yet another totally new activity, I know I will always have the envy to google “cat dictionary” and add a little picture on the top right corner on an activity we did a couple of weeks ago.

Indeed, I will grant anyone that it is time-consuming to look through my hundreds of thousands of pictures on the Internet or my files to find exactly what I want and I know I have it somewhere or I know it can be found somewhere but this is something I enjoy doing very much.

“Ten minutes on a picture?!” I hear. No, ten minutes taking some time to let my perfectionist self relax and be inventive, be different. Only I, in the whole of England, would spend twenty minutes on Tumblr less than an hour before my lesson because I have decided I need a caption of Sophia Petrillo from the Golden Girls or Richard Hammond talking about the trout to simply illustrate the opening title of my Year 9 lesson on how to express sickness.

I could be calling parents, marking books or exams, I am told. Yes, I could but I hate it. That’s a part of the job I loathe beyond anything. Exams are fine but the books…I see them everyday when I go around checking on their work. The parents? Holy Mother of God, have mercy! Not them!

The ones you have to call are the self-righteous ones who hated school when they were little, think their child should be mentioned in the Bible as God or Satan, and believe you’re either a torturer or should do their job of teaching them manners. It says “MFL teacher” on my contract, thank you very much, not “nanny”.

I came into teaching to teach (duh!) because I like what I am teaching (duh!²): languages I want to convey it. It is hard to do so when restricted behind books mainly written by people who have close to no experience with children in a classroom setting such as university-teaching linguists or simply pedagogues. It is hard when you have a very restrictive timeline with yet another boring exam at the end where, in all languages, the writing text always starts with “You write to your penfriend about” something.

They don’t have penfriends and I want to have fun! I want my lesson to be pretty, attractive, colourful, animated. If I am not excited about showing someone what I did, I will not be able to open the door with a smile…Okay, I never smile unless actually amused but I do make jokes and love banter in the classroom and without the witty, always-on-point and creative visuals on the board, I would not be able to do so and set the evermore necessary positivity as, year in year out, teaching becomes harder by the week. The few classes where I have not been able to do it, I hate and I feel the work is far for the standards I expect of myself.

Whatever it is, the first golden rule of teaching is to enjoy yourself and it means whatever you want it to mean. I find pleasure in top-notched visuals, inventive games and the regular listening of songs and little activities around videos. Find yours. It’s doesn’t have to be massive, just a little something that’s for you every single time you teach. You have to take something out of it or you will grow to resent it beyond limits.

I have found that, even when it brings nothing for the kids as such, like a puppy with a mini basket ball to illustrate one sentence about playing sport, if it pleases you, it will please them. Because it is personal, that things will become your signature and if they always take everything for granted and don’t always acknowledge it at the time, they will come to miss it when moving on to the next teacher.

“Sir, I miss your cat memes! And the colours too. That was so nice and fun!” That sentence matters to me much more than “I think you should spend less time planning your lessons.”

A cynic, a pessimist and an historian.

I am a pessimist and as David Mitchell says: “The good thing about being a pessimist is that you are never truly disappointed.”

So Trump is president of the United States of America. And? Yes, it’s bad news but only a fool would not have seen it coming, I feel.

I don’t venture into “T told you so” anymore because I have stopped telling people “so” a long time ago for I have always been accused of being a pessimist, of always seeing the bad in everything.

My pessimism goes to such an extent that people don’t believe me or sometimes they even think I’m rooting for the bad ones to win so to shake up everything with a wrecking ball – alike to those who say “a good war would be good.”  Last month, I was talking to some people who asked me why I wanted to leave France again and I said: “I am not going to stand there and be an accomplice to Marine Le Pen winning the elections.”

That was very unwelcome amongst the people present, especially two black friends who reacted badly but it’s a truth I can’t help to believe in. I was told “my cynicism was sickening.”

I am accused of not giving people enough credit but as Roisin Conaty said to Ian Hislop when she predicted Trump as a president and he told her not to be so defeatist: “Brexit!”

I want to believe in people, in the good in them, in their supposed selflessness; I want to jinx the “Marine LePen = Présidente”, believe me, I do! But my conviction is that she will win, I never had faith in humanity which makes it even more important for me to vote against her – because my pessimism not is stopping me from wanting to play my part in preventing what I know to be coming.

Even more so, I am so terribly convinced it is lurking and waiting, I believe in my personal little mission to do what I can to stop it.

So, no. I am not surprised Trump was elected. I had my doubts and kept hoping until the FBI came out as people were already voting to say that there were more emails and there could be something there, just to say it was nothing a couple of days before the actual election.

That guy tried to save his skin but he has killed his career for he has proved himself a terrible liability for all parties. Trump sees him as someone who tried to undermine his rhetoric all the way, and a uncontrollable electron who will drop terribly undermining bombshells at any time; and the Democrats are now convinced it was the worst choice Obama has ever made in his entire career.

I know all this and knew it was coming because of that cynicism people are accusing me of.

Cynicism comes from knowing so much that you cannot help but question everything. My anxiety means that facing with any situation, I over-analyse everything, thoroughly. And it applies to everything I take an interest in, including the US elections.

I read, watched, listened, witnessed and like Brexit, tried to jinx it and to convince myself it would not happen but the pessimist in me knows what anger drives people to do. History is here to teach us something – which is why it’s so gladly rewritten when not deemed unnecessary, as it is in the US school system, by the affluent and powerful who find solace in the masses’s “blissful ignorance”.

When Cameron announced the date of the referendum, I went on Facebook at once and said, months earlier, that, as an historian, it was a very exciting moment as they would leave the EU and the UK would break after 300 years.

I am not pretending to be some kind of psychic Cassandra but as an historian by education, I have crucially learnt to read the signs. Throughout history, there are circles, even back in the Middle Ages when periods of freedom, openmindness were abruptly stopped by a conservative backlash.

Today, it’s the backlash against the rights movements and the minorities they protect, all blamed for all the pain the former privileged ones are experiencing or are afraid to experience. It’s not the poor and disenfranchised who made Trump president, it’s the authoritarian-loving middle class who mostly did, in a desperate bid to stop whatever is seen as a risk to turn them into what they despise the most: the poor themselves.

It’s the, justified, backlash against the almighty finance and markets who are indeed ruling the world nowadays, thanks to the Republicans as much as the Democrats. It’s the failure of the GOP who lost control of own its God-centred and divisive rhetoric in the hands of the people who this time did not care for God or to go for someone who was “Against everything but…”, rather went for someone who was against everything, full stop.

I can carry on like this forever, going back to Nixon, talking about the US traditional distrust of its own government and therefore habit of electing people who have (close to) no qualifications for the job. Just like I can go back to 1965 to find the seeds of Brexit and 1962 for the upcoming triumph of Front National in France.

Today, Donald Trump is president and anyone who dismissed it is not “out-of-touch with the real people”, just a fool who refused to see the realities of a failed education system and a deeply divided country suffering from the global economic rules the US have been writing and pushing through themselves since the 1950s. That’s the real backlash. People believed it when told it would benefit the First World as a whole and are angry to see that it has turned out to only benefit the likes of Donald Trump, who skillfully managed to play victim of a system supported by Clinton herself. That’s the pessimistic and cynical me, talking.

As an historian, it’s fascinating, more than the Bush era. It’s an end of to post-WWII and post-Cold War US economics and politics as we know it, the beginning of the unknown, the possible worldwide domino-effect but mostly and hopefully the last chapter in the withering of the last superpower under its own contradiction and betrayal of the values that made it strong to begin with. Or more likely, just a blip. A hole in the crouch area of your favourite jeans. You’ll get a new one when you can…


Pendant mon cours de français avec ma stagiaire russe:

“Vous avez des arguments comme celui de Trump en France?

-Oui, au début c’était que le Front National mais ça déborde sur tout le spectre politique. On nous dit, on nous répète, on nous promet qu’on va ‘faire revenir la France’


-J’en sais rien. Je n’y prends pas. Mais personne ne sait. C’est le principe. C’est comme Poutine quand il dit qu’il va à nouveau rendre la Russie grande et puissante.

-Mais Poutine est ridicule! La Russie était puissante au XIXe siecle avec le servage, l’empire, les trois Etats. On pouvait faire la guerre sans raison, envahir nos voisins juste comme ça…C’était un autre temps, comment peut-on revenir au XIXe siècle?

-La France était décrite comme le pays le plus puissant après 1918.

-Donc les Français veulent revenir en 1918?

-Non. Enfin, certains oui, surement. Certains pensent bien que le travail des femmes est la cause de chômage, alors… Mais les gens ne savent pas où ils veulent revenir mais le slogan leur va bien. Il faut faire revenir la France. C’es clair, non?


-On est d’accord. Parlons de Petersbourg…”

The lump of fat

I met a person. A type of person that I have seen before, watched before, heard of before but never met, or at least never had a full conversation with. An Irish colleague to whom I was introduced before the lemon cupcakes I made that day were. She first started by telling me that it was not the way her mother was doing it, then telling me that, if I were a proper Englishman, I would have added some decorations. I said that as a Frenchman, unlike the Brits, I prefer minimalism and to let the taste speak for the cakes.

Little did I know that, when it comes to looks, it is everything to her.

I was finding her frankly overbearing and went back to my work, she anyway carried on by telling me that she doesn’t eat cakes anymore anyway. So what was all that criticism all about then? She told me that she had “found the way”. She had “realised it” and, putting her hand on my shoulder, that now she helps people lose weight.

I always have good come-backs and I am never speechless but I just looked at her with a blank eye. She said that she can help me, that like me, who is a true baker in the heart (Okay then…), she has another calling and it’s to help people to clear their deep psychological blockage. She was on a mission to make me thin although we had barely met, I never asked anything, I did not complain and she knew nothing but my first name.

That was the first time I met someone like that: the thin proselyte who, like a born-again Christian, has made a mission to convert the fat people to their search for ultimate yet healthy twigginess.

And the whole experience was truly terrible to be honest. I came out of it extremely angry, feeling like shit, feeling like I was beneath her, I was just weak and pathetic because what these people really are is absolute bullying wolves in sheep clothing. At first, they are very nice, want to be helpful, seem understanding and sympathetic when in fact, they are just terribly insulting and their eagerness to shove your own face into the fat-swelling rawness inside of you is disrespect beyond the pale.

My anger came from me being put in a position of inferiority by this “holy” person but also my inability to really fight back. First, I did not think for a second that after everything I have achieved in my life, I would still have to justify myself for looking fat, which I found demeaning at the best of time. But it is also because we cannot attack these preaching bullies without becoming the executioner in the eyes of others. What outside people see is a very friendly, softly-spoken person who is selflessly sparing a couple of very sensible advice for your own good but the intrusion into your private space makes you want to punch them out of it or just tell them to “fuck off!” or even just be cold. But you think: “Am I proving you right by retaliating?”

I was stuck between her friendly claws wrapping closer around me and being unprofessional by bluntly telling her off. And also, she hadn’t mentioned me as such at this point so one could have easily blamed me for being touchy about being fat in the first place. “She was just making conversation; I was the one who made it about me.”

I did not know what to do and let myself being controlled into deeper self-loathing.

“I remove deep blockage” is what she said then. I felt more and more vulnerable and on the defensive side. My brain was screaming “Who are you to presume and question my mental health just by looking at me? How can you stand there and basically tell me that my physical appearance is saying all that needs to be known about my deep self?”

The worst with these people is their phoney empathy. She tried to show that she does understand by attempting to relate to me. The more she was blabbing about her ability to help the fat, the greater my need to dismiss her became so I bluntly said I had been overweight for the past 20 years and frankly nothing would change overnight. That’s when she pulled the relating trick where you show the other you identify with them. You are not yet another thin person who lectures, you suffered as well so she replied:

“Me too. I used to be obese then I found it and went from 68 kilos to 62 in two months!”

There was a silence.

Whatever “it” might be, that attempt to relate to my obesity was once again one of the most insulting thing I have ever been told. If 68 kilos from 1m60 is obese, what am I with my 120 kilos for 1m76?

I am obviously a monster that needs saving asap and that’s why she was here, right now.

In my silence, she started to throw words and phrases like “the teachings of Chinese medicine”, “the rules of Indian philosophy”, “the meaning of Asian religions”. It became more and more vague and the word “oriental” popped out more and more until it was virtually attached to every single of her abstractionisms. She is clearly one of these Westerners who have never lived anywhere near Asia and reduce it to what some pseudo gurus have let slip through our borders and books.

I found myself having to justify that I was indeed not just spending my life on my couch eating burgers. I felt like a child having to prove his parents he was not a total failure. I still cannot believe I ended up telling her I was going to the gym five times a week, was making an effort to only eat cereals in the morning rather that cakes, and that from now on, every morning, I was taking out seven to ten fruits and veg as well as 3 litres of water and a litre of whole milk that needed to be eaten and drunk by the time I go to bed. I suddenly watched myself trying to prove someone that my life was indeed a shameful mess of fat but I was trying to clear it up.

I concluded by saying that I was doing yoga and pilates to which she patronisingly replied that it was good for my condition. My “condition”, that was it. I am sick. In her mind, as long as I need to wear XL clothes, I will never be anything other than a lump of fat. I am just like a pack of butter and frankly I felt like one and became almost apologetic for it.

These thin, know-it-all-about-healthy-living proselytes want to help? They trigger nothing but greater self-loathing and a feeling of failure.

I became so fed up with her self-righteousness and her Christian-like attempt to force her newly-found, perfect way of life through every crack of my life and soul that I eventually stopped working, faced and told her that being fat has never stopped me from making it to where I was today, from leaving France with just a suitcase to live and work for 7 years in a country where I had no friends and no family, to making it as a teacher to one of the oldest and best school in England with nothing.

My being fat is irrelevant. She was not convinced.

Of course, she was not. Her self-loathing when she was “obese” will never allow her to see me as a person. For her, nothing I have and would ever say, nothing I have and would ever think, nothing I have and would ever do, nothing I have and would ever achieve will be good enough to gain her full respect because I do not look the part. I am not thin, therefore not happy nor fulfilled.

Had I been thin, we would have never had this conversation and I would not have had to list my life achievements and emphasise that being fat does not make suicidal and has not stopped me from having a life like everybody else.

The fact is, the self-righteousness she caged herself in has disabled her ability to have actual empathy for people she had made a mission to save. When she did put on weight at some point in her life, she had already digested and interiorised some prejudice about people who put on weight: that we are weak, with no self-control, that when our eating leaves my marks on our bodies despite the XL clothes, it means that we have deep psychological problems that remain unresolved.

Who hasn’t? You needn’t be fat to have problems! There is a brilliant Tumblr that display mugshots of criminals and if you just judge by their looks, they should have healthy minds. I mean some of them are handsome, thin, athletic and yet they robbed, battered, raped and killed. Being fat doesn’t say anything about you or your ability but she cannot see that because when the kilos piled up, she got scared, started to doubt herself and had found “oriental” solutions she is now preaching to whomever looks fatter than they should. Which, by the way, goes against actual Asian philosophies.

Today, she is just projecting on every fat person her personal experience. She has never been able to accept herself as someone with a bit more flesh. She hated herself then and she never managed to respect that person. Now she cannot possibly, truly respect us too and unfortunately, her views are becoming the mainstream in every aspect of our society. We did have Jamelia saying that fat people should be ashamed of being fat. Nice one, love! That’s going to help us move on with our lives…

Like all other thin, smug, Nazi-style or Evangelical-style healthy living proselytes, she doesn’t understand that force-feeding me with her phoney psychological help is not going to make me lose weight. On the contrary, her and her fat-shaming ilk are one of the biggest part of the problem and unlike them, I will never consider being thin a life achievement therefore a life goal.

And frankly, I am getting tired of my being fat being constantly shoved in my face and having to apologise for it, justify and prove myself on that sole basis day in, day out.

When I went back to my lesson planning and we parted, she passed in front of the cakes I spent hours making and, to add insult to injury, said proudly:
“Look, I am resisting. I have not eaten any of your cakes.”

I couldn’t take it anymore and with all the wisdom of a school playground, I replied:
“And I have not cared for anything you have been telling me.”