The penultimate month of my contract in Dijon, and ironically, the only month with no time off due to breaks. I had hoped that this month would be more interesting to write about, and it indeed has been the case (although not necessarily for the right reasons). The time on my contract is steadily running out, which brings about questions about what’s next (please don’t ask, but if you want some insight, I wrote a post for Queen Mary about how study abroad has directed my potential future path, which you can read here), but instead of focusing on that, let’s dive into Miriam in Dijon: March edition!
I suppose I should be grateful I made it until March without having any “scares,” but that’s as far as it went. In the penultimate week of the month, one of the classes at my middle school had to close due to having too many cases of Covid. I interacted with this class a week before they closed, and therefore found out on a Saturday that I was considered a cas contact, and needed to go get tested. I was able to get tested due to the fact that it had been seven days since I interacted with that class, and you have to wait that amount of time before getting tested anyway as a cas contact. Ensue the panic of trying to find a lab open on Saturdays, and one that would turn around results quick enough to know before I had to teach on Monday. Getting tested itself was a pretty straightforward experience. I showed up at the lab, gave them my Carte Vitale, explained why I needed to be tested (the lab where I went only required an appointment if you were presenting symptoms), and then I went into a separate little van thing outside in the parking lot to have my nose swabbed. Let me tell you, the French take no prisoners with the nasal swab. It’s a fun little burning sensation, and then immediately my eye (singular because only the eye on the side where they swabbed seemed to react) started crying, which of course I couldn’t stop because it was going under my mask. Fun times. I was in and out in under ten minutes and got my results seven hours after I had it taken. They were negative, thankfully, but I truly could’ve done without the stress the whole ordeal caused. Interestingly, that day was actually the first time where I genuinely had a thought about wanting to just go home. Obviously I knew it was a risk coming to France to work in schools, and is something I think about every day as I get ready to go to my classes, but it took on an additional level of “real” that day. Ironically, for all the snail’s pace of French bureaucracy, they’ve miraculously seemed to avoid that when it comes to getting your Covid test results back (and I’m not complaining about that).
It’s truly frustrating that the French government won’t close schools and has essentially left it up to individual institutions on what to close and when. If a class has a certain number of positive cases, the whole class will be sent home for at least a week, and then are told to test after that. Starting the weekend of March 27, the government has asked that classes close with one positive case, but who knows if that’ll actually happen. There has been no data released in relation to how many of the weekly cases come from schools, which at best is an oversight, and at worst is an attempt to cover up data that would go against current restrictions (who knows with this government). At midnight on March 20, sixteen départements went into confinement due to having high rates of incidence in comparison with the rest of the country, and three more joined the following week. The problems with this? Firstly, schools are remaining open, even in those départements. Secondly, unlike the other two confinements France has had, people living in those départements can walk around during the day within a 10km radius of their houses, which is very much the opposite of the 1km radius with which the other two confinements came. Essentially, the only thing that has locked down are non essential businesses, but this confinement is in name only, not in action.
For the whole country, France also pushed the curfew back to 19h, which on one hand means that people have a little bit more time between the end of the work day and the start of curfew, but on the other hand seems counterintuitive. It’s very much a hand wavy way of saying they’ve done something when they really haven’t, because the “confinement” (and I use that term loosely) is essentially “do whatever you want but be back by 19h, you just can’t travel outside your region.” The government is recommending work from home 4/5 days of the week as a decent percentage of current cases are coming from work environments. Schools, however? No word about them other than to “keep doing the same thing.” Ostensibly Macron will be speaking on the 31st of March, but there’s been no indication of what that will entail (I’ll report back). It’s absolutely frustrating and I feel so bad for teachers having to deal with this all. I know that I have the privilege to be able to leave France, and get out of the school environment at the end of next month. The teachers with whom I work don’t have that luxury, and they’re no closer to getting vaccinated than they were when the campaign started (Macron has said that he wants teachers to be eligible by mid-April, but I’m not sure if they’re progressing fast enough for that to happen. Unfortunately, timing wise, I’d be unable to take advantage of that if it were to be the case, but if they did do that, it would be better for teachers than where they currently stand – although five months in to make teachers eligible isn’t a great look either).
I put this in the title, but you might be asking yourself why. Ever since everything shut down in March 2020, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve been using TikTok as a distraction app, and I do in fact enjoy it. I’ve kept that up in France mainly as a way to pass the time when I’m not working. It’s a coping method of sorts. I won’t pretend to truly understand how things work on the app, but in early March of this year, I made a video to the Agatha theme song from WandaVision “criticizing” the French government that somehow took off, and since then, my niche has become making videos about what’s happening in France (mainly expelling my frustrations about the absurdities of the French government). It’s somewhat reassuring to get comments from people who have similar thoughts to me, and I enjoy the fact that it’s essentially a lighthearted way to deal with everything. I’m not sure what I’ll do once my time in France is over, though! For the time being, I’m definitely enjoying using it to get out the many frustrations of the past few months, and if other people enjoy that too, I’m not going to complain. The things we do for internet fame (just kidding).
Passover in France
The end of March also brought with it Passover, which is a pretty difficult holiday to observe in the land of pastries and baguettes. As I wasn’t sure where to go to buy matzah, I reached out to the local synagogue for help in finding it and found out that there is no place in Dijon to purchase any Kosher for Passover food. They were kind enough to supply me with two boxes of Matzah, for which I am eternally grateful given that I wouldn’t have been able to find any otherwise! I, of course, also had to splurge and buy a jar of Skippy peanut butter for my matzah needs. It’s not something I make a habit of purchasing as it’s more expensive than what I’m used to at home (it’s hard to justify anything more expensive than the JIF Costco sized jars), but it’s worth it for the eight days of unleavened bread consumption. Unfortunately due to the pandemic, there will again be no seder this year to attend, but hopefully this will be the last year for which this is the case.
Exploring New Places
In my quest to explore more of Dijon before I have to leave, I have tried on nice weekends to venture beyond my usual walks (we had a long stretch of cold weather and rain, which when coupled together do not make for ideal excursion weather). This month, I went out to Lac Kir, which is about 45 minutes away from the lycée. The lac is a big lake, and you can walk around the whole thing. There’s a playground for kids, tennis courts, mini golf, volleyball courts, and even a little beach complete with actual sand! It was well worth the trek out to see this very nature oriented space on the outskirts of Dijon, and to get to see another park space here.
Visiting the Dentist
Since it’s been over a year since my last dental visit, I figured I should try and be seen in France before I go back to the US, considering I no longer have dental insurance in the states (love the way that works). I went to see the same dentist who did my retainer back in January, and getting your teeth “cleaned” in France is very different from the experience in the US. For one, they call it a “check-up” (perhaps cleaning is a separate appointment, who knows), and they don’t give you sunglasses! I was in the chair for maybe ten minutes, which was the dentist running the mirror over my mouth to check for cavities, and then doing what’s called détartrage, which is basic cleaning between the teeth with that utensil that makes very high pitched noises. That was it! No scraping, or flossing, or any of the other fancy things the hygienists do during cleanings in the states. Maybe I screwed up and didn’t ask for the right thing, or maybe that’s just how it’s done here, or maybe even there are Covid protocols in place of which I wasn’t made aware, but that was what I had done. My “cleaning” was 43,10€, and I received 30,36€ in reimbursements four days later! About the same price as what I would’ve paid under my insurance in the US, but still cheaper than uninsured dental visits. Talk about rapidity on the reimbursement front, though. I fully was expecting it to take a while, but clearly, getting the Carte Vitale works wonders (in France you pay for everything upfront, and then are reimbursed 70% using sécu – you can get the remaining 30% reimbursed with a mutuelle if you choose to purchase one). I’ll be honest in that (even if the fault’s my own), I still don’t necessarily feel confident in the status of my teeth after that quick check up, so I might end up visiting one in the US anyway if I can swing it.
That’s been my March! Exciting and eventful in some ways, and yet still managing to remain relatively low-key in others. It’s really hard to believe that I’ve only got one more month left on my contract, and two of those weeks will be spent on break. It doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s been as many months as it’s been, and it’s certainly difficult to wrap my head around the fact that I’ve been in France since the end of September. It’s a little disheartening for the situation pandemic wise to be essentially the same as what it was when I arrived, and it does make me a little sad to know that I won’t be leaving France better than it was when I arrived. I’m still working on departure details, but unless things miraculously change in the coming weeks, there won’t be any travel for me post contract. In the meantime, I’m trying to make the most of my remaining time, and with the weather picking up, it’s easier to do that (although that does mean more people are out and about as well). Daffodils are firmly blooming everywhere, the sun is shining, and spring has certainly sprung. I hope that the nice weather continues throughout the rest of my time in Dijon!