My first few days in Clermont Ferrand (in France) were spent understanding and learning French. I tried everything - watching M6 and TV5 (popular TV channels in France) and also reading the standard promo newsletters of departmental stores! How far it helped me is anybody's guess but my efforts continued. I told myself that if I could have a full-length conversation with Megali -the room service maid in the hotel where we stayed initially and who knew nothing but French - I could learn French easily.
My husband at that time used to go to French lessons. I wanted to join him but the total foreign atmosphere and surroundings scared me and I kept putting it off. And suddenly one day, my husband suggested that I try teaching English! At first I was reluctant but suddenly this institute - Metaphor Languages - asked me for my CV and before I knew it I was called for an interview. I was scared and more so because I had taught English to Indians not to foreigners. I spoke to my husband and tried to gather information about Metaphor Languages. I learnt that two men started Metaphor Languages and the Institute mainly taught English and French.
My preparation for the interview started. I tried to understand the background of the students I will have and so on. But the hitch was that the students would have no knowledge of English. This meant teaching or trying to explain the meanings of English words in their language that meant French and I had no knowledge of French. I tried various ways to handle this but in vain. There also was a bigger problem - dress code. I had no formal wear. Formal wear in India means - sari or salwar suit but this translated to something else there. I was worried but I decided to wear Indian dress anyway.
On the said day, I was in the office 10 minutes before. My husband dropped me and said, "Please take a taxi or a bus to go back home." "How do I do that?" I thought in my mind but first, I had to finish my interview. I could worry about going back home later. I walked into this beautiful building with excellent landscapes. I saw a board that read Metaphor Languages with an arrow below indicating I had to turn left. I followed the arrow and walked into a small neatly decorated room which had many rooms attached to it. There were many tables and chairs arranged probably for students to sit I assumed they must be classrooms. I stood there, absolutely alone, wondering how I would handle everything. I doubted if Interviews were different from those in India. I mean, I reasoned out, what could they ask. But still, the fact that it happened in a foreign land made most of the difference and I wondered why. I had gone through my grammar book and English usage book once. I knew the rules but I was nervous.
The lady at the reception desk greeted me. I told her about my appointment and I waited with bated breath. Soon a middle-aged man walked in and spoke to me and then led me to a cabin that looked like anybody's office. I was surprised by the modesty of the room. I was put completely at ease and the man spoke to me for nearly half hour. "So, do you know French?" he asked. "No, except 'Bonjour' and 'merci'" I said. He smiled. After sometime, he asked if I had any permit to work. I said, I did not know but I would find out. At the end of half hour, he said, "well, sudha, it would be a pleasure to work with you, because it is interesting how English is spoken by different nationalities. However, your not knowing French is definitely a disadvantage and your kind of visa, as far as I know, entitles your husband to work and not you. So, there is definitely a difficulty. But, I would like you to come here and meet people and even sit in the French classes that will also help you learn the language. I liked it. I mean, for nothing I could now attend French classes and try to learn the language. I was thrilled. As he walked me out of the office, 'how did you come?' he asked. 'My husband dropped me but to go back now, I should hire a cab or take a bus. What do you suggest?' I asked. 'Well, I think you should take a bus because, the call taxi has to come from the city center to pick you up, instead you can take a bus going to city center and from there you could a taxi.' ' Martha…' he called out. The lady at the reception looked up and smiled. 'Walk her up to the bus stop will you?' he said. We shook hands and left
Martha walked me to the bus stand and asked me take bus no. 3 to Jaude - the city center. It was my first time in the city bus stand. I was the only one sitting and waiting for the bus. I was nervous. Hundred thousand questions ran inside my head. What if I get lost? Do I know my address?? I asked myself. Do I know my husband's telephone no? At that moment, I somehow did not remember anything except how my house looked!! That would not be helping - I told myself. But, to my relief, I found a map that gave a couple of bus routes and another chart which stated the timings. From the chart, I realized that I had to wait for an hour at least. People came and people went, buses came and went but my No.3 bus never turned up. After nearly an hour, my bus, screeched to a halt. I got in and found that the bus was full. I had to probably stand. I went in and bought a ticket from the driver. I could feel the entire bus staring at me. I paid 7 francs and walked to a place near the window. I saw people punch the tickets in a machine after buying them and some of them did not buy tickets - I assumed they had monthly pass to travel! I did not know, if I should punch my ticket or not. The bus took nearly 20 minutes to reach Jaude from where, I had to take either a cab or a bus. By now, I was quite confident to travel by bus. Jaude has a line of bus stands to various places. I did not know where I should stand for the right bus. I walked up to each bus stand and looked in the map. After a few trial and errors, I found my bus stand. I waited there, in an instant, one bus screeched to a halt, I walked in and bought another ticket for 7 francs and sat in a seat. I again saw people punching the tickets in a machine and some people take out a ticket from their bag and then punching them in the machine. I was now worried what I had to do. After a long time, I learnt that I buy a single ticket for one route and I punch the ticket two times!!
I did reach home finally and realized that I had had a wonderful experience - my first bus travel and my first interview in a foreign land. I was excited. After a few days, I received a call from Metaphor Languages that due to my visa problems I cant work there but I was welcome to go to French lessons and also attend English classes to give value addition to the instructors. I did join their French classes and it was one of the most wonderful experiences. What stands out most in my memory is the Christmas party we had. The entire organization gathered that evening and we were all given a copy of the song that had to be sung. This French song - ma beau sapan, Ra de foret .......- meaning, my beautiful tree, King of the Forest - which is about the Christmas tree, was sung by all and its meaning was explained. Well after many French lessons, I had learnt some words- at least, I could now, understand the other person. Thanks to some good people, today, I know one line of a Christmas song in French!!