The week of the ‘canicule’.

French for heatwave, the canicule meant that week four was largely spent trying to stay as still as possible in fruitless efforts to keep cool, before inevitably taking a dip in the kids paddling pool.

Unlike the majority of Monday’s I have been here, I was oddly motivated to get up and go straight away. With the temperatures climbing towards the 30’s, there is significant benefits to hopping on the bus straight after dropping the children at their activities to avoid climbing the mini mountain on which my house was built. I decided to pop up at the Moulin Rouge and have a wander, and palpitations at the ticket prices for an evening under the red windmill, before heading to Montmarte, a great decision if I say so myself. The cloudless sky ensure the views over the Paris were as stunning as I had hoped. The inside of the Sacre Coeur provided some much needed canicule shelter and, although I had already cheated and taken the funicular instead of the stairs, I decided to give climbing the basilica’s tower a miss for today.

Exploring Montmartre was next on the agenda. With an incredibly nutritious lunch of pistachio ice cream under my belt, I walked the cobbled streets of one of the most beautiful areas of Paris, avoiding getting conned into an awful caricature of my face. I think one of the things I will miss most about France is a decent pistachio ice cream.

Knowing Tuesday was going to be even hotter than the previous day, I opted to only leave the house when absolutely necessary. This was only to ferry the kids to and from activities; so luckily first thing in the morning, and last thing in the evening when I knew we were heading home straight to jump into the paddling pool. On which note, I should add I did spend a significant amount of my morning huddled over said pool searching for the puncture, beginning to wonder if it was actually some form of fools errand such as finding a left handed screwdriver.

Wednesday I was adamant that I would not let another day go to waste at the hands of the canicule! So I battled the weather and headed into Paris for a day at the beach. Quiche Lorraine and new friend in tow, we meandered to the Paris plage on the bank of the Seine below the Louvre. Wednesday night saw the return of the Great British Bake Off. After having explained the show and it’s cult following in great detail to my host parents, I ended up making the ultimate sacrifice and missed the highlight of summer TV in favour of having a social life. I’d like to say the few drinks in front of the Chateau de Versailles was worth it, but it’s a tall statement.

I soldiered on through the canicule for a Thursday picnic in the parc du Versailles. This was the closest I have been to the Chateau thus far, and the beauty, splendor, and sheer attention to detail of the whole area is overwhelming. We sheltered in the shade next to the canal and sought enjoyment in observing people’s cliche instagram-esque poses; especially those intent on getting as close to young swans as possible, which came close to loss of fingers when the swans rightly decided enough was enough. I’m now becoming quite well adapted to picnics in France, and after watching someone cut a camembert with a bank card for lack of a knife, I can confirm the garlic and herb cream cheese is the ultimate baguette accompaniment when you’re on the go.

Having excelled myself in the face of the extreme heat, I was reassured that I would survive living in Orlando where I will worship the almighty AC. However, Friday I opted to avoid getting so hot that even my eyelids began to stick together and thus rested sheltering from the canicule before taking on Paris by night once more. So sat outside the Pantheon we enjoyed warm wine, BN’s, and our own High School Musical sing-song.

Saturday was another Seine side picnic, complete with more BN’s. It seemed very un-French for the Mairie de Paris to discourage people from consuming alcohol during the canicule when a chilled glass of white was just so inviting. So against this advice, the Brits (true to form) soldiered on and headed for a bar. From henceforth I pledge to avoid irish bars like the plague*, they are just not the Parisian atmosphere I was hoping to find after dark. Yet the evening was far from wasted due to the beginning of some great Parisian friendships.

There was no time to wallow in self-pity on Sunday, for I was off on a boat trip with my host family. Thankfully it was finally a little cooler after the peak of the heatwave, and a cruise along the river was bliss. It was lovely to spend time with the family, see Paris from a new angle, and wave to those picnicking along the banks as we had been doing the night before.

 

Week 4 in numbers:

  • heatwave survived.
  • 3.5 seconds spent not feeling sweaty and disgusting.
  • dips in the paddling pool.
  • 1 inner city beach day.
  • initial paddling pool punctures found.
  • punctures found after having inflating and filling.
  • Moulin Rouge tickets 90% more expensive than I can afford.
  • episode of Bake Off (watched late).
  • 58 BN’s consumed (approximation).
  • 1 cultural and highbrow activity achieved.
  • trips on public transport where the scent was almost bearable.

 

*writing this blog in retrospect means I can confirm that this has not happened.

 

 

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‘Mona Madness’ – Paris week 3.

So week three started with an unexpected day off. Once again my lack of attention meant that I had failed to process that due to a French bank holiday, my family would not actually be returning until Monday evening. So, after wasting my Sunday evening, Monday was spent in true bank holiday style; staying in, watching Gilmore Girls and defeating a mountain of laundry. I am still unaware as to why, when I work so little during the week, I spent bank holiday in lounge pants, ‘working’. Two wash loads, and three ironed and made beds later, my family returned.

With her Parisian escapades preceding her, I finally met Vanessa on the Tuesday. It was far too hot* to do much more than sit in a cocktail bar and watch passersby getting splashed by cars driving through a burst water main. Such a shame…

Wednesday  attempted my first shopping trip in Paris, with varying levels of success. After my sandals met a tragic end the previous week, I could not cope without some open shoes in the belated summer heat. Shopping in a new country is always tricky because it’s a case of scouting out the equivalents to what you’re used to back home, something made all the more worse when you are searching for something specific which is going out of season. But 4 separate H&M’s later I emerged victorious, sandals in hand, with a vague sense for what french stores suit my style and are affordable. That evening I helped my host children sort through the previous years school books before the impending rentreé, where I found a photo of me in horse form (see below).

IMG_9202 (2)

In a highbrow mood, and equipped with more appropriate footwear than my previous museum visit, friday began with a trip to the Louvre. Thankfully I headed straight to the Louvre after dropping my kids to their activities so did not need to stand in the heat waiting for the security check, and being 22 and an EU citizen (for the moment, Brexit grumble grumble) I walked straight for free, simply flashing my ID. Now I cannot deny taking the odd snap here and there, but I seem to be in the 3% minority of guests who do not shuffle around viewing the paintings through a phone screen (or worse not even bothering to look at works at all, just the bloody phone).

If you are aiming to view the Mona Lisa then, unlike me, it may be an idea to head there first thing. I very much underestimated the ‘Mona madness’ as I shall call it, and meandered my way there, looking at everything I passed. Potentially a mistake, for when I reached the Mona Lisa it was swarmed with tour groups pushing and shoving to get as close as they could to take their photo and leave. However after being knocked on the head in the head by the phones of several unaware (/inconsiderate) tourists, I finally saw the famous painting. By this point having seen enough of the Louvre for one morning, and specifically ruined many a person’s photo because I oddly I wanted to stand and look at the paintings, I hopped on the metro for a restful afternoon before the kids descended. Turns out the Louvre is even bigger than I thought, for on closer inspection of the map, I had only seen half of a single wing of the building.

Having finally descended from my museum etiquette soapbox, Saturday meant hitting Paris hard. Following Vanessa’s lead, we met for drinks outside Notre Dame where we watched a fire juggling street performer (three times over for Vanessa to put her number in his hat along with her euro), before heading Saint Michel for my first taste of the Parisian bar scene. After trekking what felt like half of Paris, we arrived at some more typically French bars, before calling it a night. This was also my first taste of Parisian transport after dark. With all public transport bar the less than reliable night buses shutting down early until around 5am, we lasted about 20 minutes on the steps of the metro before we gave in and summoned my first uber. At this point I would like to acknowledge having followed Christian’s uber rules, and told those in the car nothing about myself, I did however fall asleep so I can’t be certain it was a complete success.

Sunday saw some host family bonding as we explored the forest by our house, which I enjoyed with surprising vigor considering. Weekend activities with my family are obviously completely optional, but with so much free time in the week to do as I please, I like to be an Aupair who involves herself in family life also. Getting stuck in really helps you to feel a part of the family dynamic and local life, while also being a great chance to improve your language skills.

And so ended another week in beautiful Paris.

 

Week 3 in numbers:

  • spirit animal discovered.
  • 1 museum.
  • 1 unexpected day off.
  • 1 new friend.
  • 1 Uber ride.
  • 12 episodes of Gilmore Girls (better).
  • 1.5 pages of Harry Potter read since last week (worse, but I did plough through an English book…).
  • 100’s of tourist photos ruined at the Lourve.
  • 3756 shops scoured for replacement sandals.

 

*at this point I was unaware of the impending canicule…

 

 

Paris Chapter II: the salmon incident.

We live and learn.

This week commenced with possibly my worst experience as an aupair yet, which is a bold statement.

After dropping Anatole at his activities, I spent the morning exploring Versailles. I gazed in awe of the stunning Chateau exterior and, although I am dying to explore inside, settled on exploring the town for the time being. By lunchtime I had worked up quite the appetite and hopped on the bus back to Chaville. Back at home, my host mum and I set to raiding the freezer for lunch, settling for salmon, spinach, and rice. This is where I made my crucial mistake. Somewhere in the Franglais speaking part of my brain, I failed to comprehend being asked if I wanted it raw or cooked.

I don’t even like sushi, yet being the bumbling Brit I am, I adorned a stiff upper lip and soldiered on through. One whole salmon fillet later and I was equal parts proud, relieved, and somewhat repulsed. Henceforth I will be concentrating harder on what is being said in French as I’m not sure I will ever forget the slimy fishy feeling of a whole raw salmon fillet. Naturally my attendance to lunch at home has drastically decreased.

Tuesday I finally met another Au Pair! I’m quickly deciding the Parisian metro is not my favourite mode of transport, often involving as much time walking as it does on the train, and multiple ambiguous exits. Combine this with my lack of French mobile and meeting people in central Paris can get tricky. Yet after one very confused phonecall about how we were both outside H&M on Rue Rivolli, and unsurprisingly concluding there were multiple H&Ms, I met Sally. In true Parisian style we sat in the street and indulged in a Croque Madame and some day drinking (strangely I didn’t opt for the salmon tartare), before wandering half of Paris for a patisserie.

Wednesday I explored the Le Marais area of Paris, enjoying some vintage shopping, giant marshmallows, and hopping through archways to find yet more fabulous architecture and sights to behold. Thursday I made the rookie error of trekking across Paris for a bakery that was recommended to me, only to find it was closed. Yet it wasn’t an entirely wasted morning as I got to enjoy the canal and find a shop where one can buy guns and balaclavas. The afternoon was spent portraying a cultured individual at the Musee d’Orsay (which is not the ideal place to discover your shoes are squeaky.

Having Paris on your doorstep you feel you need to make the most of every minute, however pacing yourself is key to being an Au Pair. It’s wonderful to have so much free time in the day to go galavanting in the city, but coming home and trying to match the energy of two children in the afternoon can take it’s toll. Sometimes you need to remind yourself it’s ok to not explore for a day. Thus friday was a rather lazy day; catching up on some online French lessons, writing this, and, of course, some all important Netflix time. After seeing my family off for the weekend, I headed straight to the shop for a Pizza and a bottle of wine!

Saturday saw my first night out in Paris. I met some wonderful girls and felt truly Parisian with my baguette, cheese, and wine on the banks of the Seine. Sunday, therefore, consisted of the three N’s; Netflix, nuggets, and napping.

 

My second week in numbers:

  • 85,315 steps (once again I felt compelled to do most of my exploring the day I wore heeled boots).
  • major lessons learnt; importance of museum appropriate shoes, stop wearing heeled boots, I don’t like raw salmon.
  • 14 episodes of Gilmore Girls…
  • 3 pages of Harry Potter completed since week one.
  • french films watched. enjoyed.
  • 1 weekend survived home alone.
  • 1 broken shoe.
  • Alcohol units: somewhere in the thousands.

“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.”

– Thomas Jefferson 

After navigating the underground with a suitcase the weight of a baby elephant, being barged about by the most unendearing of Londoners, I boarded the already delayed coach to Paris. The highlights of the journey included catching two Jigglypuffs, and the child who discussed at length the logistics of the Eurotunnel and the possible drowning of the whole bus. But eventually I spied the Eiffel Tower and Disney castle on the horizon.

I was greeted by host family at the bus station, and having never been to Paris, my host mum gave me my own tour as we drove through the centre of the city towards Chaville. I resisted giving a little squeal as we drove past the Eiffel Tower. However, squeal was given on realisation that the Eiffel tower can be seen from my bedroom window.

After spending the first day settling in, learning my way around, and honing my sporting skills playing tennis in the garden, it was time to venture into Paris. With tickets coming out of my ears, I navigated the Paris metro (which seems to involve almost as much walking as it does being on a train) to pop up at the Louvre. After enjoying watching the multitude of people waving their arms round attempting to get the perfect photo of them ‘touching’ the tip of the pyramid, I saw the Arc de Triumphe, the Paris opera house, bought some much needed throat sweets, and had a sit down in the Jardin des Tuileries. True to form, I found a boulangerie and indulged in some quiche and coffee, sitting outside and watching the world go by in true Parisian style, before heading to Notre Dame. After an evening of discovering just how entertaining snapchats filters are for a 7 year old (finally, I understand the need to turn your face into a giant raspberry), I spent the next day chilling around the house.

My feet having just about recovered from Wednesday’s 24,346 steps, I headed to the Eiffel Tower when I sat in the sun and indulged in some reading. I then headed to Boneshaker Donuts to sample a maple bacon donut before exploring the Grand Palais area. Once again I was 1 hour early to collect Romane from her activities because as yet I had not fully put my trust in Parisian public transport.

Once I had succeeded in trying to coax a 7 year old into showering in dressing in double time, we bundled into the car and headed off to the grandparents in La Baule for the weekend to switch children for the coming week. Saturday consisted of a slap-up meal on the beach, playing in the sea, napping on the sand and a seafood feast. I successfully achieved a tan and am now sure that anything I set my mind to is absolutely possible. Sunday we went shopping in La Baule, a beautiful french seaside town, had Sunday lunch as a family, and returned to Paris (this time with a different child and enough french books to keep me going for months).

Although I have spent a lot of this week drinking in the sheer beauty of Paris, it has also included a little bit of work. I’ve only had Romane during my working week, making for an easy start. She is super independent meaning the morning routine is more about overseeing than being actively involved. I’ve been greatly entertained by her trying on every pair of shoes I brought, complete with model poses.

So there we have it, week one as an Aupair in Paris complete.

First week in numbers:

  • 71032 steps (too many of which were in low heeled boots).
  • 13 hours spent in online queue. Subsequently, 2 Cursed child tickets purchased.
  • 10+ people with clipboards I have told I don’t speak English to. I have almost perfected the french pronunciation of ‘non’.
  • 8 starfishes accidentally (probably) murdered by my host children.
  • 6 major Paris landmarks visited.
  • 5 pages of Harry Potter a l’ecole des sorciers read.
  • 4 new foods tried.
  • 2 major lessons learnt; do not cross a Megabus driver, and that a green pedestrian light does not guarantee a car will stop.
  • 1 swim in the sea.
  • 1 cold battled through.
  • 1 million cheese based calories consumed.
  • 0 host child meltdowns.

A little CRP advice.

#yummyjobs #myyummystory #DisneyIP

A post shared by Yummy Jobs (@yummyjobs) on

So it’s coming up to that time of the year again. Summer applications for the CRP will be opening just as I jet off to Paris to start my next Au Pair job. As I said in my last blog, applying for the Cultural Representative Program was an on the fly decision for me, so being a year older and potentially the tiniest bit wiser I thought I would compile some CRP application tips I wish I had known at the time.

There are some really good tips for the specifics of the application process on youtube and other blogs which I can’t do justice to, so I’ll keep it more general.

  • It sounds cliche but be yourself throughout. The best way to shine in your application is to be yourself and focus on what would make you the perfect Cultural Representative. Think of things unique to you that will really sell you to the recruiter, not just as a candidate, but as a citizen of the UK. For example, I focussed on my experience at an international school, in the theatre, as an Au Pair, and growing up in rural England.
  • It’s called the Cultural Representative Program for a reason. Of course you should show a passion for Disney and specifically the Walt Disney World company and their service, but don’t lose sight of why they employ Cultural Representatives. Over 60% of Americans don’t own a valid passport, so they want you to come and share your culture as well as experience America. Talk about why culture is important to you and your experiences of cultural exchange, and having such an anecdote up your sleeve will be very handy in an interview. It’s about so much more than loving Disney.
  • The facebook groups. Join the facebook groups! They are fantastic for making friends and sharing important information regarding applications, interviews, acceptances etc. But let some things be like water off a duck’s back. I can be a bit of a pessimist and struggle to be confident in my abilities in job applications, so I waited until my application was out of the way before joining so as not to dwell on what other people were doing that would make them so much better than me. Considering how much I convinced myself I had fluffed the final interview, not catastrophizing too much at an early stage definitely helped me focus on why I was a good candidate
  • On a similar social note, make friends! If you are lucky enough to get to an interview, go for coffee in the morning or meet people the night before if you are staying over. The people you meet now could be the people you spend a year with stateside. Make the most of the opportunity to start making friends; having a good old natter with with these people can settle your nerves and distract you both before and after your interview.
  • Look alive! If you go to an interview make sure you look alert, smiley, approachable – everything a Disney World employee would look like. Even if it is 9am and you’re in a room full of people, the recruiters will notice those making the effort. And definitely don’t shy away from a Yummy Jobs photo; show you’re keen to get stuck in!
  • To wait or not to wait? Do you apply this time round or wait 6 months? I see this question asked quite a lot on facebook and it can be tricky to decide because it can be hard to know the timescale ahead. You need to be prepared for a fair amount of uncertainty. I applied in summer 2015, went to a pre-screen interview in September 2015, got waitlisted for a final interview (something yummy jobs seem to be doing more of), waiting until January 2016 for details of that interview, attended said interview March 2016 and finally got accepted on April 1st 2016 for a program starting November 7th 2016. That’s a lot of dates and a lot of time waiting that I hadn’t factored in to the gap year plan. Now the wait isn’t always as long as mine, but I had already waited 8 months to even get an answer, and would have been waiting longer if I got waitlisted after my final interview. However they do have a wide recruitment window; at the final interview I was given a 6 month period in which to specify my availability. The Disney recruiter and I joked that my mum might never forgive me if I missed my graduation, she said there would be no problem with accommodating that. 
  • So perfect the waiting game, but don’t put your life on hold for too long. Between applying and getting to Disney I will have worked as an Au Pair three times in different countries, been a Christmas Elf, graduated Uni, worked on a show for the Edinburgh Fringe, and surprisingly saved a bit of money. Know what you’re willing to sacrifice or not, but also know that if you can’t make an interview, then you will need to go back to the start!
  • Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get through first time. There are so many initial applications for the CRP. After hundreds and hundreds of applications they got it down to just 46 of us at final interviews; it’s a lot to do with it being a numbers game. If you don’t get through first time think of how you can improve your application. Being waitlisted for a final interview made me wonder if I was one of the weaker applicants at that stage, but I used that time to strengthen my application.By the time March came, I could waffle on about all the cultural exchange I had done in France as an Au Pair, something which was lacking in my inital application.
  • And finally, don’t stress. It’s not as scary or as difficult as you tell yourself. The recruiters are really nice and want to see you succeed, so just keep calm and hit that apply button.

Good luck!

 

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

– Oliver Wendell Holmes

And on that note, I am off to Paris.

It’s hard to stay still when you have itchy feet. I’m simultaneously waiting for the start of my Disney program and missing being in a country that I have fallen in love with. Here began the brief conflict of to ‘adult’, or not to ‘adult’.

I chose the latter.

It wasn’t a difficult decision really – considered, but not difficult. I could spend the next three months bumming around Essex picking up the few shifts I can here and there just to add a minimal amount to the savings I can already comfortably take to America, or go on a new adventure. It’s not that I have never travelled, I’ve been very lucky, but I’ve never really seen any european cities. So here’s my chance to tick seeing Paris off the bucket list.

I’ve been smart and saved money even whilst Au Pairing. As an Au Pair you might not be raking it in, but you’re not paying out for basic living expenses either. I’ve not scrimped (I’ve very much eaten, drunk, and been merry throughout), but I’ve been economical. So although I might not earn as much as I could in England, I know I won’t be losing money.

Having been stretched by two fantastic european adventures already this year, I couldn’t resist the opportunity that this surplus gap year time presented. After all, come November 2017, who knows what might have come from my year working for the WDC. I don’t want to miss my chance for this carefree little adventure.

So I’ll be hopping on the Megabus on August 1st (what I’m sure will be an experience in itself) and heading to Paris for two months. With the promise of picnics in Versaille castle park and that all important gut feeling, I’ve been lured into living and working in (the extensively google mapped) Chaville. This time someone is mad enough to be  trusting me with two impressionable young people, who are apparently as excited for my arrival as I am.

So here’s to two more months of eating cheese, speaking Franglais, and making memories.

 

Roll titles.

It hasn’t always been my dream to run away to Disney World. I haven’t grown up going to Disney since I was little, and I found only found out about Cultural Representative Program by chance in 2014 while interning for a holiday company at the desk next to a former participant. From there, the idea of applying for the CRP lay dormant in the back of my mind.

Fast forward to summer 2015 and that same mind is now in some form of volcanic implosion. It’s nearing the end of university, that great big beautiful tomorrow* is looming, and all you want to do is curl up into fetal position and go to your happy place. So effectively that’s what aimed to do. I have lots of big vague ambitions (including working for Disney in the future), but with the lack of any immediate grown-up direction, I started my application for the CRP.

I answered the questions focussing on what is unique about me and my experiences that would make me the perfect Cultural Representative.  After a few days mulling it over, I submitted before I could start to overthink my answers (my top tip tips for anyone applying). Only after hitting the submit button did it really hit me how much I wanted  this opportunity, so I attempted the impossible and pushed it to the back of my mind.

The ability to always find something to focus on besides Disney proved an incredibly handy skill considering the waiting game that ensued. After applying I was lucky enough to be selected for a pre-screen interview with Yummy Jobs in September 2015, and then waitlisted for a final interview at Disney HQ in London. This meant waiting til January 2016 to get details of the interview, which was then scheduled for the end of March 2016. On April 1st (poor timing for my weak nerves Disney) I got the acceptance I had been hoping for and spent a good few hours intermittently making odd excited squeals.Sure I would have to wait another 7 months until November 2016 but I could finally announce I was off to work for the mouse.

But the waiting has been far from boring, because that is where the great Au Pair adventure began.

 

*sorry.

 

(For those applying in this coming round of applications, good luck and I hope to post some more in depth blogs about the process.)

 

“But you didn’t really live at the top of the Mountain…”

Yes, I really did.

My first Au Pair experience literally did take me to the top of the beautiful Mont Lachat in the Savoie region of France. I lived above a restaurant at the top of the slopes above the little village Crest Voland. To get to and from the apartment you had to go by some combination of Skiddoo, Quad, Chairlift, Skis, or on foot. But I wasn’t completely isolated. Yes, the wi-fi (pronounced wee-fee en Francais) was the speed of internet about 30 years go, but I could still hop in the car and explore different places, go shopping, and go out for a drink.

Granted it was only for three months and perhaps it might have got to me after a while, but for those three months, it was perfect. After the stress of my final year at University and producing and directing a show for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I theorised that moving up a mountain could be a fantastic wind-down. And waking up to see the sun washing the mountains in a pink glow each morning was reinvigorating.

I had been thinking about becoming a Seasonaire after having watched friends explore the opportunity, seeing Nat venture off to Au Pair Switzerland, and having some time to kill waiting for Disney, the two ideas fused. But it was more than just a means to an end. Sure it seemed much more appealing than getting up at the crack of dawn for breakfast service and cleaning toilets as a chalet host, but I knew I loved working with children from all the laughs that were had while working at Big Mouth Theatre.

So after trusting my gut and finding a fantastic host family, I hopped on a plane, and a bus, and a quad to find myself at the top of the mountain ready for my first adventure.