It’s Tuesday, two o’clock and I’ve finished my classes for the day. During my first term here all the new teachers used to hang about until five or six, keen to show we were committed to the cause. Now, three months later, the place is empty by three. Files and textbooks left exactly where they were shut tight at the end of the day; their owners rabidly sprinting down to the pub for beer and pommes frites. Rippling enthusiasm replaced by collective apathy and alcoholism within a few short months.
TEFL teachers rarely stick at jobs for long. The money is shit not to mention the intense boredom that comes with repeating the same grammar point every third hour. I can normally do about six months before my interest begins to wane. After that I hit a wall and have to do something else. Or lie on a beach for four months to recover. I’m approaching the six month mark in this current job, so I know what to expect. The low level enthusiasm and forced smiles at the end of every class are not far away.
BUT! I’m going to ride this one out. Not because the money is better than normal or that I’m getting older, but because, despite my early wariness and frustration with the French, I’m slowly beginning to understand them. They may be more like me than I’d originally thought…
There’s a homeless guy who sleeps on the Rue Crequi under the awning of a closed down shop, a few blocks up from where I live. I pass him each morning sitting on the low ledge outside the shop sipping a coffee, his bedding and mattress already nicely folded up and packed away under the awning. He could have just thrown them there like trash, dragging them out again at night. But no. He takes the time to fold them and stash them away in a proper fashion.
In the evening, as I walk back home at around six, I see him munching on bread and cheese and ham with a bottle of red wine by his side; his bed already made up as though camping out on a starry evening in the Ardeche. He goes through the same ritual every night: unrolls the mattress onto the grimy pavement, unfolds his sheets and makes up his bed. And again it’s not a slipshod effort; it’s hospital corners and everything. Better made than mine. He then sits down to his bread and wine to watch the workers return home from their soul sapping jobs. After a few fags to finish off his wine with, he gently hits the hay. Bon Nuit.
In fact, since I’ve been living here, I know his entire routine. Like watching small clips of a film at different intervals over several months and at the end able to recount the entire narrative act by act, scene by scene. Same timings, same meal, same wine, same expression. I’m not saying, he’s happier, warmer, fuller, or healthier than me – on the contrary. I’m not that fickle (I hope). But what stunned me a few days ago – and I remember the realisation quite vividly – is that this homeless man’s evening routine, is exactly the same as mine.