People from back home ask what exactly it is I do out here in France.
I'm an elementary school English teaching assistant. A job that I've never heard of in America is actually quite common here - there's one in almost every elementary school.
I spend each day in a different elementary school teaching kids very basic English to get them ready for middle school.
It's a lot of repetition, a lot of singing, and lots and lots of coloring.
In one of the most least sexual jobs ever.
I haven't gotten any since I've been out here. And going from having a regular accomplice in Indianapolis with a voracious appetite to nearly nothing has been one of the more annoying parts of the culture shock.
Sure, Roquefort cheese is wonderful, but does it get you off?
It's interesting being the foreigner. Being the friendly, unassuming, naive foreigner (I get to avoid anti-immigrant sentiment because I come from a rich country and took a job native French people can't apply for) fundamentally changes one's social positioning.
The previous time I lived here, I was in the same place. People tell you the most bizarre things when you can't come up with a snappy come-back.
You want to do what with me and my roommate? I'd tell you that's inappropriate if I knew the French word for "inappropriate" or how to say "She's Baptist and I'm gay, so that's not happening", so instead I'll just smile and shake my head no.
And then I'm perceived as non-judgmental. (Regular TBP readers start laughing.)
In that non-judgmentalism I'm working into a larger framework of desexualization. People act on their general goodwill and understanding that foreigners don't always know what they're doing and impose an innocence on me - I feel like I'm treated like a giant child at times.
At a party a couple of years I managed to work my way into, a lesbian who was making out with anyone she could find asked me if I was gay since half the people there were.
Oui, I said, oui!
She asked again: I mean homosexual.
It only took several minutes of pleading and telling her that I both understand what the word "gay" means in French (it's happily the same in both languages) and that I am. I was only wearing a shiny pink shirt and some pretty snazzy jeans, and being myself. I know that I'm not fooling anyone when I'm in the US.
Oh, she said. I never would have noticed.
Her reaction wasn't atypical. I suppose part of the problem is that the language of gender transgression doesn't cross linguistic boundaries easily because gender roles themselves are different across those boundaries. I've kissed a lot of straight boys hello here, but you gotta believe me, they started it!
Which leads me to where I am today. I work with several dozen elementary school teachers on a weekly basis, and they're my only access to French adulthood at the moment. One is pretty undeniably gay. Hearing him start class is like being backstage at Cats.
It's quite sexy.
But my conversations with him outside of class have centered around my book bag's broken latch, my brother, and tea.
Oh lord, it's getting me hot!
Moving forward in a work setting is already a minefield when you know the same language, but in another country, when I work at his school one day a week, when I've been rhetorically neutered, I'm thinking there's no chance at moving forward here.
So I'm left with a lot of extra money, time, and energy. Think about all of those three and how they get poured into the quest to get laid. And while I've always had a lot of the last two, the extra money is something new to me.
Just today I was at the grocery store and I really wanted a wok. It was a bit expensive (I wanted the nice one), so I justified it to myself: I haven't gone to a bathhouse this week, so I can take that money and buy a wok.
I've only actually been three times in my entire life, and it wasn't all that wild, but hey, I wanted that wok!
That's a pretty good metaphor for what I've been doing in general around here - taking whatever resource would have been spent on sex and turning it into something nonsexual, all the while imagining a much wilder sex life from which to draw those resources.
And honestly I don't know that if I were actually getting any here if I'd have actually spent the price of the wok in searching for it. But then again, I don't know the price of sex in St. Etienne.
The fact that this city is the French equivalent of Fort Wayne, Indiana, a medium industrial, working class city surrounded by farmland and mines, isn't helping things out on the sex front. On the money front, it's been wonderful.
So I'm thinking that there's a larger mathematical equation here, something about money and sex being, when multiplied, equal to a constant. When there's less of one, there's more of the other.
Or something like that. At this point, I'm just glad to have a new wok. If I can translate that into action somehow, I'll skimp on the moldy cheese.