Eh bien donc t’es affecté à Nontron ? Coucou toi, on n’est pas nombreux !
Acceptance letter in hand, and a pat on the back from monsieur le Ministre de l’éducation nationale proclaiming you the newest and brightest assistant de langue vivante in France – pas mal. And in the Académie de Bordeaux no less – la classe! In no time you’ll be rattling off all the châteaux of les premiers grands crus classés (Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Haut-Brion) and meeting up for an apéro en plein air with cool new friends of the prénom-composé variety – Jean-Claude, Marie-Bérénice, Xavier-François, etc. Hum, la vie bordelaise…
You applaud your extreme patience as you wait (mere) weeks for your arrêté de nomination; ben dis-donc, you’re not even in France yet! You know nothing of what it means to wait! Go ahead, bide your time navigating the neighborhoods via Google Maps. Spend hours imagining your ideal coffee shop, your perfect bakery, your gruff yet kindly shopkeepers – all minutes from your to-be doorstep. Sure your friends have heard of Bordeaux, but could they even find it on a map?
So by the time your inbox blinks to life with another message from l’Académie, you know it’s your arrêté – what you don’t know is what quartier of BDX (you’ve learned to abbreviate it like a real Girondin) in which you’ll be working. Lucky for you, the French have graciously and inexplicably put it tout en majuscules:
That’s sure a funny way to spell Bordeaux. In fact, upon closer inspection it doesn’t even really look like a French word. Even to pronounce it tests your command of uvular fricatives and nasalized back vowels in a way that your vocal cords have never been challenged. Back to Google Maps you go where your fear is confirmed. You thought that Nontron was perhaps some banlieue just outside city limits, but it isn’t. It’s in a big patch of green, and it takes zooming in three or four times before its name even appears, and several more clicks before its streets become visible, like little white veins cutting through the abundant countryside. Far from Bordeaux, far from everything.
You gather what information you can: over two hours by car to BDX, a population of about 3,500 (on the decline, it seems), the site of many a bloody battle, plumb in the middle of a parc naturel régional, its claim to fame: an ancient knife forgery. Ouf. What’s more, there’s no train station, only a couple of cafés, and the closest “big” city is an hour away. You see your relationship with French wines blossoming out of desperation and not appreciation.
One thing’s for certain, no one will know where to find Nontron on a map. Not even the French.
But now is the time to be positive. Not many people can say that they’ve lived and worked in Nontron. Fewer still can say that they’ve been an assistant there. Sure it’s small, sure it’s en pleine cambrousse, sure it’s not precisely what you had in mind, but with a little ingenuity you may find that your experience as an assistant de langue vivante in Nontron is as memorable and worthwhile as any.