The ELA List

Being an English Language Assistant in a foreign country is entirely comparable to being a C-list celebrity. Going shopping, eating out or generally walking anywhere near your school at the weekend triggers a series of resounding “HELLO HEATHER”s and “BONJOUR HEATHER”s that follow you down the street and wherever you continue your journey. As you walk down the corridor before or between lessons it’s not uncommon to hear children chanting your name in a bizarre crescendo, or to see them peeping round doorways and whispering as you walk past. They’re in awe of your existence and complement your hair/clothes/face/ability to speak English without fault on a daily basis. If you’re fortunate enough to be employed in a small and wealthy commune like myself in Boulogne-Billancourt, you may find yourself being invited to events in your honour. Back in November my friends and I attended a soirée hosted by the mayor at the town hall where there was a champagne reception with canapés, local government officials, the heads of the local schools and a bunch of reporters. The mayor gave a speech to the party about the benefits of employing native English speakers in French primary schools, spoke a little about our home countries and even offered me his public condolences for my granddad’s then recent passing. We were each presented with Longchamp gifts – a Pliage Cabas tote bag for the ladies, and a wash bag for the gents – before proceeding to the PR part of the event. We were photographed both as a group and individually, before each being interviewed by a reporter for the town’s magazine, the BBI, but we were certainly not expecting what was to follow when returned after Christmas… Waiting for us in our letterboxes was a copy of January’s BBI magazine with a teeny tiny Union Flag on the front hinting at what was to be found inside. I flicked through to the specified page to find a group photo and some text about what it is we’re doing here. Not so bad. Then I turned the page to see this monstrosity. IMG_0752   I won’t bother to translate what’s written about me as the majority of it is incorrect and slanderous. My age is wrong, I’m not a student and most of what I supposedly said has been fabricated for the reader’s interest and approval. All part of being a celebrity eh? The result of such publications is that people “know” stuff about you and random strangers appear to recognise you on the street. The magazine was distributed almost two months ago and yet children at school are still coming up to me to say “Heather, je vous ai vu dans le journal !” (“Heather, I saw you in the magazine!”) and commenting on the photo (which doesn’t even look like me!) or the things I allegedly said. I have six weeks left on the job, fending off the paps and autograph book wielding children, and the one consolation keeping me going till the end? I now understand how my future wife, Angelina Jolie, feels.

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