Tuesday, January 30, 2007
That being said, I haven't been so busy as to not have enough time to continue to take advantage of the "soldes" (which last only through next weekend). Or, maybe the soldes have continued to take advantage of me? All I can say is, I'm afraid to look at my bank account. I'm hoping it'll be winter here all semester because I'm not going to be able to afford spring clothes!!
My relationship with my host family has improved dramatically. Not that it was terrible in the first place, that's just to say that we've started to have actual conversations - about school, about politics, about france, about the US, about food, about shopping - where communication occurs in both directions. You don't know how fabulous 2-way communication feels until you go without! However, I still find that I am MUCH better at talking (albeit often in incomplete sentences), than I am at listening. Some things never change, no matter what language :)
Last Tuesday night we had our first "conversation club" - french students at the Nantes university (who are studying English) come to our abroad center - we spend half of the time talking in french and the other half in English. It's good practice, and nice to be, for a few minutes, the one who knows the language rather than the one who's butchering it.
On Friday night, a group of us went out for drinks and then to a discotheque (dance club) called "The Tower". You can hardly tell from the outside that there's anything inside... it's practically soundproof and there's not much fanfare surrounding the entrance. Just a line of people and a very scary looking body guard. I have no idea what he's looking for - he didn't stop me, but he stopped some people in front of me and sent them away. It's free to get in - if you can! There's a cute little window where you can check your coat and purse, and then you're ushered into this huge, two story hall. It's what you'd expect, I suppose - a bar, a stage, a dj, some chairs and tables around the perimeter. It was SO crowded and very smoky (too bad cigarettes won't be banned in clubs until 2008). The music was amusing - a lot of American songs (including a Grease medley, which the French LOVE!). The dancing was... scary at times? The french boys have no shame :) I accidentally made eye contact with some french guy, which to them, is all the invitation they need. His eyes locked onto me like a tractor beam and he pushed his way through the crowds to reach me. Our conversation:
Sketchy french boy: "Qu'est-ce que ca veut dire?" (what does that mean?)
Oblivious american girl: "Rien" (nothing)
sfb: "Rien? Non, vous me regardez. Est-ce que vous voulez dancer?" (Nothing? No, you looked at me. Do you want to dance?)
oag: "Non, merci. J'ai un petit ami." (No, thank you. I have a boyfriend.)
sfb: "Ou? Il n'est pas ici, non? J'ai une petite amie aussi." (Where? He is not here, is he? I have a girlfriend too.)
oag: --blank stare--
sfb: (realizing that I'm having trouble understanding him and desiring to test out his fabulous English speaking skills) "I can dance with you, I can kiss you, but I cannot make love to you."
Oh boy - I promptly reached for the nearest boy from our group of friends, gave him a big hug, and shoved him in the direction of my accoster. I'm not sure what he said... but he ended up with this guy's phone number. Something about a double date maybe?
Anyways, I don't think I got into bed until 3:30 that morning... and thus slept half of Saturday away. But it was worth it :) Saturday afternoon I went shopping a bit and then went out to dinner with some friends to Entrecote. It's a popular restaurant in France (a small chain - one in Paris, Lyon, and Marseilles, I believe) and the line for a table was out the door - I think we waited for an hour to sit down. But, the food was delicious and worth it. You don't really order... they serve only one thing: Salad, steak, and french fries. The steak is drenched in butter and served on a large platter for the whole table and the french fries are all-you-can-eat. And for dessert? Profiteroles :)
Sunday morning I got up early and went to mass with my host parents. Quite an interesting experience for me... I had enough background and vocabulary to follow the hymns and the reading (the verses about love... they're even more beautiful in French). However... the sermon... not so much. I honestly have not the slightest clue what he was talking about. I'm pretty sure I spent most of the time looking at the stained glass windows and at the people sitting around me. But I was glad I went... my host dad lead the hymns and it was fun to see him up front. Plus, Catholicism is a huge aspect of french culture and history, so I figure I should check it out firsthand!!
After church, we stopped by the boulangerie to pick up baguettes for the day. People in Nantes buy baguettes every single day. Every single day. At the boulangerie, there was also a man out front selling mussels (or was it clams?). My host mom said he's there every Sunday :)
Sunday brunch was delicious - especially nice I think because my mom's sister (my host aunt, if you will) was visiting from out of town. We had steak - cooked just on the outside and raw in the middle - and soup and salad and bread, of course. The bread troubles me at times - because it's so delicious and yet so nutritionally empty. My only protection is that in order to get more bread, you have to ask. Which means talking. In French. And sometimes, it's just easier to be quiet :)
A la prochaine semaine,
Monday, January 22, 2007
Sprechen-zie English, anyone!?!
I mean, I love French. But sometimes, you just want to understand what people are saying! And you want to be able to express yourself clearly and quickly! I think the worst is at family dinners. There are times when everyone is talking – food in mouths – three conversations going on at once – French music playing in the background – and I just sit there, sometimes attempting to follow the banter, other times just laughing inside at the ridiculousness of the situation. I wish you could be a fly on the wall!! That being said, my inability to understand has humbled me quite a bit. I’m learning to listen. I’m learning to not be the center of attention. I’m learning to appreciate communication. I’m learning to be ok with not being perfect.
My week, although a bit stressful and overwhelming, helped me settle into life in
*note: everything I say about life in France should be taken with a grain of salt – that grain of salt being that these are my interpretations of what has been told to me in French. So… yeah.
The French education system is still quite a mystery to me. For starters, it’s free. Well, not exactly free, something like 190euros each year. So, free. That changes everything really...
- The campus is not especially attractive… not perfectly groomed for prospective suckers, err students.
- The professors give lectures, give exams, and give grades… and that’s it. They don’t talk to students. They don’t advise. They don’t interact.
- There’s no application process… if you pass the baccalaureate (a cumulative exam at the end of high school) then you can go.
- Undergraduate degrees (called the “license” in French) require only 3 years. At the end of which, you can 1. find a job, 2. get your masters, or 3. apply to a professional program. But all of it’s free! Which is why, I presume, doctor’s aren’t paid as much here… they don’t have years and years of school loans to pay off!
- The 3 undergraduate years are very specialized… you pick your major, and ALL of your courses are related to it. You can’t, even if you want to, take a variety of courses. If you choose history, all of your courses are history courses… if you choose literature, all of your courses are literature courses.
So yeah… fundamentally different from the
Now, for the most recent drama in my French life: the shower. Who would’ve thought it could cause so many problems!? First of all, in general, French showers are different from American showers. The showerhead is attached to a long cord and not to the wall. It took me 5 days to realize that it can be attached to the wall… I just thought that white bar was… decoration? So, needless to say, there were several days where I had the most interesting of shower experiences. You see, the shower isn’t really a shower at all. It’s a bathtub. And there’s not a curtain. The tub is against the wall and on one side there’s a plastic wall that extends half the length of the tub. So, if you try to shower holding the showerhead, and you turn around, forgetting you’re still holding the showerhead, the water goes ALL OVER the bathroom. Um… yeah. At least three times. Did I mention that there’s laundry hanging to dry on the other side of the bathroom? Yeah. Anyways, so one evening last week my host mom mentioned to me that someone was coming to do some work on the tub. Well the next evening, when I got home, the bathtub had been completely removed, the wall was stripped, and there was a hole in the wall with a dehumidifier in it. Apparently the entire wall was water-logged. Yick! So, my host mother said that I could take a shower in her bathroom. Which is upstairs, in her room, and is teeny-tiny. By this I mean… miniscule. Not really even big enough for one person!! And it’s not just the shower that’s teeny, it’s the bathroom itself. So teeny, that you can’t even shut the door. So… you have to take a shower with the door open. Which means, that no one can be in her room. So, taking a shower is now quite an ordeal! It’s tough in the mornings, when everyone else is getting ready to go. And I don’t want to be a bother. And sometimes I just don’t know how to ask!! Can I take a shower now, please? So, yesterday, when I got home from shopping, the house was empty so I grabbed my towel as fast as I possibly could and ran upstairs. I left a sticky note on the stairwell that said (in French, of course!): “Dear Madame Bodet, I hope it’s ok that I take a shower now! Thanks, Erica”. So, I took the quickest shower of my life, fearing that any moment someone would walk through the door. And when I finished, I wrapped my towel around me, ran down the stairs, grabbed the note I left, and just as I was ducking into my room I heard the front door open. Seriously, so much drama for just one shower!! And tonight at dinner, as far as I could understand, it could be weeks before the downstairs bathroom is fixed. WEEKS! I just keep thinking of the advice I was given when I first arrived: You must have a sense of humor about everything! Plus, clean was so last year ;)
Some miscellaneous details of my first weekend in
- Friday night I watched the first hour of this season’s 24. HOLY MOLY! Jack Bauer is the man.
- SOLDES is my new favorite word. It means “sale” and it’s on EVERY store front. I spent the majority of Saturday wandering the streets of
going into every shop. Sad though, that after these few weeks, there will be no more sales. None. Nantes
- Saturday night I went to the movie theatre and saw Jacqou le Croquant (in French, of course!). I have vague ideas of what happened in the movie. But the main character was a cutie, so it was all good ;)
- At the movie theatre, they have a screen that lists all of the movies and how many tickets are left for each showing. And they say
is still in the dark ages! France
- Also on Saturday night, I drank my first “aperitif” – a blackberry Kir. Can I say, fabulous? Like Madame Rouchet (our administrative director) told us: “One Kir and everything is, positif!”
- Sunday morning I slept in until 11:00. It was heavenly J I then woke up and watched
’s version of American Idol. Very amusing. France
- Sunday’s are family day in
. Practically everything is closed – the stores, the restaurants, the supermarket. But the city is still alive! I went for a little stroll through the city and there were lots of other people doing the same thing! Of course, it was the first sunny day I’ve seen since I’ve been here! I took some pictures (see right) of the city. The red door is the apartment building where I live. Rue Deshoulieres is my street – most of the streets are named after famous artists. France
- Sunday afternoon with the family – drinks (I had some sort of sweet wine, I think?) in the living room, then a big lunch (fancy china and all!), then back to the living room for coffee.
Lot’s of chatting (about what, I can’t really say!) and time together and lots of relaxing. Too bad American’s are too obsessed with productivity and consumerism to ever take a day like this!
- Sunday evening dinner was delicious – some sort of vegetable soup, quiche Lorraine, bread and cheese, and a lemon cake.
- After dinner, my host mother and I sat and chat for a while afterwards – she was quite patient with me and we actually had a real conversation! I learned that I had all of the ages of my host siblings wrong. I think I’ve finally got it straight now:
- Marie-Pauline, girl, 23 years old, studying architecture in
- Noemie, girl, 21 years old, studying to be an elementary school teacher in
- Marie-Louis (called Louis), boy, 19 years old, lives at home and goes to the University of Nantes, studying to be a doctor;
- Maria-Laticia (called Marlette), girl, 17 years old, lives at home and is in her first year at the University of Nantes, studying “droit”, which means “right” in English, which I think translates to some form of government or law?;
- Jean-Joseph (called Jean), boy, 14 years old, in his last year of “college”, which is middle school in
- My host dad’s name is Jean-Joseph Bodet – he’s called Jean-Joseph.
- And my host mom… I just realized I have no clue what her first name is!! I just call her “Madame Bodet”. Oh well, 6 out of 7 ain’t bad?
So, here it is, Sunday evening. I think I’ll get my things ready for tomorrow and head to bed. Maybe watch the next hour of 24!
Bonsoir, mes amis :)
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
The first night in
The third night one girl and I ventured downtown in search of internet… which turned into quite an adventure. We asked several people: Ou est-ce qu’on peut trouver le wifi? We were sent in different directions and finally we found a bar with a sign that said internet – 1 euro per hour. But, inside it was just a crowded bar with loud music – not very conducive to setting up our laptops!! Then, just as we were about to continue on with our search, one of the bartenders opened the door and asked us if we wanted to come in. We told him we were searching for internet… he then proceeded to ask if we were with a different abroad group because apparently they offer free internet to abroad students from that group… and we explained that we were abroad students, but not from that group… he seemed to think for a minute and then told us to come in… so, after a little hesitation we followed him in… and across the bar… and then behind the bar… where he unlocked a door… and then ascended a very sketchy staircase… and opened another door… (ok, obviously at this point we were completely freaked out and starting to wonder if this wasn’t a really REALLY bad idea)… but then, he opened the door, and there was a computer lab! And a really nice computer lab at that! There were four computers, a couch, bright lights, plenty of outlets, and even a sign about video surveillance. SO weird! But, we were content to have found a place with internet, so we happily set up our laptops and spent almost 2 hours there! Nobody bothered us… we were the only people there (everyone else had other plans for a Saturday night ;) ). It was seriously the most sketchy and ridiculous thing ever… right above a bar… Ruth and I… alone in this room with our laptops. SO weird! When we finished (around midnight) we descended the sketchy staircase, banged on the door as loud as we could (to be heard above the LOUD bar music, which was of course American as in all the French bars, restaurants, airports, and hotels!) and when they let us out we exited the way we came – around the bar, across the room, and out the door! The guy said we could use the internet for free, but we figured we should pay him for being so generous to us. And that was it! We walked home (this time with our map and cellphones) and found our hotel without a problem.
Sunday morning we had 2 hours of placement exams and then we headed back to
Sunday night, when I climbed into bed, it finally hit me: I’m in
Bonjour France :)
12:00am - Turn 21! This was really tough ;)
1:00pm - Farewell lunch where I ordered my first drink! A cosmo, naturally :)
2:30pm – to Dulles airport. When I got in to the front of the check-in line, I weighed my bag and realized it was 51.5 pounds. The scale was right next to a large sign, which read: $50 for bags over 50 pounds. Yikes! Some quick re-arranging evened things out a bit, although I did end up having to carry-on more than I planed. Oh well. In the end, my two suitcases were 47 and 44 pounds. I swear I didn’t overpack! I really really tried to limit myself. I only brought one purse!!! Although, I guess I could’ve left a couple of the 8 pairs of shoes behind… and mom did say that 18 pairs of underwear was a bit excessive… or maybe over 2 liters of hair products was a little over the top? What can I say? I’m obviously going to have to hold a small garage sale (do they even do those in
3:00pm – finally got my boarding pass, dragged my 100 pounds of luggage over to security and headed for the currency exchange. I decided on 280 euros – well, actually I asked for 250, but the lady somehow convinced me to get 280 instead. Something about waived fees… Anyways, 280 euros cost me about $409. That’s a lot of money! A lot of my money – not even from mom and dad! I’m so nervous carrying it around. I suspect everyone around me of eyeing my bag (especially ‘cause it’s a long-johns ;) ) and I try to think as a pickpocket would. I saw one man counting his dough on the tram and then he just shoved it into his pocket. I hoped any pickpocketers would have noticed that as an easy target and would leave me alone!
3:30pm – I made it through security without a problem. Although, dad did get yelled at for trying to take pictures of me while I walked through. Apparently that’s not allowed? I said goodbye to mom and dad and headed for the terminal on my own. I stopped by starbucks and paid an exorbitant amount of money for a bottle of water and got change for a USA Today. I sat and read the paper and did the crossword… secretly watching the people around me and trying to figure out what they were doing on a flight to
4:30pm – I passed the time by people watching… The girl next to me was going to
4:45pm – I watched two little birdies eat some tortilla chips right by my gate – I can’t figure out how they got inside!!
5:00pm – Boarded the plane – a 767. HUGE! Seriously – like they have in the movies – economy class seats are grouped 2 – 5 – 2. SO many people in such a cramped space. I had an inner seat in the middle section. Quite possibly the most uncomfortable 6 hours of my life. The first class is incredible – the seats turn into beds at the touch of a button. Someday I want to try that out. Besides the cramped-ness, the flight was fine. The food was decent – good, even. Oh, and I ordered a screwdriver. I practically shoved my id in the flight attendant’s face, but even then he wouldn’t even look at it! I tried to fall asleep the entire time… and never succeeded. Oh well… sleep is overrated?
7:30am – Immigration. Basically a big, unorganized line. You show your passport. And they stamp it. That’s it!
8:00am – Customs. Aka, a hallway. They didn’t check anything. Didn’t require any forms. Didn’t look at my passport. Didn’t look in my bags. At first I thought I must’ve just sneaked out!! But, someone else confirmed that I had left the right way. I’m not sure what that was all about… and why everyone told me I should plan on 2 hours… but I’m just glad I didn’t have to wait forever!
8:30am – I got lost in CDG. I got on the wrong bus. And had 3 very confusing conversations with Parisians in French. I got 3 different answers (as far as I could understand!) and I finally ended up on what seemed to be the right bus. I found the first friendly face and hoped for the best. She was French, but coming back from visiting friends in the
9:00am – I finally found the train station, thanks to ma nouvelle amie francaise. I parked myself in the “salle d’attente” to wait for the train to arrive. Meanwhile, my friend Maddie (a fellow Cornellian) met up with me. A French boy, sitting across from me, struck up a conversation with me. He was friendly, although I have a feeling we didn’t communicate very well. For the majority of the conversation he thought I was traveling to Limognes, which I then interpreted as London, and from there it just got more muddled… but it was still nice to chat a bit with someone!
10:45am – The train ran a little late, about 20 minutes. By the time I finally got my luggage settled and found my seat, I absolutely crashed. I was disappointed in myself, because this was my first opportunity to actually see
1:45PM - The trip went by quickly. When we pulled into the station, there were a group of “IES-ers” already gathered. We were then guided to the taxi line. Taxis in
2:30pm – At this point, those of us who had arrived at IES, about 10 of us I’d guess, were absolutely wiped. We all crashed in one of the classrooms, luggage surrounding us, and all whipped out our laptops. It was quite a site, I’ll tell you. There’s wifi at the IES center so all of us were contentedly emailing and facebooking. Apparantly, you can take the girl out of
3:30pm – We were all famished, so we ventured out into the city. It was hard to take it all in – so much to see! I’m looking forward to the day when I know
4:30pm – We returned to the IES center very full and even more tired then when we left. Back to the laptops while we waited for everyone else to arrive.
5:30pm – The families started arriving and as every minute passed the number of students left at the IES decreased more and more. By about 6:30, I was still waiting there. We all had butterflies in our stomachs… wondering with each host mom that walked through the door if she was there for us. It was nervewracking!
6:45pm – My host mom arrived – Madame Bodet. I was SO nervous. On top of which I had my 100+ pounds of luggage to drag behind me. When I walked up to her she kissed me on both cheeks. And then we left! We took her car the 1km or so to her apartment and chatted the whole way – in French of course! She speaks very little English… so if I couldn’t come up with the words in French, there was nothing to fall back on! But, we seemed to communicate fairly well. She praised my speaking skills too, which of course made me more confident to speak even more.
7:00pm – I finally arrived at my new home. I met the rest of the family, well except for Monsieur Bodet who is in
8:00pm – My first family dinner :) We sat at the dining room table and dug in – noodles with cheese and ham, baguette, and salad (with some greenery I’d never seen before – a cross between clovers and spinach?). It was all very delicious!! We chatted while we ate and I did my best to understand their banter. I didn’t catch everything, although Madame Bodet was good about filling me in when she knew I wasn’t following. After the main course (if you will), we had cheese and fruit. Dessert, I guess? Either way, it was delicious and healthy and just what I wanted after so much airplane food!
9:00pm – I finished straightening up my room and got ready for bed… which is where I am now as I type this blog. Snuggled under my down comforter and ready to crash.
I’ve been up since 7:30am on Tuesday. It’s currently 10:06pm on Wednesday.