I've finished my first week of classes and am well into my second. You know how everyone says that studying abroad is so easy and fun and work-free... yeah, I think they were wrong. Or, maybe, they were talking about programs where you take classes in English? All I know is, I have a MOUNTAIN of reading to do and I read at the rate of 15 minutes per page in French. Also, I cannot listen and write in French at the same time... meaning that taking notes in any of my classes is practically impossible. So... yeah. Good thing these grades don't count for my gpa ;)
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,