Monday, January 22, 2007

Sprechen-zie English, anyone!?!

When I was in middle school, my family went to Germany for two weeks on vacation. When we would walk through the cities, my little brother (10 years old at the time) would scream, “Sprechen-zie English, anyone?” I think that just about summarizes how I feel at the moment! This week has been… French-filled. Every day we’ve had orientation, grammar courses, information sessions, and tours… and all in French. Followed by evenings at home with my family, in French. TV in French. Music in French. Movies in French. Not to mention that English is forbidden at our abroad center.

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 Nantes. But I’m certainly ready to find a bit of normalcy now. Tomorrow I start classes – French grammar, French translation, microeconomics, France & the EU (another econ course), and French Government & Politics since 1958 (what happened in 1958, I don’t know yet!). My schedule is… interesting? I have 2 classes on Monday, 3 on Tuesday, 2 on Wednesday, NONE on Thursday, and only 1 on Friday. But I’m still taking 16 credits? I’m not sure how that works out… but I think* that one hour of class per week is equivalent to one credit?

*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 U.S.! I’m looking forward to taking a course at the university (microeconomics) and seeing these difference first hand.

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 Nantes:

  • 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 Nantes going into every shop. Sad though, that after these few weeks, there will be no more sales. None.
  • 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 France is still in the dark ages!
  • 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 France’s version of American Idol. Very amusing.
  • Sunday’s are family day in France. 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.
  • 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 Paris;
- Noemie, girl, 21 years old, studying to be an elementary school teacher in Paris;
- 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 France. Confusing, no?
- 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 :)


Kane said...

1958 was the year that the new Constitution was ratified in France, ushering in the 5th Republic.

So, it was a big year.

Benji said...

i think you might be a better writer than me

E Schneids said...

Erica--I know I'm way behind on reading your blog but this is such a fabulous entry. I know what you mean by "does anyone speak english" and I'm even in an English speaking country!! My key phrase when I first got here was "where can an alien go to register" because I felt like everything I did wasnt right and anything that I wanted to do I had no clue. Even taking the bus was an ordeal! I love your shower description as well, I remember those in France, good times. Ok, back to reading the rest of your entries!

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