Sunday, February 21, 2010

Aigues Mortes

Today my host fam took me to see Aigues Mortes, a medieval defense fortress about a half hour away. Louis IX did not first create the place, but he built it up during the 7th Crusade as a port into France. It served as a defense fortress and as a prison later, especially for female prisoners. They were usually stowed in the Tour de Constance. Aigues Mortes is also famous for it’s salt and wine. The land around the ramparts contains a lot of salt, so the wine here is peculiar. Their rosé is almost transparent.

After the tour of Aigues Mortes, we went to the beach to see Florian, their son, kite surf. Florian was here visiting for the weekend. He studies architecture in Strasbourg. He was in Australia for awhile and really took a liking to kite surfing. There were tons of Frenchies out on the sea today with their kite surfs. I cannot wait to get out into that water. It is just the perfect shade of Mediterranean turquoise.

The beach by Aigues Mortes has some crazy architecture around it. The buildings were all constructed in the 60s-70s and have a whimsical/wacky style which made the ride home interesting.

Lovely day with the fam d’ac.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


The French celebrate things differently. Like I said before, they have small celebrations for their Saint’s day.

They do of course have Christmas, Easter, St. Valentine’s Day, and Halloween (limited), but they don’t make THAT big of deal about it. For me, every holiday marks the year. I love to decorate for all holidays. Dressing up, celebrating, and making a big to-do out of a holiday is how I have fun. Most holidays in France pass by without notice, just a little blurb on the radar. They act how I act on Groundhog’s Day: “Oh yeah… it’s Groundhog’s Day.”

They do have days that are French… like Bastille Day and Armistice Day ( I know I know… we have Veteran’s Day, but people don’t actually care…) French flags are flying high those days which is actually a change of pace. The French don’t show a lot of Cocorico. Cocorico means cockle-doodle-doo (even the roosters speak French). The symbol of France is the coq (rooster), so to have cocorico is to have a lot of French pride. The Nationalists have adopted this as their slogan. “Proud to be an American” has become a slogan and a song. American flags and state flags are visible and the whole “Americana” style is popular in many homes in the US. Cocorico is not as prevalent.

Just because they are a little more subdued and a little less “team spirited” doesn’t mean that they don’t love being French. Not at all. Ask any Frenchie about the Olympics and they know they currently have 5 medals. Well… the US currently has 8… just saying


Two weeks ago, we were medieval princesses for a day. Last weekend, we played Heidi. My friend Kaitlyn, whom I’ve known for 15-16 years, was singing in a series of concerts at the KKL Concert Hall in Lucerne, Switzerland. The KKL is renowned worldwide for its acoustics. I’ve always wanted to go to Switzerland. How many times in my life will I get the chance to meet up with my best friend in Europe and see her perform?

Kate and I met at the train station with a spirit of spontaneity, not even realizing how clueless we were. The train ride from Montpellier to Zurich (our first stop) lasted all day. The day was well spent though, because the scenery of the train was beautiful. I call Switzerland “storybook” land because we passed snow covered mountains, frozen lakes, and little towns nestled into the mountains where the chalets are painted different colors and have pretty little shutters. We passed quiet farms as the snow gently fell.

We decided that day to spend the night in Zurich, so while on a train layover in Geneva, we called and reserved a hostel.

As we rolled into Zurich, we realized how ill-prepared we were for this trip. Between the 2 of us, “Happy Birthday” the carol “Silent Night” and “Can I sharpen my pencil?” is all the German we can communicate. We have no Swiss francs on us. All that we have is the address and phone # of the hostel we booked scribbled on our hands.

I have no idea what came over us. We were just excited to be in Switzerland and looking for adventure. In a rush of excitement that probably came from being on the train all day, we decided not to go to our hostel and just stay up all night instead. Last week, we had met some kids in Montpellier who are from Zurich. They told us that it is a really big party city. We really wanted a fun night, so we stowed our bags in the train station lockers, got some francs, and headed out into the dark rainy Zurich evening.

Wandering around the empty streets of Zurich, we eventually found a bar. It looked like a house, but it was a real hipster hang out. You’d think that spending Swiss franc instead of Euro would help a girl out. False. Everything in Switz is so expensive. It costs at least the equivalent in euro. Anyway, we weren’t even sure we’d be able to order our expensive cocktails due to our lack of German knowledge. Luckily the waiter spoke Spanish, so I could work it out. We almost friended to Cuban cutie, but then he found out we’re from the States and he had ish with that.

After getting the picture that the somewhat swanky place wasn’t our scene, we moved on. A quick walk down the street and Kate spots an Irish pub. English. Beer. What luck! The mix in the pub made the night really fun. Swiss bankers kicking back on a Friday night mingled with indie rocker types, travelers and randos. The drinks might have been expensive, but we didn’t end up spending too much money because 2 obviously clueless American lady travelers don’t have to buy their own drinks for long.

At about 2:30 am, we were ready to move on from Paddy O’Reilly’s. Wandering again brought us nothing. Nothing was open! The bars we found were either closing or closed. We tried texting my new friend from Paddy’s, but couldn’t find the place he was talking about. This was NOT the party mecca in the mountains we had anticipated. Not knowing what to do, we headed back to the train station. The Swiss are outdoorsy people. They love the outdoors so much that the train station in Zurich is basically outside. There is not a part of the station that could be considered “indoors”. In February, this does not function as shelter. We fast food restaurant hopped from 3am to 6 am. McDonalds at 5am is apparently the Zurich hotspot. We sipped our coffees and were approached by crazy Frenchmen. There was a large crowd of non-hobo looking people that even slept there too. I just stayed up, sipping my coffee, wand watching the crowd.

In the morning hours after dawn, we explored Zurich in the daylight. We grabbed fresh donuts in an open air market as we viewed clocktower after clocktower. All in all, Zurich was an interesting experience. We ended up spending more money peeing than on place to stay. (While the Swiss have the cleanest public bathrooms I’ve ever been in, it costs 2 franc to use ‘em). I’ve also never been homeless before. First time for everything.

After our little adventure, we were a little delirious, but still up for fun. Arriving in Lucerne, we stashed all but our handbags in the train station so we would not look like the squatters that we were when rolling into Kaitlyn’s super nice hotel. Finding her hotel was easy because it was located on prime real estate right on the lake.

It pays to have friends in the biz who’ve got the hook up. Kaitlyn had a sweet suite with a king size bed, down comforters, a balcony with an awesome view, a rain shower, and a huge bathtub. Major upgrade from where we spent the night before (disregarding the fact that anything would have been an upgrade). Kaitlyn gave us a quick tour of Lucerne before it was time to prep for the night.

Kaitlyn told us that our tickets would be available for us to pick up at will call. She scurried off backstage to warm up and we went to the reserve ticket desk. The Swiss worker at the desk searched for our tickets, but could not find them. In a situation like this in any country, I would normally expect the ticket guy to say in effect “I can’t find your tickets, looks like you’re shit out of luck.” and then expect me to be the one to do something about it. Mostly just because I am young. Not in Switzerland. Mr. Superhelpful tried calling some guy higher up. He must have called about 20x in 10 minutes. I tried to stops him, reassuring him that we’d be there the next day and could catch the show then. I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers and have it come back looking bad on Kaitlyn. It’s not like we paid for these tix. But Herr Superhelpful was super insistent and very intent on getting us our tix. Seriously though. I’ve never experienced this kind of urgency for me. Who the hell am I? I just strolled in off the street! I may have been wearing a pretty dress, but a cloud of cig smoke from Paddy’s and train station musk still lingered over my head.

The sitch wasn’t getting solved and countdown to show time dwindled down. Superhelpful jotted the name of the man he had been trying to call on a piece of paper and sent us to the girls handing out programs to check if they’d seen him.

We rushed over and showed them the name. At least 3 people got on the case and man-hunted him down. For us rando nobodies. The ladies brought the man for whom we searched, Pirmin Zängerle (who I later found out was one of the designers of the theater) over. He had 2 tickets in his hand. He said “Well these wouldn’t have been your seats, but I’m not sure where those tickets would be, so just takes these.” We protested saying we didn’t want to take anyone’s seats. He responded, “The show is about to start. These are really good seats. Take them! Go go go!” So we flew to our seats right as the show was about to start. Pirmin did not lie when he said they were good seats. They were in fact the best seats in the house. The theater had a ground, front center part and then seats on the side that were still on lower level, not mezzanine. We were on the side in front. Kate and I joked that we stole Howard Shore’s seats. To top it all off, the show was amazing. A full orchestra, choir, and children’s choir performed while the 3rd Lord of the Rings screened in the background. Kaitlyn is the only performer who travels with the show and she has various solos throughout the movie/show. Her big number is “Into the West” which comes at the end.

The Swiss love Gollum. They laugh at him even when he is not doing anything funny. We did see some crazies who dressed in LOTR garb for the show. Some things, like geeks, are universal.

After the show, we hung out with Kaitlyn and people she works with at the bar in the theater. All of the people who work on the show are incredibly nice, funny, and generous.

The next day, Kaitlyn had 2 performances, so Kate and I wandered Lucerne. Unfortunately, it was too overcast to take a gondola up the nearby mountain in order to really appreciate the view, but we spent a lovely day groundbound eating hotdogs and apple streusel, admiring the buildings and bridges, and playing with Swiss army knives. We even randomly decided to go to Mass (delirium had not worn off). It turned out to be a really cool experience. Bonus: It was Saint Blaise day! The Swiss way intensify throat blessin’ by taking 2 lit candles and holding the wax ends to your throat. The priest’s mumbled German blessing sounded like a bizarre mythical incantation. Who knows what he said… But… probs was really lucky to have a throat blessing after calling a train station home…

Switzerland was just so lovely. The people are delightful. Even though we could not communicate in German, in 4 days we received no hostility/rudeness. The Swiss blow my mind. Traffic stops for peds. Peds wait at red lights even if no cars are coming. Everything runs on time. You’d think after being so well cared for, even as a hobo that I wouldn’t want to go back to ape shit bananas France, but actually I was refreshed. The clouds cleared on the way home revealing stunning views of the Alps making me realize just how lucky I am to be where I am, with the people I’m with, doing what I’m doing.


The French view of Catholicism matches my view of horoscopes. If my horoscope tells me that I’ll have an excellent day, I believe it. If it tells me something negative, I don’t believe it at all. In fact I will then knock horoscopes as cockamamie bullshit. When Catholic traditions are festive and fun, Frenchies keep them. Other than that, most French are Catholic only if and when it is convenient. For example, the French celebrate today, Mardi Gras (Carnaval, even though Mardi and Gras are French words), but they forget about Ash Wednesday.

Also, I bought an agenda planner here, and they list which Saint’s Feast Day it is for every single day. Yesterday (the 15th) was Fête Saint Claude. Caroline bought Claude his fav beer to celebrate.

Well, I’d better get 2 days:

24 july- Saint Christina

23 august- Saint Rose

And I’d better get beer…

Monday, February 15, 2010


Carcassone, an hour and a half away from Montpellier by train, is a quaint little town that contains a huge medieval castle.

Kate, 4 Minnesota girls, and I decided to be princesses for a day and headed for the castle. It looks like a looming fortress in the distance, sitting on a hill overlooking the town, but it is really just a pleasant 15 minute walk through the actual town of Carcassone. We had a picnic lunch in a park that sits at the bottom of the hill where the castle is, next to a small creek. In French, “faire un pique-nique” simply means to bring a packed lunch. But oh no, us girls from Minnesota and Central PaPa were having a for real picnic on January 30th. We had all sorts of cheese, bread, wine, a medieval castle back-drop, and a rambling brook providing the soundtrack. Quelle chance!
After lunch, we hiked the cobblestone walkway to the castle. The term castle could be misleading; it is really a fortress. It contains its own shops, restaurants, and cathedral. It is everything you think of when you think of a medieval castle: turrets, cobblestone streets…etc. Carcassone = a Ren Faire kid’s dream + Beauty and the Beast. After touring the castle the whole way around, the Minnesota girls had to leave because they’d booked an earlier train. Kate and I walked around an above ground cemetery adjacent to the castle grounds. The cemetery appeared even more impressive because of the huge gray clouds and winds that started to come into Carcassone. All of the tombs had crosses on top of them and the brightly colored fake flowers that people adorned the tombs with stood out sharply against the gray of the cement and the clouds. Oddly, the eerie feeling was one of my favorite parts of the day.

On our way back from the castle, the rain started. Rain doesn’t happen often where I’m living, but when it rains, it comes down in horizontal sheets that leave you soaking wet with an umbrella that the wind turned inside out.

A beautiful day ends with a soggy, train-ride.

Our leftover cookies from lunch managed not to get wet, so c’est pas grave.


We traveled to Avignon our 1rst weekend in France. Thank God Cédric had planned this excursion to his hometown, because I highly doubt I would have been capable of planning anything for myself. Unfortunately, we had an early wake-up call that morning. I had to be out the door by about 7:15am. I tried really really hard to tiptoe around my homestay and not wake them up at 7:00 am on a Saturday. All of a sudden, Caroline leapt out of bed “Let me make you a coffee. I packed your lunch. Do you want me to drive you to the bus?” So Caroline and I drove off and she even picked up my friend who I was supposed to meet.

Since I’ve been in France, I’ve noticed a “hurry up and wait” sort of attitude. Meet at 8am, but we won’t leave til 8:30. This suits the French well, since they are never on time. For the punctual, we wait a lot. This time we had to wait because the bus went to the wrong place to get us.

Eventually, we made it to our first destination, the Fountaine Vaucluse, a beautiful town nestled into the moutainside. It’s the kind of town you go to a feel like you’re in a postcard. Pretty French houses with painted shutters and vines all over them placed right next to a rambling river. The center of town consists of a just a small circle surrounded by a few buildings and a view of the fast moving fountain. The source of the fountain is a pool of water at the base of a huge rocky mountain. Gorgeous.

We had some free time to mosey around, admiring nature and visiting the shops. The shops were filled with lavender, rose scented stuff, spices, and cicadas. You could buy a ceramic cicada, a cicada magnet, a lavender sachet with a cicada embroidered on it… I don’t know why they love cicadas. No one has been able to provide me with an answer either. The shops were also filled with santons for the Crèche (Nativity Scene). In Southern France, the whole town shows up in the Crèche from the milkman to the gypsies. This means that a Southern French Crèche contains many many handpainted figurines.

After window shopping (in French they say lèche-vitrine, which literally translates to licking the windows. I don’t know about the French but the only person who lèches vitrines is the little brother in the opening scene of a Christmas Story), Brittany, Kate, and I see that everyone is still hanging out getting food/drinks at a café at the bottom of the hill in the center of town. To avoid the mass of ‘muricans at the bottom of the hill, we told a few girls that we were going to a different café up the hill to grab something since the bus wasn’t back yet. We went to a snack shack named Snack the Big Fred. We did indeed snack the big Fred. As we walked back down the hill, it became increasingly obvious that the bus had left. We called our friend Siobhan who informed us that the bus was already on its way back because they realized that another kid, Josue was not on the bus either. No one noticed that the 3 of us were missing, but they sure missed Josue. Ouch.

We (thankfully) made it to Avignon, a beautiful little town where all of the narrow cobblestone streets lead to the Palais du Pape. But first a stop at the Café In and Off for a chocolat viennois.

The Pope beats all of those rap star fools on MTV Cribs. His crib could easily fit 10 of their cribs. The coolest part of the Palace was the Pope’s bedroom where all the magic… doesn’t happen. It is painted floor to ceiling with birds, vines, and scenes of people hunting.

After checking out the Pope’s old digs, we went to see the Pont d’Avignon which now only goes out halfway into the river. The Rhône is now a peaceful and gentle river because they dammed it, but it used to be fast paced and dangerous. Now the view off the Pont d’Avignon is tranquil. Keeping with the Church theme, there is even a small Chapel on the bridge.

I even warmed back up to Ceddy (who was responsible for accidentally ditching me) after he obliged me in singing the famous tune about dancing on the bridge.

He’s got ‘tude, but he’s adorbs.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

La Chorale. Quelle Catastrophe!

Before I ever studied abroad, I thought “I’m not going to be one of those kids who only hangs out with Americans. I’m only going to have friends from the country I’m in. My ambitious attitude was silly. How do you make friends? Certainly not in class. No one talks! You make friends when you go out. Who do you go out with? People you know. Who do you know? Americans. You see… making foreign friends is easier said than done. Especially in France. The French are not really responsive to smiles and excitement about their culture. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and be proactive in my friend-making. French universities don’t have a campus life like an American school would have. I appreciate this about them actually. Coming from a school where football games, Greek life, and THON consume most people’s lives, it’s refreshing to be in a place where school is for school. However, they do have some on campus activities. I look through the Paul Valéry website and find the choir. Mondays 7:30-10pm. Perfect.

I went last Monday the 1rst. I arrived at the choir room at 7:15. No one was there and the door was locked. (The rest of campus was silent and empty for the evening, by the way.) 7:25, the choir professors came and unlocked the door. I asked to join the choir they said yes. At little bit after 7:30, people actually started to show up. The majority of people did not arrive until 7:45 ish, and everyone was in room by 8pm. In my experience, a university choir is composed of university students. Not so in France. There were a handful of university age members, but most of the people were middle aged/old. This would not be so disappointing if it were not MOST of the members. We did only 2 warm-ups starting at about 7:45. Then we ran though this God-awful song for an hour. The sopranos (me) broke off at 9 to a different room to work on songs from Mary Poppins. A middle-aged woman was so sweet to me; she even introduced me to the other sopranos and shared music with me.

But overall, the choir trial ended up thumbs down. The choir was not very good and it was not what I was looking for. I’m only here for 4 months and I can’t waste time on something I don’t really like. During choir practice, I was disappointed, but upon leaving I just thought “Oh Well! C’est pas grave.”

I walk to the front gates of the university to leave and they are locked! I can’t even scale a wall to climb over them, because the wall has bushes at the top of it. I run back to the room we had choir in and everyone had gone. It was about 10:20 at night and I was totally alone, locked in the university. Trying not to cry at such a disappointing evening, I call my friend Brittany who has been studying here since September. She directs me over the phone to a parking lot gate where there is a guard. The guard tries to make a joke, but I’m too close to crying to laugh. Thanking Brittany, I hang up and trek home in the dark and cold. There was not even a tranny in sight on my way home to brighten the night.

I got home at about 11:30 excited to see my cheerful hostmom who could lift my spirits. I walked in and she seemed a little cold. I started to explain what happened and it became obvious that she thought I had made friends in choir (ha) who took me out afterwards (ha ha), leaving her to wait up for me. After she found out what happened, she was fine.

At that point, I just wanted my ugg boots because then my feet wouldn’t be cold and blistered. I wanted a hot shower that I don’t have to hold above my head. And lastly, I wanted my own cat who would come sit on my lap and make me feel better.

Wa wa wa…. I’m over it now.

And the French think WE’RE crazy…

Certain aspects of university life are unexpectedly different in this country. For example, the French do not have typical vending machines full of soda. They have those vending machines that we see in truck stops and hospitals that sell hot beverages. These machines are located all over campus, but if you have trouble finding one, just check right near the condom machine. On the sides of several of the main buildings on campus, you could stock up on Durex. Of course it is not a shock to me that university students would be concerned about safe sex. However, French campuses are not like US campuses because hardly anyone here lives on campus. There are dormitories the size of bedroom closets that a student could live in, but my host family explained that parents only put their kids there when they are not doing well in school and need to live in a place without distractions. So… if the students live at home with their parents and not on their own on campus, why do they sell condoms on campus? Who is having sex during the day here and more importantly, why? Je ne get it pas. Well, if the French need to relax after getting hyped up on caffeine, it’s not a problem. The café sells beer. Between classes you could go for a nice beer on tap. Sounds perf. But don’t drink too much, cause then you’ll have to pee. Peeing on campus poses quite a dilemma. In some of the buildings, the bathrooms consist of only a hole in the ground. Like those ones you’d think of when you think of a public toilet in China. I’m not accidentally going into the men’s room, because a lot of the bathrooms on campus are unisex. The bathrooms that have actually toilets are not quite as luxurious as one would imagine. I’m terrified of walking out of them with a case of crabs. Yup, they are pretty nasty. Crabs in France can’t be so bad though because they call pubic lice “papillons d’amour” (love butterflies). Blech. It looks like squatting is the only way to go. C’est pas grave.

Sorry for the overshare.

Why make it easier when we can make it 10 times as hard?

My friend Brittany has been studying here since September. She warned me before I came here that the French national motto seems to be “Why make it easy when we can make it 10 times as hard?” These sage words have been proven to be true. Time and time again. And again. And again. Not only are the French pains in the ass, they seem to take pride in it. One has to suffer to be French, and the French enjoy pain. I should have realized this in middle school when I learned to count in French. The numbers start becoming weird at 70. Instead of having a word for 70, it is soixante-dix which literally translates to sixty-ten. And the rest of the decade continues sixty-eleven, sixty-twelve, sixty-thirteen etc. As soon as you are able to wrap your head around the 70s, you get to the 80s. A single word for 80 simply could not suffice so they say quatre-vingts.(four-twenties). If that mouthful doesn’t trip you up, ninety sure will. 90 equals quatre-vingt-dix (four twenties ten). Therefore, to say 99 in French, you have to multiply and add your way to quatre-vingt-dix-neuf (four twenties nineteen). This type of ridiculousness exemplifies the French national motto. But, in middle school, I was too dazzled by the pictures of Gay-Paris to run like hell away from this bullshit.

One system that the French do inefficiently is school. During our first week of school, we registered for classes. OH wait, JUST KIDDING. That’s a complete lie. In France, you don’t register for classes until the week before you take the final exam. You look at the really confusing class schedule at find a class you might like and just show up. This is a pain in the ass because no one knows how many people are going to show up for the class. There could be 1,000 kids or no one. My history of the South of France class had nowhere near enough seats for it the first class. Pain in the ass. Je ne get it pas.

Another pain in the ass: books. At Penn State, we have our lovely student bookstores, which have all of the books needed for our classes, organized by class. I love this kind of sense and logic! Well, there is not a “student bookstore” in France. I didn’t expect there to be one and it’s totally fine. I can find my way around a bookstore and get what I need. HOLD UP… the bookstore does not order enough copies of the book because the class wasn’t supposed to have 20,000 students in it. So they have to order it. When will it be in? Then end of the semester. Perfect. So, I expedited shipping on Amazon but it still won’t be in til Feb 24th.

School and things related to school do no even give me the biggest headaches. The French cannot form a line. Instead of an orderly, wait your turn type of deal, they prefer to swarm the cash register/tram entrance. I feel the French should watch that Cici’s commercial. He’s a line jumper!

Not only do the French behave in inefficient manners, they are rude. And no, it’s not cause I’m from the States. Obama smoothed that one over for us. They are just rude. It isn’t so much that everyone you meet is rude. There exist many exceptions to this generalization (my homestay, Corrine, Guilhem at the cell phone place who not only hooked us up with phones, but set them up for us, the guy at the corner shop who jokes with me, the guy in the cafeteria who winks at me daily, Camille, this kid in my English class Yohann who bonded with me because we both have hs in our names you don’t pronounce….etc). The difference is that when the French are rude, they are REALLY rude.

Customer service does not exist in France. In the US, “customer is always right.” In France, not only are you wrong, you are wasting their time. I went to Café Riche to write in my journ (see blog pic) and I did what you do in France, which is sit yourself at an empty table. It did not have olive oil and balsamic or salt and pepper shakers like the other tables. The waiter rushed over to me and stated with ‘tude “Just to drink is over there.” And quickly pointed his finger toward tables that were the same size as mine and like one/two tables over. He yelled this as he was running past. This experience may not sound like a big deal, but complete with eye-roll and a 20 minute wait to get a coffee afterwards sealed the deal. Waiters and shopkeepers are rude and impatient. Some of it is just a cultural difference. In France, waiters prefer not to pester you during your meal, so you usually have to signal if you need anything. That’s fine. But many people in the service industry here behave in ways I wouldn’t towards anyone. At first I tried to keep an open mind. In the US, we can be over the top in terms of customer service. “Hi, how are you folks tonight? What can I get for you? Do you have any questions? Would anybody like some more water? OH sure, it’s no problem at all…” I’ve been a waitress, I know what really goes through a server’s mind. Then I thought, NO! It is completely asinine for anyone in general to be rude to someone who is smiling, polite, and obviously well-intentioned but a little confused. The people who made me grit my teeth when I was a waitress were the people who were rude to me. Je ne get it pas.

Store clerks are just as bad. The French don’t value patience as a virtue. In Carcassone, Kate and I were browsing a store and then we wanted to leave. The glass door was jammed shut and we were trying to gently pry it open without breaking it or the fra-gee-lay things around it. The store clerk came over and yanked it open for us talking to herself about how we were idiots. First of all, we were trying not to have to yank open the door. Second of all, you shouldn’t assume that just because someone traveling to your country isn’t speaking your language to the person she is with doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand your language. Third of all, if she new anything about English, she would know “idiote” in French sounds really similar to its equivalent in English. Maybe she does know this. Which would be worse?

I am in 2 English classes here. There are 7 Americans in each. One class has about 12 people total and the other has about 20. Therefore, we are pretty prominent in both classes, but we do not dominate the conversation. There is a frenchie in both of the classes who has ish with us. The first class, she raised her hand in the middle of conversation, while the prof was speaking and asked “Why are the Americans allowed to be in this class? Shouldn’t they be studying French?” Who in the HELL do you think you are telling us what we can and can’t take? We have the right to take any class here. If I were in a French class at home, I would LOVE to have a Frenchie to hear him talk/his opinions. That is so flagrant to just interrupt the prof and pose a question like that. If you hate Americans, that’s fine. Have your opinion. But why would you take a class studying American literature taught by an American professor who doesn’t speak French? There are plenty of other English classes to choose from. The next class, she was telling the class where she found the book we need. After giving us directions, she motions to the American students and says “But be careful, they don’t speak English.” How condescending! We speak English in that class because it’s an ENGLISH class. We wouldn’t go into a French bookstore and start speaking English!

Yesterday, Kate and I were having lunch. We were sitting by ourselves in the cafeteria, minding our own business. Towards the end of our lunch, this guy who had been sitting behind us turned around and said out of the blue in English, “Excuse me, but if you are in France to study French, why are you speaking English?” I was flabbergasted, but I calmly responded in French “When we are with French people, we speak French, but when we are with each other, we speak English.” Why in the HELL do I need to explain that???? I would never go up to people in the US and ask them why they weren’t speaking English!!! Maybe it’s because we don’t have an official language in the US. I’ll have you know, French asshole, that they tried to make English the official language in the US more than once, but that gesture was deemed unconstitutional, undemocratic, and an infringement on individual liberty. How about them apples?? I feel like people in the US have this stereotype of ourselves, “Welcome to America, Now speak English.” This is true to some extent, but the French are ASSHOLES about speaking French in France. You have to clandestinely speak other languages amongst other foreigners.

My housemom told me about once many years ago when her family did a houseswap with a family in Dublin. She said she cried when she left because the people there are so nice. Granted, she did tell me a story about a boat she was on that had to dock because of bad weather and this man who lived nearby gave all the passengers fish and beer. That is really nice. Everything else she described was just normal human behavior. Novel concepts such as helping a woman carrying a lot of things carry something, or holding the door for someone, or smiling at someone on the street.

Even though I just went through a major rant, the French don’t really get under my skin that much. I’ve developed a really tough exterior here. I hope the US can handle my complete bitch exterior when I come home. I might lose all my friends.

Totally fine.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Oh Yeah.... I'm in School Here....

I attend classes at the Université Paul Valéry in Montpellier. The university is located far from everything else I care about. From my homestay, I walk 20 minutes to the tram, take the tram for a little less than 10 minutes, and then walk another 10 to the University.

I wouldn't consider the university campus to be very big. In Penn State dimensions, it's about as long as Willard to Thomas and as wide as the library to the HUB.

Classes at a French university with French professors... Isn't that intimidating? Nope. My required classes, Grammar and Phonetics, have only 'muricans in them. The French set up these classes in our learning style.

Grammar should really be called "Translation" because that's what we do. A Canadian named Lynn teaches it and she really likes to hear EVERY possible way you could translate a text. Good God.

My Phonetics class is taught by a Parisian with short blonde hair and sass to spare. She gets to the point and I like her. (Odd, I know, since I take awhile to get to my point).

I'm also taking a class about the history of the South of France. The Parisian teaches it as well. The U of M program told me it'd be what's called an "integrated" class, which means I'd just be an international student among Frenchies. False. Only 'muricans signed up for this one.

I take a conversation class taught by Cédric at the U of M center. Obviously, since it's at the center, it's all 'muricans. I dish his 'tude right back to him. It reminds me of high school where my primary goal was to annoy the teacher. I may make fun of Cédric, but he is a really good teacher and he makes the class fun.

For my last class, I wanted to take a Spanish class. I thought this would be a nice challenge because I would not be able to resort to English. It would also serve as a welcome break from French that isn't English. I wanted to take a 3-part class that studies Contemporary Spanish texts, documents, and films. I got to the first class and the professor was mumbling away in French. I tried taking notes, but this was not what I had been hoping for. Then the prof started speaking Spanish. My ears immediately perked up. He kept saying "virgule", spanish, spanish, spanish, "virgule". I look around and see all the other students ferociously scribbling. I had the clueless appearance and reaction of Elle Woods on her first day of law school. As he said "virgule" one more time, I thought to myself, "Doesn't that mean comma?" It does in fact mean comma. The texts and documents we'd study are not handed out in photocopies. There is no ANGEL to access them online. We don't go to the bookstore and find a book of Spanish documents and texts. They are dictated to us. We copy down the dictation in Spanish and discuss it in French. Oh HELL no.

I planned to slither surreptitiously out the door at the end of class, but as the prof looked over the sign in sheet, he was confused by my email. "What is .edu?" "It's my university." ... quizzical look. "It's the Pennsylvania State University." WOOSH... all heads turned toward the back corner of the class where I was trying to hide. C'est pas grave though, cause I ain't coming back!

Disappointed by my Spanish experience, I went to a travel writing class instead. It’s taught by a prof from Iowa, who is a writer and humorist too. He may be a humorist, but sometimes he is just funny on accident. For example, when he mentioned he is originally from New York, I asked him which part. He stated “Manhattan” and looked at me as if this was a stupid question. Of course when he says “New York,” there is NO possible way for me to confuse the other 4 boroughs and 54,521.23 square miles that comprise the rest of the State of New York with his obvious meaning of “Manhattan.” How foolish of me. To me, this was just funny. I felt like this was a cop out: taking an English class in France. But, I’m not taking the class to learn or speak French; I’m taking it to learn something. French would be a bonus, but it’s totally fine.

In order to get my full credits, I have to take another class taught by the American. It’s a class comparing French humor to American humor. Brief synopsis of the class: Frenchies don’t find our humor funny.

Those are my classes. I know it might sound like the best idea not to be surrounded by ‘muricans in all my classes, but I have my excuses prepared. I am required to take the grammar and phonetics. Conversation with Ceddy is the only class I get to speak in (helpful). History of South of France gets accredited at Penn State. I wouldn’t get enough out of the Spanish class to make it worth the effort. Besides, I wouldn’t get Spanish credit at home since it’s taught in French. I like the English classes, even though an American who doesn’t speak French teaches them.

So there you have it.

Another Caroline Story

Caroline loves to tango. The people in Montpellier seem to love the Latin flavor because there are salsa nights and tango schools all over the place. Not to mention, I've met a remarkable number of Argentinians here. Je ne get it pas, but I like it. Because of this love of the Latino lifestyle, Caroline has a number of tango engagements every week. Claude is not so into it, so she has other dance partners.
3 Sundays ago on the 24th, she wanted me to accompany her to a tango party so that I could see why she loved it. She was super excited and taught me some moves in the living room.
Caroline does not drink caffeinated beverages because of her insomnia, but she takes a decaf coffee after lunch. Claude, the rascal, slipped her a regular coffee that day, so Caroline was SUPER excited to go boogie. She was so zippy, we even forged a parking space halfway onto the curb. The car rested at about a 30 degree angle. C'est pas grave.
The tango party was really fun to watch. I did not want to participate because these people were good. Even the 86 year old woman with the bright red ponytail was quick footed. The show was hosted by a buxom Argentinian woman named Maria (what else). Maria is a big woman. I do not mean this in a bad way. If I did, I would say she's a big gurl. She was probably about 6'2" and had a massive chest. She wore a floor length gown that had black lace sleeves. The sleeves met at the neck to form a choker around her neck. The bodice was a red corset with black lace overlay and the back of the dress went down to about mid-back. Maria knew how to get the crowd moving and even belted out a few tunes in her alto voice.
It was really interesting to see a different part of Montpellier and to see Caroline passionate about dancing. But really, seeing Caroline passionate about something is not a rare occasion.

Funny Side Note

When I was a little kid, my mother always told me to wear a hat in the winter time. I feel like this is normal in the US to have the greatest concern for keeping one's head warm. Well, in France, they are mostly concerned with the neck. People from the US think it's just the trendy Frenchie way to always be sporting chic scarves, but actually, it is because they don't want their necks to get cold.
Last week, I mentioned to Caroline that I had a bit of a sore throat. When she was saying goodnight to me, she reminded me to wear a scarf to bed. When I was younger, I was never allowed to sleep with anything around my neck, and especially not a scarf. But while I am here, I will be careful about my neck.
Also, as she was opening the door one day to the outside cold air, she said "Watch your neck!" She meant, "Make sure you keep your neck warm as this blast of not so cold Mediterranean air hits it." It can be quite alarming to hear "Watch your neck!" What is this? Phantom of the Opera? Do I have to keep my hand at the level of my eye so the Phantom can't surprise attack from behind and strangle me?
Guess I need to buy more cute scarves... Quel dommage!

Caroline and Her Stories

My housemom, Caroline, is fantastic, as I’ve mentioned before. She is very relaxed, and anything goes with her. She feels very strongly that it is her duty to speak to me as much as possible in French. Which she does. Now, I expected my French vocabulary to increase due to communicating with a family daily, but the stories Caroline tells me just blow my mind and I learn more than just words. We are just chatting away when I come home from school or at dinner and she drops one philosophical bombshell after another. When she became sick, she had to quit working. She references this period of her life often and as awful as it sounds to say, you can really tell that her illness formed her relaxed, calm personality. Caroline is the type of person who takes something like a serious illness and ponders over it to understand a certain beauty in it or come up with a new outlook. When I say “relaxed,” I do not mean “inactive” because Caroline is always up to something. She attends conventions and concerts. She reads and dances up a storm.

Here are some examples of the crazy stories Caroline tells me:

-She has explained to me in great detail the lives of Caravaggio, Lafayette, Lady Grace Drummond-Hay, Max Ernst and Bosch (she loves surrealist and fantastique artists because they combine the good and bad parts of humanity in a graceful manner).

-She told me that she believes people have to take adequate time to relax. She says that you can’t always act. If you do, life will always be a battle. Sometimes you have to wait and life will give you what you are missing.

-Another Caroline quote :“Faith is tied to love.” She does not necessarily believe in God, but she believes in a higher spirit that rests among us. When people believe in something higher than themselves, then the will be generous and kind towards others.

-Speaking of spirituality, Caroline has a concise personal definition of a soul. She followed her definition by asking me if I have my own personal definition of what a soul is. This was over milkcoffee one morning.

-Shortly after learning Caroline’s defintion of a soul, she showed me a picture of her soul that she was inspired to draw. She had never drawn before and has since tried, but cannot. It was a beautiful picture that looked like a fountain with lots of vines and birds and flowers.

-She tells me that she loves sharing the stories that she hears because she believes in this Asian proverb that states that a person’s duty is to spread a lot of seeds. It is not our duty to go back and see if those seeds took to the ground and formed a plant, but we must spread as many seeds as we are given.

-She is very concerned about my adjustment to France. She drove me the route to my tram stop for school one day. Then she drew me a map of the route complete with arrows and xs on the streets I should not turn on. Then she drove me through the route again.

-God only knows how we came across this topic during dinner one day but, she told me that when her son was 15-16 years old, she found a pornographic picture that some Algerian kid had given him at school. She considered the picture misogynistic and anti-American. So, the next day she bought him an artistic photography book of portraits of naked women. She told him that it is fine to look at naked women, but it is not ok to have misogynistic anti-American photographs. I hope she didn’t notice me picking up my chin from the table. I was in disbelief that she bought her 15 year old son a book of naked lady pictures.

-She has told me her entire life story. She grew up with lovely parents and a sister. Her father was a gym teacher and in the summers, her parents organized a summer day camp type deal at the beach. She loved it because she got to swim, fish, and participate in the sandcastle building competitions. In the winters she got to ski near her grandmothers. She was very shy as a child, but she thinks if she hadn’t been so shy, she could have been a clothing designer. I think she is correct. She is always rocking cute outfits with lots of colors. (not very French)

-She also recounted her mother’s life story. Her mother was an orphan. Her adoptive mother did not like her. At a young age she peaced out of her adoptive parents home and headed for Paris. Then the war came. She was not able to leave her house during the war because even though she was not Jewish, she looked Jewish. Caroline’s mother was starving at the end of occupied Paris and only weighed 38 kg. (about 83lbs.) Her mother always loved Americans. This is due to the fact that a black American soldier carried her across a bridge when she was 38 kg so that she could get some food. He also read her palm and told her that she would have 2 daughters and get caught in a fire. Before Caroline and her sister were born, Caroline’s mother lived in a house that caught on fire. She got burned really badly up to her knees because she went back in the house to rescue some children that were still in there. While this may sound like a movie we watched together after dinner, it was just our dinner conversation.

-Just this evening at dinner she told me that she believes men are similar to plants. We are like cacti. We cannot be overwatered. Only when we are missing something or have a need, do we produce flowers.

Needless to say dinner never fails to entertain me.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Je Suis Gourmande

In French, “gourmand” means “fond of good food.” You could also use it to describe someone who would “bouffer” (basically the French equivalent of nomming) his food down. Certain stores with have Gourmand… written on them. Well… I am gourmande. And France is so much more fun if you are gourmand.

My house mom cooks delicious food. She likes to explain how the food she cooks is healthy (she doesn’t use a lot of oil…etc). Well… I like it.

She has cooked for dinner:

-chicken cooked with honey, wine, vinegar, and onions

-fish in a tomato, lime, and coconut sauce

-pan-fried fish with lemon and seasoned rice

-wild salmon cooked on the barbeque

-Sausage cooked with cabbage and potatoes. Served with beer. (Claude is

from Alsace, which is close to Germany)

-pumpkin soup

-omelette with a side of buttered spinach

-zucchini au gratin

-octopus, clam, mussel, and not sure what other sea creature tart.

And for dessert:

-strawberry tart

-chocolate éclair

-yogurt with currant sauce in the middle

-yogurt with apple cinnamon chestnut in the middle

-king cake (a flaky pastry with brioche in the middle, sold in January for the Epiphany)

-chocolate pudding

-orange cream


My housedad, Claude, loves cheese. Caroline always prepares a cheese plate for dinner. His favorite is Camembert. It’s a soft creamy cheese with a stronger taste than Brie. It’s produced in Normandy, and Claude informed me that it was the favorite souvenir of the American soldiers who were there in WWII. You can get Camembert in the States, but it won’t be Camembert de Normandie because they make it with unpasteurized milk. My housemom made me a “typical sauce of Southern France” which consisted of equal parts Roquefort and butter mixed together. Not really my thing… but when in France…

Typical French Cuisine

Caroline says that typical French food tastes salty/sweet. The chicken with the vinegar she made me is typical salty/sweet of Southern France. Typical Parisian salty/sweet would be duck in an orange sauce.


My housemom and I had a bit of a miscommunication the first morning. She was asking me how I take my coffee. She had poured me a steaming hot cup already. “Beaucoup de lait?” (A lot of milk) she asked. I said “Oui” because I don’t like my coffee black. I like my coffee maybe 85% coffee 15% milk, which to me is beacoup de lait. Well, Caroline took this to mean BEAUCOUP DE LAIT and dumped some of the coffee back in the pot. She then poured the milk she had been heating on the stove in my mug. She heats the milk so my coffee won’t cool from it. I guess your coffee would cool if it were 75% cold milk. So now every morning I have my coffee milk and a glass of Clementine juice. I still chuckle to myself when I take my first sip. I now know that a little bit of milk is “un nuage de lait” (a cloud of milk).On Sunday, Caroline made me a fruit salad and yogurt with cherry sauce.

Dining Out

I haven’t really dined much outside of my homestay yet. (Why would I?) But for lunch, we are on our own. On school days, I eat at the school cafeteria. Not worth mentioning. We already have our favorite kebab place near the Comédie. They don’t do anything special to the meat, but the bread tastes like a nan pancake. When in France, sometimes lunch is forgotten because of the tarts all over the place. The raspberry tart makes my mouth water. It’s got raspberries and white chocolate cream and… a couple pistachios sprinkled on top. At first, the pistachios offended me, but then I realized they add so much. In Carcassonne, Kate and I had a triple chocolate tart with whipped cream. Another dessert that gets you in trouble is of course the crepe/waffle. The French serve them hot and with a liberal smearing of nutella.

Coffee/Hot Chocolate

The coffee served in France is strong, dark, and served in a little bitty cup. With the mindset that I am on a 4-month vacay of sorts, I go for the hot chocolate. The hot chocolate extreme here is called a “chocolat viennois.” The recipe: hot chocolate topped with enough whipped cream to make Paula Deen raise an eyebrow, and finished off with chocolate shavings or chopped almonds.


I don’t know much about wine; I just drink it. But if anyone cares to know, Montpellier is located in the Languedoc Roussillon region. (Think Long Duck Dong from 16 Candles. But not quite)


The party that the program tried to host for us was a flop. It was supposed to be a French/American mixer, but the French didn’t come. Oh well. They fed us sheet quiche and sheet pear tart. It would be like going to an American party and being served pizza and sheet cake, except it’s France so it’s quiche and pear tart. Bouffe!

The Center

I am studying at the Université Paul Valéry, but I am not a direct exchange student there. I am here through a program that is run by the University of Minnesota. Kids from many different universities have come here through this program, but it’s mostly kids from Minnesota and Penn State. The program has a center 10 minutes away from the Comédie. They converted an old house into a student center and office. They have a room with couches and a TV and another room with computers, a kitchenette and lots of books. It’s a good place to chill and make plans and I also have my conversation class here. The program workers are all French except for one.

Françoise- Program director. Did orientation. Have seen her maybe twice since.

Corrine- Lovely lovely woman who works with Françoise. Always helpful, always smiling. She is actually my neighbor across the hall, so I see her a lot. She has 2 daughters, Audrey (5) and Margot (1 ½). They are so adorable! They love Dora l’Exploratrice who speaks French and teaches them English. Audrey also loves Littlest Pet Shop, which I know American kiddos love too.

Cédric- - young Frenchie from Avignon. Very skinny, eyebrow piercing. Careful with this one. He is sassy. But he’s also the first person I go to if I need something.

Evelyn- housing coordinator. I’ve seen her at the office. That’s about it.

Paul- from Rhode Island. Not sure how he ended up here.

Camille- student at Paul Valéry. Works at the Center helping us hapless idiots get ourselves together in France. She is very cool and funny. She studies English and it never gets old making fun of her for taking a class titled “Exploring the Theme of Wilderness in Canadian Literature.” She loves that class.

All these guys are fluent in English.


Anytime I leave my homestay, I walk past beautiful architecture. From the Aqueducts to the Jardin, even the simple apartment buildings are beautiful. Staring at the prettiness can make a tourist fall into the traps of getting around in Montpellier.

While admiring the sun setting through the arches of the aqueducts, it is important not to forget to hopscotch around the dog shit and broken glass that accumulate on the streets. You might ask me: “Why is there so much dog shit on the street? Don’t the French have small little lap dogs? How could those little things excrete so much?” Well, the French do prefer to have little dogs. That is, the rich French prefer to have little dogs. Montpellier has a sizable homeless population. This includes the gypsies that try to solicit money from you on the tram when they play their accordions. The homeless in Montpellier all have dogs. They have big dogs. This seems weird, but they are pretty slick. The police do not arrest the homeless and try to kick them out when they have a dog. This is because the police would then have to figure out what to do with the dog. Because Caroline cannot work anymore after her illness, she often volunteers at soup kitchen type place. Caroline tells me that they get a hot meal at lunch and a sandwich in the evening. They can even get a hot shower somewhere. The dogs also get fed. The problem is that there is no room in Montpellier to have a homeless shelter.

Next hazard:traffic. Je ne get it pas. The French drivers don’t stop for anything/anyone and the French pedestrians just cross the street without looking. The French can definitely tell I’m foreign because I hesitate and look both ways before crossing the street. I don’t understand how people don’t die here. The French drivers are crazy! The rules for driving here differ from those in the States, but the French don’t follow them anyway. It disturbed me slightly when I realized how often I put my life in the hands of a crazy French pedestrian because every time I have to cross the street, I stand next to a French person and think to myself “You go, I go, boo.” The sidewalks are not very wide so when cars and bikers pass you going the French speed limit of ridiculously fast, it can be quite startling.

Just as dangerous as the French drivers are the French pedestrians. They do not share well with others. If you are walking on the sidewalk and a Frenchie is coming in the opposite direction, he will ram into your side instead of remaining on the right side of the sidewalk. Also, the typical French breakfast of caffeine and nicotine puts some spring in their step. They like to bolt past you and ram into your side as they do.

Taking the tram can also result in a variety of bruises. I’m used to waiting for people to get off the bus/subway/elevator before I get on it. As soon as the doors of the tram open, people rush in and off the tram at the same time. If you do try to wait for the people on the tram to get off before you get on, the French person behind you will give you a little shove to get moving. If you hesitate at all trying to get off the tram, you don’t get off; you get shoved to the back.

Walking to anywhere here poses a mild level of danger, but it is not the red level alert you would have to have driving anywhere.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


While trying to create a clear illustration of Montpellier, I should not forget the most important location of all: my homestay. My homestay or “famille d’acceuil” is about a 20-25 minute walk from the Comédie. You walk away from the Comédie through Montpellier’s Arc de Triomphe. Keep walking straight through a garden. This garden does not have many flowers; it’s more like an open park with a statue in the middle and an enclosed pond at the end. Then you have to walk down several stairs to get back on the street. The Arceaux, which are the old aqueducts line this part of the walk. During the day you could see tables of used books, or old men playing Pétanque (French bocce). Nightfall brings a new crowd to the street opposite the Arceaux (arches). Transvestite prostitutes line the corners. I’ve only seen them twice, but they are in full wig and makeup. A short uphill walk past the Arceaux and you arrive at my homestay, a gated apartment complex.

But anyway, to the people I live with. I live with a middle-aged couple named Claude and Caroline. They have a son named Florian, but he goes to school in Strasbourg, so I have not met him yet. I occupy his old room though. Caroline removed the Metallica posters for me. Claude manages an IBM branch here and he is gone from before I get up in the morning to 8 at night. No 35-hour workweek for Claude! Caroline used to work in the restaurant business, rating restaurants (I think). Then she fell very ill and had to quit working. She was sick for 3 years. This was a real turning point in her life and now she lives with as little stress as possible. She leads a busy life though. She tangos like a fiend 3 times a week, attending tango soirées and lessons. She attends educational conventions on random topics. She is also very creative. She makes mosaics that decorate the house (I have a Zeus one in my room). She loves sewing little things and making cute outfits (with color…how un-French). When she was sick, she wrote a lot of poems. I see a lot less of Claude, but he is equally as warm and welcoming. Because of his job, he has travelled to Poughkeepsie, NY a lot and therefore knows English. He picked it up quick because he is from Alsace, a region in France close to Germany. So he knows the Alsace dialect, German, French, and a lot of English. Claude likes to ask a lot of questions. He reminds me of my dad a little because he knows incredible amounts of information about the most random topics. Except it would be rude of me to pose the question “How in the hell do you know all this?” to this dad. Dinner is always a long affair because the conversation keeps going. Caroline is very talkative and Claude always has stories. They are a very calm, even-tempered couple that have a lot of love for each other. Caroline frequently remarks to me how she admires Claude for his gentle manner, intelligence, and work ethic.

As is typical with most French fams, they have a cat. Her name is Minette, which just means “kitty cat”. Caroline told me that this term is also used to describe tarty girls. When she was driving me home the first day, Caroline told me that their cat has a sweet loving temperament. Not true. It’s 11 years old and she meows all the time. They leave her outside for the day and she sits on the hood of the car and doesn’t move. Or she sits on the edge of the balcony and doesn’t move. When she stays inside the house, she sits by the radiator and doesn’t move. The only time she moves is when we are eating. This movement also involves meowing. Claude plays a little rough with her, but she loves him the most. Minette lets me pet her now...lucky me. She is pretty though. She has tan and dark brown fur in a striped diamond design and big green eyes.

I am incredibly lucky with my homestay. I am free to do as I please. They always have a smile and something nice to say, which is atypical French behavior. Other people in my program have complained that their homestay family has been quick to criticize the,. And then there are the homestay horrors. I may not have the friendliest cat, but another girl on my program wishes her cat wasn’t so friendly. Due to the cultural difference that the French don’t really spay/neuter, her homestay cat is in heat. It meows loudly from 5am-8am and then follows her around the house meowing with it’s butt in the air. Oh God. And then there is Brittany. While Brittany likes her homestay in general, her homestay mom, Anne can be tough to please. What’s more, her homestay sister runs around the house completely naked all the time. She is 12, and not a young 12 if you get what I mean. I feel lucky to be in a homestay where I feel comfortable. I would install locks on my doors if I were either of those other girls.

Without a doubt, the best choice I have made about this whole trip is to live with a homestay. My homestay provides me with so much more than a place to stay and something to eat. They put for enormous effort to be welcoming and to encourage me in any way I need encouraging. The knowledge I acquire from day to day conversations is invaluable whether it is in language or culture. I honestly do not know how the students who choose to live in an apartment could possibly have access to such a fountain of French, because my homestay acts as my main source of listening and speaking French.

First Entry

2 weeks in France. What does that feel like? It feels like I’ve been here so much longer and at the same time, hardly anytime at all. Studying abroad is not traveling. 4 months in the South of France sounds so romantic. While it is full of adventure, it’s not romance. Just the language is. It’s life. I’m living here, integrating myself into the French world. I can’t find any negatives so far, but it’s not all lavender and épices Provençal. There are adjustments and stressors and messy moments. My motto when I travel: It’s totally fine. Whatever happens, just roll with it. The incompetent bastards at American Airlines lost your luggage. Totally fine. You have no idea what the hell the store clerk is trying to tell you. Totally fine. Some gypsy woman canes you on the tram. Totally fine.

Obviously this needs to be translated when traveling.

English: Totally fine

French: ça va/ C’est pas grave

Spanish: esta bien

Italian: va bene (va benz if you speak Maria Malizia).

Even though I try to have a relaxed attitude and an open mind when I travel, and even though I’ve studied French for a long time and I’ve been to France before, there are still experiences that make me go “je ne get it pas”.

It’s been long enough here to where the adjustment period is ending. I’m comfortable in Montpellier because it’s a really cool city (although the French keep telling me how small it is…). Montpellier is in the way south of France, west of Marseilles but on the same latitude. It’s a young town because of the universities here and there is also a big international mix. So people tell me it’s not a “true” Southern town because of all the foreign influence.

The main center of Montpellier is called Place de la Comédie. Comédie is a huge open plaza lined with outdoor cafés, restaurants, and shops. There is a theater at one end and a mall at the other. In front of the theater stands the statue/fountain Les Trois Grâces. If you have to meet someone, you meet at the Trois Grâces because it’s in the center of everything. The Comédie has a slight egg shape, so the French like to sit around at the cafés and “faire l’œuf” (do the egg). This means to sit at the cafés and people watch. The chairs at Café Riche, the oldest café in the Comédie are arranged to face the plaza, instead of facing towards the person you would be sitting with. How French of them.

Even though we are still in winter, it is warm enough during the day to sit and faire l’œuf because the sun does not have a cloud to hide behind. Rain rarely affects Montpellier. It averages about 40-45 degrees during the day, getting colder at night. I’ve come to realize that 0 degrees is really really cold for both my housemom and me. For my housemom, Caroline, 0 degrees Celsius is about as cold as it gets here in Montpellier. For me, 0 degrees Fahrenheit is about as cold as it gets back home in Central PaPa.

Anyway, a bunch of streets branch off the Comédie, which then branch off into smaller streets, which look like the narrow stone streets with the hanging metal streetlights that you would see in a book of pictures of France.

This post doesn't really say too much about the experience so far, but I wanted to create a little background for what is to come.