Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas from Connecticut

Merry Christmas everyone!!

I'm here in Connecticut for my family Christmas vacation. It's great being here with everybody and I'm having a lot of fun with my cousins.

It didn't snow this morning, in spite of our efforts of cutting out snowflakes and watching "White Christmas." But it's still very wintery outside and the muted pastels of the New England sky behind bare branches make it a postcard Christmas anyway.

It's strange taking this break away from my life in Lyon. I feel like I've already forgotten my French and that my whole life there was just some fantasy I made up. But I'll go back and then this side of the mirror will seem like the dream. Maybe I'll get visitors one day and then the worlds can combine a bit...

Today is the wonderful culmination of a Christmas season that included the Festival of Lights (Fête des lumières) and a hot wine and ginger cookie party to christen my new place.
The Festival of Lights is a huge three-day lighting of the town of Lyon. It's rumored to attract 3 million visitors per year. There were fantastic displays all over the city, including a giant Ferris Wheel at Place Bellecour; 3D projections on a church in Old Lyon; and grand arches all over the Rue de la République. But mostly the atmosphere was fantastic, with everyone out and about, drinking hot wine and eating roasted chestnuts.

Though seriously lacking money, I really wanted to invite people over to my new place. Hot wine and ginger cookies were reasonable and it made for a very festive atmosphere. My friend Kaci and I spent the day before making snowflakes for my window too. I wasn't able to fit a ton of people into my studio, but the eight of us were still relatively comfortable and talked about our plans for the holiday and our countries' Christmas traditions.

My voyage here was probably one of the worst in my life. But as it's Christmas I don't really feel like recounting it. It just involves being very sick and unhappy for about 12 hours.

But, as cheesy as it sounds, seeing the smiles on my cousins' faces make it worth it. Seven and nine, they both received an absolutely incredible pile of presents. Really, they've played with a new one at least every hour and haven't gone back to the last one. But my older sister and I have been playing quite a bit with their toys too, so they're not the only guilty ones.
It's so great that my two cousins are finally old enough to interact with. I feel like I've been waiting so long. But now I can ask them questions and get meaningful responses. It's going to be so interesting to see what kind of people they will grow up to be. These are really the only children I've ever known, except the ones I grew up with.

Well, it's about time to open the stockings, so I'd better not keep them waiting. Merry Christmas everyone. May the presence of family be more comforting than the presents of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

CHEZ MOI!!

Yes, the rumors are true: I finally have my own apartment!! Unfortunately it doesn't have internet yet, and after the blow to my bank account of three months' upfront rent and Christmas coming up, I'm not sure when it will. So for now correspondence will be staggered.
Anyhow, it's a studio, so it's tiny, but it has a real bathroom with a bathtub and the whole place looks practically brand new. It's furnished with a desk, three chairs, a bed and an equiped kitchen. The building is nine-years-old and was built specifically for students, so it has a laundry downstairs and a payphone, etc. It's located incredibly well as far as transportation goes (one block from two bus lines, one block to the tram, 10 minutes to metro), but no one would call it "centre-ville." My fifth-floor window is west-facing, meaning I have an expansive view of the city including the hill and castle-like basilica of Fourvière hill. I haven't quite figured out how heat works, but we'll get that settled soon...
I moved in yesterday morning and the first thing I did afterwards was search for a Christmas tree, an IKEA and food. In that order. The Christmas tree didn't work out but I'm still trying and IKEA had decorations for cheap so my room is rather festive anyway.

My last day with my host family was rather... indicative. The grandparents and I had been getting along quite well the last week, even more so, actually, after they found out I was moving out. I think they had a little more respect for me then. I certainly had more respect for them than the rest of the Araignouses because they gave me hot meals and even homemade chocolate mousse in a well-kept apartment, like a normal host family.

It just so happened that I was leaving the same morning as the grandparents. I had heard them talking about going somewhere the night before but when I asked they assured me they would be home for dinner at 8:30. I thought it was a little weird that the grandparents wouldn't take them out to dinner the last night they were there, but I planned my day around them being home anyway. At 8 p.m. I get a text message saying "oh, sorry, we're going to a restaurant." 
Oh well, it's probably better that way. I was just about to feel nostaligic, and that made me go: "Oh yeah, that's why I'm leaving."
The next morning as I left I shook hands with the only person in the house and the only person I've really been living with the last three months – my pothead host brother – and walked out the door with all my stuff. It's kinda weird to just not live there anymore. 

But my place is still way better.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Premier jour au stage

My first (real) day of my internship was pretty good. 

I was supposed to be there for the daily 9:15 a.m. meeting, but as I haven't woken up in the 7 o'clock hour in quite some time, getting out of the house took longer than I thought it would. I was there by 9:18, and then realized I had no idea where the meeting would be within the six-story building. When I finally got there, no one seemed too concerned that I was late, as I had expected. I've learned that people in this country just don't get all that worked up about that sort of stuff. Whenever you get here is fine... whatever...

The meeting was an hour-long and I understood about 50%... maybe less. I was trying to pay attention, stay awake and look professional all at once and I discovered I could only do one of those things at once. Afterwards, I followed my editor back to his office. There, I read the day's paper and tried to pay attention to all the things going on. See, I'm in "observer" mode right now, which means they have no idea what to do with me, so I just hang around until something interesting falls out of the sky.

Around noon, something does. A journalist is going out to meet a specialist in child sex abuse who's just arrived in town from Paris for a debate. I go with her and hang in the shadows as she conducts an interview in the middle of Part Dieu, a huge train station. What I could both hear and understand was quite interesting, but the interview was quickly over and I returned to the office with still nothing to do. 

They sent me home for a four-hour lunch break and then I came back to follow the same journalist. But at 4 p.m. there's another daily meeting where editors sit around and go: "Seriously guys, what are we putting in the paper tomorrow?" so I sit in on that and experienced my most embarrassing moment of the day. Halfway through, the editor-in-chief comes in. There are no more chairs and as I'm only an intern and he's the most powerful man at the paper, I get up and offer him my chair. He gives me the most incredulous look and says "That'll be the day, when I take a chair from a young woman." He looked half-insulted. But the news editor just said "oh, she's American, that's why" and he calmed down.

The journalist whom I'm supposed to accompany never shows, so I find someone whom I suppose is the most annoying man in the pressroom. I loved him. I say he's the most annoying man in the pressroom because all he does is talk a lot about a lot of things and works very slowly. For everyone else this totally sucks. But for me, it was great because he explained all kinds of stuff that everyone else is too busy to explain. I'll have to remember that after I get up to speed and he becomes annoying to me.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Get me out of this host family

I can't wait to get out of here. 
By next Wednesday, the 1st, I'll be buying my own food (for much cheaper) and won't have to come home to an uncomfortable situation every day. Here's a run down of the latest events:
My host dad left for a two-week business trip to Mali, which I thought would be cool because I wouldn't have to feel stressed out everytime I saw him. It was cool, for about six hours. He left Saturday morning and my 18 y.o. host brother threw a huge party Saturday night — understandable. The next day, he doesn't clean up. The next day he doesn't clean up. He doesn't lift a goddamn finger until Wednesday when he finally wakes up around 2 p.m. I can't handle anymore the cups filled with alcoholic beverages on every flat surface and I yell at him to clean up.
This Saturday, the grandparents came to take care of the two daughters who come every other week. I thought they would be nicer, since grandparents, as my friend said, "usually don't care whose child you are."
I come home Saturday from a wine festival in the Beaujolais region (I was sick so I didn't partake much). I had left a note welcoming the grandparents, letting them know I would be home in time for dinner and left my number so they could contact me. When I greet them, they are rather cold, but I stick around downstairs to be sociable. After a while and no one's talking to me, I go up to my room to hang laundry to dry. My host brother comes in to my room and says "We're leaving. You're going to be alone tonight." I go, "umm.. okay." He said, "no, that's a question. Are you going to be alone tonight? Are you planning on inviting anybody over?" "No..," I said. "Okay, well we're going to dinner," he said. Thinking maybe I didn't understand I said, "oh well I can come." "No," he replies, "it's a family dinner. Have a good evening." Then they leave me all alone in the house. Screw that. I went to my boyfriend's place and stayed the night. But I still did leave a note saying when I'd be back.

The one good thing about the grandparents being here though is that they (probably just the grandmother) have cleaned almost everything and the house seems like a real home now. Not like a bachelor pad with a putrid fridge, no toilet paper, and nothing to eat but ham sandwiches.

************

I start my internship finally today. I have no real idea what I'll be doing, but I'm in the Features department, so that should be interesting. The way the French view internships though is much different than Americans. Firstly, they keep telling me how weird it is that I want to be there for six months. Apparently, two weeks or one month is about the average stay for French students. Next, they keep asking me what I want to do and what I'd like to get out of this, as if they're a school and it's their responsibility to make sure I learn and experience everything I'd like to. American interns are lucky if they experience stuff as they deliver coffee to the professionals who are actually doing something.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Mmm French food

It's turned winter here and I suddenly feel thrown into a Dicken's novel, especially walking through Vieux Lyon (Old Town), with its cobblestone streets and street-side crêpe and hot wine vendors. It's beautiful here too. As an Oregonian, I never see the sun during the months from October to May, but here, even though it's very cold, the sunlight hits the neighborhood of Croix Rousse on the hill and brings out the beautiful orange and cream buildings against the bright blue sky.

The last two weeks, there were two national holidays that happened to fall on one of the only three days I have classes, so I had two two-day weeks in a row. I know: rough. But I wish I would've figured that out before and planned a trip somewhere. Somehow the days flew by anyway and I found myself Monday morning having not done any homework and feeling exhausted.

Yesterday morning I had another meeting with the people at Le Progrès to figure out what exactly I'm doing for my internship. I'm getting the impression now that the Big Boss said "yes" to me so now all the peons have to figure out how it'll work and don't really feel motivated to do it. But we finally have a contract from November to June, so at the least, I'll have a little piece of paper to say I had an internship even if, in reality, I never do anything.

Okay, but what I really wanted to talk about in this entry is....

***************
Food.

I've tasted so many strange and interesting things here and I've decided to devote this entry to the things I will miss and the things I will try to bring with me upon my return.

#1. has to be Kebabs. First, put all images of shish-kebabs out of your mind. Then imagine a warm thick pita bread with hot flakes of seasoned lamb that's just been carved off a rotating roast. Add lettuce and tomato if you want (I don't). Sauce (herb-mayonnaise called Tartar is my favorite). If you're feeling rich add fries (put in the kebab usually, not on the side) and/or a coke for 50 cents each. 
I can't even stand the mention of a kebab without generating a massive craving. And it doesn't help that there are easily a dozen places to get one within a kilometer of my house. Literally.

#2. Cheese. Comté from a specific booth in the open air market on the bank of the Saône is my absolute favorite and a good chèvre comes a close second.

#3. Fromage Blanc. Okay. There's no way I can describe this to someone who hasn't tried it in a way that sounds appealing, so you're just going to have to trust that it's good. Fromage Blanc is kinda like sour cream but not as sour nor thick and comes in a big tub that proudly annouces that it is either 20 or 40 percent fat, depending on which one you buy. Slop it in a bowl, add sugar or salt to taste and eat.

#4. Semoule. My African friends introduced me to this dish and as it's cheap as dirt, I'm all about it. Boil a few cups of water, add a few cups of semolina (yellowish processed wheat that spagetti's made from) and what I think is potato starch while stirring until firm and elastic. Eat. You know that stuff you see poor Africans eating with their hands on TV? It's that. But it's not that bad as a side dish.

#5. Anything made by LU. LU is a cookie company, but oh so much more. My favorite are PIM'S: a thin, soft sponge cake cookie with either marmalade, raspberry jam or coconut mousse and then a sheild of dark chocolate on top.

#6. Pizza. Even Domino's and frozen grocery store-brand pizza rocks the world of any pizza I've tasted in America. It's gotta be the cheese, but it just tastes so gourmet. 

There's others, but I can't think of them at the moment. More to follow.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Ah... so Bush won...

Ah... so Bush won....

The French reaction, that I saw here, wasn't so much anger as smacking their heads, asking why, sighing, and then saying, "well, here we go for another four years..." The French just don't understand how someone they see as so, seeming to them, unfit for the job could be reelected. On election day, I watched a documentary of a side-by-side contrast of the histories of John Kerry and George Bush, i.e. 'while Bush was dropping out of Harvard, Kerry was running for his first political office,' etc. They just don't have the long-lived and well-loved image of John Wayne to add that special something Americans see in the way Bush goes after the bad guys and flashes the camera that lovable smile.

But that's, of course, all supposition, since personally, I have no idea what Americans see in Bush either. The reason I heard most often for voting for Bush, and the one that pissed me off the most, was: "I don't agree with everything Bush does, but that Kerry flip-flops all the time." As a Public Relations major, I know and can understand how people just sit around in a room, with all their education of how to manipulate people's opinions, and come up with something totally insubstantial like that. But that people repeat it, as if it makes any sense and is a viable reason not to vote for Kerry just drives me nuts. Of course with 20 years of governmental positions he's going to change over time. Worse is when someone knows something they did is wrong, or will not work in every situation, but continues to do it anyway. Human beings were born to learn and adapt. That is our, perhaps only, strength.

**************

I watched a news program here the day of the elections, kind of like The Jim Laher Hour on PBS. The topic was "The longest day." Questions included: "One has the impression that Bush is for the layperson and Kerry is more cultured and refined. Is that true?," "Why don't the Americans vote for their president directly?" (a question that perennially confounds the French), "Can Electors in the Electoral College be bought?" (an interesting question that illuminates a concern that Americans don't think about. Techinically the president isn't voted for until Dec. 6th when Electors gather in state capitals to vote. What would happen if suddenly a few, but substantial enough number, switched sides?), and "What happens if there's a tie?" (Statistically highly unlikely, but it would go to the House to decide. Did you hear that Supreme Court?)

***************

Another common theme I found in the press here was how much the rest of the world dislikes Bush. The French press report often that almost all country leaders, except Vladamir Putin (Russia) and a few others, detest Bush. If I may dare to translate an article from Le Monde (perhaps the premier French newspaper) on 2 Nov. 2004:

"The image of the US is very degraded in Europe and in Arabic and Muslim countries:
Never has the issue of an American presidential election been awaited with so much impatience by the world, and never have we ever wished so much that the voters will 'oust the outgoing" from the White House. George Bush acheived, as far as his impopularity outside the States, a ranking unequaled in the history of the United States.
This popular disavowal is confirmed, except in a few very rare countries, by all the surveys. It is essentially linked to the war in Iraq and it's subsequent downfall."
**************

Republicans have a lot of political capital now, even putting aside the Presidency. They picked up 5 seats in Congress and about four Supreme Court Justices will come up for appointment during W.'s term. That combined with what Republican lawmakers see as a mandate from the American people is going to mean some deep-digging, long-lasting repercussions. Someone told me, "Yeah, we'll see how much they get done. The Democrats used to have that much power and they didn't do much." 
Unfortunately, the Democrats aren't as coordinated as Republicans. When the world can be seen in black and white, good and evil, goals are simpler and clearer. But when you get a bunch of liberals together, they say, "yeah, but, what about the environmental repercussions? what about the labor market? what about..." and nothing gets done. There are useful aspects to both approaches, but neither works incredibly well on its own.

*******************

I heard a rumor that when asked if he was going to reach across party lines, Bush replied, "I'll reach out to people who see things my way." I'm not sure if that's what he really said or not, but given the last four years, I'd say it's pretty accurate anyway. 
However, obviously the American people want what Republicans promise, so it's only fair that they get it. But too much of what Republicans promise could, I believe very seriously, mean the downfall of America as the world's superpower. There isn't a single policy of W.'s I can think of that is sustainable.

Monday, November 01, 2004

And now, a note on the elections

There's a show here called "Les Guignols de l'Info," which is like a cross between The Daily Show and SNL's news skit, but with puppets. Puppets deliver the news with a humorous spin, with skits of Chirac and Bush puppets, etc. 

Yesterday on the Guignols, the newscaster puppet interviewed a puppet of a Florida election official who was sporting a Vote Bush pin. The newscaster asked why nothing had really been done in four years to avoid voting problems. The election official replied simply that he was impartial and therefore couldn't intervene in the electoral process. 

But, asked the newscaster, while promoting democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, why isn't the greatest democracy in the world concerned about electoral fraud? 

Nothing to worry about, replied the election official. 

Why isn't there anything to worry about? Who's going to win the presidency?

Oh, well I can already tell you that, said the official. Bush.

But how do you know that? You haven't even counted the ballots.

I'm impartial. It's not really any of my business to interfere with the ballots like that.

***************

As you may or may not have heard, www.georgebush.com is not available to offshore surfers. That is to say, no one outside of the United States is allowed to view the contents of George W. Bush's election campaign site. A friend of mine said that wasn't that surprising because copyright concerns sometimes shut down websites to areas outside their jurisdiction. Then when I showed that www.johnkerry.com works perfectly, he said "no, that is really weird."

**************

Despite that setback, I'm glad I'm not in the States during this tumult. I've heard some crazy stories about violence between supporters of Kerry and Bush. From fistfights breaking out at Ferry Street bridge to swastikas burned into the grass of a Bush supporter's house and Kerry signs destroyed in Rhode Island. People are thinking it's the end of the world if the other side wins.
Watching the world from this perspective, however, it's hard to overestimate the significance of this election. Everyone is talking about it. I always knew my home country was important in the world but I never fully realized how much everyone is aware of what's going on in the U.S. The other day I gave a presentation on the Electoral College in my French class because the students, who come from a dozen different countries, were really interested in how exactly the president of America gets elected. Television here is flooded with news on the American elections and everyone is tensed for another 2000.


*************

Last night I had a dinner party at my house. Two Gabonese, two Americans and a Frenchman all discussing the intracacies of the electoral process. I learned a new French expression: "The problem with the United States is..." It's such an integral part of the French language it doesn't really matter if you've never been to America or if you don't have any reason to know anything about America. It's just a national pasttime to figure out what exactly it is that's wrong with America. Because clearly, there is something wrong. It's just that no one can figure out what it is precisely, because it seems to be working so well...

During the conversation, I couldn't help but think, not only how I would never get in a conversation about the intracacies of any other country's voting process back home, but that except for maybe France, the same group of people wouldn't be able to talk about any other country of which they had a common knowledge. U.S.A. and English is the common denominator in just about any international group of people. I understand that now more than ever. There's amazing power in that.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

A homestay that's less 'home' than 'stay'

Well it finally rained in paradise. Both literally and figuratively.

I've decided to move out of my host family's apartment. I can't handle living with them any longer. It was never really a huge problem, but just a bunch of little things that added up. The biggest reason I'm leaving is because they're never here and therefore I don't have the advantages of a host family. It took me so long to figure out I wasn't happy because when they're here, they're great. And I told myself that it was cool that they weren't here a lot because then I had my freedom. But now I get more the impression that they just simply don't care about me. Which then leads me to wonder what their motivations for having an exchange student are. I really think I'm just a cash cow to them.

The straw that broke the camel's back was on Thursday when I returned home to find a maid cleaning the bathroom for the first time in two months (except once when I did it). I came into my room, and there were muddy dog prints all over my floor (we don't have a dog), and I realized that the day my host brother came in my room and said, "oh, sorry, I didn't think you were here," wasn't just a one-time thing. All the sudden all the little things like having to hide my shampoo so that they wouldn't use it and the fact that there is rarely fresh food (the bread is always hard as a rock because they don't believe in plastic and they leave stuff out all the time) and that they are never here, exploded into a realization that this is way not the way it's supposed to be. 

The next day I went to Centre Oregon and there happened to be a furnished apartment that would become available at the end of November. It's a block to the tramway and a block to two bus lines and is in walking distance of at least three friends' places. It'll be 351 euro all included as opposed to the 530 I was paying here (oh yeah, we just got the heat turned on too... it's been cold...) and receiving practically no benefit. I'm stoked.

But first, I have to notify my family a month in advance that I will not be staying here any longer.

I just gave the letter to my host-dad and he did exactly what I thought he would do. Kind of a "we'll see about that" attitude. He thinks I'm stuck here, paying them a ridiculous amount of money every month until the end of the year. Well, considering that they leave constantly and it's well-documented how disgusting it is here, I don't think they'll win. I just hope it doesn't turn into a big legal deal like it would in the States. At the least, it's going to make for a very shitty month.

Friday, October 22, 2004

brain = pudding

Well, that's what happens after two solid 6.5-hour days of French classes, especially following a three-day weekend hanging out with only French-speakers. We'll start at the beginning.

A friend of mine was moving out of his place in Toulouse, a college town about four hours southwest of Lyon. Joyous at the chance to get out of this crazy town I haven't left in the last two months, I went down to help him. Toulouse is good for just about a day of tourism, so I'm glad I wasn't there for much longer. There's a cute little outdoor, cobblestone mall and a pretty park or two, but that's about it. The weather was in the lower 70s, which, being almost November and coming from dreary Oregon, just about blew my mind. But it was really comfortable, so I wasn't too upset.

Saturday night I went out with a big group of Gabonese to celebrate my friend's last day in Toulouse. The whole thing was totally awesome. First we went around the dorms and knocked on all his friends' doors and convinced them to go out, even though most of them were still hung over from the night before. We stayed out until 3:30 a.m. dancing and it was a total blast. 
It's totally hilarious how Africans dance, or at least the Africans I know. It's completely awesome. They make a circle and all just kinda dance and then someone'll go in the middle and do their best and everyone gives them props. The funniest part is when a guy and a girl dance all sexily in the middle and everyone just goes W-I-L-D. They'll frame the girl's ass with their hands or get right up next them and look at just how closely they're dancing with an incredulous look on their faces, like they can't possibly believe how cool that is. It's so awesome how into it they are.

My classes this week weren't terrible, and I think that's all you can really expect from school. I like my teachers, except my two elective teachers, but we'll get to them later, and the lessons are relatively interesting. I'm actually surprised how after 6.5 solid hours of class with only 25 minutes of break times I don't have an intense desire to bury myself in English. But, at the same time, I am writing this, so I guess this counts as French de-tox. 

But for all that, am I getting better at French? Hmm.... well, like I've said before, I have good days and bad days. Today and yesterday were pretty good days. Sunday was a crappy day; I felt like I couldn't put together a single complete sentence, and I don't think I did that day. But days like that are when my brain decides to make me think through everything I say. Other days, like today, I'll just say something and have no idea how I knew how to say that.

My two elective teachers both have something that rubs me the wrong way. Part of it, I think, is that they both know English and like to let me know that. It's getting really annoying when people translate simple words for me that I already understand just to prove they know English. I want to remind them that I know French better than they know English, but I don't know how to say that. ;-)
Anyway, being The American definitely has its ups and downs. It's cool because you almost always feel special, but it's taxing because there's so many things American over here that people talk about, you can't possibly be an authority on everything. For instance, the fact that we have an electoral college system is frequently talked about here. Unfortunately, I don't really know how it works and I don't really know anybody else who does either. But I got in two conversations about it today alone and felt totally useless to offer any insight as to why Americans have such a crazy way of electing someone who, I feel more and more the longer I'm here, is seen as the leader of the world.

Before I go, one last rather interesting thing. They're coming out with a homosexual-only television station here and it's caused a sort of debate. There aren't any other exclusive/community-based stations here and it's making people talk about whether Catholics or Muslims should be allowed to have their own station too, or if it's too exclusionary. The only reason I really find this new PINK TV station interesting is that they haven't thought of it yet in America. Lifetime, Spike TV, even the Golf Channel: the only logical conclusion is Queer TV. 

By the way, I assume everyone is familiar with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a show with five gay guys who take over the life of a straight guy for a day and make him into a semi-functional, relatively attractive and classy human being. I saw the same thing here, only with French people. Let me emphasize this: it was *exactly* the same, only with French people. The five gay guys were dressed and acted just like their American counterparts, right down to the ditzy, tall, blonde fashion guy and the striped-shirt-and-glasses-wearing culture guy. It really creeped me out. It creeped me out even more than thinking about those poor voice actors sitting in a dubbing booth somewhere imitating Katie Holmes panting when she runs...

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Settling in

Whew. Alright. What have I been up to while not writing in my journal?

Well, classes finally started, which is nice to finally have a set schedule. Also, I'm in a fairly good level. There's 19 groups of students, divided in numerical order by proficiency in French. Therefore, the first group knows practically no French and the 19th knows the most. I'm in the 16th, which really surprised me, but I'm able to follow everything in class and contribute, so I think it's the right level for me. My favorite aspect of the class though is that there are people from about a dozen different countries. Yesterday, I sat next to a girl from Bosnia-Herzegovinia and today I made friends with a German and an Estonian. I impressed a few Japanese with my shitty imitation of their language and I'm hoping to make friends with the girl from Moscow so I can practice my Russian.

Speaking of Russian, with my Russian classes, that makes a little less than 19 hours of classes per week. Not terrible. And I don't have class Wednesdays or Fridays, so that's rad. Then I find out this week what is going on with the internship at the newspaper. Apparently there's all this paperwork to do before I can start, because the French love bureaucracy, even more than Americans. But I'm kinda thinking it'll only be a few hours per week, I'm not sure though.

*****************

I went to a football (soccer) game on Friday. That was interesting. We won 4-0, which is an amazing score in football. But the game didn't interest me as much as the spectators. To start, the entire floor, seats, everything were covered in at least two inches of shredded-advertisement confetti that people would pick up once in a while, through some signal unknown to me, and toss it in the air. That was pretty fun. The other thing to mention is that the cheerleaders were male with a platform and a loudspeaker and would actually lead cheers and direct the crowd. I told my friend that in America the cheerleaders are only ever girls and just prance around in short skirts. "Oh yeah?!" he said, "that'd be pretty cool. But it'd be distracting, huh?"

*****************

I finally talked with my brother two nights ago after not hearing from him for two months, and guess what?!? He's getting married!! That's what happens when you don't talk to your sis' for two months: go off, propose to a girl. My older brother living a married life, can you picture it? 
But I kid, I think it's great. I really like his fiancée, Emily, the few times I've met her, and I think he's making a good choice. The date is the 11th of June, so I'll be back stateside for about a week around then, so everyone mark your calendars. I'm still pretty gung-ho about this Russia thing though, so I'll still be gone for the summer....

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Learning Russian through French from a German

Yesterday was my Russian class. First, I must introduce you to the joys of the French university system. It's run much more like a summer camp than an American university. Schedules don't come out until the week of classes and even then students have to watch the bulletin boards around campus to make sure their classes didn't switch rooms or times unexpectedly. Schedules are still made in a similar way to the one my mom told me about back in the days before Internet. An insane scramble from building to building to get the classes you need and a schedule that usually sucks.

Thankfully, I only had to do this for one class, second-year Russian. The first day of class we arrive to find that this time doesn't work for the professor and we have to organize a time between all of us that does work. Strangely, it turned out to be just a half-hour later on the same day, but it took us most of the class period to figure that out. The other crazy aspect of this class is that it's only one-hour per week, there are no textbooks (the French government has a law against forcing students to buy books) and somehow French students learn a language. 

The class consists of three of us students from Centre Oregon, and three French students. As far as I can tell so far, the class has basically no structure. The professor just chats with us. By that I mean she speaks rapid-fire Russian at us and expects responses. The worst is when she melanges French, Russian and sometimes English, forcing our already-tired brains to instantaneously look up words, spoken in a thick German accent, through a lexicon of three languages.

She started class yesterday by asking us to tell who we are. I said I was studying Journalism. She then asked me things like what I plan to do with my journalism degree and how old I was when I first wrote an article and what it was about. These are incredibly complicated subjects that require future and past tense, which I only covered briefly five months ago. In fact, Russian in general has been vastly put out of my mind for the last five months. So to dive back into it with no refresher is... troubling. And so, I thought, I must be in the wrong level.

Then she turns to the French students and asks stuff like, what's your major, where do you live, how old are you, etc. These questions, I can understand and respond to. The rest of the class goes like this. She continually starts asking questions with Jennifer, the other American, and me and ends with the French girl who's had six years of Russian and twenty minutes to prepare a response. By the end of class I'm really angry that this woman is not helping me at all by asking questions she must know are ridiculously, advanced for my level and just frustrating me. I'm seriously considering taking private classes from a flier I found at the bookstore. It's gotta be better, right?

Monday, September 27, 2004

African friends and francophone mating rituals

Kaci's African friends are pretty cool. She's a friend of mine from the program and started dating Geoffroy, the president of the Gabonese in Lyon club, so we suddenly have this instant circle of Gabonese friends. I think it's so cool to have friends from Africa; it's exactly what I was hoping for, actually. 


At first, I was a little weirded out because — brace yourself here for some brutal honesty — I've never hung out with black people before. I know that sounds so 1950s to say, but seriously, Oregon is that white. It's not like I thought they were bad, they just have a different culture that I've never seen up-close. Growing up in western Oregon, just about the only cultural diversity we have is some Mexican immigrants who are usually fluent in English and more or less integrated.

I've also been a little worried about what they think of me. Every time another group shows up, I wonder if these people are going to be like: what's with the white American chicks? But they've all been really nice and we've had a lot of fun. Last night I went out to an African club that didn't get started until 2 am. I left around 3:30 though because I'm still trying to get well. I keep almost getting there and then I'll go out and ruin it. But now the weekend's over so it'll be easier to avoid going out... hopefully.
It's been great, too, to learn a new accent. Africans generally speak slower, but I'd never really heard the accent before so it was hard for me to understand. I still can't understand sometimes, but I'm getting a lot better. Having them to speak French to is also really good because I usually can't cheat with them like with my other friends because they don't know as much English. So I'm forced to come up with a way to say what I mean in French.





Mating rituals here are starting to take my head (a french expression meaning to piss off). Male-female relationships back home, with their large measure of ambiguity, were seriously getting on my nerves, too. So, I thought it wouldn't be so bad to go where men were more direct. And it was nice. For about two days. 

I live in a rather safe neighborhood. There are big, well-lit streets, high-priced shops and lots of bars and nightclubs so there are always people on the street. All the same, I get at least three "Bonne soir mademoiselle"s or worse as I walk to and from the bars or to friends' houses. 


I've gotten so used to ignoring men who say things to me on the street to get my attention, I completely ignored my host dad when he passed me on the street saying "Bonne soir." About a block later, I realized who it was.

At bars, parties or any other social situation, it's much worse. Not counting catcalls on the street, I've gotten seven serious offers to date from people I know. That's almost two per week. Back home I was lucky if I got one per year. Some of the men have been a little smoother than others, but in my social context being so direct is a turn-off. Yeah, it's a cultural difference, but we just met two hours ago, could you wait until I know you to find out if I'm interested? Yikes! One of Geoffroy's friends in from Paris this week will not leave me alone and it's really pissing me off. If he weren't so insistent I'd probably be his friend and show him around Lyon a bit but he keeps insisting on getting my number and asks me what he did to make me not like him. Arg, it just drives me up the wall when people are manipulative like that. He keeps forcing me to make a choice between sleeping with him or telling him to fuck off. There's no in-between for this guy, so it's elevated to the fuck off point a couple times. Thank God he's leaving tomorrow. But there'll be others...

Monday, September 20, 2004

No soup, but the streets are paved with dancers

My illness has lead me to discover a vast deficit in the diet of my French comrades. Soup. It is damn-near impossible to find soup here. The only soup available is in a tiny section in the back of the epiceries. All dried packets, no cans. The closest they have to chicken noodle here is "fisherman's soup" or "soup des pêcheurs," which is a fishy broth that looked far better in the store than at the table.
This shortfall literally lead me to dream about it the other night. I was in my friend Elena's house where she had a huge cabinet; half was filled with every Cambell's product made and the other half was filled with plastic wrap and Ziploc bags – another part of American life I miss. Certainly it's nice that French landfills aren't choked with the one-use plastic, but it's so depressing to find what looks like something delicious to eat but is actually stale and inedible.
My other dream about Matt Damon has lead me to realize the wisdom of my friend Zach's sleep-filled lifestyle.

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This weekend is nationwide Heritage Days (Journées du Patrimoine), meaning that public buildings – City Hall, museums, churches, etc. – are open free to the public. Thankfully, this afternoon I got to feeling well enough I was able to join my fellow Lyonnaise in the beautiful late summer weather. I walked freely through the Museum of Fine Arts and the toaster-shaped Opera House. Meeting up with a friend, we wandered through the festive atmosphere at the Place des Terreaux and topped off our day with a kebab – a ubiquitous Arabic dish of roasted meat flakes and french fries inside greasy bread, topped with a mayonnaise-based sauce. Yummy.
Tomorrow, in addition the end of heritage-ness, is the finale of Lyon's Biennial dance festival. The 4500-participant dance parade is expected to have over 600,000 spectators, both on the streets and through TV It's reportedly the biggest dance parade in Europe and I wouldn't miss it for the world.
But first I'm going to wake up early to take a tour through the famed secret passageways (traboules) in Lyon, and maybe hit up the beautiful pure white basilica at the top of Fourvière hill.

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A big new movie starring Will Smith and Angelina Jolie made its debut in Europe last night with a big party in Venice. Normally, I would understand all the hoopla, but this movie is animated. Meaning the fact that Smith and Jolie are a part of the film will only be relevant to Angliphone audiences because the rest will hear a dubbed version. The rampant dubbing of American-made entertainment is an interesting fact of life here. As far as I know, the voice talent gets no recognition besides a flash of end credits. And I would think it's a rather difficult job. You have to get the same meaning in a different language into the mouth of an actor before it stops moving, which usually means dubbed entertainment is faster than regular t.v. Additionally, I find it quite amusing during fight scenes and the like to know that someone sitting in a studio somewhere had to make convincing grunts and gasps to coincide with the action.
During my illness, I watched a couple DVDs in French with French subtitles to help me out. Unfortunately there would be, although slight in meaning, frequent differences between what was said and what was at the bottom of the screen. This would mostly confuse me and I would go by what was written, but the few times I could both concentrate on what flashed on the screen and what was said gave me interesting insight into the interchangability of certain phrases. What's more educational is watching old subtitled V.O. (version originale) films on the Arte channel. For instance, while watching "The Truth About Harry" I found out that "Golly, that woman sure is nicer than syrup on pancakes" is "Elle est charmante."

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So today I'm walking along the street with a baguette. (That's right, a baguette. That's what people do here, just walk around with baguettes in their hands. If you don't belive me, come over and see it for yourself.) And so I'm thinking to myself, today's a great day. Today's a great day because I'm finally healthy, I'm living in France, the weather is beautiful, every public institution is open for free and there's a massive dance parade on the other side of the river. 
J'gagne.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Vive the French medical system

The French medical system rocks. After partying way too hard in rainy weather, I have a nasty case of strep throat. After realizing the seriousness of my illness today, I explored my options. Most doctors make house calls here, but being used to rape-and-pillage American prices, I figured I should drag my butt halfway across town. It worked out, but I now know that it would've been better to make the doctor come to me. For being a student under the age of 26, I'm required to buy insurance that covers 80% of medical expenses for a grand total of $120 for the whole year. This means that a 40E house call would have cost me 8E. As it was, the medical visit and the antibiotics cost me about 35E total, meaning after reimbursement, I pay only 7E. That rocks. 

Why don't we have socialized medicine? Oh yeah, "quality of care."

I was able to make an appointment with a general practitioner for two hours after I'd called. The doctor I visited was completely bilingual, as was the woman at the pharmacy. I'm used to doctors whom I know personally because my mom works for my general practioner. So, I usually have rather pleasant experiences at doctor visits and it has come as a total shock the few times I've entered the harshness of the "normal" American medical experience. This was by far the best interaction I've had with a alopathic doctor. He was patient, caring, unhurried and willing to explain everything. Unfortunately the treatment took a few days to work and it still hurts quite a bit to swallow, but I don't think that problem arose from socialized medicine.

Now, I can't speak to the intricacies of the available surgical techniques, technological innovations nor the quality of cancer care or AIDS treatments. But from what I know about the American medical system, those extremes are only available to the few people who can afford them anyway. 

I say hooray for cheap medical care.

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