Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Stray thoughts from my first days in France

If you think Starbucks has too many outlets, you ought to see a French city. I've only seen one McDonald's (called "MacDo" here) and a Subway, but there's a ridiculous number of "Tabac Presse" (a small store that only sells magazines, tobacco and calling cards) and green-cross pharmacies. More than once, I've seen them right across from each other or within a block. Also, "Petit Casino" is a small, ubiquitous grocery store that one can never find when they need it, or if they do, it's closed.


My French is great when I forget to be afraid of saying the wrong thing. But for some reason, the longer I stay here, the less often that happens. I think it has to do with that old saying about the more you know, the more you realize you don't know. I'll go back to certain sentences I said that, although understandable, were either gramatically incorrect or not how a French person would say it. So then I feel a little stupid and the next time I open my mouth, I'm a bit more self-conscious. I wish there were a pill to take for that. Someone suggested Valium, but then I couldn't drink....




They have the strangest park here. I can't believe nobody told me about it. Le Parc de la TĂȘte d'Or is a huge park with a lake in the middle of the city, like New York's Central Park. What makes this one unique is that it's part-zoo. You'll be walking along a gravel path with grassy fields on either side and suddenly to your right is a docile, grazing herd of deer. Fawns frolicking in the sun, the whole nine. Walk a little further and you will see flamingoes, monkeys, turtles, giraffes, elephants and cheetahs. Some, like the cheetahs, are encaged, but most of them are out in the open air with no visible fence. Only when you walk up to the foot-or-two-high rock wall do you see the ingenious method of enclosure: a steep, narrow ditch.




There are always a few key things that I've found in my travels to be remarkable in every culture. Toilets and advertisements tend to top the list.
The toilet in my house is not too different than an American toilet except that it looks about a hundred years old. Not in a gross way, in an antique way. One has to pull up a knob and then fiddle with it to make sure both that everything has been flushed and that the water stops. The toilets at the university are more interesting. First of all there's only one kind, no men's/women's. My conjecture is that this is because the university was built during a time when it was inconceivable to have women at an instution of higher learning. This would seem a problem with American-style stalls, but European stalls tend to be floor-to-celing enclosures. The soap in these old bathrooms is a bar skewered on a steel rod coming out of the wall.
Advertisements, as reported, have naked women, though I have yet to see one here. The strangest thing I've noticed is that on television, they advertise the advertisements. When a show goes to a commercial break, the first thing you see is a little five-second animation with the word publicité (ad). The actual ads don't seem that different from American ones, but I haven't watched too much of the stations with ads. There are eight stations on non-cable, one is news, which doesn't have too many, and the other is some sort of government-funded tv.




Today I went to Kiliwatch: a fantastic used clothing store close to my house. After sticker-shock from all the other trendy places around la Place des Terreaux, I was so happy to find a place with pants from 13E and shirts from 6E. But the fashion trends are strange in one very distinct regard here: no one wears shorts, and practically no one wears skirts above the knee. It has been ridiculously hot here, so it's not temperature; naked women aren't a problem, so its not modesty. Simply fashion. I don't understand it at all, but since my razor was packed in the bag I've yet to recover, I've been obliged to do as the Romans do.




The cheese has heroine in it, I'm sure. When I first ate French cheese, I thought, cool... rotten milk. But ever since, I can't get enough.




Mary just left. She's on her way to Budapest, Prague and Poland, and will then return home to Oregon and the Rec Center. Unfortunately, it will be without her camera, as I just found it on my bookshelf.
We had a great weekend together and were able to catch up a lot. It's been really nice for me to get information in advance of what studying abroad in France is like. She was able to give me a lot of cool phrases and words that will help my French a lot. In school, you don't learn the little things of how to converse with someone — the little ways one buys time while they're thinking of what to say. Those things are the most important when you get here.

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