Cracking the French Code: The First Few Weeks
My first blog! With that I’ll say bonjour to all my friends, family, and other persons reading who are interested in embarking on an adventure abroad similar to mine. A lot of people have been asking me, whether it’s via text, Skype, email, or Facebook, (thank you for interest!),about how my time here studying abroad in France has been. For the most part, I’ve been pretty vague with my responses. Thus today, I’m going to make it up to you guys by answering all of your questions and more below.
Question 1: What is it “like” to be over there/studying abroad?
It’s “like” everything. You’re happy, intrigued, confused, exhilarated, curious, amused, confused, fatigued at the end of the day, sometimes a little blue as you miss the people and particular ways and things from home, and everything in-between. There’s nothing quite like living across the sea; one experiences all of these emotions nearly every day (whether it’s a large, middle, or small dose that you may not even be aware, it’s going to hit you). That’s why I can never respond with a simple “oh it’s good”, “it’s awesome/fantastic, or “I’m having a blast” because it doesn’t really express or serve the adventure justice. Neither does it take the first week to realize that you’re not taking 1 year vacation; France is your new home away from home.
Is that thought a little frightening, or actually intriguing? Well, both of course! That is the awesome thing, if you like to take chances. Studying abroad (or living abroad) gives you so many more opportunities that no mere tourist could ever find the surface of. Every day I’m immersed like a sponge in a bubble bath with this: new culture, quite confusing French high school, refined and only the most delicious cuisine, a foreign language that can be both musical and fun to speak, the cool wet weather, places of historical value and adventure, and friendly people that I become acquainted with every day (some of which I’ve already become close to as friends despite the grandiose language barrier).
Question 2: What is your daily life in France? What is school like?
Daily life in France (in Normandy to be exact) is just like home as I steadily become more and more accustomed to the French culture and customs. At the same time, it’s a daily life of learning, enjoying, and discovering. During the weekdays, I wake up (as hibernation is not until winter), and get ready. I have a breakfast consisting of homemade bread with numerous choices for confitures that the grandmother handcrafted from the locally grown and renowned pommes (French for apples) with a cup of café, tea, orange juice, or hot chocolate. School, for the most part, is lectures that I attempt to understand as I write down the words I hear (or what I think I hear). School hours are all over the place. On some days, school is from 8-5:30. Every other Friday is 9-5:30, Wednesdays are 9-11:55, Tuesdays are 8-3:30, and Thursday, well, your out when your out. For lunch, my host brother and I return home and break bread (literally). We eat with the older brother, whatever sister that’s in town, and the parents who come home for break every now and then. Even these lunches are 3-4 course. On Thursday afternoons, there are insane exams that are between 2-5 hours long. These exams are in whatever class that’s chosen for the week to have a test. everyone says it’s impossible to get a 100% on these. Luckily for me, the teachers only ask me to try what I can and to not worry as long as they see a progression.
Question 3: What is family life like?
After school, do your homework of course. Afterwards, it’s a bit different. In general, the French family spends a lot of time together. Until the parents get home, the kids mostly do what they want. Everyone is downstairs, not locked up in their rooms. Whether it’s playing a board game, listening to music, having a snack, watching TV or film, reading a book, or playing around on Facebook, there is a lot of interaction together. When the parents get home, you discuss how your day was for a little bit, and much of the same as before until dinner is ready at roughly around 8’clock. Meals in France are always a big deal, as it’s a gathering. Whether it’s pasta on the dinner table, or pizzas on the table set by the TV, it is a time to enjoy the meal together and enjoy each other’s company.
Now for the weekends: they are amazing! They are the time for excursion. It’s the time for taking a scuba dive into the heart of the French lifestyle. Saturday and Sundays are days of friends, leisure/relaxation, activities, day trips, maybe a film, taking a stroll through centre-ville with an ice cream cone or a pepito in hand while people watching, regarding the festivals, open markets, sport events, or noting all the lovely French architecture and hitting some shops along the way. The cities are entirely integrated in France. You can walk anywhere (or if not you can take the tramway). You can visit all the little specialty boutiques for school, clothing, adventure and travel, spices and teas, or culinary delights, as one of my teachers loved her students to say. Box plotted zones for ginormous superstores and chain restaurants followed by a freeway that separates all the tract homes on the other side? Definite no! Of course there are supermarkets in France. They usually are to the exterior of the city, by the corn fields.
Question 4: What is the food like?
As far as food goes, the weekend lunches and dinners in France are sort of a celebration. Before the meals, notably when guests are over, everyone sits around and has a drink. The drink could be wine, beer, juice, or a specialty drink. Sometimes there are some nuts or dried fruit set out as well. After that, the meal commences (almost always on the dining room table, or if not, outside for a BBQ! Not when it’s raining however, then you’re back inside). The first course is called the entrée, reserved for the hors d’oeuvres, which could be anything from a slices of fruit (melon seems to be very popular), vegetables (sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, stuffed avocados with a tuna like filling), shrimp, to a quite refined version of potato salad. The 2nd course is the main course, le plat, which could be the world of things. I might need another post dedicated to the food of France! For the most part, however, it always extracts wonderful savory flavors from market fresh vegetables (tomatoes and mushrooms notably). Even the worst of ingredients, such as the dreadful canned sardine that is abhorred in the United States, can be one of the tastiest things you’ll ever eat in this country. Tartine aux sardines it goes by. It’s a cross between a pizza and a pie, with juicy slices of tomatoes topped with melting mozzarella and sardines.
At the end of a course, there are plenty of juices or sauce leftover on the plate (which is nearly always) calling for bread! We all know how much the French love their bread; it’s always on the table. No bread, no meal. They dip and dash their bread all across the plate, soaking up all the juices, and make for the course 2 ½ . The third course notably includes bread. What comes out is a platter of fromage (cheese). Every day there seems to be a new cheese I’m introduced to. I astonished quite a few French people, in this city, who couldn’t believe an American actually enjoys their strong flavored cheeses. My favorite (of what I’ve tasted so far) would be the Roquefort.
The last and 4th course is what everyone was really waiting for: le désert! If there’s nothing that sends you to heaven for 10-15 minutes in France, you haven’t had a French pastry or 4th course. With an éclaire pistache you’ll even hear the angels singing. Find yourself coming to France in the near future? Stop by a bakery and pick one up. You’ll thank me later (your clothes will too as there is so much walking in France your pants will fall right down scolding you for not taking enough trips to the boulangerie-pâtisserie)
After the lunch meal on Sunday, (the breakfast in France is quite petite, the lunch is large, the dinners are like our lunches at home) there is a beginning of the week celebration. Champagne, and its glasses, comes out *ching* *ching*. Then the rest of the day is spent doing the activities I’ve described earlier. The dinner on Sunday is a little different, as the parents will usually have their own dinner together and the kids do what they want.
For now, I am going to wrap this first blog post up, and thank all of you for reading! Upcoming blogs should include more in-depths discussion on specific topics, like the cuisine, the French people and their lifestyle, their views on Americans, and other ideas that haven’t hit me yet. If you’re interested in either traveling abroad, for any purpose, (studying, working, or simply vacationing) but haven’t quite decided on where you would like to go, I would suggest visiting http://soniastravels.com. This site is for good-humored samples of quite a few places in the world (and travel tips). You can also record some of the House Hunters International, at home, if you have cable. Both can be great inspirations!