You Stay Classy, France

Last Sunday I explored the underbelly of French class- via my first wine tasting experience. It was wonderful to savor, taste, and learn about not just French wine- but natural French wine (we’re talking more pure than organic. These people still use horses instead of machines!) However, by the end, I couldn’t help but leave laughing at the contradictions of class that I had just witnessed.

You see, amidst the swirling of glasses and savoring of flavors, was the oh-so-classy spitting into buckets. The wine would dance and swirl in people’s glasses, and then moments later, out of their mouths, the spit sparkling on the rim of the bucket with just a hint of wine color lingering. Tres classe.

I know, I know. If you’re French, or a Francophile, or just a lover of wine, you’re probably getting all puffed up and ready to tell me, “It’s how true wine tasting is done!” You’re there to taste the wine, let the many flavors explore your palate, and then move on to savoring many more. I get it. I just couldn’t help but think about all the good wine that was going to waste. That’s the American in me-waste not. So what if you get tipsy and lose the full range of your wine tasting palate? You’re still drinking good wine! …or maybe that’s just the inculte in me.

As my stomach flopped in disgust (I’ll admit that I have a particular propensity for spit related nausea), I noticed some cheese. At least I could distract myself with some delicious…moldy cheese. Again, I get it- I’m in France, everything at this event is natural, I’m even a lover of strong cheese- but when it came down to it, I opted for the less fuzzy greenish blue ones. And yes, it was earthy and delicious.

When we returned to making our tasting rounds I couldn’t help but become spit fixated. I tried not to, but everywhere I looked people swirled and spit. The buckets glistened and saliva wine mixtures dripped on the tables. Swirl, spit, repeat. As I started to feel like a bucket overwhelmed Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, I witnessed the mother load- a giant spit barrel being wheeled out of the building. So much spit must’ve been swirling around that monstrous container. The thought was enough to make me woozy and take a brief tasting break- or maybe all the wine I had been drinking (and not spitting) was getting to my head.

I thought that maybe I was crazy, until I recounted the day’s events with a friend back home, “Ewww!! Whyy?,” she exclaimed. I started to rattle through the list of reasons- well it’s the real way to savor the wine, and truly taste a wide range, and the French really appreciate and value quality food and drink…but ultimately all that came out was, “I know, right!?”

I guess spit just isn’t for me. But you stay classy, France.

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Oh the Travel ‘Companions’ I’ve met

Most of the time I relish in flying alone. Despite the stress that usually accompanies flying- waking up at the ass crack of dawn, dealing with power drunk security officials, eating god awful food at jacked up prices- in spite of all of this, airports can actually provide a wonderful source of solitude, or much-needed space. I have time to write, ponder, read that book I’ve been dying to finish, observe the various interesting human interactions, and catch up on my latest trashy magazine (yes Cosomo is my guilty travel pleasure).

But then there are times when I wish to all-that-is-holy that I was traveling with a partner, or friend, or anyone who I could comfortably tell to “move their damn arm because it is popping my personal space bubble!!” On my way home this past Saturday, as I sat getting far too personal with the frosty airplane window, because Mr. ‘Unaware of His Surroundings’ just had to take up the entire arm rest, and even some of the skin between my ribs, I thought about the travel “companions” I’ve had the pleasure of knowing throughout the years.

I present to you only a few of the character’s I’ve met.

1. The Talker
This companion can actually be quite fun- if you’re in the right mood. Usually they’re excited about their destination, and want to hear all about yours. But mostly they want to tell you about their life’s story. I’m from Texas, so it’s kinda protocol to engage if someone talks to you. We’re talkers too. However, if I’m sleep deprived, or travel constipated, or still pissed off by the TSA jacking my favorite key chain, (true- it was a tiny pocket knife, but it’s honestly so small that even a fly would roll their eyes at it), then the last thing my sweaty, frazzled self wants to do is exchange in social pleasantries. Which leads me to #2. Continue reading

More French Friday Fun

Cheese is sexy.

…Or at least to the French.

And I’m not just talking about how good it looks or smells or tastes (though a really good cheese does rouse a particular excitement in even the most stoic of Frenchies). No. The French had to take it a step further .

Only the French could possibly make cheese even sexier.

With none other than Des From’Girls, a pin-up style calendar featuring girls and of course, cheese.

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Continue reading

French Friday Fun (sometimes I like alliteration)

A family friend posted a link of terrifying French children’s books, and I thought it was too amusing (and scarily accurate) not to share.

Welcome to the French world- where being unabashedly blunt, and scaring the crap out of your kids is the norm. Where frank, no-bullshit doses of harsh reality are served with a glass of milk before bedtime. No wonder French adults are the way there are. There was never any hope.

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Click here to see more terrifying French children’s books.

Happy Friday!

Return to Avignon

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As soon as I stepped off the train in Avignon, a surge of flashbacks flooded my brain. Like the weirdest hybrid of sheep-meets-cricket noises I heard in the night. Or getting lost in a hellish loop of a drive through the vortex trapping maze of Orange. Or the time my friends and I almost slept on the streets, got murdered, and ultimately stayed up til three in the morning watching gay porn. Ok. So that might be a tad over-exaggerated. Except for that last part. That totally happened.

My second time in Avignon went much more smoothly than the first. I stayed in a lovely hostel (Pop Hostel) right in the center of town. I had time to enjoy the town, see its sights and feel summer. It’s great to feel summer- eating homemade passionfruit peach ice cream bars, earning more freckles, sitting in a park and soaking up the sun, spying on potential flashmobbers, unfolding people’s secrets (literally) and having an adult playdate- where you talk, picnic and day drink.

But let me talk about the first time because there’s a lesson here.

I first set foot in Avignon four years ago, as my friends and I stepped off the TGV and into the warm summer night filled with…bizarre guttural noises. Those sounds signaled the start of a strange evening. As we tried to get our bearings out of the labyrinth that was the TGV station (which we later learned was on the outskirts of Avignon), the guttural noises got louder and more nasal. Crickets? No. Too loud. Birds? No. Too bizarre. Suddenly the strange noises surrounded us and as we peered into the night, we noticed what looked to be the faint glimmer of water. As I cautiously creeped closer to the waters edge, a small figure moved. And another. Frogs! Frogs with the weirdest assed mating calls I had ever heard.

Happy to have identified the bizarre sounds, and know that potential murder #1 was out of the way, we trekked on into the night with only a print out of directions to our “close” hotel. Long story short- our hotel was not close. We got lost. We wandered through back alleys and parking lots. And we wondered how we could possible avoid potential murder #2 until we finally made it to our sketchy hotel (in the middle of fucking nowhere I might add)…and discovered we were locked out. Another long story short- several phone calls, some lock picking and gate jumping attempts, lots of exhaustion, despair and a resignation to sleep on the streets later, we miraculously managed to get a hold of some one and get in….to our shoebox of a room. Seriously. If you opened the bathroom door, you hit the bed. Correction- if you cracked open the door, you hit the bed.

Too exhausted and traumatized from having endured a long day that ended with surviving three potential murders, we decided to stay in our shoebox, watch some t.v. and venture out when we could see the light of day. We flipped through the 10 channels on our tiny télé, among them there was that lion movie with that 6th sense kid (which was even more annoying dubbed), some news, and…gay porn. At first we watched it out of awe that such a thing could exist within 10 channels, and then changed the channel out of awkward awareness that others were in the room.

But then it became a thing of it’s own, as we watched on in fascination of what kind of french soap opera gay porn drama plot line was unfolding before our eyes. And then all of the sudden it was three in the morning and we all looked at eachother with a “holy shit did we really just stay up until three in the morning watching gay porn even though it started off as a joke and then turned into a thing of its own, and now we have to get up early because we can’t justify sleeping in and missing our one day in Avignon because we actually stayed up until three in the morning watching gay porn” look. Or something like that.

Except we did sleep in. And we barely saw Avignon.

Moral of the story- if it’s an option, and especially if you’re visiting a small or old touristy town, stay in the center. Unless you wanna watch gay porn in a shoe box.

But Avignon really is beautiful. I’m happy I got a second chance to see it. It’s definitely worth a visit!

Stumble, Walk…Dance!

I’m awkward in Grenoble. True, I just moved here and am still getting my footing, but like a baby learning to walk, I’ve spent my start in a state of stumbling (whether that be verbally, physically or socially).

Me in Grenoble. (Except that it's actually Jennifer Lawrence)

Me in Grenoble. (Except that it’s actually Jennifer Lawrence. But it’s awkward. )

I blame Montbeliard. It was a lovely little home for what it was, but it created an antisocial cave creature, that burns immediately when exposed to sunlight, and doesn’t know how to communicate to Frenchies who aren’t old or teenagers.

Take my first nightlife outing in Grenoble. Much to our surprise, Maribel (fellow assistant) and I actually dragged ourselves outside and in to the cold rain. Effort #1. In Montbeliard you don’t leave your dwelling if there is rain…which is always…hence the cave creaturedom.

But we trudged through the rain, promising ourselves just one drink and then the reward of antisocial solitude in our shelter back home. We aimed for the more low-key option of the wine bar, but upon seeing the mass of people waiting outside, we became discouraged. Effort #2. In Montbeliard you don’t deal with crowds or lines.There aren’t enough people out and about.

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Lost in nightlife translation

Looking disheveled and confused,we arrived at our second option, the London Pub, where we awkwardly awaited the complicated entrance.

  • Wait for bouncer to come to door.
  • Wait for door #1 to open.
  • Wait inside small chamber with bouncer, friend, and dripping umbrellas, until bouncer decides it’s time to open door #2 and allow you in the bar.

Seconds in to our arrival, we were bombarded by a bartender who asked if we wanted to sit, to which we replied with a relieved “Oui.” However, before we could be granted our table, he asked, “Vous etes d’ou?” (Where are you from?). Or at least that’s what I thought. “Etas-Unis” I replied, wondering what kind of bizarre code we were speaking. We were at London Pub, maybe only English speakers could get a table. Or certain types of English speakers. Should I have said Scottish?! However, my thoughts came to a halt when I saw the smile and head shake as he repeated, “Vous etes deux?” (You’re two?). “Ohhh. Oui. Juste deux.” Cheeks were definitely turning red.

One weird, disappointingly juice heavy cocktail, a surprisingly empty bar, some drying and lots of embarrassment later, Maribel and I considered tossing in the towel. We were out of our element. We’d been hermits for too long. Hermits we would remain. But something within us rebelled and we tried for one more place. We’d trudged though the rain for a night of fun, not fail. After all, you have to stumble before you can learn to walk.

Long story short, getting lost led us to the start, where we gained footing at Le Tord Boyaux (the wine bar from before) and ended our “night” with the birds. We sang ridiculous French songs, watched the bar illuminate in flames, met some awesome people, tried bizarre flavors of wine (mango and apple pour moi), and caught the last tram to an electro dance.

 

At first we feared a fail repeat as the large place lacked people, and the people who were there swayed like repetitive zombies in front of the dj, leaving the dance floor naked and neglected. But sometimes you just need to dance like no one’s watching. Which is exactly what we did. We let go of the awkward moments, the language barriers, and the social constraints. We shed our hermit skin and left it on the dance floor as we twirled and laughed and danced.

And maybe that’s kinda how life is (or my life at least)- stumbling through the start, until you reach a place of solid footing, ultimately realizing that at the end, you just want to let go and dance like nobody’s watching.

Learning a Language is Hard

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I might be stating the obvious here, but I haven’t really talked about the cold, hard, truth that learning a new language (especially as you get older) is quite frankly hard. Once you have a general understanding of the language it gets increasingly more complicated. Direct translation no longer works. Slang and regional speak rearrange everything you learn (Ex: Je ne sais pas = Chai pa). Studying and learning in the classroom environment always worked fairly well for me. But as I have repeatedly discovered during my time here, comprehension and speaking (ESPECIALLY speaking) are a whole different ball game.

At first it was exciting- like a game or puzzle. “Oh! I understand that! That word plus that word equals that sentence! I know this fits here! Yay me! I understand!” My entrance into France was a quick swim or drown scenario as I was plunged into paperwork, adult tasks and navigating a new area, and as a result my French rapidly increased.

But then it plateaued. True, I was speaking less French on a daily basis as I teach English classes, have friends who all speak English and don’t have many (or really any) opportunities in Montbeliard to meet French people my age. But I also reached a level where learning was becoming increasingly more difficult. I no longer had the excuse of speaking like a two year old, I had upgraded to elementary school…possibly even middle school and it felt difficult. I had to push myself to advance, which I rebelled against by becoming slightly lazy. I entered a plateau funk where I felt lazy and disheartened- frustrated at my lack of improvement but stubbornly resistant to making difficult efforts to change…until New Years rolled around. I used resolutions as a springboard to kick my language learning into gear. I bought a French magazine, listened to the top French songs (which actually wasn’t too helpful as the vast majority of them are American), reviewed French lessons online, revised my vocabulary notebook, watched movies in French with the other assistants and forced Diego (he’s a French professor in Mexico) to give me lessons. And it helped. I was amazed at my ability to watch a movie in French with French subtitles and understand.

But unfortunately life’s not quite like the movies- there are no subtitles, no previous plot to provide context and accents aren’t always articulated. I was confronted with this as I visited Antoine for February vacation where I was fully immersed in listening and speaking to French. And while ultimately it was amazing for learning and the best thing for my improvement, I’ll be honest- it freaked my shit out. I realized that my time in Montbeliard has been cushioned. I speak French with my professors and the other assistants, but I can always fall back on English. And unfortunately, most of the time, I do.

Similar to the start of my time in France, I treated the opportunities for conversation with Antoine’s friends like a game. But this time the game had changed. I was with people my age, people speaking fast and in slang. As I stood outside of a bar with Antoine and his friends, I got lost in a sea of French. The surrounding French seeped into my ears and I actively had to try hard to regain focus on the conversation at hand. “Ok. What are they talkin- Singapore! I know that word. Easy. Yay! I understand! But wait. Why are they talking about Singapore? What they hell are they saying about Singapore? They’re not even talking about Singapore anymore, are they?!” Luckily I had Antoine there to help with translations and his friends were nice enough to slow down or say a few words in English. But needless to say, it was difficult.

When I met Antoine’s family, it was all French all the time. I was pleased to comprehend the lengthy family discussions but apparently I spent too much time on self congratulation to speak. As they shared stories on childhood memories, I not only ignited with internal excitement on my comprehension, but also in the formulation of my own story! At last! I could partake in my own conversation! I crafted the beginning of my memory, adding details and humorous remarks to this story that I would engage them in. But as I prepared to regale them with my tale, the French filtered back in and I realized that the time for that tale had long since passed. And here I was, lost in translation again. Dommage.

I can only imagine how immigrants to a new country felt or feel. Immersing yourself in a new language is challenging and alienating at times. To not have your voice, to feel lost and tongue tied and unable to express things that were once so simple can be disheartening. I at least have had cushions, a translating boyfriend and a prior basis of the language. 

I have realized that I am not the most patient of people. I don’t like not getting things. I don’t like being unable to communicate. And I don’t like feeling lost or stupid. But who does? These are the things that test us, that help us evolve. Learning something completely new and foreign is not easy. But growing is so rewarding.

So here’s a little learning language advice:

1. Start with the essential basics. Learn what can get you by- hello, goodbye, excuse me, I don’t understand, and food.

2. Immerse yourself as much as possible- listen to music, read, watch movies, write

3. SPEAK. To yourself if you have to, but practice speaking. Practice is the only was this will happen

4. Have patience. Be kind to yourself. Celebrate the growth and accomplishments rather than the roadblocks. As the French keep telling me “Ca viendra”. It will come.