They don't have Pandora
25.8.08 - 2.9.08
I've been in France for about a week now. I don't even really know how to begin to describe this amazing adventure. From the beginning, I guess. =]
I left on Monday, Aug. 25th at 8:15am at LAX, transferred in Philadelphia and arrived in Paris on the 26th at 7:30am. France is 9 hours ahead of California, 6 of New York, so I was unbelievably exhausted when I arrived because my internal clock said it was night. I had already bought my train ticket to Bordeaux from Paris, so I took a taxi to the train station and had an awesome conversation with the driver. I was so scared to open my mouth because I thought that maybe even though I had been learning this language for 6 years, I had actually just been learning a "fake" language... but to my great surprise, I actually knew how to speak French. I only spent about 40 minutes in Paris and I mostly saw the outskirts, which just looked like a Mexican ghetto to me. It wasn't at all what I was expecting. The train ride from Paris to Bordeaux was 3 hours long and the entire ride was really green (countryside), which was also unexpected but very calming scenery. Arriving at the University of Bordeaux I was also very surprised to find that it was REALLY old and also REALLY ghetto. LOL. I didn't care because I was just so excited to stop travelling! The first thing I did when I arrived was take the tram with a bunch of girls and had a beer downtown. Thus, the personal journey began!
In regards to Bordeaux, so far I think it's an amazing city. The most interesting thing about it is that it's a perfect combination of tradition/culture and modernity/technology. They have a wonderful and very comprehensive transportation system so that you can get anywhere throughout the city in just a few minutes. They have historic monuments/architecture (although mostly renovated) and cute cafés (also an immense amount of multicultural restaurants). On one street you will find a Macdonalds with free WiFi, next to a traditional Bordelais restaurant. I'm really fascinated by the marriage of tradition and modernity... it's as if some aspects of Bordeaux are just like a third world country and others are that of a first world country. It's made me feel like I'm stuck in the stone age, but then I can still walk a block and find a mall. More examples of this contrast: the fact that there are NO TOILET SEATS. I don't get it! This place is so sophisticated at times and yet you will rarely find a place with toilet seats. There is dog shit everywhere! No one picks up their dog shit and I have come very close to being severely upset. Thankfully, someone always manages to pull me out of the line of fire. A lot of the streets smell just awful as well... if I could describe it, I would say it's as if people have been pissing on these streets for thousands of years. LOL. One thing I didn't expect was the amount of African people that there would be here. The university dorms are completely stuffed with them and their culture is ever present. I don't know why I didn't expect it, since most countries in Northern Africa are francophone. After a conversation with a guy from Morocco, I realized that Bordeaux is infused with various cultures and their presence is everywhere. I am so glad that I chose to come here! It's currently also a candidate for the 2013 Election of the Cultural Capital of Europe... even with the piss-filled streets, I'd totally vote for it.
In the week that I've been here, I have felt my french get continually better at an exponential rate. I've also already changed a couple of habits. The inevitable things are of course, the coffee and the smoking, but also, every night I get together with a couple of other girls from the dorm and we make some kind of dinner and sit outside forever with a bottle or two of wine and just enjoy the weather, the food, and each other. The sense of community/family that I'm developing is truly fantastic. As far as housing goes, yesterday I signed a lease for a studio just 15 minutes outside of downtown and I'll be living with a FABULOUS gal named Hillary. She makes me laugh until my sides hurt and we are just two peas in a pod. We're so excited about having a place together here in Bordeaux and so surprised at how easy it was [Note: I had originally wanted to live with a french family, but after I got here I found out that year-long students don't really have the option of a home stay]. Thinking about it now, I haven't had any difficulty at all getting used to things here. Although I might find some things strange and make some faux pas here and there, I'm assimilating quite well.
I think it's so intense how much cheese people eat here. I knew they ate a lot of cheese, but I've been here for a week and I'm already trying to figure out what I can make without it! It's kind of hard to cook since the kitchen in the dorms is not very well-equipped and there seems to be a little thief walking around as well. We somehow manage to make dinner when we want to even with the limited equipment, but what is strange is how lunch isn't really a big deal here. They will eat cheese and crackers, maybe a piece of ham and call it lunch. Maybe that is okay for some people, but I never considered those things a "meal" until now that it seems to be the norm. Even though I'm not going to live with a french family, I'm going to do my best to try as much of the food as possible, but everything is still in its baby stages, so I'm not in a hurry.
On another note, the program (Centre de la Californie) so far has taken us to an oyster museum and I had the chance to eat them for the first time. I want to say this... I ate 4 of them. 4! I wanted to make sure about this decision: They are absolutely disgusting and I don't understand WHY ANYONE WOULD EAT THEM. The texture is weird, they taste like sea water, they smell weird and they are most definitely NOT an aphrodisiac. The only sensation I felt was pure disgust. Alors, c'est un experience culturel. Anyway, that same day we went to see the dunes of Pyla, which are the biggest dunes in Europe. At first I thought, "why would anyone care about a big mound of sand?" But when I got there and started climbing up, it was so breathtaking. LITERALLY. My smokers lungs were definitely not pleased. The weather was perfect that day and the clouds looked/felt so close. It looked like Mario World up there with the clouds so big and this immense forest spread out on one side and a beautiful beach on another. I have to say, the best part was climbing down because you just sink into the sand and it feels like you're walking on some other planet or something with weird gravity. It was the kind of scenery that just makes you feel all giddy inside... it's also a great place for kids. If I ever have any, I'll definitely take them there.
We've only had two days of class so far and it feels good to be amongst others who share this passion for the language just like you. Almost everyone speaks french outside of class as well and Hillary speaks much better than me, so I'm constantly learning.
The things I was really scared of when I got here was getting robbed and just the french men because I heard they are VERY forward if you're not careful. My fear of both of these has mostly disappeared... yes, french men are very forward, but there are lines they won't cross. Or so at least I think! They mostly harass Hillary, I'm just the Mexican girl standing next to her, LOL. A lot of people think I'm Portuguese... which is interesting... (they also told me I have an accent when I speak English, which is so strange) but I'm not hardly as interesting as others here. One of my friends, Kass, is mixed with so many cultures and she's traveled so much that I'm fascinated by her every time she says something. Not to mention she has different colored eyes, which completely hypnotizes me. With that said, even amongst the group of Californians studying abroad here, there is an incredible amount of diversity and culture. Most people speak 3-4 languages! This is truly a paradise for me because everything I'm interested in is surrounding me. I am completely immersed and it's a wonderful feeling. I have not, actually, had home sickness yet. I'm guessing that's still to come. Yes, I do miss family and friends, but I'm enjoying myself so much, I hope everyone will forgive me for saying that I'm really happy here.