A Travellerspoint blog

Classes at the University of Bordeaux

I wish the french wore deodorant

This week was my first entire week going to classes with the other french students. As a whole, I have to say I'm very relieved that I understand all of my professors. None of them have some funky fucked up accent, although one of them talks a bit fast and in an abstract manner (but that's what I get for taking a class on the absurd right?). On Monday I had Italian, which I felt I was fairly competent in, but I don't think my teacher likes me. Even though there were other international students in the class, I was the only American and she just didn't like any of the answers I gave for anything... she even came up to me, speaking in italian, asking me if I understood her as if I was some sort of moron. I have to admit that I haven't even spoken a word of italian in 4 months, so I'm really rusty, but that's nothing a little look in my italian book won't cure. I can't wait to go back next week and talk up a storm. Oh and yea, I did say "next week." Most classes here are only once a week (unless they have a study session). All my classes except for one only meet once a week for 2 hours (except for my Cinema class that meets for 3 hours every two weeks). Everything is just a big mess with classes! I even have a class that starts some days at 8am, others at 8:30am and times when we don't meet at all. It can be very confusing. I think I need a bulletin board.. LOL

Next, I have two classes at the DEFLE (center for foreign students studying french), Theatre and Art History. Theater is an unbelievably easy course, I just have to memorize a silly little skit and do silly exercises. Art History is probably one of the most boring classes I've ever taken in my life, but I'm going to suck it up and take it because it's really easy. Back at the university I'm taking three more classes, Cultural History, which is very interesting and has a great lecturer, a class about Literature of the absurd (We're going to study Kafka) and that seems interesting so far, and my last class is Cinema, but we didn't meet this week so I still have no idea how it is. I hope it's 3 hours long because we're watching movies. *sigh* I did assist one more class, Modern History (all about Louis XVI) but the professor was so into himself! Not only that, in the section for that class (which was 2.5 hours long) we're supposed to do some oral presentation. As soon as I heard that, I was OUT. I have a shitty time doing oral presentations in English, I'm not about to stand in front of 30 french kids and butcher their language. The thought was just too terrifying. Thankfully, since signing up for classes here is so chaotic, I didn't even have to worry about dropping the class because I was never enrolled. I think as of now I'm only actually enrolled in 4 classes, I still have to talk to get into two others. The cool thing about classes here is that they don't "close" if there's too many students. They're willing to accommodate everyone, and so far as I've seen, no classes are really overflowing. I think it has something to do with the fact that at this University there's no such thing as general education. Students who come to learn history only take history courses and that goes for every discipline... which is cool, but sucks for international students who want to take all kinds of courses but find that all the classes conflict with each other. *sigh* But what is nice is that there are absolutely no classes from 12:30-1:30, so no matter how busy your schedule is, you always have an hour for lunch.

That's about it for school, but changing topics, I feel like I have to talk about the French-American relationship. There are some people that are fucking rude to us, they think we can't understand them so they'll just come up to us and growl at us or something... it hasn't happened to me, but it has to others. There are also those who speak a couple of lines of English and try to talk shit, which is always the worst because you know if you try to speak back to them in french you're just going to sound as stupid as they do trying to speak English. On the other hand, there are also the French that are unbelievably polite, or (although rare), the french that LOVE AMERICANS and/or everything American. They LOVE, LOVE, LOVE McDonalds. Le Mcdo is one of the few places open after dark and you can always find french people walking around eating fries or a mcflurry on the street. I know there are some Mcdonalds that have drive-thrus, but not on this side of the river (Bordeaux is separated in 2 by the river "La Garonne"). So on this side of the river, we have "Guichets à Emporter" which are just carry-out windows open until about midnight. Aside from Mcdonalds, the french also LOVE Converse All-Stars. At first I just noticed that there were tons of different designs and then I realized that most people just have imitation converse. I saw real ones on sale for 50 Euro, which is about 75 USD. They are just so expensive, no wonder everyone has imitation. The fact of it is, they just love the style. Also, in the clubs, they play tons of hip-hop and other American music. They sing along and get sooooo EXCITED when they play some cheap 90's jam like "Whoop! There It Is"... I just think this whole love/hate relationship is really interesting. In the end, we're just different than them and each person fights with him/herself on whether they should dislike us from the beginning or actually give us a chance, but one thing is for sure, they know who we are, we couldn't hide our "Americanness" if we tried!

Finally, I just have a final note about Mustard. My roommate and I have been going nuts over the mustard here. It's so intense! But really good. You can get some really great mustard for really cheap. It's so strong sometimes that it can clear up your sinuses! Being a big fan of condiments, I am going to miss yellow mustard, since here they only have different variations of Dijon. Also, in general, most of the condiments taste different. They put real sugar in the ketchup instead of corn syrup so it's much sweeter.. which is okay, but I'm a little used to the one in the states. The mayo is also especially "eggy" here, but I actually don't mind it. It tastes really fresh. (But my roommate hates it.. so the condiments are definitely something to get used to)

Posted by Suzy_Belle 07:13 Archived in France Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Why Are French Women So Thin?

I don't really care, but it seems to be a point of interest for many...


I can easily say that there are very few overweight people in Bordeaux in General. Seeing a "fat" person is very rare, especially in the women since they are either paper thin or very average. My roommate mentioned to me that she read in an article that it had something to do with Yogurt. I still don't know whether it's true or not, but the French really fucking love Yogurt. In California, a regular grocery store will have the Yogurt in the dairy isle... but here, Yogurt has it's very own isle. In Auchan (refer to last entry), they have two entire lanes dedicated to just Yogurt. There are so many different kinds that it's perplexing. There's actually just tons of dairy, now that I think of it. OH, and it's so strange how they do refrigerate some milk and eggs, but the bulk of milk and eggs are not refrigerated. I don't get it, really. Anyway, since this blog is about food, i'll just continue on that route.


As I’ve said before, the multiculturalism of Bordeaux is one of its most attractive features and as a result, Hillary and I have learned how to make a fabulous Senegalese stew called Mafé. This dish was first prepared for my roommate by Dou, a guy who is quite taken with Hillary… but I won’t go into THAT.. Haha…

Anyway, I’m really impressed with this stew because it really reminds me of a Mexican sauce, “mole” and it’s cool to know that on opposite parts of the world, two different cultures have a very similar dish. After this dish was prepared for Hillary a couple of times, she was able to replicate it for me. To be honest, I didn’t want to try it, it sounded weird and I wasn’t in the adventure mood, but I couldn’t stop eating it after I did! Here’s the recipe, as dictated to me by Hillary:

Peanut Butter
Potatoes (you can add carrots or other veggies too)
Multi-purpose oil
Tomato Paste
Any type of bouillon cube (chicken, beef or veggie)
Water, Salt, Pepper, Habanero pepper (optional)
The original preparation was also with beef (I later used chicken and really liked it), but it tastes great vegetarian as well.

First, sauté the onions and potatoes in some oil. After getting a little tender, crumble in the bouillon, stir, add tomato paste (Hillary loves tomatoes, so she added a whole can), add water and let simmer (5 mins). Add as much water or as little as you like, depending on the consistency that you’d like. Finally, add two heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter and if you want it spicy, add the habanero pepper or spicy sauce of choice. Salt and Pepper to taste and let simmer for 15-20 mins. This is Hillary’s preparation, but it is traditionally a meat stew, so you can brown some cubes of beef or chicken with the onions in the beginning. Finally, serve over rice and be ready for DELICIOUSNESS.

Yea, I know what you’re thinking.. Tomato paste and peanut butter? Yuck! But no, seriously, this is amazing. I too was a skeptic, but this dish is fabulous. In some ways it reminds me of the Mexican mole, but in others it reminds me of Indian food, like curry. Anyway, just fucking try it.

Posted by Suzy_Belle 05:06 Archived in France Tagged food Comments (0)

Release Dates, French Wal-Mart and Anakin Skywalker Braids

I haven't even seen a Wal-Mart Super Center in California!


It's another beautiful afternoon in Bordeaux, but don't let that fool you! If I've learned anything in my time here it's that the weather is fucking unpredictable. It'll be sunny, rainy, windy and overcast all in the same day. Or maybe it will rain 3 days in a row and then be incredibly hot. I don't know what the heck is going on. I mentioned this to my landlady and she didn't seem phased. She said it's normal...

Anyway, I saw a poster today for the Love Guru, and apparently, it's just started playing in Theaters in Bordeaux. This movie came out in the states in fucking June!!!! This is severely depressing for me because it means that I'm going to have to wait between 2-3 months for a movie that everyone in the states is going to spoil for me before I get a chance to watch it. *sigh* The only country that is even more movie-release-date-retarded is Greece.

On another note, there's a couple of myths I heard about France that I see are not true. I've been here for 3 weeks and still have not seen a single Fromagerie (cheese shop). I thought that France was all about room-temperature stores with moldy blue cheese, but this is false. I also thought that there wouldn't be "Super Markets" but only small shops with individual specializations, like a cheese shop, bread shop, etc. At least that is what my french teacher in high school told me, but that's bullshit. Auchan is the French fucking Wal-Mart Super Center. First floor is electronics, Kitchenware and clothes, second floor is supermarket with a deli. I was pleasantly surprised to find this, particularly since it's only a 15 min. walk from my studio and they have EVERYTHING. Like I said before, some aspects of Bordeaux make me think that industrialization hasn't yet happened here, while other parts of it make me think that they've traveled into the future, so don't think I'm strange for not knowing there would be super markets. You just never know what you're going to find when you turn that piss-perfumed corner.

When I was getting ready to come to Bordeaux, various people told me that the women here dress much differently than California girls, more conservative and classy. I want to say that is COMPLETELY FALSE. Granted, there are tons of different styles, especially since there's no predominant type of person, Bordeaux is not full of french people, but just filled with every type of person... but the women as a whole do not dress conservative. One thing can be said about them though, they love their brand-name clothes. If you want to shop in Bordeaux, the street is Rue St. Catherine. There is everything from Diesel, HNM to Coach as well as all the upscale french brands.

Anyway, I don't know if I'd mentioned this, but I moved into my studio a couple of days ago. Hillary and I are trying our best to make the place look nice, but it's kind of hard because we're so busy trying to take care of school shit to be able to get down to IKEA (I'm shocked that they have one). Hopefully it's not too expensive (like everything else!).

As far as school goes, I start the French University next week and I must say, choosing classes has been hell! The General Catalog for classes was released just this Monday... and unlike my university, you can't just sign up for classes online, you have to go to each individual department building and sign up for the class. Maybe I'm lazy and spoiled, but I find it to be ridiculous! It's also hard to try to choose a class when each class has 3 subdivisions, which apparently the french students have to take, but not the California students... If a class has a lecture and then 3 different sections for different subjects, we get to choose which ones we want to follow. Ugh, it's so complicated. I still haven't signed up for any classes, but I've at least decided on a couple and tomorrow I'm going to perform the daunting task of trying to sign up... the secretaries here expect you to know how to do everything, so I get fairly nervous when I have to do administrative stuff.

As a random side note, I've noticed tons of guys and girls with a little Anakin Skywalker braid dangling out of their hair. I don't really understand this. Am I missing something? Does it mean something? It's not a big deal or anything, but I don't ever remember seeing so many people with one before.

Finally, how's my french? That's the question people have been asking me. It's fine. The big problem is that I'm really sarcastic and it's hard for that sarcasm to translate. It really depends on the person... some people really get my humor and they're cool about me joking around, others look at me like I'm serious and when I try to explain I was kidding, they don't really understand. I can maintain a conversation for fairly long periods of time, the thing is that in order to generate various sounds, you have to use your throat. After about 3 hours, you really start to feel it because you're not accustomed to using your throat in that way. I can't wait until I wake up and not have a raw throat from speaking french! But at the same time I like being able to feel the fact that I've been working hard to communicate.

Posted by Suzy_Belle 08:39 Archived in France Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

The Good, The Bad, and The Random

15 Days Later

Now that the natural ephemeral happiness of being in France has worn off, I’ve had different experiences and noticed more things about this unique city. First, some interesting peculiarities (at least to me).

Apparantly, Bordeaux is the San Francisco of France. At first I noticed a disarmingly large number of men with “merses” (man-purses) and upon further inquiry, I found out that only gay men wear them. After two weeks here I’ve seen just about every type of merse, from the tiny and chic louis vuitton to the outrages full-on white purse big enough to hold a 2 Liter bottle of water and a make-up bag.

As far as style, I think it’s just generally different. A lot of guys wear pointy shoes… which I find to be STRANGE, at the very least. Now I understand what someone means when they say a pair of men’s shoes is “European.”

Next, there are condom dispensers in the street. So far, I’ve seen two. They’re just randomly on street walls.

As I mentioned before, Bordeaux seems to be uniquely multicultural and I totally love it! On Thursday, a bunch of friends and I went to an Indian restaurant in Quinconces and had an amazing meal for much cheaper than the quality of the food. I never really thought about it before, but Indian food is absolutely one of my favorite kinds of foods, period. It’s just cool to think that you can be in France and yet also eat great food from other countries. Today I also had a KEFTA FRITES, which I’m not sure if they have in the states, but it’s a baguette stuffed with seasoned meat and fries, with a little mayo. It’s kind of a heavy meal, but it’s very tasty.

Aside from the food, there are an unbelievably high number of foreigners here in Bordeaux. On Friday my roommate and I hosted a house warming party at our studio and even though there wasn’t a single French person there, our friends from California picked up three Germans, a handful of Spaniards, two Portuguese, one hondurian, one Czech and two Moroccans. It was an amazing party and I talked to so many different kinds of people. (Most of the night everyone spoke in French anyway!)

My friends from the dorms are all quickly getting their own places around town and we had the pleasure of visiting some of them over the weekend. They have a very spacious and cute apartment near Plaza Gambetta. You have to walk up three flights of stairs to get there, but it’s definitely worth it. It’s really exciting to know that everyone’s going to have a place of their own in a different part of town, so you always have somewhere to go!

Now for the bad… Saturday night after visiting our friends in Gambetta, a group of us decided to go to a bar/small concert hall named Heretic. At first I was having so much fun dancing to the the very talented DJ’s in the basement and drinking a Heineken “demi-syrop pêche” (beer with a shot of peach syrop! It’s so good, I don’t know why they don’t do it in the states!) and then I got tired of dancing so I went upstairs to go sit on some couches. After a little while, I somehow became surrounded by a group of really drunk, loud guys and I felt kind of uncomfortable because I ended up being right in the middle of the entire group. I said hello to the guy next to me, he then handed me his beer and walked away. I turned to his friend on my other side and gave him the beer his friend gave me and then he and his friends just started making fun of me, pointing and laughing. I got up to leave and they all started asking me to stay but I just suddenly felt really ridiculous so I left the club. As soon as I stepped out of the club, for the first time since my arrival, I felt like I didn’t belong and the fear that I might never belong burned in my eyes and I couldn’t stop the tears from coming. Another French guy came up and asked me what was wrong and the fact that I didn’t even have the proper vocabulary to explain the situation just infuriated me even further. Unlike the guys in the club, he was very understanding about my language deficiency. Thinking about it now, I feel really silly for letting the situation get to me, but honestly, it doesn’t matter what language or country it happens in, no one likes to feel like they’re the freak show that everyone’s laughing at. I just have to realize that I’ve been lucky that most of the French people I’ve met have been mostly understanding and tolerant, but I am going to come into contact with people that WILL ostracize me, or even hate me for being American.

Now I have one more week left of day class with other Californian students and then I have to enroll with the other french students and start classes in the French University. I have to be honest, I'm scared shitless!! But I've already made it this far and there's no turning back.

Posted by Suzy_Belle 07:00 Archived in France Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Bordeaux: Une ville de la tradition et la modernité

They don't have Pandora


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.

Posted by Suzy_Belle 08:49 Archived in France Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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