Name: James Li
Location of Study: France
Program of Study:
Sponsor(s): Joe Loughrey
Name: James Li
Name: James Li
Location of Study: France
Program of Study:
Sponsor(s): Joe Loughrey
Wow! Where to even start. The first and beautiful thing about learning in another country, another language: sometimes, you don’t need to understand to understand. I’ve learned so much from interactions that involved little or no talking. One of the subjects that I have learned about in this manner, a subject near and dear to my heart, is the food. While France is known for its consumption of cheese, wine and bread, there are other food practices that are just as common. Butter is eaten at almost every meal: on toast at breakfast, on sandwiches at lunch, and on rice at dinner. Eggs are also an important part of the diet and also put on sandwiches. Without a doubt, ham is the most popular lunch or baguette meat, followed by chicken or sausage. Other types of meat like turkey are almost never seen. The eating habits are also different. After returning from a field trip late on Saturday night, I drowsily glanced at a passing restaurant and I saw people only starting to sit down! I would have fallen asleep at the table.
The language learning has been a bit unexpected. After many interactions with French teachers, I’ve grown to listen to and comprehend that type of French. The French in the street almost seemed like a different language. Even the French teachers here speak differently in class (maybe for our benefit) in which I can understand close to everything. But when I interact with native speakers, anything but the simplest conversations and I will inevitably miss something important. I’ve had several chances to practice and observe because I’ve had to get a bus pass and a SIM card but it’s going to take a bit to get used to.
Another thing worth noting is that the people here know, sometimes even before you speak, that you are American/English, and will therefore try to talk to you in English. Even though it is not as bad as Paris, vendors and servers will still try to speak in English. Sometimes, I’ve had to be persistent in answering in French before they would switch back. I’m going to try to look/act less American before interactions so at least my appearances don’t give me away. And of course, I’m going to try really hard to improve my pronunciation.
It’s been a great week. Now that we’re starting to get the hang of the area, we’re taking advantage of what the city has to offer. Almost every night and especially on weekends, the people of Tours seem to all gather at the river restaurant and bar called “La Guingette” It’s an open area restaurant, bar, café with live music performances and dance nights right next to the river! No wonder it’s always bustling. I also had my first few crepes and, yes they fully lived up to their expectations. They have sweet crepes with different types of sauces in the famous crepe dough and they also have savory crepes called “Galettes” that will often contain eggs and resemble omelets in a more coarse, buckwheat dough. They’re both delicious. I still have to try the croissant, pain au chocolat, and the French Macaroons.
A curious and amusing thing I’ve noticed is the obsession with Nutella here. It’s everywhere! Breakfast item on toast, syrup in coffee drinks, crepes, and in very big containers at supermarkets. And anywhere else you might imagine. If you’re a Nutella lover, I can’t think of a better place.
Understanding the colloquial French is still somewhat of a hit and miss. Sometimes, I understand as if they are speaking English. And then sometimes, I feel like I actually took a plane to Mars. When I learned English as a second language as a child, I don’t remember specifically if I also had these experiences. But I do remember that, like anything, it takes time. You just have to be around it long enough.
Life as an exchange student can be pretty hectic. You have class in the day until very late, and then you want to take advantage of being here so you go and try to experience the cafes and restaurants and walk around at night. So where does that put sleep? Not as high as I would like. Almost certainly as a result, I’m a bit under the weather this week. So I’ve been trying to take advantage of being here in other ways like talking to my host mom, and my professors more.
While I’ve never started a conversation directly on the subject of the perception of America, certain perceptions have spilled into other conversations. It’s interesting what French people think about Americans and America. They have certain images and characteristics that they associate with all Americans, just as we have of them. The political consensus is that they really like Obama. But when I asked them why, I received rather ambiguous answers: Oh, he’s a good president, Oh, he’s smart! I’ve also picked up on some interesting random tidbits that were a bit pointed. Upon noticing that I eat more than other foreign exchange students, my host mom was quick to point out that as the reason Americans are so “obese” even though I have a pretty normal stature. My professor told me in another conversation, that it was very American to project one’s own opinions and thoughts onto others. My professor and my host mom are both very sweet women and not at all nasty at heart. But these generalizations just go to show how easily good people can form negative stereotypes and apply them to a whole group. And how important it is to overcome them.
On another note, I am surprised to see that there is a type of restaurant that almost outnumbers all other types, and it’s not French! The quick, almost fast food, Mediterranean/Middle Eastern joints are all over Tours! They serve from Kebabs to Falafels to Samosas and they’ve become one of my favorite places to grab a quick bite. What a surprise this came to me.
I also have got to get to a boulangerie/patisserie soon. I’ve started dreaming about them the other night. Detailings of the experience to follow.
What a fun week. I feel that now we know our way around, it’s a lot more fun. The French is going really well. I think I had a dream in French in the other day. I woke up and was disoriented when I saw English on my phone. The more time I spend here, the more I realize that the only way to truly be fluent is to be here. There really is no substitute.
This is the last week here for a lot of my newly made friends in the month long program so we tried to see as much of the town as possible before they left. There was a music festival in town and it was crazy! The whole town had all different types of music and bands on all the different streets. It poured most of the night which only added to the experience. The townspeople love this kind of stuff and get so involved. My host mom, who is around eighty years old, told me all about her adventures at these kinds of things. Before I left, she said to me with a sly grin, “I won’t wait up.” I wish we had more things like this in the states.
I bought my mom an apron that says “Ce soir, c’est moi le chef,” which means tonight, I’m the chef. But it’s even better in French because chef can mean both the maker of the meal and the boss.
Hard to believe I’m more than half way through this thing. Feels like I just blinked.
The start of this week was kind of a bummer. My month long course ended so I switched teachers. A lot of other kids only stayed one month so I had to say goodbye after we’ve just started knowing each other well. Definitely not the best week.
But then it was the weekend.
And I went to Paris.
I felt like the above indentations were justified because the tree days in Paris were three days in my life that were unlike any other. I saw so many things that I’ve read about in books, seen in movies, heard of from other people. And there they were, just right in front of me. I don’t know if it was just the buildup but I was pretty much star struck the whole time. I was there for three entire days and it was not enough. I went to the Louvre for three hours and I barely saw everything I wanted to see. The Mona Lisa, though, was incredibly average. A solid 5/10. The restaurants were so charming. I had boeuf bourguignon for the first time and it was awesome. I did the French way and scraped up all the sauce with bread.
Of course, I went to the Eiffel tower. It was pretty cool; I thought the second stage had a nicer view than the top. At the top, you couldn’t see anything very clearly. I think I liked the Arc de Triomphe more.
I also had macarons for the first time. They were extremely good, and different, and expensive. The texture was pretty unfamiliar. It was a hard-ish outside and a soft filling. They also go for almost 2 euros a pop at the nice places. Yikes.
What a good time though. I still have things I want to see for when I come back next time. When. Not if.
I can’t believe it’s my last week here. I just came here right? It’s been such an incredible time.
I didn’t have that much time this week to do stuff. I bought some more souvenirs/stuff I want to take home. I got some grammar books in French. I figured they would come in handy and also provide a good opportunity for immersion practice. I also bought the first Harry Potter book in French. I LOVE Harry Potter. I tried reading it a little bit but the grammar/vocabulary is just a bit above my level. I have to use the dictionary a fair amount. But I thought it would be good because I know the basic plot already.
I spent a bunch of time with the friends I made here at cafés, and the river bar/restaurant.
This experience was so amazing and a lot of that was because of the people I was with. I didn’t know anyone going into this trip and I’m glad that was the case. I definitely met some people I’m going to keep in contact with.
I’m going to end my journal here. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to have this experience. This SLA summer has been much more than I could have imagined. The only way to learn a language fully and completely is to be in it, around it the whole time. SLA made that happen for me. And it’s only up from here.