Complaints, hein?

How time flies. My time in Tours is reaching the midpoint, yet I still feel I have only just arrived from Charles de Gaulle last night. In my two previous posts, I seemed to have the false impression that my life here is all last-minute adventures and sudden epiphanies of Francophone culture. But really, my daily routine, consisting of morning classes and dinners with my host family, is what I’ve fallen in love with. As cliche as it sounds, I’ve certainly experienced moments of “C’est la vie.” Just two days ago, I was standing in front of the formage section at Monoprix for twenty minutes, simply observing the 400 varieties of French cheese.


Although my second weekend was spent in Tours, it was anything but peaceful. On Saturday, I’ve decided to faire du vélo, or go biking, a popular family pastime here in the Loire Valley. The bike trail along la Loire is magnificent, all trees and bushes and birds along the flowing water. Thought I as I hummed and proceeded towards the Villandry castle on my €10/half day hybrid bike. Of course, good things don’t last, after a few casual (wrong) turns, I found myself on a highway– the “bike trail” under my front wheel incidentally narrowing. I decided life was more important than a 16th century castle and turned back, confronting the stares of stunned car drivers. On Sunday I thrived– morning markets, VitiLoire (annual wine festival with over 400 booths for tasting) and mother’s day.


I miss my old classroom

Every four weeks, students get resorted into a different class with different teachers, according to their levels of French. On Monday, the first day of the new sequence, around one hundred students arrived from the United States, mercilessly upturning the ambiance of the institute. During recess, groups of American students (many of whom from the same university) would swarm the courtyard to speak their mother tongue, accompanied by bagels and Starbucks. Even during class time, some are prone to responding in Anglais… “Bonjour” is replaced by “Hey,” “Quelle est ta nationalité?” by “Are you American?” I feel like I’m back in Indiana.

While it’s a shame that the diverse groups of Thai, Korean, Taiwanese, Arabic, Canadien and Europeans students seemed to have faded from the institute, I’m also very grateful that I had started two weeks ago and had already grown used to only conversing in French, as was the norm before Monday. The perk of being Taiwanese (or just non-American) is that if I keep my mouth shut and only smile, people often assume I don’t speak English, which is only perfect for exercising French.

The end of the previous sequence also meant adieu’s. On Sunday, I accompanied the Thai girl to the train station, and I was devastated. It’s miraculous how I’ve already made friends that made saying goodbye so hard– rare friendships that persisted despite limited French vocabulary and half-finished sentences.

Still sad from my friends’ departure, I strived to distract myself by posing all sorts of (sometimes sensitive) questions at the dinner table. In one conversation, my host mom has slipped out very strong feelings on the Trump administration and Macron.Between two bites of poulet grillé, I also finally gathered the courage to ask if the French and the British really dislike each other, which I’ve been dying to know since watching Dunkirk. At school, I’ve learned much about the French way of doing things: the inefficient *cough** political system, the French income tax rate, which the teacher had said was non-progressive, being 24% for everyone (not sure if it’s actually true), and also how slow the French time passes, making it okay for the teacher to always be 15-30 minutes late. An observation of the French civilization is incomplete without addressing la grève, or the railway strike. How much France has achieved has not ceased to amaze me– all the philosophers, cosmetic brands, gourmet and NGO’s– despite how laissez-faire, whiny and inefficient they are at times. Currently, two out of every five days are affected by the strike, and since my flight falls on a strike day– I will have to seek an alternative means of transport. Not easy given the limited availability of bus. This strike, however authentically French it is, will be the end of me. Stay tuned.

You have probably noticed by now how much I’m complaining. I’ve learned this is their most iconic habit, making one a true French national. As I continue to eat more yoghurt and pains, speak more bonjours and escape more dog poop (everywhere on the streets here), I’m also realizing my own potential of becoming cynically French.

Château de Chenonceau looks even smaller next to my gigantic head
First excursion with the institute!