new classes and birthday celebrations

It is now the end of week 6 here in Tours–of what felt like the quickest week since my time here in France. The start of the week was met by many new students at the Institute, primarily those from America, but also those from places such as Spain, Russia, Venezuela, and elsewhere. I was placed into a new class, and it was a little interesting yet taxing to go through the process of re-acquainting myself with others and doing a bit more than the typical Notre Dame introduction. I have made mention of my school name and what I study, along with where I live, but the discussion of heritage has actually been quite prevalent since my time here in France. Americans often marvel at the accents of others, and I usually hate the fact that my French accent does not sound as natural as I would like, but I find that others have come to enjoy the sound of the “American” accent or what one man called my American twang.

Class discussion this week focused on grammar, as well as NGOs within France and elsewhere in the world. Unlike last week, it is back to normal–where we work within groups to explain the use of the subjunctive and conditional tenses. We even discussed some of the French slang spoken by the younger population. With my teacher being an older man, he made the joke that if we wanted to pick up on any of the slang, we would have to visit the guinguette where younger French locals spend their time. He taught us some phrases such as “Je kiffe grave”, which is the equivalent of “J’aime beaucoup”. He also taught us something that I have picked up on since being here in France. When speaking French, the French will take many short cuts. Rather than creating a sentence with the subject, verb, and object, when speaking, they will combine both the subject and the verb to say something like “J’suis Francais” or “T’es quoi?” rather than “Je suis Francais” or “Tu es quoi?”. I have even found a way to truly practice my French without simple rote learning. I have now gotten into the habit of journaling in French. While I am not entirely sure if all the grammar is correct, it has forced me to enhance my French vocabulary, rather than using the same adverbs and adjectives. Since doing this, engaging in class discussion, and speaking with both my host family and locals outside of class, I have actually seen a marked improvement in my oral comprehension and my reading and writing skills. At dinners with my family, I am now able to understand about 85% of what is said, while the other 15% is spent shifting my gaze between my house mates to see if any of them understood what was said. And even before, as we would eat dinner and watch the World Cup, it would be as though I was only passively listening to the French commentary. I would recognize words such as “tourner” or “catastrophe!”,  essentially all of the French words that sounded the exact same in English, but I have now been able to identify particular phrases and other key words about players and their teams.

Shifting towards the sports, (something I think it actually quite critical to French culture like in any other), this week for the World Cup felt quite slow, as it is now almost over. What used to be a daily spectacle now occurs every few days. Japan lost against Belgium and Colombia lost against England, but today is the day that my host parents keep referring to as stressful, although I think it will pass rather quickly. Today, France plays against Uruguay, and although stressful, these days seem to be the funnest as streets near Place Plum become crowded with a montage of red, white, and blue. Many French people will cover their faces with tiny French flags and sit in groups in front of TVs preparing for the match to commence. But aside from just this, the Tour de France is also starting this weekend. My host father tells me this is actually one of his favorite times of the year, given that it is televised on TV from an aerial perspective, giving people the ability to see the eclectic terrain in France near the Alps. But aside from these athletic events, there is a lot to be happy about. Just two days ago, some students and I from school celebrated the 4th of July. Although a very small celebration with just a few sparklers, a group of French people approached us asking if it was someone’s birthday, but after mentioning that it was the “Fete National” for the US, many of them joined in the celebration, making note of the fact that they were actually quite familiar with the 4th of July.

Yet, the festivities did not end there. One of my housemates from the US was actually preparing for her departure and with my birthday approaching, my host parents decided to have a small celebration–a farewell and a birthday party all in one. Often, dinners are quite extravagant here, or at least more formal than anything I would typically prepare at home. Yesterday’s dinner, however, was slightly different. The table was adorned with some of the most beautiful plates I had ever seen, and beside our cutlery, were small containers of bubbles. After going through the first two courses–poached eggs and then a Moroccan dish called tajine (accompanied by couscous), my host family brought out the typical cheese platter. The cheese course is usually followed by dessert, but this dessert was beyond my expectations. I was presented with a giant cake and gifts, but even without the additional surprises, our discussions over things such as the importance of the ecosystem (and the ways in which France attempts to preserve it), the predominant religions existing in France and other countries, or even the ways in which the cultures of others (Africans, Asians, and other Europeans) have been taken and adapted by France are enough to sustain me.

That night we decided it was necessary to take a “family” photo. Thus far, this is probably one of the most multicultural families I have ever been a part of–with a girl from Spain (and previously, a girl from Colombia), a girl from Taiwan, and another from America. With the night coming to a close, I decided to visit the cathedral in Tours to view the frequently talked about light show–documenting something so modern on a very ancient building.

In turn, I’d say the past three days were some of my best days since being here, but for now, au revoir!