9/16/08

Small Victories (Requiring a Marathon Post)

It's been nearly a week since I posted - apologies. I have been both busy and tired. I will try to briefly* sum up (I wanted to say resume, but realized that only works in French - apparently the language immersion is working!) what I've been up to.

Thursday: Meeting with M. Paoli to choose courses. That was something of an organizational nightmare. On the one hand, we are much "freer" than French students in our ability to pick and choose what we want to take. On the other hand, the system really isn't designed for that. Practically everything I wanted to take was on Monday or Wednesday. The schedule I came up with doesn't particularly closely resemble the one I'm following this week. Oh well. Afterward we had apéritifs with the group, on the college (buying alcohol for its students? Cultural education, I suppose...). Several of us decided that smoothies were a legitimate alternative to cocktails. The funniest part was listening to other people trying to order a White Russian or a Bloody Mary - pronouncing them in English and not being understood by the waitress. I left early, courtesy of the bus system. Sigh.

Friday: "Cultural orientation" meeting with Viviana, to learn about even more forms to fill out and things to buy, including housing and civil responsability insurance. As it was explained to us, if, in opening your shutters in the morning, you should happen to knock a flowerpot of the windowsill and onto someone's head, civil responsability insurance will pay for their hospital bills. It was a very long and somewhat stress-inducing two hours, but we were recompensed with pretty amazing pastries. Macaroons are not the same thing as they are in the states - they are squashier and far more delicious. That evening we (my host parents, Christelle and I) had dinner at the new house of Magalie and David, friends of my host family who had been staying with us the week before. It was delicious and included homemade tiramisu. Then Christelle abandoned ship to go hang out with her friends, leaving me to be dragged by Brenda, Bruno, Magalie and David to a real live French discothèque, Les Bacchantes. I was already exhausted, so I watched them dance exuberantly to 80s music (which sounds the same in any language, apparently) into the wee hours of the morning (2 a.m., to be exact). It led me to wonder whether my middle school teachers rocked out like that on the weekends...I did in fact see some very good ballroom coexisting with the gyrating on the same tiny dance floor, including lindy hop, a complicated waltz-like thing, and even some two-step. I was, however, grateful to get home and collapse into bed.

Saturday: J'ai fait la grasse matinée -- literally, "the fat morning" -- i.e. I slept in. We did some house cleaning, I read more of La gloire de mon père. In the evening, Christelle invited me to come with her to the house of one of the women who goes to her church, an American ex-pat who's been a French citizen for 20 years now. We played Guitar Hero, for which I have developed a certain fondness, and some trivia game on the Wii, which I did not excel it given that I don't read all that quickly in French and don't know much about French culture/history. Which Christelle went out of her way to choose at every opportunity, in retribution for my beating her at Guitar Hero. Anyway, it was fun.

Sunday: Church turned into church + picnic + dinner/Guitar Hero/Wii tennis at the house of the same friend. I learned to play pétanque, a traditional Provençal game quite similar to Bocce (but with more rules). I'm not very good at it. It's really fun, though, and it's like a scene right out of an old-ish French movie set in the countryside - a group of men gathered around a cluster of boules, gravely discussing the scoring and using all sorts of unlikely implements as impromptu measuring sticks. My language comprehension probably improved in leaps and bounds that day, as that's the largest number of people I've interacted with at any one time. It's getting marginally easier to understand people I don't know.

Monday: First day of classes. I arrived early, as instructed by M. Paoli, to check the bulletin boards, since we'd been assured our classes probably wouldn't meet when and where they were supposed to. Sure enough, I ran into the professor of my first class as she was marking the new time (about fifteen minutes from that moment). Only one other girl and I showed up for the new earlier hour, so she sent us away and told us to come back at the regular time and we'd just have a shorter class. The other girl invited me to go have coffee (so much for stuck up French people, right?), which was nice. The class was not so pleasant. It was basically sentence diagramming, but in French, so I didn't understand any of the terminology. I'd decided to drop it within about fifteen minutes. I was hoping to change to the first-year version, but alas, it doesn't fit with my schedule. I then had a good long time to kill until my next class, so I went into town to open a bank account (turns out I need one if I want to apply for something called the CAF, which reimburses a portion of what you spend on housing - which is a lovely thought), which actually went smoothly. I was a little impressed with myself, since the last time I did anything of the sort, it was in English and my mom did most of the talking. My second class of the day was the thème section of my translation class; in other words, French to English. I ended up in the wrong class for the first fifteen minutes, which was awkward, but eventually made it to the right spot. The professor is British by birth, and rather stuffier and more brusque than any French person I've yet encountered. The focus is more on utility than literary nuance, which isn't what I'd hoped for, but it will still be good practice. It's also weird translating into British English, especially as the professor is quite sure that her answer is the only correct one. In sum: it was a long day.

Today: Second day of classes went much more smoothly. The oral interpretation section of my translation class is going to be great - the professors (one French, one American) are really nice and there's no lecture, just lots of practice. Today there were no grades being given, so in a completely uncharacteristic move I volunteered to go first and translate a short introduction, given in English by the American professor, into French. I was shaking like a leaf, but I think it went passably well. Then we had the version section of the class, English to French. That professor is what I was hoping for in the other class - very interested in literary conventions, given to long speeches about word choice, etc. Only it's translation into the language in which I don't really understand nuance. Too bad. Also, he was very adamant, even threatening, about the sanctity and purity of the French language (not kidding) and how he would dock the most points from our translations for misconjugated French verbs. I'm going out to buy Le Nouveau Bescherelle: l'art de conjuger before the next class so as not to pollute his native tongue with my gross grammatical errors. My third class was in comparative literature, and was a bit of a mess. Nobody had the books, including me, even though the professor swore she'd ordered them at several bookstores in town at the beginning of the summer. There weren't enough presentation slots/subjects to go around, so I don't have one and thus have no idea where my course grade is going to come from. When I asked her, all she said was, "We're a little disorganized in this department. Don't worry about it, everything will work out" (the French equivalent thereof, anyway). So we'll see.

Now it's dinnertime, and a rather tasty odor is emanating from the kitchen, so I will bid you adieu, faithful readers.

*So yeah, about that being brief...if you made it this far, you deserve a medal. Thanks for your attention!