10/2/08

Les Expressifs

Starting yesterday, there's been some sort of street fair going on on downtown Poitiers called Les Expressifs. The idea seems to be to get together a bunch of street performers, plus some musical groups. I heard very loud rock music coming from the tent in the square in front of the Hôtel de Ville this afternoon, and this morning I watched a guy engage in pseudo-juggling (à la Renfest, rolling them down his arms and around his body and such). I'm pretty sure the story he was telling to go with it was some sort of political allegory, but a) I couldn't hear very well and b) I don't know enough about politics to get it even if I'd understood. There were a lot of crunchy-granola types (or whatever they're called in France) in attendance; in fact, I have a feeling this whole festival would be very at home in Vermont.

The actual point of going into town today was to get my receipt for my application for a titre de séjour (residency permit), which took all of five minutes but required an hour of waiting in line at the Préfecture. Everything administrated by the government, from drivers' licenses to citizenship applications, goes through the Préfecture - not very efficient, in my opinion. Waiting at the DPS is bad, but at least you're only waiting behind other people wanting their drivers' licenses. So that was a pleasant way to pass an hour's worth of my afternoon. On the other hand, I bought a nice scarf in order to blend in more readily with the French population (staying warm being a secondary motive).

I went to Bible study again last night, which was great fun (much more lively discussion/analysis of the text this time around), involved another dinner of crepes (never a bad thing), and was like a miniature cultural education in and of itself. I think I've finally properly decoded the ritual of les bises (cheek-kissing). If there's a female involved, two kisses are pretty much automatic (but occasionally just one; for example, you've boarded a bus and see four or five of your friends and are trying to greet them all while not falling down or knocking anyone over). When two guys greet each other, if they're related, they'll probably kiss on one cheek (more on greeting people you're related to later); if they're not related, they'll shake hands, varying from a warm clasp to a manly grasp depending on the age of the parties involved (manliness being inversely proportional to age, amusingly enough). That being established, the question is obviously when this ritual is necessary. It doesn't appear to be normal to thus greet people you live with (hence the two-related-men scenario only occurs if, say, Bruno's older son who lives in an apartment comes over to visit), unless you haven't seen them in a few days and/or they're leaving for a prolonged period. On the other hand, anyone you have even a passing acquaintance with is fair game, which means you'll probably end up faire-ing les bises with half the students in any given class every time it meets. People you don't know at all are equally fair game, sometimes as a precursor to an actual introduction, sometimes just to be friendly (several girls in my history class greeted my like this three weeks in a row before I actually figured out their names). If it's obvious you're foreign (like me), there's more likely to be hesitation on the part of the other party, though usually they can't overcome the impulse. Other foreigners are the trickiest, especially if you have no idea what part of Europe they're from: to faire or not to faire, is always the question. And the most tiresome manifestation of the habit is when leaving a gathering, whereupon you are morally obligated to kiss everybody in the room, which takes absolutely forever if everyone is leaving at once.

I leave you with a math problem: if a party of nine people is breaking up, in which there are five girls, four guys, and no relations, how many kisses will be exchanged?