Thursday, January 28, 2010


What irony. Or is it just a coincidence? (English majors, help.) I finally have internet access at home, and now I have nothing to post on my blog. This week has been a typical example of my life here. I've gone to class, gradually comprehending more of my professors' words each day, had a few canceled classes, and eaten some crepes. And beaucoup de baguettes. I can't believe how much bread I'm eating here. Baguette for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a little bit of meat and cheese here or there. The cheese certainly is my favorite thing about France so far, though. Each dinner, I leave extra room so I can indulge in the cheese course. Fromage du chevre is my favorite (goat cheese). It's like butter, only it's cheese, which is soo much better. Contrary to what my landlady believes, Americans do appreciate good cheese, we just don't have much of it for such a cheap price in the States.

I'm surprised how much people talk about the good old Etats-Unis here. We can't have dinner without seeing Obama on television, without my landlady comparing American customs to French customs (usually claiming that Americans are silly). All of my classes mention the US, even though it would seem that their topics wouldn't focus so much on America. (In my law of international relations class, we're actually doing a whole segment on whether or not America is on the decline.) Clearly, some situations are overly American because I'm American and people like to compare cultures, but I get the feeling that even if I wasn't here, the French would still be going on and on about all things American.

On another, more positive note, I've been sick all week. Probably the reason there's nothing to write about. I've been confined to my room every night, trying to get well before I leave for the Alps this weekend. Oh yeah, I'm going skiing in the Alps. If I haven't already bragged about this to you all, you get to hear me say it again. I'M GOING SKIING IN THE ALPS! Clearly, I'm excited. Hopefully it will give me more to write about. In the meantime, keep it classy America.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cours Mirabeau

Last night I once again found myself scarfing down an apple tarte at the 24 hour boulangerie, but managed to persuade myself to bypass Pizza Capri. These late night treasures are both situated by Aix’s most bustling street- the Cours Mirabeau. By far one of the widest streets in Aix, the Cours Mirabeau can actually fit two lanes of traffic and (most) pedestrians don’t dare to walk down the middle, unlike on the other narrow, cobbled streets.

I cross this grand street every day, whether walking to school or meeting up with friends, and each time I get to the roundabout I have to stop and stare at the steaming fountain in the middle of the street. One of Aix’s many fountains, this one, near Rue du 4 Septembre, is covered in some sort of vegetation and steams when it gets cold enough. Last night I couldn’t help myself and had to take a picture because the steam was almost as enticing as the Boyne Highlands pool in January.

The steaming fountain sits in the middle of the Cours Mirabeau, but further down the street is an even more massive fountain, centered at the Rotonde. This is by far the largest fountain I’ve seen in Aix, and it’s decorated with tons of blue lights in the winter. La Rotonde is a favorite meeting place and reference point for getting anywhere in the rambling streets of the Centre Ville. Another place where cars rule the street (an anamoly in downtown Aix), you actually have to abide by the crossing lights (most of the time). Across the street from La Rotonde is also a big carousel, which I (of course) have to ride before I leave.

In addition to fountains and a carousel, the Cours Mirabeau is home to many cafés and restaurants (although I haven’t found any with wifi yet.) What fascinates me about these cafés is that they have outdoor seating year-round. Although I may have teased the French for their fear of snow, they surely don’t mind taking a lunch outside in 35-40 degree weather. Admittedly, some of the restaurants have little outdoor heaters, but not all, and I haven’t gathered enough courage to dine outside yet. (Not to mention the fact that I haven’t gathered the funds to eat at these places. They’re also a wee bit pricey.)

Nestled between these restaurants, I’ve also discovered some bookstores. Learning a foreign language was never so great until the moment I entered that first store and saw the thousands of books that I had never read. Even if I had already read them in English, reading in French is a completely different experience. I started off with Harry Potter, figuring it would be easier to read a story I’m familiar with, and branch out from there. So far, I’ve learned that French children everywhere have been awed by stories of a boy named Harry who attends a school of “sorcellerie” called “Poudlard.” Poudlard. What is that? Where did Hogwarts go? And why are the Muggles called “Moldus?” I want to learn some more languages just so I can see where the Mexican and German children think Harry Potter goes to school.

So ends my jaunt along the Cours Mirabeau. I’m sure I will find more fantastic treasures there soon enough.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Better than the Back Room

Relying on a bar for an internet connection is going to be detrimental to my health and education. Luckily today I found my school's library and a computer with internet. I secretively facebook stalked and checked my email while pretending to look up books, and wikipedia'ing all of the information I missed in my classes. The only problem with this new set-up is that I had to use a French keyboard. Not fun. The a and the m are switched, probably some other letters too. Even worse is that the punctuation is all over the place. No longer can I simply extend my right ring finger downward for a quick "." -- NO, I have to ctrl alt shift and spin around twice to end my sentences. If you receive any mysteriously long messages from me with z's and b's in place of m's and a's, don't think it's a secret code: it's just me being too lazy to type like a Frenchie.

This week of classes is going a lot more smoothly than the last. Now that I'm over the initial shock of the French lecture system and have resigned myself to the fact that I can only understand a third of what my professors are saying, taking notes is a breeeze. Well, maybe not a breeze, but at least my sentences are now comprehensible. Although I've figured out a note-taking system, I'm still a little confused about homework. I get the feeling that French students don't do homework. Our professors all supply a "bibliographie" with a neverending list of "suggested" readings, but everyone tells me that no one reads them. So for now I just look over my notes when I get home and call it good.

Used to studying non-stop and scheduling every minute of my day at U-M, now that I have more time, I actually do fun things during the week. Or really, I just go to the bar and hang out, because there's not much else to do here at night. On the way home from the Woohoo Monday, Amanda and I felt a little hungry and discovered that Pizza Capri, our favorite pizza place, is open late. This isn't your average college-town latenight pizza, though. It's delicious, cheap, and delicious. So is the 24 hour boulangerie that we recently discovered. For a euro or two, you can buy a baguette, croissant, turnover, cookie, and numerous other delicious delicacies any hour of the day or night. Although there may come a time this semester when I crave some BTB or Pizza House at three in the morning, Pizza Capri is much better than the Back Room, and I don't think you can ever beat a 24 hour boulangerie.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Here are some pictures of the trip to Monaco.

can't think of a clever title

It's Sunday afternoon and I just had a drink named after me. Mom, dad, don't worry. I don't usually drink on Sunday afternoons-- I'm in a bar that has free wifi (one of the only places with free wifi, actually), and I had to buy something to use the internet, so I ordered a mocha with Bailey's. Except apparently the French don't drink that, and it took a while to explain what I wanted. The bartender named my "new" concoction the "Erin," so here I am, sipping myself and speaking franglais with the bartender and the seven or so other American students crammed into this tiny bar.

Yesterday a bunch of us took a bus to Monaco for the day. It was nice to get out of Aix and see some of the Provence countryside, but Monaco itself was a little bit disappointing. For a city-state of 5000 people, I suppose it couldn't have been too exciting. It's definitely a ritzy place, and beautiful: I took a lot of pictures which I'll try to post. We toured the old city and walked around Monte Carlo, and checked out the Ferraris, Porches, and other various fancy cars that littered the streets.

My favorite part about the trip was actually the ride back. We stopped in a small town on the Mediterranean which is home to a "parfumerie." We toured the perfume factory and tried out some samples. I may or may not have bought some French perfume. (It was at factory price, so why not?)

Friday, January 15, 2010

La pétanque

Another beautiful day in Aix...well actually we haven't had too many of those. But today is perfect. I think the weatherman said it was either 7 or 11 degrees Celsius. I never did learn how to convert temperatures, but it feels like March in Michigan when the snow melts and all you need is a light coat. Luckily, the little snow we had here melted immediately. I went for a run with a friend this afternoon, in true American style, and discovered a really nice park that reminds me of the Arb. Aix really is like the French version of Ann Arbor: same nice park, same population, same ridiculous prices.

As I was walking to the office to write this today, I walked by another park and noticed a group of old French men playing the national game of France, pétanque. It's the French equivalent of Bocce ball (which I love) so I really wanted to join them, but there didn't seem to be too many women around and I figured I should probably just keep walking. Maybe I can find some younger people to play with me...

The reason I'm lazing around on a Friday is because I decided not to schedule any classes today. I'm hoping to travel a little on some long weekends, and not having class Friday comes in handy when I stay out late Thursday night and don't wake up until noon the next day. Last night my school had a soiree to celebrate the end of exams, foreigners, and anything else that might make a person happy. It was a masked ball and they bused us out to a club on the outskirts of the town. The French students all looked immaculate, of course. I appreciate that French boys actually know how to dance, too. American guys could take a lesson or two from them.

Most of the night I hung out with the other foreign kids, and it was strange to be the weird group that doesn't fit in. We clearly weren't French, so the other students didn't really talk to us much, but it was tons of fun nonetheless. Dancing to Grease and 90s American hip hop is apparently very popular here, so the musical experience was also a bit strange.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

American students are spoiled

After two "full" days of classes in a French institution, I've begun to realize how spoiled American students are. There are no powerpoints here. For my "france in the world" class, I arrived late, because I couldn't find the classroom. That's because the building is crazy and you have to go outside and inside a couple of times, up and down stairs, and do a few more tricks before finding the right room. Yesterday a huge group of foreign students who didn't know where to go went up and down the same flight of stairs at least four times, because people kept pointing us in different directions. Oh la la!

Anyway, when I finally arrived in my first big lecture class, I was late and the professor had already started talking. He speaks very softly and mumbles, even with a microphone, so I didn't catch much. For an hour straight, he mumbled on about how powerful France is, and threw in a few names of authors, wrote some key words on the board. And then he said we could take a break, which I misunderstood because I was so lost, and thought the class ended an hour early. So I gathered up my things and started leaving, and then realized no one else was leaving. So I sat back down and asked my friend what was going on. We compared our notes, which consisted of a few words and a lot of "in 1997, _____ (??? Qu'est que c'est? Check later.)" Then the prof started rambling again and I tried to listen harder, without success. My concentration was made worse by the fact that there was a pair of pigeons camping out in the roof, and their cooing was a wee bit distracting.

To my dismay, the next day I had another class with the same professor in the same room. That may be changing, because I don't know if I can endure four hours a week of pigeons and mumbling.

Lectures in France definitely are different in the US, and it's going to take a long time to get used to it. American students who complain when their professor doesn't post all of the lecture slides on Ctools before class should try taking a class in France.

Although my spoken French is improving and I can understand everyday transactions, my comprehension of oral French is horrible. I learned this not only in class, but the other night when I (mistakenly) attended a Catholic mass. The Program Director told us that the Catholic church puts on a dinner for foreign students every Tuesday night, so we decided to check it out. I thought it was at 8, but everyone else thought it was at 7, so we arrived at "le Cave" at 7 pm. We smelled food and walked downstairs into a room that literally is a cave (there are a lot of places like that here). The woman told us that dinner didn't start until 8 but that we should go upstairs for "la masse." But we didn't understand what she said and thought she wanted us to go upstairs to the "mezz" (as in mezzanine), possibly for some appetizers, we hoped. So the four or five of us, all Americans, not all Catholic, trudged upstairs and walked into a small chapel, where mass was clearly about to begin. There were maybe ten other people there and it would have been rude to leave, so we sat down and attended mass. Since I'm Catholic and I haven't gone to church here yet, I was fine with it. And then I realized that it would be (of course) in French, and that I didn't know any of the responses. Or the songs.

Until this point, it hadn't really hit me that I was in a foreign country, where people grow up speaking a completely different language. This sounds silly, but it was hard to grasp the concept that not everyone in the world says the Our Father in English. "Amen" is the same, but that's about it. I'll have to explore some of the other churches here and try to learn how to respond in French.

After mass, we went downstairs and ate dinner, which was very leisurely, in true French fashion. We started with a vegetable soup, and wondered if that was all we would eat, but they were just waiting until everyone had had their fill of soup before moving on to the next course, some kind of delicious pasta. For dessert we had giant slices of King Cake, also delicious. While we were eating all of this, however, pieces of the ceiling kept falling in the food. A thumb-sized rock actually fell in my friend's pasta. That was a shock. In the US, this would have been disgusting, but in Aix, everything is so old that pieces of the ceiling falling in your food, or sand dusting the table, isn't all that bad.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sales and Shoes

I feel like the only thing I've done since coming to France is shop. The January sales in Aix are amazing, and dangerous. Virtually everything is at least half off, and I've already exchanged a few euros for some new boots, a jacket, a purse, and some other essentials. Now maybe if I don't open my mouth, I can blend in a little bit more.

It snowed this weekend and half of the stores closed down. The Aixois seem to have some strange fear of snow. It's been fun explaining to them that I come from a much colder place where we like snow. (I get weird looks when I say that.) Talking about snow usually leads to a conversation about where I come from, where I explain that I'm not from New York or California, and although I live in Detroit, I don't live anywhere near Detroit when I'm not at school. The other night, when talking to some French guys for about five hours, I actually whipped out the "Michigan hands" and pointed out where I live and go to school. And it took a lot of broken English, French, and a cell phone distance converter to explain that the two hands/peninsulas are not connected, the Mackinac Bridge is really long, and the upper hand/UP is NOT Canada.

Today I was supposed to have class, and I walked all the way there, sat in an empty classroom for twenty minutes with a few other students, and realized that class had been canceled. I guess the predictable thing about the French is that they are unpredictable.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Hello friends and family! I'm safe and sound in Aix-en-Provence, France and figure this would be the best way to let you all know what I'm doing here. I don't have internet in my apartment, but I do at school, so once classes start hopefully I'll be able to post more. So far I haven't taken any pictures because I'm afraid to look like a crazy American tourist. Clearly, no matter what I do I can't avoid that, so soon I'll be stealthily whipping out the camera and taking pictures of this beautiful city.

Just to recap the past week, I made it to Aix without any problems and successfully had a French conversation with the customs officer in Marseille about why I didn't need to talk to him. That boosted my confidence enough that I decided to forgo an expensive taxi ride and take the bus to Aix. I saved a lot of money doing that and got a great look at the countryside. I was surprised to see that there's still green grass here. The landscape is very shrubby, and the buildings have that pretty orangey glow so it looks like it's always sunny, even when it's not. The city of Aix is also beautiful with lots of really small winding streets. I've been lost about three times already, and the streets aren't very well marked, so I'll probably get lost a lot more for a while. Luckily, it's a small city, so getting lost isn't too terrible.

I live a few blocks outside of the 'centre ville' in the less ritzy part of the town. I share a room with a girl from Indiana, Amanda, and we rent a room from an older lady's apartment. There is also a French student and a French professor renting a room, and when we have meals together every night it makes for interesting conversation. (Although mostly it's just Amanda and I trying to keep up with the others). The apartment isn't much, but it's cheaper than the other homestays and we get breakfast and dinner, so I'm not complaining.

So far I've only been hanging out with the other Americans in my program, being loud and smiling too much. I start classes on Monday, though, and I've met some students from other countries in the same school, so hopefully I'll get to hang out with them more.

Some "cultural differences" I've encountered so far:

1. The sales tax is ridiculously high in France at something like 20%, but it's included in the price, so buying something for 10 euro is actually 10 euro and it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

2. Electricity is expensive, so they save electricity by turning off the lights and taking very short showers. However, in my house apparently this also means not keeping the fridge at a very cold temperature, and my roommate and I are a little wary of things that come out of it.

3. Food. Actually, it's not that different from what I'm used to eating, except everything is really really good. Particularly the meat. Each dinner we've had so far we have eaten excellent meat, with more flavor than anything i've had in the US. Maybe there's something to be said for not loading your livestock with antibiotics...just a thought.

4. Yes, the French really are "cold." But I'm finding myself quite at home in a place where its not expected to be super bubbly and friendly to everyone you meet. Americans really are loud, too. And we travel in herds, taking up the only big table at every cafe we enter. In contrast, the French seem to walk in groups of two or three and whisper to each other when they walk down the street. I like their reserve, probably since I'm so reserved myself.

5. Plumbing. The first day I was here, I didn't go to the bathroom because I didn't know how. Or rather where. Amanda and I asked Madame how to use the bedet and she laughed at us, the "silly Americans." And then she walked away. Eventually we worked up the courage to ask her again, but we still didn't know how to 'go # 2." Turns out there is a separate room for the toilet, including toilet paper. Who would've thought?

6. Dating. French men really are persistant. And beautiful. Some friends and I went to an Irish pub last night (there seem to be a lot of those in Aix) and we couldn't help pointing out all of the beautiful specimens of male that walked by. And then the server told us that we were Amazon women because we looked like we would cut the heads off the men. Or the men would cut our head off. Either way, it was funny.

I have to go. I can only sit in an internet cafe so long before the server starts giving me pointed looks that I should vacate the table. Which is a big table of course because i'm in a group. More will come soon, I hope.