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.