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.