Journals from AUCP Aix-en-Provence
2008-04-21 No More Roses
This is about to get graphic. If you are light of heart or not interested in intimate details, stop reading now. Ready? Good.
I am in a really bad mood. Up until now everything has been beautifully rose-colored but the predicted initial angsty-loathing-homesickness has set in. Im on my period, I have a yeast infection, and my skin is worse than it was in 7th grade for no apparent reason. I cant understand French pharmacy stuff, I cant flush tampons, and I cant do my own laundry because only a trained engineer could understand French washing machines. Needless to say, I have a rather persistent sensation of perpetual gooiness. Plus, I walk a lot more, mostly uphill, and I sweat. AND Im expected not to take seven showers a day, which is a wasteful and terribly American but rather effective way of coping. So instead, I went and got a fresh carrot juice and a Nutella crepe. Its a weird craving but terribly satisfying. So Its not that I want to be home, its that I dont particularly want to be here.
Ive cheated. Ive been speaking English. Not too much, but once you start its really hard to stop. Its funny, the girls say Im a different person in English and that my voice is completely different in French. I think theyre probably right. I think that applies to just about everyone who speaks different languages. Its also really hard to bond with people in a foreign language. Culture has such a huge resonance in language, and when you develop your own speech pattern and personal style of speech, you imply a whole lifetime of cultural influence and origin that people can pick up and connect with. In three weeks, Ive spent a significant amount of time with these girls but one night speaking in English cemented a friendship. I dont think Ill ever stop being aware of what I say now. And Im learning to pick up cultural cues in French, but I dont know where my niche is in French language/culture. How do I convey my personality effectively and culturally equivalent in a foreign language? Thats a whopper of a question If you have the answer, please feel free to enlighten me.
Ive become very aware of how the French, or Europeans for that matter, use space. They are terribly efficient. Justin and I had this conversation about foreign energy. His observation was light = money = power. Its all necessary and consumable. This isnt really news, but it is so obvious here that people are aware of the impact they have on the earth. It makes it that much more obvious how much Americans abuse resources and misuse space in the name of liberty. Its my right to drive the biggest, most inefficient, useless, display of status car that I want on a road built to accommodate it in an area that can no longer be used for agriculture because of the smog. Get a reality check. Its not like people dont live comfortably AND efficiently. They are not mutually exclusive. But it means change and people fear change. Cool. Go America.
On the upside, I love my theatre teacher. I think hes really cool and terribly funny. And its like learning a whole different set of cultural references for the same information. Its nice to know the answer and compare approaches. I think the other girls are intimidated by him, because one of them asked me if it was normal to have someone correct your pronunciation like he does. I resisted the urge to smack her upside the head and scream, youre speaking a foreign language of which he is a master, of course hes going to correct your pronunciation! Its true that he does come off a bit bold, but thats a dual cultural difference (for the shy girl whos never taken theatre and for the American in a French classroom). Hes definitely more focused on farce and big physical comedy (where I tend to be shy and inhibited), so I hope that I can push my limits a little bit. And the class is from 9am to noon, which would normally make me complain, but as soon as we get going I forget. As I told Didier, normally Im not in class all day like I am here so Im just fatigued at the end of the day. But if I have class all day back home, its theatre, and Ive found that I actually like theatre and look forward to those classes " I know youre all surprised. So, my theatre class is the beacon in my week. Unfortunately, its really hard to get involved in local theatres, and I havent worked it out yet.
We went out to a club the other night thats a basement of a building downtown. This is not your average basement. This is more along the lines of 18th century cellar. Its all stone with low, rounded ceilings, with three or four rooms that were joined but fairly separate. Theres the bar, then some seating and a small stage for a band in the next room, then a cozy seating area with a coat check and the mens restroom at the back, then a dark dance floor with a DJ in the next room. When we got there at 11:45, with Pierre as our guide, it was at about capacity and just about right in atmosphere. This is nothing, he said. Wait until 12:15 when the band starts playing. He took us to meet the owner and oriented us to the ladies room and the coat check. Better go now " while you can still move. And he was SO right! Its about a step above a sardine can. Apparently Pierre knew the owner, so he introduced us. What a character he was. Short and fit for a middle-aged guy, our proprietor was rather fond of young women. Apparently, he used to be a professor, and now he runs nightclubs " hmmmmm. After he invited me to drink champagne, I escaped to the ladies room then found Pierre. He said it was nothing shady, the guy was just a flirt. Nonetheless, something wasnt right, so I stuck to Pierre and the girls. Pierre and I kept to the cover band that played everything from French love songs to Matchbox Twenty and Alanis Morissette. I gotta say, I was rather impressed.
Meanwhile, Corrie grew tired of the crowd (and the place was PACKED) and went home and Cibyl and Leslie kept mostly to the dance floor. Cibyl did some cultural research on French romantic relations and body language in crowded and noisy clubs while Pierre gave me a mini-lesson on how to tell the difference between the good kind of French boys and the bad kind. He says that the kind that try to pick you up, follow you around, and treat you like youre easy are the bad kind (though Cibyl might disagree), then the kind that strike up a conversation but dont try to follow you home are the good kind. So basically, the only difference from the United States is that its socially acceptable for a girl to accept the offer for the one night stand. To be completely honest, the crowded, hot, smelly club is not really my thing. I greatly prefer a place where both dance and conversation are possible.
The following day, I went with Pierre and Laetitia to the mall and discovered that they are mine and Justins doppelgangers. Its more than a little bit weird. Laetitia and I have the same taste in just about everything and Justin and Pierre are so much alike its frightening. And it just makes me miss him more.
Im really looking forward to the vacation next week. Im going to the Spanish border and Carcassonne with my host family, then the second weekend were going to Monaco to visit the Moms brother. Apparently were doing some big shopping at the Spanish border because its cheaper there, and Barcelona will follow later. I plan to spend my week reading, painting, and going to museums. This also involves sitting in cafes and ogling waiters.