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2008-09-22 Malentendus

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The Summit of St. Victoire with my host parents, Emily, and Hannah

In our classes at the AUCP this past week, we have been discussing "malentendus" - misunderstandings which more specifically involve some mishap with the differences in language or culture. These darn little malentendus pop up all over the place here, like pesky mosquitos that creep into your sleeping bag during the night and leave you scratching a red bump in the morning. One such incident occured this week, when I was eating dinner with my language partner (the AUCP requires us to meet weekly with a local French student, in order to speak one hour in English and one hour in French.) We ordered pizzas, which are quite light and thin and unlike the pizzas in the States. Mine was big, so I jokingly told my partner I would have to take some home for breakfast the next day. I laughed. He looked at me in confusion and smiled perplexedly. When the waiter came, I asked for a doggy bag to take the rest with me. "I don't know what you are talking about," the waiter said. I looked sadly at my pizza and realized I woulnd't be able to take it with me. My professor in our Cultural Patterns class said that this situation occurred because the French don't have doggy bags. One does not go out to a restaurant for the food; one goes for the experience. It's the atmosphere, rather than the food, that is the most important part. I, the greedy little American used to hoarding my things like a squirrel, did not know this. Speaking of food: gelato, warm crepes with Nutella, baguettes with chevre (goat cheese) and tartines with fig jam and ham quiche and smooth caramelly chocolate from Switzerland and fresh peaches and apples from the outdoor market and fresh salads with champignons (mushrooms) and pain du chocolat and croissants... Yesterday was Sunday, and my host family took Emily, Hannah, and me to St. Victoire - the mountain near Aix that frequents many Cezanne paintings. "It's not too hard of a hike," said my host dad. "Just bring water and a pack and good walking shoes." Thus begins another malentendu... We took off at the foot of the mountain quite cheerfully, walking alongside a lake with the clearest water I've ever seen, which is apparently where our drinking water comes from. In the distance stood a gray, ominous looking rocky crag, rising up to a sharp point high into the sky, where we could see the outline of a cross. "That's incredible!" I said. "That's where we're headed," my host dad said. Emily and Hannah and I looked at each other and giggled nervously. "Ok, right," I said, smiling and nodding. I didn't really udnerstand what he had said, but I've discovered sometimes the best thing to do is to simply smile and nod and scramble to figure out what is actually happening later. Two hours later, we discovered that, no, really - we're headed to the pointy craggy top of this mountain, up a trail that mainly requires leaping from rock to rock like frogs leaping across lilypads in a pond. Evidently, I had misunderstood the meaning of a lovely Sunday trip to the mountain. The French, by the way, don't believe in switchbacks. Reaching the summit was so worth it, however. There was a giant cross, and a paritally abandoned, lonely little church, and my host parents had packed a delicious picnic lunch for us of bauguettes and cheese and pt and fruit and chocolate. My dad busted out a bottle of wine to "celebrate" our victory of reaching the summit. We brought along Vodka, by the way, the little dog, and she nearly crumbled with exhaustion by the time we took a break for lunch at the top. She hopefully sniffed my cup of wine, but I thought that would have been a horrid idea. The way back down was also quite an adventure, sliding down the rocks and hopping from one to another with very little control over where we landed. My favorite part was when I looked back to see Emily behind me, scooting down a particularly steep descent on her bottom. This past Saturday, all the museums in Aix were free, because of the Jour de Patrimoine. We visited the art museam and were able to see some of the works of Cezanne, Picasso, and Granet, of whom I'd never heard before. Now I think he is one of my favorite painters! It is so hard to describe the feeling of seeing these famous paintings, studying the settings, and realizing, "Wait a minute...I live here!" Friday night I went on a glorious bike ride through the country surrounding my house. Afterwards, my host dad came home from work and declared ebulliently, "It's the weekend! Time to party!" We ate dinner together, and I watched France's version of American Idol with my little sister. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time. This weekend marked the end of our first week of class. We have so much free time here to wander around the city exploring hidden corners, to gaze at the expensive clothing shops longingly, to stroll down the rows of venders on the market days, breathing in the fresh spices. This week, however, was difficult in some ways that the first week wasn't. I felt more tired, a bit more overwhelmed with things, a bit more frustrated with the language and not being able to fully express myself right on the spot, without having to search through a dictionary while my host family waits patiently, or repeating stupidly "Um...uh...um...you know...when you take the thing over to that one place...um...what's it called?..um...shoot." I think the first week was easier in a way because I was still so overjoyed to just be in France. Any interaction I had with someone in French was something to celebrate, no matter how simple. Now, I'm past the simple interactions and really want to just be myself again. I've never before realized how much I rely on words to get to know others and let them get to know me. Still, I feel like our classes are relating really well to our daily communication necessities. I love all my professors, and I am reminding myself to take one thing at a time. I'm celebrating the little things. For instance, today I figured out how to check my voicemails on my French cellphone. Magnifique!

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