Just Be Nice

If you’ve ever tried, I mean really tried, to learn a language, this probably doesn’t apply to you. If you’ve ever tried to master that “r” roll or learn the subtle phonetic differences between “fait” and “fée”, then you wouldn’t need this reminder.

I wouldn’t think anyone would need it, but as it turns out, there are those who are so secure in their own sense of importance and belonging that they feel they have the right to look down on and mock others who aren’t quite as “native” as they are. Although I have a theory that it’s not their security that pushes them to assert themselves this way, but rather their lack there of. No, I can’t take credit for that theory. Everyone knows people who put other people down only do it to build themselves up. That doesn’t come from a place of confidence or self-love.

Today I was walking to class when I was accosted by some mec who wanted to sell me some damn foie gras. (Okay, already the answer is no. Try selling croissants next time, buddy.)

Excusez-moi, on est pressées,” I said. “Sorry, we’re in a hurry.”

That’s fair, right? This is a college campus, and not even the sprawling, multifaceted, UT type. Virtually everyone within these gates are in class or on their way there; and surprise, I’m one of them. Also sorry (not sorry) but.. I don’t want your damn goose paste! (Terminology compliments of Sally Buice.) I’m all about gastronomical, cultural immersion, but I think I’ll just run and get a crêpe, or some coffee, maybe those croissants I mentioned earlier, instead. Maybe I’m alone in this, but in my opinion, there are many ways to experience the la cuisine française without eating the liver of the fattest goose on the farm. And before you go accusing me of ethnocentrism, I would say the same thing regarding southern dining and giblets. It just ain’t necessary, y’all. Also, for the record, I ate two snails in the name of cultural assimilation. So there.

You may be asking yourself: What does this have to do with learning a second language? Or were we talking about bullies and self confidence? Wait, did you say goose liver? What’s going on here??

All valid questions.

It all comes together with what followed my response to this young man’s attempt at selling me the organ of a fat bird in a form which is way too similar to cat food.

……..He made fun of me!

Unknown

Can you believe it? He mocked my accent (Or maybe my word choice?) as I was walking away. It wasn’t in good fun either. Believe me, I could tell. Either way, I realize this isn’t a heart-breaking or life-shattering occurrence.

“Didn’t you say you were getting tougher over there?” you might ask. “Didn’t you say you weren’t letting things get you down anymore?”

Astute observation, and more excellent questions! (The audience that I imagine to read these blogs is very observant, not to mention great in numbers and supportive and receptive to my profound thoughts and feelings. They also think I’m cool and pretty.)

It’s true couple months ago something like this would have resulted in tears as opposed to me giving him the finger as I walked away, which I may or may not have done. But it’s not so much how much or little this guy affected me as it is the principle of the thing.

I mean, first of all, WHO THE HECK MOCKS THE CUTE FOREIGN GIRL TRYING REAL HARD TO LEARN YOUR LANGUAGE? I’ve never seen anything like it. Lord help the sucker who tries that on someone else back at home if I’m around. I’m not confident in my ability to tear someone apart with my French words, but I sure can do it with my English ones. I’m also a black belt. Watch. Out.

Secondly, there’s a lot wrong with my French. I have the vocabulary of a person half my age, my grip on French grammar is less-than-parfait, and as far as my accent is concerned, I’m far from being mistaken for a native French speaker. (Except when I’m speaking Spanish. That’s not a joke.) But among those problems, my accent is the least pressing. My accent is not the thing that makes me seize up when I try to start a conversation or respond in one that’s already started. It’s something I’ll probably always work on, but it’s not high on my list on insecurities.

.. But what if it was?

This guy has clearly never been abroad. This guy have never put himself out there trying to learn to speak the language that virtually every person in the country has been speaking their whole lives. This guy is the snarky representation of the stereotype that keeps Americans from coming to France. It’s what makes them speak in English instead of learning the basics and working through a coffee shop encounter in a language that isn’t their own. I don’t pretend that’s the only reason. People are lazy and self-centered. But I imagine one key factor is the fear of sounding like a fool in front of people who won’t be so understanding. It’s a fear which is essential to let go of when you’re learning a language, if you hope to get very far. And it’s a fear that is not baseless. Sometimes you’ll confuse the word for condom with the word for preservatives. You’ll literally say the exact opposite of what you’re trying to say because the words for “buy” and “sell” are linked in your mind. It’s bound to happen, and you can’t take it too personally when people laugh.

It’s funny when you mix up the words condom and preservatives.

It just is.

Others finding humor in your mistakes is natural, and it takes the pressure off if you laugh along.

But you just CAN’T mock a person, especially when you’re trying to sell them something.

That’s just bad business, am I right?

And it’s rude.

And it’s mean.

So just don’t do it.

I don’t know, I guess that’s all.

Just be nice.

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Southern Belle

5 reasons France has made me more of a Tennessean than I’ve ever been:

1.) I started watching “Nashville”.
2.) ^ This has caused a serious increase in the severity of my southern accent. (When I’m not speaking French, of course. I hope.)
3.) I kept up with the UT-Florida game online while it was going on and was genuinely sad when we lost.
4.) I’ve sung every verse of a banjo-accompanied Rocky Top (compliments of Sally Buice).
5.) Today in my translation class for Anglophones, when searching for an idiomatic equivalent of a French phrase about doing two things at once, I said, “Well back in Tennessee, we’d say he’s tryin’ to ride two horses with one ass!”

…I didn’t mean to come to France and propagate the southern stereotype. But…

Life is like a box of chocolates, am I right?

Rocky Top

A Dumbfounding Night

I’ll start this off by saying of course we missed the last tram.

I’ll clarify by saying that the schedule on line said that we had over an hour before the last tram was supposed to arrive and we only missed the one that ended up being the last by about 3 minutes.

………………of course.

After a really exceedingly cool street performance festival (No, it was really, really, really cool. AND FREE!!), two among us were feeling rather tired and the others were not quite ready for the night to end. Normally I’d be a part of the former pair, but the stars were aligned and the Jewish hip hop concert (seriously) had me fired up even more than the fire-tango performance (yep), BMX infused contemporary dance (yyyyep), or tight-rope walkers on a moving bus surrounded by fire (….) that proceeded it.

Welcome to France.

The sensible ones worried the tram might not run late, but my friend, let’s call her Schmorla, was SURE they would come. I mean Schmorla was down right positive. And I didn’t see why they wouldn’t so we stayed for a while and finished our.. beverages.. and headed out a little before one. Remember the tram runs until 2!

As we walked towards the tram stop, Schmorla suddenly stops and her mouth hangs open as she stares into the distance. I still cackle when I think what her face looked like in that moment. A bit like this, in fact:

shock1

“What’s wrong with you?” I said.

Service……………..Terminé,” she said, dumbfounded. (I think you can probably guess what those words mean, even if you are just an anglophone. 😉 )

I was confused until I looked where her gaze fell, and sure enough, each space that should have displayed the approximate arrival time of a tram instead said in no uncertain terms that we were walking home.

Like I mentioned in my previous (and admittedly rather bleak) blog, we’ve all become accustomed to these types of mishaps, so our responses were less severe than the situation might have called for. We laughed. No, I think the word is guffawed. We sat on the ground and guffawed until we mustered the courage to stand up and follow the tracks for what ended up being our four hour journey home.

Here are a few happenings and mis-happenings that followed, in no particular order.

• To set the scene: The square in the very heart of Montpellier takes on a new shape at night. It’s a fuzzy and oddly enticing shape that’s slightly reminiscent of a scene from some post-apocalyptic film where everyone is forced to drink wine instead of water because the pipes have stopped running. Really, that’s not that far from the truth. Think: the pink elephant scene from Dumbo.

• When walking through the city center, we finally got to check out the Seuss-inspired playground, as there weren’t any slow-moving children to get in our way or parents to judge us for being there. Believe me, this is something I’d been wanting to do since I first laid eyes on the thing. It wasn’t totally empty, though, as there were a couple of mecs (that’s guys to you anglophones) that were sitting on top of the slide, smoking something.. questionable.

Anyhoo, through a certain amount of exploration and experimentation we found out… this was a MuSiCaL park! With giant tin drums you can climb on that produce different pitches, and a secret message sender (basically a glorified tin-can-on-a-string type deal), and all types of things to bang and crash! I guarantee the kids who get to play there in the daylight (sans odd looks or judgement) don’t know what they’ve got.

• Another couple of mecs approached us and after a tedious conversation where they tried to ascertain whether or not our French was good enough for them to make their “proposal”, they explained that they “simplement cherchent deux filles qui voudraient faire l’amour”. (You might not know “faire l’amour” and if not, I’ll leave it to google to translate that one. They needn’t have worried, though, because we didn’t need the google to understand their intentions.)

These are people we met in the street! No, I think “meet” is actually too intimate a word for what transpired. They didn’t even ask our names for crying out loud. Sigh.

Well. At least they’re honest. We told them sorry, but they’d better keep looking. “Bonne chance!” we said. Good luck!

(I want to point out that they actually had the audacity to look as dumbfounded as Schmorla had, as if they hadn’t even considered the possibility that we might not want to faire l’amour with them that night. What even. Honestly.)

• We saw a conglomerate of hooligans perched on top of the fountain which you might have noticed featured in front of a lovely blue sky in my photo album on Facebook. You ain’t never seen it like this though. I’ll just say that not everyone found it to be necessary to wear pants (or underpants) while climbing a fountain at 4AM in downtown Montpellier.

Maybe it’s not.

I wouldn’t know.

• We saw at least 9 cats. We asked one if we could stop walking and sleep with him for the night. He responded (in a French accent of course) “Humm, Aye do not know, because aye am a cat. I wheel half to sink about eet.”

..Cats are the same wherever you go.

•There was a makeshift soccer game happening in the square. Somehow the ball made its way over to us. We kicked it back and one of the players kicked it back to us and said something we couldn’t understand. We looked down at it for a few seconds, not sure what to do with the ball sitting expectantly between us or the boy standing expectantly a few feet away. Just then, Orla.. whoops I mean Schmorla.. decidedly kicked it in the opposite direction and kept walking. Just another priceless dumbfounded expression to add to the list. (That’s number three, if you’re keeping track.)

• We broke down the lyrics to “My Favorite Things.” Maybe it was just the 4:30AM giggles, but hearing the lyrics through the ears of someone who’s never heard them before… well it is a bit of a silly song. It took about 15 minutes to get through the whole thing because Shmorla kept repeating each line incredulously and laughing uncontrollably. No seriously. Every. Line.

“WHISKERS on kit- on- on- ON KITTENS???….

CREAM COLORED PONIES AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA….

….Copper kettles and mittens, what kind of a life does this woman have??”

“Well, she was a nun before she started babysitting those 8 kids. So she was pretty sheltered, I’d say.”

“…. Wait, what?”

“Uhm, I don’t know. It’s based on a true story what takes place in Nazi occupied Austria and that family ended up escaping into the mountains and becoming a band together or something.”

“..what?”

“…………Nevermind.”


NEXT TIME, on Ambling Abroad:

Flash Floods in the south of France: could it be any wetter?

UFOs: is that a thing? (spoiler alert, it’s totally a thing)

Wondering about some aspect of my stay here in particular? Think it’ll make for a good story? Let me know! I will either answer you directly, or make you wait approximately two weeks for a blog concerning the subject.

Clean Sheets and Control

Arguably the calmest I’ve been since I arrived here was about two weeks in, after having done laundry for the first time. My sheets are fresh from the laverie, my clothes are still warm from their 2 euro drying (not to mention clean from their 4 euro washing), and I’ve stocked my fridge with food for the week. My bed is made, my room is clean, my dishes are done… I like to sometimes treat myself to the illusion that I have some type of control here.

Here it feels like every molehill actually is a mountain, like everyone else is skipping along while I trudge through quicksand. I’ve never seen myself as a pessimist, but I’ve definitely begun to anticipate the slip-ups and missteps; and not necessarily in a way that makes me more able to handle them when they come. Only that now, they surprise me less and less. I’m laughing it off and chalking it up to just being part of the “abroad experience”. It’s building character, it’s making my skin thicker, it’s making me more able to defend myself and then recover.

…..But debatably better than all of that would be if things just came easily, if I could get through just one day with out shaking my head saying “Of course.”

Of course this class is full.

Of course I have to start from scratch on my schedule again

                                                                                        and again

                                                                                               and again.

Of course you won’t break my fifty euro note.

                                                        Or my twenty.

                                                                  Or my ten.

                                                                       OR my five.

Like, I’m sorry but do you want my money or not? Maybe I’m too right wing for these hippies (something I’ve never been accused of before), but I’m used to people having enough cash in their registers to change my ten euro note for my four euro purchase. If I had the correct change I would give it to you, but what do you have in that drawer, cigarettes and fancy cheese? Honestly.

Of course you’re closing early.

Of course you’re opening late.

Of course there won’t be wifi for my first (and debatably hardest) two weeks here.

Okay yeah that’s fine, it’s not like that’s my only way to contact those humans who actually care if I live or die, who happen to be AN OCEAN away.. Take your time with that.

Of course the bike I bought isn’t allowed in the gates of our little village of dorms, and of course my friend’s wheel got stolen when she left it outside.

There’s a bike garage that any student who lives in the cité universitaire can enter with their scannable.. key.. thing. It’s “under video surveillance”, but when she went to ask what can be done about the theft, we were informed that those cameras are basically poorly chosen decorative ornaments AKA completely useless.

Of course the lady driving the bus took my money, but didn’t give me a ticket.

When I realized, I decided to ask her for it as I was getting off, sure she’d simply forgotten and that she would remember having taken my money 15 minutes before.

“Madame, est-ce que je peux avoir le ticket? Je crois que vous avez oublié de me le donner avant, mais j’en ai besoin afin de prendre le tram maintenant.”

{“Ma’am, could I have my ticket? I think you forgot to give it to me before, but I need it now to take the tram”}

Her reply?

“Non, c’était pas moi.”

{No, that wasn’t me.}

………WHAT? BIEN SÛR c’était toi, who else could it possibly have been? It didn’t happen yesterday, we didn’t (that I know of) drive through a rip in the time-space continuum… You were sitting in the very seat where you are now seated, wearing the same uniform and the same FACE for goodness sake, when you took my money and directed me onto the bus. And now you want to claim that that was YOUR EVIL TWIN or some other nonsense? LIKE WHAT??? 10 points for taking 2 euro from the helpless American girl, hope you’re proud.

I could go on forever and at some point I probably will, but I just took a melatonin tablet (jet lag is real) and I’m going to try to hit the hay before 4 AM tonight. I promise good things are happening (Irish friends, trips to the mediterranean, circus festivals, banjos and harmonies, baguettes, really old stuff, an unexpected friend from home, sunsets, etc.) along with a few more bad. But for now: my sheets are clean, the weather is cooling down, and my oddly shaped, university-issued pillow is calling my name.

~Good night, friends.~


NEXT TIME on Ambling Abroad

Hitchhiking: does it count if you didn’t put your thumb out?

Missing the tram: things you accidentally see when you walk through the city at 4AM.

Little Octopus Salad: fact or fiction? (spoiler alert, it’s fact)

Boys: are the French ones just as gross? (spoiler alert, yep)

Bursting the Proverbial Bubble

So yeah. I’m going to France.

….#Butwhydoe?

One thing pulls me to this adventure more than anything else. It took a fair amount of time before I even realized or understood what I was feeling, what the force was that inched me closer and closer to the edge of this small but substantial piece of my life that will likely be beautifully and uniquely, erm, terrifying.

I feel an obligation both to myself and to the self who I used to be. (Yes, we’re diving right into deep end of the nostalgia swimming pool.)

I used to be a (seriously cute) kid that went to camp every summer for weeks at a time wondering what homesickness felt like and why some kids would go to bed crying for families left behind. I used to be a fearless eleven year old who flew off to Australia for a few weeks without looking back. I used to be a sixteen year old who would head to New Zealand with a couple choice amigos, sleeping on pebble beaches (FYI pebbles are rocks. 4/10– would not recommend.) or off the side of whatever road we happened to end our day on (–information that should be withheld from motherly influences until a sufficient amount has passed. There’s a statute of limitations on post-event anger/punishment, you know.). My old self might have flown off with a certain friend of mine to “settle down” (if you can call it that, which you can’t) in Europe with very little hesitation or forethought.

I used to be adventurous.

Now I’m twenty years old, but feeling more and more middle aged every day. Maybe it’s my endless maturity that keeps me so grounded. (That’s a joke.) Maybe it’s a newly developed fear of the unknown that keeps me in my safe little environment. That’s slightly more likely, considering the seizable pit of anticipation that’s been growing in my stomach since about a week ago. Maybe it’s the fact that I pretended to get married the other day, so now I’m facing a premature post-marital complacency. (That’s a joke, too, although I do want to point out to those who missed the memo that I am NOT married despite photographic, admittedly misleading evidence to the contrary.)

Me pretending to be a bride in order to promote my mother’s farm as a wedding venue. Oh, and Connor in a bow tie.

I do think, though, that it could be the warm and lovely contentedness that has recently settled inside me. I think it may be the happy and perfect little bubble I find myself in, one which I’m unwilling to pop.

And yeah… Why would I? I love this life. I’m calm and content. Who would be crazy enough to question or throw away wonderful feelings like those in search of something…. what? Better? More exciting? Like, “ugh, I’m too happy let’s stir things up a bit.” ????  Here and now I have very few worries and am surrounded and supported by people who know and love me (and holy cow do I love them back). It’s not crowded, but it’s somehow full, with no empty spaces to fill.

That being said, I still find myself feeling obligated and even yearning to burst my beautiful bubble that’s formed around me and pursue the faint shadow of blossoming possibility lingering across the atlantic (Poetic, aren’t I?). Because as happy and lovely and every other sunshiny adjective a bubble might be, it’s still a bubble. You can’t just live in a bubble. (Unless you’re that kid from Seinfeld, but he was rather unpleasant, wasn’t he?)

So… yeah. I’m going to France.

…Just for a few months, though.