"When good Americans die, they go to Paris." - Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Home Makes Me Sick

The world has moved on in my absence. A selfish thought, but I'm hurt nonetheless.

Monday, March 28, 2011

It Only Happens in France

It's been awhile since I've updated, so I'll give you a quick recap on my life.

Thursday night began classy enough. I attended a jazz concert with my host mom at le Grand Théâtre d'Angers, an old, beautiful Italian theatre with balconies and an elaborately decorated dome ceiling. Very unlike concert halls in the US. I was exhausted after listening to such sweet, relaxing music but I forced myself to go out with my girlfriends. We drank wine at Tapas and then headed to a club. This was my first club experience in Angers, and it was...interesting.

While we were awaiting entry, Lien yells at the bouncer, "Us four American girls, right here!" And if there's one thing you should know about studying abroad, it's that you never say you're an American girl. European men categorize American women as fun and easy, because their knowledge of American culture extends from our exported films and MTV. So after this one of the men behind us coos, "Ohh, American shit. You are American shit?" Adrianne and I shake our heads at Lien's mistake.

A large black man dressed in a fur coat (a pimp, peut-être?) asks us, "Ohh, so you're American?"

"No," we answer. "She's wrong. We're from Canada."

He keeps talking to us but we ignore him. We dance for about half hour and then lounge on one of the couches until it's 2 AM. Time to go home.

Fast forward to Saturday: We arrive in Normandy. We walk through a museum in Caen and read about the World Wars. As we advance through the exposition, I can feel tears burning my eyes. I stay close to my American friends and realize how incredible it is to experience Normandy with other Americans. We feel a sorrow the others can't comprehend. Many of us, including myself, have relatives who fought here.

Look at us. We're far from home in this strange country, and yet we don't feel so far from home. For a moment, we're all feeling the same thing: pride. I really can't explain it. It's like we were the same person for an instant. I felt an incredible bond with the other Americans and a patriotism I can't express in words.

On a less melancholy note, I spent Sunday shitting away the time with my friends. We ate greasy McDoner for lunch, stopped at a café for coffee (comme d'habitude), went to Lien's foyer to discuss Spring Break, and then ate dinner at Tapas. We didn't get home 'til midnight and we had been out since 1 PM.

At Tapas, we ordered dinner but stayed there for another four hours talking. In case you haven't noticed, Tapas is our restaurant of choice. We go at least once a week for drinks and...tapas. Before we left, our waiter set a menu on our table, hinting he wanted us to order something. We asked for the bill instead and he said, "Ça marche" and proceeded to go outside for a smoke break. This isn't the first time this has happened. The restaurant has super shitty service. And the waiter stared at us while he smoked.

Finally, Ashleigh got pissed and walked to the register. The waiter came inside to take our money and as we left, notably tiffed, he offered us free vodka shots with kiwi. Eh, what the hell. We took a shot with us even while there were still customers in the restaurant. I swear, this only happens in France.

I called a taxi to take me home since I've felt less than safe the past few weekends. I've been taking them so often that when I call, the woman says, "Mademoiselle Gabriella?" My taxi driver arrived in a Benz, knew my address already, and took me home. I swear, this could happen in America, but it's cooler in France.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

France Has More to Offer than You Think, America

Today I realized I only have two months left in France, and it hurts. I can barely organize my thoughts right now, but I will try. It's so strange to know I'm living a double life. I have so much in the States. There's my family, my boyfriend, my friends, who are all waiting for me. I'm a student. I have this crazy, busy, wonderful life back home, but I've also made another home here. I'm living here for five months. I have a family and a routine: tapas and wine on Sundays, beer on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, sometimes Wednesdays...Coffee daily with Lien.

Abroad, it's so hard to make friends. But when you meet those special people, the bond is unbreakable. I'm still close friends with the people I went to Italy with last summer, and I was only there for three weeks. The people here have become my best friends, and it's only been two months. How can you not become best friends? You're together in a foreign country, trying to adapt to another culture with another language. These four people are all you have. So make a toast on Friday night or snicker over the rims of your coffee cups. These people are gonna be here for you when you don't think you can make it home on the weekends or when your day is hard or when you miss the familiarity of home.

I don't want anyone to take offense to this. Of course I miss everyone at home. But for the first time I feel like I belong somewhere. My entire life I've lived as an outsider, always hating Greeneville where I grew up and wondering where I should really be. The big cities were too unfriendly, too overwhelming. And the States never left me mesmerized like cities in Europe. I came to France and finally feel good. I'm in awe.

I guess I have two months to savor this wonderful culture. Here, it's custom to enjoy life. This is a luxury America has forgotten. We are always multi-tasking and running from one errand to the next. We never sit back and have a real conversation, and it makes the country unfriendly. Here, I'm blessed enough to have a family dinner almost every night. We sit for hours and talk together. No television. No radio. And during the day, I get coffee with my friends and we talk, really talk. How will I come home and adjust to the individualistic American culture?

As for right now, I'm going to take a lesson from the French and enjoy the moment. Cheers.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Things That Make You Think, Pray, and Cry

After the catastrophe in Japan, our Japanese students set up a table in the lobby of Bazin to sell origami and orange cakes for charity. This disaster feels so present here, because the majority of the students are Asian, and I have several Japanese students in my classes. I get chills when I imagine how horrified they must feel being so far from home. Or how relieved.

And there's such a sense of community here. Despite the fact that my school represents 23 countries, I've found that we've all bonded to assist the Japanese. Even the faculty has voiced their condolences and offered words of encouragement. It's so inspiring. I see the Americans, the Chinese, the Koreans, and the French students gather around the Japanese and giving donations; it makes me want to cry. Despite the language barrier, we're family.

In other news, I went to London this weekend and experienced nothing less than culture shock. Everyone spoke English (obviously) and I found it difficult to feel guiltless when saying "thank you" instead of "merci." Sometimes we answered servers in French and they looked at us funny. We ate fish and chips and incredible Indian food and we stocked up on things we missed, like Starbucks and magazines in English. But all the while Lien and I missed France. We missed spending hours in a café and how the servers wouldn't rush you. We missed the baguettes, our own beds, and the language barriers.

We had slept an average of three hours each night since Thursday, so we all passed out on the train home. I fell asleep in my own drool, so that was cute. Once we got to Angers, the skies were blue and the sun was shining. It was warm. A friendly cab driver took me home and I greeted my family before hurrying into the shower and Skyping my boyfriend. Then they called me downstairs so they could talk to me about my weekend. I told them I had tons of fun in London, but I missed Angers.

Traveling away from Angers makes me realize how this little town has become home. And if I experienced culture shock in England, I can't imagine what it will be like when I go back to the States. No macaroons?!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Being Anita Ekberg for a Night

I stayed up until 2:30 this morning watching UNCA play in the NCAA, and we won! While I'm not a die-hard basketball fan, I enjoy a good game when Duke's playing (read: spanking) Chapel Hill, and my boyfriend has made me more interested since he's UNCA's basketball manager. He told me I'd get to see him on national TV if I watched, so I did. I squealed each time he walked by the camera. Silly, but I felt like I was dating a celebrity. :)

When we won the game in overtime, I jumped up and down and tried not to wake my sleeping family. I felt so alone when I saw everyone's FB statuses back home and knew they were all huddled in the Grotto and donning their blue UNCA attire. However, that loneliness subsided when I trekked to class at 8 AM this morning on four hours of sleep. Lien and I received stellar grades on our phonétique exams. We grabbed each other and screamed when we received our tests. The two of us had literally pulled out our notes three minutes before the exam on Wednesday. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?!

During our lunch period we booked our Spring Break flight to Greece and our weekend in Nice in May. The only sucky aspect of our Greece flight is the 8-hour layover in Rome. It's overnight too, so we'll arrive around midnight and trek to the Colosseum. Apparently the Trevi Fountain will be deserted at that time, and maybe we can pull a Dolce Vita and wade through the water. Or maybe not.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Take Your Sweet Time

I KNEW I had an 8 AM this morning. I set my alarm for 7:40, thinking it was 6:40. I got ready, not realizing how late I was until I walked into my class. Coffee in hand, I strode in casually and interrupted someone's oral presentation. The class laughed. I looked at my clock and realized it was 9 AM. Holy shit. C'est pas grave.

Lien came to our art history class because she had nothing better to do and then skipped her actual class so we could eat lunch. Afterwards, we stopped for café au crème and banana chocolate tarts at our favorite cafe. We took our sweet-ass time like the French do and finished our lunch two hours later. I love how relaxed everyone is here. In restaurants, it's rude for the waiter to leave the bill on the table because the establishment doesn't want to rush you. My boyfriend's a waiter and I don't think he understands this un-American custom. ha.

Later, I suffered through two hours of histoire de France, and let me tell you, that class is impossible. I cannot concentrate on two hours of note-taking and lecturing in French. As much as I try to center myself, my mind always wanders to Spring Break, or meeting my boyfriend in Paris, dining beneath the Eiffel Tower...sigh. I'm in Europe, why do I have to be in class?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Everyone's Favorite Enigma

As I've mentioned before, public humiliation is an essential part of French education. Today I received my history exam, and I was just happy I passed because UNCA study abroad credits are pass/fail. Apparently the professor wasn't satisfied though, so she called out several girls (me being one of them) and demanded, "Qu'est-ce qui s'est passé? Vous n'avez pas compris?" She even targeted one girl and told her in front of the entire class, "Tu as une gross problème." In America, professors can't post grades in public areas or target students. Or they can, but they get labeled a dick. It's all just a part of living abroad, I know, but it still sucks.

Later, the same professor called on me to explain what we studied in the last class. No big deal, but I felt like she was asked me because she knew I was baffled. I explained what we studied, but she kept asking me more questions and to explain further. I was like, LEAVE ME ALONE. I literally almost burst into tears. My face was bright red. I wanted to pull a highschool freshman and cry in the bathroom, but I bit my lip and moved on.

In phonétique pratique, I shared a worksheet with another student. I couldn't understand what the professor was saying because this student was yakking to me the entire time and asking me why I didn't look like the other Americans and how long my family had lived in the States. Like, really? In fact, Françoise (my Langue professor) talked about immigration today. Lien's a Vietnamese immigrant and she said some Americans wonder about her origin, but not many. They know she's one of them. Then Françoise turned to me and asked "Et toi, Gabriella?" The class laughed, and I said, "Oh, c'est typique." I really don't mind being exotic. I like it. But I don't understand where everyone's coming from. I'm brown, but so are a million other American girls.

On the bright side, I did really well on my compréhension écrite exam. I got a 18,5/20 which is the equivalent of a high A in America. Yay! Also, I'm Skyping tonight with Leah so we can plan our weekend trip for the beginning of April. She's staying in Angers for a few nights and then we're flying out to Germany? Amsterdam? who knows? The world is ours.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

La Vie Douce

I didn't get in this morning until 3 AM. Then I talked to my Dylan until 6 AM (wtf) and passed out until 1 PM. I ate lunch with my family and it was delicious as always. We had chopped tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper, not unlike a bruschetta-type dish. Mme. said she wasn't impressed with the tomatoes, but I thought it was yummy. Afterwards, we had steak and mashed potatoes; while they didn't compete with my aunt's, which are practically liquid with the amount of cream she uses, they tasted just like American mashed potatoes. After this we had cheese and bread (duh), and for dessert: sweet almond cakes and English cream for dipping. Amazing.

Later, Lien, Beth, and I met up for drinks and dinner at Tapas. Ashleigh and Jamie joined us and we sat there for 3.5 hours talking about sex, boys, St. Patty's Day plans, and other things. We went through several carafes of wine and shared a cheese and bread plate. It was so nice to just sit and laugh with everyone. It really felt like nights spent at home, chatting with my girls until late. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by so many amazing people here. I'm going to miss all of my new girlfriends.

After our drinks, a taxi took me home. And by taxi I mean Mercedes. It was the shit. I was too nervous to walk 35 minutes home by myself. Especially after this weekend. I once felt fine walking home alone, but not so much anymore. Maybe I'll get a personal driver for the weekends.

On another note, Lien and I joke about how we're the worst students ever. French culture is so much more relaxed than the individualism in the U.S. LITERALLY, all I do here is eat, drink, and sleep. I go to class, usually, but my homework is half-assed. Most mornings Lien and I grab a coffee at a café. Then we'll go to class, get lunch together, then I'll head home at the end of the day and relax before dinner. Then it's time for bed. This truly is the sweet life.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Never Underestimate the Power of Knowing Russian

Thank God. I got my computer back this afternoon, so I can attempt to catch up. I refuse to retell my Parisian adventures. There's far too much to share...but let me tell you about my day instead.

In Langue, Ashley told Lien to approach a Korean girl and slam her fist against her palm. Apparently this is very offensive in Korea and signifies sexual desire. Of course Lien did it and all of the surrounding Asians who didn't know what it meant followed suit. The Korean girl gasped and tried to get them to stop, and soon our professor Françoise joined as well. Oh my God, I was dying.

For our lunch break, Adrianne, Bethany, Lien, and I ate Chinese food. I skipped art history (it's impossible to go to that class on Fridays.) and then got a beer with the girls at Matt Murph's.

Later, Lien and I met up with Nikki at Soft, a local bar, and Lien brought her Russian friend Daria. We drank, had fun, and then Daria said she could get me a ride home because the owner of McDoner was her friend. Oh, honey, we're all his friend, I said. But they both speak Russian and he promised us a ride home as soon as he got off at 2 AM. The alcohol hit me while we sat in the restaurant. Ashley and some of her friends were there, so we chilled with them. Then he took us home. My house is far away and since I walk everyday, I wasn't sure what roads were accessible or inaccessible to cars. The road I walk is a one-way street, so he couldn't drive down it. Thus, we wandered around for 30 minutes trying to figure out how to get home.

At one point I told him to forget it and just drop me off at this abandoned tunnel. I'd call a cab. Lien yelled, "What?! That's dangerous!!" and wouldn't let me get out of the car. I felt horrible for making this poor man drive around for a half hour. I'm sure he just wanted to sleep. But eventually I made it home and all was well.

I think I'm finally finding my place in Angers. Every day I laugh until I cry, and that's a good place to be.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Definition of Family

Greetings from my sister's super baffling computer. So Sunday and Monday were a shitfest. After my computer crashed (and waking up early Monday to bring it to the Apple store, only to find it was closed...), I became homesick because I felt disconnected from my home in America. No Facebook. No daily Skypes with Dylan. Just super expensive phonecalls to the U.S. On top of this, I got a less than stellar grade on an expression écrite assignment. I'm definitely going to pass CIDEF but the perfectionist in me is not content with simply passing.

However, today was much better. I brought my computer to the Apple store and the Mac man was super friendly and said he could fix it. After wandering downtown, I found an English store stocked with American goodies like Jif, Reese's Cups, peanut butter M&M's, and Pop-Tarts. I squealed and started spewing English when I found this treasure trove and the Irish woman who owns the store seemed amused, understanding.

Further, my home here is starting to become home. My family has been so accomodating and it's becoming obvious that they volunteered their home because they were genuinely interested in learning about another culture. Since students must pay rent and food, a lot of families use this as an opportunity to earn money, but my family doesn't seem that way. They offer to pick me up when I'm far from home and when it's late. They ask about American culture and home. They invite me out when they go to the cinema, to concerts, or to bars...and when my computer crashed, Berry's boyfriend Léo researched ways to fix it. Today Mme. gave me some of her history books because they parallel what I'm learning in histoire de France.

All in all, I realize how lucky I am. Of course I miss my family in the States, but having both a French family and an Italian family is super bad ass, n'est-ce pas?