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

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Sober Experience in Wine Country

I don't know where to begin, so I guess we'll begin at the beginning. Also, if you read this and still think the French are heartless, go eat merde.

Leah, one of my literary friends from Asheville, is studying in London and she visited me this weekend. She got here around midnight Thursday morning. This was her first time in France so my friends and I made sure she experienced the authentic French life. We took her to morning coffee, galettes for lunch (Leah's lactose intolerant, which made French cuisine an obstacle to overcome.), and Thirsty Thursday. We gave her a tour of Angers, the chateau, and she even came to class with us.

On Friday we took a train to Bordeaux, and this is where the fun begins. First of all, the train leaving from Nantes lost some of its cars. It's now half the size, and the train is overbooked. Leah has a seat assignment in a train that doesn't exist and I don't have one at all, so we just take our seats somewhere and ride. Two hours outside of Bordeaux, we get kicked out of our seats and have to stand by the luggage in the back of the car. There are about a dozen other passengers doing the same thing. The whole experience is rather funny, but I feel like a peasant.

In Bordeaux we arrive at the tram station to buy our day passes, and I realize my wallet is missing. I immediately assume it was stolen in the crowded train. Leah reminds me that I took it out to go to the bathroom in the Angers train station (you have to pay.), and I know I've left it there. I call my dad to cancel my credit cards and then call my host family and ask them to go to the train station. My host mother texts me and says that someone returned the wallet with all 110 euros and two credit cards still in tac. I want to weep I'm so relieved. I mean, someone was kind enough to return it. I call my dad, literally seconds before he calls the credit card company, and he's astounded.

"It's because it's a Catholic country. That would never happen in America."

See, Dad, the French are the shit. After this, I felt so grateful, but I was still without money for an entire weekend. Leah lent me some and I started a tab with her.

On the tram, we have trouble composting our tickets and a French-African girl helps us out and asks us where we're going. She shows us where to get off and where to switch tram. She asks what brings us to Bordeaux, and Leah answers, "Pleasure."

"Wow. That's rather forward of you." She says. Lost in translation? She wishes us a swell weekend and leaves.

Leah and I follow Lien's directions to the hotel, but she gave us the wrong tram stop so we wander around for a good 45 minutes. I ask about four French people where the hotel is, and they are all very friendly and give me directions. Several people come up to us while we have our map open and ask where we need to go. This day started off shittily, but the people made it so much better.

We make it to the hotel and decide we need wine and food asap, so we take the tram to the river and find a huge plaza crowded with tables and chairs. We eat Italian food beneath a tree and take a walk by the river. I can't explain how beautiful this city is. It's clean and quiet, but it's large enough to keep us occupied. A garden of tulips, lit by pink and blue street lamps, lines the Quais and couples drink wine and play the drums.

The next day we take a tour of the city and go to a wine tasting. I hate that I have no money, because I can't bring back a bottle of this fantastic white wine. The weather is beautiful, but incredibly hot. We walk around, buy some French bon-bons, and sit in the shade. We explore rue Sainte-Catherine, a cheap commercial area, and Leah buys a French Cosmo that we have fun translating it by a church.

Back at the hotel, we take a "nap" but don't wake up until 10 PM. Fail. Luckily, the French eat late so I figured most places would still be open. Wrong. Restaurants had stopped serving food. Some managers saw us walking the streets in search of dinner and suggested a few places that might be open. One even took us to a restaurant and asked the manager if he would serve us food, but they wouldn't take any new customers. We resorted to eating doner, and I ate a feta and french fry sandwich (?). Interesting.

Next, we split a 20 euro bottle of wine at a bar and talk for hours. By the time we leave, it's 2 AM. We arrive at our tram stop, and it's cold so a man offers us his jacket. After waiting several minutes, he tells us the tram stopped running. My BB is dead, so we have no GPS, and we left our map at home. Also, we have no money because we have yet to find an ATM.

"Zut alors!" I yell, and another French man laughs and asks what's wrong.

He asks if we're English, and we say yes. We ask where we can find an ATM, and he gives us directions in broken English. The French guy who offered us his jacket tells the man that we understand French, and that he doesn't think we speak much English. WTF. Leah and I just laugh, and the man walks us to the street where the ATM is. He tells us we're very beautiful. I don't think he believed we were English because he said not many beautiful women come from England and that wherever we're from, we represent our country well. Then he asked if I was Indian. Comme d'habitude.

We get our money and attempt to wave down several taxis. We get one and he drives us home. Damn. What a weekend. But I've realized that having my American friends visit me has really improved my French. They're usually dependent on me to translate, and I see it as practice for my future career. It forces me to use my French and this weekend I realized how much my oral comprehension has improved. I understand about 90% of what's said to me.

All in all, I've realized a few things this weekend. For one, I hate goodbyes. When friends visit from home, I spend days where I'm never alone. Not for a minute. Leah was with me since late Wednesday and when we said goodbye, I wanted to cry. Lame. I walked to the tram station by myself. It was cold, wet. I hate goodbyes.

Also, the French are so much more friendly than people make them out to be. Tourists go to Paris, which isn't even real France, and assume that's how this entire country is. That's like tourists visiting New York and assuming all Americans are like that. I guess I just wish people would give it a chance.

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