Saturday, October 29, 2011

Failure, Fafi, and Food

Bon soir de la commencement du Pont de la Toussant, mes amis!  Good evening to the commencement of the Bridge of All Saints, my friends! 

I just happened to visit the East Cemetery yesterday, highlighting this time of year.

This week has flown by so fast!  There have been plenty of things that have happened that I need to recap.
First of all, I have to note that as much as I'm loving France right now, I'm kinda put out at the fact that I can't dress up for Halloween, my favorite holiday.  Nor can I see all of the obnoxious decorations my dad puts up every year for Trick-or-Treat.  Nor can I try to steer clear of the millions of pounds of Halloween candy in the grocery aisles (not without glancing towards the Mounds, Twix, and Midnight Milky Way Snack-size bags).  Nor can I carve pumpkins.  I'm starting to get a complex, and I'm afraid that my host family's spaghetti squash might meet an untimely death with a bread knife before all is said and done.  Le sigh.

Other than my lack of "what are you gonna dress up for" questions in school, we’re currently focusing more on discerning between the use of the French Imperative and the Passé Composé.  Anyone who has anything to do with French will tell you that this is one of the most important things to know, and for people like me, one of the most difficult.  You would think that someone who uses the English language every day, I could determine if something is happening in the past in the Imperative sense, like say, describing a day that was in the past as being beautiful (Il faisait beau), and something that happened in the Passé Composé once, such as when I fell down the stairs (in my red boots) on the first day of class (Je suis tombeé dans les escaliers pendant le premier jour des cours).
I have to admit, the difference between the two is harder for others than me, bien sûr, but the feeling I got on my first day of learning the Imperative, wayyy back in my French classes at UNC-Asheville, constantly repeats itself in some of my other classes, such as Grammar.  You know the feeling: you’re drifting along, feeling like a champ at the French language (or anything else you’ve had to learn over a long stretch of time), and all of a sudden, the teacher introduces something you have NEVER seen before.  Where did that word come from????  Why would you say it in this context???   The next thing you know, you get that feeling.  Your stomach turns inside out, you pray that you can figure this out, because if you fail at this, there’s no way you can continue to speak another language without feeling like a total doofus.  Or hear another language without feeling like a total doofus, like I do in my Oral Comprehension class.  

Also, in my case, your ears turn beet red.  Beet. Red.

Nevertheless, the good news is that my professors here are super-nice, and are waiting to help everyone and anyone with homework, questions, or even with good subjects to cover with other French people.  Such as the goings-on regarding France’s presidential race for next year’s elections, where the Socialist (not a taboo word in France, it just means “the left”) candidate François Hollande just won the spot against Martine Aubry in a debate this previous week.  Or responses to the opinion that Time magazine stated in 2007 that France has lost its appeal to the world, and should embrace its multiethnic roots in order to survive.  Although I agree with this statement, and feel that by integrating French minorities more to improve the diversity and eclectic cultural influences in art, food, etc., I disagree that France is completely devoid of cultural invention right now.  Take, for example, the works of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who directed “Amelié” (aka Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain), and the songs composed by Yann Tiersen, who also composed the Amelié soundtrack,

Or the musical talent of the Plasticines and the Hellboys, who unfortunately lost their lead singer, Nikola, recently:

Or the club sensation David Guetta, who just came out with the song "Without You", which is being played on all of the French radio stations: 

Or the awesomeness of artists like Fafi, who hails from Paris:
I don't know what kind of animal that is, but I WANT IT!

On another note, speaking of beets, I have to say, I envy the French for how cheap it is to find fresh fruits and veggies.  I mean, you can get four pounds of apples for the USD equivalent of $2.83 right now?  You can buy fresh figs, plums, pineapples, lettuce, anything you can think of for super-cheap, too, and you can buy beets here fresh, not just canned.
I know that my excitement for beets may seem silly, but you haven’t had French beets.  They are amazing.
Not to be confused with The Beets from the Nickelodeon show "Doug".  Although I love them, too.

More importantly, I am truly blessed to be living with amazing cooks here in France.  As I have mentioned before, I live with a host family, like most of my classmates.  However, most of my classmates are around the 18-22-year-old mark, which makes this a special circumstance in my case, because for the past 10 years, I haven’t been used to having my dinners made for me by a set of “parents”.   À
Don’t get me wrong, I love my Mom’s cooking, like her specialty dessert “Mountain Mamma Mudslide”, and her awesome meatloaf.  (I actually hope she sees that I wrote this, and that I could possibly have these waiting for me when I fly back to Ohio before heading back down South before Spring semester starts!)
But that’s just the thing, I only see my Mom so many times a year, and right now, I’m staying with these folks until January, and they are baller cooks.  For example, Marie-Anne single-handedly changed my view of not liking to eat anything “with bones or a face,” a motto of mine since a horrendous incident in the Amazon Rainforest 10 years ago with a trout. 
I don’t want to talk about it.
ANYway, that was just one of many awesome dishes she has made for me here.  We had quiche last night, which was my first experience with homemade quiche, not the stuff you get from the freezer aisle.  I’ve also had duck with potatoes, apple tarts, and one time, Jean, the husband, made this:
(Pot-au-feu from Heaven, people!)

Oh, and did I mention figues en flambé with Cointreau, which is made not far from here? 

France is awesome.

For the long weekend, some of my friends went to different places, including Marseille, Bordeaux, and one friend is even sleeping in a barn in Switzerland.  Unlike most of my friends and other students, I decided to stay here to rest up.  I also and borrowed a bike for the weekend from a friend who is crashing in Germany until Wednesday, and hope to ride it a bunch this weekend. 
I am pretty clumsy on it, especially considering it’s a bike used for real transportation and errand-running, not just leisure, and it’s the first time I’ve rode a bike in, oh, about 15 years.  As I’ve mentioned before, I need to keep my body in check, especially with such good food not only for dinner, but everywhere.  There are patisseries and boulangeries all over the place, and there’s nothing I love more than a nice cup of espresso with a pastry or a piece of baguette (as you’ve surely noticed if you’ve read any of my other blog posts). 
Luckily for me, along with walking all over the place, which is the general consensus for all French people, bike riding is serious business, and although all of my biking experience for the past couple of years has been on an exercise bike, I need to keep moving for exercise and general stress relief.
At the mention of having a bike for the weekend, my host family proposed that we go on a bike-riding excursion this weekend.  We had recently driven around the ancient village of Bouchemaine, overlooking the Maine River, where we crossed the Pont de Pruniers, a bridge that was a gift from the U.S. for use during WWII.  We also saw a monument honoring hundreds of those who, literally, were pushed off a cliff overlooking the Loire Valley for going against the Monarchy during the French Revolution.  It was eerily peaceful there, and made me respect the value of human life even more.  On a more mirthful note, I also discovered during this time, while visiting a greenhouse, that my host family’s relatives discovered and patented, of all things, a special kind of cabbage.  Yep, apparently cabbage is trademark-worthy.
Today, my host family and I went on our velos to the neighboring towns of Trélaze and Saumur, winding our way through 15.5 miles of roads and old slate mines.

(Reminiscent of watching Germinal in Mme. Malicote’s French lit class, based on Emile Zola’s novel, but, you know, less death and politics and stuff.)

My famille d'acceuil with our bikes, using a ferry you use by pulling a chain that goes through the floor and is connected to either river bank

It even rained during our trek, but I didn’t care.  I was riding a bike in France, and I was happy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

France is the Best Country for Eating Japanese Food

Konnichiwa, mes amis!

Today I had dinner with some of my Japanese friends from school, and I have to admit that everything tastes better in France, even Japanese food!

My new friends, Fumina, Akiko, Takayuki, Haruka, and Yoshii welcomed me into their apartment complex (which looks like a swanky university dorm) to eat a traditional Japanese dish called Sukiyaki.

To my Japanese friends in the U.S., this is nothing new for you to hear (and hopefully swoon) about.

To me, this was another chance to experience something from a different culture, which is the main reason why I love to travel, why I'm studying abroad, why my first degree is in Archaeology, etc., etc.  I love people from all over the world, and I find it fascinating to discover things that connects us all to one another, living or dead--although I must admit, I tend to have more fun with the live ones.

Sorry Lucy. (The oldest known bipedal ape found to date).

But as I said, I am ever curious to see and experience things that create a bond with other people, especially those from other places.

Like food.

On a personal note, my love of food has gotten me into trouble from time to time, so I have to be careful with how much I indulge, and I would recommend the same to everyone.  It is very hard to visit new places, at home or abroad, and not want to have that second piece of chocolate for breakfast with your piece of baguette (which they totally eat here).  So pace yourself, and have fun with what you eat, but make sure that you're conscious of how much "fun" you might be having.  Just trust me on this.

So, back to the awesome food!

So what makes Sukiyaki so awesome?  It all starts out in a pot that everyone dives into.  Yep, one pot, and individual cups for rice, that's it.  The point here is to experience the joy of dining with each other, as a group.

The first part of the sukiyaki dish started out like this, with pork and beef cooked in a sauce of powdered sugar, soy sauce, and mirkin (a Japanese cooking wine, I think).  But before you dig in, you have to respect the Japanese custom of, apparently, craking a raw egg into a cup, and dipping the fished-out pieces of meat with your chopsticks (which I also did, and also with chopsticks).  Unlike the U.S., many eggs here are super-fresh, so, no, I didn't get sick afterward :)

At first bite, I thought it was a pretty good Japanese dish, but to my Japanese friends, it was a reminder of the home they left in order to learn a new language in a foreign country, and for that, I don't think my experience could even compare to how good this dish tasted to my friends.  They were transformed back to the days when they ate this dish with their family and friends, and it made me happy to see them enjoying it so thoroughly.  I asked if we should try to find a kotastu table for next time.  A kotatsu table is a low table for hanging out during the winter months in Japan, which is covered with a thick blanket, and heated by a small interior furnace affixed to the bottom.  It is dubbed as the always-known location for your cat during the winter, hence the nickname "kotatsu kitty".
Comme ça.
Our second part continued on with the "oooh's" and "aahh's" (in a mélange of French, English, and Japanese, bien sûr) with a pot filled with potatoes, tofu, noodle-y mushrooms, and other goodies.

The last part of our dish consisted of Udon noodles cooked in a soup base, which was also delicious to dunk into our raw eggs--although noodles+chopsticks+me hardly ever ='s graceful!  It was really a sight to see other Japanese students approach us, point to the pot we all shared, and said something in Japanese.  Their body language always started out quizzical, then reassured to share in the feast with us, and after taking a bite from the pot, have the exact same reaction that all of my friends did.  C'est si drôle!

 For dessert, I bought us an apple tarte to share--my first in France.
Fumina posing with said tarte--in a skirt she bought in Paris the day before!  Je suis si jealouse!

It was awesome in its own right, but I enjoyed the reactions and the experience of the Sukiyaki far more than the taste of flaky, buttery apple-ness.

While walking back to chez moi after dinner, I thought to myself that the best place to eat food from your own country is in other countries, with other people who can remember what it's like to eat similar food together in your home country in the past.  Just like I knew I had to bring Preston Sturges'  The Good Fairy DVD here to France with me, because I watch it every time I'm sick or depressed, nothing says "home" like the experience that reminds you of good times in the past.  No matter where you are, and sometimes no matter who your with, you can still grasp that sense of feeling like you belong in this world, no matter where you are, when you re-experience a song, or a sound, or in this case, a raw egg cracked in sync into a cheap plastic cup. 
Sporting our cups full of raw eggs!

Until next time, folks, "see you later", "à toute à l'heure", and "dewa mata atode"!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Important Things I Learned The First Week Of Classes, Like How to Flush A French Toilet

Today marks the end of my first week of classes, which means that it's time to recap on what I've spent so much time, effort, and money on.

In order to do so, I'd like to represent a couple of important lessons as math equations, since it reflects my point more clearly (and more humorously too, I hope!)

Tremendously Important Lesson:  Using Correct Change

Equation 1:  Buying A Book

In a class of 18 foreign exchange students, on Day 1, Le Prof tells the class that each student is required to buy a language book for 14€.  Le Prof states that he will have change, but is "not a bank" ("Je ne suis pas une banque").  Le Prof states that he will arrive to class the following day with books for each person.  On Day 2, Le Prof brings in 18 language books for 14€ a piece.
(With me so far?  Good!  That means that the total price of 18 books x 14€ = 252€.  But the equation isn't over yet...)
Alors, Le Prof hands each student a book, in exchange for 14€.  Sometimes he is given 15€, or even 40€, which is easy enough for Le Prof to make change.  Student X proceeds to give Le Prof a bill, to which Le Prof stands aghast, mesmerized at the large amount that has been handed to him.  What is the amount of the single bill handed to Le Prof by Student X?

a) 100€     b) 250€     c)40000€    d) 500€

Ready for the answer?

If you answered a, you are wrong--the bill was more than that.
If you answered b, you are also wrong--but keep in mind that, as I said, the total cost of ALL 18 books was 252€.
If you answered c, you're just being silly.
If you answered d, you're right, and hopefully just as shocked as me, Le Prof, and all of the other students were in class!
Using the powerful force of math, one can deduce that in Homeboy's pocket, he's carrying around ONE bill that equals 500€ ($688.90 as of today's exchange rate).  In.  His.  Pocket.
Le Prof said that was the first time he's ever seen a 500€ bill in his 44 years on this earth.
I repeat--Just, you know, hanging out.  In his pocket.
This particular picture was taken from an article in Le Figaro a couple of years ago, where it was being told that because of the huge amount of value placed on one bill, these little suckers are being fazed out.  You can find it here, in French bien sûr:

But just to be sure, I would like to point out that we all make mistakes like this.  You remember your moments like this just as well as I do: you say something in class that you think is SUPER witty, or, like me, you rock out in your red boots during your first day, only to come crashing dozn the steps in front of FOUR HUNDRED other students. 

Because, yeah, I totally did that. 

So to that student who may read this, please understand that I am only using this as an example of something that EVERYONE does from time to time.  I just thought your example was the funniest that day :)  But just wait, because I'm sure I will beat you with my powerful tractor beam of disaster-ous-ness at some point, if I haven't already by falling down the stairs.

Just to reinterate, my feet flying through the air down three steps, however small those steps may have been, leaves even more of an impression when it happens to one of the oldest girls in your ENTIRE part of the school who is obviously American because she's sporting red cowboy boots.

I'm just saying.

Tremendously Important Lesson 2: Personal Space, and Other Codes of Personal Conduct

Equation 2:  Flushing a French Toilet

Hélas, this is another aspect of La Vie Française that requires attention.  For this equation, I have also provided a photo, a diagram if you will, to demonstrate.  Here is the equation:  You need to, as the Empress of Japan says, "Pick some flowers".  You see several doors within the university buildings without signs or postings on them, and they look like closets.  Do you: a) go in hoping it's the toilet for your respective gender (whatever that may be), b) go in hoping it's the toilet, not caring whose gender it's for, but take caution to choose a stall that has toilet paper in it, or c) hold it.
I really hope this was easier for you to figure out.
B is the correct answer, along with the correct precautionary measures!
Pourquoi are the bathrooms like this?  French toilets (or W.C.'s, if you prefer) are often not equipped with signs, let alone signs of which gender is for which W.C.  Usually the Women's is on the left, but "on the left" of what?  If you pass it with the door on your right, then it becomes the Men's Room!  Zut, alors!  But do not despair.  Many bathrooms are treated like co-ed bathrooms, with individual stalls in them.  Yet take heed of the second part of the answer:  if you plan on needing toilet paper, look for a stall that actually has it first.  (Oh, and there are no water fountains to be found in, around, or anywhere near a bathroom, just so ya know.)

To get straight to the point (mostly because my computer obviously hates me more in France than in the U.S., and keeps freezing up on me), there are three possibilities that you face after you um, you know, go.

1-There is a button on top of the toilet.  The only way that I knew what this was for, as opposed to the little knob on the side, goes back to the days where I helped Grandma replace a toilet in her home--so there, Chemistry class!
So, the button on the top is the flusher.  DO NOT twist the knob on the side, because it will shut of the water, and make you even more embarrassed.  But not to despair!  Try to push on the button, and see if it flushes.
2-No?  Pull on the button (I know it sounds weird), and it will flush.
3-Still nothing going on?  Pull harder, and it will flush.

To put it another way, figuring out how to flush a French toilet is kinda like a game you might have heard of:

If you think of it this way, it's not so embarrassing.
Along with these two key elements that one must learn during the first week, there are also a list of others, such as you have no privacy on your placement scores after your test--they are posted for EVERYONE to see.  I placed into the Intermediate category, which is what I (and my French professor in the states) assumed that I would get into.  This is fine by me, because if I would have placed into the Superior level, I would have had to spend more time writing, which is not extremely difficult for me compared to my inability to understand what someone is saying to me, along with my ability to respond back with something more appropriate than "my envelope is clean" (see last post).

Also, you have one week to figure out what courses you would like to take, which I also find to be helpful because you can go to all of the offered classes the first week, and then decide on which ones you would like to continue with.  This is also a favorable trait, except for the fact that the majority of classes that I want to take started at 8:00 in the morning, which meant that I had to get up at 6:30, and walk the entire 20-minute trip to school in the dark.  Thank goodness France follows Daylight Savings Time, and after next week, I won't have to worry about that anymore!

On a final note, if you ever find yourself in this position, consider your classmates.  There are a BUNCH of you who don't know what's going on, what building your class is in, what the heck is a "rez-de-chausee", can't understand a word that the Secretariat, the one in charge of taking all of your money for classes, books, and excursions, is saying, and have to chicken-peck on the keyboards in the Library in order to check your Facebook, because French keyboards are different.  (Hint: You get the "@" icon by hitting the Alt Gr button on the right side of the Spacebar, and you have to hit the "caps" button to put in numbers.  You're welcome.)

If you find yourself at the end of the first week of classes drained, confused, flustered, and maybe even jet-lagged (I'm SO glad I came a week early so I could get over that beforehand), then you can feel free to reward yourself with a tiny little something after two hours worth of Oral Comprehension class on Friday afternoon:

A bowl of espresso (the French way of drinking tea and café), and Pistachio and Raspberry macaroons.

Here's to the weekend!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Thoughts on Being Grateful

Recently, there have been many events that have occurred that have reminded me of how much I want to thank all of those people who have made it possible for me to be here. 

First, as I have said before, one of the main reasons I am keeping up this blog is to share my experience in France as a part of winning a scholarship from the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship Foundation.  This foundation has awarded me with a significant amount of financial assistance for my trip to study here in France.  Since I can only take out so much per year in loans, and that limit is reached due to a predetermined cost of attendance, the remainder of the money I needed to fund this trip would have had to come in the form of either a personal loan or credit cards.  The Gilman Foundation has given me the money that I would have had in credit card debt otherwise, and for that, I am very thankful. 
There have also been several other scholarships that I have won from gracious contributors, individuals and corporations alike, who have allowed me to not only Study Abroad, but to be given the opportunity to go back to school in the first place.  To all of those who have financially helped me, I am very humbled, and thank you all for taking the time to read the story of my life and my wishes for the future, appreciate them, and award me for them.  As the first person in my immediate family to go to college, let alone having the opportunity to Study Abroad, I am forever in your debt, and am grateful for the investment you have made in me.
Yet without the encouragement of my family and friends as well, I am doubtful that I would have felt the empowerment and courage to go back to school, travel abroad, and strive to make myself a better person inside and out.  Without you all, I would not have had the courage and support to do many things.  I would not have had the strength to lose 115 lbs without your understanding and acceptance of my special dietary restrictions, which some may feel (and have felt) would be a burden.  I would not have had the approval to ditch you all during Finals Week and at other stressful times, failing to resurface for days, even weeks on end, but when I did, you were there, ready to pick right back off where we left.  I would not have been able to trudge through long days filled with classes, waitressing, and homework until the wee hours, without knowing that you were there to cheer me on when all I wanted to do was quit (or at least go to sleep).  You were there to sit with me across tables filled with paperwork from my social work days, essays and presentations for classes, cried-through tissues and napkins, endless cups of coffee, and the occasional Oreo milkshake at 2 am.  You are all in my thoughts while I am so far away, and although I am excited to be here, I am just as homesick for you all.
I would also like to take the time to thank all of those on campus at UNC-Asheville, for even though helping students may be their “job”, they have continued to go above and beyond helping me, as well as others, to make their wishes and hopes a reality.  For the ladies in the Study Abroad office, continuing to be patient with me as I asked question after question from chicken-scratched lists of things I would remember in the middle of the night.  For my professors who may or may not have heard of my personal story, but who have encouraged me, pushed me, supported me, and handed me the occasional tissue.  Who have sat patiently through my blubbering in broken French (and sometimes in broken English as well), and who have assured me on matters of taking classes that I want to take, as opposed to simply taking classes that I may do well in. 
Finally, I would like to thank Elizabeth Bartlett in UNC-Asheville’s Financial Aid Department.  She has been there to help me find the financial support I needed to go back to school since the beginning.  She was the first person I talked to when I was thinking about returning to school who actually made me feel like I could come back, and who has continually went out of her way to personally search for financial assistance that I would otherwise have looming above me, waiting for me to graduate in order to be paid back.  I still remember her writing my name on a small list, handwritten, of students that she focused upon to match with equally unique scholarships.  I truly believe that as grateful and appreciative as I am to those who have given me financial and moral support, I would not be here, neither in France, nor back in college, without her. 

To all of you, my heart swells with pride, love, and gratitude, and words cannot express how thankful I am for you all to be in my life.  Merci à vous.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"Thank you. I am a strange student, and I don't know if my envelope is clean," I said as I walked out of the Men's bathroom

Yep, that was me.  I was totally THAT girl, time and time again, these past few days.  Let me tell you all a story...

Once upon a time, there was a girl from a small-ish city in America.  This girl was very hungry, so she went to the store to buy groceries.  This is not something new to the girl, for she can cook, and is trying to cook for herself most of the time in France to save money (I'll come back to this part, kids, I promise).  So the girl, rather confident in herself, brings her basket of groceries to the cash register.  Her mind wanders as she waits her turn in line.
All of a sudden, she looks at the cashier, who has just asked her a question that she can't quite comprehend.  The cashier suddenly looks really annoyed, and stares at the girl like she is si stupide (hopefully I don't need to translate this).  What has the girl done wrong?  Did she forget something?  Her face flushes as the cashier continues to spout out words that she can't really understand.  In a huff, the cashier begins to grab items out of the girl's handbasket, and the girl then understands.  Unlike the States, it is the customer's responsibility to empty their small basket, put the basket away, and also bag their own groceries.  A thousand apologies later, the cashier looks at me passively and says, in French, "it's not so bad", the first phrase she has said through the entire episode that I understood completely.
You look so innocent, but cause so much pain!  And I don't mean "pain" as in bread!

The second episode occurred yesterday, when I went to open a French bank account.  I don't think I really need one, since I have a debit card from my credit union (which charges only $1 per ATM withdrawal), and a Capital One credit card, which is known for having *NO International Fees*.  However, many host families require insurance on your belongings while you're living with them in France, and this bank offered insurance for only one euro if you opened up a bank account there.
When I walked in, the first statement I said to the man at the bank was that I was a foreign student.  However, because I caught a cold from mon voyage, I've been having problems ending sentences (I can't make that nasally French sound so much right now).  So, when I said that I was une étudiante étranger, all that came out was that I was une étudiante étrange, which means "strange student".  The man looked at me and started laughing, and promptly corrected me.  But I thrive through obstacles, and simply stated that maybe I was a "strange student" as well as a "foreign student", and after a laugh between us (I couldn't tell who had the more nervous laugh at this point, though), we trudged through all of the paperwork, en français, until I had everything signed and dated.  My host father told me that the French love paperwork, even though they are stereotypically very disorganized, so I came prepared to have plenty to fill out.  But all in all, everything worked out, and I got my account information, as well as a declaration of my insurance.
The third event came that same day.  After stopping for a sandwich and walking to the other side of the Maine River, I stopped at the Parc de Balzac, which is bigger than le Jardin aux Plantes, but is better for jogging and walking.  I walked around the community for a bit, got myself lost, and finally found my way back to my familiar street that takes me home.  (Since I came here to Angers, I have been walking between two and five hours a day, since, as I've said in my last post, I know myself well enough to know that I am biologically equipped with a broken compass, and am always getting lost.  I heard that you can rent a bike here for free during your studies, but I think, for now, I'll pass on that.  It's just another thing to have to worry about for me, as well as something that I can use as a launchpad into a passing car, or the occasional renegade brush.)
As I hobbled myself back home, I stopped at the post office to drop off my envelope of documents to send to OFII, the Visa/Immigrant office for France, with copies of documents that showed when I arrived in France.  As I was attempting to mail the letter, a young woman came up to me, and asked me if I needed help.  I said that I was a foreign student (I won't forget how to say it now!), and that I was just making sure my letter was propre.  However, I forgot that propre means "clean", and got yet another one of those looks.
Today we all had to come in to take our placement tests, and before they started, I went to the bathroom.  I followed another girl in, since there are no signs for which bathroom is for the ladies, and which one is for the men, and felt safe and secure in my decision, until I left my stall and went to wash my hands, where there was an obvious man washing his hands to my right.  Awkward.
After understanding almost everything on the written part of my exam but almost nothing in the listening comprehension part (were those children talking about God, or dinosaurs?), I met several other students and got to know them pretty well.
For those of you thinking about studying abroad, the first piece of advice I got from both my French professor, Madame Malicote, as well as from my host father, Jean, was to try your best NOT to make too many friends who knew English.   If you do, you'll get lazy, and just speak in English, never learning any French (which, of course, is the reason you-or someone else-is paying for you to be here).  Luckily, we all tried our best to talk in French.  There were many other students, too, mostly from Japan and China.  The Japanese students were very funny--I have some friends who are Japanese, and so we had much to share.  Like how I wanted to visit Japan, and how they wanted to visit America, or how none of them know hardly any English except for the phrase "Yes We Can".  Or how I know the Japanese words "Hai" ("Yep"), "K'So" ("Dammit"), and "Totoro" (characters from one of my favorite animators, Hayao Miyazaki, who leads Japan's Studio Ghibli). 
Je les aime <3

Later on, during a tour of the city, I found out (in French) that pretty much all of my classmates experienced the same amount of suck-age I did while taking the listening part of the test, so now, I feel much better.  Tomorrow there is a conference on campus for those interested in sports, which I'm going to attend.  Although I love running now, many French don't do the same ("We are too lazy for zat," Jean told me), so I want to find out if there's anything else around to do for exercise, especially since I've been "Prend-ing" so much lately.  But for now, á bientôt!