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!

1 comment:

  1. Glad you're having fun! Bring me back something French!