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!

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