Day one…

Today was definitely a big, nerve-wracking day. This was my first day of classes, and more importantly, the day I’d find out how my French really stacks up. I must still be jet lagged, because I woke up just before six this morning, and I actually got out of bed at 6:15. My alarm was set to go off at 6:45, so I figured to heck with it, I’ll just get up and get ready with no rush so I can eat breakfast quickly and get out of here so I’ll make it to l’Institut on time to find out what château I’m in (what level I tested into), and find my classroom. Madame was absolutely sure half an hour was all the time I’d need to walk to school, so she wasn’t really letting up on having breakfast at 7:45, so I could leave at eight and have 15 minutes to find my niveau. I got ready, and at 7:45 on the nose, I went out to the dining area, and all of the fixings were on the table, but not the tea. Madame was nowhere to be found. I went back to my room, grabbed my bag, placed it by the door, then got my things to brush my teeth (I usually prefer doing that after I eat), and did that. After I came out of the bathroom, I heard Madame in the kitchen, and said good morning. She apologized, and said she forgot the tea! I told her it wasn’t a problem, put my things back in my room, and sat down at the table. The pot of tea was there by then. By this time, it was ten minutes to eight, and I was getting a little worried. The tea was piping hot! I ate an apricot, a small galette du riz avec confiture, an apricot-stuffed madeleine, downed my tea as fast as I could without burning myself, and ran out the door about three minutes later than I meant to.

Walking down the colline is a bit easier than climbing it at the end of the day, but it does slow me down a little, which worried me. By the time I got to the bridge over the river, there was a man in front of me who was smoking a cigarette. This is very normal in France, and I usually don’t have a problem with it… I had a problem with this bugger, however. The guy must have just lit the cigarette right before we got on the dang bridge.  With the construction, the sidewalk is very narrow to the point that I have to press myself up against the side of it to allow un vélo (bike) to pass by. I was down wind of this stupid cigarette for the length of the bridge, which takes me about five minutes to traverse, and I’ve got crappy stamina, so it’s hard for me to breathe by this point since I’ve just come off of the hill, and the smoke wasn’t making it easier. I understand that this S.O.B. isn’t going to toss his fix because it’s inconveniencing me, but I’m an actor, so I wanted to make sure he knew I was having problems and it was his fault. I took the end of my foulard (scarf) put it over my nose and mouth to filter the air and coughed every once in a while. He looked back a couple of times, and he did toss the cigarette at the end of the bridge, but I think that was because he was done with it. This guy was a piece of work, too. He saw that I had a watch and had the nerve to ask me what time it was when we got to the cross walk. I should have told him it was later than it really was…
Got to l’Institut and found the lists of the châteaux. With the first being the lowest level, and the fifth being the highest, I’m in the second. Krystal (another girl from my college) and I both tested into the same level of French as first years, and we were placed in the same château. The other Whittier girls think I speak better French than they do, and they’re all in the first château.
We went off to our first class and were met with a little confusion. It was supposed to be our oral expression class, but the instructor (Mme. Geai) broke our château into two groups, the first group met in the first part of the day, and the second group had that time off, then the second group would meet in the second part of the day, then the first group would have that time off. I used the period to work on Facebook for a while.
Next up was my real first class, the “writing” class (it’s really called French Language) with M. Cherbonnet (though he’s told us to call him Fabian). We were placed in desks in a circle around the room, and he called on us one by one to ask our names. I pronounced “Claire” the French way with the French “R” and he praised me for my “pretty French pronunciation.” I got picked on a little for forcing my “R” in high school, but it looks like it paid off. There were some students who don’t have names that can really have French pronunciations; there’s a girl named Bailey in the class, for example. He had us take a test just to check in and see where we all are in our individual levels, then we did a speed dating exercise and got to know each other, asking questions about our families, what we study at school, what we like (and don’t like) about France, things like that. We had a 15 minute break, then came back to this class again. Fabian called on us individually (in part to practice our names and match them to faces) to ask us some of the specific questions from the speed dating exercise in the session before the break. I was the first person he called on, and he asked me what I studied in school.
“J’étudie le théâtre et le français pour les majeures, et le cinéma pour le mineure.”
He wrote le théâtre/le cinéma on the board to give the other students a chance to write them down for the spelling. He asked the other questions to a few other random people around the room in the same manner, writing difficult words on the board. I wrote any word I didn’t already know in my notebook. He called on me again for something I like about French culture, and for something I detest. I laughed.
“J’aime le nourriture et le répas en tout cas, et quelque chose je déteste… j’essaie d’expliquer… Les gens avec les chiens… quand les chiens déféquent sur le terre, personne ne le ramasser jamais!”
Translation: I like the food and meals in every case, and something I hate… I’ll try to explain… People with dogs… when the dogs crap on the ground, no one picks it up!
As soon as I said déféquent, everyone in the room starting laughing and knew exactly what I was talking about. Thankfully, Fabian wrote the proper translation for the talking point of this issue on the board, so if anyone ever wants to go to a French city council and press the issue, here’s what you put on the docket: les crottes de chiens. Literally and politically correctly: the dog droppings. I’m not kidding, the dogs don’t just crap on the grass, oh no, it’s on the streets, the side walks, everywhere. To a dog (and it’s owner, unless you’re Dagny and Diane), the entirety of France is your toilet.
Fabian called on every single one of us for our favorite (or least favorite) French word or expression. I wrote down the ones I didn’t know. Here are the good ones from my notebook, and their translations. One in particular was pretty shocking because it sounds like a curse word in English.
un phoque = a seal (animal)
une cacahouète ou une cacahuète = peanut
Saperlipopette! = VERY OLD expression used when you’re surprised. Use to make your host family laugh and call you old fashioned.
coquet(te) = someone who’s all “dolled up” for a date (NOT someone who sleeps around)
Pamplemousse (grapefruit) had already been taken, which is one everyone says, and since I was going to end up being the last one called, I needed to come up with something else, so I said that I liked the expression “Tranquille, Émile!” because it rhymed. There was someone in the class that asked if that was a way to say “shut up.” (It actually means “calm down”) Oy vey… Someone else corrected her and said that it was like “Chill, Bill” in English. The issue with “shut up” led Fabian into a ten minute lesson on a whole bunch of different ways to tell someone to shut up, which was pretty epic.
Tais-toi! = to tell ONE person (or someone you know well) to shut up.
Taisez-vous! = to tell MORE THAN ONE person (or someone you don’t know well) to shut up.
Both of these forms are polite ways to tell someone to shut their pie holes.
Ferme ta bouche! = Shut your mouth! Slightly less polite.
Ta bouche! = Your mouth! (Shut is implied) More informal, less polite.
Ferme-la! = Shut it! More formal, slightly more polite than the last one.
Ferme ta gueule! = Shut your animal mouth! Really impolite. Use on someone you don’t like.
Ferme ta boite à camembert! = Shut your Camembert box! This is something kids say.
That last one requires a little more explanation. Krystal said someone said that to her so she asked for its context. Camembert is a very stinky cheese, and is kept in a box. When you’re flapping your yappers like crazy, you’re making a stink. A child (in primary or middle school) will tell you to shut your stinky, cheesy mouth and put it back in its box. Fabian said we’d do a dictation soon (maybe tomorrow), where he’d read a paragraph, say virgule and expect us to write a comma in that space. I used to do that for my mom, so that should be easy. He had us make a chart in our notebooks of all of the punctuation marks, and then class was over.
Off to oral expression. Mme Geai gave us a list of topics to “choose” from, and we ended up deciding that we’d talk about food today, and stereotypes tomorrow. She definitely pitied me when I brought up my Celiac disease (oy vey), but praised me for figuring out some ways around it. She’s good at correcting people when we make little mistakes. I was scared of speaking up, and it took me a while to do it, but once I got going, I did alright. I didn’t make too many mistakes. I wrote down a couple new words relating to food in my notebook. Because Americans have dinner so early, Madame says we have to remanger (eat again) at night close to bed time. Eating something between meals (snacking) is grignoter. She also mentioned something about caramel au beurre salé (literally caramel of dirty butter, probably caramel made from brown butter) that looks pretty tasty.

For lunch, all of us went to Carrefour to grab some little things. Rouge and I bought some chèvre (goat cheese) and some little sausages to go with the crackers I’d brought, then we split that. Pretty tasty, and for just under three euro a piece, super cheap.
There was an orientation for the Paris universities after class today. Mme. Grée talked to us about how the universities will work, what departments there are, things like that. Paris III has a great theatre department, which is apparently very popular with American students (that slightly worries me). She said a lot of people take the acting classes, and there’s a directing class. She also said that it’s possible to take three classes at the Paris university and one at Sweet Briar (or two at both, or two at SBC and three at Paris III, etcetera), so we’ll see where I end up when I have my interview with her next week. I’ll tell her about my idea for my senior project(s) back at my usual college, and that’s going to be what will guide my course selection. I’d like to take that directing class if it’s available, and at least one of the acting classes. We talked to Mme. Parnet about housing options. I have my interview with her tomorrow morning. I really hope that goes well… Is packing up Madame and moving her to Paris an option?
After the orientation, I went to the WiFi zone and worked on my blog for a while, then uploaded some pictures. I wasn’t able to upload all of them, so I have a bit of a job for tomorrow.
Walked back up to Madame’s, and I timed myself. It took me 35 minutes to get home, and that was in some hot weather, with my first cat call of the trip. Some goober on a motorcycle whistled at me while I was panting and adjusting my nose stud. I must have had looked so unattractive at that moment, with a finger half up my nose, another on the side of it, and my tongue hanging out all crazy… I’m not sure if it was a joke or not, but I guess it doesn’t matter. It still counts as a cat call. It happened. I thought about yelling va au diable (go to hell) after him, but I figured that’d be a bad idea.
Got back to the house, and the first thing Madame asked was what château I was placed in. She was surprised when I said I was in the second (I told her le quatrième since le première would be the highest level) and she said she thought I deserved to be in the third level. I’ll come clean, I’m not truly happy with my placement. With where the other girls from my college are, I understand. If this has something to do with the curriculum at my school, I get it, this wouldn’t be the first time a school I attended had something to do with “holding me back” a little. I really feel that I have a better grasp of French than this particular level, and I think I’m near the top of this particular château. Madame said that may be a good thing, however. It may be better to be in a class that’s a little too easy than one that’s too hard where all the information’s lost on you. I’ll keep on trucking. If the professors think I’m in the wrong place and they bump me up, then that’s what happens. If not, so be it. Regardless of where I am, I’m going to speak better French at the end of my stay in Tours, and that’s the point!

Dinner was great. We had some tiny shrimp and tomatoes for l’entrée, more veal that was cooked with jambon and haricots verts for le plat principal, then the cheese and fruit for dessert. Madame asked if I’d heard much from my mom or my boyfriend (like in emails or texts) since she wanted me to talk about them at the table. Anna’s mom actually came to visit and had dinner with them once during her stay! Note to Mom: She’d love to meet you if the opportunity arises. When we have the time and money, we should make a trip back to Tours, and we can check visiting the gardens at Le Château de Villandry off of your bucket list! Sound good? Hey mom and boyfriend, send me an email with things you want me to tell Madame about you over dinner!!! I’ve told her little things, but give me other ideas of what to tell her, please!!!

Getting up so early has really tired me out, but I lucked out and didn’t have any homework tonight. Tomorrow’s going to be fun, there’s a wine tasting on my schedule!

Vouloir, c’est pouvoir.

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