Tag Archives: culture

Idleness is the holiday of fools – Fortune Cookie

Hello again. 🙂 I promise I’ll write about all my amazing adventures this summer, or at least explain about what I’ve done. However, I have a nice little reverse culture shock story that I wanted to share. Now that I’ve returned to the States to finish my college career, I imagine this blog will turn into reverse culture shock stories, coping stories, or fun facts about France/French stories. I’ll try not to turn it too much into a personal blog, because honestly, a blog without a theme is just no fun. Anyway, here goes.

Tonight I went out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant with my best friend and her family. Just to clarify, dinner was great, and I had a good time, this story’s about cultural differences, nothing else. Anyway.
As we were eating, we got talking and before I knew it they were starting to clear the table. As I had not yet finished eating, I grabbed what I could and figured I would finish eating as they cleared the table instead of holding people up. But, before I could finish my plate, the table was cleared, the bill was given, fortune cookies were out, and a wet towel was being shoved in my face, as I was still eating. I was shocked. I knew that America was different, I knew that speed is important, you never have to ask for the check because it is always given as soon as you finish, I knew all that. But I never remember it feeling so violent. Shouldn’t you wait for the last person to finish before clearing the table? Maybe put the wet towel politely next to her plate and let her chew? Have the French put my expectations that high? Maybe I’m still adjusting, all I know is my head hasn’t stopped spinning since I left the place and I’m still hungry….

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Oh la poste, tu es trop rigolo

In basically every book I have ever read about French culture, there is always a reference to horrible experiences at the post office. So, here I am to offer the funny side to it.

Today, I had to run an errand for my stage by going to the post office, sending out some letters and picking up a lot of stamps. So, I got in line, and prepared myself for numerous line cuts and obnoxious employers, as I’ve been warned about by many books. As I’m waiting, a man comes over, and tells me I need to use the machine instead. So, I explain to him that I’m not just here to by two stamps, I’m here to buy a bucket full and send some complicated letters. To which he says, well, your paying with a credit card, right? So it’s ok. But, I’m not paying with a fancy carte bleu, just plan old cash, so he agrees that I was right in the first place and lets me get back in line.

I thought that was the end of it, until, he starts talking to his colleague about me, and they pull out a calculator to find out just how many books of stamps I need, and how long that would really take if I just used the machine. After a bit, they realize that, yes, the machine would still take longer than a real live human being. But, apparently I’m too complicated for the poor lady at the desk, so, another lady heads in the back just to get my obnoxiously large order of stamps. When she comes out, she brings me over to another man, who opens up a booth just to take care of my stuff.  He turns out to be a very nice guy, even asked questions about the museum and how much it would cost for his daughter. He even doesn’t mind when I have to pay part in cash and part by credit card.

So, instead of having a stressful time à la poste, I got special treatment and to laugh at the…. for lack of a better word, dorks (in the best cutest silliest form of the word) that work there.

Voila, mon histoire pour le jour.

Update on my life: Pretty much everyone has left on vacation, so it’s pretty tranquille for me. Lots of watching TV with the cool kids who stayed in the foyer with me. Memoire is stressful, visits are getting better and better, and ya, that’s life.

Bonne soirée tout le monde!

p.s. Forget if I’ve said this, but I’m just so happy, I’m taking French, Spanish, and Arabic next semester! Finally! It’s gonna be awesome!!!!

Dance like no ones watching

Written yesterday, posted today.

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No painting today! Whoohoo!

Instead I spent my day cleaning floors. Still not that exciting, but much better for my poor feet.

I’m still having trouble getting use to long lunches and breaks at work. The long lunches just make me want to take a nap, and the poses just leave me sitting around feeling awkward. But, I am learning about of work, well, works during the lunches. It really is there that everything is discussed. And the breaks may feel weird, but my head and back thank me later, and I found out that I love Earl Grey tea.

After dinner tonight, there was a pot d’acceuil at the foyer. Pot d’acceuils are basically pot lucks/hor d’oeuvres with a random theme as an excuse to meet the new people at the foyer. Today was special because there was a DJ and everybody was suppose to come in “traditional garb” from their country. I wore my Gap pants and sneakers, gotta represent! As soon as we got there, my American friends and I started dancing. We were having tons of fun, but realized that nobody else would dance unless forced and that everybody was looking at us. I don’t really care if people watch because I know I dance like a crazy person and I don’t care, but it just showed another cultural difference. Americans are so much more open, if we wanna dance, we dance, no worries about how we look, we dance to have a good time. Eventually other people started dancing, but it took some time, some good songs, and the fact that we really never stopped dancing.

During the party, one of my friends was taking pictures of people, which turned out to be part of a “women’s day” project or something like that. Basically they take a picture of a women and an object that she considers important. So, I went up to my room to find something important, something that I liked and that represented me. I thought of the blow up Minion my brother sent me, pictures of my family, peanut butter, a bag I made, a pillow case I’ve had since I was a kid, but none of those seemed to work. Then I realized the one thing I refuse to travel without, duct tape. My purple duct tape, which I always make sure to have a supply of since I started college. Incredibly useful and fun colored, I can’t imagine going without it. And it’s purple, the best color in the world. And weirdly enough I have a lot of memories with it, setting up my dorm room, fixing my friends glasses, making purple duct tape stars. So, when it comes down to it, purple duct tape is the most important item I brought to France. Thank you Walmart. My friend took some pretty awesome pictures, so hopefully I’ll have them on facebook for family and friends to see.

Which reminds me, WordPress allows its users to track how readers are finding the blog and how many people read each day. I’ve never had that many, just family and friends, and then recently I’ve been getting a bunch of spam. Which annoyed the hell out of me. However, that spam must have done the trick because when you google “Bonjour Escargot” I’m now at the bottom of the first page, out of like ten pages or something, big stuff lol. So, to any new google readers, first off it’s amazing that you googled bonjour escargot, you sound like an awesome person. Also, I’m use to having people I know read the blog, so if you actually start reading let me know and I’ll be sure to explain things more thoroughly instead of just saying “Well, mom, you know what I mean!”

Well, it’s officially Friday here and I have a big day coming up: stage, diner, homework, salsa dancing. 🙂
Bonne nuit tout le monde, have a great Friday!

Presque le weekend

Today I did a little bit of everything, watched a visit, helped with busy work, translations, watched ateliers, and helped prepare supplies for next week. I didn’t spend as much time forcing myself to interact with the kids, but I still tried to do little things like asking them if they had fun while helping them wash their hands and stuff. Which was nice because I had less awkward moments and the kids still opened up.

I was a little thrown off during one of the last ateliers. I was helping with the clean up at the end when a little girl comes up to give me a thank you bisous. I was completely shocked, I’ve never bisoused a kid before and I’ve never thought of a bisous as anything other than hello or goodbye. It was the cutest thing in the world, but the poor girl had to wait a few seconds for me to register what was going on. So, update on bisouses: Bisouses can be used in place of thank you hugs for kids, it’s still awkward when people bisous you and in the process give you a new layer of foundation, and I’m finally getting used to initiating the bisous, sometimes.

After work I headed out to meet some friends for dinner in Belleville. It ended up being me, an Italian, and a Chinese; so it was really interesting to compare our countries and try to explain health insurance. We had all the differences covered on that subject, in Italy there’s no need because everyone’s covers and in China no ones covered and it’s just barely starting to exist.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading back to my stage because they asked for a hand since there’s going to be trop de monde au musée. It’ll give me a little bit of pocket-money, but I mostly agreed just for another chance to hear French all day and interact. Hopefully I won’t be too exhausted next week though. Luckily nothing’s open on Sunday so I can sleep in all day long and not feel like I’m missing anything.

Halfway there

I’m slowly but surely getting used to how work, well, works in France. But there are moments where I see how easy it is to slip back into the American mindset. This morning started like any other, except that instead of helping out or observing, I translated texts that are going to be put in the new exhibition and the activity books. As I sat in front of the computer, typing up the texts and wordreferencing any words I didn’t know, I immediately felt like there was a deadline hanging over me.  I got completely focused on my work, staring at the screen for two hours straight. Even when I finished the first part, instead of taking an early lunch I kept moving through. I finished both texts and was only a little bit late for lunch, but I felt horrible afterwords. Staring at the computer had given me a headache, not moving made me jittery, and I hadn’t spoken French all morning so it felt like I had just walked in. I completely understand why the French take so many breaks and why they were so confused that I’d finished translating so quickly.

I made sure to take a long lunch though, I wanted to be sure I felt normal again before dealing with the kids. While sipping my tea, I ended up sitting in on a meeting. It turns out my teachers were right, the French really do use their breaks for business, they just hide it in conversation. For instance, everyone was just eating lunch and they were talking about the next  couple weeks and before you know it there’s a meeting about stagiaires working the weekend (something I’m hoping to avoid). It was really interesting to watch the different interactions and all the little details that go into running the museum. Like how many people need to be there during the weekend, who has the key, who’s going to close up, who’s trained to do what. It’s a lot of details to wrap your head around, and these people did it during lunch break, no grand documents just their coffees.

After lunch I headed downstairs to watch a visite. It was the calmest group I’ve ever seen, they all listened and took their time completing the activites. I really didn’t have to do anything besides point them in the right direction and tidy up after they left. After that I helped with an art workshop where the kids made their own version of this painting:

Salvador Dali

It wasn’t my favorite activity because there were a lot of rules: you had to make the background the same way, the cloud had to be on top and the flower had to fit in between the cloud and the earth. But it was still fun to watch the kids.

After that I took a long tea break. I didn’t do it on purpose, I was just sitting talking with the stagiaires in between workshops. But then, somebody offered me a tea, and I thought “I’m in France, I’m gonna drink some tea!” Before I knew it the next workshop had started, but instead of rushing outside I realized “There’s two people out there, and two other stagiaires with me, and nobody is freaking out, enjoy your tea.” So, for the first time I took a break, I enjoyed my time, and I had a good conversation with my fellow stagiaires. We actually got talking about the internet, and I put in my two cents about how I check about 10 sites every day, half of which I check twice. This shocked the Frenchies! Turns out most of them didn’t have internet until the end of high school, and they check mail and facebook rarely now, seeing internet instead as another form of research. It really put the U.S. in perspective and showed me just how much I need to learn how to translate “Americans are attention whores.” I think I’ll wait a bit to tell them about my blog….

When the time was right, the tea drunk, and the conversation finished, we all wandered to our perspective activities and everything was wonderful. I ended up helping the cutest little boy with his art work. When you’re only three feet tall it’s hard to reach the other side of your painting and when you’re too young to know if you’re right or left-handed it’s hard to use scissors, but his painting came out wonderful anyway. Then I helped the little ‘uns wash their hands, which always leads to the most interesting conversations. One girl offered me her silly band after showing me all of hers and discovering that I only have two. Another little girl asked if I was German. To which I responded, “No, guess again.” A little boy piped in “Portuguese?” “Nooo, which country speaks English?” “England” “True, but what other country, it’s really big” “Russia!” Which doesn’t quite speak English, but they got the U.S. on the next try. It made my day to see a little girl not thrown off by my accent, just curious, and then have a fun conversation about it. Sometimes it works out to be l’americaine.

After work, I was invited to join the other stagiaires to go for a drink. It was really nice to just talk with the group and be able to really get to know people. It feels really good to know that I was able to follow the conversation, and anything I missed was either funky French tv show references or drowned out by the band practicing at the table next to us. After a while one of my favorite stagiaires turned the conversation towards the U.S. We talked about whether New York City is a different culture than the rest of the US, whether Americans really are obese, I taught them that Wendy’s is the best fast food in the world, and then she asked about 9/11. I was kinda surprised because no body here has asked me about it before, and all the questions before were pretty typical. But after telling them my experience, how it basically was a day of complete confusion for me, it turns out they had very similar experiences. Many of them were picked up early from their various activities (being 3pm here when it happened they were out of school as we were starting it), and knew what was going on just as much as we did. It was interesting to see how what I’ve always thought of as ‘our day’, the day when the US was hit and not somebody else, really had an international impact.

One of the reasons I’m so happy with my stage is because of how welcoming the stagiaires are. Throughout the night they always made sure to include me in the conversation, even if it was just to see if I’d heard of a certain TV show or if I understood the story. Even on the train ride home, they kept the conversation going, sincerely interested in where I live and how I like the museum, which likewise gives me the opportunity to see where their coming from. It turns out a couple of the stagiaires finished their required stages and just kept going because they like it so much.

Well, it’s time for me to turn in so I can wake up and see what tomorrow brings. 🙂 Hopefully I get some more cute kid stories to share. Bonne nuit!

Deuxieme jour

In general, I’d say my deuxieme jour du stage was a success. The morning was tiring because I was tired and I just couldn’t get French to come out well, which made people hesitant, which made things more tiring. But, my chinese leftovers at lunch woke me up and the afternoon was much more eventful.  (Also, everyone completely understood why I was tired and were still incredibly nice, score for the stagiaires!)

First, I was able to help with some translations. The new exhibition which will be built next week is based on an American artist, Keith Haring, and for the first time in the museum’s history there will be real original artwork in the exhibition. So, the museum is borrowing artwork from the U.S. Therefore every aspect involving the art work, from the loan agreements to the transportation, has to be translated into English, sent to the US and then translated back into French. The workers have a very good level of English, but I was still able to help out by making sure it sounded natural and making it more polite since translations tend to be very direct. It was amazing to see all the work involved, I only had to translate two emails and I still got lost between everything involved and all the communication necessary. I would love to pick the directors brain about all the work involved, a possible subject for my mémoire (final paper) too. (Sidenote: When I start leading tours it’s going to be a little tricky because I’ll have to decide between slightly confusing everyone by saying Keith Haring, or sounding French and saying Keissaring)

I also helped out with ateliers (art workshops) again. I started with the youngest group I’ve seen so far, the youngest being 2 and a half. A couple of them had trouble sitting still or leaving their moms, but it’s amazing to see what even young kids can do if you give them the chance. And they’re always so proud! Later I helped with the “big kid” ateliers, where we decorated the Mona Lisa in the style of Marcel Duchamp and the surrealists. It was really cool because the kids basically had free rein to decorate three Mona Lisas however they wanted, cut them up, color them, add little jewels or flowers.

I feel very comfortable at mon stage, but it’s still a little tricky, bien sur puisque c’est que le deuxieme jour. The language doesn’t pose any problem of comprehension, except when little kids start inventing stories. However, sometimes there are parents who talk extremely fast or people who talk really quiet, and it’s hard to explain to them that I don’t have trouble with the language but with how they talk. Also, sometimes I just don’t know how to respond to the kids questions, but luckily kids are smart and don’t notice too much. It also takes time to learn the vocab needed for naturally telling a kid not to do that, or the french form to compliment a very pretty painting. Even animal sounds, during a tour today there was a picture of Dali with his chicken, and the guide asked “what animal is this? it makes a sound like ‘cloc cloc cloc’ ” And I realized, all my little kid tricks have to be translated, dogs may not bark here, it just wouldn’t work with that French ‘r’.

I should be asleep now, but I got caught up talking to friends. Once again I find myself juggling between work and social time. And other simple things, like the fact that I now have to shop either Saturday with the rest of Paris, or after work with half of Paris. Waiting in line to buy socks today was not fun… But I’ll figure it all out, bonne soirée tout le monde!

What I will miss the most…

Although I’m not leaving for 4 months, thank goodness, there are some things I already know I’ll miss terribly when I get back, or are going to be huge culture shocks that I’ll have to deal with. Again, in no particular order of importance.

  • Noise level. The French live at a perfect noise level for me. When you talk, the whole room doesn’t have to hear. The French pretty much only scream in clubs or at concerts. Which is amazing for me and my silly ears. So, I have a feeling I’m going to be unintentionally rude to many an American when I tell them to please talk a little quieter.
  • Meal time. The French respect food and each others company. They basically do the exact opposite of what I do back home, and I love it. They start eating around 7:30, eat at whatever pace pleases them, while talking and laughing, and then wait for everyone to finish, talk and laugh some more, and then leave as a group. If somebody gets there late, we wait for them. I love it because it’s forced me to really get to know people and enjoy dinner time. Stop and smell the roses and all that. I’m curious if I’ll revert back to my habits of being the first to leave when I get back to the states. Hopefully I can convert everybody to the French way. 🙂
  • While being late generally depends on the person, the French always do what they say they’ll do. If somebody says “Let’s go see a movie” we see a movie. If we’re all eating dinner together, nobody backs out half way through. It’s so nice to have people you can actually rely on.
  • Public transportation. Even the college town shuttle can’t hold a candle to Metro, Bus, and RER in one city.
  • Walking everywhere. I might just start being silly and parking really far away just to enjoy the walk. I’m really spoiled here, the Bastille is a half hour walk, and then half an hour more and I’m at hotel de ville, 15 minutes and St. Michel. If I wanted to, I could walk everywhere here.
  • Kebabbbbbbb
  • Boulangeries that are open until 2 am and have incredibly nice people working there.
  • Dancing with people who know how to dance.
  • The beautiful graffiti, tags just aren’t my kind of art.

This list seems to be getting a bit silly, so I’m going to head to bed. But as with all the other lists, I’ll update it whenever I think of something new.

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Update: Here are some silly things I’m going to miss too.

  • Buying Kelloggs cereal where the ingredients are also listed in Arabic.
  • Being told that I sing wonderfully simple because I know how to pronounce the english words correctly.