Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Chronology of My First Weekend in France, Part I With 9 New Facts/Experiences

First, since I’ve last written, I’ve met my host parents and they are very nice. They’re very patient with me since I can’t understand most of what they say the first time. I’m still adjusting to hearing French thrown at me all the time and working out how to respond. I try to remember that this will take a couple weeks for the French to fully set in and that I need to be patient with myself also, however it’s difficult when I want to talk to people and I have the vocabulary and grammar of a French 4 year old. Actually I’m pretty sure the 4 year olds here talk much better than I do. But regardless my host mom, who speaks no English, is very nice and works with me to help me expand my vocab. My first morning here she walked me around the kitchen pointing out objects and teaching me how to say them in French. My host dad is also really nice. He speaks a little English, but just about as well as I speak French, so together we pound our way through conversation. They’re both retired and their kids are grown and out of the house. They also have three grandkids, but I haven’t met any of their other family yet. I’ve taken a few pictures of my temporary house for everyone at home to see. I got all my things unpacked and into my room, I had more space for things than I thought I would, so that’s good. Now, if I acquire a couple more things here they’ll fit.

That first night was pretty stressful and I pretty much just ate some dinner and then escaped to my room and turned on my Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me podcast so that I could hear some English and then read my English book I brought with me. It helped me feel better to understand what I was hearing for a change. I woke up the next morning and had breakfast with my host mom, then packed my backpack for the long weekend.
New fact/experience #1: I took my first shower in a real live authentic French bathroom. This means that the shower is structured like an American shower/tub except there’s no mount for the shower head on the wall and no shower curtain. So, one has to be careful not to splash too much water out into the rest of the bathroom while quickly cleaning oneself. You have to do it quickly because without the shower curtain to hold in steam/heat and the constant running warm water flowing from head to toes it gets cold pretty quick. I’m sure there’s a good trick to this, but being American I have no idea what it might be. I don’t have the vocabulary to ask my host parents about it and probably wouldn’t anyway because that’s just a super awkward conversation in any language. Anyway, after I was all clean my host dad took me into the center of town to look for a mobile phone. I didn’t end up getting one, partly because I was super confused and also because I needed more time to look around. After this extravaganza it was back to the house for lunch in which a fellow classmate joined us so that she could come with us after lunch to the IES center where we had to meet in order to leave. She’s very nice and we rode the bus together and roomed together in the hotel in Tours. The bus was two levels! New fact/experience #2: I’ve ridden in the top of a double decker bus. So, we had plenty of time to talk and get to know each other a little. I think she lives pretty close to me here in Nantes so I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other.

So, my time in Tours was spent being cold while looking at very large castles and eating food that I purposefully didn’t ask too much about until after I was finished eating. To see said Castles please direct your attention to the photo albums for which links have appeared in the upper right corner of my blog. I won’t say too much about them here, cause it’s more fun to describe them with the pictures. OK, so Day 1 in Tours is really more like day ½. We got to Tours around 5:30 pm and randomly sorted ourselves into rooms,
for new fact/experience #3 see Tours picture album, my bed in the hotel was very cool, I want one when I grow up, and then came back down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. Quick preface, I’ve learned the French like to eat a LOT (new fact/experience #4). I kind of already knew this; however, it’s become more apparent to me now that I’m here. The only reason my first dinner with my host parents was small was because I told them I was very tired and not very hungry. Breakfasts are pretty normal by American standards, just substitute croissants for biscuits and baguettes for bagels and you’re pretty much there. However, lunch the next day was a whole different matter. We had a full course meal of salad, then appetizer, then main entrée, then dessert, then coffee. FOR LUNCH! It was a little crazy and a bit unexpected. However I thought maybe it was a special lunch for me and the other student before we left for the weekend. I have since found out this is false. This lunch also began the pattern of strange appetizers most of which were at least moderately good if not totally strange, so much so that I won’t even try to describe them, except for that to the French “appetizer” apparently means “plate of full of food with less meat than the main course”, but which could be considered a full meal in the States. A quick interjection, in the spirit of exploration I have valiantly tried to eat everything put in front of me, regardless of my preference for its taste. I have succeeded in this endeavor with the exception of a stuffed tomato appetizer, I can’t stand the texture of raw tomatoes, and a few not fully finished desserts which were left over and simply couldn’t be eaten due to lack of room in my stomach by that point in the meal. But I digress, back to dinner the first night in Tours; sure enough it’s a full course meal, with an abnormally large amount of food. When the main dish came out none of us could really figure out what exactly we were eating. It was grey and round and was definitely some kind of fish or seafood. It also had a bone that went through the middle and looked suspiciously like a spine. Sure enough, come to find out it was eel. New fact/experience #5: I ate eel. It really wasn’t too bad, but it won’t become my favorite, and I’m glad I was unaware of its origin while I was still eating it. Dessert was, and continued to be throughout the other lunches and dinners, quite delicious, no surprise there.

Day 2, our first full day in Tours, we woke up and proceeded to Chateaux Loches. It was pretty interesting and had lots of creepy towers and dungeons to check out, which was fun. And, the view from the top of the castle was brilliantly amazing. However, in keeping with the old traditions, nothing is heated. New fact/experience #6: There’s no heating in the castles in France. Most of the students, with whom I agree, came to the conclusion that if such castles existed in the US, they’d probably have central heating by now. Whether or not this is a good thing, depends on whether you enjoy taking tours of castles in the winter when you just stand in the cold and let all the heat drain from your body while trying to listen to the tour guide while really just wishing you could walk around and get the heat back into your toes even if that means climbing 100 stairs to do so. Around lunch time we escaped the cold to a nice restaurant near the chateaux in which we ate lunch. This is where I officially learned that the full course meal extends to lunch all the time, not just on special occasions. For lunch I ate what was given me, like the night before, only this time it was a normal looking sort of meat, think along the lines of a pork chop, which is what I thought it was until I found out after that it was veal. New fact/experience #7: I’ve eaten a baby cow. I was a little upset by this, at least more so than I thought I would be. I’ve never really understood the point in eating baby animals. It’s stuff like this that seriously makes me consider vegetarianism. Which brings me to new fact/experience #8: the French do not understand why anyone would choose not to eat meat. Granted most of their meat is much less processed and probably contains less growth hormones, so they don’t really get the health aspect of it that we see in America. To them meat is good, and anyone who doesn’t want to eat it is sort of viewed as lesser of a person, at least in restaurants. The few vegetarians in our group were constantly served last, and mostly they just got plates of steamed vegetables, without seasonings or flavor at all. Also, IES chose to classify those with any sort of special eating needs, such as the poor girl with a glucose allergy who can’t eat grains, as a vegetarian. This doesn’t work well, as sometimes with the vegetables, the meals come with things like pasta and bread. And for some reason vegetarian also means ‘doesn’t enjoy normal desserts’ and they’d get things like fruit cups instead of chocolate cakes. Since I don’t particularly like chocolate cake and I quite like fruit, I’d trade my desserts with the vegetarians often. Anyway, back to the point, I’m not excited about it, but I’ve now eaten veal. This makes for two new palate experiences within 2 meals, and to do a little bit of foreshadowing, dinner wouldn’t disrupt this trend. After lunch we froze in Chateaux Chenonceau which was bigger than Loch and more prestigious, and it had really big grounds, with a labyrinth. After freezing there for a few hours while wandering around we rode the big bus back to our hotel in Tours and had a dinner which I figured out pretty quick was duck (new fact/experience #9). It was quite good, and much less troubling than lunch had been. After dinner a few girls and I tried to go find a small café to hang out in and have some coffee and drinks, but after wandering up and down the three main streets having found nothing that everyone was happy with, myself and a couple others called it quits and went back so that we could sleep. I know, very very boring of us. What can I say?

Stay Tuned for Part II, with the other new facts and experiences of that weekend. And hopefully I'll get my first week posted before the second week is over! I've posted links to some flickr albums up in the top right corner of this blog if you'd like to see pictures. If you have access to facebook, they're the same as those albums minus some of the redundant and less interesting pictures.


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