Monday, May 12, 2008

Bonjour from France!

France is awesome! Getting here was quite an adventure, but I feel really accomplished after battling a language barrier and really ridiculously confusing layouts of airports/trains/streets. Customs in Nice were a joke. We serisously just showed them our passports, they stamped it, and we were in France. I kept looking around for someone to ask us some questions or frisk us or spit at us for being American, but they didn’t. No one was begging to help us, though, either. We finally figured out where to go to get our bus tickets to Juan Les Pins, but the ticket counter lady gave us all the wrong tickets and then refused to refund us when we told her they were wrong. The infrastructure for a lot of things, we would soon find out, isn’t really great here. There is no “upper management” to deal with complaints or customer service or anything, so we had to bite the bullet on the really-expensive-wrong-ticket even though I know we asked for the right ticket and she printed the wrong one. Makes me think they might do this to a lot of Americans because they know we can’t argue out of it.
We took a bus to Juan Les Pins, where our apartments are, and hauled all of our luggage down the tiny streets of the town. Everything is so tiny here! The streets are tiny, the shops are tiny, the cars are really realllly tiny… the people aren’t tiny per say but they aren’t fat. Very lean and lanky and tan. Which, to be honest, is really strange because all these people do is drink, smoke and eat bread. No lie. I don’t understand how everyone isn’t 400 billion pounds. I guess it’s from all the walking. The town of Juan Les Pins is exactly what you might expect from a small Mediterranean French town. Our apartment, the Couleours Soleil Residences, is about two blocks from the sea. Right next door is a little cafĂ© called “Non-Stop Pain Sandwiches” which we still haven’t quite figured out. The food is good, but all I’ve had the nerve to order there so far is a ham and butter sandwich (though in all honesty I didn’t know that was what I was ordering at the time!) It is amazing how many phrases you can pick up pretty quickly just because you’re hungry. I realized pretty soon that if I didn’t learn some French, I was going to starve. But like I said, everyone here eats bread. I thought that was just a French clichĂ©… that people walked around carrying baguettes and yelling “Bonjour!” to everyone, but they really do. I mean, everyone carried bread and is always saying hi. Strange phenomenon.
We discovered the best bread place in town. Actually, Allison, our director, told us about it, but we actually found it by ourselves yesterday. It’s called artisan and I don’t think I’ve ever had a better croissant. The lady who runs it is really nice, and she appreciates us trying to speak French I think. A common trend with the French is that they like to try to guess where you are from when you try to speak to them. They think it’s cute, or something, because they will laugh at you and then tell you where they think you are from. Surprisingly and thankfully, I guess, most people haven’t right off of the bat guessed “American, no?” So far we’ve gotten Italian (weird, right?), English and Dutch. Most people can tell just by looking at us though that we are not French, so that’s kind of nice. They usually give up trying to speak French to us and start speaking other languages until we understand.
But back to the whole “French infrastructure” as Allison calls it. Things just aren’t really efficient here. Cell phones don’t have plans, you just buy minutes and type a code into your phone. They don’t have big companies that run things like that. They also have random holidays when they feel like it. Most everything is closed every Sunday and random Mondays they have “bank holidays” where everyone decides they will take a holiday as well. The French don’t really seem to work that much, either. It is the law that everyone take a break between 12-2 and everyone gets 2 months paid vacation. Also, you can’t fire someone. It takes like 5 years to fire somebody, so some people really don’t care about their jobs. Very strange mentality. We were also told that the doctor and dentist are really, creepily cheap. Apparently some kid last year had to get his appendix out and was in the hospital for a week and it was only 35 euro or something ridiculous. On that note, things are otherwise kind of expensive here for Americans. If the dollar was more equal to the euro, things would be awesome! But the dollar is about .6 euro, so it’s hard to remember that when something costs 3 euro, it’s not 3 dollars. It’s more like 5.50. it’s really easy to forget sometimes.
It’s really nice being so close to the beach. Lots of enjoyable people-watching. The water is waaaay too cold for my liking, but the air is about 70 degrees and it’s really really sunny. Women, especially old women, like to go topless, so that’s a little disturbing and guys of all ages rock the speedo. Yikes.
We went into Cannes yesterday to get a look around before the festival starts. The trains like I briefly mentioned earlier are really confusing. Partly because the schedules are in French, partly because the times are writing in military time, and mostly just because things don’t really make a lot of sense here. My most common thought is “there has GOT to be an easier way to do this!” but really, there isn’t. French things are just complicated. We finally made it to Cannes and looked around, but most places were just getting ready for the festival. Building stages, putting up banners and signs and barricades… the festival starts Wednesday morning. Cannes has the McDonalds that I vowed I would never go into, but seriously it’s the nicest Mcdonalds I’ve ever seen. I didn’t buy anything, simply out of principle, but some of the guys wanted to try mcdonalds’ beer. Yep, they have beer. And apparently it was about what you’d expect from mcdonald’s beer, but they said the burgers were really good and well made. Interesting. They were playing some really funny music inside though, like destiny’s child and the quad city dj’s of “come on ride the train” fame.
A random thought… French guys looove to wear capris. They love them. It’s very strange.
A bunch of us braved the grocery store today… that was an experience. We could not figure out where everyone was getting the shopping carts or baskets so we just carried all of our stuff. The aisles aren’t labeled so you just have to guess where the different items are. Also, this is good to know… they don’t have bags. You have to bring your own. We learned this the hard way, but you can buy the big reusable kind. We also learned this the hard way. But now we know, and it’s good that the French are doing their part to save the environment. We kind of panicked, though, inside the store because things are packaged differently and there aren’t any of our family brands to go by. We bought some bread (we’re adapting so quickly) some nutella, some ham and salami, some soup and some cheese. Seriously that is all I could figure out. I wanted to buy some veggies but the whole contraption looked very complicated so I am going to wait on that one. Also something weird… orange soda here isn’t the orange soda I love from home. It’s more like sparkling orange juice. But let me tell you, it’s better here. I don’t what is in that junk from home, but we are really missing the mark.
In other “French stuff is weird” news… French showers and toilets are bizarre. Toilets have a the flusher on the center in the top and you pull up on it to flush. Showers are designed for you to sit down and they don’t have shower curtains. Things get WET. The whole bathroom gets soaked. And the water pressure is so intense! It hurts. We are managing though! Also, the whole no fitted sheets thing still gets me. I’m so glad I brought my sleeping bag!
We have a big welcome dinner tonight with the whole program and then tomorrow class starts. Then, starting Wednesday, we won’t have class again until after the festival, which ends on the 25th, even though we’ll have assignments to work on! Our classroom is on the top of our residence, in this glass-walled room on the 7th floor. It has a huge terrace around it that we can see the city and the sea and the French Andes. Not too shabby for school!
Well, I am going to see if I can go down to the Laundromat and use the free internet. I’ve been typing this letter in my room on our balcony. Our room faces a really cute little street…

More to come!

Au revoir!



ashley said...

ahhh, you are in france!! it sounds amazing. you are amazing. ... and i have to admit, i'm kind of partial to the manpris myself. have you met any moped riding french boys named jon and michael (aka jahn and meechelle) to whisk you around town as you film our much anticipated sequel 'passport to cannes'? much love!

natalie said...

i've had a huge disconnect with your life. you are in france. i missed that you would be there this early! ugh... i want to catch up with you. i guess i'll have to wait until you return. have the "time of your life" :)