15 October 2007
Saturday afternoon over a steaming bowl of homemade broccoli soup (I make my own chunky soups, since all soups here are puréed), Leslie and I discussed with amazement the fact that we’ve been here several weeks, and were very thankful that we’re staying a year. Really, we feel like we’re just settling in, and yet in only two months almost the entire BCA group will return home. It feels so…transient. Although I suppose since I moved to college I’ve lived on ‘I can do without’s, waiting to buy or do or wash something until I go home on a break. I’m trying to get out of that mindset here, changing from ‘I can do without’ to ‘No, this would really make my life here a lot more pleasant…’. Not that I’m going on shopping sprees or anything, mind you. I’m just settling in, unpacking, realizing that now the word ‘home’ refers (in part) to
This week in review: It’s a good thing I read linguistics books for fun! This week in my linguistics courses we distinguished content words from function words, and I think I would have been quite lost had I not read Steven Pinker’s (MIT linguist, Chomsky cohort) The Language Instinct this summer. A content word (or mot lexicale) is a noun, adjective, verb, and sometimes adverb; the category is open—we’re always adding new words to it; think ant, bluish, to blog, and standoffishly. A function word (or mot grammaticale) is a preposition, conjunction, determinant, pronoun, and sometimes adverb; the category is closed—we don’t just invent new ways to say and/or/with/he/she/very. If you can master this distinction, consider yourself a linguist. If you think you can invent a new function word, consider yourself an idiot. If you have trouble with the word and but not ant, if you can construct a perfectly grammatical sentence without understanding what it means, or if you have a hard time remembering the names of vegetables, consider yourself a victim of SLD (specific language disorder)—No really, it exists!
Just in case you missed the ball…
Espero (from the Spanish verb ‘esperar,’ which means both ‘to wait for’ and ‘to hope’) for the day when the
French Culture 101
Since I’m not exactly sure who my audience is, I think I ought to clarify the importance of wine in
I can't disclose whether this was actually taken in France or not, but it was with family, around a meal, with a Reisling.
Due to the incredible cost of peanut butter in the local Match supermarket (3.85 euro per jar…I think at the current conversion rate that’s about $5.75), it is now officially a sin to waste peanut butter. O ye heathens who consumeth not thine entire portion! Just think of all the poor, peanut-butter-starved Colleens in
I’m doing well, healthy and whole and safe and sound in
08 October 2007
(Me and my host family)
Tomorrow I’m going to rise with the sun and make my way to the largest farmers’ market in
I like to take with me the bag I bought at the fair trade store in Angers. It reads: "Beaucoup de petites choses, par beaucoup de petites gens, en beaucoup de petits lieux, peuvent bouleverser la face du monde." (Many small things, by many small people, in many small places, can change the world.)
The BCA group visited the Conseil Generale, the regional government branch, last Wednesday to learn about the social services of the region. A few notes:
Franceis a central government as opposed to a federal government, like the . That means that all the power rests in the hands of the central government in US Paris, and that central entity demands certain things of the regional governments; in the , the states hold the power and require certain things of the federal government. There have been recent efforts at decentralization of power. US
- Certain parts of the social services program are obligatory, required by the national government. Others are optional, formed by the initiative of the regional government.
- The CG of the Bas-Rhin region spends 400 million dollars. The population is 1 million.
- Initiatives concern: public health (especially maternal and infant), children and families, programs for handicapped persons and old people, and finally the reintegration of anyone on the margins of society to bring them back into the life of the community.
And then I went to
I just like to write that phrase. It’s true: I spent Friday afternoon in Kehl, just across the river, where things are cheaper and the ice cream is better and you can find Kindereggs are aplenty. Don’t know what a Kinderegg is? Think ‘happy meal’: it’s a toy encased in a thin chocolate egg. I’d send you all one if I could, just to make you smile. It’s an odd creation. But then again, so are happy meals.
It was truly magnificent. I’ve hardly felt so warmly received since I’ve been here. I think, when I get back to
I like meeting foreigners who speak French well
It gives me hope. I used to think that speaking French was all in the accent and, for me, putting on the accent was just like acting. I’m finding, however, that one can’t act all the time, and so even though I’m getting lots of golden stars for grammar, my accent is undeniably foreign (though not obviously American). I read somewhere in my TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) texts that sometimes people choose to retain their accents for reasons of identity: I’m not French, so why would I try to hide my nationality, which is integral to my identity? An interesting question. Another interesting question: why are we so convinced that learning English is easy, just a matter of will? You have no idea how difficult it is for me, a well-educated person with an inclination for language, having already studied French for several years, and being employed right now by the task of mastering the language…how difficult it is for me to become functionally fluent. You have no idea how easy it is to stay within an English context, to hang out with other BCA students, to go to the Irish pub, to work with other speakers of English, to rely on my friends to translate or on other to speak English. I think I’m a little more understanding of Hispanic immigrants who, generally speaking, have middle school education, work and live with other speakers of Spanish, and need to work all day every day to earn a living.
It’s hard, so very very hard to learn another language, because it’s so much more than just words. I can express myself quite well, but I have a hard time manipulating tone, being witty, communicating exactly what I want to say. And, if you know me, you know that’s what I live for.
So bravo for all those who ever master another language. You give me hope.
Autumn in the
I got to go to the
Sunday afternoon, we hiked down the mountain along the Brusche valley to the town of
It takes two to tango
No! It really does! It’s official: I’m taking tango lessons at the university. Maybe I’ll follow the tradition of a formidable
02 October 2007
I am comforted. The adventures continue, classes settle down, and I stop stressing. The beginning of last week was difficult, but each day was better than the one before. I think the definitive change occurred in my French linguistics course, a class at the ‘real’ university (Marc Bloch, not for foreigners), in which we studied all the things about language that I absolutely love. I laughed as the professor made comparisons between French and English, trying to indicate the different sounds of the languages, and ended up saying ‘ship’ and ‘sheep’ exactly the same way. I got so excited about taking the course I didn’t even wait until this week to declare myself to the professor as a foreign student wishing to take the course. And, well, after confronting a French professor, you can pretty much do anything in the world.
For those of you who are interested, my schedule falls out as follows:
Monday: 12-2 Francophone literature
4-5 English translation
5-6 20th century literature
?6 Tango class
Tuesday: 3-4 Art history
?4-5 Linguistic methodology
Wednesday: 3-6 Grammar
Thursday: 9-10 French linguistics: workshop
12-1 French linguistics: lecture
5-7 French cinema
If you are under any sort of impression that this is a light load, keep in mind that IT IS ALL IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE. Oi!
So, that was the week, and then some, since I wasn’t sure which classes I was going to take and which I would eventually drop. I had headaches from listening so hard. And it rained! But, in spite of all this, the week got better and better.
There’s a difference between Dissonance and Cacophony
Friday night, I went to an orchestra concert with some other students from BCA, my study abroad program. We listened to ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’ of Stravinsky (think of the music of the dinosaur scene in ‘Fantasia’) and two other pieces like it, by French composers, who were in attendance. Stravinsky’s work is pretty well-known, and for good reason: it’s an amazing combination of dissonant sounds. Of the other two works presented, the first was quite nice, although I think I got more enjoyment out of watching the fiery petite violinist who needed a six-foot radius to accommodate her passionate playing. The second pieces, well, let’s just say I learned something that day: there’s a difference between dissonance and cacophony. Although it was amusing when the man playing the xylophone pulled out two large pieces of Styrofoam and rubbed them together for the length of three notes, then set them down and never touched them again. I was bemused and confuddled, to say the least.
All ended well, including the surprise after-concert meal. We were chatting in the lobby after leaving the auditorium, when all of a sudden we noticed small tables dotting the room, quickly being covered by bread and cheese. And, through a crowd of people, we saw drinks being served, but no money exchanged. Okay, we can do that, we thought, and grabbed some bread, cheese, and drinks. But then something else happened: a table of sandwiches, bratwursts, and bread appeared, along with a new supply of drinks. Huh, sure, we can do that too, we thought. We were pleasantly surprised, to say the least. How very nice that this concert included a small repas, and much nicer was the fact that, as students, we had already received a discounted admission. But nothing compared to the ecstasy we felt when plates and plates of tarts, cookies, éclairs, puddings and yogurts appeared for dessert! Can you believe it? Entertainment AND a meal! Incredible! And how much do you think it cost, as students? 5.50 euro, thank you very much. Did I mention how much I appreciate the student/young person reductions in
Saturday began with another Musica event (Musica being the sponsor of these truckloads of music recitals and concerts going on in the city right now), which I attended with my friend Hayley from
Gateau à la colinienne
Sunday, my little host sister Célia turned eleven and had a raucous birthday party with all her friends. So I made her a cake: sugar cookie bottom spread with peanut butter, sliced apples, and drizzled with honey. It’s also called a ‘fruit pizza,’ and although I can’t remember where I got the recipe, I remember making it last year. Well, Célia and her friends went crazy for this cake, and amidst the slang and shouted child-language I managed to pick up a few ‘merci’s. Célia demanded to know the name of the cake, and when I said I didn’t have one for it, she decided to call it, ‘gateau à la colinienne’, gateau meaning cake, Coline being the pronunciation I go by (koh-leen) (which also means ‘hill’), and colinienne being the adjective form. You know, I kind of like having a cake named after me.
You give me Fever
Sunday night I saw the film ‘Sicko,’ the newest documentary by Michael Moore, featuring the American health care system in all its glory. I can’t tell you how interesting it was to be an American (the US being the only country in the Western world without a free, universal health care system) in France (the country with the best health care system in the world) watching an American film which, at one point, directly compared the systems of the US and France. First, DON’T GET SICK. Second, see this documentary, whatever your political bias may be. It asks questions that are worth examining, questions I discussed with my French friend with whom I saw the film:
Why doesn’t the
What happens when doctors become businesspeople?
Why doesn’t everyone deserve equal access to health care?
Why are the insurance company lobbyists to powerful (four lobbyists for every congressperson, if I remember correctly)?
Why do insurance companies deny coverage or reject claims?
What is the purpose of knowing of a ‘preexisting condition’? (Note: in the
What happens, economically, when we pay for better health care to have a healthier population?
I was quite ashamed when I left the cinema, mostly because of the pitfalls of the American private insurance-industry-run health care system, but also because, by being American (or, rather, from the
Things I am missing or thinking fondly of: the present perfect verb tense, communicating exactly what I mean to say, real Mexican food (I ate at a Mexican, or rather ‘Frexican’ restaurant this weekend), somebunny named Ananda and her owner(s), people who don’t care whether or not brown shoes can be worn with black pants, inexpensive peanut butter, my Women’s Spirituality Group, and my family (in the extended sense of the word).
Things I like about where I am: the health care system, public transportation, farmer’s markets, people who listen, my house, the European Institutions, my cat, culturally-incorporated alcohol use instead of culturally-tabooed alcohol abuse, looking at French as ‘speaking in synonyms,’ and sleeping swans.
Things I am learning: how to dodge bugs while biking near rivers, how to avoid using the 6 euro/load washing machines, how to enjoy Sunday afternoons in parks, how to use my language abilities and how to adapt when they don’t suffice, how to relax (even during the school year), to like Nutella as much as I like peanut butter, how to send cryptically-abbreviated text messages in French (for example, ‘tkt pa’ stands for ‘ne t’inquiete pas’ or ‘don’t worry’; ‘ ), and patience.
Sometimes it takes walking back in the misty rain of a foreign country’s night to realize you are becoming exactly who you want to be.