Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fall break (round 2) and Frenchisms

Yes, I know it's been FOREVER since I've blogged. I'm going to try something new-blogging only short bits more often. Goal for the last remaining months!

I just got back from vacation in Spain and Morocco. I traveled with my sorority sister (and big big sister) from Toulouse (she came to visit me here first) to Barcelona and then to Marrakech. Funny how things happen! She graduated 2 years above me, moved to Richmond and got a job there. I finished school and moved to France. The following year, she decided to follow in my footsteps! Who would have thought a few years ago that we would be traveling Europe/North AFRICA together? Life's always pretty unpredictable, ain't it?!

Anyways, we had an awesome time and experienced only VERBAL harassment in Morocco -despite everyone's warnings, it was not nearly as "dangerous" as most Americans seem to expect (that means you dad!). It was so nice to be able to whip out the t-shirts and actually NEED sunscreen again. I'm always a happier traveler when the sun is shining and spring is in the air. Although I've already been to Barca and Madrid, it was great to revisit and see some places and things I've never seen before (or haven't seen in a while). And it was Aparna's first time in Spain so I was glad to be able to share that with her. One of the highlights of the Spain trip for me was going back to the Prado museum-I vageuly remember going when I was 16 with my family but at that age, I barely appreciated art and had definitely never studied it before. So being able to go back now and see all paintings that I studied in college and MORE-well, definitely an art history lover's dream. Of course I had to buy the Prado guide (I'm such a dork when it comes to art history books) and even though it added about an extra 5 pounds to my carry-on, it was worth it! As for the museum...5 hours is NOT enough time!!

Admittedly, I was most excited about going to Morocco because I'd never been to Africa and I was quite excited about going somewhere so different (and where the weather would be nice! that definitely helps). It was definitely an experience! Sick and tired of hostel life, we splurged and stayed in a gorgeous 6-room hotel right in the center of Marrakech and 20 minutes from the main square. And I have to say-it was worth it! And definitely unlike any hotel I'd ever stayed in before. If I could, I would LIVE there, it's that cool. Not only was it beautiful and with a nice rooftop, but the staff was so friendly and nice. Breakfast was included in the price but instead of the American-style buffet or "breakfast" of croissants and coffee that I'm used to, this was made fresh and hand delivered on silver platters. Literally. A very plentiful breakfast too which changed each day. It was pretty amazing.

Not that we had to worry about spending money on meals anyway..Morocco is SO cheap! I was amazed. We found a restaurant in the main square where main dishes cost 30 dirhams (or less than 3 euro). We found a kebab joint where we could get a chicken/kebab sandwich and fries for 17 durham (less than 1.7 euro). In Toulouse, that would be 4.5 euro! I guess it's a good thing I don't live in Morocco, I eat enough kebabs here in Toulouse! On the last day, I ordered a delicious mango smooothie for 17 dirham. That would be about 5 euro in Toulouse. After prices like that, I never wanted to leave!

Here is me on the rooftop of a restaurant in the main square-the views were so gorgeous, we could not stop taking pictures. So voilà, proof that I was there!

Compared to Barcelona and Madrid, there were not that many touristy things to do or see in Marrakech. Which actually made for a nice break from our previous week of travel. Sometimes it's nice to just relax and not be stressed about squeezing in a million different sights in one day. We did a bus tour of the city (yes, we were those people on the decks, taking pictures) which was really nice and I definitely recommend. You can see the entire city while listening to a tour guide, soaking up some rays and not moving a finger if you so desire (except to take a picture or two of course)! The architecture was so different from anything I'd ever seen before-so just driving or walking around and seeing that was interesting. Here is me in front of the Koutoubia Mosque-the main mosque in Marrakech and a sight to see, especially at sunset (in case you haven't seen already, Marrakech has pretty amazing sunsets).

As amazing as it was to see a slice of Africa, it was definitely a bit of a relief coming back to Europe. Truth be told, it was a bit sad seeing all of the poverty in Morocco and some of the places that people called home. Also didn't help that I was about the only blonde and Aparna the only (American) Indian. And even though I'm one of few blondes in Toulouse, I definitely fit in a bit more here!
Tu versus Vous
Even so, there are some things that, as a foreigner, I just don't understand. For instance, the difference between tu and vous. For all of you who have studied French, however briefly, you know that there is a formal (with the use of vous) and informal (with the use of tu) way of talking to people. In French class, you learn to use vous with strangers, adults, teachers and the like (to show respect and politeness) and tu with friends or family (to show a closeness/intimacy). However, the rules are often blurred and the use of tu/vous becomes very confusing.

For instance, I was at the ski slopes renting skis, and the people who worked at the ski shop were using "tu" with me. Quite strange considering that they didn't even know me and in any other situation, I would have expected them to use "vous." Perhaps they were trying to establish an immediate bond between us, but I was still confused. When I went to the gym to inquire about joining, the women immediately starting using "tu" with me; once again, I can only suppose that it was to establish a closeness and suggest a sense of community within the gym that might somehow convince me to join.

At the same time, the opposite is true. While most families use "tu" amongst themselves, it is standard (and expected) to use "vous" with ones' in-laws. That is to say, even a husband who has been married to his wife for 20 years, will use "vous" with his father and mother in-law. Oftentimes at least. I saw The King's Speech the other day and noticed that the royal family used "vous" amongst each other. I inquired about this and apparently, the king will use "vous" with his wife and even children! To me, this was another quite shocking revelation. Once again- there are some things that French class just doesn't teach!

It's interesting how you can immediately distinguish relationships between strangers on the street judging on whether or not they use tu or vous...if they are using "vous," chances are, they don't know each other that well and are still using polite conversation....but if they are using "tu" with each other, you know that they either have a closer relationship with each other, or they are both on the same level as each other. For instance, young people often use "tu" right off the bat with each other (except if there is a more formal relationship established; like if you are a customer and the other person is a salesperson for instance).

However, sometimes even French people don't know what to use! The secretary at my school, while talking to me, constantly switched back and forth between tu and vous; so then I became confused and did not not how to respond-would it be rude to respond using "tu"? I did not want to offend her, but at the same time, I thought it a bit too formal to use "vous" with her. While I think it is nice that politeness is inherent in the French language, in many ways I do prefer the informality of the English language...not having to stress about the use of tu/vous and not feeling weird because someone uses "vous" with me and thereby immediately suggesting some sort of distance.

As much as I love France and all of it's weird language rules, there are definitely little things that make me miss home at times...for instance:

Organization in the US...versus bureaucracy.
It's amazing how disorganized everything is here-it's things like that that definitely make me miss home sometimes. Getting numerous letters in the mail from MGEN (social security), CAF (government assistance), the préfécture (who issues me my carte de séjour, basically stating I can live here) all becomes a bit frustrating sometimes. Even after you give all the paperwork requested, they continue to ask for's an endless process and unbelievably disorganized. I had to pay 110 euros for my carte de séjour this year which I will not receive until right before or maybe even after I leave. But i still had to do it just so that my residency here was established. Meanwhile, my friend, also a second year teaching assistant, did not have to pay anything to apply for hers'! I explained this to them yet they said it didn't matter, I still had to pay. On top of that, even after I went in person to give all my paperwork and paid the 110 euros to process my permit, I receive a letter a few weeks later stating that I need to send in a medical certificate from last year. My reaction to all of this? GAHHHHHADFDSF. so frustrating.

SO Note to all: If you want to live in France, you absolutely MUST learn to be patient. My social security card (what I use when I go to the doctor etc) from the MGEN never even came last year..I reapplied this year per the request of Madame Bru from the rectorat here in Toulouse, and they told me it would be AT LEAST 3 months before I receive the damn thing. That's France for ya!

grocery stores. enough said.
Whenever I go to the grocery store in France, somehow, the line takes forever and there are always a million people rushing and running into each other. Whereas in the states, going to the grocery store is almost relaxing; one leisurely strolls through the aisles with his or her cart and I never feel overcrowded or pushed around. The lines don't take too long; sometimes, I even want them to last longer since I'm always browsing through the latest edition of Cosmo or US weekly (unfortunately this is not an option in French check-out lines).

The gyms!
Anyone who has been to a standard French gym will notice an immediate difference the minute they walk in. I have bounced around from gym to gym here in Toulouse, "trying" out different ones. They are so different in France and in my opinion, just not worth the money. To start with, all of the machines look like they were created in the 19th century. Towels are necessary but not provided-you must pay 1 euro if you want to borrow a towel. Slightly ridiculous. At the NYSC (that would be the New York Sports Club for all those clueless people out there), towels are handed out like peanuts and almost encouraged. Another difference is the workout classes, which normally take place in a huge common room that blasts the music throughout the entire gym. In America, we have separate rooms for each workout class. I also noticed that many French guys do the workout classes- interesting because in the states, a guy wouldn't be caught dead in a workout class unless it was spinning or something "manly" like that. Another weird thing about French gyms is that there are barely any treadmills- I even went to a gym where there was not a SINGLE treadmill. It was the strangest thing, considering that is a staple in any US gym. There are much fewer cardio machines as well and there are not even any TVs attached to them. All that for 40 euros a month...

The customer is always right theory
Because in France, the customer is always wrong. Yes, wrong. Whether it be at a restaurant, in a store, at the bank, wherever - the person who works there somehow has the right to be rude to the customer and this is considered perfectly normal behavior. Waiters are allowed to be completely rude to the customers without the possibility of being fired - I had some friends that went to a popular Spanish tapas restaurant last weekend and I was supposed to meet them there- I didn't end up going because they left soon after arriving. Apparently the waiter was extremely rude, saying they would have to pay 25 euros a person in order to eat there. When they asked to speak to the manager, the manager would not bend the "rules," had no apologies whatsoever and responded in an equally rude fashion. This type of thing would never happen in the states. If the waiter is rude to the customer, there are consequences-furthermore, if the manager is rude to the customer, that restaurant probably won't be alive for much longer. This same "customer is always wrong" theory is very much alive everywhere in France and can be extremely frustrating, especially when, as an American, you are used to the opposite.

So while there are many things that I adore about France, there are also a million little things that definitely take some getting used to and will NOT be missed when I leave. Patience is not a virtue in France; it's a necessity!

Despite some of the little French quirks that definitely take some getting used to, I do love my life here. Ali and I have the perfect apartment for hosting parties so we have people over all the time. Ever since our housewarming party (where there were like 60 people over), our parties seem to have become the talk of the town.  There are always about 10 girls and 50 guys, haha. My friend Ingo says that he is always disappointed because there are pretty much all guys and not any girls.  I don't know why that is. Maybe French girls just don't know how to party like us American and Spanish girls do? I never know like half of the people there (more on that in a minute), and one guy I met was our neighbor down the street! He said that he heard the music so decided to come up and see what the fuss was about. haha. We saw him at another party after that too.

But, the massive amounts of people definitely has posed some problems. At our housewarming party, Ali and I had our ipods stolen (they were in our room, which was even blocked off from the party), and some people had cash stolen, as well. That was obviously really upsetting. The fact that we would let these people into our home and they would steal from us...pretty disappointing. We tried our best to uncover the culprits, but no dice...then the next party that we had, somebody stole my phone and texted Florian some horrible things, which I will not even repeat. After those two incidences, we became much more cautious about who we let into the apartment! Despite all of that, I will say that our parties are always a ton of fun. They are often themed as well (upon Ali's request). And we have also taught the French how to play beer pong!