Sunday, January 31, 2010

Traverser en traboulant

This weekend, we had our CUPA orientation trip to Lyon. It was awesome! We had some fantastic food, some weird food, and some that I feel scared that I ate since I didn't know what I was eating. But, all in all, it was an amusing and tiring two days.

Geography Lesson: Lyon is in the south of France and it's only two hours away using the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, which is French for super fast train!). It is the third city of France, the second being Marseille (you know, where the Count of Monte-Cristo was from!), and apparently the gastronomic capital of France. The food is very traditional, and by traditional, I mean I don't know what I ate for dinner last night, except for the chicken - I ordered chicken in a vinegar sauce. But, I'll get to that later.

We had to meet at the Gare de Lyon (train station) at 8:15 in the morning yesterday, which was hard since I hadn't gotten much sleep all week because of the university visits. The whole CUPA team went (except Cecile), including Nathalie (the housing director), MaryAnn (the one who visited Hopkins after I found out I got in), and Marie and Chantal (the two French students who plan conversation workshops and practical things to do with us). The whole trip ran very smoothly, so I hope they feel bad about treating us like babies for a lot of it. For example, they made us all give them a "caution" of 30 euros before we left, just so we wouldn't forget to come. Then, they told us to meet at the train station a good 30 minutes before the train even got there, so we all just stood around. Basically, we were a big herd of American students the whole time, but at least we were all responsible.

Our hotel, Mercure, was huge and beautiful! The room was big with a flat screen TV, the beds were comfortable (or maybe it was just because I was really tired), and they had a delicious breakfast included in the stay. After dropping off our bags, we walked around for a little bit and they gave us a little over an hour to get lunch. Then, we had a guided tour of "Old Lyon." The city is really cute - it's a really interesting mixture of the old and the new. There are also lots of little shops and restaurants, and passages through buildings from street to street that are called "traboules." These passages just look like plain doors from the outside, so only the real Lyonnais know they're there. That's why, during the Nazi occupation, they used the traboules to plan and hide. To go from street to street using the traboules is called: "trabouler." It's a verb that they only use in Lyon. We had a guided tour, where we saw a church and its mechanical clock, trabouler-ed a bit, and then we had free time, during which we got hot chocolate and saw the second church that's up on the hill. By the way, Lyon has a mini Eiffel Tower. I think it must be a law - all French cities need one to make American tourists happy!

That night, we had the most bizarre meal ever. I'd describe it, but I don't exactly know what I ate. My main course was chicken and I had sorbet for dessert, but that's all I know. I think I also had egg in vinegar, some sort of liver, I tried sheep stomach (tripe), and other stuff that I couldn't recognize. The dinner started with some kind of special drink. I forgot what it was called, but it was some sort of sweet red thing, and then you poured white wine into it. It was sweeter than wine, and I liked it better, but I still didn't really like it. I also didn't like the thing we were supposed to eat with it, which I was told was fried bacon? Then, we had every appetizer in the restaurant, main courses, and then dessert. We were really loud too - the whole meal was about a four hour event, and by the end, I was practically falling asleep. But, a lot of kids wanted to go out. I went back to the hotel with the sensible ones and got a decent night's sleep so I could be wide awake to hear the stories...

Basically, they were at a bar or a club and they saw Marie who was with three random strangers, apparently. Then, when they decided to go home, Marie's shoe broke so they were walking for about an hour in the snow because they got lost and Marie went barefoot. She looked so perky in the morning though, but I did hear her say "mal aux pieds." I'm glad I slept, but that would have been an interesting night. Today, we went to the Lumiere museum. They invented movies and color photography. But, while we got to watch excerpts from famous old French movies, most people just slept. There were some that were pretty strange (bizarre - the greatest French word ever!), including one about a woman and her husband who killed 112 people and made snow men out of them? Then, after that, we went to a great restaurant where we had a meal prepared by Chef Paul Bocuse, who is apparently famous. It was kind of depressing, because it was probably the best meal I will ever have.

Now, I'm back in beautiful Paris, the first city of France! And, I think this blog entry is getting a little too long. But it was for two days instead of one.

Friday, January 29, 2010

France vs. America

File:ENS Ulm cour Ernests DSC00106.jpg
I figured that, since today wasn't super interesting, I would just do a general comparison blog. This is probably better since I won't be able to write tomorrow - the CUPA staff is taking us all to Lyon to eat traditional French food (pork cheek soup, cow's heads, roasted rabbit, tripe...yum!). Just one thing about what I did today - I went inside l'ENS and it was awesome! The courtyard on the inside is so pretty, but it will be prettier after winter is over. I didn't take a picture because I didn't want to look like a tourist at a school, but here's wikipedia's picture of the courtyard when it's nice. The fish in the pond are called Ernests!

In the subway every day, I get to see a lot of French people, and they look different than Americans, but I can't figure out why. There's just something about their faces that's different. They have different expressions and different mannerisms. Plus, their language is beautiful! So far, I think my French has really progressed as far as comprehension goes. I can pretty much understand everything they're saying, whereas at first, it seemed like they were talking really quickly. Every now and then, there's a word I don't know, but I can always figure it out or look it up later. But, I think I'm still lacking a fluidity when I talk. My accent's pretty good, and no one seems to have a problem with that, but sometimes, when I don't know what to say, I really lose my train of thought. I need to start saying "fin" instead of "uh" because that's what French people seem to do.

Yesterday, I found it really interesting to meet a French person who was so in love with the United States. He wanted to get rid of his accent completely and make sure he had all his prepositions correct before he went back again. He's going to go to NYC, then Las Vegas. He probably shouldn't lose his accent, though, because don't American girls love French accents? France is just so different from America. They really have a culture here, whereas the American culture is just a mix of other ones. Sure, there is a lot of American stuff here - movies (everyone's seen Avatar except me...), food (my host brother, Pierre, loves ketchup), and a lot of them speak English. But it just seems like they have such pride in being French and doing things the "French way" and I don't really think we have that in America. Everyone does things differently and people try their best to be different. There's such a huge difference between every school and how people learn in the United States, whereas in France, it seems more standard. Plus, they don't think upper-level education is for everyone so pretty much everything is determined by that one huge test. Now, that seems like it would be too nerve-wracking, but I suppose it makes sense in a way.

Okay, I won't write tomorrow, but on Sunday, I'll have pictures of Lyon and "traditional" French food.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Le bien et le mal

The university visit this morning was a waste of time. I should have just slept. It took a while to get there, and the whole place was ugly! It was two or three big buildings, very modern, and basically on the northern outskirts of Paris. The course schedules weren't up yet, and besides, I already know when the two courses I want to take there are. Both buildings smelled like cigarettes too, which was funny since there were signs everywhere saying it was a non-smoking campus. Oh well, I wouldn't have expected it to be free of cigarettes. Needless to say, I won't be spending tons of time there when I'm not in class. And I also got invited to a party that's going to be thrown by their communist students club - I think I'll miss it, even though they have an open bar (where they'll serve red wine, undoubtedly!).

Other than that, the day was typical. Then, tonight, after dinner with Pierre, I went to meet my other host brother's (the one who lives in Nantes) friends. They want me to teach them English, but we mostly spoke French. They're going to pay me 45 Euros a week to teach them English for 3 and a half hours a week. Seems good to me! Maybe I won't go broke living in Paris for 4 and a half months.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Scheduling, Notre Dame, and more ice cream - of course!

Today was a relatively dull day with fantastic results. I say relatively because being in Paris is always more exciting than what I'm used to, so this day was just dull compared to the rest. We started by visiting two other La Sorbonne sites. The one, Clignancourt, is where I'll take my philosophy class (L1 level, even though it will probably be a little too easy - I really just want a basic La Sorbonne introduction to philosophy) and the other, Malesherbes, has lots of courses, but I don't think I'll take anything there. Both of these centers were ugly! Marie started by telling us that we'd start with "le plus loin et le plus moche" which means the farthest and the ugliest. She was right, but they were both pretty hideous, especially when you compare them to the historic La Sorbonne, or even just with Hopkins.

But, it doesn't seem fair to compare the universities here to universities in the US. The whole concept is just completely different - not just in how they teach the courses, but in what they expect the life of a college student to be. First of all, they don't expect college students to be poor, which is nice! They're public universities and they're all right in Paris. So, as long as you live in Paris, you don't pay for housing and you don't pay too much to go. Second, if you're a student in Paris, all the museums are free, there are special restaurants for university students where lunch only costs 3 Euros, and there are super cheap stores on the streets of the Latin Quarter where you can buy your textbooks. Interesting side note - back when La Sorbonne was still testing students with "La Disputation" and the only important knowledge was the classics, that was when they named the university section the Latin Quarter because everyone spoke Latin. Anyway, so it seems to me that, if you lived in Paris, college wouldn't be anything like what it is in the US. The experience I've had at Hopkins living on a beautiful campus where everyone is there just to learn has been fantastic. The libraries at these Parisian schools don't seem to compare to the subterranean monster at Hopkins (not to say that there aren't great libraries in Paris...!), and overall, the experience a Parisian student has is probably more like living at home and commuting. But hey, at least they're in Paris!

Anyway, the day continued and I figured out that none of my first choice courses conflict! So, if everything goes as planned, I'll have an L1 philosophy course at La Sorbonne, a French lit course and a l'OuLiPo writing workshop at Paris 8-St. Denis, the Art History course at CUPA, and finally a French lit course at l'ENS (which will be harder than all the other courses combined). Then, add my flute lessons, the student teaching internship (about 2 hours a week, I think), and teaching my older host brother's friends English for an hour and a half a week, and I'll have a pretty full schedule. But I still feel like it's less than what I do at Hopkins since I won't have band, orchestra, tutoring (I miss RYP!!), Newsletter, tutoring college students, or a really hard math course. Basically, I'm going to love my schedule.

I know I've already written a novel here, but I'm only about halfway through the day. After I had my wonderful revelation about my classes, we had our language class where we talked about the burqa (the full body covering that some really religious Muslim women wear) and how the French government is trying to outlaw it. The debate wasn't incredible - we mostly said that there was no use to this battle and that the government really doesn't have the right to tell people what they can and can not wear, though apparently in France, the government does tell people just that. Our professor said it was a lot of fighting over nothing, since fewer than 400 women in France wear the burqa. He also said that religious symbols in general have already been outlawed in schools unless they're covered or discreet. I found the discussion interesting because I had figured that, being more liberal than the US, France would be more politically correct. In the US, people are still afraid to profile Muslims in airport security even though it's obviously more likely that you'll find a terrorist profiling Muslims, whereas in France they tell an entire group of people that they can't practice a certain part of their religion. People in Paris also announce when they're going on strike - next week, for example.

After class, I went back to Berthillon to get some more of that great ice cream. This time I got white chocolate, since they were out of it the last time. On the way back, I stopped at Notre Dame. After that: dinner, news, homework, and here we are. Obviously, I've written enough. I'll just put the pictures on and go to sleep.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

La dissertation

Today, I visited La Sorbonne - yes, the famous one. We walked around with Marie and Chantal, but it was kind of pointless since I won't be taking any Sorbonne classes at that one site. The classes I'd want to take are in another part of the city. It was still really interesting to see such an old, historic school, though. It makes Hopkins seem like a baby! Then, in methodology class, we talked about the Sorbonne and what a student used to do in order to get a degree from there.

Basically, during the Renaissance when everything was changing, the invention of the printing press with movable type made the spread of literature, specifically the ancient literature, a lot easier. At the Sorbonne, they had a "disputation," where two students (male, of course) would argue about a topic, and whichever one referenced more classic tests would get a doctorate. As my methodology professor said, that sort of test only requires memorization of ancient texts and isn't a real education. So, with the philosophy of Descartes inspiring the French Revolution, there was a revolution in La Sorbonne too: la disputation became la dissertation. For a dissertation, a French student is given a question. In class, the example he gave was: Can a hero be mediocre? The student doesn't answer this question - instead, he or she thinks, "Why was I given this question?" and with that line of reasoning and analyzing, comes up with a problematique, which is a fancy way of saying that the student rephrases the question so it makes more sense. Then, instead of picking one answer and writing a paper supporting that answer, French students analyse every answer to the question, and then combine them all to come up with a conclusion at the end.

It seems to me that French people are very philosophic in everything - not just philosophy. That's why their dissertations are organized like this; that's why their literature classes seem to involve lots of philosophic texts; that's why their mathematicians are also philosophers and writers like in l'OuLiPo. It's neat that they spend so much time thinking, and philosophy is certainly interesting. One of the examples the professor gave of a philosophic question that interests the French is that of the slave and the master - the slave is a slave because the master exists, but without the master, there is no slave and vice versa. It reminded me of Jacques le fataliste et son maitre by Diderot. The point is, I can't wait to be in a French course and see how differently they're taught. I'm sure that this experience is going to make me a stronger student - I already feel like a better student because I'm thinking about different ways of approaching writing. Even though it's all in a different language, the ideas translate well.

Monday, January 25, 2010

French Stereotypes

This morning, instead of visiting Paris 3 - Sorbonne Nouvelle, which just doesn't interest me, I went looking for l'Ecole Normale Supérieure. It wasn't hard to find. You just get off the metro at the Cluny-La Sorbonne stop, walk down Rue Saint Jacques past Louis-le-Grand, turn left when you see the Panthéon, walk around a little until you find Rue d'Ulm, and then follow it until you get to the giant imposing buildings. They certainly don't have the aesthetic appeal of La Sorbonne. But, I suppose it's pretty on the inside with the courtyard and the fountain - I just can't sneak in there because they have some sort of special relationship with Hopkins (and practically every other top university in the world) and I bet I could get in trouble if they caught me! There are tons of old book shops down there, and it's a really nice area. The students look very smart and serious too!

In our first course today, we talked about stereotypes. Guess what - people in other countries think French people smoke, eat lots of bread, drink tons of red wine, talk a lot, and speak English back when you try to speak French. Those were pretty much all the stereotypes I knew. The hard part was when Chantal (our teacher for that course) told us we needed to say the nationality of the person who said each stereotype, but every stereotype seemed like anyone could have figured it out. Anyway, I suppose I learned that I have absolutely no concept of the rest of the world. One step at a time - I want to learn about French and get fluent in French before I start thinking about the rest of the world and their perceptions of the French.

Then tonight, instead of the regular news after dinner, my host family and I watched President Sarkozy address the nation. It's funny: no matter where you are, politicians never answer the questions they're asked. The best part was, every now and then, Sarkozy would use and English word that doesn't exist in French and my host family would laugh so much! Whenever I heard the English word, I would second guess myself and just assume that it must be a French word too since a French person was saying it, but apparently that reasoning just doesn't work. Too bad his wife wasn't with him in these interviews - I think she's hilarious! She's been quoted as saying (I'm not sure in what language, but I think I read it in either French or English) "Love lasts a long time, but burning desire, two to three weeks!" And I think she speaks much better French than Sarkozy, along with Italian, German, and English. But it was interesting watching what the president in France does when he goes on TV - first, they had a normal interview where he basically responded to every question without giving the reporter the answers she was looking for; and then they had a group of average people from all different fields just sit in a circle with him and talk with an arbiter, just in case things got out of hand. That was more interesting than the interview, but I left in the middle because I just don't know half of France's problems right now, so I didn't really have any idea about the specific things they were saying.

Tomorrow's the first of two La Sorbonne visits. I've already been there, but I have a feeling we're going to get to go inside!

The Missing Pictures

I had a few more pictures from yesterday, but it would only let me put up 5, so I'm writing an entirely new entry to upload a few more pictures. There may be a better way to do this - in fact, there probably is - but since I'm new to blogging,
this is what I'm going to do.

The first is Notre Dame, obviously. The second is the mosque, where we had our tea and honey-soaked treats. It's also a horrible picture of Renee, one of the other Hopkins students. Underneath that is a picture of the Egyptian basement of the Institut du monde Arabe. It's also, strangely enough, a horrible picture of my methodology professor and another student. The last two pictures are of the Seine and the Bastille. Okay, I'll write about today after it's over.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Le Monde Arabe - and Berthillon Ice Cream!

Today, we had a walk around the Latin Quarter again, only this time with our methodology professor, Michel. He said he was going to take us to the oldest and the newest in Paris, so guess where we started - the Roman ruins again! This time, I took pictures, so I'll put them all in this blog entry. There were tons of little kids playing at the ruins, and they're so cute! Little kids are cuter when they speak French - I'm not sure why. Michel told us more interesting historical facts about these ruins: first, they might not be the site of an old Colosseum and they might have been a theater or even a place to practice naval battles since there seems to be an in depth pipe system there; second, when they were originally excavating it, the government tried to hide that they were going to destroy it all from the people and so the people got it declared a historical landmark (Victor Hugo was the major activist behind that); and third, there's free wifi there because it's a public park (all public parks in Paris apparently have free wifi).
Then, we went to l'Institut du monde Arabe, which was actually pretty interesting. First, we saw this incredibly ugly university that was built back when the students were revolting. This hideous modern building right in the middle of the Latin Quarter was designed so the police could break in if the students started to revolt. Basically, it was a monumental failure. Then, during the first oil crisis, the French (who care more about culture than oil) decided to make an institute of Arab culture just in case it was lost. The architect who designed the building was told to make it look like the ugly university and he was not happy about that. But, instead of complaining, he did his research and made a building with 2 facades - the first resembles the university but with a wall made of mathematical designs in the Arab style and the second is supposed to be a mirror to reflect the beauty of the Seine and the typical Parisian buildings that are there. The two sides are connected by bridges to symbolize the connection between the new architecture and the old and the Arab world with the French. I thought it was interesting. There's also a library in there designed to look like the tower of Babel. The basement looks like an Egyptian tomb. After the museum, we had traditional tea and a baklava-type dessert at the mosque, which is actually really pretty and the tea and food were great!

After that, Alexandra and I finally found something great to do - we went looking for the Berthillon ice cream, which was even better than I remembered! I had un chocolat simple, and it was perfect. Next time, I'm getting a double. We saw Notre Dame too (I saw it from the roof of the Arab building first). Then, I went back to the 13th arrondissement for dinner with my host family and that's about it. While I was eating dinner, I missed my first French call that would have been in French! The De la Taille's have an older son who lives in Nantes and, when he was here last weekend, he told me that some of his friends want English lessons. They took English lessons with the previous foreign students, and they want to continue with me and they'll pay me! I said yes and gave them my French cell phone number, but now, it's too late to call back. I guess I'll just have to have my first French phone conversation tomorrow.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Balade: De Mouffetard à Saint-Germain

Today was an interesting day! It started off a little late, since I went to bed late last night, but I saw and did a lot. First, I read French newspaper articles about Obama to prepare for my exposé on Monday - French people don't seem to like Obama, whether they're liberal or conservative. Then, I decided to go to the Latin Quarter for lunch, since it was closer to where I had to meet for our walk from Mouffetard to Saint-Germain. While there, I was walking by the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, one of the most famous high schools in the world (Victor Hugo went there!) and I noticed the door was open, so I walked inside. It was an open house day for prospective students and since I look like a high school student, no one noticed me. I've been passing for French pretty well with my long black coat and dark jeans - the only problem is my Sketchers sneakers. All the French students I've seen wear Converse. Anyway, Louis-le-Grand is very impressive from the inside. From the outside, it looks a lot like the other buildings in the area. It was pretty cool to walk around there, and since I entered, I could succeed like their motto says! (On n'entre pas à Louis-le-Grand pour son nom,/mais y passer peut contribuer à s'en faire un. or Fame enters not Louis-le-Grand, but entrance may bring fame) Or maybe when they say "enter," they mean "be accepted"...

After that, I met up with CUPA students and one of the other French professors to walk from Mouffetard to Saint-Germain. The area is really cute - lots of little shops, sites to see, book stores, and universities. The professor showed us the remains of a Roman Colosseum (Paris, in the Roman times, was called Lutèce). We also walked by the Collège de France and La Sorbonne, which, she explained, used to be competitors. Then, eventually, Victor Hugo and other intellectuals were angry that only rich people could go to those schools and not the most intelligent people, so now, La Sorbonne is a public university, as are all the universities in Paris. Now, though, the Collège is owned by the government and every now and then they have a seminar there, but it's not really a school. Now, it's basically for a bunch of people to sit around and argue about what's French and what isn't...some sort of Academy...We also saw the Panthéon, but didn't go inside. The building right next to it is apparently a really beautiful, but expensive library. She told us that the first time is free, though, so I have to make sure not to forget my camera when I go.

Then, we had crepes, I had Chinese food with Alexandra, and now, I'm going to try to pick my classes and study my Obama articles a little more.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Today, for two hours in my language course, we discussed philosophy and politics. First, one of the students had to give her 10 minute oral presentation on two newspaper articles and she talked about quotas and reverse discrimination when considering students for the elite grandes écoles, like l'Ecole Normale Supérieure. Apparently, in France, they don't have affirmative action here, and some groups want to impose it. You'd think in such a liberal country, they would have done it before the US. Anyway, one of the articles that she found discussed how there was no diversity in these schools and that the students there are all from prestigious families and went to prestigious preparatory schools. When she was done with her presentation, we had a debate about it, but everyone more or less agreed that accepting students using quotas purely for diversity's sake is a bad idea. Two of the students were especially vehement about it - one is Puerto Rican and the other is Indian. They both said that they hated thinking that they might have gotten into their schools (I believe Georgetown and Yale, respectively) because of their skin color rather than their intelligence. Anyway, it was an interesting conversation, that ended with us deciding that the real problem was that the high schools needed reforming so that every student would be equally prepared for the concours (how students are admitted to these schools). But, we agreed that it was a very Utopian view.

From there, we switched to watching a famous philosopher talk about "desire" and what it meant to "be to the left" (on the political spectrum). He made us write a whole page on it in about 15 minutes. When we were out of the class, we were comparing homework and class stories with the students in the other group, who actually just do grammar and vocabulary in their language courses, and that was when we realized that "Groupe 3" is actually the most advanced group. But, since this professor is a little scary, we're all a little annoyed that there's such a difference in the levels.

In our other courses, we talked about politeness and what courses we can take. About politeness, the class was fun, but a lot of the rules were self explanatory and basically the same in the US. For example, I think everyone knows it's impolite to spit in the street. But, the interesting parts were about how Europeans kiss each other on both cheeks, and the French in Paris do it twice. If someone withdraws too early, they have to start again. They're also apparently very chivalrous here - the men open doors, pull out chairs, and serve food for the women. As for courses, I know I want to take the Art History course that CUPA offers because I know absolutely nothing about art history, and in this course, they'll take me to the Louvre and other Parisian museums to explain the art. Then, I want to take a Literature and a Philosophy course for credit. Right now, I'm thinking I'll take a L1 philosophy class at La Sorbonne (since French students are probably much more advanced in philosophy than I am - they teach it in their high schools) and a literature class at l'ENS. Then, they found a writing workshop based on l'OuLiPo constraints for me! It should be fantastic - and I'll audit it since writing with constraints in French would probably be incredibly difficult for me. For example, it's hard to go without using the letter "e" in English for one sentence, let alone a whole novel, but les oulipiens do stuff like that and all in French.

After class, I had a smoothie with some other CUPA students, met up with Alexandra and had a crepe, and then, on my way home, I saw my host mom who was going to the Gare de Lyon to pick up her sister who was coming to visit from Nice. So, I went with her, which is why this entry is so late. But, it's okay - I can sleep late tomorrow. Mme De la Taille's sister is a middle school English teacher, sort of like a French Mme Kautz! She thought I spoke French really well. I haven't met anyone yet who was rude to me about my French, so I suppose that stereotype of French people hating Americans isn't always true. Everyone's been very complimentary about my French and I keep learning new words and expressions, especially slang. But, it's late here, so I'm going to go to bed now. Tomorrow, I have to read newspapers and come up with what I'm going to say for my 10 minute presentation.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I was so excited about my l'OuLiPo meeting tonight that I completely forgot to write a blog entry. At least I didn't forget to finish my homework! So, this entry is going to be relatively quick because it's past midnight and I have to be at CUPA at 10:30 tomorrow.

Today, I had the morning off, so I went to the Louvre. I needed to change my money, and there was a Bureau de Change there, plus I wanted to check out the Mac store to see about maybe buying a Mac here since Dell computers don't like me. The google map said that the Apple store was near the Louvre, but in reality, it's UNDER the Louvre! It's so neat - there's a whole mall down there! I don't like shopping, and everyone knows that, but I really didn't mind wandering around under the Louvre. While I was there, I stopped by the Mona Lisa to see if there were fewer obnoxious Japanese tourists this time. Who knew that on a Thursday in January all museums are empty - including the Louvre!

After hanging out at the Louvre, I had a meeting with MaryAnn about courses. I told her I wanted to take a French literature course, a philosophy course, the CUPA Art History course, and maybe audit a math course. She then informed me that I can also teach English to a middle school class down the street, which seems awesome so I said yes. She also found me a writing workshop in the l'OuLiPo style, which now I think I might audit instead of the math course. Plus, she's still waiting to hear about the flute lessons.

Then, I had a course on French methodology and I'm really glad I'm going to have these courses. French university teaching is really different, and if I had just been thrown into that all at once with no preparation, I would have been scared out of my mind. Initially, I had thought that the hard part would be taking a course in French, but now I know that these courses are nothing like American college courses. They basically expect you to do everything yourself: pick which book should be your textbook and which should just be supplementary; turn in all your outlines because the thought process they teach here is just as important as the thought itself; and they even expect you to give oral presentations to teach the course! Plus, each course is only 2 hours a week, so you do most of the work on your own. But, thankfully, this professor is going to teach us the French way to write dissertations, make outlines, give presentations, and pick textbooks. The professor assured us that, with this methodology course, we'll be able to see why French people think the way they do, and that's why I'm here!

Okay, the main event! I've written too much already, but I have to write about l'OuLiPo. Alexandra met me at my subway stop, and we went to the l'OuLiPo meeting at the National Library! It was incredible! Jacques Roubaud was just walking around on the stage like a normal person. Doesn't he know that he's a genius?? The members at the meeting basically just read their recent works (so recent, they were mostly still unpublished!), all written sous contrainte, of course. Jacques Roubaud was the best - he only read once, but his was mathematical, faux-historical, and hilarious. It really demonstrated a unique combination of math and writing that I really enjoyed. Some parts were kind of hard to understand, and I'm sure there were jokes I didn't get simply because I'm not French, but the Grand Auditorium was packed, Alexandra fell asleep, and I had the time of my life!! That is, until February 11th, I think, which is when the next meeting is. I forgot my camera, so no pictures of Jacques Roubaud from me. I attached one I found online (top left), but I was literally 20 feet away from him tonight!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Je suis enfin à Paris !

Today, I saw La Tour Eiffel! So, it's official - I'm really in Paris! After our courses at CUPA (which basically lasted all day...), a bunch of us decided to go to the Eiffel Tower. The subway goes above ground before you get there, so I got my first glimpse of it from the subway - actually, I suppose my first glimpse of it was yesterday, when Alexandra and I were at the Panthéon...Anyway, it was all sparkling, which it apparently does every hour, and I even think my pictures weren't too blurry this time. I just uploaded all of my pictures, so I'll attach them to this entry.

At CUPA, in one of our classes, they told us about differences in French home life, and most of them I had already noticed, but they were pretty interesting, so I figured I'd post them. First, French people always close the bathroom door because what goes on in there shouldn't be on public display. I guess it makes sense, but the American way is more practical: if the door is open, no one is inside whereas, if it's closed, you always have to knock. Another thing is that French people try to conserve lots of energy and food and they think Americans are wasteful. That's why their heating in their houses isn't ever very high (like right now - it's always pretty cold in this room). They also eat everything on their plates so they don't waste food. They close their doors too, so they said not to feel unwelcome if, after dinner, your host family hides behind closed doors. In fact, they said that we should close our doors too, because host families have asked about why the American students leave their doors open all the time. These tidbits are good to know, I suppose, but it doesn't seem like I've been spending a ton of time here. I have courses in the morning, so I get up, get ready, have breakfast, and leave. The courses don't end until a little before dinner, so I'm really only here in the morning and at night. After dinner, we watch the news, then I go Skype and read until I go to sleep.

Except tonight, I'm going to do my homework. Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures!

This last picture is the dome of the Panthéon that I saw yesterday, but it looks cool!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Les directions ?

Today, I was mistaken for a Parisian! Yeah, it surprised me too. The first time was while I was waiting for Alexandra to meet me at the Cluny-Sorbonne métro stop and an old lady asked me which way to take the métro to get somewhere. Sadly, I had to tell her I was American and had only been using the métro for two days and had absolutely no idea, but still, it was cool that she thought I knew what I was doing! Then, someone asked me a question about the RER a little later - this person was obviously American, and she was disappointed when I said I didn't know. But, I do know how to get from my apartment to CUPA, then from CUPA to Alexandra's dorm, from Alexandra's dorm back to my house, from CUPA to the Latin Quarter, and from the Latin Quarter to Alexandra's dorm.

The Latin Quarter is very lively - there are a lot of students everywhere and it's incredibly crowded, especially around the schools. I walked by La Sorbonne (Paris IV) and across the street was Le Lycée Louis-le-grand, which is basically one of the hardest high schools in the world. We saw some kids standing outside, but I figured it would be a little weird to accost them on the street and ask how stressed they were. We didn't end up seeing l'ENS because Alexandra had homework, but I saw "all the gods" at the Pantheon (Pantheon comes from the Greek for "all gods" - something I learned in French class last year). I saw Hugo, Dumas, Zola, Rousseau, Voltaire, Lagrange, the Curie's, and Braille, among others. They had taken the pendulum down for some reason, though...hopefully they put it back up while I'm still here.

Well, I'm tired, and I wanted to read before I went to sleep tonight. Pierre (my host brother) lent me a ton of French books, so I should get started now before my university classes start.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Conversation et Conservation

Today was my first real day in France, and I wasted the entire morning sleeping! It's okay, though - sleeping all morning today meant that I didn't waste all of yesterday sleeping. Today, I used the métro. M. de la Taille took me on the métro to the CUPA building. We found Renée waiting outside with her host mother. She hadn't remembered the address and she was searching through folders. Inside the CUPA building, we had an introduction, a test, then a snack. They had macaroons (they're different in France - they're just like little high quality oreos that are different flavors)! Then, I met Alexandra by her dorm, and we had some champagne to celebrate my arrival! The only problem was that neither of us had any idea how to open it. I swear, we're the most pathetic college students in the world! That glass of champagne, plus the two glasses of wine I've had with meals with my family, plus the glass of wine I had in Canada Friday night, plus the Pina Colada in Jamaica, and finally the glass of wine I had at the Italian restaurant my first time in Paris - those are all the legal drinks I've ever had!

I've spoken French now for the majority of the last two days. It's a little exhausting, always concentrating on another language, but it's quickly getting easier. I had a really long conversation with this guy on the RER today - he had an adorable dog named Diego and he was telling me stories about the dog and how he ran away once. I hope he couldn't tell I was American.

My family's apartment just keeps getting better. Maybe I was just too tired to appreciate it at first, but it's really nice. I think my room's just a little smaller than my dorm room this past semester, and the bed is infinitely more comfortable. There's a TV in my room too, and maybe I'll get around to watching it eventually. There's even a bean bag chair! I always wanted one of those. And, to me, it seems like this apartment complex is really cost-minded, which definitely isn't a bad thing. The lights in the hallways are always off unless you turn them on, and then they turn off after you leave. They don't have a dryer (which the CUPA director had mentioned before), and they line dry all their clothes. And, it seems like a ton of people here use public transportation instead of their own cars. Maybe this is why the Euro is so much stronger than the dollar (yes, I know that's not the proper economic term - ask my dad or my brother for the truth).

And, just for fun, I added a picture of the library where the l'OuLiPo meeting will be on Thursday!

Sunday, January 17, 2010


So, finally (enfin), I'm in Paris! The travel was a little annoying, but mostly because Continental is possibly the dumbest airline ever - after what happened last February, did they really think it would be a good idea to add a propeller plane flying around Buffalo in the winter? All they did was freak my mom out and make my parents consider driving me all the way to Newark. What a pain that would have been! Other than that, the flights were both quicker than Continental had estimated. Security in Buffalo, aside from what one might assume due to "Captain Underpants," was a thirty-second ordeal. The guy checking the computer even gave me a high five. They seemed to be having a great time. Then, since I didn't need to go through security in Newark again, I ended up having about three hours to wait around for the Paris flight. But it was okay - I got to eavesdrop on a bunch of French people around me who had no idea I could understand them! Sleeping on the flight was a problem too, but I knew that would be a problem. I ended up just watching us get closer to Europe on the little personal TV in front of me. Then, as we were approaching the sunrise, I watched that out the window.

Once in France, my host father, M. De la Taille, met me outside baggage claim with a sign with my name on it. He drove me back (out of the twisty coiled parking lot of Roissy) and their street looked just like the Google street view pictures! I felt like I had been there before! Technology is really incredible. I am walking distance from the library (which is enormous and fantastic - four giant towers that resemble opened books, a courtyard with a garden in the middle, and the grand auditorium where the l'OuLiPo jeudi's will be!!), which is my favorite part, obviously. My room is really nice too. The bed is so comfortable, I don't even see how I'm still writing this because I'm really tired.

My host family seem like the nicest people ever - they've been hosting students with CUPA for the last 4 years. They always make conversation, they've been teaching me tons of new words, and they said that my French is a lot better than all their previous students! They said I'll definitely do well on the test tomorrow. A test on the second day in Paris...lucky me...

Well, I think that's it for tonight. It's only 9:40, but I'm running on about 2 hours of sleep. Good thing orientation doesn't start until 2:00 tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Faire du shopping...

For the past week or so, I've been shopping - not just for clothes, but for everything! It's so boring. I've always hated shopping and not even the fact that I've been getting all this stuff for my trip to Paris could make it interesting. Aside from spending hours in malls and outlet stores and arguing constantly about what will and will not fit into the suitcases, I've also been on the internet, looking for power adapters (because the French just can't use the same kind of plug or voltage as the Americans do - that would be too easy) and other necessities that just don't interest me while I'm still in this country.

To make matters worse, my computer broke. It's been bad since October, when they reinstalled the motherboard the first time, but as of now, they have reinstalled that dumb part 3 times and today, they told me that if I turn the computer on again, it will explode. You see, the problem wasn't the motherboard. It was the fan. The fan didn't work properly, which overheated the computer (despite the cooling pad we bought) and fried the CPU. Yup, I have magical computer-destroying powers. I probably shouldn't be allowed on my parents' computer ever again. So, Dell (now #1 on my hit list, or at least they would be if I had a hit list) is sending me a new, better computer. The only catch (Catch-22?) is that it might not get here before I leave next Saturday. That would mean my parents would have to send it to Paris, which would be expensive and take time. The worst part is, the first few days I'm in Paris, I'll probably really want my computer! Good thing I got the iPod touch, but a computer is much easier to use with an actual keyboard.

And finally, the pièce de résistance: I have jury duty tomorrow. Pre-study abroad month stinks. I want to get out of this country!