University and France: Part 2

I know it’s been about a week, but I’m ready to start back up into this little mini-series! Please forgive me, I’ve got 18 1/2 hours of class in three days. Whew.

Okay! So. Once you finish Lycée, you theoretically take the BAC or which there are three. Math, Literature and Economics. Each BAC contains other sections (science, math, lit, etc.) with one major focus. I think the idea is to make sure everyone has the basic tools they’ll need in their areas of study.

Anyway, once you pass the BAC, you “apply” to a university. My understanding is that, with the exception of a few “Grands Écoles,” any university is required to accept you as long as you’ve passed the BAC. And this is where things take a turn for the jank. You see, almost all the universities in France are public. Which means for France that tuition is unimaginably low (at least for an American). I don’t have a statistic to cite, but I’ve heard Aix-Marseille is something to the order of 300 euros, Sécurité Social included (sécurité social is their health insurance. It has nothing to do with US “social security”).

So that means that the grand ol’ Fac de Lettres (the college within the University that I happen to attend) looks like this:


Yes. I did just represent the entire school with a kind-of “worst-case scenario,” but I know my IU Bloomington friends probably don’t have any idea what it’s like to be in a university where the walls are regularly covered in graffiti that isn’t corrected for months, if it ever gets corrected. They are doing some wall repair and repainting, but good god. Look at where I’m coming from.


The long and short of it is, largely free education can have some pretty interesting draw-backs, the state of the Fac being one of them. The others are coming up later. Don’t worry. I love reminiscing over the Fac.


Cursing in French

Disclaimer: There will be cuss words in both French and English in this post. If that is going to offend you, please feel quite free to skip it and move on!

After half a year in France, I’ve just finally begun to figure out cussing in French. And boy is it weird.

Here’s the thing. And I didn’t realize this until I went to see Django Unchained with French subtitles: they don’t actually seem to* have all the cussing variability the English language so generously provides.

For instance: “putain” is supposedly the French version of F—. However, I quickly caught on that it isn’t used like f–k. It doesn’t seem to hold the same power. I mean, it’s by no means a good word, but it doesn’t quite have that, well, rape connotation to it (I should specify here and say that the original definition of f–k did have rather violent sexual connotations that don’t necessarily exist anymore, although they do kind of provide an undercurrent). It felt more like a cross between damn and f**k. Not quite as bad or soft as either.

Upon further consideration though, I discovered something interesting. “Putain” is completely different! Haha, it seems logical, but it just doesn’t have the same usage, connotation or meaning. It stems from “whore,” but the usage is a mix between f–k, damn and shit. Because the word for shit is used for a much more specific situation where things have really turned sour.

Anyway. I just wanted to say to y’all. Cursing. Doesn’t. Translate.

*added after original publish. Keep in mind that I’ve only been here 6 months.

Soldes Season

The Soldes are here. What, you ask, is a “solde?” Well. It’s a “sale.” And while sales are a near-constant feature of American life, not so much in France. Where like, nothing goes on sale. Hardly ever. The French seem to be into the “buy one, get one half-off” thing, but not so much “hey! this individual and usefully-sized unit is a lower price than it normally would be” thing.

ANYWAY, tons of stuff is half-off or more now. And like everything. It’s like black Friday, just for like, multiple weeks on end. So instead of insanity, you just get broke. Haha and you might think that’s a joke, but sales man. They’re dangerous.

To be honest, I’m probably not partaking of this strange shopping excursion because, to be quite frank, I have no money. Or maybe I should say extra money. Nope. Instead, I think I’ll just take a trip to, eh, Italy or Eastern Europe.

And the sarcasm stops for now.

T minus seven days to my next final. Let’s pray I’m ready.

It’s Good

It’s good just to think sometimes. God how I’ve needed it. One thing about learning in another language is that you spend the whole time just trying to understand. Not making connections or thinking “oh hey! Maybe this other idea might be better! Maybe I should bring it up in class!” No. My experience has been “okay got that. What did he say? Oh crud, wait. Okay he paused. Don’t know what that word means, but it seems important and it sounds like this” etc. And if you didn’t find that at least marginally entertaining, I invite you to laugh at this, because you should feel the same way I do.

But today I cleaned (mildew in the bathroom. Always pleasant. It’s not.), made Dulce de Leche out of a can of sweetened, condensed milk (and you can too!), and went to a cafe to get some coffee, smoke a pipe and think.

The great thing about the pipe bit is that a) it gives me something to do/focus on and b) gives me fire (which is almost a physical need for me. I don’t know why. Might have to do with my energy?). So extra periphery needs taken care of, I sat and thought. It was like going for a nice, gentle run for my brain. I can’t even express how good it felt. To just sit and make connections, theorize about random things and solve literary puzzles (I’m working on a story. Stories are puzzles. Don’t let anyone tell you different).

So to sum up: I’m feeling good. I now have Dulce de Leche I don’t know what to do with. And I have biscuits that will hopefully help that situation. Life is good.

Guess What?

I went to Marseille yesterday for a sociology class trip. We are doing sociological research on the “Euroméditerranée” project. It is, well, really complicated, but the gist is that it’s a massive renovation project in Marseille. The goal, from what I can tell, is to make a business center in the city to help revitalize Marseille’s economy and its importance in the Mediterranean region.

So basically they’re making everything look nice.

Anyway, it’s a massive project that has a lot of contention around it because it’s going to gentrify a lot of the areas affected. Among other things, like costing millions of euros. It’s really a very interesting project because of how noticable and how subtle the project is.

In any case, this trip required us to be in Marseille by 9:15. So, I had to wake up at seven to get to the bus stop and meet up with the rest of our “Aixoise” classmates to travel to Marseille together and try and figure out where we were supposed to meet up with our professor as a group. That all was pretty easy. I even got this nifty card called a “tickettreize” that allows me to use the Aix bus system for two euros a day. It’s pretty tight.

We got there and made a quick stop at McDonalds for coffee. They asked me if I spoke French and I was just like…uh, I’ve been speaking to you in French this whole time?. I managed to get an espresso. Then, instead of taking the really, really straightforward metro system to the place we were meeting, we decided to save a euro fifty and walk. And by “we” I mean the French girl just started walking out the door. Which was fine, I like walking, but this is where it becomes a story.

So we go walking. We’re all just chatting and being tired and I slowly realize that I have to pee. But I don’t know where the heck that’s going to happen because it’s not like we have time to stop, buy something and use the restroom (because just doing the latter would be really, really rude). So I decided to just wait till we got to the metro we were meeting the class at because that seemed logical to me.

We ended up getting directions to the metro from a very nice African guy who…well he led us to the tram which is exactly the wrong direction from the metro. This, however, was after the time we came across a gated sidewalk place, opened it, and kept walking. Only to get stuck inside some fairly sketch compound that had a security guard on a scooter. He was like…what are you doing? And the French girl was just like “getting over that way” (completely fenced off). He was like “there’s no way you’re getting over that way.” So what does the french girl do? Slips through this little crack between the fences. And we all follow suit. No comment from scooter dude.

Anyway, no bathroom at the metro and we begin our adventure.

It was pretty cool. I didn’t know what to take notes over, but I did count how many people had rolled vs commercial cigarettes when we stopped. The percentage of smokers I didn’t really care about because it’s literally almost everyone. Rolled was much higher percentage. It’s a lot cheaper apparently.

We visited one of the poorest neighborhoods in Marseille which is part of the Euromed project I believe. It was interesting. Lots of immigrants. Coptic Christian church. And huge market. They had live sheep for sale. And warehouses full of sellers. Food, bobbles, junk, antiques, all of it. It was really cool.

It makes me really interested for the first time. What’s going to happen to these people? Should majority rule always be the rule? Maybe it’s better to listen to the people directly affected. Lots of interesting thoughts.

And good tea. Sweetened mint green tea. Good stuff.

Class: Take 2

Some of you may be wondering what 7 hours of class in a foreign language sounds like. Well. It looks a lot like this:

I’m just kidding. Haha, no offense intended. I just couldn’t find a better way to describe it. Maybe looking out at the ocean when you’re just hanging in the middle of it. That might do it.

I had a headache. Granted, sleep and dehydration probably contributed, BUT I also have a feeling it was from all the learning I was doing. I mean, I was learning on two levels: what was actually being taught in the class and, well, French. haha Having to concentrate 100% of the time to understand anything at all is getting really difficult.

HOWEVER, my psych professor is frickin’ crazy. Several times in class he just started acting out scenes to illustrate concepts to the class and he’s all about jokes and having fun. And learning. He’s got to be one of the coolest professor’s I’ve ever had (in a lecture class haha).

1:35 of this video (and also make sure you watch the whole thing)

That’s all I’m good for today. Other than class, I jammed with some friends (so much fun), eaten half a baguette and consumed almost a liter of Mango juice.

I regret nothing.

The First Day

So, I had my first day of classes today. Well. My first class I should say. In France they have their class only once a week…it’s just 3 hours long.

ANYWAY, first class: Translates best as “Sociology of the Town/City and Environment.” It’s a third year course (“license 3” basically it’s a course for what we would consider seniors in the States). I happen to be taking it with a girl from our program who is a sociology major (I’m not technically, but we’ll get into that later), so we went to class together. As expected, most of the class is French. What is a bit less expected is that there are only 19 people in the class AND another American. The professor asked us if his Italian accent bothered us, which I guess means that he either lives/lived close to Italy…or he’s actually Italian. In any case, he looks shockingly like the actor who plays Artie on Warehouse 13. It’s a little strange. Not gonna lie.

The class itself. Haha. Well, it was disturbingly similar to just any other U.S. class. We started with some general class introduction-type stuff (are you all soc. majors, are there other people here, nobody from this area? Okay.) and then started talking about the semester project that’s worth 60% of our grade (the other 40% is a final exam). Which is where I got lost. The problem is the professor and class were talking about a government project in Marseille that I am entirely unfamiliar with, nor do I know really anything about Marseille itself. So, while those two people (who always manage to get in the same class) who know (or think they know) a lot about things and have opposite viewpoints try to shout over each others opinions, I was totally lost. Haha.

However, when we had the “pause” (no, they don’t make you sit in class for three straight hours. There’s a fifteen minute break in there), my friend and I talked to the professor and he was all about making sure we followed alright. So good news! Our professor is frickin’ awesome! And after that it got a LOT better. Like different worlds worth of better. We started talking about just sociology stuff and THAT I could understand quite well. Although, definitely not perfectly. It’s going to take me the full year probably to be able to do that.

And tomorrow is another third year class that I think is best translated as something like “Sociology of Politics” but might be just “social politics” I’m really not sure. Ha.

We’ll see. I will have to drop two of my courses because I’m taking more than the University will allow. So we’ll see how it goes I guess. This is going to be just as hard as I thought though. Ha. Which is something of an unpleasant surprise.

Or perhaps pleasant. I think I need more French in my up-till-now very English existence.