It’s The End of the World as We Know It

Exams are done and I don’t have to deal with the French education system anymore! Woohoo! However, as good as it feels to be finally done with school for the year, it also means I’m done here.

So many goodbyes to be said. So many said already.

But in the meantime I’m running like a crazed chicken trying to do EVERYTHING before it’s all over. Including shutting down my bank account, which will be interesting. Oh the glories of French bureaucracy. You might be the one thing in this country I most definitely will NOT miss.

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The Results Are In

Yep. About a month later I’ve got my grades back. Somehow I managed to pull a 14/20 in History and, rather magically, pulled a 12.5/20 in my sociology class. You know. The one where I went to Marseille and did interviews with residents, then typed up the transcripts for said interviews, then sorted and analyzed them. And then complied it all into a document that was 51 pages long. Did we do well? Well considering the fact that the two Americans in that class got in the top three grades for that “dossier,” I’d say we did pretty well!

I also got a 6/20 in cognitive psychology. That is not good. However, this is going to give me a perfect opportunity to explain what the French grading system is like.

14=A at my home university. Granted I think they give us a bit of lee-way with the fact that we’re, you know, learning in French. BUT, you should also realize that the French grade more or less on an actual bell-curve.

12.5 shifts up to 13, A- and finally. The 6. 6/20 is a 30%. And it’s also a C. Yep. Welcome to my academic life.

In other news, the rest of trip planning begins. Calander to come soon. I will show you the insanity. haha

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.

Cross-Cultural Dating – The Distant American

This past Tuesday I went to “La Cave” (a foreign dinner exchange thing) and got into a conversation with a French friend about his shambled love life. He, a Frenchman, had been dating an American girl, but they ran into a major problem: distance.

Now, I mean distance in multiple senses, even if he didn’t. I’m going to touch on a few differences.

1) To say “I love you” in French you say, “Je t’aime.” To say that you like someone would be “Je t’aime.*” Now, you don’t have to speak French to see the interesting similarity here. In fact, the French, famed as the people of romance. Don’t have a different word for “like” and “love.”

2) Americans come from two traditions that combine to make Americans generally more physically distant than the French.

A) The first culturally American people (basically the people who were not Natives) were Puritans. This has instilled several basic aspects of American culture still in place today: temperance (aka not drinking alcohol), abstinence (leave room for the Holy Spirit please), individualism and a hard work ethic. For the moment, the most important of these for me is the “abstinence” bit. Because (at least on some cultural level. Argue about the ’60’s sexual freedom thing all you want, America is still pretty “abstinent”). this means that Americans are much more tentative to interact intimately with other people**.

B) America is freaking huge. In fact, America is about 14.5 times the size of France. Look at the difference in space between Aix and Indianapolis, Indiana.

Aix:

IMG_5079

Indy:

Indiana State Capitol Police criuser in Indian...

All this combines into an interesting dilemma for my French friend: his girlfriend is distant in a very physical and American kind of way. She feels close to him mentally, so she is fine. But he, being French, feels that physical proximity is necessary. That’s how you show affection and you learn that from being in close contact with your family.

It’s an interesting dilemma to hear, although unfortunate for my poor friend.

*So really you would say “Je t’aime bien” which means “I like you well” and gives the French some means of differentiating, but the central point is still accurate. To make their meaning clear the French have to use the modifier “bien” to make the difference clear.

**Obviously I just way overgeneralized, but I think you could still say the culture in America is very abstinence-oriented, even if sex has become a lot more accepted. This part of our culture is developing and changing, but it’s not nearly on the French level and I don’t think they’ll be comparable for a while yet.

So…

I’m back to the horror that is the French education system. And before I go any farther, I will say that it probably isn’t a horror for the french. But for me, an English-speaker and an American, oh boy.

The problem is that the philosophies about education are almost fundamentally different. And while I thought “oh, learning is just learning, how could I ever have a problem?” I have quickly come to realize that learning is not just learning. At least as far as grades go. Because if you don’t know what answer is being asked of you, how in the world are you going to answer the question?

It goes like this. The French are ridiculously specific. For example, in a final on Modern History, I received a question somewhere along the lines of “the relation between the king and war in the modern era.” So I dutifully explained everything I could possibly think of about that. I gave several examples for specificity and clarity and in the end my teacher said, “stop giving me examples and be more specific.” I just looked at her and was like, what? She was like, “what do land and power give you?” Still confused, I responded “security…” and she was like “Yes! That’s what I’m looking for!” And then I became really confused.

It’s just a completely different way of going about things. And while it probably works great for the French, I don’t imagine I’m going to figure out this magic code fast enough to actually do well on any of these finals. But I also think that’s okay. Because I’, learning a hell of a lot more than I would be back in America. Where I will never complain about school again.

Quick Note on Friendship

You know, just the other night I was with a group of French when I saw another American studying in Aix that I know passing by, and we waved and said “hi” and she continued on her way. Very normal for us Americans, that’s just how it goes. But the French people were all confused. They were like, “Americans are so distant. It’s weird.” Because they stop, “bisent” (cheek kisses) and chat for a bit. And it made me think for a minute.

Because, in a sense they have a point. I mean, I find the French colder than Americans, but they do have a good point in that we engage in that very superficial kind of greeting very often.

But here’s a secret about me: Even if I just wave and say hello to my friends. I would hardly hesitate to do anything for them. It doesn’t matter what they need, what they have done, or even how they have treated me. I might be individual in that. But I actually do believe in love. In honesty. In helping other people. In forgiveness. And maybe that causes me pain sometimes, but that is when I turn to friends who will do the same for me. For those I count my friends, and they are many, I will say that I will always love them and listen to them.

But distant. No. Perhaps in the sense that we are far, that we don’t just engage in familiar conversation. But when I say “hello, how are you?” It’s an invitation. And that’s where us Americans get the completely opposite stereotype of being welcoming as well. Because, well. We are.

Yep

First French exam AND paper due tomorrow. It’s in Clinical Psychology (of all things. God help me). Am I ready?

HA. No. Not at all. However, I’m going to do my best, give it my all, and hope to goodness that the credit either doesn’t transfer back, or that I manage to pull a B.

AND I’m going to listen to this:

Booyah.