France: Land of Pastries and Turtlenecks!

(Sorry this is later than I meant it to be – I had some trouble getting my photos to upload!)

I’ve been in France for a little over a week now, and I’ve got to say – I think I picked a pretty solid place to study abroad!

One brief and early flight took us from London to Nice, where my mind was kind of blown when I realized that pretty much all of the signs in the airport were in French. Seems obvious, but considering how little sleep I had gotten it was pretty boggling. Another big “whoa” moment came when a gentleman walked by me and said “Excusez-moi.” It’s the little things.

We were met by the AIFS Cannes resident director, Sandrine, who is so welcoming and warm, and her wonderful assistant director, Aude, and we hopped on a bus and headed to Cannes!

One thing that I think is nice is that Sandrine and Aude already knew all of our names after just a day or two – they must have been studying our ID pictures before we all arrived, or else they just have incredible super-memories. It really gives the program a more personal and homey touch, which is much appreciated. I’ve had classes about the size of this group where the professor never even made any attempt to learn our names, so it’s a nice touch.

My roommate and I are on the “4th “ floor – sort of. We’re kind of tucked away in this little alcove that’s actually a touch below the third floor. Our room is nice! The only thing that’s sort of a bummer is that while most other rooms have stunning views of the sea, we look out at a roof – but past the roof there are some cute buildings, so it helps to make up for it.

I have a meal plan with the college, so I’ve got breakfast, lunch, and dinner covered in the cafeteria (though I definitely plan on taking advantage of the restaurants nearby, as well!). Lunch is kind of interesting since we are brought food instead of going through a buffet like at breakfast and dinner. Because of this, the vegetarians have a special reserved table – we get a special green tablecloth and everything! It’s quite exciting.

On a side note, I was introducing myself to another person sequestered at Veggie Island the other day, and between the loud cafeteria and my generally soft voice, she misheard my name as Dre. I guess it’s time to retire G-Jo and G-Dawg and make this my new rapper name?

There was also one great moment at the cafeteria the other night when a staff member wheeled out a cart of éclairs for dessert, and once people realized what was going on, they literally jumped up from their chairs and stampeded/swarmed after her. It was like a wave of people chasing her. It felt like a scene from a movie, so when you actually see it happening it’s kind of a “Wait. People really do this?” moment.

I’ve got a 3 hour French class every morning from 9 to noon, which, despite being far too early for my liking, is really enjoyable and goes by quickly. We had to take a placement test to determine what level our class would be – there are something like 15 different levels you can be in, so it’s a just bit more thorough than Chapman’s 101, 102, 201, etc. system. Most of it was multiple choice, which was pretty hit or miss. There were definitely a lot of words I had never seen before, so that was helpful. I much preferred the writing section since you have control over what you want to say and how you say it, so you can conveniently skip over any words you’re forgetting.

I ended up being placed towards the top of the range I was expecting to be in, so the class feels like a good mixture of review and new material. We’re also given the chance to move up levels throughout our semester.

My professor’s name is Christel, and she is pretty much fantastic. She’s very easy to talk to, and she keeps everything light and fun.

The class is structured totally differently than every other French class I’ve been in, which took a bit of getting used to, but I actually like it a lot better. Everything is said in French, and for the most part it’s more like a discussion than, say, learning sentence structure out of a textbook. In just the first week we’ve talked about everything from pizza to marriage and civil unions to one girl’s fake ID. Since we don’t know a lot of the more complex words that go along with these topics, she teaches us what we want to say, so we’re learning vocab specific/relevant to us, in a sense.

It’s also nice that the class is small – about 14 people or so, I think. Most of us are from the AIFS group, but there’s also a girl our age from Norway and a woman from Poland, so it’s been really interesting getting to learn about some of the various cultural differences.

Because class is so early, I’ve been getting up around 7:30ish every morning. This also means that I’ve been getting tired a lot earlier, so I’ve consistently been going to bed well before midnight, which hasn’t been the case since probably sometime in high school. It’s a very strange feeling, but seeing as I definitely have some distinct “grandmotherly” tendencies, there’s kind of an “of course” factor to it, as well.

For the time being, I’m just taking the French class, but we also signed up for seminars that will be starting towards the end of the month. I’ll be taking French Civilization and French Art: 19th and 20th Century, both in English. The person explaining what the classes were described the Civilization one as sort of an overview of French customs and the like (and I think some history is in there, as well?), so hopefully this will make it harder for me to accidentally commit some horrible faux-pas! I’m excited for the art history one because there are several museum trips planned, and I’m sort of a museum junkie. These will each be just one afternoon out of the week, so I’ll still have most of my afternoons free!

The past few afternoons I’ve been going on walks into town just to wander around and take it all in. It takes maybe 15, 20 minutes to walk from the college to the center of town, and it’s an absolutely gorgeous area – all of the buildings have their own unique details and are all painted different pastel colors. For some reason it reminds me of ice cream. It’s been kind of drizzly lately, so I haven’t gotten to take as many pictures as I would have liked (though I love the rain, so it’s a fair trade-off!), but more will be coming!

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I’ve walked by the Palais des Festivals several times – it hosts the Cannes Film Festival, and it’s really really exciting to be able to just casually pass by the home of such a prestigious event (at which I’ll be working this year!). There’s a red carpet out on the stairs year-round, and there are also some tourist-y touches, like a path of celebrity handprints and signatures à la Grauman’s and several cardboard cutouts with holes for faces, so you can be Cameron Diaz posing with the other Charlie’s Angels or Catherine Zeta-Jones posing by Antonio Banderas/Zorro, etc.

One time when I was walking by they were setting up for some sort of event – full red carpet, setting up lights, extra security, the whole shebang. I haven’t been able to find what it was for, but it was sort of like a tiny little preview of what the end of my semester might look like!

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A couple extra random tidbits –

I’ve gone to Monoprix (basically the French version of Target) a few times now for toothpaste and notebooks and snackage and the like, and each time I’ve been there, “Time of the Season” by The Zombies has played. I have no idea if it’s part of some playlist the store plays every day or something (though it’s the only song I’ve heard more than once there), or if maybe the French just really like that one particular song?

On the topic of music, I was walking by some restaurant the other day that was blasting some super cheery and lively Happy Birthday song in English, which really amused me! They weren’t even open yet or anything.

The movie “The Intouchables” is really big here. Really really big. Every time I tell a French person (or the Norwegian girl in my class) that I’m a film student or that I like French movies, their first question is if I’ve seen that movie. No fail. Plus sometime next week the program is making an excursion to the médiathèque (library) near the college for a tour and to watch – bien sûr! – The Intouchables in one of the screening rooms. (For the record: Yes, I have seen The Intouchables, and yes, it is really good!)

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