Week 1: Reflections & Observations

I can’t believe I’ve already been in France for a week! I thought this would be a good opportunity to share some random thoughts I’ve had that don’t really fit into any of my previous posts. I hope this gives more of an insight into what it’s like here!

-Anne is a very sweet old woman who reminds me of my great-grandmother, Nanny. Whenever she is explaining something to me, she says “Viola!” a lot. She also said it when I returned from Provence. She says “Bon Apetit!” whenever she catches me making food or eating.

-The microwaves here say “Bon Apetit!” when your food is done heating up.

-Anne’s grandson also lives with her. I’ve only talked to him once and seen him three times. He is either away at work or in his room. I think he must be shy, because the only reason I talked to him in the first place was that Anne cornered him after he got home from work and introduced us. I can’t imagine why someone spends all day in their room when they live in Paris! The only other things I know about him are that he is 23 and is going to a university in Paris called Sciences Po. I have no idea what this means, but sometimes I hear clinking glass noises from his room, so I imagine he has a chemistry set and is doing experiments. This is probably very inaccurate.

-The weather in Provence reminded me of the Western US. It was very dry and cloudless with lots of direct sunlight. The temperature was pretty consistently in the early-mid 80’s though, so it never got too hot. In Paris it is much cooler, with the temperature being mostly in the 60’s-70’s so far.

-Like in Germany, the light switches are large buttons rather than the little guys we have in the US. Also like in Germany, they have super metal blinds that go down over the outside of your window at night to block all the light from coming in. Why the US has not picked up on this yet amazes me. However, unlike in Germany where I just pressed a button, the blinds in my room have to be manually controlled with a metal rod that I turn. It is very squeaky and gets stuck a lot, so I usually just keep them down.

-When you order water while out to eat, they give you small glasses and a large glass bottle of cold water (a carafe). When you use up the water in that bottle, they give you a different glass bottle filled with cold water, and the cycle continues. I like this method because I usually drink a ton of water at restaurants and I don’t like all the ice they put in your glass in the US. Also, the napkins here are incredibly huge.

-The French love their coffee and tea. They always start out their day with some of either, or even both. One of the first things Anne asked me was if I drink coffee or tea in the morning. Honestly, I don’t regularly drink either, but if I had to pick one it would be tea. I like coffee, but it stains my teeth, and I try to avoid caffeine in general unless I really need it.

-Grocery shopping is quite difficult for me, though I’ve only tried it once and it was at a small city store. I don’t eat like a French person, let alone like most Americans. Being a vegetarian, I am very conscious of my protein intake, and I mostly try to only eat things high in protein along with fruits and vegetables. This includes Greek yogurt, peanut butter, nuts, veggie burgers, and 10-20g protein bars. I found none of these things, except for nuts, but they were in really small packages and not worth the price.

My first grocery store swag: nectarines, fruit yogurt, granola cereal, bananas, and a box of Mondrian tissues.

My first grocery store swag: nectarines, fruit yogurt, granola cereal, bananas, and a box of Mondrian tissues.

Is it taboo to say that peanut butter is better than Nutella? Because it really is. Europeans need to get on that.

Is it taboo to say that peanut butter is better than Nutella? Because it really is. Europeans need to get on that.

-French people can generally be described as being really tan and really skinny. The tan I can understand after being in Provence for several days (as Anne said when I returned, “You bring the sun with you.”) However, their skinniness is amazing to me considering how much bread they eat. Like, their breakfast consists of bread and croissants, and then they have bread with every meal. However, they do walk everywhere and their food comes from much more natural sources than ours in the US, so maybe it evens out?

-The metro system in Paris is awesome! Since transportation is always a huge issue for me in the US, I think I will use the metro as much as possible here and I will really miss it when I leave. The trains are nice, too. I’ve always loved trains and the ease of just hopping on one and taking it into Philly or Doylestown, and the ability to go to New York City/anywhere else on the East coast.  It’s something I’ve really missed going to school in the Midwest.

-There seems to be no point getting to a train station (or the Oslo airport) early, because they don’t post your track/gate until it is time to board (15-20 minutes before departure). This caught me really off-guard, as I am used to thinking in terms of the Philadelphia airport.

-At the touristy sights, most of the tourists are French-speaking. I don’t know why this surprised me. I mean, Americans visit the Grand Canyon, right? Other than that, the languages I have heard the most are German, Italian, British English, and Spanish. I have only heard a few Americans so far.

-Whenever I approach someone, they assume I’m French. I suppose this is a good thing, but it sometimes confuses me because they speak very quickly.

-I have tried to speak as much French as possible while I am here. Mostly I have only had to say “Bonjour” and “Merci beaucoup” but on the occasions I have had to speak more, usually whoever I am talking to will reply to me in English. I have been persistent though, and in some cases the person will start speaking to me again in French.

-I have not yet encountered the “rude” French stereotype. Everyone has been very kind and helpful. As you walk down the street or use the metro, you will often hear people saying “Pardon” if they accidentally bump into each other or need to get by. So they’re actually more polite than most Americans.

-I have seen some very stereotypically dressed Frenchmen. As in, young men with large noses wearing horizontally striped shirts. Also, I have noticed that French men seem to have no shame in picking their noses in public. Otherwise, they are also a hygienic people, ruling out that stereotype as well.

-I did have one strange encounter with a French person so far. As I was approaching the Pont Alexandre III, I noticed a woman standing still and looking very confused at a man. I kept walking forward, wondering if they were having a fight. As I got closer, I noticed the man walking towards me. Suddenly, he started walk full-speed directly at me. I freaked out and tried to move to the side, but at the last second he swerved around me. I kept walking forward trying to hold it together, past the woman who was still standing in confusion. She said something to me in French and I shrugged. By the time I got to the other end of the bridge, I saw the same man crossing from the other side. This time he started doing the same thing to others on the bridge. This made me feel better that he didn’t single me out. I suppose he was either crazy, or had something against tourists. Or maybe he was doing a social experiment. In any case, if you’re ever on the Pont Alexadre III, watch out!

-I went to see Elysium because I was curious how French movie theaters were. They have a lot of ice cream commercials before the trailers, and then just as many trailers as we have in the US.

-The first night I was here, I found out that Netflix does not work outside of the 50 United States. This has since lead me to consider getting a US IP address while I’m here in Paris. I mean, I haven’t even watched the most recent season of Mad Men. But, there are advertisements all over the city for House of Cards, and on the plane over here the person next to me was reading a Norwegian newspaper with a big spread about Orange is the New Black. So, they get Netflix shows over here somehow. Still, it’s really annoying having every website I go to automatically redirect to the “.fr” version of that site. This may be a worthy investment.

Well, I know this was a long, wordy post, but I hope you found it interesting! I may do more of these in the future to help me document my experience.

Day 4: Arles, Part I

Our hotel lobby in the morning.

Our hotel lobby in the morning.IMG_20130822_223915We started the day early with breakfast at the hotel, then headed across the river into town.

Crossing the bridge again.

Crossing the bridge again.Arles2_3smallGraffiti on the bridgeGraffiti on the bridge

We followed our maps and our noses through the streets.

The old buildings are so amazing. It’s crazy to me that these are part of people’s every day lives, and they’re older than most structures in the US!

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There are also a ton of incredible doors.

There are also a ton of incredible doors.

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We then arrived at the Place de la Republique, which joins the Obelisque d’Arles, Arles town hall, Chapelle Sainte-Anne, and St. Trophime.

Obelisque d'Arles

Obelisque d’ArlesArles town hall.Arles town hall.Close-up on the fountain.Close-up on the fountain.Close-up of the fountain.Close-up of the fountain.Entrance to St. Trophime.Entrance to St. Trophime.

We then entered St. Trophime, which was absolutely amazing. I think I have a thing for cathedrals, seeing as one of my favorite things I saw in Germany was the Kölner Dom.

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St. TrophimeSt. TrophimeSt. TrophimeSt. TrophimeSt. TrophimeSt. TrophimeSt. TrophimeSt. TrophimeArles2_27smallArles2_28smallIMG_20130822_225324IMG_20130822_225603Arles2_30smallArles2_31smallArles2_32small

After St. Trophime, we went across the Place to Chapelle Saint-Anne, inside of which was part of the current-running photography festival. This yearly festival turns the entire city into a gallery. Each space features a different photographer. Since we were only there for one day, we decided to just go into this exhibition. It was an excellent show featuring Chilean photographer Sergio Larrain. We also bought some merchandise for the festival; I got two posters.

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The exhibition space.

One of the posters I got.

One of the posters I got.

We then headed outside across the Place again, this time to the St. Trophime Cloister. You have to buy a ticket to see it, but it’s worth it because the proceeds go towards the intense restoration they are currently doing!

This guy was out on the Place playing stereotypical French songs on the accordion for quite a while!

This guy was out on the Place playing stereotypical French songs on the accordion for quite a while!

Passed while entering the cloister.

Passed while entering the cloister.The cloisterThe cloisterArles2_37smallA beautiful stained glass window in the cloister.A beautiful stained glass window in the cloister.Arles2_39smallArles2_41small

Now I realize this is an incredibly long, image-heavy post, but I’m only half way through our day! So, I’m going to split it into two posts. Yeah, it was a really long day. I also didn’t put all of my photos up on here, so I think I’ll put them on Facebook, too! Arles, Part II will be coming soon.