Posts Tagged ‘France’

As you might imagine from the title, the last few days have been up and down. One might say my days have been as erratic as the weather here, which is currently below freezing and showing rather pathetic signs of warming up. It is, however, sunny, which is a win.

Small problems, small victories.

My weekend was rather uneventful. I was a homebody on Saturday — with the exception of a glorious run to the Parc des Buttes Chaumont — and Sunday I went to the American Church in Paris with Victoria. It was a traditional service — sans actual denomination, although it leaned towards Presbyterian — and we both felt very American and very much like children in church again. Afterwards, there was much plentiful and FREE American style coffee.

We then headed off to the student brunch in the south of Paris, which was cheap and tasty — cereal, bread, pastries, yogurt, milk, orange juice, potatoes, eggs, coffee and more for less than 3 euro! — but we had to battle it out with hungry French students for food and for a place to sit. In the end, it was worth it, and we left full and happy.

Small problems, small victories.

School started up again on Monday, as it is often wont to do, and I can honestly say that I was glad to get back into my somewhat regular routine. Classes were interesting, and the sky was blue and sunny, albeit a tad bit cold.

Monday evening, my friend Matt from Carolina got in on the train from London, where he is spending the majority of his spring break, watching football (British football that is) matches and wandering around aimlessly. His visit was sort of spur of the moment, but when he got off the train, I realized how nice it was to see a familiar face from my regular life back in the real world.

We made dinner for ourselves and for some friends of a high school friend — the people who introduced me to the first batch of French people here — which was delicious (mac and cheese, only the fancy and elaborate kind). I also made butterscotch, which everyone always loves.

Tuesdays are my busy days, and yesterday was no exception. French class in the morning — where the clock is always mysteriously stuck on 4 o’clock, exactly — followed by a quick stop in the library to begin the book check-out process and then lunch and Media and Politics class, concurrently.

You see, you aren’t allowed to actually go into the stacks in the library here. You fill out a little form with the book number and title, scan it into a timestamp machine and give it to the people behind the circulation desk. They then send someone into the stacks for you to see if the book is there, and bring it back after a period of oh, say, 45 minutes. When I explain the American university library system to French people, they are stunned.

The short of all of this is that the book I wanted for my paper on the landmark Supreme Court case New York Times Co. v. United States (the Pentagon Papers case) — called “Nixonland”, a book which we used in my favorite history class last term — was checked out, even though the library’s database told me otherwise.

My difficulties continued when I went to my French bank to attempt to deal with a problem with my account. Let me just pause a minute here and explain something. I opened this account in January. I chose the BNP-Paribas student option, because they have some sort of deal with French universities in which they give you free money for being a student and opening an account with them, so I had to give them my SciencesPo student ID. Which I did. In January.

Last week — the first week of March, mind you — I got a call from the bank, explaining that my student ID card has the wrong birthdate on it, or rather, it doesn’t match my passport birthdate. You see, the French — and the rest of the world in general, methinks — write dates as “day/month/year” and not “month/day/year” like we do back in the states. So, somewhere along the line, I must have made an error in filling out the student card registration form, because my card says I was born March 9, or, 9/3/1989.

(So I just had a fake birthday yesterday. Holler.)

The ever vigilante folks at BNP wanted further proof that I really did go to SciencesPo and that my birthday was September 3rd, 1989 and not March 9th. I explained to them last week that, since SciencesPo was on holiday, I would have to wait a bit. Which was fine with them. (I mean, they had already waited more than a month to tell me there was a problem, so what was another week, right?)

In digging through my piles of official papers and things, I discovered a “Certificat de Scolarité” that the UNC Study Abroad Office gave me right before I left campus in December. It basically just says, “Hey people reading this, this kid is really a student at SciencesPo. And also, he was born September 3rd, 1989, in case you were curious. Cheers.” For some reason the dates on the paper are written in American format, unless of course the French have discovered a 25th month (the date in the top right corner is 11/25/09).

But there’s a very official looking stamp on this paper, so I thought it would suffice. I brought it in to the bank first on Monday afternoon, but they told me they needed my passport — a copy of which they already had — so I had to come back yesterday, as I do not usually carry my passport around with me for safety reasons.

Yesterday I returned, and much confusion ensued.  First, the woman at the front desk had no idea what I was talking about. Then, she disappeared with my information and passport and went to talk with one of her superiors. She came back and told me everything was cool. Which was false, and I told her as much, reminding her of the phone call I had received from someone in the office. The woman then disappeared again, for longer this time, and returned with all my stuff.

“You need to fix this date thing with SciencesPo,” she told me, pointing to the birthdate on the certificat de scolarité. “This date doesn’t mean anything to us.”

“Oh,” I said. “But you see, this paper is written in American-style date format, as evidenced by this corner date here. So I’d imagine this is correct then.”

“No,” she told me. “We don’t write dates like that here in France. This means nothing to us, I don’t care if it is inversed. You need something else.”

Okay, I’ll admit, this afternoon was just a big fail. No small wins at all. But I am at the point where I just might give up this bank account quest. So, that could be construed as a win. Maybe.

The evening was one big win for all. My French class had our first — of hopefully many — “dîner de conf”, or “class dinner” at our professor’s lovely apartment. Everyone brought food to share, and the professor provided wine, cheese and bread.

It was a truly delightful evening. I simply adore my French prof, and the class is a fantastic mix of students from many different countries and academic backgrounds. We had a delicious meal of random dishes — including my own contribution of my famous fatoush (FATOUSH!) —and had lively and interesting conversation in French. I truly hope we can do it again soon.

Matt is still asleep right now, and I need to get him up and going so we can have a picnic in the Jardin de Luxembourg before my class today. He leaves tonight on the Eurostar to London.

Life may be a series of difficulties and successes, but hopefully my life is headed more towards the “success” column and away from the “difficult” one.


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Sometimes people knock on our door.

Sometimes I open it.

Sometimes I reveal my friends. Sometimes I reveal the friends of my roommates. Sometimes I reveal my landlord or his daughter or both, come to deliver misdirected mail or play with their cat — who lives with us here, as you may remember.

This evening, it was a random stranger — whose name I couldn’t quite grasp — who, as I gathered slowly but surely, had arrived to look at another apartment owned by my landlord.

I invited him in, made him some coffee, and we chatted for the better part of an hour while he waited for our landlord to arrive. We’re the same age, about the same year at University, and he’s about to start an internship here in Paris with the department of commerce. He’s from the south of France, I think, and we talked about living in Paris, things to do, etc.

He left, hopeful that we might become neighbors, and I was left feeling really happy. I had had a random, significant conversation with a French stranger, and maybe even made a new friend, and it was kind of nice. My verbal and comprehension skills weren’t always perfect — as I said, I can’t remember his name — but it was a real interaction. And it was in French. And I felt, therefore, French.

Little things like this keep happening. And they keep making me happy.

Being able to interact with strangers is a sign of fluency, right? I’d like to think so.

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