Archive for the ‘Parker in Paris’ Category

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Parker: Farewell dinner

May 24, 2011

As an end of program celebration, IES held a farewell dinner for all the students in my program. We had a wonderful three course French dinner all while floating through Paris via a boat on the Seine. Beforehand, my friends and I got together to take a few photos, prom-style (if only I could have taken my ACTUAL prom photos with an Eiffel Tower view…), on the Bir Hakeim bridge (which you may recognize from Inception). Throughout the course of the evening, I was lucky enough to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle THREE times (it never gets old), and spent a few last hours with some of the best people I have ever had the pleasure meeting. Our only hope (if I may be so cheesy) was that it was not “goodbye”, but instead “see you later,” as we said goodbyes before everyone headed back to their respective parts of the U.S. the next morning. Luckily, I am staying here for a few days, decompressing, getting ready to go home, and sneaking in a few last things I didn’t get the chance to do.

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Parker: Dîner chez ma professeur

May 20, 2011
My French class in the gardenLast week, amid all of the preparations and stress that surrounded the last week of school, finals, and our last week in Paris, my French professor invited our whole class over for dinner at her house. To be honest, none of us were really excited; we had a lot of work to do, we were tired, she lives almost an hour away from where some of us live in Paris, and we didn’t think she would feed us much-there were 12 of us, plus her, her husband and her daughter. We were completely wrong. Not only did she have tons of food and drinks for us (aperitifs, appetizers, lots of delicious ratatouille, charcuterie, cheese, baguette, and wine), but it was a fantastic time, and a great end to our semester. It was a good opportunity to chat, eat some good food, and relieve stress. We also got a chance to peek into our professor’s life, and see the cute little suburb where she lived (in a HOUSE, with a GARDEN-something I haven’t seen in quite a while…)
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Parker: Open Ears

May 19, 2011

Being abroad has not only brought out new parts of me. It has sparked new interests to my life as well. Some things are trivial, like my new appreciation fro cassis, some are odd, like my new obsession with skulls (see one of my favorites below), and others have come as a result of integral changes in my life. As I stated in post earlier in the semester, Paris is much quieter than being back with my friends and family in the U.S. People are relatively private, and tend to keep to themselves. If someone is speaking in a loud tone of voice, something big is happening.

These quieter surroundings have led me to listen in ways I never have before, and in doing this I have found that for me, one of the best ways to experience a moment is to just listen. It could be the sound of conversations on the metro (even if I’m not actually listening to what is said, but rather the low constant murmur of voices), the sound of people and cars on the street, or the sound of people celebrating, partying, or maybe even mourning. In the last few weeks, I began to collect these sound bites from my life (yes, I know it sounds like Save the Last Dance, but I haven’t gotten quite that intense about it…). However, in the process of uploading pictures and videos from my camera to my computer, they were accidentally erased. In some ways, I was extremely upset; these were parts of my life, parts of my experience, that I will never be able to retrieve, and therefore relive. But on the other hand, these moments as they existed are engrained into, especially the sounds.

For example, when I visited Marseilles a couple of weeks ago, on the way home from dinner, the soccer match ended and Marseilles was the winner. It just so happened that we were right on the main drag for bars in the city, so we were there as the road flares were lit and the crowd roared in celebration. The group of celebrants continued to grow, and did so all through the night. Through our hotel window, which was a little removed from the main action, we could hear the sounds of revelers late into the night. It was almost eery with the way the silent, empty streets were quickly filled with the sharp cries of people headed toward the celebration at the Vieux Port.

Although the neighborhood where my host family lives might not be the best in Paris, I have been blessed to have a panoramic view of the Parisian suburbs from my 12th-story French windows (which, I must add, are one of their greatest creations). When I am at home, I usually open the windows to let in a little fresh air, and with the air comes the quiet buzz of the neighborhood; children playing, cars honking, birds singing, and if I’m lucky, the sound of the bells tolling from the towers of the two churches nearby. Although I may be sitting inside, the sounds instantly transport me to the street, and I always feel connected to my environment.

Although it may seem like a small aspect of my 4 months in Europe, this newfound interest in the sounds that surround me has definitely become one of the things that will stay with me. Not only has it enriched my time abroad in experiencing everything with all of my senses, it has helped me to acclimate in every situation, by listening, learning, interpreting, and repeating.

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Parker: Almost done

May 12, 2011

I have reached the last week of my time here in Paris, and things are getting very interesting. Last week I attended a re-entry session where they discussed re-entry shock, that is, the opposite culture shock that comes with returning home after being away for a semester.  It really made me realize that going home might not be as great as I sometimes dream it could be, with all the people, places, and food I have missed in the last four months. Everyone (I hope) will be interested to hear about my time in Europe, and I don’t know what I will share with them. I imagine it will be something like coming home after a day of high school to a simple “How was your day?” from my mom. I could expect it every day, but when it came, I usually had nothing to say, usually settling for a simple response of “Fine” or “Okay.”

Not only do I have to worry about going home, but first I have to worry about getting through school here. In the last week, I have had three 5-page papers due, given three final presentations, and had five finals, an even bigger challenge after the generally light courseload I have had this semester.  Obviously, doing work and preparing finals is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of all the things I want to do in my last weeks in Paris. In fact, I have quite a list of things to do. Yikes. Time to get on that.

I believe the main difference between a semester abroad and anything shorter, say, six weeks, is that in four months, you are able to really become a local. You get to know the city (or most of it…Paris is HUGE!), the places, the sights, and you have a chance to visit things more than once. However, it can be hard to stay on track when it comes to exploring the city. It is easy to find one place you love to go and revisit that place over and over. Then, when the end of your four months comes whipping around the corner, you are left with a couple short weeks and a list of things you have yet to complete before you leave. With a shorter program, I think it is easier to grasp the amount of time you have, which leads to more planning and less left to do when your time is up. But to me, that then becomes almost like an extended vacation.

I can’t say enough how glad I am to have had more than 4 months in this beautiful city, and to have been able to call it my home. It was always nice to come back to Paris after a vacation, or a weekend away. I wouldn’t trade this feeling of belonging for anything.

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Parker: Prayer in the Streets

April 13, 2011

It is hard to imagine and understand the events of a Friday in Paris’ Barbés neighborhood until you make the trip there to experience it yourself. It was by far the most educational class trip I have taken since being in Paris. It is a part of my time abroad that I will never forget.

La Goutte d’Or, as described by Thirza Vallois, is “A tiny patch of Africa transplanted to Paris.” It started as an immigration destination for North Africans in the early 1900’s and then in the 1950’s became even more popular as immigrants came looking for work in the automobile industry. Now, twenty-seven percent of the population in La Goutte d’Or lives below the poverty level, and 17% lives in social housing, proof of the lower standard of life that seems to exist in some parts of this area.

But this area wasn’t always struggling, and even now not all of the population is experiencing this level of poverty. Originally La Goutte d’Or was a hamlet of wine growers, living in beautiful old houses, on small lanes, and cute little gardens. In the Middle Ages, the wine from the district was some of the best in Europe, given to the king every year by the City of Paris for his birthday. Some of this history is still evident, hidden behind gates and more modern, less fancy, façades.

While Barbés is still struggling against poverty, there are some positive movements being made toward the growth of the district. The Center for Muslim Culture is making positive strides toward building respect and understanding between the people of the area and the rest of Paris. Through educational and community events, they are creating an environment that will allow the Muslim community to be welcomed in by the rest of Paris.

This is also building toward the construction of a new, larger Center, using some government funding, which has already been approved by the Parisian government, a feat in and of itself. To build a religious center, especially one in a country that focuses heavily on its secular approach to government, with the money of the people, is extremely difficult. But what made the case for the Muslim Cultural Center is that it is supposed to be a place for everyone, and it is hoping that it will be able to follow through on this promise by welcoming all parts of Parisian society. In addition to the Cultural Center, the plans for a new mosque have been approved, which will be funded entirely by private donations.

While Paris already has the largest mosque in France, it is not big enough to handle the Muslim population in the city that is home to one fifth of the total population of France. This was obvious on our trip to Barbés during the Friday prayers. Because the small mosques in the neighborhood are not enough, the male population spills out onto the streets, where a highly organized procedure blocks off the streets, lays down prayer mats, and installs a private security force to protect the prayers of the people. Donation buckets are passed around, collecting funds to be put toward the new mosque, and people flow in from all directions to participate.

The situation is a model of tolerance. It goes both ways, from the tolerance of the Muslim people toward the secular government that makes it difficult for them to practice their religion, to the tolerance of the people of Paris who let this peaceful assembly to exist on a weekly basis, despite the inconvenience it might bring them. It was amazing to walk through the quiet, peaceful streets, while the sound of a service blared from speakers on top of cars lining the streets, and people who weren’t a part of the worship milled quietly about through the clear sidewalks and crosswalks. People kept to themselves, and respected the lives of those around them.

My other experiences in Barbés left me with a completely different feeling, one where I couldn’t wait to get away “to safety.” I felt out of place, exposed, and very uncomfortable. I felt like I was constantly being stared at like an outsider, because I was. I didn’t fit into what I saw as the entire population of the area, and I acted like someone who knew they didn’t belong there.

This trip was quite the opposite. In the clear light of a beautiful day, and with a better understanding of what I was walking into, I was able to feel comfortable, despite traveling with a large group of American students. Of course we got plenty of stares – we were a large group of mainly white students walking in a pack and speaking loud English. But this time they felt more like stares of curiosity, rather than threats. The people were friendly, welcoming, and willing to help. I have never seen Parisians so willing to answer a question from a stranger on the street. Barbés is probably one of the most misunderstood areas of Paris, and I am glad I had the opportunity to experience the culture of such a fascinating social situation.

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Parker: What the French know of Americans

April 2, 2011

Say you’re American to a Parisian, and there are a few typical responses you will receive:
1. Oh, so you love McDonald’s?
2. Are you from New York? (It’s either NYC, San Francisco, LA, or maybe a couple like Chicago or Miami)
3. I love Obama!
4. Some comment that basically means “You Americans aren’t doing it right.”

It’s nice to see that they really understand our culture. Now, I’m not saying that Americans don’t do the same when it comes to France, but you would think they might understand a little more thoroughly a country their youth spends so much time trying to copy…(see previous post “Letter Jackets and Beats by Dre”).

It’s amazing to me how ethnocentric the French can be. And they are not afraid to admit it. Because almost everyone I have met seems to genuinely think France is the greatest country in the world. And good for them, I’m glad they have a strong sense of national pride, but they sure have an odd sense of showing it sometimes. They elect people and then instantly hate them, constantly demonstrate against, well, anything, and have a school system that breeds social inequality. They refuse to record race or religion on their census, insisting that they are a color-blind State (and meanwhile they point to the U.S. as being full of racial issues) while failing to realize the obvious racial and religious inequalities in their secular, “welcoming” country.

I love Paris, and I don’t want to leave, but I will never stop questioning some of the oddities of the French way of thinking.

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Parker: Speak Softly

March 31, 2011

I’m usually a very loud speaker, because of my deep low voice and my theatrical skill of projection. Every time I go home (back in the States), my mom has to tell me to lower my voice.

For the first time in my life, people have told me to speak up. Without even realizing it, I have adapted my habits to those of Paris. People in Paris tend to be much more subdued in their conversations. If you ride on the metro, you will hear a low murmur of conversation, but save maybe one or two loud phone conversations, you can never really hear other conversations. Parisians are in general much more private than in America. When you first meet someone, they may seem cold or distant. This isn’t because they are unfriendly, it just takes a little longer to form a relationship in France. But once you have gotten to know someone, they are usually very open and kind. Its almost the opposite of Minnesota, where people are quick to open up at first, but close relationships require plenty of time and trust.

I first noticed my new habit when my friend Rob visited from Barcelona a few weeks ago. On the bus ride to my place from the airport, I kept finding myself wishing he would speak a little softer, almost like it hurt my ears. I found myself speaking even softer, in an attempt to quiet him down. I couldn’t understand what was the issue; was it that he was just really loud, or was it that I was now accustomed to a lower volume. In the few days he was in Paris, I began to realize how quiet it can be. And then I started to realize that I was adapting that quiet-ness. When I visited Barcelona, I fully understood the difference between what he was used to, and what I was used to. The train in Barca was full of noise; laughter and conversation could be heard from all directions.

Then, last week, I started to notice how often people have been telling me to speak up. It is the strangest experience, because I am not used to being asked to speak louder. And when my friends tell me to speak up, I found myself feeling defensive and worried, as if I didn’t want the people around to hear my conversation.

I am (apparently) becoming a true Parisian. I just hope these changes are a good thing, and aren’t a problem when I go back to the U.S….

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