Posts Tagged ‘montpellier’


Veronica: 35 days since leaving Montpellier

July 4, 2010

Okay. So I feel like I have a lot to explain. I have changed so much in France and realized a lot about myself even after coming back to the US. I like life in France better. That’s what I want. It hurts every day not being there. It’s actually a physical pain. And, as my mom pointed out, what I talked about with my family and in my blog posts sounded negative and like I wasn’t having a good time. She thought I hated being in France. This is the complete opposite of the truth. Yes, it was hard. It’s hard being away from your friends, family, and familiarity, and things don’t always go right or how you expected them. And yes, sometimes it sucked. But only sometimes. There are ups and downs. I will tell you this, and maybe you will find/have found this to be true for you as well: it’s a lot easier to talk about the stuff that you don’t like and/or the stuff that isn’t going right. That’s the stuff (for me, at least) that is easiest to talk about with people who aren’t experiencing what you are. It seems more relatable. It’s easier to talk about a problem. They can’t understand the good stuff because they aren’t there to see the guy playing accordion in the park, or the medieval building, or even a strange bird, or eat true French bread, or meet the people that you do. They can’t just walk down the street, totally in love with the place like you are. You can tell them about it, sure. But they just don’t get it. I know I am like that when I hear memories and stories from friends who have studied abroad. I’m sure it was great, but all it is, is just a story. Nothing else. And now I’m having that happen to me and it really, really bothers me. I feel alone most of the time because of this, as well as misunderstood. It makes being back in the US even harder.

And when you talk about things that are just weird, that you aren’t used to, maybe it accidentally comes out as negative. Maybe that’s what I did a lot of the time and my meanings and intentions were misconstrued. Or maybe when something ridiculous happened to you, like your train being late and meeting some really bizarre people in the process and then having to stand on the train for two hours, sounds like it was a bad experience when it really wasn’t. The word ridiculous is too often mistaken for bad, and it shouldn’t be. France is kind of a ridiculous place, but it is not a bad place. It’s a wonderful place where kind of wacky things happen sometimes.

You have to know that it was the most amazing experience in my life and I wish every waking moment that it hadn’t had to end.


Britta: Week in Paris

June 30, 2010

The first week of the second program through the Learning Abroad Center ended with a trip to Paris. We caught the train early on Friday morning and after ditching our bags we headed out into the narrow, quaint streets.

Paris wasn’t all just sight seeing and taking in the romantic air of the beautiful city. We were there to visit the Musée de l’Immigration. It is a great museum, and after spending 3 hours there we still only saw a fraction.

We got lunch at a small cafe, where we met the nicest, best crêpe maker. We couldn’t just get a crêpe salé we caved and also got a sucré 🙂

We also visited the the Institut du Monde Arabe which is filled with beautiful artwork and the tiniest Korans in the world with amazing calligraphy.

On the last day I made sure to see the Eiffel Tour, Arc de Triomph, Champs-Élysées, the Luxombourg gardens. It was a very quick, busy, exhausting weekend but very enjoyable !


Britta: Le Sel

June 4, 2010

Salt plays a very important role in world history, and its effects are still seen today. The word “salary” come from the latin word “salarium” which was a roman soldiers allowance for the purchase of salt.

In Aigues- Morte located in Southeastern France there is a very large salt mine which produces all the salt for France and is well known all over the world for their Sel de Fleur. Each year Le Salin- de- Giraud proudces 5,000 tonnes of salt from their 14,000 hectares of land.
Aigues-Morte is a historic town founded in 1240, which became the most important port during the 14th Century with funding from Louis IX. However at the end of the century the canals were no longer navigable because of excessive silt and when Provence became a part of France in 1481 Marseille took Aigues-Morte’s place as the only southern port of the kingdom.

Britta: La Plage et Miel

May 26, 2010
Saturday we lathered our white selves up in 50 spf sunblock and went to the beach near the town of Pérols. The weather was fantastic and it was just perfect to be able to sit out on the sand with the cool breeze and enjoy what we can actually now call summer. Later that afternoon we came back to Montpellier and gathered all our belongings from the hotel and our host families came to greet us and take us away. My host family is a single lady, 34, who lives in le quartier Port Marianne. It is about a 15-20 minute tram ride to the center of town. She is really friendly and has made me feel very much at home here.However, being anxious and nervous I didn’t take all my belongings with me from the hotel. It wasn’t until last night when I wanted to upload some photos when I remembered that I put the pocket drive in the pouch of the camera case, and my camera case wasn’t with me. Thankfully, after the first day of classes this morning, I went back to the hotel and explained that I think I left my camera here over the weekend and the lady at the front desk immediately knew where it was. Phew.

Sunday I was able to sleep in for the first time in months. It felt great! I had a nice more normal traditional French breakfast with yogurt, an apple, and some melba toast with confiture. I sat out on the terrace drinking my espresso and reading. The afternoon later led to an adventure into town and coming across the Sunday artisan market. There were many handmade items such as bags, clothing, chairs, jewelry, and paintings. But there were also local and artisan breads, honey, cheeses, and meats!

We stopped at the honey stand and talked to the man and he explained some of the various kinds of honey and he let us try a couple of them. We bought a jar of Miel D’Acacia (which is characterized for always being in a liquid state because of its high fructose content and being very clear, sometimes white) and a loaf of bread to have as an absolutely delicious snack.


Britta: Bienvenue à Montpellier

May 21, 2010

Montpellier greeted me with absolutely beautiful weather, beautiful people, and wonderful cuisine.

It was a long stressful trip from Minneapolis to Paris, Paris to Montpellier but the first hours here make it utterly worth it. My last experience abroad was in Spain, so my first instinct being back on the narrow, quaint, winding streets with little tabacs and cafés is: Spanish. However I instead hear French drifting through the streets and it swiftly brought to my attention that I need to know how to order the nem de chevré au miel and confit de concard pommes sautées.

Surprisingly, the French have been very friendly, but I am disappointed when I muster up my French speaking skills and am reciprocated with English. It brings a sense of embarrassment they can so easily speak my language and I have not so easily learned theirs. But I cannot give up so easily, hopefully with a little more practice and immersion I’ll be more confident in ordering my confit of duck “with the sauce on the side.”

Montpellier is crawling with students and has a lot of cultural diversity. Meandering the streets today there were graffiti artists in action, a beat box competition, jazz street performers, and a North African traditional dance. Bicycles zip by left and right and the tram misses you just by a ¼ of an inch.

After a long day of travel, settling into our home for the next two days (hotel ibis), wandering the old town of Montpellier, and eating a true French dinner, every sensation is satisfied.


Veronica: less than three weeks

May 9, 2010

As of today I only have 15 days left in France. 15 DAYS?! How is this possible? Not enough time. Where did the time go? This is insane. I want to stay here. I miss home a little bit, but man, it’s nothing compared to France and Europe. I would rather visit home for a bit and then come back here… I am very sad that I can’t stay here. But, my new plan is to teach English abroad. I want to see the world, and teaching English to fund it is perfect. My old plan is out the window. I want to be a tourist for the rest of my life. And France will be my home base. That is the life I want. It’s too bad that I have to take a break and go home and finish school… I just want to keep building on my tourism career. Ahhhhh. Oh well. Even though I have to leave now, I will be back and it will be great.

I am going to miss France so much. I don’t want to gooooo. I want to stay here forever. All the little things here that are normal, I keep noticing and loving them. Transitioning back to home culture is going to be hard… Everything here is normal. Home is no longer normal. The day I leave France is going to be one of the saddest days of my life. Ugghhhh. Want. To. Stay.


Christina: Speaking French

April 30, 2010

My host mother Collette often invites her friends to dine with us at night. By now, they are men and women with whom I have shared many meals—warm and welcoming people who would sooner die than see my wine glass empty, who never fail to give me a blunt but well-meaning lecture, who claim to understand all there is to know about American culture without ever having seen the country. They are an affectionate, opinionated, and intimate group of friends who love to critique my speaking abilities with such a raw but poignant honesty and there is nothing I can do but like them despite it all.

A few weeks ago, in between hearty bites of Collette’s baked quiche and gulps of white wine, one of them began to tell a salacious and racy story about one of the friends who was absent that night. With all the chutzpah of a Hollywood gossip column, the story ended with a particularity sensational rumor about the woman. I couldn’t help but nearly choke on my quiche as I laughed aloud.

The room went quiet as every head in the room turned to look at me with wide eyes. The woman who had narrated the story set down her wine glass, her mouth gaping open. Collette cleared her throat and looked down at her plate. Finally, one of the men said with shocked joy, “Elle comprend! Elle comprend!

Wine glasses were refilled, a toast was made, and Collette’s friends clapped each other on the back, as if personally responsible for my spontaneous ability to speak French. It was like a classic Hellen Keller-at-the-water-fountain, Flowers for Algernon-post-surgery, Eliza Doolittle-at-midnight-with-Mr. Higgins, mute-girl-suddenly-speaks-moment.

Except it wasn’t.

What they didn’t know was that I could understand their conversations long before that day. What seemed like an epiphanic turning point had in reality been a slow and understated accumulation of knowledge. I never had that magical and profound moment that everyone talks about when learning a new language. I didn’t wake up one morning fluent in French, never had that picture-perfect and poetic moment of sudden discovery, never had a light bulb switch on in my head. Instead, it was if I had watched the sun rise in millions of subtle gradations until I could not remember what the sky had looked like in the early dawn hours.

These days, after I have a conversation in French, I am convinced that the language must have changed in the past three months. Surely the académie française passed a referendum calling for a simplification of the language and surreptitiously delivered the memo to every French citizen. It cannot possibly be that I have improved in French, because how could that sort of conversation ever have been difficult?

The day I arrived in France, I felt as if I had been lied to my entire life. The sounds that were coming out of the loudspeaker at Charles de Gaulle airport, the words I heard from the woman who sold me a ticket to Montpellier, the garbled noise on the train—this could not be the same French I had learned in the classroom. I’m still certain that Collette was speaking some language other than French on that day we met in January. Read the rest of this entry ?


Christina: combien de bises?

April 9, 2010

“The Frenchman is never on time,” a friend once explained to me, “because he is always too busy kissing his other friends goodbye.”

And there it is: the bise, the quotidian ritual that supersedes all others in French culture. It’s the characteristic habit of a kiss on each cheek for both greetings and goodbyes.

If you ask any French person to explain the many nuances of the bise, he will always respond, “mais, c’est trop simple, la bise!” And then he will laugh at your charming American incompetence, all the while guarding that nebulous but important information about the bise.

Nothing in France has delighted or confused me more than the bise—not the illogical and haphazard assignments of gender to nouns, not the archaic and convoluted bureaucratic system, not even the spontaneous strikes. All these things I’ve learned to handle with a general attitude of indifference, like a true French person. But the bise? I’m convinced that is something which requires French DNA to execute with style.

All day long in Montpellier, men and women reconnect while riding the tram to school or work. Friends, lovers, mothers and sons, near-enemies and new acquaintances: they all faire la bise when they meet on the tram. It’s no wonder President Sarcozy’s feeble campaign to put a moratorium on the bise during the height of H1N1 hysteria was no match for such a deeply-rooted cultural practice.

A Frenchman will enter the tram at the end of the day, balancing a wobbly jumble of still-warm baguettes up to his chin. Seeing a friend on the tram, he will offer her a cheerful bonsoir and the bise. Cheeks, bread, hands—they all get mixed together in a flurry of activity no self-respecting French person would ever think of skipping. Moments later, the angsty teenage girl next to me will stop her rapid-fire texting long enough to faire la bise with an equally gloomy-looking girl. When the first girl turns her back, the other shoots her a look of disgust and rolls her eyes. But when one girl gets off the tram, you can be sure there will be a bise to say goodbye—that’s non-negotiable.

In true French fashion, this country is divided into somewhat arbitrary geographical boundaries based on the number of bises. The amount of kisses varies between one dainty kiss on the left cheek in Brittany to the marathon bise of four in Normandy. Paris boasts the symmetrical and elegant bisebise in Toulouse where two are the norm, or pulling away too soon in the north, where four kisses are more common. of one kiss on each cheek, while Montpellier is home to a more whimsical and lopsidedly friendly three kisses. I’ve learned to do my research before I travel, because nothing is more embarrassing than being left hanging for that third

The strangest aspect of the bise is that it even occurs between strangers. It never fails to shock me that I am expected to kiss someone I’ve just been introduced to. And then there are those moments when my new French acquaintance makes things even more complicated by speaking to me during the bise. Much to my dismay, the bise often goes like this when I meet someone new:

Bonjour, ça va? (first kiss on the right cheek) Je m’appel (second kiss on the left cheek) Mattieu, et toi? (third kiss on the right cheek)

Of course, whenever I manage to do it correctly, the bise is beautiful. It’s unfortunate something so wonderful and friendly doesn’t consistently exist within the United States, because the bise always makes me feel welcomed. It’s such a kind and gentle way of easing nervousness between new acquaintances, and it’s a poetic reminder of that symbolic bond between old friends.

Still, two and a half months of living here and it’s the one thing which never ceases to amaze me. If my host mother leaves for an hour or two to go shopping, should I faire la bise when she comes back? Do employees faire la bise between each other? What about young children, when do they start learning the bise? Where is the exact geographic boarder between two bises and three? And those erratic and complicated rules governing the bise between two men—how to explain those?

Nobody will ever know. At least, no American will ever know. For the French man or woman, “c’est vraiment naturelle.”


Veronica: Easter, the most bizarre day ever

April 4, 2010

Today is Easter. And in France, it is a very unconventional holiday indeed. My day started strangely. My host mom was gone when I woke up, someone picked her up because both of the cars were still at the house. I decided to go to my friend’s place for the day rather than being home all day alone. And that is when the strangeness really began.

Since it’s Easter, EVERYTHING is shut down in France. Obviously. But we went for a walk and did find a bakery stand near the train station that was open, and they had this chocolate cake called “pudding,” so I got it. And it was the strangest tasting thing ever. I can’t even describe it to you. It didn’t taste like pudding OR cake. It was really not good.

But after that, in the Place de la Comedie, was when things really went down. There was a brass marching type band playing in front of the opera house to a big crowd. The band members were dressed up with accessories I didn’t think they would sell in France. Curly, colored, clown-like wigs; boas; shiny and shaggy sheaths of material; pink shirts with a face hood; and hippie-like garb. Despite their odd appearance, they played really well and were entertaining on their own, but the real entertainment/amusement/ridiculousness was in the crowd. There was a drugged-out, dirty homeless man dancing and rolling around on the ground to the music. Little children were riding their tricycles and dancing in the center with their parents nowhere in sight. One boy was riding a bike that was way too big for him, and bouncing around on it. His brother was doing cartwheels and kicking people. One guy was dancing with the kids who had an afro on half of his head. One child kept trying to steal the band’s money. Dogs started fighting. One guy was dancing with his coat and then randomly had a guitar a minute later. A tram honked at the crowd. It rained only on the crowd for five minutes. Bikers kept riding through the crowd. Honestly, I’ve never seen so many French people acting out. They are very proper and keep to themselves. This was like French society cracking. I can’t even explain how weird this was to you. I wish I had videos I could show you.

Craziest Easter… No, craziest day ever. If every Easter is like this, I’m going to make sure to be here for them.


Christina: Near city limits

March 27, 2010

Near Montpellier city limits, there is a white wall that looks out towards the sea. At night street punks ride their skateboards along the wall’s edge, hipster girls lean against the stone and flick delicate ash from their cigarettes, and college students congregate close by while singing American songs with heavy French accents. On the wall it is written in English:

“This is not art.”

Where the wall forms a corner is a man, a dog, and a brown cardboard sign. The man holds out a used paper cup, jingles the coins inside, and says to the people passing by: “Madame, monsieur, s’il vous plait…”

I always wonder how long he can shake that almost-empty cup, how long he can hold out his arm, turn his head to follow the people walking away, how long he can hear “no” before he stops asking. When I crawl into bed hours later I wonder: is he still there, next to that white wall, jingling that cup? It’s the wrong thing to wonder.

Near Montpellier’s train station, there is a garden where fathers and sons play soccer after school, where tired mothers soothe crying babies, where newly arrived travelers stop to take their first views of the city. In the garden, the gypsy boys hold out dirty hands and beg for money. The coins I have to offer aren’t enough, so I ask them about school, about their families, about where they live. It’s the wrong thing to ask, because even with my limited French, I understand more than I want to.

In Montpellier, there are old churches and antique bridges, crumbling avenues and steel monuments prone for worship. We forget the hands that laid the brick a thousand years ago, label this place sacred, and put it on a map. We guard the past while the present withers beneath our feet.

When I fall asleep at the end of the day, the man and his dog are still next to the white wall that is not art. Behind him are the ancient buildings that we will continue to call beautiful long after he stops asking for money.

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