This Girl is on Fire: Part 2

**don’t worry, I haven’t had any new encounters with fire!!

As I write this, I can hear loud bangs in the distance (not really sure what they are, but sounds like people throwing or breaking stuff). These past few weeks in France have been absolutely crazy (today is the 4th Saturday that the gilets jaunes have been protesting). I already covered the protests of the gilet jaunes in my last blog post, “This Girl is on Fire,” but to be honest it feels like I need to give an update because the situation here has gotten kind of insane.

Tear gas everywhere: a characteristic of the last few weeks. Burned cars, broken store windows, a torn up Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Today, none of the dozens of buses or trams are running in the center of town because they don’t want to encounter the protests (there are three different ones in Nantes happening right now, as I sit at my desk and listen to the sounds). Sirens. All the time. Police officers with huge guns. Riot gear. Couldn’t get to my university class this week because one of the high schools near it decided to protest and set trash cans on fire. On top of that, no university classes all of Thursday. Or Friday. People in Nantes couldn’t buy alcohol of any kind yesterday, nor certain things that they could use to throw at police officers. The train company is striking, so us IES students might have trouble getting home to the US at the end of next week. In short, as one my IES friends said the other day, this country has “gone to ****!”

Nantes still bein’ pretty, despite the current situation.

My French professor told us that it might not seem like it now, but what we’re experiencing is history. We’re lucky to see it because it hasn’t happened on this scale for a decent amount of time, and it’ll be talked about for a long time to come. And it might be a bit far-fetched, but my art history professor compared the protests to the French Revolution (I scribbled what she said into the margins of my David notes so I could remember it for later). “Here in France,” she explained, “we’re proud of the fact that we can say no to everything and all of a sudden mobilize and get our voices across. Some of the gilet jaunes are calling for a total blockage of the whole country.”

Block everything indeed. While I haven’t been on the receiving end of many of the drawbacks that have come from this protest, and while I can watch it unfold from the perspective of a more withdrawn outsider who’s going to leave in just a week, it’s still unbelievable how much disruption that the gilet jaunes have been able to cause (it’s up to you to decide whether that’s a good or bad thing). As I said before, it certainly makes you question the importance of getting your opinions heard, and what the best way to do that is. I’m not convinced there’s a right or wrong answer.

It’s interesting to see how the culture differs here–I would never have imagined something like this unfolding in America, and I think manifestations are a lot more common in this country. This is a bit of an extreme case, but I think that people largely accept smaller-scaled protests as part of their lives. They just adapt and work around them when they do come up (whereas I think Americans would be a lot more aggravated!).

On the bright side, I’ve been a lot more successful in avoiding the protests than I was a few weekends ago, and honestly navigating tense situations like these just takes some awareness and smart planning. I’ve been reading lots of news! And some commutes have gotten longer and more complicated, but that’s life. Even if things seems like they’ve “gone to ****”, you can still eat your baguettes and go about your normal routine.

As classes wind down here, leaving is become more of a reality (unless my train is canceled and/or the airport is blocked by the protestors…). And even though sometimes it feels like I’m in a country plagued by chaos right now, I’d give anything to stay for just another week. The people, the culture, the language, the food, IES, the Christmas markets–I’m gonna miss all of it.

A Christmas ride in the middle of Place Graslin in Nantes, right before sunset! I’ll miss how festive everything is here.

Sooo I think Christmas markets are my new favorite thing…

À la prochaine fois!

Anna

This Girl is on Fire

I would love to preface this blog post by telling everyone that I am usually pretty good (and safe) around fire, but after some reflection I have realized that I cannot say that. Most of my scars are from burns while cooking, and once I singed a jacket while standing too close to a fire…

But I digress. The title of this blog post stems from the fact that some of my friends have started calling me the “girl on fire” (cue the Alicia Keys lyrics) for reasons of which you will soon be aware.

The first: over our fall break (which was actually about a month ago now) I accidentally stuck some of my hair in a candle in a restaurant in Copenhagen. And just like that, fire! (And after, a panicked “oh my god, did my hair just catch on fire? Can you tell a difference? Oh my god”). Luckily, most (enough that you can’t tell a difference) of my hair is still with me and now it makes for a funny story. A great example of clumsy Anna.

A happy Anna in Copenhagen, still with all her hair.

The second: last weekend, when I was with some of my visiting Whitman friends in Paris, the “gilet jaune” movement was alive and well (8,000 people were protesting in Paris alone, to give you some context).

Bet you can’t guess where this was taken.

Quick explanation: The “gilet jaunes” are a group of French people wearing yellow traffic vests (yellow vest=”gilet jaune” in French) who are protesting the rise of fuel prices and now the French government in general. They wear yellow vests because you’re required to have one in your car in France, and so the vests symbolize the importance of cars and fuel to the protestors. But back to the story: the gilet jaunes were protesting in Paris, specifically along the Champs-Elysées street. For some reason that’s still unknown, my friends and I thought later in the day that the protests were starting to die down, so we decided to make our way over to the street to see if we could do a little shopping. Spoiler alert: this was a mistake. While on our way over to the street, in the middle of an intersection, we heard a bang. I turned, and came face to face with exactly what I did not want to see: the protest, very much alive and well, taking place in the street just adjacent to us. And here’s where fire comes in: the protestors were all throwing things into a huge fire that they’d made in the center of the street, right near us. “Um,” I started, grabbing my friend’s coat, “so I think we might want to start jogging in the opposite direction.”

And jog we did. The protestors actually started walking down the street that we were on, and as we were moving away we saw lots of people sitting at restaurants outside who got up, left everything and started running away too. Definitely an adrenaline rush! Luckily, this time I made it out unscathed by the fire.

Vive la France! Some gilet jaunes walking home.

Although it was a little too close for my liking, it was still interesting to be able to see (very) firsthand a protest in France, because I think that protesting is a lot more involved in French culture than ours. This semester, I’ve seen more strikes and protests than I have probably in my whole life combined–some on a national level, like the gilet jaunes, and others more local, like when the workers for TAN (Nantes’s public transit system) go on strike. There’s even been a few strikes at the local university, and I haven’t had class. And while strikes can impede daily progress, I think they’ve made me more aware of how many moving parts it takes to make a functional society, or even just one aspect of that society (and that I should try to be grateful for each little thing!). Strikes also remind me of how important it is to make sure your voice is heard (which, for us American study abroad students, can sometimes be hard to do in a foreign language!).

But enough with the philosophical stuff. In short: be careful of candles. But, if you do get a little too close, just remember that life’s too short to care about a little bit of hair. Also, if people are protesting, it might be a good idea to stay clear of the area for the day (unless you, too want to start being called the girl on fire!).

I missed my Whitman friends!

À (j’espère pas trop) plus tard,

Anna

The “jardin,” “la bise,” and other unspoken French norms that you might’ve never heard of but maybe find interesting

I have less than two months here (when people say time flies by, they REALLY mean it) and have only made two blog posts (oops–but that just means I’m having too much fun to write, right?!).  

But that means that I have been here for almost two months now and thus I can give all of you a little inside information on what’s it like to be French (disclaimer: I am still trying to blend in as a French person so I’m not sure how accurate/helpful this will be but hopefully you don’t fall asleep while reading this list).

Here are some of the unspoken French rules or norms that I have noticed:

  1.     Bread. This whole blog might sound like a tribute to bread (check out the photo of me making a baguette!), and honestly I can’t promise that it’s not, but there are unspoken rules about bread here. Your piece of bread for the meal goes on the table–not on your plate. It’s great for a person like me who hates when their foods touch. After each meal, you use a piece of bread to wipe your plate so it’s all ready to put in the dishwasher (people have a lot less food waste here).

Making my own baguette in a Nantes boulangerie (this was for my French class, by the way).

  1.     “Bonjour,” the French word for hello, is not said every time you see someone you know, contrary to what I thought when I came here. If it’s the evening, you say “bonsoir” instead (which makes sense, in hindsight—it’s saying “good day” vs “good evening”). If you’ve already seen bonjour to someone during the day as well, you often don’t say it again. More often, you use other forms of hello, such as “salut!”
  1. As if learning French wasn’t hard enough, the French also use “verlan,” which is kind of like pig latin. Basically, they invert words or parts of words. The other day, my host sister said “tu es ouf.” Ouf is the verlan version of fou, which means crazy in French. However, ouf sounds a lot like the word oeuf, which means egg in French. So, I thought my host sister was calling me an egg when really she was teasingly called me crazy. The french language is ouf! Another example: “femme” (which means woman in English) becomes “meuf” which can then undergo another verlan translation to become “feumeu.” What???

 

  1.  Do not make eye contact with people in the street. Don’t smile at strangers either—this is even worse. Both can be seen as romantic advances and as someone who generally tries to appear friendly, I have seriously had to retrain myself here!!

Speaking of smiling… me and a BN (Biscuit Nantais–a specialty cookie from Nantes) making the same face!

  1. La bise. I thought! I knew pretty much everything about the bise. How wrong I was. I’m starting to think I’ll never fully understand it. For anyone who has no idea what I’m talking about and is wondering why I’ve now said this weird looking French word multiple times in this blog post, la bise is when French people greet each other by kissing each other on the cheek. There’s weird tricks to it. Like, contrary to what I previously thought, not everyone does the bise: most men do not do the bise with other men. But two girls or a guy and a girl will do it. People of very different age groups or social status do not do the bise (ex: I would not do the bise with a much older man. I would also not do it with a professor, or someone else in a position of authority over me). Alsoo, depending on what region in France you’re in, sometimes you do a different number of kisses on each cheek! And you might start with the right cheek instead of the left! Madness.
  1. On one of the first days of my program, one of my professors compared the French and Americans to gardens (“les jardins” in French). “Americans,” she said, “have gardens right in front of their houses that everyone can see. They’re usually not enclosed by anything and in this way pretty much anyone can access them.” This is contrary to the French, who often have stone walls or fences you can’t see through enclosing their “jardins.” Thus, it’s not as easy to get into or see a French garden, but once you do you realize how beautiful it is inside. This analogy was used to compare the French and American ways of friendship–Americans are often friendlier and more willing to get to know someone, while the French are more closed off to outsiders–but once you do get to know them, they’ll be a friend for life. I’ve found this to be true here. While my host family was very welcoming from the get-go, I definitely feel like I had to spend time with them and break the surface a little to get close with them. This reality can be difficult sometimes, like when you feel like all the students in your university class are giving off “I don’t wanna talk to you” vibes, but I think you just have to realize that it’s a cultural difference that takes some getting used to. I don’t think either approach to friendship or relationships is inherently better–the bottom line is that little American me who loves smiling all the time and making small talk with the people sitting next to her in class had to undergo a little adjustment. And that’s what figuring out all of these norms are: it’s identifying, and then adjusting.

One other thing I’ve learned: I absolutely LOVE it here.

Is this real life?

À bientôt!

Anna

Sore Legs, Full Stomach: Some Insight into My Daily Life in Nantes

A month has already gone by, which I seriously can’t believe. I’ve started to get into a routine here, and things have stopped feeling quite so new and unfamiliar (though I still encounter something new every day— today, I learned that when the public transit system is on strike, you may have to bodycheck people to get off of the overcrowded tram).

Here’s a little sneak-peek into some aspects of my daily life for those who are interested:

My Routine:

Every morning I take the bus to the IES center (or the tram if I’m going to the university), which is in a super cute part of Nantes (we’re right next to a beautiful garden that I sometimes take naps in inbetween classes). There are 33 other students in total at the center who are from lots of different colleges in the U.S., and a bunch of really friendly and helpful IES staff and professors!

Cours Cambronne, a park close to IES. Picture was taken post-nap!

A view of Nantes from Le Tour de Bretagne (the tallest building in Nantes)!

Classes:

Classes I’m taking at IES:
-French 451— just a general French class where we talk about different topics and discuss current events (pretty much everyone at IES has to take a French class here)!

-Art history— really excited to be taking this class in France! I got to see some of the paintings we’ve studied at the Louvre in Paris, which was soo cool. The scientist in me has trouble getting past just stating objective facts in favor of an analysis (examples of things I said in my last analysis of a painting: This painting is dark. This painting is religious. This painting has lots of people in it.) but I’m getting there.

One of the paintings we learned about in art history, in the Louvre (painting by Valentin de Boulogne)!

-Politics of the European Union— very interesting!! so far, this class has taught me that I know absolutely nothing about the European Union (oops) and that all acronyms in French are the backwards version of those we use in the US. Examples: the EU is UE in French, NATO is OTAN, the UN is ONU, etc…

-A teaching internship— I’ll be teaching English in either a French elementary, middle, or high school. I haven’t gotten to start teaching quite yet, so stay tuned for that, but I’m super excited!

Classes I’m taking at the Université de Nantes:

-A sociology class— A general introductory sociology course that I find very interesting! We’re going to talk about sociology of families, how people are socialized, and just societal patterns in general. At times I panic because I’m not able to understand things that the professor is saying, but I still think it’ll be a really good class. BUT, this class is held in possibly the world’s hottest room. It’s a lecture hall that holds classes of around 100 people with no AC and no opening windows, so when you walk in the heat and stale smell of BO just slaps you right in the face. People brought fans to the lecture— no joke.

One thing I find interesting about university classes is that the relationship between professors and students is very different— at home, my professors are readily available for help and it seems like they genuinely care about my learning. They share details about their personal lives; I’ve eaten dinner at a professor’s house before and another brought her kids in to class one day. Here, in France, professors are a lot more distant from their students. The relationship is a lot more impersonal and I think French professors tend to be stricter with their students as well. Not to say that they’re cold, because that isn’t the case, but it’s just a very different relationship than what I experience at home!

Food:

Bread. So much. After every meal, the French take a piece of bread and use it to wipe their plate clean. I think I’ve probably been averaging a baguette a day here (in addition to lots of other bread products!!) and quite honestly, while a lot of stereotypes about French people (like that they wear berets) aren’t true, that stereotype that French people walk around with a baguette in hand does have some truth to it. But who can blame them when there’s so many good boulangeries and pâtisseries around town? My host family also eats a lot of goat cheese (chèvre) and yogurt (yaourt). My host brothers love trying to get me to ask for a yogurt because I have so much trouble saying the word “yaourt!”

Some choux pastries at a boulangerie called Emma. *swoons*

Weekend Plans:

I’m hoping that during the weekends I’ll be able to travel a lot!! IES plans a lot of awesome excursions (most are day trips) during the weekends. A few weekends ago, my program went to Clisson together, a cute little town that’s about an hour away from Nantes. This past weekend, a few friends and I went to Paris!! (For anyone who wants to see more pictures, I put them in a separate tab so I’m not spamming everyone).

A few random travel tips I want to share:

  1. In Paris, you can basically get into most museums and monuments for free if you’re under 25 years old and are a resident in the EU–this means that if you’re studying abroad in an EU-member country and can provide a copy of your student visa (I didn’t even bring my actual passport), then you can get into a bunch of places for free, plus you can avoid all those long ticket lines. The Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie, l’Arc de Triomphe, all free. A poor college student’s dream.
  2. The Paris metro system is super!! easy to navigate. If you’re in the city for a weekend and buy a 2 or 3 day visitors pass in one of the metro stations, you can take as many metro lines and public buses and you want with your ticket (just be prepared to take off your jacket because wow does it get muggy down there).

The view from our Paris airbnb–can’t believe that some people get to wake up to this every day!

Ciao!

Anna “still trying to stretch out my sore legs from climbing so many stairs in Paris” Yoshida

Le début: getting lost, eating bread, and having fun

Five days in and I’ve already taken the wrong bus, gotten lost on the way home, and told a man I’m a SIM card. As you might be able to guess, study abroad has already been a learning experience for me.

However, mistakes aside, this first week in Nantes has been incredible. The city is absolutely stunning, and my host family has 6 kids (5 of which are living in the house with me now and 2 of which will be living with me for the entirety of the semester), which makes for some very lively dinner conversations and lots of activity going on in the house. During meals sometimes I feel like I’m watching a tennis match because I’m continuously switching between looking from one person to another as they have a rapid conversation! It can definitely be hard to understand my family sometimes or communicate what I want to say, but they’re very patient and I already feel like my French is improving. Being here definitely makes me miss my own family, but I love that French families make a point of eating meals all together (and taking their time, as well–at home my brother is done eating in 10 minutes, whereas my host brother and I were at the dinner table last night for 2 hours!).

This weekend IES (my study abroad program) took us on a retreat to Vannes and the Gulf of Morbihan, which are a few hours away from Nantes. Both places were so beautiful, with lots of old churches and buildings. The trip made me realize that somehow most people can tell that myself and my classmates are Americans–whether it’s the way that we dress, our accents, or something else. Lots of people have said things in English to me as I’ve passed by them, even if I haven’t spoken a word.

Rochefort-en-Terre, a city near Vannes. Fun fact: all of the old houses (like the one on the right) are painted different colors so that locals in the olden days could easily distinguish and communicate which was which.

A castle in Vannes!

One night at dinner this week, my host family asked me why Americans eat turkey for Thanksgiving. I thought for a second, flattened my lips into an ashamed smile, and responded that I didn’t actually know why. One of my host brothers said to me*, “We don’t think a lot about the meanings behind our own culture and traditions because it’s just something we’re accustomed to doing out of habit. When you study another culture besides your own, that’s when you ask that question of why traditions and behaviors are the way that they are.”

I’ve read before that when you encounter something in a foreign culture that you don’t like or that seems strange to you, you should try to determine the root cause or reason behind that behavior or tradition–because if you understand the “why” behind actions, you can start to accept and see them in a different light.

Hopefully this semester I’ll be able to ask lots of “whys” about both French culture and my own.

(and hopefully also take the right buses)

À bientôt!

Anna

Me in Rochefort-en-Terre!

*in French (so don’t quote me on this)