Friday, August 23, 2013

Hoorah pour Vendredi!

Vendredi, 21 août.

My high school French teacher had a very particular tradition. Every Friday afternoon, as we crammed binders into backpacks and lined up behind the door, waiting for the bell to release us to the quickly-approaching weekend, she would lead us in a song. Hoorah pour Vendredi! At first, it was silly and kind of embarassing. Hoorah pour Vendredi! However, by the end of freshman year, we were hooked. We sang it -- loudly and marvelously off-key -- every Friday in French class for the next four years ... even when we didn't end our Friday afternoons in Madame Pluchinsky's room, we would all find ourselves humming the tune in our heads. Tous les eleves et les professeurs disent... Hoorah pour Vendredi! Even senior year, when my class got a new teacher, we continued our tradition: the song echoed through our classroom each Friday afternoon.

I've been away from my high school French class for over two years now and no longer feel the need to end my week with a made-up song. But today, I definitely felt like singing! This week has been such a different, new, exciting, overwhelming, and exhausting experience that there's nothing to say except: Hoorah pour Vendredi!

Yesterday, we had morning classes and then an afternoon meeting with Judith Misrahi-Barak, the director of ... you know what, I'm not actually sure what she's in charge of ... Relations Internationales? IEFE -- Institute d'Etudes Francaises pour les Etrangers? Either way, she's the big boss of all the student advisors and professors at the moment and during the semester, she's the one who is in charge of us. She seems very nice and confidant that she can help us solve any and all problems, although I've heard from past W&M students that that might not always be the case. (Although I guess it's possible that we Americans are used to a certain level of university service and assistance that just doesn't exist in France!)

The meeting was informative but a little stressful: everyone had a million and one questions and because all of our program agreements are a teeny bit different (what is paid for by our host universities and what is not, for example), it took forever to get everything straight. The classroom we were meeting in seemed to get hotter by the second, only augmenting the stress levels. The man from the bank was, however, very nice and helpful. His bank has a unique arrangement where we can open an account, maintain a minimal balance, and pay a discounted rate to receive insurance and housing insurance (which is weirdly mandatory in France). Also, he brought us free pens and gummy bears. There are still some kinks to be worked out  in the banking process -- how, for example, to get the money to France without massive wire transfer fees -- but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Speaking of bridges... let's move on.

Molly and I had decided a while ago that we really wanted to try to find our host families' homes before moving in at the beginning of September. We've been meaning to go exploring for a while, but have been too business. After the meeting, however, we still had several hours of afternoon ahead of us and decided to go on a host-family-finding adventure!

I had my family's address and written directions to their home, so we headed to my family first. Ultimately, it should take me about 20 minutes to walk to the university from their house, which is nestled deep inside a neighborhood in Aiguelongue, one of the quartiers of Montpellier. Here's a map, courtesy of Google. Fun fact: do you see that long straight line that goes right up Rue de l'Aiguelongue? It's all uphill. (But hey, at least getting to school will be easy!)

It didn't take us too long to find my host family's house. I took a photo of the street we turned on from Rue de l'Aiguelongue: it's called Rue de Pioch de Boutonnet.

The area where Molly and I will be living seems much more like a neighborhood than anything I've been able to find in the rest of the city! Still, it looks nothing like a neighborhood at home. Of course, there are some basic architectural differences: terra cotta roofs, plaster walls, and really minimalist design are the norm for most of the houses I saw. Oh, and just about everyone has a wall around their property! Not a gate, not a hedge, but a big honking wall. Furthermore, curb appeal doesn't really seem to be a thing here: my host family's house is totally obscured by trees and I noticed graffiti on a lot of the exterior walls along the main streets. (Maybe the reason for the walls?) Luckily, my host family lives off a very small cul-de-sac with only a handful of homes, so it seems very quite and safe!

97 Impasse du Humeau des Mesanges -- my future home away from home!
Obviously, there will be better pictures someday soon. I didn't want to loiter in front of their house and get caught -- what a terribly awkward first meeting that would have been! But like I said, curb appeal? Not the French population's first priority.

After finding my house, we decided to see if we couldn't find Molly's. She couldn't recall her exact address, but we knew her street and figured we could explore a little and see if she recognized anything from her Google Maps searches. Although we weren't able to find her house, we did figure out a quick shortcut between our two streets! We've since figured out that we're really only about 10 minutes apart from one another and that we can easily walk the majority of the distance to and from school together if we want.

After returning to our dorms -- much later and sweatier than first anticipated -- I fell accidentally asleep and slept right through dinner time! Luckily, our student assistants Valerie and Ileana had chosen Thursday night to make crepes for our whole group. So it was crepes for dinner for me! (No complaints here.)

There was so much batter leftover that they even left us make a few! Which brings me to a sad realization: I am not very good at making crepes. 

Despite my nap, it was hard to stay up late -- I was barely able to do my grammar homework, let alone edit pictures or post a blog. Apparently, eating three crepes for dinner isn't the best energy boost! Bedtime was, as it always seems to be here, a very welcome respite.

This morning, we woke up bright and early -- although it probably seemed brighter and earlier to the kids in our group who stumbled back to the dorms at 1:30 am! -- and headed to breakfast and then to our grammar class, where we got back our first ever French grades! I was really happy to get a 16/20, which is an A in the inexplicable French grading system. Of course, the class is hardly at the difficulty level of what we'll be taking once university classes start up in September, BUT we do get credit for our pre-session courses ... and besides, the quiz we got back had been difficult! So it was good news!

We had several hours for lunch before our afternoon culture class, so I had a sandwich with tomato, the last of my supermarket chevre and bread I took from breakfast, and straightened Molly's hair while we looked up new vocabulary words in the dictionary. (Good God, we're cool.) Actually, though, learning new vocabulary is one of my favorite things about studying a language. I love to see how words are related! Our latest section was food-related, which was perfect as I had stayed up late last night looking up words for cooking. (My short attempt at cooking crepes made me realize my serious lack of appropriate kitchen vocab!) So I straightened hair as Molly straightened out the difference between le coq and le coquillage. Spoiler: one is a rooster and one is a mollusk.

Culture class was fun, enlightening, and, actually ... a little too long! By the time our professor had finished discussing his love of the European Union (during a lecture on the regions of France), we were running almost 15 minutes behind! Pas de probleme, usually, but we had a wine festival to get to!

Wine festival?! I know, now you're listening.

Each Friday evening during the summer, the city of Montpellier celebrates Les Estivales (a clever combination of the French words for "festival" and "summer'). There's live music, entertainment, dozens upon dozens of kiosks and food vendors, and -- the highlight -- wine. For 5 Euro, you receive a complimentary glass and coupons for three glasses of wine, served by different vendors all around the festival. We arrived with our new friend Ally to find families, retired couples, and young college kids mulling around the streets to the side of the Place de la Comedie, sipping wine and balancing trays of food.

Molly and I had discussed paying for one glass and splitting the wine coupons -- because let's be honest, there simply ain't no way either of us are drinking three cups of wine in one setting anytime soon! However, once arriving at Les Estivales, we quickly realized that the idea of spending 5 Euro on wine that we were going to have to force ourselves to drink paled in comparison to spending the same amount on FOOD. 

We passed carts selling seafood, sandwiches, Indian food, ice cream, crepes and gauffres (Belgian waffles), pastries, candy, and even "American" hot dogs and hamburgers! It was overwhelming ... and so much more appealing than the wine. Ultimately, we bought mini pizzas from a food cart, had a scoop of ice cream (chocolate for Molly and raspberry sorbet for me!), and even tried our very first French macarons! 

Want to see a video of what Les Estivales were really like? Click here to check out a Vine I made -- isn't the music just perfect?! It felt like the soundtrack to the movie that is currently my life. (One of those unglamorous artsy movies where everything is sort of dirty and the actors are always sweating?)

Au revoir, Estivales! See you next Friday! And in the meantime... Hoorah pour Vendredi!

1 comment:

  1. I had so much fun reading this! You are doing great I can tell. So so so happy for you!