Thursday, December 3, 2009

On cultural differences

I am a big hypocrite. I have made a language pledge. Je ne parle QUE français jusqu'à 18 décembre [correction appended. It's been a long day]. I will not speak english until dec. 18th. Of course, here I am, writing in English. Mais les mots qui viennent de la bouche seraient que français. But the words that come from my mouth will only be French. I am really making an effort to make my French as good as possible before I leave. But at the same time, I have figured out in my time here (well, over the last 4-5 years I guess), that if I don't write things down, I will explode. We are talking guts everwhere, heart over there on the other side of the street, person walking behind me covered in brans and bits of skull -kind of exploding.

Much like the type of exploding that Minnie and I have discussed might happen to Long Island some day (three hours is a long time to sit through a lecture about natural catastrophes without coming up with some funny notes with your neighbor about catastrophes that would make the world a better place). Only then, Long Island *surfers* would be come Connecticut surfers. Maybe, though, it would just sink after it exploded and become like the Great Barrier Reef. Just think of it: Long Island, the 8th natural wonder of the world. Fantastic. Home to the first scuba-diving mafia. Wow, I got really off track with this whole "exploding Long Island" thing. my mind has come up with some interesting things since I have been in France. It's the language thing. It's inspired creativity.

On Thanksgiving, I called Rob and Sam, and at some point in the conversation Rob asked me what about the culture that I would adopt. I was somewhat caught off-guard by this question, trying to think of the things about the French culture that are different from American culture (more specifically differences between Paris and New York). What I was thinking at that moment, and I still believe, is that Paris and New York are somewhat like fraternal twins. They don't look exactly alike, but occasionally without seeing each other in the morning they end up with the same outfit on. Much of the cultural differences here I cannot bring back to the United States. I mean, I could go around speaking French to everyone, but that would just be annoying and make me look even more pretentious than people already think I am. I can't stay home all day Sunday and have a bug party with my family because my family lives in California. The bread isn't good enough to walk around with a baguette in my hand (not to mention the whole gluten thing--I don't really eat bread here unless I get invited to a fondue party). And while I could adopt the idea that religious symbols shouldn't be worn in schools, I don't think that would get me very far. I could also start drinking only espresso, but that would just get expensive. Don't even get me started on the whole not-exercising thing. Everyone knows that just turns me into a (bigger) bitch.

It was only a day or two later that I realized that there will (hopefully) be one difference that I do bring back. I only wish that it was raw milk cheese, but that's still illegal in the US. RELAXATION. Not relaxation in the straightforward definition of it, because I've got enough stress going on in my life with family problems and 50 pages to write in French (yeah, I've already got 25 of them done, but still). But the idea that I don't have to have 1000 things going on in my life to feel fulfilled. I don't have to rush from one thing to the next, in an endless cycle of busy-ness like I'm am a little bumblebee. Obviously, the reason that I don't have a million things going on here in France is because of the situation : I am not here long enough to get involved in most things, I was a little slow on the uptake, I live 45 minutes away from where I got to school so lots of free time is taken by commuting, and I wanted to have ample time to travel. But at the same, it is a very French thing to relax a little bit more in life. I have tried to adopt that, and it's getting me far. N'inquiète pas. Don't worry about it. I love that phrase, along with pas de souci. No worries. Don't get your panties in a bunch.

I've already started adopting that ideal for next semester, by dropping out of the turkeyshoot race. Trying to be an editor at Spectator would stroke my ego, but not do much more on the positive side of my life. I know how to be an editor, I know how to manage things. What I don't know how to do is get through a semester feeling like I did more than scrape by. The big decision was between cycling and Spec. I knew that I couldn't do both after last semester ended up with me depressed and in therapy. So, I thought about it. Spec meant being proud of myself, working hard and late for little gain, other than my name on the masthead. Cycling means 9 weeks of laughter and my best friends, plenty of exercise,  and a complete break with my intellectual side. I don't know how that was ever a competition. Healthy and happy vs. unhealthy and miserable. I am really excited for spring 2010.

So, Rob, there you have it. I won't bring home the eating dinner at 9 pm or the love for fois gras or even the esteemed raw milk cheese. But I will bring the outlook on life. Pas de souci, pas de souci.


nick said...

One of the great gifts living abroad gave to me was the abiding impulse to better my foreign-language skills in any way possible, even if only in fits and starts, and largely on the periphery of my day-to-day life. Do you see yourself checking up on France via, RFI, etc., diving into Balzac, Proust, etc., learning Edith Piaf lyrics, etc., etc.? You seem to have a knack for and an interest in language, so I'd be surprised if this weren't the case. You are now a member of La Francophonie, and that opens up a wide range of cultural and travel-related possibilities, and I'm sure you'll take advantage of that at some point.

Plus, learning other Romance languages will be immeasurably easier now, and your understanding of English has undoubtedly deepened as well. Personally, I think that's rad.

mom said...

You are (and always have been) such a rockin great person. If only at 20 I had such a grasp and attitude. When and if I grow up I want to be either batman, catwoman, or you!