(Note the infamous bus. It of course just passes over the part of the hill you climbed up to get to the actual bus stop. No one thought to make a really tall escalator? Or elevator? No, that would be too American).
I’m going to kick myself for writing this post, but it’s been over a month, so I feel I owe you a decent post. I’m going for an UsWeekly or what-have-you vibe with this one. Please note: Questions of Particular Natures will not be replied to.
OK, so admittedly, even though the aforementioned students were still way out of line and incorrect with certain assumptions, to say the least––from thinking I was a new student to referring to me as la demoiselle before they figured out otherwise––nothing fuels exaggeration like high school, hey?! However, I might have been asked if I wanted to aller boire un verre with my fellow lunch (and the sole non-smoking) colleague as we sat on the bus one day. Aller boire un verre means “to go for a drink”. In the U.S., this might resemble what some would call a “date”. But otherwise . . . you’re in France. These are more like “guidelines than actual rules”, to quote Pirates of the Carribean.
You see, in France, you are not even necessarily friends with someone until you go for coffee/(insert drink of choice here) at least a few times. Friendship is a two-way effort that you have to work at, much like in the U.S. However, unlike in the U.S., where we tend to give the benefit of the doubt to someone, and anyone is at least referred to as a “friend”, even if we met them once and they seemed nice (and then we never see them again), relationships in France work in basically the opposite way. That is probably why the French are generally viewed as very cold and rude–but once you’re accepted, you’re in.
That said, none of my other colleagues asked me if I wanted to walk to the bus stop, then on the bus ask if I wanted to aller boire un verre. However, they did:
-buy me coffee from the machine regularly
-invite me to eat lunch with them
-invade my personal space
-try to get me and fellow American intern, J., to go tango dancing with them and their friends
-or any kind of dancing (“Really? Are you sure? You’re sure?”). The dance-enthusiast prof was in same dance group as the host mom of my American friend and fellow-intern, J. She also experienced all of the above on the list. France.
–fait la bise unexpectedly; generally, you say “bonjour” first.
Anyways, the one who did ask me to aller boire un verre might be a French colleague originally from Seine-Saint-Denis, a départment just north of Paris that is known more often by its slang name, “quatre-vingt treize” (meaning “ninety-three”) or “neuf trois” (“nine three”). In case there wasn’t enough cross-culturalness already, this colleague was born in France to first-generation (Franco-)Tunisian parents who emigrated many years before he was born. Obviously I learned this over time; I was aware of Saint-Denis before moving to France, but not to the same extent.
I should mention: this is the same Monsieur (who will be referred to merely as “Monsieur” for simplicity, not formality, who amusedly pointed out that I had left my change in the coffee vending machine (a heretofore fairly banal event briefly mentioned on a previous blog post here. It’s called the What Happens Before I Drink Coffee Effect).
Because Saint-Denis faces a lot of sociocultural and economic problems, including and/or resulting in a high crime rate and vice-versa, all well beyond the scope of my post, it is not known to be the easiest place to live. In French, it is often referred to as a quartier défavorisé, a PC term meaning “disadvantaged area”. However, as with all generalizations, there are always nuances and exceptions. Check out the “neuf-trois” from the perspective of a guy who grew up there and is now an excellent singer/social commentator/successful slam poet, Grand Corps Malade, here. No need for subtitles.
**Update 2015: This article talks about the future of Saint-Denis and surrounding suburbs.**
So anyways, back to life in Poitiers: eventually said Monsieur and I were befriended by one of the owners of a bar in Poitiers during one of our–well, aller-boire-un-verre-ings? Outings? Regardless, the owner joined us at our table to complain about French bureaucracy for a full thirty minutes and talk about finance, which we then compared to U.S. employment policy. Afterwards he gave us each a drink on the house. Merci!
Don’t worry–regardless of the bar , café or kebab shop (kebab places being the only things open after 10 P.M. that serve actual food)–Père seems to know everyone, or everyone knows him. To quote said host dad: “Oh, you went to (insert name of establishment here)? That’s one of my patients!” It’s like if you live in Chicago, go to the local Jewel, and your family knows everyone who works there and you always run into a neighbour, or you have a cousin on every block (oh, wait . . . that sounds familiar). You get the point.
Mom and dad saw first-hand how small-town-like Poitiers is (although it is actually a big university town) when they visited me over spring break for a couple of days: Mom, dad and I went to one of these bars, where I was promptly greeted once again by the owner’s wife with a very familiar (i.e., friendly) “Salut!” and kisses on the cheek.
Which reminds me: after an amazing spring break vacation consisting of myself, mom and dad, filled with morbidly funny Irish cousins, Irish humor and beautiful weather (yes, we went to Ireland), mom and dad visited in Poitiers for a couple of days. We had a good lunch with my host family; the rest of the time, mom and dad were independent and walked everywhere (without me, as I had homework and academia to be preoccupied with). I think they know Poitiers better than I do.
The week before Ireland, I was in Barcelona with one of my brothers: again, the weather was fantastic and so was the trip! We saw Camp Nou (soccer stadium in Barcelona) among many other famous sights. It was worth the trip. We also went to Tibidabo and Montserrat, tried the local food, and took a lot of trains, trams and buses.
Could have said more about my mid-April vacation, but I’m hoping to be a published author one day living in a castle in the middle-of-nowhere-Ireland, so I have to leave *something* for the book, right? That’s what my mom is hoping for, anyhow. Good luck, mom.