A Windowsill Isn’t Quite A Tree

France Diary, Month One

Have you ever been woken up by someone and they asked you a question but you were still half asleep and couldn’t quite tell if it was a dream or reality? Welcome to my new permanent state of being.

After a month in France, I consider myself qualified to discuss what I consider to be “French Norms”, so I thought I would start this blog post by sharing a few of the strange little things I’ve noticed in France before I go and shower you with all my emotions and such.

1. French Hallways = Streets of Upper East Side New York

I honestly have so much fun getting dressed for school in the morning. In the US, there’s a sort of mutual understanding that you’ll dress nice one or two days during the week, but you won’t ever try too hard. Wearing a blazer, wedge boots, and nice jewelry would raise some eyebrows at my school back home, but here in France it’s 100% socially acceptable to look nice everyday simply because you want to.

2. Four way stops are for losers; roundabouts are the new Stan Smiths of traffic regulation

3. The fries at KFC are not potato wedges (I’ll wait a moment while that blows your mind)

4. School Sports aren’t a thing.

Exercising after school will probably be a logistical nightmare, but its worth looking up a gym or club to join online. I found a gym that offers a ton of classes and it’s really great!

5. Showers are not waterfalls

By this I mean that you have to manually maneuver the shower head to wash your hand and put it down while you put in shampoo or shave- Ugh, Life’s hard when you’re a lazy American that doesn’t enjoy the extra effort it takes to lift a shower head.

6. Nutella is the ultimate condiment

Baguettes, granola bars, rice cakes, waffles… if you need to jazz up a snack, Nutella is there in abundance

7. School is LONG

self explanatory

8. Tote Bags = Frenchie / Backpacks = Foreigner! Foreigner! RED ALERT!

9. Washing your hands isn’t so important here

You’ll be surprised how many toilette rooms don’t have a sink or don’t have soap. (Take advantage of Bath and Body Works and buy some hand sanitizer before coming to Europe, my friends.)

10. Yes, walking around a city or school yard means walking through clouds of cigarette smoke.

So, the question that only my friends and family really care about- How am I doing?

Well, I do really like France, and I find that it is both incredibly similar and extremely different from what I imagined. I’m beginning to fall into the rhythm of French life and I feel more and more comfortable every day.

I still may be terrible at navigating the bus system, but I can find my way across my school’s campus and have successfully ordered from a French Starbucks. They only messed up the names a little bit… 

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(btw… These are the cups of Lucie and Amanda)

I think that the one thing I miss the most about my home back in the States is the woods. This may sound strange to some people, but I spend a lot of time outdoors wandering through the woods or sitting on the golf course behind my house listening to music, and there just isn’t anywhere here for me to do that. I’ve recently discovered that sitting in my windowsill gives a similar effect, but it’s still not the same as being surrounded by trees and birds with nothing man-made visible in any direction.

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Here, there are a lot of fields and not so much forest.

Because of this, I’ve been forced to find beauty and serenity in other things here. Two weeks ago, my host family took me to Bruges, Belgium, a town known as the Venice of the North, and I finally felt the flutter in my chest that I get when I’m sitting outdoors with my headphones and the wind whips by.

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It was a cloudy, windy day, my favorite type of weather, and as I stood in front of the river looking at the willow trees drooping over the water, and looked at the old, beautiful buildings that lined the cobblestone streets, I realized that Europe’s charm is in its cities.

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History tells its story along the streets of cities like Bruges, just as the muffled whispers and chirps in New England Forests tell their own tales. I ate a Belgian Waffle instead of a granola bar, and listening to French conversations instead of Woodkid’s Run Boy Run, but the same shivers ran down my spine.

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I’ll find ways to enjoy the scenery, even if it looks a little different from home.

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WARNING: There’s No Ice in the Water

France Diary; Week One 

Orientation, Boston MA –> Normandie, France

Before I left for France, I had been warned about this peculiar little sensation called “Culture Shock” that is seemingly unavoidable when traveling to another country. I was thinking that this “Culture Shock” was going to include things like weird meal times, school day differences and odd bathroom situations, but in truth, the biggest shock I felt my first few days in France was the lack of ice cold water.

In the US, we complain about too much ice in our beverages, and while it is true even I get frustrated when my iced coffee is really a cup of ice with a bit of coffee on the side, I never realized how accustomed I was to ice cold beverages until I got to France. That’s not to say that no restaurants will give you cold drinks, but the majority of water you’ll find at schools or public places is room temperature.

There are infinite differences between France and the United States, some I have already realized and some I have yet to notice, but for some reason, the ice water stuck with me, surprising since I didn’t even notice at first. It was one my fellow American exchange students who pointed out the difference. Afterwards, I just couldn’t get over it. That being said, there are so many things here that are so amazing and different and I couldn’t even begin to describe them all in a single blog post that isn’t 100 pages long. I will note however that the best thing about this trip so far has been the one thing that remains the same no matter where I travel: friendship.

Honfleur Pier

I don’t have the words to describe the amount of amazing people I met during the CIEE and STS program orientations, and it broke my heart to say goodbye to all my new friends as we headed off to our host families. You would think that a week is not a long enough time to form lasting bonds with anyone, but I’m here to tell you that there’s something about a mutual feeling of both absolute terror and extreme excitement that can really bring people together.

I experienced my first steps in Europe alongside these people, and there’s something about traveling with someone that gives you the perfect opportunity to open up and reminisce about home, which just so happens to be a great way to get to know someone.

All throughout this first week in France I’ve been waiting for it to sink in that I’m in France, and to be honest, it hasn’t yet. As I’m getting off the plane I think “This is it… I’m here!” And I wait for a whoosh of nervous jitters, but all I feel is a migraine because my poor brain is caffeine deprived. The bus rounds the corner into the heart of Paris, I see the Eiffel Tower, I walk up the staircases to Sacre Coeur… “Look around, Amanda, You’ve finally made it!” Again, I wait for the whoosh and end up squinting into the sun on a 97 degree day and really wanting a bottle of water.
I didn’t get it… Why wasn’t I feeling anything? I was in Paris! This was a city I had dreamed about for years, yet it didn’t feel magical, and I was disappointed. I thought maybe France wasn’t going to be that amazing city of my dreams, but then I arrived in Honfleur. 

Honfleur

This is Honfleur, a seaside town littered with cafés, soap shops and boulangeries with a slight salty scent that wafts up from the water. The minute our bus began to wind through the streets of this town I felt it – the whoosh of France.

Although Honfleur is definitely a tourist destination, the ambiance is a lot more like Cape Cod than a city like New York or Paris. I think that was my problem with Paris, everywhere I turned there was a sign in English or somebody trying to sell you cheap Eiffel Tower Keychains. That kind of stuff really can impede on your ability to immerse yourself in a city; that was my issue in Paris… why I didn’t believe I was even there.

It wasn’t until a group of friends and I decided to take a walk down a street in a slightly more remote part of the city of Honfleur that I really began to feel that pitter patter of thrill and truly realized I was in another country – a beautiful country. While walking down a street in some neighborhood, we arrived at a cemetery.

Cemetery, Honfleur

I don’t know if you know much about American cemeteries, but they certainly don’t look like this. Each grave was customized and constructed from marble or stone littered with flowers, photographs, messages and statues, and I can’t really explain why, but to me if seemed beautiful.

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I know what you’re thinking… “That girl’s traveled all around France and the thing she likes the most is a cemetery?” Well, yeah. Shockingly, I wasn’t the only one who thought this place was really cool; we spent quite a while meandering through the pathways and wondering who those people could possibly be, what their stories were, and marveling at the beauty that the French people had made from grief and sorrow.

I guess the point of this is to show you that a country is more than it’s greatest accomplishments. The Eiffel tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, are so familiar to us that sometimes we see them in person and it can feel like just another photograph. It’s when you stumble across something unique and authentic that you begin to feel a countries true culture,  and that’s exactly what I plan to do with the rest of my time here in France.

We cannot live with our agenda’s glued to our hands and use a guide book to lead us towards nothing but a city’s best and brightest. I once heard that the best way to learn about a city is to get lost and find your way home. Well, I can inform you that I’ve already been lost once so far, and I loved what I found.

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Songs I’m Into

Current Playlist: September 2016

A little update → Straight from my Spotify

In no particular order: 

  1. Honest – Kodaline
  2. She’s American – The 1975
  3. What A Catch, Donnie – Fall Out Boy
  4. Sober – Broods
  5. Cancer – My Chemical Romance
  6. Broken – Lifehouse
  7. Singing Low – The Fray
  8. Fuel to Fire – Agnes Obel
  9. Closing Time – Semisonic
  10. The Anchor – Bastille

Stay tuned for an upcoming music themed Rainy Day Rant…

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How Words Find Their Meaning

A Tissue is not Despair

Have you ever seen something or felt something and said to yourself “Dang, I wish there was a word for that?” The truth is that the word to describe whatever it is you want to name does exist, just not in your language.

A few months ago I purchased the most precious book that a foreign language nerd could ever find, “Lost In Translation” by Ella Francis Sanders. The concept behind this book is genius; a collection of words from around the world that don’t exist in English. This book contains everything from szimpatikus which is a hungarian adjective used to describe the feeling you get when you first meet someone and you can just feel that they are a good person, to a Malay word, pisanzapra, which gives a name to the amount of time it takes to eat a banana.

Flipping through the pages of this illustrated work of art, I realized that there are so many things that I see or feel everyday that I’ve never been able to name. This got me wondering, how does a word find its meaning?

We’ve all wondered who got to decide that a dog was a dog and a cat was a cat, but there are some words that couldn’t have been named by simply pointing at an animal and saying “I hereby declare you, animal that goes woof, a dog.” Take, for example, a word like happiness. This is such a common word that we use all the time, however the word has thousands of different meanings for different people. Sure, dictionary.com has defined happiness as “the state of being happy,” but who defined “happy,” or better yet, who decided that the happiness was a positive feeling?

From what I can tell, a word goes through several stages before it becomes integrated in our daily speech. First, someone has to identify a specific object, feeling, or concept and give it a title. Next, they give the word an definition; an outline for what can be classified as this word. Then the word is send out into the world where society puts it into context, thereby developing the word’s connotation through a cultural lens. At this point, the word may have been translated to another language or been spread across continents where more and more cultures decide their own meaning for that particular thing that guy over in some other country wanted to define.

I think the most fascinating thing about this entire process is that it’s really like one continuous game of intercontinental telephone: each time the word is used, the meaning is warped just a little bit.

Sometimes I wonder how we would feel about certain things if the telephone wire had been wound a little bit differently. What if the first person to define sadness didn’t think that it was such a bad thing? What if that person thought that sadness was something to celebrate, or that tears made eyes more beautiful? Or what if nobody ever gave sadness a name? Just because a feeling doesn’t have a name, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but without a name, we couldn’t develop connotation. If sadness wasn’t classified as a negative emotion, or laughter was thought of to be painful or annoying, how would our lives be changed?

Words are capable of doing damage and creating beauty because we’ve decided that they can. Language was built by humans to express ourselves and our thoughts to others through oral communication, grammar gave that communication guidelines, while cultural context built connotations to further develop the meanings behind each phrase we spoke. Language is fluid and alive and we have the ability to manipulate it; to mold it whichever way we choose. We can never go back in time and change the path of the telephone, but we can push it it a new direction by changing the meanings we associate with certain words.

Beauty doesn’t have to mean size 2 Victoria’s Secret models with flawless skin and perfect hair. A decade or so from now our generation will be in charge of passing on our language to our children, and when we do, we can teach them that beauty is a universal term used to describe a positive feeling one receives when looking at themselves or another person. If that’s the case, we all become beautiful simply by feeling happy when we look in the mirror. Next time somebody asks what equality means, we can express the term as mutual acceptance and shared opportunity for all people.

Let’s not further clarify words with exceptions and categorizations. Treat language as a tool and build whatever you want and make it mean whatever you wish; build yourself a new reality out of letters bound with feeling.

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