15 May 2008

Des Invités: Guests

Yesterday I got home in the early evening, after having wandered around with Sophia for a little bit. It was Wednesday, so i was expecting Elisabeth and Michel to both be out. Usually Elisabeth is volunteering at the hospital library, and Michel is out doing errands or something like that. But this time Michel was out on the terrace smoothing out a fresh patch of concrete, and three minutes after I got home Elisabeth walked in the door with a bag full of groceries.

I grabbed some water and my homework and sat in the living room to do homework, half waiting to see if there was a conversation opportunity and half waiting...for food! After a few minutes Michel asked when "they" were coming. 6:30pm. I asked who "they" were, and all Elisabeth said was, "Some friends." O...k...

At 6:32pm the doorbell rang. I was in my room writing letters; Elisabeth had half kicked me out of the living room so that she could set out all the things for the aperitif. I had no idea who these people were or even how long they were going to stay, so I adjusted my ponytail, put on my mocassins, and headed out to the salon where all the 'adults' were. I really did feel like the child walking in on the adults getting ready for dinner. Our guests were Auguste and Louise (I actually can't for the life of me remember the woman's name, so for now she's Louise, until I can remember it). They were host parents with CIEE for 20 years. They also hold the record for having the most students hosted in their home: 28.

The Massons had talked about them before, and when I found out who they were I relaxed a lot. This meant that they would know how to actually include me in the conversation! We've had other guests over before, sure, and they were all super nice, but since they were just plain French they just kinda left me off to the side, letting me sit there and wonder if I should be there or not. But Auguste and Louise directly asked me questions about my stay here, and talked about things that they found out interested me.

Auguste was really cute, he reminded me of a leprechaun because he was really short, but in really good shape for 70 years old. He had one of those beards that's almost an Amish beard but it was trimmed very short in a cute little white circle around his face. He also had the roundish glasses and kind of figety ways of a little Irish imp, and I swear his French had a celtic lilt to it every once in a while.

His wife was the same size as him, almost exactly. I think her head came up to about the middle of my upper arm. She was really sweet and reminded me of a cross between my grandma Bert and Terri Opeka, if you know who they are. She had short brown hair and kept on clasping her hands and complimenting Elisabeth on the appartement. Elisabeth replied to everything Louise said in the most proper French way possible: "Oh, thank you, I suppose we do what we can..."

The French don't believe in accepting compliments, even if what you say is perfectly true and not a way to flattery, they always say something like "Well, yes, if you say so" so that they don't seem to be prideful. They definitely don't give compliments by the handful like we do. You don't get a "oh you look so cute today!" from the French. Nope. You know if you look good if when you get on the métro the people there give you the up-down. If they just glance at you, you're ok. If they give you the up-down and then look away, you've got it down. If, on the other hand, they look at you and continue to just stare at you the entire way, you are probably very obviously american that day.

During our aperitif, which I quickly figured out was actually our entire dinner, not just the drinks that go beforehand, I tried to practice listening to two conversations at once. At first the women were talking about (go figure) having children and the men were talking about painting. I guess they were each talking about what interests them the most. My strategy didn't work very well. I can still only focus on one thing at a time. I discovered this when I had been looking at Auguste but listening to Louise and Auguste asked me a question. Totally failed. But it's ok.

There were two interesting conversational occurences during dinner. The first was when Auguste tried to ask me if I felt prepared for France's something by the something of the something. Please, if anyone understands this question, let me know. Haha...What happened is that he asked a question beginning with Hilary Clinton and Obama. Then he talked about Evangelism and science in schools, and then about culture. Then he wanted to know if I had been prepared for France. Or something in France? I have no idea, and I told him that I had no idea what the question really was. He tried to explain it again, but it was hopeless. Each time I tried to answer he said that it wasn't that which he was talking about. "Uh...ok!"

At the end of that conversation I got to experience my very first really super awkward French pause. We sat there, kind of smiling uncomfortably at one another, thinking, "Well, great, the American doesn't get it...now what?" Luckily Louise jumped into a new subject within a couple of seconds and everyone was off again. The French are very good at switching subjects, but usually we actually complain about it because it means that we can't follow part of the discussion, form a retort or comment in our heads, and use it later. By the time we have something brilliant to say about global warming, they're talking about coffee. The real mystery is how they actually get from one topic to another. No one really knows....

The second funny thing was actually really hilarious. It shows perfectly how the French think. Auguste asked me what I wanted to do after my studies at CU. "I'm not positive it'll work out, but I would love to be a children's book writer," I said. He smiled and nodded, and so did Michel and Louise. Elisabeth, on the other hand, turned to me and exclaimed, "But you told me that you're studying to be a journalist!" I grinned a little, I believe, as I contradicted her.

"No...I said I'm studying journalism. But I want to write fairy tales for kids."
"Then why are you studying journalism?" Oh the age-old question. I braced myself in my mind as I began to explain what I've told her three times before. It's also something that people find difficult to understand in English, much less French.
"Well...one of my...biggest faults (of course here I completely forgot the word for 'weakness') is that I tend to be shy and non-assertive and I never know what questions to ask of people."
"But you're not shy!"
"It's taked work. I decided that to make the fault go away I needed to study journalism to teach me how to ask questions. Does that...make sense?"

Everyone looked at me and smiled. Elisabeth furrowed her brow and told me that she didn't understand and that it was strange. I agreed. Then Auguste did the switch and started talking about a writer's conference that had been at St. Malo a weekend or so ago. He wished that he had known that I liked kid's stories sooner, otherwise he would have tried to get me to go. I found this interesting simply for the fact that last night was the first time I had ever met him. So this means that Elisabeth and Michel talk about me to them, of course, that makes sense.

The problem that Elisabeth had is a problem of many French for the one reason that the French don't study one thing but go and do another. If you study journalism, you become a reporter. If you study english, you teach english. You don't have any way around it. So in her world, as permeated by Americans as it may be, it's not possible for me to study journalism but to try to enter a career as a story teller. It just doesn't work. I still want to write it out for her, to try to get her to understand what's happening. Part of me feels like if they could just understand this one thing, everything would be perfect. Not necessarily true, but a nice thought nonetheless.

Oh, and I accidentally told Elisabeth that I hate all the other people in my program. No, it's not true. I don't hate anybody. Sure, there are people I don't hang out with, but that's generally a time/schedule issue, not likes and dislikes. We were talking about immersion and how the students who succeed with families with children are the students whose level of French is higher than others' levels. Someone asked me a question about whether it's easy to spot the Americans in France or not. "Of course," I answered, "In fact, when me and my friends see them, we actually try to avoid them!"

Auguste smiled and said "Well, like that you become more French!"
Elisabeth shook her head: "No, she just wants to stay in her own american group!"

I didn't have time to register what she had said until about a minute later, and by then the subject had changed and it was too late to correct her. We had been talking about tourists and high school students, and she took me to mean that I stayed away from the other kids in my program! Immediately afterwards I felt like sort of an idiot for letting that slip by unchallenged, but you can't catch them all, I guess. Haha...

I was so tired last night after doing so much French that I actually went to sleep before midnight. This was good because I had a test at 8am this morning in my writing class. Everything went very well except, of course, for the first question, in which I informed my teacher that the word for "ear" is masculin. Yeah, it's definitely feminin. Woops. At least my fairy tale turned out well...that was the essay portion. I rocked it.


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