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The September picture on my calendar urges me to try and enjoy the ride- or at least it would be doing so if my name were Thelma.  Well, calendar, I’ve taken your advice under consideration and have been doing just that for the last three weeks.

I’ve been here three weekends, and this is the first one that I’ve spent in Aix.  Although I don’t want to miss the chance to jet off to Monaco for the weekend, I also want to make sure that I enjoy the ride here in Aix, and this weekend was the first chance that I had to do that.
PictureThe group at Patrick's birthday party. That's me all the way on the right.
This weekend, all of my friends were in Aix.  Sunday was one of their birthdays so on Saturday night we threw him a surprise party at the Wohoo, a bar down the street from school whose drinks, we already knew from experience, are delish.  We spent a week planning, assigning the food that everyone would bring and figuring out how to get him there.  In the end, we had a feast and a really nice waiter who we were chatting with in Franglais all evening.  There wasn’t anything fancy about the party, but it was really nice to make our own fun in Aix.  We ate a surprising amount in just a couple of hours and then wandered around side streets where we had never been before.  I’ve long suspected that my letter from Hogwarts got lost in the mail, but now I know it’s true.  We wandered wherever our feet decided to take us and never got lost.  Magic, right?  Turns out, all roads lead back to the school.  Wherever we went, we always ended up near IAU.  The original plan was to go out for dinner, but we had all brought so much food to the party that we were stuffed.  By 8:30 p.m. (I’ll never get used to military time) I was back in my room video chatting with one of my friends from college.  Although it was an early evening (our host mother was out later than my housemate and me) it was really enjoyable.

Next weekend 4 out of the 7 of us are going to Paris.  Since I was just there, Sara’s going there for Fall Break and Dan is studying there next semester, we opted not to go.  Sara and I are planning to go back to a bakery we found on Friday that had the most delicious looking chocolate cake in the window, and enjoying the food along the ride.  We might go to Cezanne’s Studio or do one of the other things that you have to do if you spend a semester in Aix.  We’ll try a new restaurant for dinner and see what the town is like at night.  Most of all, we’ll enjoy the ride in Aix without rushing through now to get to something better in the future, because this is the future that we’ve been looking forward to.
 
PictureMoi, mon croissant et la Tour Eiffel
I am having a thoroughly selfish experience here in France.  My being here is benefiting nobody except myself.  I do things for the purpose of becoming better-educated, eating well or having fun.  On Friday I bought a croissant in front of the Eiffel Tower- fully knowing, and not caring, that I was being ripped off- because it felt like something I should do.  I ate it overlooking the Seine and actually laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of the situation.  Despite all my efforts to not be immediately identifiable as a tourist to anyone around me, here I was doing something for the sole purpose of relishing the tourist experience.

I realized all this at a dinner party I attended Friday night.   After spending the night in Paris, my uncle and I travelled to his apartment in Le Havre, Normandie.  He, my aunt and I went to a dinner party at their friend's apartment.   The attendees were four couples over 50 years old and me.  Upon learning that it was a small group, I was nervous that it would be awkward.  I was afraid I wouldn't like the food and would have to eat it to avoid being rude.  Oh wait, was my next thought.  I'm in France and I eat new foods here.  The food won't be a problem.
The company wasn't a problem either.  They were eager to learn about me and how I was liking France.  "Un beau métier," was the response that every person had when they asked what I was studying and heard journalism as the response.  How refreshing.  Although nobody has ever been rude about me being a journalist, I can tell what they think of journalists by their response, and sometimes hesitate to answer the question.  In France, everyone seems to regard journalism as a high calling.
And can we talk about the conversation?  Of course we can: I'm the one writing this blog.  It was awesome.  Not a person talked about sports, the weather or anything trivial. They talked about the very thing that you should never talk about among friends at home: politics.
Over cocktails they discussed the merits of a system in which a company trying to reduce its head count can pay a man five years away from the retirement age to stay at home and make as much as he would have if he had kept working.
Over dinner they discussed the merits of François Hollande, although everyone seemed to agree that he doesn't have very many merits.
I would never discuss politics at home with my friends.  I hate discussing politics, but I loved hearing it Friday night.  Everyone was so smart and well informed.  Better informed, might I add, than I am on American politics.  But in America, if you're not up with Obama's latest move, you'll still have something to talk about at dinner.  I love that the French culture seems to be one that encourages people to be well-informed, because if you're not current, you have nothing to talk about.  The housing department at IAU warned us that conversations can get deep, and now I've experienced it.
The food was delicious and authentic.  Cocktails and light appetizers were followed by three courses of dinner, a cheese course and dessert.  "You think they're not paying attention, the people around the table, but they're watching what you're eating as the little American girl," my uncle informed me at the end of the meal.  Yikes. Good thing I ate all my veal. "And they're impressed," he finished.  Phew.  I ate everything except one cheese that looked like my favorite, Brie, but smelled like cabbage and didn't taste much better.
After only two weeks, I can already see that my comprehension is improving.  Although the technical vocabulary required some translation, and as it got closer to 2 a.m. I found myself zoning out, I was surprised at how much I understood.  Two weeks of living in French has done my ear a lot of good.  My goal for the next two weeks will be to speak French to actual French people in more than short sentences and cutting down on my use of "Comment?"
Living in France is bringing out all the best parts of me.  It's even bringing out qualities that I never thought I had.  I eat vegetables without gagging and do things just for fun.  People should be selfish more often.  It's fabulous.