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.