les choses américaines qui me manquent

The American things I miss:

  • Q-tips.  I’m sure they exist in France… I just never found them
  • Free public restrooms.  Some exist in France, but oftentimes they make you pay.
  • Beans.  As a vegetarian beans make up a large part of my diet.  Unfortunately beans aren’t a popular part of the French Gastronomy and apart from a few below average mexican restaurants… I haven’t really had any beans.  Garbonzo beans are easy to find.  Red beans are posisble to find, but a bit more difficult.  Black beans…. forget about it.  Guess which ones are my favorite…?
  • Wifi… free public Wifi is a joke in France.  Even if networks say it’s “free” it usually isn’t.
  • Pancakes– Don’t get me wrong I love crêpes…. but nothing can replace pancakes and fresh maple syrup.
  • Nonfat pasturised Milk simply does not exist here… something similar does, but it just doesn’t taste as good.  Soy milk in France is much better than in America!
  • Grocery Carts – In central Paris, grocery stores are typically only a few aisles.  They expect you to get your cheese at a cremerie, your fresh vegetables at a market, your bread at a boulangerie, etc.  Thus, the grocery stores don’t have much.  I miss wegmans with it’s never-ending aisles of cheap good-ness.
  • University Events- the sense of community at Cornell is so very unique.
  • Pharmacies that don’t cost a fortune.
  • No more power converters!
  • Currency that doesn’t rely heavily on coins.  The Euro uses coins for 1 and 2 euros so I’m always fumbling around with coins.
  • Normal Lined Paper!!!! I’d like to brag that I successfully avoided using a copy double my entire semester!!!
  • Websites for local information. Generally in the parts of America where I’ve lived, each restaurant and each store has a website where you can get general information about them…this isn’t the case in France.
  • American pants… I purchased a pair of pants here (why do we call it a pair if it’s only one item) anyway they sit higher on the hips than I’m used to.  The idea is to avoid “muffin tops.”  I just find them unfortunately less comfortable in that style. However, all the pants I tried on from French stores fit that way.
  • Not having to explain what I’m studying.  Whenever someone found out I was studying a semester abroad they would ask what I’m studying… unfortunately that is not an easy question to answer.  The concept of pre-medicine does not exist in France.  Students do a prep program after high school then go directly into medical school.  Furthermore, I wasn’t even taking science classes during my time abroad so that didn’t make sense.  Then I’d try to explain that I was studying French, but they didn’t quite understand that either because the courses I was taking were so diverse (and French students don’t take courses outside of their major).  All-in-all this was the most dreaded question.
  • String Cheese – sometimes I just want to string some processed cheese…. don’t get me wrong I love love love the French cheeses (okay maybe not all of them) but sometimes I just want a string cheese
  • White toilet paper – sure, about half the time toilet paper in France is white, but you go into the restroom never knowing what you’re going to get.  Colored toilet paper just creeps me out…
  • Peanut butter!! Again, as a vegetarian this is a prime source of protein for me… Unfortunately it is not a prime player in the French diet.

Les Musées de Paris

Museum Overview — During my last few weeks in Paris I tried to hit up as many museums as possible.  How’d I do?

  • Louvre – Of course this museum is at the top of the list.  I was fortunate to have a free Carte Louvre so I could go to the Louvre without waiting in line and with an audio guide for free anytime I wanted (and that it was open).  I went to the Louvre about five times and saw maybe half of the rooms…. yes it is that large!  Most tourists simply go in, find La Jacobe (Mona Lisa) and they’re content.  However, I found so so so so so many other great works of art! I personally enjoyed the French paintings section and greek sculptures.  The audio guide is super cool.  It’s a Nintendo DS and it has a locating finder so you won’t need a map.  Furthermore you can click on rooms and it will tell you about the collection you’re looking at.  Then you can click on specific works of art and it will explain them too you.  Overall it’s pretty cool and if you actually want to learn about the art (as opposed to just go see the art, which is perfectly acceptable as well) then I suggest gettting the audio guide. My  main issue with the Louvre is that it is so exhausting.  Literally you can walk for miles and miles looking at art and art and art.  I had to visit multiple times so I could fully appreciate the artwork in the way it deserved.
  • L’Orangerie– This museum is located in the Jardin des Tuileries and it is rather small.  It is famous for the Water Lily paintings.  There are multiple rooms with 360 water lily paintings on all walls.  I found this amazing.  On the lower floors, there are other paintings of the impressionism style and a section full of interpretive portraits.  I’m hesitant to say just portraits because they are not trying to mimic the people, but to portray the person in a different sense.
  • Invalides– This museum has the tomb of Napoléon I.  It is in a small religious building and surrounded by beautiful artwork.  I definitely enjoyed this.  There are other military museums located at the museum.  I chose to see the WW1 and WW2 museum as well as the Napoléon I – Napoléon III museums.  I really was impressed by the World Wars museum.  It had all types of informative material from clothing to wepons to maps to photos ot newspapers to videos to artwork.  I found it very engaging and very entertaining.
  • Rodin– This museum is hidden just off the edge of Invalides.  It has a collection of the sculptures and artwork of Rodin as well as a few of his friends.  The gardens are magnificent.  I saw the Thinker as well as many other well known statues.  They are set up throughout a garden and on a nice day it is a beautiful and relaxing experience.  The price for the garden and the museum are different.  If you are a huge Rodin fan of course you’d want to see both the museum and the garden. For the simple art-enjoyer I’d suggest just staying with the garden.  All of the most imspiring and most impressive work is througout the garden.
  • Carnavalet– This museum is located in the Marais and it is about French history.  There is a wonderful section on the French Revolution that I found particularly fascinating (it even has locks of the royal family’s hair!!).  The main focus is on art, so most of the history is shown through artwork.  This museum is free which is a big plus, but all the signage and explications are in French.
  • Panthéon – This is a building built for the “grand men” of France such as Rousseau, Voltaire, etc.  The inside has paintings and sculptures and underground is the crypt for these “grand men.”  Having studied this building and its significance I enjoyed the experience.  It is similar in some aspects to a church, but yet also has its idiosyncrasies.
  • Centre Pompidou– This is a museum of Modern Art. I found this museum particularly intersting because I had studied much of the art in my sociology class.  The experience of visiting this museum is very intertaining.  The art is set up in creative ways with very thought-provoking displays.  I particularly enjoyed the photography exhibits.
  • Musée du Vin– This museum is located just across the river from the Eiffel Tower.  It is a small museum all about the history of wine in France, wine making, and how wine has influenced French culture. Even after visiting multiple wine cellars and wine tasting, I still think I learned the most from this museum.  I enjoyed the free audioguide which walks you through each exhibit and highlights the main instruments and artifacts.  The tour ends with a wine-tasting!
  • Fragonard – This is a museum about perfume.  It highlights the history of perfume, the global perfume market (and where certain scents come from), the cultural impacts of perfume, etc.  I was fortunate to partake in a Perfume Workshop where I made my own perfume (i posted a blog about this in early December) which was super fascinating and worth the visit.  Unfortunately I believe it is pretty expensive and would have to be booked in advance.
  • Chocostory – This is a chocolate museum.  It is located in the 9th at Bonne Nouvelle.  The museum includes tasting, a demonstration, a video, and the history and makeup of choclate.  Very interesting and fascinating and tasty!!
  • Musée Curie– This is a very small museum talking about the Marie Curie and the effects of Radium.  Probably only 20 minutes would be necessary here.  It’s free and educational.  It has very limited hours so check in advance. It is located near the panthéon in the 5th.  The information is presented both in French and in English here!
  • Anatomie Comparée– This is one of the many museums located at the Jardin des Plantes in the 5th.  I chose this one because it sounded the most interesting for me.  There are huge huge huge animal skeletons all over.  Not only does it have dinosaurs and modern animals, but I also found a super interesting exhibit about deformed animals with two headed animal skeletons etc.  The bottom floors with vertebrates were the most intersting for me.  There were many children visiting this museum and there were also many art students drawing the skeletons.


The French University System

photo credit

I survived my semester.  I took all my exams and now I’m simply waiting on the results.  I thought I’d take a few minutes to reflect on the university experience in France.  First of all, as I’ve mentioned before, there aren’t really clubs or organizations in the way we have them at American universities.  Most students go to class and go home.  If they participate in extracurricular activities they are outside of the university….. At Cornell the majority of student’s extracurricular activities are organizations associated with the school. This makes a sense of community that is not found at French universities.

I’d also like to add that the university students pay very little to attend public university.  And thus, almost everyone goes to college.  However, the motivation to pay attention in class isn’t the same as in America.  I can’t even count the number of students talking loudly in class or the number of students spending all day on Facebook in class.

I would also like to mention that French university students dress so much nicer that their counterparts in America.  Maybe it’s the fact that students have to commute to school that motivates them to put real pants on…. So many American university students just roll out of bed and groggily walk to school in their pajamas.  Plus, men wear scarves here…. I wish that’d catch on in America.  Not only is it practicle, but it looks much more put together.

Everyone smokes.  I know I’ve said this before in my blog, but I think it’s important to reiterate.  The students use smoking as a means of socializing.  During the 10 minute break in our 3 hour classes, all the students go outside together and smoke and converse… Being a non-smoker myself didn’t help me make French friends… but I’m alright with that.

French university classes are not required to have a syllabus.  Some did, some didn’t.  I didn’t always know what was gong on in class, or how to prepare, or what to study for the exam. There was an equivalent of “BlackBoard” for courses to post information on a website… although very few professors actually used it.  So many professors walk in, mumble into a microphone, walk out.  No time for questions, no office hours, nothing… you get what you get and you go on.  There is very little guidance in that sense.  At the same time, French students don’t necessarily “pick” their classes in the way we do in America.  They choose their major, and then all the psychology majors take the same classes each semester…

In my opinion, classes in France were easy to pass, but hard to succeed in.  Multiple choice doesn’t exist, so exams are always essays.  Generally, the essay topic is ridiculously broad.  So that means if you write something relevant and write a coherent essay they can’t fail you.  At the same time, you never really know what exactly they would deam a phenomenal essay or how to get a top note.  With a broad topic there are so many different answers, and how can the students know which approach to the question will inspire the professor most.  Luckily for me my only responsibility was to pass my classes and get credit (my grades don’t matter, as the French stystem of grading is numerical and not equivalent to the American A,B,C method).

Faire la bise

In France when you see someone you know you go and kiss once on each of their cheeks.  This whole concept is super foreign to me.  I’ve been trying to become less and less awkward when I do it… but I still find it confusing.

What I’ve realized:  two women will always do the greeting, a man and a woman will always do the greeting, and two men… it gets complicated.  If the men don’t know each other well, they will shake hands. If they know each other well they will do the gesture… but where do you draw the line? I sure don’t know.

Now if you’re sitting down and someone comes to do the gesture, are you supposed to stand up, do it, and sit back down again? or stay sitting and have them bend down… I’ve seen both. I usually stand up.

If you’re having a conversation with someone, and they initiate the gesture, do you continue talking in between the two cheek kisses? or do you stop talking, do the gesture, then resume conversation?  I usually just keep talking, but I feel awkward doing that.

When I meet friends of my host family, I never know if they are going to shake my hand or do the gesture… While I technically don’t know them, they are close friends to my host family which I am effectively part of the family so often then end up doing the gesture with me even though I’m not expecting it.

If someone arrives to a circle of people, and they’re doing the gesture with one person in the circle, they will continue to do the gesture to everyone in the circle, because it would be rude to leave someone out. So even if I don’t know the person who shows up to my circle of friend… I’m now kissing their cheeks.

So why do the French do it? The gesture illustrates a kind way to appreciate someone’s presence.  They don’t like the idea of hugs because they are too intimate… you’re rubbing your body up in someone else’s space.  With this gesture you keep your body far away from one another (or if you have a close relationship they may but a hand on someone’s upper arm)  and just touch cheeks. From an american perspective it’s awkward to touch cheeks, but from a French perspective you are only touching cheeks and nothing else.

Examen Orale

Possibly the scariest thing I’ve ever heard, and I just survived it!!!

The professor emailed me on Tuesday night to tell me that I would have to do one on Thursday morning.  When he arrived on Thursday  morning, he walked me to a classroom and asked me a question…. Immediately I had to respond to the question… no time to think, no time to analyse… and my instant response is my entire grade for the entire course…. very very very stressful.  The professor is a very intimidating man… and he is a very bizarre man who is very theoretical.

So he asked his question: the role of transference for Freud when he did translations during the preanalytique before he created psychanalyse.  And so I talked… I rambled, I mentioned lots of things… repeated things he had said in class hoping it was relevant.  And then before I knew it, I was finishing up my thoughts and it was over…. I honestly can’t remember all of what I said, I was shaking with nervousness.  I held my hands tightly together so I wouldn’t fidget….

And now the waiting game…. I will wait a few months to see if I passed my hardest class…..