About Me

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French and Russian undergraduate student, trying my hand at the real world.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Final Shortlist

Here is the final shortlist of the bab.la iX13 competition!

There are some great blogs out there, I mention here just a few. A Frog's Life is very creative and I am enjoying reading An English Dad in Moscow. Also check out Louise All' Estero, whose post entitled "You Wouldn't Get Away With That in England" definitely raised a smile!

French University

Hello chaps,

So I thought I would give you a bit of an insight to my student life here in Tours, as it is rather different from that in London. I am undertaking my Erasmus placement at the Universite de Francois-Rabelais (you will forgive my lack of French characters), which was founded in 1969 and is considered to have one of the better medical faculties in France. Certainly it is huge, but I am not a medic so cannot comment on the quality of teaching and research.

The main body of my studies take place in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, which is a rather unsightly labyrinthine building that could do with a serious facelift. If I am utterly honest. However, it does not serve us well to judge a book by its cover, and certainly the contents of the university are of considerably higher calibre.

I have a much fuller timetable here than in the UK, which suits me pretty well, as I do not do well when I have nothing to do. This is arguably why I write this blog - it stops me getting bored for one thing! The lectures are at rather odd times too, compared with in the UK, for example, my international law lecture lasts from 17-20h on a Monday. It's certainly a challenge for the attention span and requires lots of coffee.

The main difference is the lack of wider reading involved. The majority is completely based on what is given in the lecture, and nothing more. As a result, the majority of lectures last for two hours, with a break in the middle for the lecturer to fetch a cheeky coffee from the vending machine. You know you're in France when there is a coffee machine on every floor! By contrast, I would expect my lectures in the UK to just about cover the basics and to then go and spend a few hours in the library reading around the subject.

It is also the case that the majority of Tours students are from Tours itself, or the local surrounding area. France does not have the same university culture of going away to university to grow up and escape one's parents. As a result, there is a notable difference in the levels of discipline between French and English students here. For example, a lecturer had to remove a disruptive student from the class the other day - something that probably would not happen in the UK, not at UCL as far as I have come across, and is generally more reserved to high-school classes of bottom-set year eleven pupils. Moreover, I have witnessed more than my fair share of students backchatting the lecturers here - which I thought I had seen the last of in 2008, my final year of secondary school. Bit shocking, really.

It is probably not a shock then to hear about the high drop out rates at French universities. I last heard it was 80% of first year students, as a national average. Presumably because university here is much cheaper - £400 a year - and the differing methods of assessment out here. Needless to say, I prefer my lectures with second and third year students.

I do not, despite the tone of those last paragraphs, dislike French university. All things that are different are not always bad. I find the attitude that France has to postgraduate study much more palatable than that of the UK - ie, you don't need to remortgage your house just to afford to study for a year. They have two forms of Masters study over here - Professional and Research - which differs from the standard research and taught masters in the UK. I can only generalise when I say that a Master Professionel is more useful than a UK taught masters, but that is based on my rudimentary knowledge of the graduate jobs market these days. The lack of extortionate fees is almost definitely why Masters study is more common in Europe than in the UK, according to my European friends. The UK needs to up its game i

A huge thank you!

Hello chaps,

As many of you know by now, I have in fact won the iX13 blog competition! I can't believe it, frankly and I have a lot of thanks to give. I'm a humble British girl, so this one is going to drag on. Sorry, but not sorry! Allow me this indulgence, it's my birthday (week).

Firstly, to all of you for reading this ol' thing in the first place - it would not be successful if you didn't! I can't tell you how much I love receiving your comments - they make me smile and make me think. Good news for all anti-wrinkle cream companies ;)

Secondly, to Meri Sorgaard and the team at bab.la for getting in touch with me about the competition and for choosing my blog to be nominated. It was a surprise and a real honour to hear from you and your work is fantastic. I hope to hear from you guys again in the future.

Thirdly, to my wonderful friends and family and all of you who have posted and retweeted and promoted this blog - it is testament to each of you that this blog won. To all of you who have sent me messages saying "I sent your blog to my nanna" - and all your nannas for reading it.. To those of you who have recounted stories of secretly reading it in the back of a lecture theatre and showing it to those nearby (you know who you are, M Assheton) - thank you.

Fourthly, I want to give a mention to the other competitors - all of your blogs were fantastic, and goodness knows it was stiff competition. Keep it up, all of you, I am a nosey parker and I love reading about other people's travels.

Fifthly, to the Russian translators' forum - you know who you are, especially you, Tomilo - who found this blog in November and translated it into Russian. You guys gave me a mild heart attack when I saw the amount of traffic I was getting in a week. It is you lot who inspire me to keep this thing up the most - I feel like I'm actually doing something right for once and it is such an honour that Russian people read my misguided generalisations about Russia - and appreciate them. I want to thank you for the hospitality I received in your country and I wish you all good health.

Sixthly, to Lizzie Fane and her team at ThirdYearAbroad.Com, for inspiring me to even start writing this blog in the first place. Keep up the amazing work you do for all current and future year-abroaders!

So thanks everyone and I promise to try not to write too much rubbish in the future!

MERRY (FRENCH) READING WEEK!
I'm going to England tomorrow to eat cake with my cat. I daresay I've earned it.



Tuesday, 19 February 2013

48 Hours in the City of Light

Hello chaps,

So I have just celebrated my 21st birthday in one of my all time favourite places in the world - Paris. Since finding out that I would be seeing in my birthday in France, I had been fantasising about being in Paris. Where better, frankly? Perhaps it is something of a cliche to have a deep abiding love for the city, but it is nevertheless one to which I am happy to conform.

I shall therefore dedicate this post to my experiences - past and present - to the City of Light.

I first visited Paris when I was aged fourteen. It was October half term, 2006. I had just begun my GCSEs and it was part of an initiative my parents thought up in order to improve my French, which, at the time, was a comparatively basic level. You'd have to ask them for certain where we stayed, but it was towards the outskirts - I think near the Marais. We were keen to not be in the centre in order to have the fullest experience of the city - not the poshed up, prettied up inner arrondisements, but the slightly more raw edged outer areas where there is a bit more room to breathe. As far as that privilege extends in such an overcrowded city! Being my first time in Paris, we did all the typical touristy things, I think everyone knows what they are - Eiffel tower, Louvre, Musee D'Orsay, Tour de Montparnasse... and so on and so forth. Those parts, while memorable, are not so important to me as the other experiences. I think possibly my favourite one, for nostalgic purposes, was the meal we had as a family on our final night. It was late evening, and most of the restaurants around us had shut, as it must have been around 2200. There was only one bistrot that was still open, and the waiter, a kindly North African called Rashid, took pity on us and served us all that he had left - some marinated herring, salad and cold potatoes. A simple meal, but a delicious one and memorable for the kindness of the waiter. I do not consider myself experienced enough in these matters to call it a "truly Paris experience", if we are to draw into account the simplicity of the food, the rather awkward language barrier, the lack of fussiness and the slightly dilapidated bistrot in which it was served - so perhaps it is enough to say it was a moment of pure humanity that should be the aspiration of everyone in the hospitality industry. Feeding hungry customers, regardless of the hour.

My second trip to Paris was about a year later, when I participated in my secondary school's French exchange. We all stayed with host families, which provided us with a taste of French family life and a taste of French food. It was on this occasion that I learned how French families serve dinner (each constituent part by itself - rather than all on one plate like the English), as well as revisiting the same sights as before. If anyone is ever in any doubt about going on a French exchange, my sole answer would be to stop doubting and just to go for it - I have a strong sense of nostalgia for mine.

I went to Paris for a week last summer for a post-exam break. I went in peak tourist season, which was certainly not ideal for the purposes of practising my French - at the slightest hint of an English accent on my part, any member of staff would immediately revert into English. This is one of my only gripes about studying abroad - it has been the case in both countries! We stayed in Saint Germain des Pres, which is one of the more upmarket areas of Paris and perfect for popping into little shops and cafes. It would be an amazing place to have a flat, if not to live. My favourite moments of this trip included olive oil shopping at the food festival that was running on the banks of the Seine, eating macaroons for breakfast and walking along the Seine with a baguette and ripe camembert in hand for spontaneous picnicking purposes. Perfect.

My most recent trip, this weekend, has definitely been my favourite. We ate breakfast every day on the steps of the Sacre Coeur, as we were staying in Montmartre. I think Montmartre is my favourite part of Paris, as I liken it to Hampstead in London - a little out of the way, with a civilised feel and spectacular views. We could see the Eiffel tower from our window and also managed to get a 3 course dinner on a Friday night for only 24 euros each. Not bad, when you consider that our mains were lamb shanks and there was foie gras involved!

I was not that surprised, based on previous experiences, by the number of English people I came across. I think I have given up on being the only English person in a French town - especially one as cosmopolitan as Paris. We must also remember that London has more French people in it than Bordeaux! I think I'll allow the English this one. If anything, it suggests we have spectacular taste.

Just don't ask me to speak English.







Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A Few Observations

Evenin',

So I am suffering from a serious backlog of blog posts - I get ideas that spring into my head during the day for things to write about and I rarely catch myself with a free evening in which to write about them. Nightmare.

So this week saw Mardi Gras. Yesterday in fact. I had previously discussed this with my French flatmates - for whom "Pancake Day" is different. It is celebrated on a different day, for one and therefore does not mark the start of Lent. I think it was February 2nd, but don't quote me on that. 

I still celebrated pancake day - I love pancakes as Chaynaya Lozhka in St Petersburg soon came to appreciate. I thought I'd do it in the most French way possible (in my interpretation) and got ready made crepes (I'm too cheap to buy a frying pan) which I microwaved and doused in confiture du lait, which is probably the best invention since lait itself.
(For those not in the know: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confiture_de_lait)
It's not quite as delicious as Сгущенка, Russian condensed milk, but it was pretty incredible all the same. 

Instead, French people like to dress up. This became apparent when I was in a translation seminar surrounded by people in sombreros and Zorro costumes. All us English people were convinced we'd missed the party invite - but my sadness at not being invited was soon replaced by pancakey goodness. 

This week also sees Valentine's Day. If you did not know, you would have to have lived in a cave for the last week or so, due to the prevalence of bright red signage and love hearts all over our highstreets. The French are known for their love of lingerie, so this would appear to be peak season for buying it. Indeed, the local Carrefour have a huge temporary section dedicated to all things lacey at the front of their store - presumably for blokes who are in a bit of a dash!

As for me? I'm going to Paris for the weekend - who ever thought of a better way to spend one's 21st birthday?

Francophone Adventures

Hello chaps,

As I think I mentioned in a previous blog, I speak a lot of French these days. I have had days that have gone by where I have not spoken English at all, which, as pretentious as it sounds, is a rather strange concept to understand. I would argue that this adoption of a new language is a mark of a new identity, for a number of reasons. I am sure there are a number of linguists that will agree with me on this one.

Firstly, the syntax of French and English is often very different. For those non-linguists out there, I refer here to the structure of a sentence. In some cases, the entire sentence is completely reformulated when one translates from one language into another. This provides an entirely new perspective and way of thinking. The difference is even more marked when one translates into or from Russian, which has a different syntactical structure again. There is an old argument that exists that “to learn a new language is to see the world through different eyes” and in this context, this argument is correct.

 I feel I have a different level of communication when I speak to my European friends, where French is our lingua franca. I am very relieved about this as it means a language lesson is as simple as a trip to the pub. The good thing about speaking French with non-French people is that we will correct each other and help each other out. This is also something I have experienced with French people, including my flatmates and their friends.

 My communication in French though is much more formal than my communication in English, as my knowledge of the colloquial language is more limited. It is probably far more correct than when I speak in English, as I tend to make more effort to speak accurately and make myself understood. I have deep respect for all the teachers I have ever had who have ever pretended not to understand me when I made mistakes. This is not to say that I speak French perfectly – I definitely do not and I have a long way to go before I come even close to that!

French, English and Russian all express different sides to my personality. I would say that I have a more adult vocabulary in Russian, as I learned it at a more mature age than when I learned English. I probably still sound like a teenager when I speak English, though a quick flit through twitter trending topics suggests that I am definitely no longer down with the kids!

 Over the course of this year abroad, I feel the one thing that has developed more than my language skills is in fact my own sense of personal identity. I feel like this has been the most formative experience in my life so far. By living in other countries, you start to adopt parts of their culture as your own. Russia has made me more sincere and respectful, as well as teaching me the value of keeping some of my cards hidden. Russians have such an amazing enigmatic quality which I respect hugely. France has taught me about being polite, laid back and friendly – you say “bonjour/bonsoir” to everyone here, even the bus drivers. That would never happen in London – though maybe that is because I am living in the provinces here, and not the capital.

 My year abroad so far has taught me the value of all relationships – friendships, family relationships and professional relationships. It has taught me to be open minded. Sharing a foreign language with someone from the other side of the globe is a truly amazing thing. I had a conversation last week with a Chinese girl who spoke no English and I don’t speak a word of Chinese (any kind), yet we had a fantastic discussion about South East Asia – my intention to visit and her experiences of visiting. Such a conversation would not have been possible without our shared knowledge of French.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why foreign languages are so important. I’m not going to go into some kind of pro-careers lecture about how everyone should employ me because I speak 2 foreign languages – this is not my cv. No. Foreign languages are so important for the sum of human awareness and understanding. How else are we meant to function as a planet if we cannot communicate with one another?

If you asked me what my one tip for a future year abroad Language student would be? Stop speaking English!

Friday, 8 February 2013

French Food

Hello chaps,

I have become one of those people that chefs and eating establishments in New York City now hate.
Yes, that is right, I have become one of those people who will take a photograph of their food in order to post it on social networking sites. I don't use flash though, as that would draw far too much attention to myself - so rest assured, fellow diners, that my own obsession with food will not interrupt your appetiser.

I have my reasons.
Firstly, in order to prove to my mother that I am indeed getting my 5 a day. 5 macaroons a day, that is.

Secondly, for the purposes of this blog and the sharing of my cultural explorations.

Finally, for me to reminisce about during moments of dead space when I have idle thumbs and a desire to mess around with my iphone. Stark confession - but don't deny you are equally guilty. At least it's not Temple Run.

I thought, then, after a few instagram sprees and emails sent to England, I would share with the rest of you some of my favourite things. France is a nation of food lovers and people who are not afraid of food, which is something I respect wholeheartedly. For those of you who know me, I am something of a foodie, as I suspect may now actually be apparent based on my earlier blogs.

I'm going to start simply, as that is always the best way. I have mentioned previously my intense love affair with Carrefour and the fact that you can make really good food for pennies. This is a concoction that I have since named "10 minute French garlic mushroom soup" and really was as good as it sounds.


It was rustled up from what I had in my cupboard - 4 ingredients. Low fat creme fraiche (cheap and essential for cooking in France), mushrooms, garlic salt and herbes-provencales. I have also mentioned previously my love for mushrooms that I spent time cultivating in Russia. What I love most about French cooking, as Rachel Khoo also advocates (fan girl moment), is that it is incredibly simple, yet healthy and delicious at the same time. Home made, French food probably would only get better than this if  I was actually French.


Now onto something a little more cultural and authentic. Perhaps the macaroon is something of a cliche these days, but that does not mean to say they are not the best things on the planet. This particular specimen was my dessert on Thursday - served hot with chantilly cream. Perfection. Gooey inside, melting in the mouth, and cooked by a large French woman in her cute little cafe on Avenue Grammont. She was the perfect advert for her food.





My favourite word in the French language is "moelleux", which means something along the lines of "succulent in a bread-like way/crumbly/melting in the mouth/soft". It's semi-translateable by a number of adjectives in English, but there is no exact equivalent - which I think is one marker of our culinary cultural divide. Moelleux au chocolat is a kind of chocolate cake, with a soft gooey centre. That'll be my dessert next time, and I am looking forward to it immensely.



Now for something a little more savoury. My Russian fans will recognise this as a 'блин' - or pancake to us English. It is not, however, a crepe, despite appearances. There is a difference. This is a savoury pancake, made with a particular kind of flour - different to that used in sweet crepes. The flour is actually made from buckwheat (sarasin in French) and gives the pancake an intense, wholemeal flavour. This kind of dish is in fact called a Galette - which is a bit confusing, given the type of biscuit called a galette (delicious) and the kind of pastry called a galette.




This galette is filled with the traditional filling of emmenthal cheese, ham de paris and an egg, which I think they cook in the galette itself, like the Italians sometimes do on pizza. It is probably one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten, second only to pepperoni pizza on Martha's Vineyard back in 1999. Galettes are very popular in France, particularly in the Breton region (or Brittany to us English). The way to eat them like a true Breton is with a glass of cider as an accompaniment, however I stuck with the tap water - it was pretty filling! I shared the meal with my new French flatmates, who told me a little about their favourite French foods.
Apparently, though, the galettes were nowhere near as good as Marie's mums. I think I shall have to invite myself round for dinner. How very un-British of me.


Speaking of galettes, this next picture is also a galette. This is a "Galette des Rois", or the rather less sexy, "King Cake". (English people do have a bad tendency to ruin things, don't we?!)

The galette des rois is a cake associated with the epiphany - the arrival of the Three Kings in the Nativity. It is therefore associated with the month of January and is highly traditional. It is a puff pastry case filled with frangipane, a sweet almond paste that is different from marzipan.

There is usually a small dried bean, or feve, in the cake, which will end up in the mouth of one of the people eating it. This is apparently an honour associated with much privilege, as the lucky person becomes King or Queen for the day. This usually means the cake is on them the next time around. I almost broke my tooth and choked, forgetting this.
 I bought this specimen a few weeks ago, as part of my gastronomical exploration of Tours. I thought it would be better than it was to be honest - if the pastry was sweetened, it would have been incredible; alas, this was not the case. You can't eat very much of it though, as it is incredibly rich. Think I'll stick to macaroons in future. (Oh and it took me a week to finish the whole thing and it acted as lunch!)




Thursday, 7 February 2013

Моим Дорогим Читателям


Здравствуйте, моим дорогим русским читателям,

Я бы хотела писать специальное сообщение вам, чтобы вам благодарить за ваше чтение моего блога и вашу поддержку на конкурсе.

Я очень рад получать ваши комментарии - они очень добрие и вы внушаете меня продолжать писать.

Мой успех, в этом этапе конкурса - все благодаря вам.

Спасибо за вашу поддержку, еще раз.

Из простой англичанкой - здоровье и счастье всем.


(also I hope this is correct! Someone please save my face if not)

Franco-British relations

Hello chaps,

I write this post in a state of mild outrage for reasons that will become apparent. So I lived in St Petersburg, as many of you already know, for a total of four months. St Petersburg is in Russia. In Russia, people have guns. More guns than they do in France or the UK, anyway - not saying everyone does. There is a higher rate of alcoholism and drug addiction in Russia than in France.

WHY THEN, after four months of living in Russia and nothing of note happening to me, except the time a prostitute in a dodgy area of town chased me home shouting "Ну, девушка, что такой будет?!" after I made the rookie error of looking at her for split second too long. WHY THEN, does it take 3 weeks of living in France, in one of the most bourgeois cities in the country, for my bus pass to get stolen by some druggie with tattoos on his face, in broad daylight?

Someone, please explain. I would be delighted to find out more. Really.

So I have now got that out of my system and have resolved to speak Russian for the rest of the day to teach France a lesson for not being in Russia. Russian is so much easier to shout at people in - "убирайся!" (literally - clean yourself out or get out) is far less rude, yet far more aggressive sounding than "casse-toi, connard" (beat it, scum), as it can be said at a much louder volume and is far more succinct. That said, there is a rather pleasing hissing note with the French, but I still prefer the Russian. This is also due to the cultural point I made in an earlier post about angry Russian women - who know how to get things done, and quickly.

I want to talk now about my relationships with French people, which have been rather positive, despite the events of today.

Firstly, they are largely very welcoming and accommodating. I have been invited out for dinner with my lovely French flatmates - who have met me only twice (as I like to eat a little earlier than them so we don't often cross paths in our shared kitchen). They are very happy to receive my somewhat pidgin French and offer advice about vocabulary.

Secondly, I want to comment on the fact that I have had any number of anti-English jibes made about me.
Example 1: When standing on an opposite side of a room with a noticeable gap between the French and me.
Mec 1, "C'est la manche! Elle est retournee a l'Angleterre!" (Guy 1: It's the Channel! She's gone back to England)

Example 2: Mec 2: "Est-il vrai que ton sang est constitué pour la plupart du thé "; "Is it true that your blood is comprised mainly of tea?"
I laughed rather audibly at the last one, as the gentleman in question has only ever seen me making or drinking tea. I replied with "We English are as full of tea as you French are full of croissants".

I wonder though, about the profundity of such sentiments. I was sharing in some harmless banter about national stereotypes with my friend, but I wonder about how far these extend as a joke. I have a friend who is half French and he finds any comments about the fact he is half French, and the mildly xenophobic nuances associated with such, immensely tiresome. I can certainly take a joke, but I wonder how long it will be until I smile with the same forced good humour and resignation as my friend.

Another thing I am enjoying immensely about being an Erasmus student is the fact that the majority of my friends here are not English, nor are they French. The girls I spend the most time with are German, Czech, Italian and Greek, and I also spend time with Dutch, Canadian and Australian people. With my non-native Anglophone friends, the language we all share to the highest proficiency is actually French - so it is an ideal situation for all of us! I am learning a lot about European cultures out here - not just the French - and it is for that reason that I feel very lucky to be out here.

For any English people reading this - PLEASE don't vote "No" in the EU Referendum next year! It is a fool's mission! I'd definitely vote "no" in a joining the Euro referendum though - I'm haemorrhaging money I don't have out here. Someone please open a Столовая!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Actually...

Since you've all been good this week, I'll post now instead. Laziness gets you nowhere.

Here's a few holiday snaps. I've not taken too many as frankly the weather has been terrible for the most part!


The lovely Place Plumereau in the heart of Vieux Tours


A pavement cafe and local speciality sweet shop in Place Plumereau, Vieux Tours. I like this one because there is some sort of animation in the people going about their daily business.



Lecture fuel, French style! A double espresso with chantilly cream. I was bouncing off the walls. Necessary for 2 hours of Philosophy followed by 3 hours of International Law!


A rare sunny day, on the banks of the Loire river, which is the main artery through Tours.


The Chateau de Tours, which receives presidents and houses exhibitions.



Vote for my blog!


Hello chaps,

So excited to announce my nomination for the blog competition and I need YOUR help to help me win it! It's simple, just press the button below and you will be taken straight to the site to vote. 

The prize for the top 3 blogs is a charitable donation in the winners' name to provide education for girls in developing countries. As you can probably gather from my previous posts and if you know me in person, this is a cause I am hugely passionate about, so it would mean a huge amount if I was able to provide this.

Normal blog service will resume tomorrow - I need to pop to the supermarket right now though!



Vote your favorite IX13 blog

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Exciting News!

Hello chaps,

I should probably have mentioned this one before, but better late than never.

Basically, my blog has been nominated for a competition - the IX13 Blog Competition, run by the lovely folks at "bab.la", to find the top 100 travel blogs from around the world!

Voting starts FEB 4TH and you have until FEB 17TH to vote!

More information about the competition: http://www.lexiophiles.com/english/ix13-how-the-competition-works


Friday, 1 February 2013

For a few dollars more...

So I thought I would share with you a few of the things I have been up to of late. I'm not keen on these kinds of posts usually, but they have been of cultural interest so I will divulge under that context.

1. Drinking coffee on pavement cafes. The best way to get a feel for a place is through people watching. Granted, the majority of the population around the area with the best pavement cafes is arguably students, but it is good all the same. It is one of the simple pleasures of living in France. I've become one of those awful people who posts pictures of their food etc on instagram, but there is one place around here that puts whipped cream on top of its cappuccinos, instead of frothed milk. The French like their coffee strong. Order a double and you'll be on the roof! (It saw me through 7 hours of lectures on politics and philosophy, all in French, that finished at 8pm last Monday - heavy stuff!) working out how to get a picture of my awesome coffee on here - let me get back to you on that one.

2. Baguette shopping. Eat on day of purchase, unless you like croutons with your camembert.

3. Going to the cinema to watch French films. I saw a film last week with some friends called Paulette  - which was absolutely hysterical. It's like Calendar Girls meets Pineapple Express, but it's about an old woman who starts selling drugs to make ends meet. It is presented in a very heartwarming and comical way, and I enjoyed it immensely. Will definitely buy the DVD. (more info here: http://www.allocine.fr/film/fichefilm_gen_cfilm=201026.html - it's in French I'm afraid, but there's this thing called the internet, wot letz you translate n stuff)

4. Speaking French. This sounds like a bit of a no-brainer, but it is surprisingly easy to not speak any French when in France. There is a strong sense of community amongst Erasmus and other exchange students - many of whom are anglophones. However, I have made friends with a lot of European students, with whom French is my shared language as not all of them speak English. It is a very mutually beneficial agreement that we speak only in French to one another.

5. Eating cheese. Lots of it. A cliche, but as I mentioned before, I am part of a family of cheese lovers. (You will remember the comment I made about my cousin who, while doing his undergraduate studies, bought his own mini fridge, just for cheese). This week's cheese is Morbier, an old favourite of mine: http://www.artisanalcheese.com/prodinfo.asp?number=10352

Oh, and I also went to a photography exhibition in the Chateau de Tours last weekend. (check the place itself out: http://www.tours.fr/139-chateau.htm) It was dedicated to the works of a French photographer called Jacques Henri Lartigue (check him out here: http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/jacques-henrilartigue) who devoted his life to taking photographs of 'Moments of Happiness'. The photos speak for themselves.

Francophilia


Hello chaps,

So I have been meaning to send you an update for a few days now, but I’ve been very busy settling into my new university and my new surroundings, as well as making as many new acquaintances as possible. Sorry, then, for the brief interlude, but it means that I have lots to talk about.

I want to start by discussing what my favourite things about France are. Being English, I have been to France many times, as it is frankly a far better holiday destination than our own green and pleasant land. There are certain things about this country that make it, as I mentioned in an earlier post, an Englishman’s idyll, so I thought I would share with you what this consists of for me.

I will say that it is the food that I love the most about this place. I am the kind of person who lives to eat, rather than eats to live, so is why I will never agree with what Kate Moss once said, “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. It is also why I will probably always have good bone density and muscle to bone to fat ratio on my body. So hang me for it. This is why being in France is ideal for me. I’m not talking about eating junk out here, as frankly, France has much less of a junk food culture (when one eats traditional fare – I don’t eat McDo though I’ve heard it’s better here) than we English do, and has less of an obesity problem.

What I therefore love about France is its culture that is not afraid of eating good quality food. People here actually spend money on getting the best quality ingredients – rather than the largest quantity. English people could learn from this. Going to the boulangerie every day for the fresh baguettes and croissants is an essential part of the day – a daily pleasure though, rather than a daily chore. People take time to have lunch here, whereas in working England it is seen as an inconvenience that distracts from more pressing matters of the day. As a result, I think that the French are far more relaxed when going about things, or maybe it’s just that I am so used to living in London now that everyone seems far more relaxed.

On a more personal note, I would say my own diet out here has improved. There is a book entitled French Women Don’t Get Fat, which essentially lays out the way they eat out here – 3 meals a day: a small breakfast, a decent sized lunch and a light dinner. The best flavours of France are much easier and cheaper to come by here, by which I am referring to olive oil, cheese, good quality bread and fresh meats and fish. The market culture certainly helps you get the freshest vegetables directly from the grower – and saves you a lot of money in the process. Living in France means that you have to adapt to the culture, and it has certainly benefited me. This is not to say, though, that I eat badly in England, but I am certainly eating more healthily here.

What is better still is the nostalgic element to everything. I attach a profound novelty to going to Carrefour, a pan-European chain of hypermarkets, where you can literally buy everything you ever need in your entire life, ever. For my American readers, it is a lot like Wal-Mart. They even sell Pepperidge Farm cookies – which my mother says was one of the only things she really enjoyed about living in the States (when I was less than 2) and we lived in a different economic situation, which made things somewhat less enjoyable.

 I have many memories of my childhood family holidays, renting out a gite and locating the nearest Carrefour. On our last trip as a family, we went to the area around Nimes and Aix-en-Provence, and on one of our last evenings had quails legs in tomato and garlic marinade which we had picked up from Carrefour the same day. I really must head south one weekend! My goodness!

Another memory is the French exchange I took part in when I was about 15/16, sharing a room with my friend Katherine, who has similar experiences in France and being served chicken with runner beans for dinner – so simple, and therefore, so French.  France is a far less complicated country to understand than Russia and that is the most beautiful thing about it. The food is highly representative of the culture, and the culture, highly representative of the food. I love that.

I want to mention here one of my favourite Francophile Brits, the TV chef Rachel Khoo, who recently was on BBC2 with her series The Little Paris Kitchen. I’ll leave this one up to you guys to research, but I find her lifestyle choice very inspiring. Her website: http://www.rachelkhoo.com/ . She had a high flying job in London, which she chose to give up in order to move to Paris and train to become a chef. I think this is what I will do when I have made my first million at 25 and seek early retirement and more temperate climes. I jest. Sort of.

The second thing, aside from food, is the shopping. Yes, ok, I know, this potentially will shoot to pieces anything I have ever claimed about being a feminist, but hear me out on this one. All the clichés are there – I have ovaries and two X chromosomes, therefore am genetically predisposed to enjoy shopping. So sue me. But my approach is not about being fashionable and stylish and wanting to follow the latest trends. No. I have long proven myself completely inept at anything of the sort – plus, as a student, lacking capital to do so. Shopping for oneself is about self-respect. If you look polished, you send off messages that you take yourself seriously and that others should do the same.

The French, if we are to judge their shops, are in agreement with this. I have also seen a similar thing with Russians, though we must consider that the French got there first. Capitalism and all that – we’ll save that for another post, right?

French women know how to wear a scarf. French women can walk in heels. French women know about trench coats. French women combine all of these, with simple colours that never go out of fashion, and as a result, it means they shop probably less often, but for better stuff. With the ‘Great British High Street’ in the dire straits that it is, it would be probably deemed unpatriotic for me to advocate this, however, I do.
Cheap clothing is a false economy.

When I say cheap, I don’t mean price – I mean quality. If you keep buying things that are poorly made for a cheap price, you are signing up for a contract of repeated purchase of the same item. But making an investment in a good quality product, that is stylish but durable, means that you will probably save more money in the long run – especially if you are savvy and shop only during sale periods. It is the French that have really taught me this. Everyone here has a Longchamp bag. Fashionable, yes; stylish and sophisticated, yes; pricey, also yes - but they use them for everything and they are well made.

 My point about liking French shopping is focused upon a single place: the French department store “Galeries Lafayette”. There is a large one in Paris, but another branch exists here in Tours. They currently have sales on. My goodness. Its English equivalent is probably Fenwick, it’s a fantastic place. Rest assured that my visits will be restricted only to sale periods though.

Finally, the French community spirit is just great, frankly. People are not afraid of people here. Even in Paris, people will help you on the tube if you’re carrying a suitcase. Granted, they do that occasionally in London, but it is much more of a cause of British awkwardness. The French just get on with things and I have huge respect for that. And a fair amount of British awkwardness about the whole thing too. That’s going to take some work!

I’ve turned this into a bit of an essay, so if you’ve made it this far, congratulations!
I can condense this into a few Year Abroad Resolutions. I have a whole hypothetical list, but these are the most bloggable.

1.       Try a new cheese every week.
2.       Buy a new scarf – from Galeries Lafayette of course
3.       Be less 'British'

Also, there is an app called “Life in Seconds” which my best friend Lucy introduced me to. I’m currently working on my first film, “30 Days in France in 30 Seconds”, which I look forward to sharing with you. If I can work out how to do it!

A la prochaine fois!