Saturday, May 18, 2013

Change to Update Schedule and Settling In


Like the title of this post suggests, I’m changing the schedule of updates on the blog. Not to worry, the number of updates weekly will remain the same; I’m just changing when they happen. As you might have noticed I’m having a bit of a hard time with the Friday updates. This is because now that week three has (finally) ended, I have settled into a more-or-less regular routine. Fridays, of course, are the night that everyone goes out.
In all fairness I suspect that the kind of going-out will vary depending on what the average class age is and who is in it week to week. However, for the last three Fridays in a row the consensus was that seeing a film and occasionally having drinks are the things to do in Montpellier. I have to say, given how awesome this summer’s movie line-up seems to be, I can’t say I disagree. We went to see Gatsby le Magnifique last night, and it was excellent. Seeing films and going out for drinks means I get home pretty late Friday nights though, and this is less than conducive to writing a decent blog post. Being as this post is arriving on a Saturday, I guess the change-over has already happened. All the same, I thought it most polite to actually state that I was changing the days I update instead of just doing it and seeing who figured it out on their own. Can I count that as Canadian blog etiquette?

Or 'Gatsby le Magnifique', when seen with French subtitles.
On to other stories though.
I am discovering what it really is to settle into a new culture. The first week I was here, for example, I did a lot of blundering around trying to figure out how to accomplish basic tasks that at home, I don’t even have to think about. Things like what time is appropriate to wake up and begin to look for breakfast, where to buy lunch containers, how to navigate a new city, and most of all; how to get through daily life in a country where I don’t speak the dominant language, and my Canadian logic doesn’t really help me when language fails. This last point is big, it involves line-ups at cashiers.
When you grow up in a place, you learn through watching those around you, and mimicking them. This means that by the time you’ve reached adulthood (even by the time you’re a teenager) you know (without thinking about it) how to line up to pay for something, where to find public bathrooms, when it is and is not ok to ask someone behind a food counter if there’s a spot to fill up your water bottle, and whether or not it’s even normal to carry a water bottle. You also just sort of know where it is and is not acceptable to exercise, and how to be polite to people when you walk into a new place.
All those things that you don’t have to think about at home, you have to think about a great deal in a new country.
In Canada, it’s normal to carry a water bottle. In fact, it’s becoming more and more normal not just to have public water fountains to drink from, but to find fountains with an attachment specifically for filling up water bottles. In France, people don’t carry water bottles. In part I think this is linked to what I suspect is a public distaste for water that has any sort of flavour or texture to it. Tap water is safe in Canada, and unless your tap water comes from a well, I haven’t noticed any significant taste to it. In France though, it seems like everyone buys bottled mineral water. Catherine was shocked the first time she saw me filling up my water bottle at the kitchen sink. I was shocked that I wasn’t getting grief for being in the kitchen, and instead for drinking ‘bad tasting’ tap water. The water that comes out of the tap is totally safe, she explained that people just don't like the taste. Michel drinks tap water all the time at home. Everywhere else I’ve been though, I am expected to purchase water from a vending machine, or to fill up the bottle in a bathroom. Food vendors are 100% not interested in filling up my bottle from their sink. In fact, some of them are offended by it when I ask.
I also get myself into trouble lining up to pay for things. Ok, less trouble, and more just driving the people behind me insane. At home when we line-up, it’s considered rude to stand right behind someone who is paying for something. It’s an invasion of their space, and an invasion of their privacy to be practically in their back pocket, listening to what they’ve purchased and how much it is. Basically, it’s rude. This means that I’m used to leaving a space between me and the person who is at the till.

In Canada, there would be a gap between the Lady in Green and  the customer at the till.
In France, this is an invitation to have someone else jump in front of you in line, because they don’t think you’re in line. I didn’t figure this out until just this past week, when I asked a little elderly man at the stationary store what was going on. He laughed at me! In the kindest way possible, but he truly thought it was funny. He was the one who explained to me that unless you are right behind someone in line, no one is going to think you’re part of the line; they’re going to think you’re standing there foolishly doing nothing.
… That explains how long it’s taken every time I’ve tried to pay for something for the last three weeks. Also, why people keep cutting in front of me.
The last example is pretty special as well, and it is why I finally gave up on both finding a Tae Kwon Do dojang and running outside. Throughout North America, no one is going to bother you about exercising outside. Especially in Canada, where our summers are so short, you are basically expected to exercise outside at least a little once the temperature rises above 0 C. There are people who cycle and run outside year round, but during the summer our bike and pedestrian paths are crowded. You could even go so far as to say everyone and their dog is out on the bike paths at lunch time. You’d even be right about the dogs.
The Piscine Olympique, Conveniently Next to the Emile Zola
In France, that’s not what happens. I brought my runners with me expecting to be able to run outside while I was here. In particular, I was expecting it to be pretty awesome in the spring (so… now) when the sun isn’t at its hottest and the paths wouldn’t be too crowded. Hahaha… colossal fail of Canadian logic. The assumptions I had based this set of conclusions on would have worked very well anywhere in North America, those being

1.      That there are running paths in France
2.      That people ran outside in France
3.      That people exercise outside in France

          … uh, none of those are truly accurate. There are at least two men who regularly jog in Montpellier, because I have seen them with some consistency. They may very well be the only people who jog in Montpellier. Last week I tried to hop on the tram so that I could run beside the river that cuts through the south end of town. This is very normal in Canada. SO normal. People like to run by the river because it becomes very easy to measure your distance by doing things like counting the number of bridges you pass. First; people looked at me like I was the strangest thing with two legs on the tram. No one bats an eyelash when someone gets on a tram with their dog, or staggeringly drunk, but for me to stand there in running shorts and a T-shirt was apparently like looking at an alien. Second; once I’d made it to the river, people in civilian clothes, ranging in age from teenagers to a fellow who can’t have been younger than 30, started to run beside me and mock me. Truly. Some would start conversations with ‘So, where are you from? Because it’s clearly not France.’ or ‘My you’re clearly athletic, do you often run outside?’
            I was so shocked and confused I didn’t really know what to do. Why were these people talking to me? Couldn’t they see that I was exercising? Well, yes actually, and that’s exactly why they noticed me. Then I tried running stairs. That garnered a similar set of reactions. After asking some of the other students at the school about it (namely, an Australian and another Canadian), I realized that I was not the only one to experience this. I gave up, and joined the Piscine Olympique. Dear France, you win. I will exercise inside like everyone else. 
           The conclusion I've come to is that settling in is going to take a while, but that at least now I'm at the point where it is not so painfully obvious that I'm foreign I receive social stigma for it. I have begun to develop a whole new set of logic, and it is definitely French.


  1. Personally this description has induced mild culture-shock in me from all the way back here at home...