Bonjour (boh-joor) to everyone! And a good day it is, indeed! This weekend was full of rain and thunder, but now the weather has cleared up. It’s difficult for me to realize that I’ve been in France for a month now, but I have learned so much about France, Italy and Europe in general that I would love to share with you.
Adjusting to the French culture has been an interesting experience. French people have different forms of meeting and greeting each other, and for me it was difficult to get used to kissing other people on the cheek when I met them because I didn’t know which cheek to start from! But I learned that generally, the French (and other Europeans, too) kiss each other by starting on the left cheek and then the right. The number of kisses depends on the region of France. In Menton, people kiss each other up to three or four times! Usually, only men and women, and women and women kiss each other. Men usually greet each other by shaking hands. These greetings are accompanied by saying Bonjour (boh-joor: good day) or Bonsoir (boh-swar: good evening) depending on the time of day. Can you try greeting someone next to you like the French?
Another difficulty I experienced was addressing people. In the French language, you have two forms of saying “you”: Tu (tew) and Vous (Voo). The first is informal, used for people younger than you and those you know well. The second word is used for groups of people, strangers and those older than you. At school, I would use vouswith my new classmates, but they would correct me and say that I should address them with tu even though I had just met them. This was a very confusing rule for me, especially because we don’t have the same rule in English! Do you know any other languages that have two different words for “you”?
Another new and rewarding experience is attending classes in a French university. I am taking classes in French, English and Arabic and although the university has only about 170 students, my classes are quite large, some with as many as 60 students! I have been making many friends with my classmates and I’m very surprised by how diverse their backgrounds are. Some of my friends come from France, Germany, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon and Turkey. Many of them studied in French high schools before coming to study here, and others (like me) are on an exchange program through their universities.
My day usually starts early in the morning, at around 7:30 AM. I wake up, eat cereal and coffee for breakfast, and have class for four hours. From noon until 2 pm, everyone gets a lunch break. After I eat lunch, I like to take a nap. After the break, I have class until evening time, when I go for a run and then meet with my friends to cook dinner.
Dinner is always the most fun time of the day for my friends and I. We are able to take a break from our homework and classes and cook a delicious meal to share. No meal here is complete without some French bread and cheese. We usually eat a lot of pasta, rice, couscous (a North African type of grain that looks like circular yellow rice) and different curries and sauces. After dinner, I go back home, work on homework and then sleep.
During the weekend, my friends and I usually have plans to travel somewhere new. At times, we take the train to nearby Nice (nees), the closest larger city, or Monaco, a very small country famous for its casino, Monte Carlo. These cities are very lively during the weekend, and have many restaurants and shopping centers to keep visitors busy.
Sometimes, however, we decide to travel outside of France. During a weekend, my friends and I went to Milan, a city in northern Italy known for its reputation as a fashion city. It was only a short, four-hour train ride from Menton. We stayed in a youth hostel while exploring the city and enjoying Italian food. My favorite place in Milan was the Duomo (doo-oh-mo), one of Europe’s largest and oldest cathedrals. We were able to climb up onto the roof of the cathedral and admire the statues of famous historical and religious figures, as well as imaginary creatures like gargoyles.
We were also able to visit the beautiful Italian city of Venice, located in the easternmost part of the country. Venice is a very special city because it was built a long time ago directly on top of a lagoon! Today, you cannot drive in Venice – everything is accessible by boat or walking. The city has hundreds of different canals and bridges. It also has a very interesting public transportation system – instead of buses or trains, it has large boats!
While Venice was a delightful and beautiful place to visit, it was also very sad to see it sinking. Because it has been getting warmer around the world, the polar ice caps have been melting, and this extra water has become a threat to Venice’s buildings. Due to global warming, the city’s water level has been rising every year, and many historical buildings are slowly sinking. Is there a problem like this in your city?
My stay in this region of France and visiting Italy has been very special for me. I have met many kind and generous people and enjoyed the food in this region. I have specifically fallen in love with gelato (je-la-toh), Italian ice cream that tends to be very creamy! I also love tiramisu (tee-ra-mi-soo), an Italian dessert made from coffee and cocoa. Of course, I have also fallen in love with the many types of pizza and pasta from this region! Have you tried any of these dishes?
That’s all for now from my end! I look forward to getting in touch with you before I leave for my spring break vacation to Istanbul, Turkey! Keep thinking of questions you have about France or Europe in general – I hope to answer them as soon as I can! Ciao (chow)!