Caroline Alberti spent her spring semester studying abroad in Toulouse, France, on CIEE’s Language and Culture program. Check out her blog post below!
Despite her high level of intelligence, Curb is easily confused. This is a known fact by anyone who has the delight of sitting next to me during any film with a plot more complex than your average Sponge Bob episode (with the exception of The Matrix, which I grasped and was the one to explain to my father and sister, one of my crowning achievements). In daily life, some of my most uttered phrases are “wait, what?” or “what are we doing now?” and etc.
However, despite my natural state of disorientation, I would have to argue that France is objectively perplexing for non-Frenchies and especially non Europeans.
First of all, the French way of scheduling, or rather lack of scheduling = confusing to the max. It seems to me like the French don’t really believe in schedules, especially when in comes to university classes. We didn’t get our schedules until the day before classes started, and they were in some cases missing the room because it hadn’t yet been determined. My Macroeconomic class met the first week of school, then is cancelled for the next two, followed by a week of vacation (meaning after being in France for 2 months I will have gone to this class one singular time). Why? Accun idée. In France everything is very fluid and go with flow, which I think speaks a lot to French culture.
Even when you know your schedule (rare), it is very confusing (at least for me) because France operates on military time, meaning that you don’t have class from 1:00-3:30pm, you have class from 13:00-15:30. I realize that this is a pretty ethnocentric complaint since much of the world uses 24hr time. It’s really not a difficult thing to figure out, but embarrassingly it has caused me trouble on multiple occasions. I have been late to class because I thought it started an hour later than it actually did. I have agreed to meet people earlier than I anticipated, and I often have to pause in the middle of conversations involving time to subtract 12 and figure out exactly what hour we are talking about. I hope to get used to the 24hr clock, Celsius and the metric system soon.
Euros are also weird but in a good way. Thankfully the exchange rate it closest it been in a while (1.07) so not a lot of converting has to be done, which is good because subtracting 12 to figure out the time just about maxes out my tolerance for math for the day. It is definitely an adjustment to be to have coins that have actual value (like the 1 and 2euro coins). I’m so used to change being of very nominal value, sticking it in my change purse and forgetting about it. But here I can pay for a meal using coins. It’s kinda a nice feeling because I’ll think I won’t have any cash left but then I open the change portion of my wallet and it’s like uncovering this whole new wealth, which almost makes up for the fact that every
thing is so frickin expensive here (although not quite).
It also doesn’t make sense to me how everyone in this country is not 400lbs (sorry 180 kilos) because all they do is eat bread and cheese and wine and desserts and pastries? Everyone told me that it’s because the portion sizes are smaller here, which maybe slightly be true, but I haven’t found that they are remarkably different. Seriously, what is going on??? And how can I do this too??
I’ve also recently taking up biking places, since my host mom was kind enough to loan me a bike for the semester. I really like biking places because I think it’s giving me a chance to become more habituated to the city and know my way around. It has also shown me that I am very easily lost. What GoogleMaps has said is a 10 min bike ride has turned into 25 because of a few wrong turns. But hey, I like to take the scenic route and thankfully Toulouse isn’t large enough that you can get really lost in it.
Biking is, however, confusing because the narrow roads are shared by pedestrians, bikers, and cars. Toulouse is called La Ville Rose, but I think a more accurate name would be The City of Obstacles. After one month here I still don’t know which streets/sidewalks are for people and which are for cars, and it seems like Toulousains don’t know either (or they don’t care). I also can find no pattern for the random polls and barricades that are dispersed through roads and streets. Biking is always an adventure, I will have to say. Anyhoo, though France is confusing sometimes, it’s definitely always interesting and keeping me on my toes. I love it!
Pce, luv & ???,