Longer post

Alright, I have time for a longer post now. My host family is four people – two parents, Stephane and Isabelle, and their kids, Simon and Mathilde. All of them are sympa, as the French would say (nice). Simon, 14, plays a decent amount of video games; he’s got a PlayStation 2 and a PSP. We had him tell us which English swear words he knew, which was hilarious. Mathilde, 17, is super smart. She got a perfect score on the English part of her “bac” (the big test that all French students take at the end of high school). I have her bedroom while I’m here, and judging from her bookshelf, she reads in French and English.

Stephane builds boats for a living, but he told me that he was originally a butcher years ago when he was younger. He said that he likes to learn a new thing to do every so often, to keep things interesting. Isabelle is a “fonctionnaire,” or an employee of the state (there are a lot of these in France), and she in particular works for the regional government, not the national one. She works with issues of handicapped people now, but she used to work with the welfare system. I had a great discussion with her yesterday about this system after mentioning that I had learned a word regarding it in class. Apparently, the French have to sign contracts pledging to look for work or volunteer to receive welfare. I don’t think it’s like that everywhere at home. I told her that Obama wants more emphasis put on work when talking about the welfare system.

I met some of Stephane and Isabelle’s friends over the weekend. Claude and his wife, whose name I can’t remember, are an elderly couple who have a beautiful wine cellar, complete with sitting areas. Claude was nice enough to give me a bottle of wine that he had made himself. I also met Stephane’s brother, Christophe, who showed up at the house with his family. The French seem to place a huge value on conversation and their family/friends, because my host parents seem to know many people in the area and people will travel to the house just to talk for a bit. All conversation is accompanied by an “aperitif” (a strong drink of cognac or whiskey or something like that). They talk about all the same things that we do – old stories, local news, and especially politics.

The family generally has the same types of things that an American family would. I get my own bathroom to shower and wash up. There are no toilettes in the bathrooms, instead being located in separate WCs (water closets), and there are no screens on the windows. I had a great time trying to explain what a screen was to Isabelle. I think she got what I was telling her. Meals are only a little bit different. We had lasagna for dinner last night that Isabelle made. There is generally more seafood, like mussels, since we’re on the coast. There is also cheese at the end of the meal, followed by a dessert of fruit or yogurt. It’s overall quite satisfying. My friends in other families tell me that they’ve been drinking a lot of wine with their meals, especially the guys living with Mimi, the old lady that reminds me of my grandma. However, there isn’t a lot of wine with my family, probably because Simon and Mathilde are too young. I haven’t really asked about it yet though.

The school is a nice place, and my teacher, Frederique (a woman’s name here), is really nice. She clearly likes teaching French learners. She’s taking us out to Ile-de-Re, the offshore island here, for Bastille Day on Monday, so that will be a lot of fun. The city of La Rochelle is gorgeous, and is apparently the third most popular destination in France, after Paris and the Mont St. Michel (both of which I’ve been to now!). It’s clearly very old, with lots of old buildings and streets. I have to give a little presentation on La Rochelle’s history in class on the 23rd, so that should be interesting. I know the region figured somewhat prominently in the Wars of Religion here, so it’ll be interesting to find out. Hopefully I can get back to posting pictures on Flickr sometime soon. The local McDonalds has WiFi, so I might go there at some point (and to take a picture of a menu with Royal with Cheese on it).

Dr. Janc gave us our review for the test that will be on the Paris portion of the trip. It’s going to be slightly hard, but I’m not going to panic too much about it. The grades’ values get stripped away when they transfer back to Marquette, so my plan is to study hard, but not fret. As for my French class here, I love it. Speaking French gets easier and easier for me every day, and the weakness of mine that I fret about most, oral comprehension, is getting much better. Tomorrow we have the first part of class in the market in the center of town, where we have to talk and ask questions to some of the merchants. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I have to interview a poissonnier, a fish salesman, and I plan on asking him how the recent fisherman’s strike affected his business.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I’m sure I’ll have more in the following days.

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