My final blog post for this trip falls right at the end of a 2-week break from school, and so I thought it would be appropriate to talk a little about what a vacation looks like in France. One of the first differences I noticed is that, according to some of the kids at school, it’s quite normal to get a whole two weeks off instead of just one. In fact, pretty much every school vacation is for two weeks. Personally, I think this is quite smart because it means you can go out of town for a week, then still have time to yourself at home where it could be easier to do any homework and hang out with your friends. And this is exactly what we did.
First off, we had a few days off since the week before the break ended on a Wednesday. Then Florine’s family and I packed up our bags and headed to L’île d’Oléron for a week to go “camping”. I’ve put camping in quotes because that is what they called it, however the experience is not what I think a typical American thinks when they hear the word camping. Instead of sleeping in tents in the woods, cooking your food on a campfire, and exploring nature, when the French go camping it means little houses surrounded by more houses all in a fenced off community with a couple amenities like a pool and a small restaurant/shop/bar where you could buy baguettes.
The house, like a lot of things in France, was small. Maybe that was heightened by the fact that we have four kids/teenagers living in close quarters for a week, and the walls were thin enough that you could hear any conversation in the common room/kitchen from your bed. Still, you learn to live with it.
Despite the rather limited space, I had a great time there. The house was about a five minute walk from the beach, which I loved. Because of this, we saw some pretty great sunsets. I also learned how to play pétanque! (Well, sort of learned. I picked up the rules from just watching, so there could be some subtleties I’m still missing out on, but I learned enough to play.) For those of you who don’t know pétanque, the basics are you take turns trying to throw your balls as close as you can to a small wooden ball called the “cochonnet”. Whoever is closest after the round ends gets points, and they you start over. You keep playing until one person or team reaches a certain number of points. However, there are some complexities to the game. For example, on your turn you can knock other player’s balls away with your ball, but if at any point your ball hits the sides of the play area, it is “dead” and won’t be counted.
After the week was over we headed back to our house in Azé (located just outside of Château-Gontier), and spent the rest of the vacation at home. Of course, we did take a few small day trips to a nearby castle and a mall. I slept in, read some books, and also managed to procrastinate my (French) homework until the last minute- just like I do while on vacation in the US. In these ways, at least, it’s not that different here.
Since this is my last blog post, I wanted to take some time to reflect on a few things I’ve learned about French culture or gotten to experience during my time here. Here is a list of some take a ways:
– First off, I learned what the bises actually means to French people. It’s a greeting, a sign of affection. You do it in the morning, in the evening, when you see a friend or family member at the store… Even if not everyone does the actual kisses over the cheek, it’s an important part of their culture. To them, it’s just a normal part of life. (If you think that it’s a little weird, you might be surprised to know that hugging someone as a greeting or a way to say good bye is just as weird to the French. They don’t ever do it except maybe to comfort someone.)
– French bread. I already knew this, but French bread cannot be beat. Seriously, there’s bread with pretty much every meal. You can eat it with cheese, with pâté or similar spreads, or just eat it plain. Baguettes cost around 1€ a piece, and with a family of six we can easily finish one or two off per day.
– Castles. I’ve had the opportunity to visit one other French castle before going on this exchange, but now I’ve seen many more. It seems like every other town out here has a castle of it’s own (or at least used to at some point).
– It can be good to laugh at your self sometimes. One of the first things I noticed here that seemed different from what I’m used to in America is that people here make more jokes at another person’s expense, and everyone from family to friends seem to tease each other more. It’s all in good fun, even if you’re laughing at each other it’s not supposed to be mean. While this was a bit disorienting at first, I think it’s good to be reminded not to take yourself too seriously. We all mess up sometimes and if we can laugh about it and move on, then we’ll be ok.
– Everything is just two hours from everything else. While this isn’t entirely true in practice, I think this statement sums up some of the differences regarding space between France in America. While “It’s about two hours away” may actually mean a four hour drive, the fact that the French consider that a long road trip, still surprises me.
Finally, I want to say thank you to Bush, to Lycee Victor-Hugo, to the cities of Seattle and Château-Gontier, to my own family and to the incredibly welcoming and generous Brielles family for putting this all together. I don’t know how many people will actually ever read all of this, but it’s been quite an amazing experience to get to be apart of. Big thanks to everyone involved!