Saturday, October 24, 2009

More assorted thoughts on where I live

Lunchtime, for the shops, is from 12-3, maybe 3:30. Everything shuts down for a serious mid-day break. The whole concept of rushing around to do errands during lunch time must not exist here.

I'm finding that my Boston driving experience (such as it were) was not bad preparation for navigating French towns. Straight lines and square blocks are not the thing here. The map of my town is a fascinating tangle of streets, most named after someone. (Marseille is similar.) Less so in Marseille, but here the streets are very narrow and twisty, especially downtown. I'm often surprised to realize that what I thought was some seedy alley is actually a full-fledged road with real stores along it. What's more, these roads often look like pedestrian-only streets (think cobblestones and Church St, Burlington), but cars do drive on them and they do honk at you if you're in the way.

My cell phone is second-hand, not exactly the hippest new model, but I only just realized that the little icon that tells me I have a new voicemail is not a little robot face, it's a cassette tape. Cassette tapes and cell phones shouldn't mix, right...?

In chatting with some locals last night, I gleaned that the Pres. Sarkozy supporters around here are in serious hiding, if they even exist. (I'm just going to note that among Sarko's first presidential acts in 2007 was a visit to his friend George W. Bush. You get the idea.) It's interesting to hear how different people talk about him: The retired teacher who has taken us assistants under her wing complains that his French is embarrassingly poor; my students complain that he wants to raise the driving age.

The subject of my French skills is a broad and sensitive one; without getting into all the unpleasant details, I will just say I'm totally confounded by the use of formal vs. informal "you." I vouvoyer (that's the formal version) pretty much everyone who isn't clearly younger than me (which is most everyone, since most of the people I see are fellow teachers and I don't speak to my students in French). There's something a little uncomfortable about being so formal with people I see regularly, but I prefer that to being rude or presumptuous. Last week, one of the other teachers (the youngest one, as far as I can tell) told me I could say "tu," the informal "you," and laughed, not unkindly, but with a tone that suggested I should have known. So I'm still uncomfortable and confused. Probably time to play the Helpless Foreigner card and get someone to explain to me.

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