Weekends, Culture, and a Penchant for Faux Pas
by Avalon Sky
First of all, I should excuse myself, as it has been an unforgivably long time since my last proper post. I must confess that the cold, grey weather has been getting me down a little and I haven’t much felt like writing.Having said that, I’m starting to become very accustomed to daily life in Reims now, and even the cold feels normal now, and is no longer slowing me down as much as it was. I won’t admit to liking the cold, but it really does make you appreciate the moments when the sun shines and you can make the most of some much-needed vitamin D. My biggest challenge over the last few weeks has definitely been coming to terms with the fact that I don’t have an activity to fill every minute of my days, as I used to when I had university AND a part time job. In France, it is relatively uncommon for students to work while at University, and although many of them are living out of home in order to study, many of them still rely on their parents for financial support. Not having a job means that I am starting to become much more in touch with myself (as new-age as that sounds), and I’m starting to find time to do things that I probably wouldn’t have done so much in Australia. This is especially true on weekends, which I am really starting to enjoy as I get into the routine of what a weekend is sans work.
Saturdays are by far my favourite day in Reims – especially after I discovered the AMAZING food market which is held at Les Halles de Boulingrin, about a ten minute walk from my house. Les Halles is a really old, traditional market building, art-deco style, and after being refurbished a few years ago, is now listed as a protected site. There is a market here three times a week, but there is something at the Saturday market which just has a ‘buzz’ about it. People walk around with their shopping baskets (think French market baskets, not supermarket baskets), gathering their veggies for the week. There are fruit and veg stands, as well as stands devoted to breads, honey, dairy – SO MUCH CHEESE – and of course, meat and fish. The first time I went, it was very overwhelming, and I had a little moment where I got a bit teary. It sounds silly, but its a thing I do when I get hyper-excited! I ended up walking out, and going back in about 10 minutes later to try again. Trying to order things can be quite tricky. I’m a quiet person at the best of times, and I’m still learning a lot of the names for the some of the more unusual vegetables, and for the quantities – so these things, mixed with my accent make the whole thing a bit challenging. But I’ve had a few good jokes with the vendors. My favourite by far was the one who, when he realised I was Australian, proceeded to sing ‘I’m. Spinning Around. Move out of my way….’ at the top of his voice, attracting a lot of attention from everyone in the vicinity. Another time, I was sure that my penchant for terrible faux pas had come back to haunt me again and I ordered a lawyer instead of an avocado. Luckily, I found out later that the word is exactly the same for both, and it just depends on context. So if you ever need a lawyer, or an avocado in France, avocat will get you both.
Outside les halles, there are also some stands selling fresh cooked chicken, which always smells amazing, especially when it is so cold. Some days, there are even a few small antique stands selling books and old photographs (many of these taken during the war in Reims), and a few times now, there has been a musician or two. I love the walk between my house and the markets which is lined with patisseries teeming with people (the smell of fresh pastry is fast becoming one of my favourite smells), and little french children running around saying things that I would normally find so annoying in English, but which are ridiculously cute in French. I have also really been enjoying going on long walks around the town, especially along the Canal. This week is the first time that we’ve had some days above ten degrees, and the dynamic of the town really does change as the weather gets warmer. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the good weather is going to last, and we’ll be back to sub-zero temperatures by the start of next week. Enjoy it while it lasts!
Another thing that Reims is great for (especially if you are a student), is promoting a ‘culture of culture’. One day when I was feeling particularly affected by the weather, I decided that I would book a ticket for myself to go the Opéra de Reims, which is just opposite the tram stop to University. I was shocked to find that the student ticket price ranges from about 4-7€, so I ended up booking about five tickets. So far, I have only been to one show – Wozzeck – which ironically turned out to be all in German. The fact that I could still understand a fair bit of it though is probably testament to how much human communication happens on a non-linguistic level. Through the tone of voice (in this case, the dynamics and pitch of the music as well), gestures, and even the mise-en-scène of the stage, I was able to work out the story of Wozzeck, when the only german word I understood in the whole opera was stinken (stink).
As well as the Opéra de Reims, there is also the weekly movie screening at la médiathèque, which is 100% gratuit. So far, I have seen La Reine Margot, which was really an incredibly bloodthirsty film from the early 1990s, and starring Isabelle Adjani. Based on the wars of religion between the Catholics and the Protestants in France, the film has a similar kind of cult following in France as ‘Pulp fiction’ has in the English-speaking world. I probably wouldn’t watch it again, but it was interesting to learn a little more about the royal history of France pre-Louis XIV. Last week was La Piscine starring a very young Jane Birkin and Romy Schneider. The film was really quite typical of french films in the 1960s in that it was just slow enough to be relaxing, but had a great dark twist at the end. The film follows a summer vacation amongst friends in a holiday house near Saint-Tropez. I spent half of the film in awe of Romy Schneider’s wardrobe and seemingly effortless glamour, and the other half empathising with Jane Birkin’s really quite awful French accent (I think she got better later in her career).
Speaking of terrible accents, now seems like a good time to explain my latest faux pas in the French language. Naturally, when learning another language, you are bound to make a few mistakes, but, as I said before, I do seem to have a penchant for making some spectacularly embarrassing ones. I’m not actually even sure how it came up now, but luckily for me a friend pointed out that I was using the wrong verb when attempting to express temperature. In English, we would say ‘I am hot’ or ‘I am cold’, using the verb ‘to be’. In French, you would say ‘I have hot’ or ‘I have cold’, with the verb avoir ‘to have’ instead of être ‘to be’. Really, it seems like a very basic thing, but getting it wrong means that I walked around for a month saying Je suis chaud (I’m horny) and Je suis froid (I am emotionally cold), instead of J’ai chaud and J’ai froid. So those of you planning to come to France, take note! Verbs are important!! I was so embarrassed that I am certain that it’s not something I am likely to forget anytime soon!
So this is life in Reims two months into my exchange! It’s definitely still tricky finding out how things work here, but the mal du pays (homesickness) is definitely not as bad as it was before. En plus, having seen some sun and warmth, I can see how much fun this place is going to be when Spring and Summer roll around! Stay tuned for some more adventures very soon – WARNING: May contain traces of chocolate, black humour, a Scandinavian band and tales of border security in Europe!