Whirlwind

The last couple of weeks of my stay in France sped by so fast that I am now sitting at home in Scotland, wondering exactly how/when I got here and why no-one is speaking French. My excuse for not blogging before I got home is that I didn’t have internet in the flat during July, having judged it unnecessary to pay 30€ when I’m only going to be there for half the month.

During my final weeks in Rennes, I spent most of my time at the Red Cross, and I can confirm that it lived up to it’s initial impressions, and that I was incredibly sad to leave all the fantastic people that I worked with and met there! 6 weeks was too short a time to really get to know them, but just enough to know I’ll miss them!

At the last “jeudi soir” drinks that I’d be attending, there was the only other remaining-in-Rennes ERASMUS buddy and we discussed how strange it was to be still in Rennes but not at the IEP. It feels like I’ve had two very different experiences of the town, and am pleased to report that I continue to love it even with the responsibility of having to get up for a 9am start every day and without the ERASMUS vibe.

Many many goodbye dinners and goodbye drinks were had, and every time, we ignored the fact that it was an au revoir with an uncertainty of the revoir part. It’s best to be optimistic I feel, otherwise you’d just get too upset during the time when you should be taking advantage of what remains of your year abroad!

So, I’ll get out a couple more posts on final events and final thoughts, before getting some closure on my year abroad by finishing off the blog which documented it all!

Au revoir!

So that’s it. I’m at the smallest airport ever (Dinard), with a 1 ½ hour wait ahead of me and not even any duty free to distract me.

The last day of my year abroad in France went something like this:

6h20: wake up 40 minutes earlier than alarm due to excitement/nervousness/sadness etc and have a breakfast made up of the bits and pieces still kicking around. With yoghurt on top.

7h: shower and get dressed in the airport outfit (jeans, heavy trainers, t shirt, jumper – with hoodie and jacket waiting to be put on when trying to go through security).

7h45: shift around all of the stuff in my bags and hand luggage in an attempt to make them conform to Ryanair’s annoyingly strict rules. Get the weight close enough to 15kg and hope that if they start getting shirty about the size of my hand luggage I can summon up some “this is my last day in France!” tears so they’ll take pity.

9h: Go to bank to check that I can close my account online as friends have told me is possible. Find out that it is not.

10h Buy flowers for the kindest landlady ever; a souvenir Breton flag; baguette and cheese for lunch and two pastries from my favourite boulangerie in Rennes (last chance to live up to the title of “gourmand”).

11h: Change into shorts to take advantage of the sunshine before returning to, from what I have heard, a very rainy Scotland.

11h30: Head to the Red Cross to say my third goodbye since finishing, end up helping unload a delivery and eating lunch there – might as well keep it up right until the end!

14h: Say a sad au revoir to the awesome people at the delegation de Rennes de la Croix Rouge Francaise.

14h30: Get picked up by landlady and driven to Dinard airport via the small roads occasionally getting lost, doing a U-turn on a busy road but avoiding stress by taking in the French countryside on a brilliantly sunny day.

16h: arrival at Dinard, rearrange my hand luggage after finding that the bag is a leetle too big for Ryanair’s frame.

16h15: rejoice at being able to squish my bag in the frame, proceed smugly to check in.

16h45: realise that this incredibly long wait is a good opportunity to write the final blog post of France.

 

All day, I haven’t really been able to believe it. Helping out and eating at the Red Cross made it feel just like a normal day, until I had to leave and instead of a demain it was a la prochaine.

Because as I’ve said to all my French friends, c’est certain that I’ll be back in France. A simple reason being that I have family living here, who provide the perfect excuse for a trip. Another being that I now have that many friends from all over the country to visit. And finally just because this year has made it even more obvious to me that as a country France suits me, in so many ways: where you can discuss food for ages without the other person in the conversation getting bored; where being called “gourmand” is a good thing; where life is not just made for working; where you can sit out on a terrace for your meal or drinks without getting rained on; and where, although they appear on the surface to be pretentious, the people are simply proud to be citizens of a country which, you must admit, has provided the world with a lot: delicious food, tourist attractions, art, culture, sources of mockery… France has it all! 🙂

French flags and brilliant hats

As if being in France for Bastille day wasn’t good enough, I decided that being in Paris would be even better!

So, the day after finishing my stage I took a painfully early train to arrive on the streets of Paris surrounded by a sheep-like crowd of tourists all heading towards Place d’Etoile. I heard that further down the Champs Elysée the view of the military parade would be better and set off on a pretty unsuccessful search, finally slipping into a spot beside some barriers I could climb onto. I was incredibly jealous of those who were clearly experienced parade-watchers, wandering around with stepladders, and was tempted to join some people up a tree who must have had a great view until the police told them to get down.

I didn’t manage to get into the “pens” which were closer to the road, but enjoyed observing the things that people had had to give up before getting searched to enter – as well as bottles of water and a few chairs, there were a couple of bottles of wine (this is France after all) and an egg in a bag.

Someone was all prepared to egg the new president

Unfortunately, my position down at the near-end of the parade meant that I missed all the stuff that was happening up where the president was arriving, but a while after the official beginning of the event, he drove down the Champs Elysee to great applause. I wasn’t actually expecting this and so was not yet properly balanced on the barrier, hence excuses for the fact that the photo I ended up with was of his back. But hey, I’m still pretty pleased that I can say that I saw the new French President!

Hollande is the one without the hat :p

And so began the celebrations. There was an aerial display, followed by a march-past of all the military regiments on foot (who all wore the aforementioned fantastic hats – I took so many photos that I won’t bore you with here!) , then the motorised sections, the cavalry, finishing off with the firemen (who got the biggest cheer), the helicopters and some parachutists  for the finale.

It was all incredibly disciplined as you’d expect, and the kitted out vehicles very impressive. It was easy to get swept up in the patriotic atmosphere and watch in wonder as all the army cars with their machine guns roll past, but it occurred to me at one point what these vehicles were all actually used for, and that was a scary thought, as I realised I had never before seen this much fire power close up. I later discussed this with a French girl who had felt the same, and who saw it as an attempt to reconfirm the power of the French military in a world where it no longer had a powerful presence.

After the parade had finished, I spent an age getting out from the crowds in order to meet up with a friend, with whom I was spending the afternoon. Annoyingly, loads of roads were cut off, for pedestrians as much as for cars, so getting to the Louvre took a lot longer than it should have done!

Eventually I got there, and had a great time catching up and walking around in the sun (so glad it was good weather, as I had heard that the 14 juillet celebrations in Rennes were cancelled due to rain!). Fortunately I have been to Paris several times and thus have seen the usual attractions, so we didn’t have to hurry around trying to fit them all in to a day. We did however go and see the Bastille monument, as that’s one I had not visited before, and felt rather appropriate!

That evening I met up with my flatmate from Rennes to see the fireworks with her friends, and we had a great spot just above Trocadero, with a massive crowd all sitting on the grass and waiting. The theme being “Disco Pop”,  Eiffel Tower had a giant disco ball underneath it, and once the display began, the music was all from the 70’s/80’s/90’s and included such great hits as “girls just wanna have fun” and “it’s raining men” – about as big a contrast as you can get with the celebration of the military hours before!

This along with some amazing fireworks all contributed to a great atmosphere, and I was incredibly glad that I had stayed around in France to see such a display of national pride and unity – it certainly increased my attachment to this country!

Making mistakes

It may be because I feel like I’ve been speaking French more consistently in these last few weeks, but I swear I’m noticing more mistakes when speaking French than I did before!

For instance, there are only 5 vowels right? Sure, but there are so many different ways to put them together, and each language has its own way of pronouncing them. And even after my 10 month stay here I still cannot pick up how the French do it!

This has led to some embarrassing incidents:

Example 1. Shopping with the cooking club and suggesting we get some chicken (poulet), which absolutely no-one understood – one girl even asked if I meant tomates – until I kind of imitated a bird and said chicken. There followed some hilarity as they all corrected my pronunciation, which I promptly forgot.

Example 2. Trying to tell my colleague at the Red Cross that my friend, whom she had just met, thought that she was cool. Turns out that the Scots aren’t great at long vowels (this being previously noted by an English friend who found great amusement in saying “google” and “poodle” in a better Scottish accent than my own), and so my compliment came out  more of an insult (for those who know what the French word cul means, this is approximately what I was saying to her… whoops!).

Example 3. Even though it’s an English word that the French use, saying “smoothie” to a waiter led to a very confused expression until my french friend clarified that I wanted a smoozie. Sigh.

This is an ever-exhaustive list of language mistakes made this year, and I’m sure there are many that I’ve made without even noticing – but, the important thing is, I have still managed to get through the year without getting punched. So for those who are about to embark on the same journey as the one which I am oh-so-close to finishing, and are afraid that their speaking skills aren’t up to scratch – seriously, don’t worry about it! You’ll be understood, and as long as people know that you aren’t a native (which was always my case, within a couple of phrases the other person of the conversation would be asking where in the world I’m from), then any unintended insults should simply be laughed off! 🙂

Prolonging the French adventure

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned here already that I went in search of an internship here in Rennes in order to have an excuse to stay longer in France than the “year” abroad officially provides you with. This mission was successful, as I found one for 6 weeks with the Red Cross (handily located just across the canal from my flat!).

So, the week-and-3-days that followed the end of my exams and before the beginning of the internship were indeed pretty excellent:

  • beach trip x3 (St Malo, Dinard, Dinard – 1st two times in the sun, last in a slight drizzle but still good!)

Yeah that’s me swimming in the Breton sea! (I won’t lie, it was freezing!)

Dinard in the sun…

…and the rain

  • a 4th and final international buffet, again chez moi, but this time with the Eurovision song contest involved (forgetting the fact that there were non-europeans there who didn’t understand the fascination with the terrible songs and …interesting costumes)
  • brunch with the colocs  before they left me alone in the flat (how I will miss their continual laughter and constant playing of an apparently well known but old french singer – Jean-Jacques Goldman anyone?)
  • a 6 1/2 km run from a friend in the north to a friend in the south’s flats (which I did much faster than I normally would just so I could keep up with the guy at the front who had a map)
  • and a fair amount of cooking and baking (nutella stuffed brioche from the cookbook gifted to me by a year-round loyal baking buddy and double crust strawberry cheesecake for my coloc who had only ever tried savoury cheesecakes – and for those who are slightly confused by that concept, she does make an excellent spinach cheesecake it has to be said!).

And yes filled with the expected sad goodbyes but also the upside of promised visits and skype chats 🙂

And then came the day before the beginning of the stage (internship) and I was a bit nervous seeing as I had no idea what exactly I was supposed to be doing, what sort of situations I may end up in, what the people I would meet would be like…

But from the 3 days that I’ve done so far, I can tell you that I am exceedingly glad that I decided to prolong my time in France, and that I found this internship as the means to do that! All the people who are volunteers or who work at the Red Cross are so lovely, with good banter and loving the fact that I am Scottish (the first girl I met there introduces me to everyone else as “C’est Lyndsay, elle est ecossaise!”, which led one guy to ask, ‘very good, but what is she doing here?’). They all seem to really appreciate having an English speaker around, as already there have been people coming in for help who speak little to no french but who do know english, so I’m able to feel as if I’m actually helping! It’s funny though, moving from the environment of the IEP where all the students are obliged to learn english, to being around other students doing internships or volunteering, who haven’t done it since high school!

So far, I have found a comfortable little niche helping out with the food distribution sector, which requires us to sort out all the food which comes in from supermarkets and the EU food bank, and then to make up packages for those who come in in need of them. On top of that, it turns out that they do cooking workshops each week, at which I was able to help,  and as several people have already said, suits me down to a tee :p. As they were searching around for ideas of recipes to make, I suggested Pain Perdu having noticed all the stale bread they had around – an idea greeted with more enthusiasm, and eventually compliments once it had been made and munched, than you would expect from a recipe so simple I’d already eaten it for breakfast that morning!

I have done little bits and pieces in other sections, such as the shop where they sell low-price necessities for babies, and should be doing more diverse things as the weeks go on.

But from what I’ve seen and done already, even in just these first three days, I can tell you that I am contente that I stuck around that bit longer, to be able to improve my French that bit more (hearing and talking french from 9am-6pm makes these days the most intensive language-wise that I think I’ve had all year!), to have more time to discover a bit more of France (hoping I’m not too tired at the weekend to travel a bit more around Brittany), but also to take advantage of this opportunity to help people in the way I’ve always wanted to but never really known how, in being right at the heart of an active humanitarian organisation 🙂

Beginning of the end

It has been a funny kind of exam season this time round.

The nervousness is still there, with all the normal stresses of trying to fathom what my incomplete (although better than last term) notes are actually trying to tell me (thank goodness for French friends and their kind passing on of comprehensible and typed-with-accents notes!).

But on the other hand, I managed to get a rather nice spacing out of my exams, giving me the impression that I have a good amount of time to study in between them while still being able to take part in all the events that are happening in this run-up to the final goodbyes.

One such event was a BBQ in Parc de Gayelles, held by Zephyr (and for some bizarre reason called “Last International Party” – this keeps happening to me, that I see a sign or something in English and feel like “wow I’m getting properly fluent here” then only later realising that no, that is not the case…). After a rainy start to the day the sun came out for an excellent evening of hot dogs in baguettes and dancing to tribal drums and chatting to everyone possible.

But then, at the end of the night just before going home, the French girl that I was talking to pointed out that it would probably be the last time we saw each other. And so we had to do the goodbyes.  And though I’ve only really spoken to her maybe 3 or 4 times, it was pretty sad! Maybe just because it was the first goodbye, and that made me realise that this process was only just beginning… I have also noted since that I will be the last one to leave here, and thus will be having to watch everyone leave one-by-one…

And so began what’s looking to be a socially fulfilling few weeks of goodbye-dinners out/bar nights/general group activites, scattered with promises of visiting Turkey/Mexico/Brazil/Japan/Norway/America/Holland/Latvia/Germany/Italy/France (again :p).

It’s still not really hit me yet though, possibly because I am not having to think about packing and flights and homesickness just yet. The fact that at 14h40 today, my year of studying in France will officially be over just doesn’t really make sense – the sunny cloîtres of Sciences Po Rennes has become the place that I associate to studying, the University of Edinburgh a distant and other world. I’ve enjoyed being able to walk into the library and find a seat quickly for a start! I’ve gotten used to the 2 hour long lectures in French and the lack of “homework”. Most of all, I’ve settled into a routine which, while still including studying enough to pass exams etc, also finds time to see people and places – so the transition back to “proper” university, and worst of all, the 4th and final year (!) is not going to be an easy one…

the sunny courtyard of the IEP

Finally getting into politics

Being at the Political Sciences university here in Rennes, there was no chance that we could escape discussion of the French presidential elections which occurred this May.

Obviously, the whole society was talking about it from a few months before, and so it was all over the place (although having no TV I avoided it a bit, and having my radio tuned to a station not quite intellectual enough to discuss the elections took me even further away). I’ll admit, I ignored most of the information until after the premier tour, and so wasn’t really qualified to join in the conversations.

However, after the disturbing (but according to French friends not-so-surprising) figure of 20% votes for Marine Le Pen, candidate for the Front National (French equivalent of the BNP), I took more of an interest , actually listening properly to people talking about the elections.

One British friend took a very active interest in it all, and so together we decided to go to the Place de la Mairie to watch the election results on May the 6th. This was such a fantastic experience, which made me incredibly glad that I was in France for such an event, as I could notice the many differences between these elections in France and our own at home.

First of all, there’s the fact that the nation is voting for a person, rather than a party. This makes it obviously more of a personality contest, which may not be the best way to go about it, but on the other hand, at least you will be taking part in deciding who exactly will be the next one in charge.

Then there’s the fact that the voting takes place on a Sunday, rather than a day during the week like in Britain. I feel like the structure of French society thus contributes to the higher participation, seeing as the voting would relieve some of the usual Sunday monotony.

They are also able to give an exact time for the announcement of the results which came as a bit of a shock, being used to just thinking that we’ll find out the results when we wake up and see it on the news. I am much more of a fan of this aspect of the French system though, as it allows for events such as that in the Place de la Mairie to be organised, and so allowing us to go along and get caught up in the excitement of it all.

We arrived at about 19h45, as the results were to be announced at exactly 20h and my friend wanted to assure us a good spot. The square was already pretty busy, and filled up as time went on. The giant screen was showing some newsreaders trying to fill in the time before the results, and as it got to 19h55 we could feel the tensions rising.Two minutes before and everyone was staring intently at the screen, 30 seconds before and we got our cameras ready.

Then, exactly on time, a graphic of a red carpet unrolling towards the Champs Elysée came up and all of a sudden there was François Hollande’s face on the screen and a huge outburst of cheering all around us (it turns out that Rennes is a very Socialiste region.). 

A couple in front of us offered us some champagne (we felt it only polite to accept despite neither of us liking the stuff), and all over the square people were happily opening bottles. From one of the flats beside the square people had even unfurled a banner (making us wonder if they had another for the event of Sarkozy winning, and in which case, what it said…):

The Left Act II : Francois is Back! (reference to Francois Mitterrand, socialist leader in the 1980s/90s)

Then followed people of various political parties talking about the results, which became more amusing as the crowd booed and cheered respectively for those defending Sarkozy and those from the Socialiste Party. Their boos got even louder when Sarkozy himself came on the screen to make his speech, with one child behind me on his dad’s shoulders shouting casse-toi at the screen and another man just constantly yelling Facho! which I felt was a leetle bit too strong…

Then we had to wait until about 21h30 for Hollande to turn out and make his victory speech, which to me seemed lacking in something, though I have no idea what. I get the impression that he hasn’t quite as strong a personality as Sarkozy.

Still, it was really cool to be around all the French people as a massive changed occurred in their politics, and I’m actually interested enough now to follow what’s happening next and wonder what his first measure will be! (never too late to get interested in the subject that you study at university…)

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