Sitting here in my apartment, with a cup of tea, the heat blasting, some really warm socks, and no homework to work on, I’m finally starting to relax a little. The past two weeks have been ridiculous, work-wise, but now (with only 4 more days of school before break) I can breathe again.
Beginning December 3rd, most of the work of my semester began to pile up – over the past 10 days, I had a presentation and analysis of current events and projects of the European Union, an exposé (basically a speech) on Jacques-Louis David’s painting The Death of Bara, a fiche technique (basically a report), a debate, an essay for my French class and an exposé for my French politics class.
It was a stressful beginning to the month. Today though, I have only five classes (and one final essay) standing between me and Christmas vacation. Of all the work that piled up, my French politics exposé was by far the worst. All of the projects required considerable work, but once I put the work in, I was quite satisfied with the result.
This exposé though, Combien de gauches dans la vie politique française aujourd’hui? (Or, how many leftists in French politics today?) really terrorized me. It wasn’t so much the subject (which was pretty awful, I do admit), but the fact that for this particular class, my entire grade for the semester is weighted on this one exposé. That’s a lot of pressure riding on my analysis of the shock of 2002, Lionel Jospin’s political failings and the ultragauche (extreme left) in France. This was the exposé that I devoted my 21st birthday to, that I stayed up until 5am three nights in a row working on, that I’d practiced so many times I had it timed to the minute (exposés may NOT exceed 10 minutes).
Despite my knocking knees, quavery voice and flub of one of the post-exposé questions posed to me, my professor thanked me with a smile and a “Vous avez bienfait.” (You did a good job). Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of my work, as I had to return home after class to complete an essay for my French class Wednesday.
Today is Thursday though, and I am feeling pretty good. Somewhere in the middle of all my researching and note-taking and typing in French of the past couple weeks, I began to notice a few bizarre things about myself. Or, the amount in which I unwittingly conformed to France over the past three and a half months.
In France, we do not double-space our fiches and essais. Everything is force justified rather than aligned-left. Titles of books, movies, institutions, and anything else with a multi-word designation have only the first letter of the first word capitalized – everything that follows is lower-case. Example, Droit constitutionnel et politique by Olivier Duhamel (who happens to be one of my professors). Oh yeah, and everything’s italicized.
Last names are always capitalized to avoid confusion and usually come first, GRIFFIN Halley, but not always Halley GRIFFIN. Sevens and Z’s are always crossed, and ones are never just vertical lines. We underline important points with rulers (although that might just be us nerds at Sciences Po) and we never omit zeros from dates. January 5th, 2006 is always 05/01/06, never 5/1/06.
None of these things are that odd individually, of course – the strange part is how easily and unconsciously I’ve adapted them. They’re all just simple differences in style – and being that I’m across an ocean from the schools where I learned to write papers it makes perfect sense that the styles should be different. It’s just interesting how naturally they’ve integrated themselves into my American style – which isn’t so American anymore, apparently.
I keep imagining next year and wondering how long it’ll take me to shake all the French out of my schoolwork. Christina will have the chance to reintegrate before I do, since she’s flying home for good next Thursday, so I guess I’ll have to hear about it second-hand.
C is staying with me for a few days and we spent the afternoon at a marché de Noël outside the Pompidou center. We were wandering around, casually drinking paper cups filled with cinnamon-y and delicious vin chaude, and we stopped to look at some artwork by a typical, if unusually scruffy-looking street artist. He looked at our cups and asked, “C’est du café?’ (Is that coffee?) When we informed him that it was in fact hot wine, he winked, said, “Yesss, al-co-hol-ic? Moi, je préfère la bière.” He then opened up the pocket of his dirty coat to show us an open bottle of beer for him to surreptitiously swig in between ripping off tourists with overpriced mediocre paintings. That’s Paris.