“We’re lucky in our lives”

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” Pat Conroy

 
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Seven blank, impressionable faces stared at Julie.  The faces belonged to her high school students, who were sitting quietly in their chairs, copybooks open and pencil cases set, ready to be told what to do.  She didn’t just see them staring at her, she felt their stares; they were like sponges ready to absorb whatever she might say or do next. 

Out of the corner of her eye, Julie watched them too while she wrote down the names of the absentees in the attendance book.  She shuffled through her handouts she was about to pass out, and noticed that some of them were actually whispering to each other.  They were whispering.  Was she too intimidating that they wouldn’t speak at a normal decibel?  

Some of the pencil-cases were covered in graffiti-style lettering, with the names of celebrities or boyfriends or girlfriends tattooed on them.  They had glue-sticks and little bottles of white-out too, with which they used to paste loose pages in their notebooks and meticulously cover up mistakes.  All the supplies of a student handy, they sat there quietly, ready to copy something down, glue, or white out a misspelling. 

Julie was just as much afraid of them, maybe even more afraid than they were of her.  She was outnumbered, whereas they swam in the safety of being in the same boat.  If they all thought her weird, then it was so; she was just some freak foreigner who had been appointed to stand before them babbling on in English. 

“Today we’re going to talk about cultural exchanges,” Julie said, not entirely believing this statement.  It was more likely that she would talk, presumably to herself, and fourteen eyes would stare at her absently, while glancing at the clock, counting the minutes until they were released from jail.  Once, when standing in front of the room, facing the class to give a presentation, one boy, Marvin, had turned around one hundred and eighty degrees, mid-sentence, to check the clock.  Apparently he had been turned off by the sound of his own voice, having been forced to speak for five minutes on “the notion of progress.”

“What are the challenges of visiting other cultures?” said Julie, commencing the discussion. She hoped that a hand would raise so she wouldn’t have to call on someone.  Whenever she did this the kid would begrudgingly read their answer in a barely-audible monotone, sounding and looking as if they’d rather be anywhere else in the world.  Then Julie would say something encouraging like “great answer” in a voice that was too fake which she despised. 

“We have to adapt,” said one of the girls, Léa, timidly, “When you visit other countries, it’s always more interesting than where you are from, but it’s harder too.”

“Everything is new and exciting; it’s not the daily routine that we’re used to,” added Mégan. 

These kids were from the tiny town, or perhaps even the surrounding countryside.  A girl, Louise, had told Julie that her village consisted in three hundred inhabitants who did not even have a Boulangerie at their disposal.  Perhaps this made travel all the more impressive to them.  Their daily realities were sheltered from instability and risk; safely tucked away on the outskirts of the beautiful, the interesting, perhaps even the dangerous sides of life.  That’s what the suburbs essentially were: communities whose purposes were to facilitate the daily routine.  

 

“Yes, I agree,” said Yann, “Other places are always more cool than where we’re from.  Like Canada. Or America.”

“I don’t think so,” says Nolan, “I’m French but I still love Paris and her monuments.  Big Ben, puhh,” he fills his cheeks with air and let’s out a short puff, in an expression of London’s less-than-thrilling effect on him, “but the Eiffel Tower… That’s spectacular.” He said the word spectacular with such conviction that it was impossible to forget it.

And it was spectacular.  There were not so many things which measured up to the shimmering, glittering Eiffel Tower after dark.  In a city where there was still poverty, ugliness and stress, there was also a bit of magic that awaited one at the end of his day.  The glistening lights droned out every hassle and made each person and his quandaries insignificant.

“But we see it all the time,” Florestan jumped in, “After a while it’s not that exciting to us anymore, like the same way it would be to some tourist.”

“I don’t agree,” said Nolan, “It’s magnifique.  I don’t ever get tired of it.”

It wasn’t difficult to see his point of view.  When the lights began, there was nothing else to do but stare for the first minute, and somehow they consumed all of the other senses as well.  Maybe that was what is was to truly appreciate something: to still sit and marvel at what had already wowed you tens or hundreds or thousands of times before.

 

“So what can we learn from cultural exchanges?” Julie asks the next discussion question.

“I think we realize how lucky we are in our lives compared with some other people,” Yann blurts out.

A generic version of this answer echoes around the classroom; everyone else repeats a variant of taking things for granted, not appreciating the rights we are lucky to have.  Julie senses that the first boy to speak has something else to say. 

“So who are you talking about specifically?” she asks, “Can you give us an example?”

“My older brothers are soldiers in Djibouti.  Over there, men have to pay to love a woman.”

“Like prostitution?”

 “Yes.  It’s very common, but the girls don’t like it.  Some of the men have three or four girls.  If he doesn’t have any money to pay for one, he has to love another boy.”

This wasn’t exactly part of the lesson plan.  No, it was better: a rare, pure occurrence was the moment when a student said something real rather than a sentence read out of a copybook.  Julie could picture his brothers coming home in all the heroic glamour of soldiers.  They were already the prized, older siblings idolized by their kid brother, and then they would tell him something like this, shattering all illusions that real life was just a cool pursuit of not having to do homework.  Horrific stories weren’t always a few degrees removed by the pages of a newspaper or a plasma screen TV: somewhere far away, they were actually happening.  These first-hand accounts from relatives or friends carried more weight.  They did not compare to the objective tone of a news reporter or emotionless black and white letters which bore the facts.

These kids weren’t so fragile; they were sixteen and seventeen years old.  Some of them worked hard, some were smart and original, but nonetheless they were limited in experience.  Spending one’s days in a gated-in school, in the middle of the forest, in a town which probably wasn’t even marked on most maps, was certainly a limiting, sheltered way of life.

Maybe she should say something more on comment, she wasn’t sure what, but it seemed like heavy thought to just allow to hang in the air.  Instead, she let the discussion continue as an entire two volunteers were already raising their hands to speak again.  Perhaps it was enough for these kids to recognize some of the injustices of the world.  As long as they remembered that they were lucky, they could do something to help later on.  For now, maybe it wasn’t the worst thing in the world to being going to school in the forest, living in a teeny town.

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international girls

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Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. 

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Camille was one of those international girls.  She acted as if anywhere she could carry her backpack to may as well have been her home, and convincing she was, others believed so as well.  She was not a tourist, but a traveler.  

The international girl always packs light.  She doesn’t like to depend on anyone to hoist a clunky suitcase up a flight of stairs, although making foreign friends is always encouraged.  Another reason for this is that she does not enjoy being weighed down by too much baggage.  Perhaps the most important quality of the international girl is her exorbitant curiosity and endless capacity for friendly conversation with a stranger.

“I need to find a pair of shoes to give my friend for her birthday,” says Camille, “But I’ve only met her once. I’m not sure what her style is.”

Hunting around the sale section, she settled on a brown leather ankle boot, on sale for forty percent off.  Classic and plain enough that nearly anyone would look good in them. 

“I really like Camille,” said Lillie, “She always asks about you.  Always includes you in the conversation.  You never feel left out around her.” Lillie had said after she first met Camille.  

Collecting friends everywhere she went, Camille was nonjudgmental in her ways, conversing with anyone with whom she crossed paths.  The reason Camille was so like-able was due to the fact that she was the rare person who listened to what people had to say.  She had the charming effect of making you feel that whatever you were going on about was the most captivating thing she had heard all year. One would never catch her staring over your shoulder while she was with you; she was always firmly rooted in the present, as if nothing could be more significant.

“Do you speak any other languages?” says Patricia.

“Well, French and English, of course. I speak fluent Spanish. My family is Spanish, and a little bit of Italian too.” says Camille. 

Patricia, a German teacher, was a bit unconventional, both in her appearance and in her personality. She had reddish, frizzy hair and wore artsy clothes reminiscent of hippies. Camille referred to her style as eclectic.

Another one of Camille’s delightful habits was how she would offhandedly throw compliments to you. These would go something like: “Wow, you speak really good English, how did you learn?,”  or “Your jewelry is absolutely adorable, where did you get it?.”  She was gifted in weaving these intimate tokens so seamlessly into speech and one barely had a chance to say “thank you” to her.  This manner of speaking always made her look sincere, as if her behavior was effortless and she was a naturally amiable person with plenty of pleasant prose to throw around.

Camille never acted desperate though, like she was in dire need of friends.  This was part of her charm too.  She did not care what people thought of her. Unlike many people who appeared to or pretended to possess this trait, it was not an act for her.  She really didn’t care.  One night, they had met some young men at a pub. The next day at breakfast, one could picture any given group of girls analyzing and dissecting the pauses between each word exchanged, but the conversation between Camille and her comrades went like this:

“Did you hear from that guy?” says Patricia

“No, actually.  He didn’t ask for my number,” says Camille. Nonchalant.

“Maybe you could try to find him on the internet,” says Patricia.  This immediately seemed like a horrible, stalker-ish suggestion.

“Nah. He can find me if he wants.”  In fact, Camille abhorred the modern ways of stalking people on the internet and abstained from such practices.

There were other international girls like Camille, girls who lived abroad and worked in hostels, or studied on the “erasmus” exchange programs.  Some were not genuinely adventurous and clinging to the back of a leather-clad European guy on his motorcycle was a representative example of her cultural experience.  It was easy to confuse courageous individuals with the small-minded and fearful who still somehow managed outside of their elements.  The latter usually survived in foreign settings by grasping onto the hood of the person with the most blatant display of confidence.  Perhaps it wasn’t easy to tell a real international girl from a phony one at first or second or even third glance. 

The original, authentic international girl, like Camille, wasn’t afraid to go places alone.  This, in fact, was normal.  To her, it was requisite to talk to the locals about their politics or their culture. She spoke French to locals who waited on her at coffee shops and restaurants, wandered through the maze of Parisian boulevards in drizzle or smog, always somehow finding her way back to where she had begun. However independent Camille and these wanderers of the world were, they did sometimes travel in packs, like an unofficial sorority which was miraculously devoid of jealousy and drama.  These girls wouldn’t yell at each other for stealing one anothers’ boyfriends or call each other “slut” or “bitch” in that half-endearing, half-serious tone of voice.  They were too busy exploring and their semantics were much more sophisticated.

Camille, being a popular girl in high demand, seemed to always be accompanied by at least one fellow backpacking barbie, who also collected stamps in her passport like it was a rewards card for a coffee shop.  They would talk about what city they planned to visit next, unknown hole-in-the-wall type restaurants they had discovered, favorite museum exhibitions, and interesting acquaintances and lovers encountered.  They never seemed to tire of these good-natured travel anecdotes, as one could never really see everything or visit everywhere.

Julie admired the international girls. She was drawn to them because they sat at the opposite end of the spectrum in relation to the girls to whom she was accustomed.  Such girls could be considered “boring” because they wanted to settle down, play house and entertain, probably sooner rather than later. Rather than viewing the world as something continually learned and discovered, they wanted things to be “figured out.” The international girl did not think very often or in great depth of such prescribed rituals of “settling down”. Possibly she did late at night in that state between sleep and wakefulness, but consciously she eschewed these goals.

Julie had first met Camille in a pub on a group tour of Brussels. Over Belgian hot chocolates, Julie had overheard Camille say that she lived in France and taught. Julie had smiled and made eye contact with her, establishing herself as a fellow friendly traveler, while waiting for a pause to insert into the conversation.

“Oh I’m actually in that program too,” she said shyly, trying to gauge some sort of read on the girl, “Where do you work?”

“I work in Hirson. It’s a very small town in the North West.” Camille said.

“My village is really tiny too. Does it ever get depressing?”

“I teach école maternelle. The kids think I’m Mary Poppins, so it’s difficult to get too lonely,” she laughed.

It was these kinds of encounters which made one believe that the world is small, and when one became friends with such a passing acquaintance, it seemed to shrink even more.

The thing about international girls, and boys was the issue of what happened to all of their contacts collected during their jet-setting and eurrail-ing sprees.  It was unlikely that one would remain good friends with each acquaintance they had encountered. Despite the wide array of destinations frequented by these travelers, perhaps they ended up with few friends and a surplus of acquaintances.

Julie sat on the crowded Paris metro next to Camille and Lillie. They were all clutching shopping bags from the February sales which had been soaked from a freak downpour. As they spoke in French, their thick American accents brightly shown through, attracting looks from fellow commuters. Maybe the looks were just in their heads, as there were far more bizarre scenes unfolding on the metro. Homeless people, tourists who were carrying a month’s worth of luggage, overly affectionate and touchy couples, people who looked and smelled like they should shower; one soon became immune to the weirdness.

The cheery voice of the automated announcer at each stop chirped to “mind the gap” in French, English then in German.  It was easy to forget one was in the capital city of France in such instances.  Rather, they were at the juncture of cultures instead of a society of its own.  The melange of languages hummed and droned together into some incomprehensible tongue.

As Lillie and Julie parted ways with Camille to return to their village, it began raining again.  They stood on sidewalk outside of Gare de Lyon as pellets of rain plunked down on the sidewalk and their heads.

“Here, take my umbrella. We’re catching the train, and you’ll need it now,” said Lillie.

“Are you sure?” said Camille, “I can’t keep it.”

“You can give it back to me soon. I’ll be in Paris again next weekend.”

“Thank you.  That’s so nice.”

Would they stay in touch with any of their contacts, Julie wondered, or would these travel companions become dinner party anecdotes? Tales to be reminisced upon as part of the good ‘ole days but which were no longer relevant to the present. But the delicious moments of the past and friends encountered would always come back to anyone who believed that they would and who made the effort. The world was not as grand as it often seemed.

 

el diablo

The thing about Paris, despite how many times you had been there and had gone back to each arrondissement still had the effect of feeling new.  One could return to their familiar surroundings, but it was impossible to have noticed every brasserie, boulangerie and boutique which seemed to blend together on many identical-looking streets.  You were always stumbling across something you hadn’t seen before and in this way the city never felt boring or tired.  One small annoyance, which did in fact make many cities feel tiresome or boring, was the constant problem of the homeless people wandering the streets.  The vast majority were probably certifiably crazy, or at least fell to the extreme poles of the spectrum for normalcy.

“Sometimes, I can’t tell if they’re a beggar or a real person,” said Julie’s mom, as a woman draped in ragged, ill-fitting clothing, who is obviously one, approaches them.  She shoves a plastic cup under their noses and mumbles something about a petite pièce.  Refusing to make eye contact with her and acting as if she were invisible, a nothing, was the most effective way to get rid of them.  After lingering for a few more seconds, shooting them more pathetic glances, she sets her sights to other tourists and travelers nearby in hopes of them taking momentary pity on her.

Along with her collection piece, she is holding a bundle of swaddled cloth in her arms, arranged to resemble an infant  The face of the bundle is not visible and the thing is completely still, which leads Julie and her family to believe that it is only her prop, used to further her pathos as a pitiable woman.  Julie’s mother turns to face the other direction, as if simply not looking would eliminate the problem, which it probably did for most people.

“I don’t like to see these things,” she says, but turning around there was no escape.  Not far away, on the other side of the train station, they see a woman with similarly sloppy clothing carrying about half a dozen stuffed shopping bags, another tell-tale sign of the homeless, but they are wrong.  At first glance she does look like a beggar, but the nice baby carriage she is pushing gives her away as a “real” person.

“I got attacked by one of them,” says Owen to the group, as this topic comes up, as they are enjoying drinks and dinner.

“You have to tell them about el diablo,” says Antoine, and Owen is left with no choice but to recount the story.  He begins to regale the group with the tale of how he came to be feared and revered by a local gang of the Parisian homeless.

The tale of el diablo

Owen commences the story and the atmosphere of the evening subtly shifts. The full attention of everyone is now focused on him, as he is about to divulge his enthralling tale.

“So, I’m walking home one night, and one of the homeless guys starts yelling at me from the little camp that he and some of his friends had set up.  Never leaving their familiar place, there were a few of them who I always saw around the front of a grocery store, sitting on a pile of blankets along with a dog or two.  I was drunk and must have yelled something back at them, and as I was continuing home, I realized one of them was following me.”

“I start to walk faster to try to get away from him, but he keeps picking up his pace, and then, he was standing right in front of me with a knife demanding that I take out my wallet,”

“Before I knew what was happening, I realized that I had punched the guy square in the face, and I heard him hit the pavement with a hard smack.  One of his friends was coming up from behind so I couldn’t stop to see if he was okay; I just kept running around the corner to a restaurant where I knew the waitress and began pounding on the window.”

“She looked scared and like she didn’t want anything to do with me, but I was somehow able to communicate to her what was happening through the glass with gestures, and she let me in.”  He pauses

“I was depressed for weeks; I really don’t like punching people.  I thought I might have killed the guy.  He was older, obviously not in good shape, and the sound he made hitting the pavement made me think the worst.  Each day I was checking the obituaries for descriptions of homeless guys in the area and whenever I saw one of them collecting change or sitting with a sign reading J’ai faim, I’d give a coin and ask about him, but I couldn’t find out anything.”

“Then one day, a few months later, I saw him.  He was peering out at me from behind a dumpster with a dirty blanket wrapped around him; it was as if he were hiding from me.  I didn’t think it possible at the time, but it seemed as if he were afraid of me,” Owen says, looking completely harmless as he sips his wine with a plate of salad in front of him.  It seemed unthinkable that he could have punched anyone, but in those situations survival instincts just took over.  He wasn’t telling the story to impress or to paint himself as tough, but merely because he found it such a completely puzzling series of events.

“Then right before he turned around, he said something to me in Spanish.  He just stared at me coldly and muttered: el diablo.

“Soon the story must have gotten around, as they were all calling, el diablo, el diablo, to me whenever I passed through.  They were always careful to speak to me from a distance though, perhaps for fear of another confrontation.”

In most towns in France, it’s inevitable that one will stumble upon at least one very old church.  These impressive structures are often found in the center of a village or town, and if you don’t know where you are going, they can also be a useful landmark for finding civilization in a small village.  Despite the fact that they are frigid on the inside due to the stone walls, these constructions are a welcome and comforting reminder of the old; the things we try to preserve as original rather than continuously change.  Their presence demonstrates that there were still certain things that we aren’t constantly trying to update within the era where we are seemingly attached to our laptops and smartphones.

Within the mélange of retailers, restaurants, convenience stores and pharmacies, Julie’s family stumbled upon one of these churches.

“Let’s take a quick peak inside,” said Julie’s mom.  Julie had been into at least ten similar buildings since beginning the trip with her family, but to tourists especially they are alluring masterpieces in their antique beauty.  They meander down the aisle through the church admiring the trademark features of stained glass, pillars and intricate architecture and pause at a rack of postcards next to the door that is advertising photographs of the building before exiting.  Before they realize someone is standing beside them, an old woman approaches Julie’s mom and starts speaking to her in French which is met with a confused look.

“English?” the woman answers her expression of non-comprehension, “Where are you from?”  They have no choice but to answer her so they say they are from the U.S. and are visiting for the holidays.

“Come, come,” she says without regard for anything may be going on to do that afternoon.  Everyone is too confused at what’s happening to protest so they follow her across the street where she pauses and plants herself facing the church.  She’s standing between the four of them and the building and she points to a statue situated at the top right corner beneath the roof. 

“It is Mary,” says the woman, “She is placed at the top right corner to protect the house.”  They all gaze up at the Mary holding her child.  It is an unassuming statue that does not have the imposing quality characterizing the inside of the church with its high ceilings and splendid stained glass.  Unless the statue was pointed out to you it didn’t really catch the eye, but now it seemed to be an important facet of the church.

“Do you see how she is holding the child in front of her?  She never looks at the child.  In any Christian painting or statue she is never facing him; he is always looking forward.”

“I didn’t realize that,” said Julie.

“You didn’t know?  That is because the child is not for her; he is for the world,”  She says  with conviction.  They all take a moment to appreciate this and then the woman speaks again breaking their silence.

“You are from where in the U.S.?”  She asks them, now seeming more curious about the group of tourists she’s been lecturing for the past thirty minutes.  They say they are from the east coast near D.C. and then sensing a lull in her lecture, they take the opportunity to exit, thanking her for the interesting talk.

 

Julie was writing a story later that afternoon to try to relax and calm herself down with the gentle rhythm of words on a page and the soft clacking of the keys on the laptop.  She was trying to write a romance but there was a old rule that said you should write about what you knew and she realized she didn’t know enough about the topic.  It was always possible to go out and conduct research, but that could be difficult and messy and perhaps even impossible for such a topic.

And she didn’t know who she was writing for anymore.  In the past there had always been a reason to write; a goal to accomplish or a reward to gain.  Either to write an essay to earn a grade in a class, to defend one’s research for a thesis later on, or to apply for a job: all of these circumstances were inextricably tied to a goal, but perhaps telling a story for it’s own sake was a more difficult task.

 

Later, when dining at restaurant after placing their orders, they received their plates with a surprise of herring on their salads.

“Oops, didn’t know what hareng was,” said Julie.  Now that it was established that hareng was actually herring in English it seemed like an obvious translation that should have been simple to figure out.

“We’re not going to learn all the words on the menus in one week,” said Julie’s father, “Surprises are fine with me,” he said, heartily digging into the herring salad, “You’re going to have some great writing material from this trip.”  They start recounting their adventures of the day, including the old woman who is a seemingly noteworthy character. 

“I was just skeptical about her intentions,” said Julie’s mother, “I thought she was trying to sell us a tour.”  You couldn’t say she was a crazy lady; she had too many hard facts to be labeled as such, but she wanted to impart some piece of knowledge onto any passerby’s willing to stop and listen.

“Maybe she didn’t have an agenda,” she continued, “She could be a retired college professor who doesn’t have a class or students to lecture to anymore.  I feel sorry for her.” 

But there was a subtle goal: she wanted tourists to leave France with more than a few souvenir postcards and pictures of the Eiffel tower.  This agenda wasn’t tied to money, nor could it be measured in any precise or accurate way, but what one gained from a story was the experience of going to a different time and place.  Amidst the mess of reading maps, struggling with your foreign credit cards and figuring out transportation systems, you can temporarily lose sight of the reason for the journey.  However, once you found it again in an unforeseen encounter, the effort usually seemed worth it.  

the real france

“This is the real France,” my friend, the chinese teacher explained to me.  The tiny village where we had been situated in the Loiret region of France was clearly no Paris.  My sleepy village only about 70 kilometres south of France’s capital seems worlds away from the lively Paris, where people come to from everywhere and nearly everyone speaks English.  That’s not the case here in the real France where the usual American mentality of convenience and instantaneous results is reversed and instead we have to adapt to a way of life which values taking its time.  This is evident everywhere I go in France as one can observe the typical ritual of sitting at a café on any given street corner smoking and sipping coffee in the most leisurely manner as if there is nothing at all on the agenda.

The “real France” does not adapt to you but you must learn how to live in it.  Nearly everything is closed by 7 p.m. in a small town like Montargis and nothing is opened on a Sunday.    Also, the majority of the towns’ inhabitants are not fluent in English, which leads to some communication errors as my french is still improving.  I am living in the high school which appears to be in the middle of the forest, accordingly named Lycée en Forêt, which is even more removed from the so-called “Centre Ville” (really only a few streets of stores) of Montargis.  Surrounded by trees and greenery, it is a lovely natural scene. The sharp contrast of school’s bright white institutional-looking buildings is the only thing that breaks the illusion of being in the middle of the forest.  At times it feels like I’m a bit removed from civilization though.  For example, when I call to order pizza on a sunday night because nothing else is open the man tells me that they “don’t deliver to the forest”.

On my first week of classes I am asked to introduce myself to the students, the lycéens, who are between fifteen and eighteen years old.  Eager hands are raised and the most oft-asked questions are, “What celebrities do you know?” (because, of course, all Americans have lunch with Hollywood A-listers) “What are you thoughts on the NRA?” “Do you own a gun?” (No) “Do you know someone who owns a gun?” (I don’t think so?) “Do you like One Direction?” (Sure why not) and “Do you have a boyfriend?” (teacher vetoes as an appropriate question).  They want to know everything about the U.S.; a world they have only imagined from what they have seen on the silver screen.

Their vision of life the U.S. has come from movies and television series such as Weeds, Desperate Housewives and Pretty Little Liars.  One of the English teachers tells me that when she visited the United States she felt like she was in a film.  Most of the students have never met an American.  In a way the portrayal of U.S. middle class life by the media isn’t so far from the truth.  In a lesson on “consumer culture” one of the English teachers, Julie, writes key phrases describing U.S. culture on the board as students call out, “lack of personality,” “big houses,” “throwing money down the drain.”  This is what comes to mind when they think of the United States and its “consumer culture”.  Most of the students want to go there anyways so it must not sound too bad to live in big, identical houses in suburbia where fast-food restaurants, shopping malls and superstores such as Walmart and Wegmans are always at one’s disposal.

I ask them to tell me about themselves too.  We go around in a circle and I ask them to talk to me about their hobbies and what they would like to do after they take their bac (similar to a college entrance exam).  “I want to be a lawyer,” “I want to be a French teacher” , “I want to work in Tourism in the U.S.,” “I have no idea what I want to do after the Bac,”  “I play football,” “I love American series,” “I like playing video games,” “I like to smoke weed and look at beautiful girls” (um okay?)  I think back to my own language classes when we did similar activities to practice talking; about hobbies, future careers, interests, television shows.  I can’t remember what I would have said.  Probably something along the lines of loving fashion, visiting my cousins in Florida, not knowing what I wanted to do when I “grew up.”  The point wasn’t so much what you were talking about so long that you were talking.