A couple of weeks ago, on a friend’s blog I saw the phrase “going native” in terms of living in France casually mentioned. It got me asking the question, what is exactly going native in France? I know that I’ve resisted Frenchifying myself any more than necessary with stubborn determination. So much so that I’ve probably taken on all the negative characteristics we think about when we think about France (ahem – Paris – I’m looking at you).
This weekend marks the end of my first full week of classes, and my head is exploding. Not just from the lectures, though I am learning, but also from the sheer difference between the American and French university systems.
As with all things French vs American, the differences are minor. After living here for three years, I still can’t give words to what separates French culture from the one I grew up in. It’s subtle, it’s under-the-surface-like, and has the habit of sneaking up on you when you’re walking down familiar streets listening to Florence and the Machine at full blast and then the music stops and you hear someone scream J’en ai marre!* and you’re stunned into the reminder that oh, yeah, you’re in France.
I’m going somewhere with this.
I have to admit that I didn’t know what to expect. I did like many American students do. I sat down in each class with a pen and a notebook. Then looked around, noticing that many of my fellow students seemed to be better equipped than me.
For instance, there wasn’t just one pen on the table. There was a whole pouch of pens. In various shades. Rulers, and highlighters placed next to the pouch for easy access. Notebooks were accounted for, but where mine was a simple ruled, no-frills notebook, everyone else had fancy notebooks with binder holes and perforated pages.
Note-taking itself consisted of more than just taking notes. Highlighting, underlining, rotating colors, blocking out with the rulers… for a country that isn’t supposed to be very organized I was impressed. This must be where the root of their love of paperwork lies.
But after a week of classes, I’m beginning to see some sense in it. And I felt very inadequate with my one simple notebook and plain black ink.
The classes are delivered with bullet speed. Syllabus? Hah! Books for further study? Well, there are some recommendations given, but nothing is required. Instead you sit, you listen, if you’re lucky there’s an accompanying PowerPoint presentation. And you ask questions that normally send the professor off onto a tangent about their own experience in the field.
But the strangest thing is the schedule. Perhaps it’s my unique program which crams about 20 classes into 6 months. In ten days, I’ve already completed marketing. Looking at the schedule in the coming weeks, there are some where I have a class twice a week for three hours at a stretch and other weeks where I have the same class once for 90 minutes. Rooms, times and days are always changing. New classes are added to replace others. It feels all a bit haphazard and now I begin to understand why my fellow students appear so minutely organized in their note keeping.
So I went native.
I shopped for new school supplies and piled those, my current notes, and my current research on my desk to prepare for study.
Only – where am I supposed to study?
An hour later, my desk looked like this:
Imagine someone sitting in that chair.
Seven hours later (no joke) I had organized notes, just like the ones I saw my fellow students taking in class. With the plus that in the process I reviewed and reread all my notes and therefore, actually studied.
What was the point of all this?
Oh yeah, I’m going native.
There’s more to it than organization. I’m starting to look at meals with the belly of a French gastronome. Wine through the nose of an oenologue (and we only did the whites). Restaurants from the eyes of a consultant. Produce from the hands of the producers both past and present. And it’s changing the way I do things.
That and I heard my voice on my recorder next to a professor’s. I knew my accent was thick, but I had to cringe at just how thick. It’s time to give up the American and become une française.
Sort of, because I can’t give up my pile of vegetables which never diminishes in size. They’re coming along for the ride.
*= I'm fed up.