Writings on the Stalls

Here’s something odd about French Universities: Bathrooms. Pardon me, toilets. Because in France, the bathroom and the toilet are two separate rooms, sometimes connected, but more often separated by a hallway. That’s a lot of door-handles to touch before washing your hands. For whatever reason, the administration doesn’t believe in toilet seats. I don’t know if it’s political or religious, but you’re lucky if you can find more than two beseated toilets per building. Stranger still, there are still the broken remnants of long-forgotten seats, still fixed to the porcelain bases, begging the question: who took them? Where are they now? Quite frankly, the situation works for me, as I much prefer to squat and pee anyway. Keeps me svelte.

I am moderately unsettled by the fact that most of the toilet cubicles come equipped with nifty cages above them, like this one here:

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I suppose they’re to ensure that you don’t accidentally climb out if you get spooked by a loud noise or a capitalist.

Truly though, my favorite alteration to the campus is the graffiti peppering everything in arms’ reach. I can’t speak for other universities in the country, but this one is riddled with whimsical defacements of government property. The missives are most rampant in the toilets/bathrooms, though it seems like a lot of work to squat and write at the same time. They’re tricky, the French. I must say it is a wonderful distraction from your aching hamstrings. I haven’t called any of the numbers, but from what I’ve read, Carlie P knows how to have a great time. The messages vary in eloquence, but they’re all equally charming, as you can see:

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The youth here are so expressive. The best I’ve seen though is definitely this one:

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For those of you who don’t read French, or have difficulty making inferences based on similar sounding latin-rooted words, it says “The chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir beware.” I saw this on my first day of school and I knew that I was home.

Truthfully there’s a lot of writing all over the school. On the walls, the desks, the ground, the vending machines, and such. It’s just like elementary school, except bigger and you get in a lot more trouble when you bite people.

The street art is pretty great too. There are sheep hidden everywhere. Look at these sweet little nuggets:

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I also found a beautiful spray-painted mural of some dancing gazelle covering the side of a building. I forgot to take a picture of it, and all the streets look the same, but if I find it again I’ll take another picture. I’m a fan of the animal graffiti, although I could probably do without the excessive amounts of furries in advertising:

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I’m not really sure what that’s about.

That’s all for now, I think, but I have to get going anyway. The family mime got out again and I have to put him back in his box.

A bientôt,

G

What’s That in My Mouth?

(B)log date: 1/10/2016

It has been six days since my arrival in France. Still no sign of a bidet. I am beginning to question whether they exist at all, however I remain optimistic.

In almost a week of living here in Grenoble, I’ve started to notice some of the vast differences in our cultures. One of the most striking things is the French relationship to alcohol. Not only can teenagers wander into their local pubs, supermarkets, and gas stations to buy a 40 without getting carded, but my university sells beer in their cafeteria. In their cafeteria. Where college students eat. In the daytime. Is that not the most counterintuitive thing you’ve heard all day? What a country. I should probably point out that this doesn’t mean students and professors are drunkenly stumbling to their classes. Hilarious as that might be, the relaxed position of alcohol in Europe results in responsible behavior; having a beer with lunch, a wine with dinner, going about your day in total sobriety.

In a less agreeable light is the French relationship to coffee. Coming from Seattle, I’ve become accustomed to hooking up an IV of Sumatran blend as I do my makeup in the morning, and keeping a few packs of Folgers Instant in my wallet to snort in case of emergency. I need my coffee, and France leaves a lot to be desired in that respect. Yes, they drink it—they don’t call it a French press for nothing—but their cups are tiny. You know those 8oz coffees your mom orders from Starbucks that don’t make any sense and you wonder how she can even keep her eyes open let alone drive to work and pay your tuition? That’s a French cup of coffee. Sure it’s espresso, but that doesn’t mean what you think it means. It has a higher caffeine concentration per volume, but is generally too small to have as much as a standard cup of regular coffee. Thanks Wikipedia. At least they’re cheap. I can down three café au laits or two café crèmes in under 30 seconds. Impressed yet?

Next on the docket is the French and their food. I’m a vegetarian, but even so, French cuisine really is incredible and blah blah blah, you’ve heard it all before. What I find more interesting are the weird things they do to their food. Have you ever heard of Kinder Surprise? They’re German chocolate eggs, about the same size as Cadbury’s, but instead of a caramel or cream center, they have a little toy inside. Not ringing a bell? That may be because they’re illegal in the United States. Something about parents worried their kids might choke on the little throat-sized hunk of plastic hidden in their delicious chocolate ovoid. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for the French. They up the ante with a little gem called La Galette du Roi. The King Cake. So named after the biblical three kings from the nativity story (who weren’t actually kings, by the way, and were more than likely just travelers—but where’s the mystère in that?). Good on them that they’ve left behind a legacy as distinguished as the Galettes; these harbingers of dental devastation run rampant through France in the time between Christmas and Mardi Gras. They’re very tasty—usually filled with marzipan and sometimes fruit or chocolate fillings—but they have one quirk: a tiny figurine embedded somewhere in their sugary depths. Traditionally, the figurine is a little plastic baby, which is meant to represent Jesus. What’s a better homage to the son of god than accidentally swallowing him in his infancy? These days the festive little choking hazards are less infanticidal, assuming the form of little enamel crowns, or tiny wooden books, or itty bitty porcelain flags. Whoever finds the trinket (la fève) in their cake and manages not to swallow it or asphyxiate, is the king of the feast. It’s a sign of good luck, bestowing upon the king a little crown and the task of honor of purchasing the next galette. Here’s a picture of the porcelain crown on which I chipped a molar at my first meal in the Antoine Saint-Exupery airport. Next to the crown, for size reference, I’ve placed an American penny. You can see Mr. Lincoln, who was kind of a king.

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It must be lucky—my periodontist told me I needed a crown replaced…Badoom-Tss!

Really though, I have my doubts about the fortuity of la fève, considering immediately after that my travelling partner and I missed our shuttle to Grenoble, and subsequently our professor’s free ride from the bus station to the city. Here’s a snapchat of us on the later shuttle:

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We’re smiling, but there is fury in our eyes.

Monoprix, the French equivalent to Target, has a spectacular campaign for their king cakes right now. Instead of a trinket, ten lucky customers across the nation might find a diamond in their bite of cake! I say ‘might’ because anyone who’s ever seen a diamond before knows that they’re not too big. Even the French, savoring each bite as they do, have at least a 20% chance of swallowing that little treasure. But hey, I’d rather pass a diamond than the baby Jesus.

I’d better sign off now. My host family and I are about to go take our baguettes for a walk.

À tout à l’heure,

G

The Great Schlep

Griffin  Hadden

12/28/15

This has been, perhaps, the most practical Christmas I’ve ever had. I’m sure it’s just another sign of getting older, but every year I seem to ask for and receive gifts that are a little less fun and a little more functional. I’m not complaining. Life is expensive, and it takes a lot of concentrated will power to go out and buy yourself a colander when all you really want is a full sized replica of the Triwizard Cup from Harry Potter. Yes, I’ve had to put whimsy on the backburner—this year in particular. For Christmas 2015 I received two suitcases; a secure, under the clothes money pouch; a pocket-sized French to English dictionary; a travel journal; a pair of luggage locks; a sleepsack for hostels; and a European outlet adapter.

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I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, this girl must have a lot of birds.” Wrong! What would give you that idea? What’s really going on is that in just six short days I will be boarding a plane to France. Well, I’ll be boarding a plane to San Francisco, then to Munich, and then to Lyon, where I will take a shuttle to Grenoble. Yes, I am gearing up for what everyone has assured me will be the experience of a lifetime: a six month study abroad in Grenoble, France.

 
For the past few months, the prospect of this voyage has felt like a distant relative. Oh, I know she exists, and I’ve heard all about her, but we’ve never actually met. She doesn’t quite feel real yet. Now though, she’s on her way. She’ll be here soon and we’d better prepare the guest room. Fluff the pillows, clean the bathroom, pull out the leaf in the table. We don’t know what to expect from her, but we know she’ll be different. This analogy is getting away from me, but you get the idea. France is looming before me, hexagonal and mysterious, and all I can do is power through my travelling anxiety. It’s not the prospect of going somewhere new that stresses me out; it’s getting there. I’m being bombarded by a bounty of belligerent budding blunders. What if I miss my flight because I incorrectly set my alarm? (This has happened to me more than once). What if my first flight is delayed and I miss my second? What if in my haste I accidentally pack a switch blade in my carry on? What if they lose my luggage? What if they sit me in between a baby and a judgmental old person? Myriad misgivings. I am not a happy traveler. Whatever happens, as long as I get to France, I’ll consider it a success.

 
Now I have to return to my two suitcases, simultaneously worrying that I have too much and too little, while convincing myself that I am not woefully ill-prepared.

 
Until next time,

G