Archive for the ‘Tours’ Category

Touring Around Tours

Wednesday, December 31st, 1969

Somehow, I did it. All of it. Everything, except one winter coat, which will have to be shipped, fit into my allotted luggage without exceeding the weight limit. I checked my bags and siphoned through security at Dulles International Airport without sustaining any injuries (physical, emotional, or otherwise). I proceeded through customs and collected my luggage easily when I arrived in Paris. By the time I finished carting my luggage on and off the tram to the railway station, my friend Caitlin already stood waiting for me. I even managed to have two full French conversations to obtain my train ticket to my final destination. Seventeen and a half hours after leaving my house, I finally made it to Tours, France.

My French father, Bernard, picked me up at the train station and brought me to the house he shares with his wife Colette. Built in the 1700s, the four-story home offers everything from fourteen-foot ceilings to WiFi and my own bedroom complete with courtyard and bathroom. This is going to be my home for the next three weeks? All this and a five-minute walk to school? Yes, I could very easily get used to living in France. My family here accommodates for pretty much all of my needs, including my vegetarian diet, which I certainly had a few qualms about. My French dad cooks some of the best tofu I’ve ever had.

All French students from HC, whether they study in Strasbourg or Dijon for the year, begin their year abroad in Tours at L’Institut de Touraine. The school is kind of like French boot camp. Early Monday morning, the professors talk with all new students and gage their French-speaking abilities. This evaluation, compiled with an hour-long test we completed online before arrival, allows them to place us in the appropriate level. Fortunately, I ended up in a level with three of my other friends. Each day, we have about five hours of class, as well as two hours for lunch. Approximately ten students make up my class, and any language but French is forbidden, though this rule is almost moot. Coming from all different countries like Switzerland, Japan, Brazil, South Korea, Spain and the United States, the students only share one common language. Luckily we haven’t had any drill sergeants yet, and with any luck, this won’t be a problem. Of course, if I can’t get my prepositions straight soon, one may just be in order


L’Institut de Touraine where I have classes everyday.

The Government Center for the City of ToursThe view on the way to one of the shopping districts. All heat and no air conditioning makes Crusaders want to go swimming in the fountain of the Tours center of government.

When the Sun Goes Down

Wednesday, December 31st, 1969

I seem to have found a rhythm here in Tours. The days are filled with what you might expect: French class, bread and cheese, and the occasional kîr after classes. My friends (American and otherwise) and I have even found our own French version of Central Perk, a coffee shop where we discuss conjugations, crêpes, and coffee as well as read our French versions of Harry Potter, Sex and the City, and Elle magazine. I myself have returned to J.K. Rowling’s first book only to learn that Hogwarts is called Poudlard in France. Only time will tell if I can adjust to this dramatic shift.

But what happens at nighttime? What goes down after I have finished my homework and eaten dinner with my adopted French family, Les Chaigne? Despite a relatively small size of approximately 130,000 inhabitants, Tours boasts a dynamic nightlife. Every night during the week, including Sunday, numerous restaurants, bars, and clubs open themselves up to French and foreign customers alike.

The hub of activity for l’Institut hovers around La Guinguette, a bar and music venue lying under the stars and seated directly next to the Loire. Lit with luminescent colored blubs that hang from ancient trees, the rainbow glow sets an idyllic stage for an evening filled with good friends and fine wine. There’s even a man with a goat. And behind the mélange of French, Russian, English, Japanese, German, and Spanish spoken among us, a French band plays a music that can only be described as new age banjo; it’s exceptionally catchy. I’m not lying. No, seriously, it is. You’ll have to take my word for it.

As the moon rises, the students part their separate ways depending on their mood for the evening. One night, the salsa club may entice you to swing your hips, and the next, a bar called B52 may dare you to try one of their specialties that you drink while it’s on fire. Or perhaps you would prefer to simply sit by the Loire and watch the water, vibrating with moonbeams, float on by.  If you do, just remember that La Guinguette loves to overcharge you.

The author/Crusader/bonvivant with fellow students of L’Institute de Touraine from the Bahamas, Miaeda, and South Korea, SeungJu, at one of Tours’ various evening venues.

A Scientist in France

Wednesday, December 31st, 1969

Hi Friends!

If you can believe it, my five fellow Crusaders and I have now been in France for two whole months. As such, it is only appropriate that I provide an unbiased evaluation. Lucky for you, I have conducted tenacious analysis and completed daunting qualification of quantitative experiences. I believe a preliminary hypothesis I developed back in Tours (in the clandestine corner of a coffee shop, aptly named The French Coffee Shop), now has sufficient proof to become a theory. And much like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, I am ready to present my results, despite the fact it may not be a law:

Hypothesis (flagrant stereotype):

French cultural norms would be eviscerated with acerbic celerity in the United States.

Experiment (daily observation):

-Lemonade stands are illegal, as is having two jobs. That is not a typo.

-Some days, the newspapers just aren’t printed (oui, vous Le Monde).

-During the month of August, nearly every store is shut down.

-Stores also like to close on Mondays.

-Many businesses, including the post office, take a two-hour lunch break (smoking can take up more time than one might think).

-“Edible” cheese can be entirely moldy, as in completely blanketed in the color green.

-There exist lingerie stores… for men. Just for men, like the hair-coloring product.

-Often times, using the restroom in public places requires payment.

-The notion “pick up after your pet” is more foreign than the terrain of the planet Neptune.

-Bus drivers do not always know their route.

-Teachers do not always provide their students with a book list or bibliography even six weeks into a class.

-Occasionally, one’s cell phone will deliver a message up to four days late.

-Primary school children only have school four days a week. See ya Wednesday!

-Here and there, a waitress will drop a carafe on a child’s head before it shatters on the cobblestones spilling its aqueous contents every which way. I wish I were making this up.

-A strike can happen any time, anywhere. This month’s topic: changing the retirement age from sixty to sixty-two (this month, last month, next month, etc).

-Now and then, a student will answer his or her cell phone in class and proceed to carry on a conversation. The teacher often says nothing.

-Drivers often invent parking spaces if one does not exist. Regard for means of egress or pedestrian accommodation is as real as the Tooth Fairy’s twelve-year-old molars. See image below (not of her molars, silly goose).

creative parking

Analysis (comparison to American daily life):

Due to the litigious and quick-paced nature of the American people and their market-based economy, an average Marylander might find himself somewhat culture-shocked.

Conclusion (my theory):

The French way of life is quite different from that of the typical American. So, yes the aforementioned egotistical, xenophobic hypothesis would be more or less correct. But with refocused global lenses, I may revise my premise a little. The calmer tempo of French daily life that focuses more attention on family and friends is a welcomed change for an adventure-seeking Crusader. For any American, these changes would be difficult, but place a French person in the US, and he or she would have the same difficulty. This is what I call the Weyland Theory of Cultural Relativity. All it takes is some perspective.