Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lesson 3 : If they say something is "just around the corner"'s probably not

Europeans have a different view on distances than Americans. Most of us aren't used to walking everywhere all the time because we have these fabulous things called CARS! We take this simple luxury so forgranted, and never fully realize it until our vehicles are ripped away from us to go study abroad.

You know, for a while the whole not having a car thing didn't bother me. The weather in Vichy was cool most  of the time, though it did rain a lot. I never had to worry about it being hot outside. I will admit, however, that the town is vastly bigger than the OU study abroad office made it sound.

"Oh yes, Vichy is a quaint little town and everything is within a short walking distance. You'll love it!"

No. Everything is not within a SHORT walking distance. The necessities are relatively close, except for the Monoprix  (the French version of Target you could say) and Sephora which housed many of my, and the other girls, necessities.

After a few days we all got used to walking everywhere: the grocery store, restaurants, class, the train station, and the bars. We overcame our innate laziness and adapted to the European style of walking to freaking Jerusalem and back everyday. I'm not going to lie, I started loving it. My clothes fit looser, and the fresh air did me good. I finally came to understand why America is so fat. Unless you live in New York or another massive city with public transportation, you probably don't walk anywhere. So yes, walking can actually be fun if you don't live in Oklahoma were it's 8 billion degrees outside.

This one particular evening though, we decided to be adventurous. It was Friday night and we wanted to go to the horse races. I mean it's France, right? We wanted to do something classy and what not. We dressed up all cute and met in the dorms so we could walk over to the arena together.

our dorms!

 I was being lazy that day and decided to not wear a dress. But being me, I had to wear heels to compensate for the lack of "fanciness" in my outfit choice. There were eight of us that decided to go to the horse races, and none of us knew where the arena even was.

Travis, me, Diana, Madeline, Katherine, Paige and Jon

We headed in the general direction because someone told us it was just a "little ways" past the river. The river itself took about 30 minutes to get to, and because it was just my luck, it decided to be disgustingly hot that night. I was dying and sweating like man, and complaining to everyone who would listen. I started walking slower, and slower, and my feet felt like they had been bandaged and shoved under a boulder by crazy Chinese women. Needless to say, the rest of the group was far ahead of me, and my best friend Derrick had gone back to the dorms to try to find our friend Jennifer.

Jon, the self proclaimed "southern gentleman" of the group, decided to walk with me. We talked about pretty much everything, even my dad dying which I normally don't talk about. I can be reserved but Jon, and all the others, eventually got me to open up. I think they figured out that if they harassed me long enough I would start being myself around them. Derrick probably told them - we became best friends freshman year at OU in English class.

Anyway, after miles and miles worth of conversation, Jon decided to give me his Sperry's and go barefoot. Twenty minutes later though, the road had gotten the best of his feet and I surrendered his shoes so he wouldn't die. It was a kind gesture from him, nevertheless.

After what seemed like three hours (I will never know how long that walk actually was), we made it to the damn horse races. We decided to sit in the grass, as close to the horses as possible, and I immediately ditched the high heels.

Jon, me, and Travis being an idiot

There was a fashion show beforehand, and everyone in the arena was dressed like they were at the Kentucky Derby. That's when we realized that we were living in the "bad part" of Vichy, and this arena was in the good part. So we'd survived a week in the French ghetto? What badasses.

About a half an hour later, Derrick and Jennifer finally found us. I was relieved to see I wasn't the only one who was an idiot and wore heels. Despite the fact that Jennifer's, and my, feet were sliced open and oozing like Thanksgiving turkies, we had a good time.

Jennifer, Derrick, and me

Then the race was over.

I tried my hardest to put the heels back on, but it was just not happening.

"What are you doing? Are you really walking barefoot all the way back?"

Derrick was, of course, concerned about my vile sliced up feet getting diseases from all the "nasties" that walk around France. Being the protective brother type, Derrick gave me his shoes, and he tried to stuff his feet in my size 5 1/2 Gianni Bini's. It didn't work out, so he just walked around in his socks.

If I thought the journey there was bad, the way back was almost as horrid. At least I had on shoes though, so I can't complain too much. Poor Jennifer had to keep her shoes on most of the way, because although Jon tried to be a badass and give her his, he just couldn't take walking on the gravel. He did let Jennifer lean on him for a while so she wouldn't collapse from sheer pain. Derrick was a trooper and let me keep his shoes the entire way back. I probably would have died if he hadn't. Have you ever had to walk in heels with open wounds? It's excruciating.

Derrick near the end of our walk back

So friends, when the Europeans tell you something is just around the corner... DO NOT under any circumstances believe them. Call a taxi.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


There are some things you just shouldn't have to ask people. Flushing the toilet is one of them.

HOW TO FLUSH THE TOILET - You would think this would be obvious...but as I've mentioned in all of my posts, sleep deprivation makes you an idiot. European toilets are weird, and I've seen a variety of different ways to flush them. Why they have so many different ways, I'll never understand.

Type A : Toilets with a silver box thing over them - I only saw this kind of toilet in my French dorm...which was super old by the way, so it was quite outdated. The silver box caused me confusion that first day. I kept pushing on the upper half of the box, but you have to push on the lower half. You have to be forceful otherwise it won't flush. I tried to find a picture of it on Google but unfortunately I couldn't! So if you ever see a box on the wall above the toilet, just punch it.

Type B : Toilets with the white square on the top - This one is the easiest. You just push down on the square.

Type C : Toilets with the silver button on top - Now, depending on the toilet you will either lift up on the silver button or just push down.

Type D : Train toilets - Okay, the bathrooms on the trains are kind of weird. It almost looks like a space cubicle or something just sitting in a random corner. It has buttons to open/close the door as well as flush the toilet. Sometimes the buttons don't like to work, which is always a lovely occasion. Basically just keep pressing random buttons until it does what you want.

gotta love Google images

it's a little more confusing when the buttons aren't in English

Friday, September 10, 2010

Lesson # 2 - Get there AT LEAST 2 days before you have class

I mentioned how worthless I am when sleep deprived, right? Someone should have impressed upon me how FREAKING IMPORTANT it is to get to Europe 2 or 3 days before you actually have to do crap. I have never been so tired in my life than when I finally got to my dorm in Vichy.

behold, my french dorm

Most of us had been awake literally almost 48 hours, and we were losing it. At around 9 the first night there, I had unpacked most of my things and taken a shower. I tried to pass out on my bed but I was to the point where I was so exhausted that I couldn't fall asleep. So I layed there. For hours. Then I started freaking out because it was so hot in the room. In my delusional state, I finally remembered people in Europe have to sleep with their windows open. Such a foreign concept for most Americans. I have to admit it was kind of lovely feeling the natural air come through the window. After what seemed like a million hours, I drifted off to sleep.

Then my alarm went off at 7 because all the new students had to go take French placement tests. Kill me. Part of that placement test was an interview, in French of course. Some of the group had been there for a couple weeks by that point so they were well adjusted to the time difference. The rest of us jetlagged idiots hadn't even been in Vichy an entire day yet. All I wanted to do was sleep for the next 15 hours but no, I had to try to take a test and babble to French people. The written part of the test wasn't too bad, though I almost fell asleep in it a few times.

The interview...sucked. Words cannot describe just how mentally and physically exhausted I was. I did not possess any ability to have a coherent conversation at that point, especially not in French. I tried for about 30 seconds to speak to the lady interviewing me, and then I just started talking in English. I didn't want to do it - to be that American that doesn't even try. But the whole speaking in a foreign language thing just wasn't going to fly then. Fortunately she was very understanding and didn't think I was being rude, but it was still embarrassing nevertheless.

After everyone was done taking their tests, we were then informed we had to go to class for the next 3 and a half hours.

the building where I had class

Obnoxious. All I could think about was SLEEP!! I decided I probably shouldn't skip my first class though, so I went. Let me just say, people are obsessed with America and they asked me a million questions. One guy even asked why I was so tired. Seriously? Everyone in my class was super nice, but again my sleep deprevation was getting the best of me. It was really hard to try to speak, and to understand the other students because most of them were Korean. It took me a couple days to get used to their accents.

me and a couple of the girls in my class

We had a two hour break for lunch everyday which was fabulous. After class the first day I immediately went back to the dorms and called my mom. I was freaking out and crying on the phone...again due to the lack of sleep. It was 5 in the morning in Oklahoma mind you. I probably cried for about 45 minutes talking to my mom and wondering why in the heck I thought I wanted to study abroad. Mom eventually got me to calm down and convinced me I should skip my second class that day so I could sleep. I got off the phone, kept crying, and passed out on my bed.

That was the most wonderful nap of my life. I didn't wake up til around dinner, and I felt much more mentally stable. All the OU people went out to eat together and I realized I was going to love studying abroad. In the next few weeks they all became like my second family.

Moral: Get there EARLY so you can SLEEP all you want and not act like an irrational weirdo and call crying to your mommy and run up the phone bill.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lesson # 1 : NEVER carry an "American size" suitcase

Growing up in the south, most of us pick up on the "bigger is better" mentality at a young age. This doesn't work in Europe...especially when it pertains to suitcases.

The night before I left for Vichy, I distinctly remember my mom asking me if I really needed to take all of "that stuff" with me.

"Obviously mom, I'm going to be gone for a month. And yes, I do need a different outfit for everyday...who do you think I am?!"

I could kill myself for saying that.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have absolutely no arm strength, so why I thought I could deal with a big ass suitcase and a giant duffle bag is beyond me. Thankfully I had enough common sense to fly with my friend Travis (who I'd never met before at that point...9 hours on a plane tends to make people BFFs) and he was given the lovely job of helping me deal with my luggage when we got to Paris. We met up with two of the others in our group, Derrick and Lauren, at the airport and then had to take a 40 minute bus ride to La Gare de Lyon.

that suitcase I have....unnecessary.

Now let me tell you why carrying ungodly amounts of luggage sucks. First of all, everyone stares at you because they know only an American would be that stupid. They won't say anything rude, infact they'll probably help you, but secretly they're thinking you're a moron. What OU failed to mention to us was the fact that the aisles on many of the trains are FREAKISHLY TINY.

see the lack of space between the seats? and this a train that had a relatively "big" aisle.
Seriously.. if any of us had been much bigger we wouldn't have fit on that train. So there we all are with our Texas sized suitcases, dragging them sideways down the aisle while cursing to ourselves for being such idiots. I'm sure it was quite entertaining to the spectators who witness this so often. Not so entertaining for us though considering we hadn't slept in almost two days. On top of that, this train didn't have have airconditioning. Some of them do but it's nothing like what we're used to. I was cranky. No one should have to be sleep deprived and not have modern conveniences, it's just rude.

me hating life and wanting a nap

We had a three hour ride south til we got to Vichy. Once we finally got situated in our fancy compartment, (1st class was all that was left) we were delirious and started pretending we were on our way to Hogwarts. We had a grand old time speaking in British accents, taking in the pretty French scenery, and randomly shouting "wingardium leviosa!"  We finally got to our stop and all was well, until we had to get our luggage off that damn train.

Another thing that was failed to be mentioned to us was the fact that, unless you're going TO Paris, the train only stops for two minutes at each place. Why didn't we notice this the past three hours on the train you ask?
A. Sleep deprevation  and  B. Insanity. 

Travis and Lauren somehow managed to get off the train in time. Derrick and I on the other hand, did not. We just stood there staring at each other, and started cursing again, until some hot train conductor came to help us. Another misconception about the French is that they can all speak English. They can't. I tried my best to tell him what happened, but when I haven't slept I'm pretty much worthless. It would have been an easy conversation had I not been insane by that point. By the grace of God I was at least able to at least tell him we needed to go to Vichy to go to school. Hot guy wrote stuff on our tickets and told us we needed to get on another train in Clermont-Ferrand, but that we wouldn't have to pay anything. At least I can still comprehend French when I'm delusional. Derrick and I waited by the door and as soon as it stopped, we hurled those suitcases right out the train and jumped off.

Moral of the story: you might have a different outfit everyday you're there, but you will want to kill yourself at the thought of your journey back home with your big ass suitcase.