Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Livin' and Lovin' La Vie Francaise

Well I am about to head off again at the end of the week for another amazing adventure and thought it was about time to sit down with the latest updates on France before I am swept off to Zurich, Munich, and London on my second spring break.

The past few weeks here have been amazing, some of the most incredible in the history of my 23 years here on Earth. I picked my French life up much where I had left it after Amsterdam, but with an added degree of comfort and a pressing desire to throw myself into the French life. While the Americans I have been hanging out with divided themselves into two categories: those who love France and those who are barely surviving it, I found myself squarely in the middle... until last week. I am not sure what changed, if anything changed at all, if I was finally ready, or if I suddenly opened my eyes to something that had been there all along, but the verdict is in and I have absolutely fallen in love with France. I spent one long night in my room feeling like a failure for speaking as much English as I do here, wondering if I'll ever be anything other than an American slob here, and cursing everything I don't understand and could never be. And then I chose... I chose to step into my life here whatever that may look like and however scary it may be. I chose to force myself to speak French even though it's hard and there's so much I don't understand. I chose to live a French life, as best I could, even though I'll never quite fit in. I went to sleep, and I woke up in peace, my thoughts flowing easily in French. I told my American friends that I wouldn't be around as much because I want to let France happen to me, rather than carving out my own and different place here for the sake of comfort. All I had to do was choose, and the miracles started to arise...

Last week my friend heard about a poetry slam at one of our local bars and immediately I told her I wanted to go with her. How exciting to get to hear live French poetry! As a poet I had a secret thought in the back of my head that it would be the coolest thing ever if I could actually pull off writing and performing a poem in French. Never having performed my own poetry and never having written a poem in French, I had no idea if I would even be capable, but having thrown myself into this French life, I had to try. Anyone who has ever written poetry knows that you cannot simply sit down to write a poem and expect it to come. Poetry is gentle and you must be patient with it; it arrives in its own time. Sitting in class the day before the slam, I still had nothing, when suddenly my poem begins to birth itself. Trying desparately to multi-task, keeping up with my lessons and scribbling furiously on some scratch paper off to the side, I found my poetic voice in France, in French no less. I didn't want to try to write a poem to compete with the French in their own language, which I knew I could never do. I wanted to write something that was truly me, an American girl studying here, lost in French culture, simply trying my best to make sense of the world. Here is what I found:

Je ne parle pas bien le francais!

Je ne peux pas parler le francais.
J'essaie, mais c'est vrai.

J'ai beaucoup de choses a dire,
je vais commencer...

Ici, la France, c'est pas chez moi,
les etrangers sont tres differents.
Je veux, ici, etre a laise,
mais je ne comprends pas la vie francaise.

J'aime bien la nourriture,
les tres belle villes, les petites voitures.
La joie de vivre est vraiment reele
et je pense que les gens sont genial.

Mais moi, je ne suis pas francaise,
et je fait beaucoup de choses mauvaise.

Pardon, pardon, j'habite ici,
j'ai essaye,
mais je n'ai pas compris.

En fait...

Je parle trop fort
je souris toujours
je suis trop saoule
j'ai tort encore.

Je suis plus grosse que les femmes francaise,
mes vetements sont scandaleux.

Je ne veux pas vous offenser,
mais je ne peux pas vraiment changer.

Je veux apprendre a parler le francais,
mais tous mes amis parlent andglais.
Je ne connais personnes, les jeunes francais,
ils sont gentils mais plutot fermes

Je veux avoir des amis francais,
mais ce n'est pas facile de les rencontrer.

Je veux leur dire:
Parlez avec moi.
Soyez mes copains.
Je suis nouvelle en France
et je ne sais pas!

Je suis contente ici, a Rennes.
Je trouve la France assez bien,
mais d'etre americaine est ineluctable,
et tout le temps...
Je suis comme je suis!

S'il vous plait, aimez-moi la France!

and for those of you who don't speak French... (keep in mind that things don't translate exactly)

I don't speak French well!

I can't speak French,
I try, but it's true.

I have a lot of things to say,
I'm gonna start...
Listen up.

Here, France, it's not my home,
foreigners are very different.
I want, here, to be at peace,
but I don't understand French life.

I really like the delicious food,
the beautiful cities, the little cars.
The joy of life is truly real,
and I think the people are really cool.

But me, I am not French,
and I am constantly screwing things up.

Excuse me, excuse me, I live here
I tried,
but I didn't understand.

In fact...

I talk too loud
I smile all the time
I laugh too much
I'm wrong AGAIN.

I'm fatter than French women,
my clothes are scandalous.

I don't want to offend you,
but I can't really change.

I want to learn to speak French,
but all my friends speak English.
I don't know anyone, the young French folk,
they're nice, but rather closed.

I want to have French friends
but it's not easy to meet them.

I want to say to them:
Talk to me.
Be my friends.
I'm new in France,
and I don't know!

I'm happy here, in Rennes.
I find France pretty cool,
but to be American is inescapable,
and all the time...
I am who I am.

Please, love me France!

Terrified out of my mind, but equally determined, I stepped up to the mic not knowing at all what would come of it. I practiced night and day for the day and a half before the slam and wanted nothing more than to read my poem like I knew I could. I had asked the cute boy across the hall to check the poem grammatically and even showed it to a teacher for further imput. (She loved it so much she told me she made a copy for herself to keep.) Confident that it was at least solidly written, I stood there, not as a sad immitation of all the beautiful French poets performing that night, but as an American, a poet in my own right, trying her best to fit into this French world. I began and even as I had only spoken the title, the crowd began to laugh (not an easy feat in a French crowd) and though I was scared to death, my voice didn't tremble at all. I recited it like a true French poem, pronouncing the words differently as you would only do in songs or poetry, though with a bit of my unavoidable American accent. By halfway through my hand was shaking so much that the paper was moving inches up and down and I had to switch hands, but my voice stayed strong to the end. The crowd loved it... they laughed at all the right moments and hooped and hollered at the end. Every inch of my body was shaking as I walked back to my seat and collapsed into the arms of my American friends. I read it beautifully, like I knew I could. My first French poem, my first poetry slam, in France, in French.

After my reading, which was indeed a plea to the French to accept me, at least 4 or 5 young French people made the effort to talk to me. Amazing!! (It's almost impossible to get a French person to talk to a stranger.) My friends were so proud they were nearly in tears and sat around for the next few hours like proud parents talking about what I had just accomplished. My darling friend Dan, generally cynical to the end, told me that this is one of the stories he would tell to all his friends, "you won't believe what one of my friends in France did..." Breaking through his natural tendancy to be relatively unimpressed by everything, he said I better be as proud of myself as I should be and feel on top of the world because what I had just done was amazing! I was. On the way out I said goodbye to the bartender who we know fairly well. He told me that he has hosted a few of these slams and sometimes Americans try to read poetry at them but it never goes over very well. My reading, he said, was the best he'd ever seen of any American. To quote Loic: "You really worked your magic on them." It was incredible!

Since then, since stepping into France, since truly taking on my life here, every day has brought wonderful surprises. Every day I meet more and more French friends as I put myself out there in an effort towards immersion. On the way back from the market down the street the other day, I ran into three different French kids who I've recently made friends with and stopped to chat with each of them and do the petite bise (kiss kiss). I am excited to head off to Switzerland, Germany, and England where I am sure to encounter many more amazing things (my brain could truly use a short break from so much French), but I am even more excited to return here, home to Rennes, et ma vie francaise.

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