(French) Words with Friends
No, I’m not talking about the extremely popular app/game that so many people play. I’m talking about spending time speaking enormous amounts of a second language with new friends and how speaking foreign words with friends can be intimidating, but offer great experiences and cultural insight if you can get past the fear of sounding like a buffoon.
I think that no matter how good of a traveler you are, it’s hard to meet locals. Yeah, you can stay at hostels – but you’re meeting travelers, and while that’s fun, it doesn’t provide the opportunity to really get to know a culture. I’ve been fortunate enough to have family stays in Senegal and France, and was able to gain incredible cultural insight to those 2 places during college. But it wasn’t until I found myself reconnecting with the one French friend I made while living in Strasbourg that I realized just how difficult it is to meet and befriend locals when you’re constantly on the move. I am also extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to study a second language to the point of near-fluency because without it, traveling in francophone countries wouldn’t nearly be as interesting.
Reconnecting After 10 Years
Have you ever made a friend at one point in your life and thought that you may never see that person again? Well even though I was sure that at some point in my life I would go back to France, I was never sure I’d get to see my friend Olivier. So when Jon and I figured that he would go to Olympia for 10 days and I had a blank slate but needed to be in central Italy at the beginning of September, I decided to go to visit this old friend.
What a great decision. Olivier helped me remember how important it is to keep contact with people you’ve known throughout your life. Even if you shared a short time, it’s part of your past and adds to the constitution of you – so being with them again is a good reminder of where you’ve been and how you got to where you are.
The Social Life
I also realized this week how unaccustomed I am to socializing! I know that sounds funny, but when you’ve spent 8 months with only your spouse (which is NOT a bad thing), I kinda forgot about the act of going out, dinner parties, board games and so forth. What was amazing to me about the last week was how much of that happened. As in, we went out every night. It was either to friends houses, people came over, we went to hear music or even on the last night attended a “grande soirée noir” (black party) on the beach. I guess during summer on the Cote d’Azur people go out all the time. It was hard to keep up, I’m kinda a homebody at times and found myself just wanting to watch a movie at night.
But what did surprise me about all of these late nights out was how genial, kind, welcoming and warm everyone was. I felt by the second night like an old friend with no less than a dozen people and was always greeted with smiles, a kiss kiss on each cheek and enthusiastic curiosity about travels, differences between America and France and so on. The only thing that couldn’t keep up was my brain – which seemed on overdrive for this crash course French immersion.
So my week wasn’t defined at all by beach time (although I could have used a bit more, but apparently the coast was affronted by “le mistral” a strong wind), sunny cafés or long multi-course french lunches. It was defined by card games, lots of conversations (and me fumbling through trying to remember my vocab) and the hearty sarcasm and love of discussion, laughing and camaraderie that the French enjoy. That the French have stamina for such regular socializing is amazing to me and I now have a healthy respect for just the act of talking at length about anything (although sometimes I wish they’d cut it out when I’m waiting in line to buy something!).
Toulon & Six Fours Les Plages
I can’t tell you if this marathon socializing exists all over France, but it was great to experience it mixed with what life is like in small town cote d’azure/french mediterranean coast life. It’s August and so everyone is still on vacation. This means more time for sitting and chatting for hours, beach volleyball and driving around to visit friends. I took part in all of this (minus the beach volleyball – they’re kinda serious about it) and again while I felt exhausted by all the chatting, was happy to see how people enjoy life during the summer.
Toulon is a nice mid-sized city. Six Fours is basically a beach village, and the real gem of the area is Sanary which is complete with a tiny wood-boat filled port, winding streets, charming shops and the relaxed atmosphere you’d expect of Southern France – without the luxury of the Riviera (that’s coming in the next post). It was the non-glitzy part of the Cote d’Azur and I’m glad to have experienced it.
Next stop is Rome. Yes, Rome. I arrived this evening. I can’t even imagine the grandeur and enormity of this city and am nervous and excited to see it all at the same time.
Until then, bisous et à bientot.