A brief trip back to Summer 2011 and I'm in France, on the cote d'azur, sitting on a train with a massive suitcase, freaking out as I realise that those strange nasal sounds I am hearing are indeed French. Oh crap. Sitting on that train, it seemed like nothing.
I had been in Italy for three months, then in what seemed like a flash, realised it what time to cram in an intensive French programme in Antibes. I remembered what it felt like to be back in that terrifying yet thrilling period when everything people say is gobbledygook. I'd been studying French alone on and off for 3 months, I knew the present, conditional, past, and imperfect tenses. Suddenly a panicked voice came through the loudspeaker, interrupting the usual location announcements 'blah blah French words PICKPOCKETS'. Uncomfortably I squeezed into a corner guarding my valuables with snakelike eyes.
I failed miserably at asking for directions to my accommodation in French. Well, I asked them in a reasonable manner, but the kind lady searched for directions using her android then pulled a puzzled face and said something too long and incomprehensible for me to understand. I was relieved that my taxi driver knew exactly where I needed to go, and felt obliged to tell me (in a French I could understand) about how much he loved the English. Arriving and settling down in my beautiful accommodation, I thought about my taxi driver's genuine enthusiasm and was reminded of the stereotypical ideas of the French and their culture, and thought it was time to question them. Despite having visited France as a tourist many times throughout my childhood, I was always positive of certain aspects about the French, and enthralled by the illusion of the French way of life.
Besides studying for 6 hours a day at le centre international d'Antibes, I found a lot of time to walk around the old town of Antibes, and the not so charming, rather tacky area, Juan Les Pins. On my first day I wanted to do as the locals did, so woke up at 6.30am just to get to the best boulangerie nearby to pick up a fresh pain au raisin and half baguette, then to the deli next door to pick up some rather pungent goats cheese. I felt let down whilst trying to understand French customers talking with the cashier, or failing to understand 'would you like the receipt in your bag?'. On my induction day our guide kept cracking jokes (I would presume they were jokes, given that the people surrounding me were laughing) which I didn't understand. But things got better, by the end of a fortnight I could explain that my neighbour was robbed last night in comprehensible French.
The trip was not only linguistically useful, yet enlightening. I discovered that those beautiful pink biscuits 'roses de Reims' are just tarty savoiardi biscuits, that people are usually saying 'Merd' or 'Putain' when you think they are having a deep philosophical conversation, that those beautiful sleepy Medieval French hill towns are not inhabited by the French but an army of restless tourists. That said, the French have impressed me with their pedestrian zones, exquisite sweet morning goods and methods of creating presenting goods in an alluring manner.