Sunday, June 28, 2015

I'm Not Uncle Peter

My dad has a brother who is charismatic, funny, outgoing, pleasant to be around, and very talkative. I don’t think I’ve been with him at a restaurant where he doesn’t address the server by name. He makes everyone feel chummy and comfortable within minutes of the conversation. He genuinely enjoys talking to everyone he meets, and wants to meet everyone he can. My aunt told me while they were staying in China, he would stop people on the street and just keep saying hello until he could get someone to have a conversation with him. Ever since my first couple days here, I decided in my head that if I’m going to learn this language, I’m going to have to be Uncle Peter. I didn’t have any friends, or anyone to talk to on a regular basis-- I just needed to start talking to neighbors, clerks, bus drivers, and anyone I see.

I could think about doing that. It made sense, logically. I wanted to speak the language, and I wanted friends. But real life looks like this: I go to a park and sit on the bench to rest for a minute. A woman walks up and sits on the next bench over. We exchange greetings. I smile. She pulls out some snacks. I stand up to go. She says, “Oh, you don’t need to go because I sat down.” I say that I was just going to head home for lunch myself. I tell her “bon apetit,” and head on my way. As I walk away, all I can think is how that was such a good opportunity to get to know a neighbor and to have a good conversation. But my whole being is shouting “Code red, code red! You don’t know her. Abort. Abort!”

It doesn’t matter the language. I am an introvert. The fact the I am trying to have small talk in a foreign language only makes it more intimidating. Uncle Peter thrives off small talk. He feels great. The new friend feels great. They all come out bubbly and happy and better people. I shrink with small talk. Panic sets in, and there’s nothing in my brain to talk about. Nothing! I am an intelligent person, right? How does my brain go blank because someone I don’t know is talking to me?

I started volunteering this week at Secours Populaire Français (a charity organization). I spent the first 2 days (well, 1/2 days because I teach my online class part-time also) at headquarters going through donations, sorting and listening to the other workers, and doing my best to join in their conversations. Wed through Friday we had an open air market, where I worked at the clothing booth. People would come up and look for clothes. I just had to greet them, help direct them to where specific items of clothing were, tell them prices, and then write up a little receipt for them to take to the cashier. Side note: In my mind I kept thinking how much I’d love my students to be able to do something like that. The real-life version of what I try to create in my classroom! But, back to me. I realized by the second day of selling clothes, that I was comfortably talking to strangers!

I read a book a little while ago about being an introvert/extrovert (It was excellent--I highly recommend it to introverts and extroverts alike!). She talks about how introverts can act as extroverts in specific situations, for a specific purpose. That is what I do every day at work. Beng in France gave me a purpose to have the extrovert spill out. But it wasn’t a specific enough purpose. Yet selling clothes apparently was! I just happily went along fulfilling my little role, marveling at how much I enjoyed it.

And I’ve really enjoyed the little insights to French culture I’ve picked up along the way. One of my fellow co-workers telling a very large customer we have “des grands grands pantalons pour vous.” (very very large pants for him). And this was right after she told me all about how a teanager at the next booth over had just told her overweight granddaughter that she eats too much bread and chocolate (a problem she soothed with ice cream bars for both of them).

My moment of overwhelming popularity came when a British woman wanted to buy lotion. No one could understand her, so they all waved me over to translate. They’d been trying to sell her sunscreen, but I solved the problem! I may have broken, barely functionally fluent French. But it works. And it’s fun!

First Day of Work

Mon June 22, 2015

Today was my first day on the job. I found it really easily, and when I got there, I explained a little about who I was, and that I wanted to volunteer. They got the director (Mireille), and she was really really nice! She showed me around the place, which was a second hand store with clothes, shoes, and a couple other random things, and then some smaller food items and shampoo and personal hygiene stuff for sale. She introduced me to so many people there, in the store front, and showed me the back room where they sort, and the offices where they meet with people and discuss their needs. Then she took me out to the market. Our town has a really big outdoor market every Monday morning, so they have a booth there where they sell the same sort of things, but especially a lot of candies and packaged foods. She told me I could work there, and I stayed for a little while, but it ended up being hard because they didn’t really need me, and I was distracting them from their jobs. So, she took me back to the office and had someone take me with them to their epicerie (small corner store) where they sell produce and other expiring items donated by the grocery stores. I helped there for a little bit, which was fun, but again, they really didn’t need me much. Then when they closed, I went back to the main office, and they actually needed a lot of help because someone had just moved and sent tons of boxes that needed to be sorted. We just went through and took out all the winter things to store, and then got the summer things ready to go on the floor. That part was more fun, but there was one lady there who wasn’t very nice. She wasn’t too terribly mean, but she just treated me like I was a little dumb. Other than that everyone was really nice, and very happy to have me there. Mireille (the president) told me my French is excellent! And when she was introducing me to people she would say things like “I don’t know what she’s doing here, her French is so good! It’s funny because people say things like that, but my French is not very good. Really. I get stuck. I say the wrong things. I can’t express myself. But I guess because my accent is decent, and they generally understand me, and because my French is better than their English, that qualifies me as a great speaker. Whatever...I’ll take it! But I’m glad I have 6 weeks left, so I can get better. I really have come a long way in the last 3 weeks. And I really like having a break at home, and being as American as I want. It was such a blessing to end up here--definitely divine.


Somewhere in the midst of trying to feel a part of life here, we spent a day visiting some family members of the family I'm staying with. I went on a little walk by myself to savor the landscape. The photos don't even begin to capture how beautiful it was. I imagined what it would be like to grow up here, like Matthias did, in a medieval village, with rolling hills of vineyards, pomegranate trees, figs and olive orchards.

And then I saw this tree, so strong and so alone. Of course my mind wandered, and I thought of myself. Of how much courage it takes to cross the world alone, and of how strong I can be. I couldn't stop taking pictures.

 And then I got closer, and saw this:

French Best Friends

June 18, 2015
I went to yoga Mon night, but got the time mixed up, and I got there 20 min after it started, rather than 10min before, like I thought. So I just walked around town and did some more exploring instead. Tues was an American day, and I went into Nimes and went shopping with Holly. Yesterday I mostly worked. And today I worked in the morning, and then went to the volunteer center to try and find some sort of volunteer activity so I can be involved in the community and speak French! I had emailed and asked, and they told me when to come. I went, and even though, according to the sign posted on the door with the hours, they should be open, alas, they were closed. It said they were open from 2:30-5. I got there at 2:45, so I decided to just stroll around town and come back. I looked at some bookshops and clothes stores, and just people-watched and eavesdropped on conversations, longing to be a part of them. I talked to some people in a bookstore, but it’s hard to have a conversation of more than a few min with strangers. I went back to the volunteer center a little before 4, and they still weren’t open, so I just headed home, bummed. I just want to be a part of France. Why won’t it let me in?

On my walk home, I started thinking about all the ways I make friends and become involved in the community at home. Church. Not in my town. And other churches have services at the same time. School, nope. Work, nope. Yoga, nope again. They moved yoga to the park this week, and the teacher took my email address and said she’d email me, and give me a ride. But it’s Thursday, and I never heard back. :( Another fail.

I am really enjoying being here, walking around the village, and spending time with Holly and her family. I really love them, and love living with them. And I don’t really have to learn French for any reason. It could really be the perfect set-up for anyone, living with a great family in a great spot. But I LOVE learning languages. I love being able to communicate with someone from another country in their language--I love the connection it brings. I love hearing how they phrase things, and learning the idioms that reflect their culture. It really brings me so much joy. And I am so close in French. I can understand so much. I can speak well enough to get my ideas across. And I’m in their country, in one of their quaint little villages, but I just don’t know who to talk to.

I’ve thought a few times that I just need to get over it, and start talking to everyone I see. I’ve done it a few times, but it’s very hard, and I don’t really get to practice much, because a conversation with someone on the street is only going to be long enough to ask directions, or if they have a cigarette or lighter (I've been asked that a few times--so European!). Anyway, I realized that the reason I can’t just get myself to do that is that those sorts of conversations are not fulfilling to me. That’s not the part of the language I love. I am an introvert. I don’t enjoy small talk. Even in a foreign language. I crave heart-to-hearts with people I’ve built a trusting relationship with. And that’s what I crave here, in French. I need some French best friends.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


June 9, 2015
Well, that was an adventure! I went to my first French yoga class. I’m beginning to learn the Paris metro system is just representative of France--complicated! It’s like they’re still in the 90’s when it comes to the internet. After much searching I did find information on 3 yoga places. But all they include is a phone number for you to call and find out more information. So much for advertising your business, and posting info so people can come… Anyway, Matthias was really nice, and called them all for me. They told him this one was near the library, so I walked downtown toward the library, but couldn’t find the street it was on. I asked an older couple if they knew the street, and the directed me way back to where I’d come from—it wasn’t close to the library at all, but was on the edge of downtown. So, by the time I got there it was 6:28, and class started at 6:30. The building looked closed, but I opened the door, and there were people inside. Of course the door was at the front near the instructor, and the students were all sitting in a semi-circle facing her. I just opened the door and asked in my lame French if I could do yoga. She smiled and said, “I don’t know, can you?” Arg. At least she was smiling. So I asked if I could come in. She said yes, and seemed happy to have me. She then interviewed me about my experience with yoga in front of the whole class. She asked what kind of yoga I do, and when I said hot, she looked at me like I was crazy. I knew I said it right because everyone has been talking about how hot it is, so it’s definitely a word I know! The guy next to me came to my aid, and said he’d heard of it, and it’s yoga where the room is like 40 degrees. I told her it’s so you can stretch better, and she thought that was interesting. Funny she’d never heard of it! This class was Pradipika yoga. I don’t really know what that means, but it was very different from anything I’d done before. I loved being able to listen and follow along in French though! It was mostly just laying on our mats (which were two matts side-by-side with a blanket over them), and breathing while we lifted our arms and legs over our bodies in different ways. I don’t think I would go back again if it were in English. But since it’s in French, I totally will!
June 11, 2015

I tried out another yoga class today. It’s always such an ordeal to find a new place. I asked an older couple again, and google was telling me to go the wrong way on the round-about. But I figured it out, and found the right building. It was a building for clubs and groups in the town, which is really cool. I went to the reception desk and asked if there was a yoga class. She said no, and that she thought there was one later in the afternoon. I asked what time. She said, no, that’s not the way it works. You can’t just ask what time. You have to look up the group and call them and find out the information. I told her I had called and they 11:15. She said, oh, in that case, check with the dance studio room. Why she couldn’t just direct me to that room to begin with was interesting. French culture again. I walked into the dance studio, and there was a receptionist on the phone, so while I waited to ask her I noticed someone coming down the stairs wearing yoga clothes. I asked her if there was a yoga class. She said she was looking for the same class, and had just checked the room, but it was locked. So we waited for the receptionist who then told us the class was at noon. I didn’t mind too much because I had a French person captive to talk to for 45 min! She was really nice, but after about 15 min, I could see that I probably didn’t have it in me to keep the conversation going that long! Then someone else came looking for the class, and another person came and told us it had been moved to the park. Of course I couldn’t get there because I don’t have a car, but luckily the first woman I had been talking to offered to give me a ride. It was so fun. The park was gorgeous! And I got to do yoga in a foreign language. So many of my favorite things together! The yoga again was pretty different from what I’m used to. I’m beginning to think Americans invented our style of yoga because we want to get exercise and meditation all knocked out at once, and we focus on the exercise aspect more for sure! But the class was very fun. And the teacher offered to give me a ride next week because we’ll be in the park again if it doesn’t rain.  Success!


June 7, 2015
My first big outing on my own was going to church, which was AMAZING! It was by far the best thing I’ve done here. I wish I didn’t have to wait an entire week to go back. I found a cheap train (transportation is really expensive here), and got there really easily, thanks to the help of technology. It was so exciting to spot the building as I walked down the street, and when I walked up the steps, there were a few people standing outside, and they all greeted me. When I walked inside, everyone shook my hand and kissed me (3 kisses in France). Relief Society (meeting with the women together) was first, and everyone introduced themselves, and all were excited to meet me. I felt so loved! I wish church could feel this welcoming for everyone every time. I understood most of the meeting (just got lost a few times during the lesson, when I zoned out). The best moment was when someone I had been talking to asked me why I am here. I said I’m here to learn French, and she said, “Oh no, you already speak French! You can say you’re here to better your French.” They really helped boost my confidence. Why does Sunday have to come only once a week? And I wish it weren’t so far away.
June 15, 2015
I just went to church for the second time today. I still love it so so much. The people are just so warm and welcoming. I may walk in alone, but I’m never alone for a minute once I’m there. It was my second week and it’s like I’ve already been going for months. They all kiss me and check in to see how I’m doing. I found someone in my town to give me a ride, an older man who is really nice. I think it makes him feel really great to be able to come pick me up. He kept telling everyone I have a chauffeur now. The train costs about $25 to take and the bus isn’t very direct and doesn’t pass very often, especially during the summer, and especially on Sundays.

Anyway, today was stake conference (a regional conference). I’m in the Toulouse Stake! It’s so big. This was the first conference they started to broadcast the meetings, so the members were very excited to be able to meet in our building. It’s very expensive and very time consuming to be able to go to Toulouse (3 hrs & 75 euros each way on a speed train).  One of the members today was telling me that only the most dedicated and well-off could go. How sad! He also told me that Ales used to have its own branch, with about 30 members, and that Nimes used to have a really big ward. I asked what happened, and he said he didn’t know, really. I guess a good amount of people have moved, and slowly stopped going. I was so bummed! I would have loved to be part of a little branch here.

But, back to conference. It was so good. Three recently returned missionaries spoke about their experiences. One went to SLC temple square, another to Montreal Canada (speaking Spanish and English!), and I can’t remember where the third one went… But they were so cute. One of them mentioned Miitt Romney. He served his mission in France, so they LOVE him! The mission president and his wife both spoke too, and said their goodbyes because they’re going home in a few days. The president served his mission as a young man in Toulouse also, so he talked about how there was also a stake conference going on in Lyon, which is where they live, but they chose to travel to Toulouse so this mission could end where his last one had 38 years earlier. The stake president closed, and also told a lot of mission stories. He served in Belgium.

Bienvenue en France

I guess I didn’t start writing right away because I’ve been to France before. First impressions of a new country are so much fun to write about.
It was my first time in Paris, though, a city I found to be very user unfriendly. I didn’t have a lot of time, so I thought I would just take the metro and hit up the Eiffel tower and the cathedral of Notre Dame before I took my train down south. It took about an hour to figure out how to leave my luggage at the train station. I had to ask so many people where the luggage lockers were. The people in the information booths were not very informative, and their English was impossible for me to understand. Other people I asked just plain didn’t know. That place is a maze (so much so that I left myself ½ hr to get my luggage out, which I needed because even the second time I had a hard time finding my way back to the lockers). After finally locking up my luggage, I was on my way. I headed across the street to the other train station because it looked like it would be an easier metro ride if I left from there. But by the time I got there, and figured out which route to take, I realized I didn’t know how to actually buy the ticket, nor was there anyone around to ask. So I decided I better skip that and just walk along the river to the Cathedral, and enjoy my time there. Dear Paris, I have used the metros in Mexico City, New York, DC, Moscow, and Madrid with no problem. I definitely speak more French than I do Russian. Why are you so complicated?
Anyway, I did enjoy walking around the cathedral and the streets of Paris, and I even ate a crepe! I kept surprising myself because I actually understood what most everyone said to me during my travels. Between the shuttles and trains and train station, I did just fine! I sat next to a nice man on the train, and had a (very) short conversation with him. That train (a double-decker speed train) took me to Nimes from Paris in 3hrs, and then I hopped on another to go from Nimes to Ales.
Holly picked me up when I got here, and they had dinner all ready when we walked in. Duck, rice and green beans. What a great welcome! I feel so blessed to have been able to stay with them. Holly is American, and Matthias, her husband is French. They also have an adorable little baby, Guy.  They were so welcoming, and have been such great hosts, and we quickly became friends. Their house is very cute, and their town is so quaint.
My first few days here seemed really long. I was working online a lot, which is boring. I don’t like just sitting in a room working on the computer for hours, especially when it’s France outside. I took some breaks and spent some time exploring the town with Holly. But it has been hard not having any other friends.

One of the things Holly and I did was go to a retirement home because in my mind I thought that sounded like the best thing I could do to practice speaking—just go hang around with older people who don’t have anything to do other than speak! I’m so glad I didn’t venture out and try to do that one on my own. I would have just said something super simple like, “I’m American and I am here to learn French. Can I talk to the people here to practice?” But even with Holly there explaining in great detail, they still didn’t know what to do with us. They kept saying that they didn’t know how that would be possible, and they didn’t know who we could talk to about that. And that it’s so complicated! They suggested city hall, and the tourist information desk. It was so funny. Definitely my first major culture clash.