JBAF: August 2007

August 15, 2007

As I sit here waiting almost three hours for my flight to take off, I realize the majority of my body still has no idea what’s about to happen to my life. I won’t be seeing my family or Brittany anytime soon; I begin to realize that all the cheering up I got from so often recently won’t be as constant and my life will need to be occupied in different ways.

It’s difficult to contemplate and fully understand what’s happening. I’m actually going to live in another country for nine months and only see the ones I love in person on one occasion (if that). Intellectually, I realize this isn’t a big deal.. I’m not going to war, I’m blessed to have this opportunity; but I’m still scared. Whether something is scary about the fact that things may not be how I left them when I return, or what might happen to me while I’m gone, or the same things that have made me want to burst into tears so often the last few days; I don’t know, and I’m not sure I ever will once I’m settled in and having the time of my life.

I never thought I’d be so uncaring of public displays of tears, either. From two different breakfasts this morning to parting ways with six different people in an all too blatant manner, I don’t wonder why I feel dehydrated and ready to just collapse. I didn’t realize I was capable of such emotion. My manhood is being compromised, I’d better take control.

The most ironic but welcoming thing happened upon entering the airport this morning. I was in a very gloomy mood all morning, but luckily my family was doing an amazing job at keeping optimistic and making dropping me off the smallest deal possible. I was worried that there would be way too many tears from all this unspoken denial on the way down here, but thankfully irony struck it’s chord...

Airport police officers decided to have a random car search morning, and guess what car they chose? Not the truck with the suburban bro-hound stickers on them, not the black Escalade, but the Toyota Rav 4 that sat five but held six passengers. What wasn’t visible to the cops as they opened our back door was my little brother, laying down in the equivalent of the trunk (but a part of the cab of the car nonetheless) because of the lack of room and seatbelts. “Hmm, there aren’t any seatbelts back here…” one of the cops muttered, as the other chuckled and walked around front. After my dad explained the situation, the cop understood and let us take off, but the irony and “Little Miss Sunshine” flashback made us laugh until we parted ways less than an hour later. The laughter and one last family story made me very happy and reassured; it was good to see everyone smile.

So hear I sit, waiting for the plane to board (twenty more minutes), wondering where my emotions will take me next and if I’ll actually be able to sleep on the plane due to the zero hours of sleep I decided to take in last night.

À bientôt.

August 16, 2007

I thought I was a lot better at French than I actually am, as it turns out. Part of the problem was choking up half the time and getting scared, so I’d just say whatever was important in English since I figured they’d understand. Much of the time I’d be trying to muster up a response after they’d say something to me, and then they’d realize I suck and they’d say it in English (RIGHT as my mind finally comprehended what they said!).

That’s all I have time for tonight, I’ll try to write a longer one Friday or Saturday.

August 17, 2007

Basically today I walked to a little café stand with some new friends and we bought 3 omelettes for breakfast- but the cool thing was they came in a big delicious little loaf of bread like a sandwich. I'll take a picture next time I get one. I ended up having no need for the croissant I also bought, which cost me a euro AND a good amount of carbs I didn't need.

After that were two long boring hours of orientation and my teachers talking too much about the simplest issues that are already written on the "syllabus." After that, I headed here to the internet café for a bit, then headed to the tour of Aix that some other Americans and I missed, so we walked around town a little more being the annoying foreign-language-speaking tourists.

I had a chance dire un garçon j'était désolé parce-que je m'asseyais à une table quand il est venu pour prendre ma commande (we were tired and didn't realize it was rude). I got a little more comfortable ordering my tunos sandwiche (ground beef, cheese, onion) which was absolutely DELICIOUS (as is most the food, I hate to say I actually noticed, when I didn't think I would). The guy at the phone place talked to us a bit, claiming his English was "broken," which was true, but not any more broken than our French, as I tried telling him to his delight to hear me try to speak French.

After that I felt a little more comfortable telling the guy here at the internet café that I'm a member (je suis un membre, mon prenom est Jordan, j'ai mon portable)... I'm sure I still don't sound very grammatically correct but it's a good feeling knowing I'm actually communicating... Better than at the airport when getting a blank look when asking for d'eau and having to just say "uhh, water?" Oh, well.

I will write again Sunday most likely, because a few of us may be taking a train to the beach in

Marseille on Saturday.

August 18, 2007

This morning I went to le Parc Jourdan to do some types of exercise. I was expecting to at least be able to do some pull-ups, but all I could manage were some dips and pushups. It was really weird because I saw all kind of bum possessions, and areas, but no bums. The pigeons were so loud but there was literally no other sound to be heard. It was an interesting little experience. I’m hoping to find another park where I can do pull-ups or something. After that I went back to the dorms (such a long walk) and picked up German (that’s his name) and Aaron and we decided to walk to get some breakfast, when some funny things happened.

First, I got a random bloody nose and we had to ask a Casino (little market) owner for some paper towels. We didn’t know how to say paper towels, so we asked for napkins and got a confused look. Luckily, German knows some good French and is very proficient at it so he takes care of us with all that (not good; I know). It was an awkward situation, though, because we didn’t know how people react to bloody noses out here… There aren’t many public bathrooms and it’s not very common to just be rude and use a shop’s bathroom without buying any food or anything. But this woman was nice about helping out at least.

Next, we saw some guy who looked like he was walking home from going shopping and he totally tripped over the curb and ate it. We weren’t sure what to do, I didn’t want to go grab him to help him up in case he thought I was trying to mug him. I asked German how to ask if he’s okay and he said he wasn’t sure. We looked amongst ourselves wondering what to do and German just decided to go up to him and ask him, “Ça va monsieur?” This is essentially the equivalent to “How’s it going, sir?” The man gave an angry response along the lines of “How do you think I’m doing, I just fell!” We started walking away then in embarrassment but we think we heard another lady come up to him and ask the same thing (ça va) to him, but we weren’t sure.

After that, we went grocery shopping for tomorrow (everything’s closed on Sundays) and bought some water, bread, microwavable meals that don’t need refrigerating, cereal, granola bars, tuna, eggs, and a few other things. At the bakery, we got three baguettes (thin loaves of bread) and 3 croissants for only 2 euros. We thought he must have given us too much change but it turns out that bread is just what is cheap here. I can’t think of the equivalent in America… I’m thinking maybe hamburgers?

On top of all that, it feels as if I've walked a minimum of 8 miles since we got here less than three days ago. It's gotta be over two miles roundtrip to the place they're having us stay, plus the walking throughout the day in the city adds up. It's a wonder they eat so much bread; it's needed.

August 19, 2007

I woke up at 4:30pm after only going to bed around 2am… It was funny, though, getting up and showering thinking it was still early, and then talking to some other California people who said they were going to get Chinese food. I then went to the kitchen to make some eggs (to my surprise the other people in there were not making breakfast foods). It wasn’t until I looked at my computer clock at 5:15 that I realized how late it was. I know it wasn’t the jetlag that made me sleep in, since I made even with that right away, but I think it was the fact that I knew everything was closed (this is Sunday) and I’d have nothing to do all day encouraged my subconscious mind to stay asleep.

Had some good bonding time with some other Californian students tonight (with the help of d’alcool) and I know we’ll have a fun year.

August 20, 2007

It's funny how pretty much every one of us Americans feels most at home in the Internet Gamer Place/Café... If you need to find another American, just head to ProGamers, and you're guaranteed to find at least one of us on Myspace or something. It cracks me up. It's a lot more comfortable and homey than the dorms as well.

My French seems to be better when I've had a little to drink, oddly enough. I just must not be as scared so it flows smoother. I should be finding out where I'll be living by the end of this week, Friday at the latest; I'm excited to finally get settled in. Last night a few of us all had a nice little bonding session where we all got closer. I can see how study-abroad-mates are best friends for life once they come back, there's just so much to talk about and have in common.

With the help of Holly and Sarah, it was brought to my attention that I don’t have a whole lot of fashion sense. Really?

They told me I needed clothes that I could go out in and such, including shoes (I suggested cheap Foot Locker, they suggested some expensive French store)… So they took me to H & M I think it’s called, and while I searched down the block for a bathroom, the two of them picked out a bunch of pants for me and made me try each one of them on and show them. After waiting in line, the attendant told me (in French) something along the lines of “go ahead as soon as there is an empty one.” I mistook that for “go ahead to changing room X” and just assumed that I didn’t hear what room and I’d figure it out… Once I noticed there weren’t any available rooms I returned to her and between a few “uhhs” and finger snaps and a “Comment?” she said again the same thing, with a word sounding like “complete” at the end. It all clicked, at that point. My embarrassment was now shattering through the roof, I felt so ridiculous shopping and trying on clothes. I hadn’t planned on going clothes shopping once.

The first pair were so tight on my legs that I could see my quadriceps giggle with every movement and I refused to come out to show them. I liked the rest of them and decided to go with some nice dark, “nice” jeans that would make me acceptable for going out, according to them. Whatever. Then they made me try on this long sleeve shirt to complement the jeans and they suckered me into getting that too. All in all, I am now a few Euros shorter than where I wanted to be at this point, but I’m one pair of pants  and a long sleeve shirt farther.

We had the Academic Orientation yesterday, and learned that we’ll be in 100% French spoken classes with kids from all over the world, none of which know any more French than we do. I asked our counselor lady Rosalie how we’d figure out what we’re learning and she told me that it’s part of the experience. It should be interesting, I’m very excited. We also get 5 semester units for this Prep. Language Program in September, so that’s a total of 35 units I’ll be returning to CSULB with.

After the meeting, we walked all along the suburban area of Aix, where most of the people seem to live. It’s really kind of ghetto, sadly. It was a good four mile walk which totaled yesterday up around 6 altogether, all done in sandals.

After our walk, we ran into Rosalie’s husband who told us it was her birthday and didn’t want us to know, so we went into a French bakery and bought a delicious looking peach tart cake. We walked it to her office, where she shared it with us. It was okay. That’s when she recommended I buy some shoes and longer pants for the winter and the girls chimed in with her, which prompted our visit to the clothing store. Blah.

Food: eating out is getting ridiculous. A sandwich is basically bread with a tiny bit of jambon or poulet on it, with a good amount of cheese. I need more meat! The best so far has been the steak haché, which is the ground beef patty, fries, onions, and ketchup sandwich. Good amount of beef in it, that’s why I like it. It’s a popular item here too, oddly enough.

In all honestly, I just can’t wait to get my own place just to make a steak or something once in a while. We’ve stopped at almost every cheap café in town by now to save money but it’s going to get old soon (it already is). I feel very guilty about eating so much bread, as well. And me being the stocky guy that I am, I need a good amount of calories to maintain and not be too hungry; I feel wasted that these calories are coming from bread. It’s so not-me and if it wasn’t for the walking I know I’d have gained at least 5 lbs by now (I brought this issue up when searching for pants, my bulking and cutting seasons). But hopefully when I finally get a place everything will be wonderful.

Aaron’s a good guy, looking out for me, making sure the girls don’t pressure me into doing stupid things (like buying French clothes) that I don’t want to do but feel pressured into. Little does he realize some girls hated me in high school for being so direct about stuff like that, as I told him. He’s a good guy though, I’ve never met a guy so into making sure us guys can be us guys. It’s too bad he’s doing a homestead, because he’s interested in bodybuilding as well. He’d make a good room/housemate.

All in all, I feel very settled here, but this is a feeling I never in the world could imagine. I feel like this is the beginning of a new life and I’m starting completely over. I’m making friendships I know will last forever (finally! I missed out on that in LB), having great times with everyone, and I’ll know the language and culture fantastically very soon. I now know why no one ever wants to go back, and I don’t think it’s Aix or the location itself, it’s just the experience. It’s living and learning fresh and loving the situation that God’s handed to you.

August 27, 2007

I guess it's frustrating having nothing new to write about everyday. Things are basically the exact same everyday and there is nothing any of us can do about anything. See, no one can move in to their place until either the 31st or 1st (except for a few lucky kids), so we can't even begin decorating or "améliorating" our apartments or shop for groceries or anything yet. School doesn't start till next week still, so we have absolutely nothing to be obligated to do or get done during the day. No one knows whether they can afford (both money and time) to take a quick trip so no one will venture past a couple days on the weekend. No one knows enough French to meet French people (well, I don't at least), and learning a little here and there in pubs or cafés doesn't really create lasting friendships (especially without phones).

Worst of all, for me, is that I don't know enough French figure out how to get a gym membership, let alone ask how to look around one and later ask how much "C'est combien?" This is NOT a topic covered in our orientation, unfortunately (cellphones and bank accounts are more important, for some reason). As I was telling some friends while we sipped beer and ate pizza in a park yesterday, at least at home when I don't have work or school or obligations I'm at least compelled to visit the gym on a daily basis.

I lied. Worst of all, is that this bread is too much for me. If you ever want to hate carbs for good, live in France forcing yourself to eat out every meal. I walked around for an hour today at 9am looking for a café that was a) open, b) sold sandwiches, c) sold chicken/meat sandwiches (none of this cheese and tomato shit) and d) had these sandwiches made at this time in the morning. I realize I need to accommodate a little living in a foreign land, but come on: man needs protein to live, not bread. As I mentioned priorly, the best food for the best price I've found is a crummy double cheeseburger. I've lately not been eating the top half of the bun and just savoring every bite of juicy ground beef and swiss cheese for the good it's actually doing my body. But, alas, that place wasn't open before 10am today, which is when my meeting was.

I met a guy from Senegal whose name is Fudi and speaks French fluently (with a Senegalian accent, of course) and is working on his English. He wants to meet an American girl to hang out with (girlfriend) that he can work on his English with. Last night, we invited him to grab a drink with us and we found how funny a guy he was. Since I still need to think about what I'm about to say when I speak French, I take a while to form sentences on the spot. Here was his joke: "Man, you take so long to make sentence I could walk back to my room, take a bath, and come back and you will just be finish!" He won my respect after that, because that was clever.

He then continued to call himself "a nigger" and see what our reactions were (I laughed, Holly and Sarah gasped and giggled in shock). He asked us why Americans have so much fear of that word and they got mad at me when I told him it's not really a big deal. I explained how not using a word just empowers it and makes it that much worse, but that went right over his head. I then went on to explain to him the term "nigga" in the states and how it's used like friend, homey, pal. Once he told us he looked forward to visiting the USA and, after buying lots of McDonalds for only $5, he planned on buying many baggy clothes, "bling bling," and fat ear piercings, I figured it was proper to introduce him to sayings like "Wassup nigga?" and "How you doin nigga?" but he claimed he'd heard them in rap songs already.

I taught him the difference between West and East coast rap and somehow he already knew all the rappers from NYC versus all the others. Proves how much American music travels. He was very pleased and told us how happy he was to have met us. He was even happier to hear that I had black friends at home.

Anyway, my conversation skills got a good amount of practice but I still can't wait for school to start. I learned a few things and he learned even more. It's very hard to learn things when I still can't distinguish words and parts of speech in sentences. Hopefully I'll overcome that soon.

August 29, 2007

Visited a gym yesterday... No free weights, only machines... 30€/month... I don't think so. I'm going to check out two more today probably, and with the ~300€ I will save I think my friend Aron and I (who will probably be my workout partner) may just buy a bench, a couple buckets, a broom handle, and equally sized weights to add weight in each bucket on each side of the broom, and just store those somewhere in my apartment and take 'em out when it's time to lift. Add that to doing pull-ups and dips on the mezanine or at the park, and I should be set. This will be a year of working out to remember.

Back to the gym, though. It was called "Keep Cool," don't ask me why. I went in and in French told him I was an American student interested in a membership. Through his poor English and my poor French, we managed to communicate enough to see the gym and what would be available, price, and a free workout. It's well on the edge of town, so should I choose to commit, it would be a rather nice jog. The hours are very frustrating. Everything closes for two hours at lunch; either 12-2 or 1-3, including the gym. That may not work, and this is why I'm leaning on the ghetto/hardcore style gym in my own place and the park.

The last two nights I've just been buying 1.50€ steaks at the Monoprix (think Alberton's) and frying them on another American student's pan. I also bought some eggs last night; they weren't being refrigerated at the store, so I figured I don't need to refrigerate them either. I crack one or two on top of my steak and and voila: my steak and eggs. I then eat them with my hands because I have no fork, and then return the pan. I bought a cheap bag of cashews as well.

I'm going to some bank today to receive my 40€ gift card to the FNAC (Best Buy) since I opened an account. I opened it purely for the 2€/year insurance purposes, and never plan on even spending the 20€ I have to put in to start it off. The bank lady was also a babe, so that helped sell me. I wish I knew how to tell her "You are the reason men come to France," because then I could think about saying it to her when planning to go in there, and then chicken out at the last second, as usual, figuring that she hears that everyday.

We've also heard that more students will be arriving each week. This is exciting because I may finally make some new friends that aren't American... No offense to the CSU IP people, but most aren't what I had in mind as the people I envisioned hanging out with this year.

I'm really glad I bought that guitar, it's keeping me sane. I bought some new strings (folke ou classique? - too bad I didn't know the difference) at "Troc 'n Roll" for 8€ which makes the guitar a 107€ guitar, which is close to $145. It sounds really nice, though, and I definitely will take it back with me. I think it was well worth the money, even in America. Having nothing to do when I am in the dorms, I noodle around on it a lot more then I did at home, and I'm actually getting a little better somehow. I think since my mind is in language learning mode, it's comprehending music in a new way as well, because I can come up with new chords that I've never played before in a fashion I've never experienced. Gotta love the creative mind.

The accordion, however, isn't being as used as much because I feel bad about annoying the people around me; it's truly annoying, especially when one doesn't know how to play. I plan on using it only when I record music when I get my apartment. It'll make for some good ambience and new sounds, since there is no MIDI accordion on my computer.

As far as my clothing goes, I pretty much am settled on dressing like my usual self (an American) during the day, when I have to carry around my backpack anyway until I move in to my apartment, and then if I go out during the night I dress "nice." I always feel overdressed, but everyone tells me I look just average compared to some others out there. Meh.

August 30, 2007

We moved in to the apartment finally. Nicely centered in town not too close to where the late night partying is, with a cool little terrace. We unloaded everything to the best of our ability and I was told that I don’t get a key until Monday since there were only two sets. Wonderful.

August 31, 2007

A bunch of us decided to try and take a trip to a beach today since we had nothing going on and had another day before moving in to our apartments. We met up at 9am at the Tourism Office and good old German used his French to ask what a good beach was and how the best way to get there was. I ended up having to use the restroom very badly on the way there and since the 40 centime public toilette was out of order, I had to suspiciously walk behind the hotel across the street and find some foliage and shrubbery.

I returned to the bus station to find the group ready to go and giving me crap for taking so long. We rode the bus to Marseille, walked to the train station, and tried to figure out which train we needed to buy tickets for. We figured it out but no one realized we needed coins, so we were all forced to buy 4€ paninis or ciabattas- mine was delicious by the way- to get the coins we needed to get the ticket. Long story short, we ended up having to run all the way through the station like Home Alone or something and catching the train right when they were ready to close the doors. Very comical.

We accidently sat in first class and got kicked out, but at least we validated our tickets like good young travellers. There was one fight (I use the word loosely, people don’t “fight” here, they scream louder and louder and the worst it may get is a kick to the shin before running off) we heard between the conductor guy and some bum trying to get on, but that was it. I did some videotaping of the countryside and took many pictures and am planning on making a little music video out of it all soon.

Once we arrived, it was a beautiful trek of a hike down a huge hill in the little countryside with the port and beautiful blue water visible on the horizon. Approaching the beach, we noticed how crowded it was, and we also noticed topless chests. The weird thing was that it was never actually weird to see this. All the girls were going back and forth on whether to do it or not, and by the end of the day no one cared at all. That’s all there is to say about that.

After swimming in the bay a little, Erin and myself went and rented a kayak for 12€ and had a fun time trying to communicate with him; see, here, no one really spoke English like in Aix. We put our names and he was trying to ask us something else but ended up just saying “whatever.” He said “whatever,” in English, like it was the only he word he knew. We went kayaking for twenty minutes before getting bored and going back.

The rest of the day was usual beach stuff; we walked around, grabbed some ice cream and food, and hung out. Some of us got closer, some of us didn’t. The day showed us who would be good to travel with or not in the future…

About the author
Jordan Urbs

Crack the code on multi-purposeful content creation.

Hear my discoveries on building a brand-facing business and get my free e-mail course "Content Vines" when you join my newsletter:

Jordan Urbs

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Jordan Urbs.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.