Our first couple of days in France were “interesting,” to say the least.  During the flight, Matthew found that his ears would not “pop,” and as a result he suffered pretty badly during our landing in Munich, Germany, and again when we landed in Marseille, France.  When we got off the airplane and met our program directors and other students, his ears still hadn’t popped, so he could barely hear anyone.  I had to serve as his ears, and repeat what everyone said at a higher volume!  Luckily, over the next several days his ears popped several times and he regained his hearing.
Living room and bedroom
Our kitchen!
Mt. Saint Victoire, the view from our apartment

Our apartment is perfect for us…we spent our first afternoon unpacking and exclaiming over everything in it.  We have shutters that open onto a view of the city and Mount St. Victoire, and there is so much natural light that we don’t need to turn on lights until after 6 o’clock.  The evening of our arrival, we had a “happy hour” and met all the other students and directors of the program.  We also sampled our first drink in France, a “kir.”  I would describe it as a drink for people who like sweeter wines.  They mix white wine with black currant to make a rose colored drink.  I think they are delicious, but they taste too much like wine for Matthew.

We learned two important lessons about studying in France on our second day… expect to take fast showers and don’t always trust your converter.  Before bed on our first night, I hopped in the shower, planning to spend about five minutes washing up.  We had already been warned…no twenty minute showers in France.  The water turned cold within 10 seconds.  I scrambled out of the shower after a thirty-second cold shower and huddled under the blankets to get warm again.  Three weeks later, and I have yet to take a shower longer than 2 minutes.  I’m not sure if there is a special trick or what, but now I can see why the French supposedly don’t shave their legs or armpits.  Who could manage it…standing in a tiny shower with icy water making you dance from foot to foot and sing in a high-pitched voice?  I really am serious…when that cold water hits my back for some reason I start singing!

We had an early morning orientation, so the night before we took extra care setting our alarm clock, which was hooked up to our converter and adapter.  We were surprised when we woke up at 7 o’clock, wide-awake and with no signs of jet-lag.  We took our time getting ready, and walked a mile to the orientation meeting, expecting to arrive about a half hour before the meeting began.  Side note: People in France do not seem to be very time-conscious…there are no clocks ANYWHERE! Therefore, when we woke up and alarm clock said it was 7 o’clock, we believed it was 7 o’clock, and there were no clocks along the way to refute this belief.  At the restaurant we were surprised to see so many students already there, and completely taken aback when one of the directors saw us and said, “Where have you been?? You completely missed orientation!  It is eleven thirty!”  I spent the next ten minutes holding back tears, thinking furiously about what could have happened.  Finally, Matthew and I realized that it must be the converter.  Later, at the apartment we confirmed our suspicions…the alarm clock was running at half speed.  We tried switching the setting, but then it ran at double speed.  So much for our converter!  As a result of this little fluke, we were labeled as the “partiers” because everyone assumed that we were out too late partying and just overslept.

La Rotunde, one of the largest of the many fountains in Aix
More fountains!

Luckily, we didn’t have to learn any more “lessons” the rest of the day.  We received a lovely tour of the city, and discovered that we are only a 2-minute walk from the school and about 10 minutes from the main road, Cours Mirabeau.  During our first week we also sat through a culture shock talk and received high school language partners.  Matthew and I have both been really impressed with the program we chose.  The directors and coordinators are extremely helpful and friendly, and they planned so many events during the first few weeks to ensure that we had a smooth adjustment to French life.

I must admit that my favorite event was the welcome dinner.  We went to an elegant French restaurant, and ate a huge meal consisting of three courses.  The first course was a cube-shaped eggplant dish, served with pesto and red sauces.  The second course included a piece of chicken with a basil/butter sauce, potatoes au gratin (pronounced “oh grateen” here), and a Provençal dish called “ratatouille,” which has tomatoes, zucchini, and other vegetables in it.  Both of these courses were served with copious amounts of bread as well.  Our final course was also cube-shaped…almond ice cream with orange peel on top!  I think I gave my heart to French food after that meal.

We also learned a lot about French manners at this meal.  One should never put their hands below the table…because “who knows what you could be doing under there!”  One should cross their silverware on top of their plate when they are done.  Bread is not kept on the plate; it is placed directly on the tablecloth.  Forks and knives are switched for cutting meat, but then the fork is kept facing downward in your left hand when you put the meat in your mouth.  I found this interesting, because in the United States it is considered bad manners if you don’t switch back!  Most importantly…eat everything on your plate!  There were several girls who said they were full, and the chef came out and teased them and kept asking if they didn’t like the meal or if something was wrong.  When they couldn’t come up with an explanation, Magali, one of the coordinators told the chef (in French, because these girls couldn’t understand it very well) that the girls were on a diet, so that his feelings wouldn’t be hurt!  In France, it is considered an insult if you don’t eat everything on your plate.