You know by now that I’m in my town. And, since you’re already reading this, I’m assuming that you’re probably waiting with baited breath to hear all the details of said town.
If you imagine in your mind the typical French village, it might look something like this: a few small lanes of cobbled streets, a bakery (because everyone eats bread), a tabac (because everyone smokes), a café with little chairs inhabited by typical looking French people drinking their Perrier. Maybe in this petit ville of your imagination there is a a little old man in a beret carrying a baguette, dressed in a cardigan and smoking galouses. Maybe there is an old square anchored by an old cathedral.
Such places actually exist in France and are, in fact, more common than you might imagine. I wish I could tell you that my town is just such a village. I wish I could tell you that I’m sitting in a café as we speak, being ignored by my waiter. But alas, sometimes reality is not as glamorous as we might have hoped.
I realized quite quickly that my town would be remote. When not even a google search can give you a sense of what a place is going to be like, you know it’s gonna be different than what you’d imagine and probably hoped. But that’s ok. Lord knows I’ve gotten used to things being different than I imagined.
My town is what most people would consider post-war. The buildings, while perfectly nice, are not the ornate decoration one usually associates with France. Additionally, there’s not really a main square or central meeting point that I’ve found yet. It’s suburban and there are trees and parks and tree-covered hills off in the distance. Outside the window of my room is a giant weeping willow.
One of the most striking features of my town is the predominant, almost exclusive presences of a middle eastern/Turkish/North Africa population. The French tend to lump these immigrants into one group and call them Arabe which I’m not particularly comfortable with. Immigration in France, as in the U.S., is a controversial subject. But the nature of the controversy is quite different. Basically (very basically), immigrants are the foundation of American society. By the second or third generation, most immigrants have fully assimilated into American culture. Their opportunities look almost the same, if not identical to those whose families immigrated much earlier on. Illegal immigration is the root of controversy (though we know that even legal immigrants, particularly of Latin American descent can bear the brunt of racism). This is not necessarily the case in France and in much of Europe. Many immigrants do not assimilate and also don’t have the same opportunities for success as their white, culturally French counterparts. As such, if you look like you’re non-white, life can be harder. It’s complicated and something I’m still trying to learn about.
While in most towns there is a tabac, I haven’t seen one yet. I don’t smoke, but the tabac is the easiest place to buy minutes for my cell phone. There is a market on Saturday that has tons of produce, but also clothes and shoes and knick-knacks. It doesn’t feel typically French. But it is a great, bustling market. You can walk to the multitude of grocery stores which is convenient, but having a car would be useful for getting around (particularly if you want to go over to the next big town over to get a dose of city life and of some typical French life). There does seem to be a boulangerie, but I haven’t been inside it yet.
It has occurred to me that you might be curious about my apartment, too. I’m getting some very inexpensive housing from the school where I’m working. Which is great.
Just the fact Ma’am:
My apartment is white. Actually, they just finished painting it the day before my roommate and I arrived, so you can still smell the paint.
My apartment is big. Particularly by European standards. I was expecting it to be small small small, but it has two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a W.C. and a shower with a sink. Not too shabby.
My apartment is furnished. It has chairs in the living room, a TV that doesn’t work, and a glass table with chairs around it. I have a bed with linens, a dresser, nightstand and bookshelves. There is a refrigerator, microwave and electric stove.
There is no oven.
There are some basic cooking utensils and cleaning supplies.
There is no shower curtain (the one thing that is very French). But don’t worry, we bought one.
I have a nice neighbor.
My room overlooks a giant weeping willow.
My apartment needs decorations. One thing at a time.