*Disclaimer: no offense intended is my usually warning.
ON the cusp of nearly two whole weeks living in that croissant-eating and cigarette-smoke ingesting, romantic country we know as France, it’s clear that I am indeed in another land.
I’m on my Erasmus exchange in Nantes, sixth-largest French city who scandalously left the region of Britanny after centuries of unity to join the Pays-de-la-Loire. Talk about the French being faithful lovers.
Already I have had the opportunity to form a few opinions of Nantes and France as an obvious outsider.
I can confirm that the French are passionate people. They express themselves gesticularly and wear scarves even in the summer just so they can dramatically swish them around their necks in a quick fashion while complaining about the over-baked baguettes being sold in the local SuperU.
Young people also express their passion by punching bus shelter walls (I saw this). I don’t know if his bus was late or not. I did not stop to ask him considering the risky circumstances. Although I have to admit the public transport system here in Nantes is so efficient compared to Bus Éireann whose buses sometimes don’t even arrive.
Anyways, another more permanent way of expressing the deep angst you feel as a grungy French teenager is by getting a few cans (- of spray paint) and literally writing total shite everywhere , even on the ground and I’d say if the sky had a molecular make-up to support the clinging of spray paint to it, they would also have covered that too with “nique ta mere” (literally, “fuck your mother“, a very popular way of denigrating). Also this graffiti gives me anxiety because I don’t actually understand 99,9% of it because it is a mix of a coded French called verlan* and slang that my granny vocabulary does not register. Honestly, some of it is just mindless like writing “Des escaliers de merde” (“shit stairs”) on the stairs.
*Switching letters around and adding one to the end in words to codify them: e.g. francais -> céfran, femme -> meuf. It’s a phenomenon.
But sometimes, among the scrawls of penises on the side of the walls, there are provoking messages, placed there for everyone to see and ponder.
“À bas la Bourgeoisie” I can’t confirm this as a fact but this was probably graffitied over the map of the Tertre Campus of Arts and Social Sciences during the student strike that took place last semester of this year in response to a change in the university acceptance system which led to classes being cancelled for a whole semester.
You heard me.
A whole semester. (source)
I tried to look into this new law called la Loi Vidal but it was so complicated and honestly they probably went out on strike cause it was such an ambiguous law and every one was very unclear about what exactly was happening (or maybe that’s just me).
The French are known for their penchant to strike immediately if something meets there disapproval. There is even a website called cestlagreve.fr to notify you of all the strikes that are happening in France in real time. (source)
The French are a very expressive nation.
2. French and cigarettes
I think I have solved the mystery as to why French people can speak impecable French and others can’t. The r’s aren’t the hardest part of the language. The perfect pronunciation of the word serrurerie (locksmithing- who uses this word anyway?) is a life goal that be achieved. I think the essence of an uncanny French accent comes from the throat. That guttural, hoarse sound is all down to:
If a scientific experiment was conducted on a random French citizen and a random citizen of any other European state, the French specimen will be found to be made up of 50% phlegm.
Why is that?
Because EVERYONE SMOKES. I’m not generalising*. Young baby-faced 14 year olds sitting outside their lycée during their break as well as their middle-aged teachers smoke at the same time. Literally smoke clouds when you look up and when you look down, phlegm on the ground deposited by teenage boys.
Indeed it is no coincidence that the etymology of the word cigarette finds its origins from the French language (proof)
If France was a scented candle, it would smell like a cigarette.
I have to say that the French are an attractive specie.
I shall now compare an Irish specimen to a French specimen (no prize awarded for guessing correctly):
The French are fit. It must be the cigarettes because 50-year-old men have skinnier thighs than me. Not fair.
All around campus, French girls are rocking the oversized 90-inspired wardrobe that’s all the rage at the moment. Meanwhile, their Irish counter parts need to wear figuring-giving synthetic materials to make them appear less potato shaped. The result more often than anything, Irish girls look half-naked and the slightest move can expose a poor boob that is suffocating in that shrunken crop top.
French girls also opt for the au naturel look when it comes to make-up. Perhaps a bit of mascara or face powder but that’s it. And as they get older, they seem to face the world make-up free and still manage to look hotter than any 20-year-old Irish girl with gold-fish coloured tan and liquorice sticks for eyebrows.
Don’t get me wrong, Irish girls are beautiful when they can’t be arsed to cake on make up and just jump into a pair of blue jeans and a hoody in my opinion but what happens at night is like something from American Horror (WHORE-ror) Story.
Long are the days when you could go to France and ask for where the camping site is to be met by Jean-Pierre and his baguette to hear “zorri ie dontt speek inglish verry vell”.
The invasive nature of the English language has proved itself. Young French people seem to learn English as a prerequiste. While we were learning Irish at school sometime during the 2000’s, the French education seemed to have quietly upped their game to have produced a nation of young French people who have a pretty good degree of English, definitely in comparison with their anglophone counterparts in the reverse situation.
Plus American pop culture is everywhere. In Pennys, we have t-shirts with rubbish like “La vie est belle” and “l’amour” across them and over here, they also seem to translate everything. On the tram and walking in the city centre, millennials are blasting American trap and gangster music from speakers as they’re rolling along on their skate boards in their All-Star converse and that one red stripe on white Levi t-shirt they all share, half- tucked into their equalled branded Levi Strauss jeans. And every once in a while when zoning into people’s French conversation, you’ll hear the odd “oh my God” and “fack”. Nevertheless, you will never find Paddy saying “oh là là” when he takes a mouthful of his wife, Jackie’s divine bacon and cabbage, nor will you ever hear him say “coucou” to greet the cows every morning.