Sucking water from a fire hydrant

I love that phrase. Nick used it to describe how I must be feeling my first day of French classes. It’s too true – I’m just trying to soak up as much as I can of the immense amount of information being thrown my way. It is sooo tiring.

I’m studying at the Institut International de Rambouillet. It’s housed in a château, or literally a castle (though it doesn’t seem quite so grandiose as all that to me). It is a lovely old house, though. There are about 30 students here right now – I’ve been told this is the very slow time of year. Most live here on the property, though some are au pairs that live with families in town. It’s an eclectic group. Tons of Korean students, a few Japanese, a couple Germans and Austrians, Mexicans and a Colombian. Not many Americans.

Classes are tough. 6 hours a day on grammar, vocabulary, listening comprehension, and conversation. Then more French at meals, and what few social events there are. I haven’t really studied a language seriously in a long time. And I have to admit, I am not a natural! I keep mixing up Spanish and French words, hacking the pronunciation to death, ugh. But I am definitely learning a lot. I should really be here for a solid month, though, to really improve.

Rambouillet is a funny little town. It’s about 30 minutes from Paris (if you take the direct train, as I learned the hard way), so it’s basically a suburb. It’s quite tiny – it has one main street where all the shops are, with the exception of the large supermarket, Carrefour. It’s very cute. In the main square there is an old carousel that still works. It’s got one movie theatre with two screens – it only opens 15 minutes before the show starts, and changes its two films weekly. People here drive on the correct (right) side of the road, which really threw me – I keep almost getting thwacked. But there are really jaunty little green men on the walk signs. They make me want to dance every time I see them, they just look like they’re kicking back, whistling their way across the street. There are a million and a half patisseries, and people actually live up to the Parisian stereotype of walking around with a baguette under their arm on their way home!

The Institut is also a funny place. People come in and out every week, so there always seem to be different people around. Meals are these strange, rushed events. I think it is partly because people are dying to get out of the awkward conversations which are the only thing that most of us can have with our limited French – ‘qu’est-ce que tu a fait ce weekend?’ can get really old really quickly. Whatever the reason, people literally scarf down their meals, and if you get to dinner at 7:30p (it starts at 7), the food is already being cleaned up. Sometimes people gather in the common space in the basement of the château and watch CSI (‘Les Experts’) or some movie. But mostly people stick to themselves.

It will be an interesting two weeks…


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