in the midst of traveling

I have left daoulas and I’m on my way to Toulouse. While I could have taken a train, they are both expensive and plagued by consistent strikes here in France. Instead what I am currently doing as I write this, and what I did yesterday was take advantage of the carpooling system in France, i.e. covoiturage. This system is much less expensive than trains (it can be ½ the price) and additionally one has the chance to meet and talk with new exciting individuals.
Yesterday I was in a car with three people and during our discussion which ranged from accents, to production of nuclear power (allegedly Frances sells their nuclear waste to Sweden), to French schools and universities, the difficulties of finding a job and then perceptions about americans.
These include:
Large people and large portions
A country characterized by excess
Assumption that others will speak English and therefore make no attempt to learn French
Optimistic and enthusiastic
An uncreative education system that focuses more on rote memorization than creative analysis and thought.
A bizarre political system that involves individuals inciting the populace and visiting specific towns and locations to give ‘convincing’ speeches.
Strange beliefs and practices (these include things like, our approach to the outside world, foreign policy, the presence of religion in daily life, the previous lack of any comprehensive medical insurance)
And a lot of others.
Sadly, the vast majority were kind of negative, yet everyone readily agreed these were simply generalizations. A lot of Americans have similarly negative perceptions of the French, which is why I think I need to describe just how kind nearly everyone I’ve met has been to me.
Yesterday I arrived in Nantes to do couchsurfing and I was staying at the house of a professor of financial management (and yes the house was as one would expect, reflective of good financial management). I arrived that day a little early after having a really nice lunch with a friend I met during the covoiturage earlier, who against all my expectations told me that they thought English accents were quite attractive. Probably just being nice, because my accent is this gargoyle of a Togolese and American accent combined. People consistently have to ask me ‘where are you from’? In this slightly worried, ‘this accent is so bizarre could he actually be a space alien?’ kind of voice… . Not entirely, but it is really confusing for some, and conversely others find it ‘cute’. So anyways, I arrived at the professors house after having lunch in a very nice park and he wasn’t home, but he had all these buttons on his gate ostensibly for notifying him that someone was there, so there I was trying these buttons, probably looking confused because ringing someone’s intercom was something I haven’t had to do or even think about in over 2 years. And this kind older, but still spritely woman comes up to me, offers me essentially every kind of assistance imaginable in that situation tells me she will walk all the way to her house so she can get her cell phone come back and we can call the professor, but by the time she came back the professor had arrived and then after I thanked her for her kindness gushed profusely about how pleased she was with my French. Just a really nice, affectionate person and I feel like I meet these people every other day. Anyways, this professor, who is also a really good person lets out three other apartments in the building nearly for free to impoverished students, and offered my fine wine, cranberry liqueur and dinner and snacks, and all I had actually wanted or expected was a couch. He was also a very interesting guy, very much about the common humanity that everyone shares and that generalizations about countries and generalizations can only ever fail because due to the diversity of human personality we will always find likeminded or likeable people in nearly every country or culture. Then this morning, the professor’s friend who was sharing the same apartment with me kindly walked me all the way to the bus stop to make sure I got the correct transport to my station of departure. People have been very thoughtful.
So after I get to Toulouse I supposedly have to take a train, the only problem is that there’s a strike today…. Slightly inconvenient. Well, I’ll see what happens, I can always call Astrid and Bruno, they have vowed to ensure the success of my travels, which is, as one would expect, really quite kind.
One other thing, gas prices in france are ridiculous, premium is close to $7 a gallon
Yet, the one thing I do not like about france is all the smoking. Generally it is a more permissive culture for smoking (although smoking is illegal in most public places) Of the 8 people I’ve spent time with, between yesterday and this morning only one of them didn’t smoke. And generally, I have no problem with people smoking if they choose, the issue is more the fact I have to breathe it in as well. Sitting in houses or cramped, small European vehicles doesn’t leave a lot of leeway for escaping the plumes of carcinogens frolicking through the air. Of course, it’s all very efficacious, the nicotine that they don’t breathe in, I do, but between antimalarials, antiparasitics (for schistosomiasis) and coffee, I would prefer fewer drugs in my system.


About wwmaier

Me, my guitar, and a funky little place called Togo.
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