Nov 30 11p My jet lag is still significant, I think, so much more of this past week has been slept away than I’d prefer, but still, I’ve done quite a lot, and not a single touristy thing. What I’m most pleased about is the fact that I spend the majority of the day speaking in French, even though my French is still very poor and I can’t even get through a simple café transaction, though, as in America, the moment anyone realizes that I’m not a native speaker they treat me like I’m retarded and then things go much smoother. Céline says I’m actually improving each day, although I think I’m having more trouble each day. The only explanation I can come up with is that with each day I become a little more invested in normal conversation, take for granted things I don’t have difficulty with, and long to say more complicated sentences in the meantime. Or it may be that I can only fake it for so long before becoming exasperated and resorting to charades or list-making. But I’ve even made some jokes that were understood within the past few days. Everyone speaks a little English, especially the students, who can speak very well, but I generally refuse to speak English to anyone except, when necessary or when having a more meaningful conversation, with Céline, who will stand back until I look at her with the expression that says, ‘translate, please!’
What we call the bathroom they call les toilettes. It’s a term that makes Americans blush, but it’s also what the British call it. But the reason they call it that is that the toilet is generally in a separate room from the sink, shower, etc. It’s a dedicated toilet-room. The other room is the bathroom. Just being with the girls over the summer made me a little less self-conscious about body-functions and the like, things that are rarely discussed in the US, or at least inappropriate. Here, it’s fairly common to see people pissing on the sidewalks, and I don’t mean in a corner, I just mean, in the middle of the day, against a wall on a busy street. Homeless people and drunk people. It’s legal to be drunk in public as long as you still have an open container. Yes, you read that correctly. Otherwise you’re considered a drunk. When I told you about how Céline has a remarkable ability to find money–$70 during the first few months she was in the US—and everyone tells me it’s just because I don’t pay attention to my surroundings, well, perhaps also it’s because not a day goes by when Céline does not instruct me to step over some river of piss on the sidewalk or a trail of fresh shits. And so, on the fourth morning, after going out to a housewarming party the night before and going to sleep dizzy, it was a considerably unhappy morning as I sat curled up under a blanket and watched French game-shows and Céline finally asked, “Stephen, you’re not going to like this question, but I’m sorry, I have to ask it, I’m really sorry, I know you’re not going to like this or else I won’t know what to tell you to eat to make you feel better…when you poo, is it…uhm, er, liquid?” I put the pillow over my face and cried “ouiiiii.” At the party, one of the first questions Céline was asked was ‘is it okay for us to burp in his face?’ She told them no, and she told me that things were probably going to be crazy, that there would be a lot of noise, dancing, and people ‘blurping’.
Almost immediately, kissing cheeks to say hello and goodbye became tedious rather than nerve-wracking because I had to greet so many people who insist on it—nearly everyone insists on it. I have trouble with names because they’re all new to me, and sometimes people say their names when I meet them, and sometimes they greet me with a word I don’t know—so I’ve taken to just repeating whatever they say and I assume that 66% of the time I’m correct (either I’m just repeating their name to show I’ve heard it, or repeating their greeting as my own, or sounding like an idiot.) As with body functions, everyone is significantly more open about sex, and the majority of their conversations, if not revolving around it, at least reference it freely, along with body motions and far more slang than English has seen, I’ll venture to guess since the Elizabethan age if Shakespeare is any indication of what common people understood. A room packed with people, more bottles than persons, loud music, baguettes, red peppers, pork ribs. But one of our roommates did not come, even though the rest of us did, and her boyfriend also. It was because she didn’t receive an invitation. Parties for us in my experience are generally word-of-mouth affairs, anyone can attend so long as they blend in, if you invite someone, it’s understood that their roommates and partners are also invited because it’s understood that if one of those persons is specifically not invited, it’s only polite to not attend yourself. Not here. If you’re invited you go, apparently even if that means leaving one of your close friends or girlfriend alone for the entire evening. I was given a glass of wine, everyone seems to prefer a sweet white wine from the region, good wine costs almost nothing, and nobody sniffs or swishes it. I still cannot get over how well everyone dresses. The dress boots with zippers that are so difficult to find in the US, they’re in every shop window. Everyone wears black, and nearly all their clothes seem to be black—I’m just constantly astounded by how everyone of all ages look like models.
Tonight I was having an English conversation with Alexandre, who I met in the US and so have an English-language relationship with him, so that when we were talking alone I felt fine speaking English. And we were discussing differences between the US and other places, how, for instance, getting through customs was instantaneous here, where I didn’t receive a passport stamp or need a visa or have my bags checked, whereas arriving in the US, they were all fingerprinted, made to remove most of their clothes, had their bags searched and required significant paperwork even for brief visits. I’ve been told many times that entering the US they were treated like criminals. Alex finds Canada attractive because it has the benefits of the US but hasn’t its shortcomings, one of the benefits being that if you work hard you can be paid more. And this is, I think, the beginning of the American mindset. I may be about to briefly discuss a few conclusions I reached after the events that I will sometime later recount, only because I remember them now, but the events themselves will serve as illustrations and if later disputed, are true now, and are, further, conclusions I did not expect.