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Aug 29th, 2011

Sending you to France as an exchange, huh? What are we getting in return?

Aug 29th, 2011

If I got it right, they will ship one or two snooty Frenchmen the opposite way to get rid of them for some 4 months (I'll also be staying there for a bit under 4 months), so I think France got the better of that deal.

Sep 2nd, 2011

Oh man! Have fun, that ought to be pretty great.

Sep 6th, 2011

Backstory time! jBot asked me a question about my upcoming trip, more precisely about whether I will stand out as being a foreigner with my accent. As in, I'm a French Canadian, is my accent really different from the one in France? The answer is a very big yes. Since it will probably set the tone for most of my interactions with Frenchmen and thus play a big part in the stories I'll be telling here, I thought I should fill you guys in on that background info.

As I told jBot, America and England are two countries separated by a common language, but France and Québec even more so. The two languages split some time around the British conquest of Québec (250 years ago) and never really had a chance to influence each other since. England and the US were both eventually world powers and had a bit of culture-sharing going on, but France was a world power while the Québécois were mostly isolated farmers. France also had a whole bunch of revolutions while England, the US and Québec both stayed very stable, so France's French had a lot of mutations around these events (for example, pre-revolution France had no nation-wide language to speak of, but the French identity after the revolution pretty much put Parisian French in everybody's mouth)

The differences are mostly in the vocabulary (Québec's was mostly influenced by minor languages from regions like Normandie as it was a lingua franca between immigrants from every part of France, as well as English post-conquest) and the pronounciation of vowels (which tend to be "looser" in Québec)

To illustrate the accent, here is a stand-up show with a French lady and a Québecois dude, see if you can tell the difference:

And then, as I said, there's the vocabulary. Here's a list on Wikipedia about Québec's vocabulary compared with France:

A famous example that isn't on that page is the word turlute. In Québec it means a sort of traditional singing somewhat like yodelling. In France, it's a blowjob. That's the kind of linguistic minefield I will have to navigate as soon as I step out of the plane. Some people don't even realise Québec French is actually a valid kind of French and think you're just another foreigner with a very poor knowledge of French and will begin speaking in English to you. But apparently the people that do understand the accent love it (and you, by proxy), probably because of the stereotype about Québec people being nice and friendly.

Sep 15th, 2011

So, lest you guys think my flight vanished from this dimension or that I was shanked by a hobo on arrival, I wanted to drop in saying that I've been in Paris for a little under a week now. Yesterday I went with a Parisian friend for a walk from the Paris City Hall through Notre-Dame, the Pantheon, Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower to Trocadero (also known as "that place Hitler took a picture a himself with the Eiffel Tower") because hey, why the hell not. This is Paris, you could stand at any given point in this ciy with a 100-foot pole and be able to poke a historical monument with it, and it's awesome.

Also, because of some clause I don't understand, being a young foreign student grants me free access to most (if not all) national museums, which is even more awesome. I haven't yet been to the Louvre but if it works there too, I plan to spend a few days in there.

Sep 20th, 2011

Do the Parisians still think the Eiffel Tower is an eyesore?

Sep 24th, 2011

I haven't asked, but I think the Tour Montparnasse has stolen the spotlight. It's an ugly brown tower right in the middle (well, southern portion actually) of an old city so it really stands out. So much, in fact, that it was responsible for a subsequent law limiting the height of new buildings in Paris (suburbs are fair game, which lead to the creation of La Défence business district just west of the city proper), and it is said that the top of the tower is the most beautiful view you can have of the city because it's the only place where you can't see it.

Nov 9th, 2011

Alright, I told jBot I'd write a big update with pictures yesterday, and it looks like it won't be for today either. Here's a quick summary: Since last time I wrote I managed to keep my sanity and visited a truckload of things. I got into some sort of routine, found a grocery store that has some things that aren't aweful or require more than a microwave to prepare, and can navigate the metro system like a motherfucker. A Parisian friend of mine, who is actually from the suburbs, has begun saying that I'm the Parisian, not him, which is more jest than anything but still a good sign that I am not a complete failure at living and acting like a Frenchman.

Since last week, my parents are in town and I am acting as a tour guide for them as well as visiting new things I hadn't seen yet. We also went to Venice, Edinburgh and London for a few days (Edinburgh and London, one day each), which was rather neat. Venice looks like a video game (a video game in which you can use a pigeon as a hat, no less), Edinburgh is gorgeous and reminds me of home (Paris is continental as fuck, which is something I am not used to), and London isn't great compared to the other two but still cool.

A more detailed story with pictures will probably come some time this weekend, when my parents go back to Canada and I can stop running around the city like a tourist with a long bullet list of things to see, which is actually very much what we are.

Nov 18th, 2011

Man, I suck at this, don't I?

Anyway, and now for the great update. First, I took a shitload of pictures. I took some 2900 since I arrived, and I have 770 of them posted on my Facebook page. I may pass the 1000 mark in my "oh God I'm leaving in a month and there's so many things I didn't do" visiting rush. If any of you have a Facebook page and want to look at a few hundred photos, go ahead and add me. My first name Alexandre and my surname's my username. For the rest (all?) of you, I uploaded a select few to Photobucket, and will attempt to post them here without fucking up the code.

The weekend after the one I arrived, there was a cultural day where many public institutions are open to the public. A French friend dragged me to the Palais de l'Élysée (the President's official residence), then to the Senate. It was pretty cool. I managed to snap this picture at one point while visiting the former:


Other than seeing one of the most powerful leaders in the world on my second weekend, I visited a whole lot of things (as one is wont to do when staying for 3 months and a half in Paris), including the things I mentioned in September, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, Montmartre, the Parc de la Villette (a park within an industrial park, it's a rather neat blend of trees, grass and steel), the Place de la Bastille and the adjacent marina, and countless other places. Oh, and this castle:


That's the Chateau de Vincennes. All the other places you can look up pictures yourself because I don't think my photos have anything special to them, but I don't think this castle's picture on Wikipedia does it justice. On a related note, something you don't expect when you grew up in some faraway Canadian mining-colony-like town is the sheer size of everything. It depends though. I thought Notre-Dame would be more impressive (I blame Disney), but holy fuck is the Eiffel tower huge. So is the Pantheon, for example. I took this photo recently when my parents came, because I didn't bring my camera with me when I first visited it:


Just look at the people down there. Holy balls. That pretty much sums up my impression of Paris. Some things are way too huge, some things are way smaller or unimpressive than you imagined (Jim Morrison's grave is almost hidden behind a crypt, and you wouldn't notice it if it wasn't covered in flowers), but every damn thing holds some surprises.

Then, to mix things up, we went to Venice. We flew by Ryanair, so the low price was well worth it, even if it meant listening to crew members trying to sell you smokeless cigarettes or lotto tickets. Venice is absolutely beautiful, and looks exactly like you see in pictures everywhere, but with more narrow streets and plazas in front of churches. Again, my pictures won't teach you anything you. Except this:


I thought the pigeons in Paris weren't shy, but they got nothing on Venice's birds (specifically, the ones in Piazza San Marco). It's always full of tourists feeding them (much to the annoyance of locals, I guess), so they tend to be on the friendly side. At one point I was taking pictures when I felt a push on my shoulder. I turned and saw a pigeon just inches from my face flapping its wings and trying to land on my shoulder. I shrugged it off (literally), but another landed on my shoulder some time after that. The next day, we were at the same place, and we saw a bunch of pigeons crowding around people feeding them. By curiosity, I extended my arm and whistled, and one flew up and perched on it like I was the Birdmaster or something. This gave us an idea. At dinner, we put aside some pizza crumbs, then went back. My mom sprinkled some on my hat (among other places), and thus a friendship was born. It stayed there for a bit and I managed to walk around with it still on my hat.

That evening, we flew back to Paris, then took another plane to Edinburgh in the morning. You know you are going to a rad place when you see a ton of castles on the descent. -See that castle over there? -No, where? -Oh, nevermind, we passed it, here's another one.


This is the Scott Monument. We also visited Edinburgh Castle. I also loved Edinburgh, for many reasons. First, every monument is brown and silver, which is quite refreshing when you keep seeing white/beige and gold in Paris. Also, it is quite hilly and near the sea, which reminds me of Quebec City. And finally, there were onion rings at McDonald's. God, how I missed those. There are almost no onion rings in France (and the ones there are always expensive and subpar).

In the morning, we took a train to London. We mostly visited the city and didn't visit any museum or monuments. We saw the Tower of London (which is rather untower-like), Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace. Pictured: a bunch of uniquely British things.


The next morning, we took the Eurostar back to Paris. We visited things some more, and we went to the Arc de Triomphe for Armistice day (Remembrance day), where we were awfully placed to see anything, really. Interesting things happened in front of it (of the eastern side) while the public was penned at the back for some reason. Just as we were leaving when things got boring (speech by Sarkozy), we realized that all the regiments and military/gendarmerie students that were present there were going to exit the square by the west side, close to where we were.


As you can see, there were no barriers or security or anything, so we were in the street with them, with no pesky barriers or crowd. It made my day.

Then, we went to the Invalides, where Napoleon's tomb is (again, Google it, but keep in mind that the coffin is way bigger than it looks like), and where there's a military museum with a lot of pointy and shooty things. Most interesting for me was the bit with late medieval guns. There were some experimental designs, such as pistols with 3 barrels (sometimes in a bunch, like a double-barrelled shotgun, sometimes pointing in three directions, Contra spread-fire style) and revolver shotguns. Also, I took this picture on the way. It was a rather cold morning and the ceiling was really low.


And on the day after (Saturday), my parents left. And then the week came by, with me doing homework and procrastinating. Which brings us to... now. I have a month left here, so I'll try to post again about that last month, hopefully before next summer.

Nov 19th, 2011

FAMAS? Threatening.
Coordinated yellow ascots? Not so much

That picture of the pantheon is pretty mind blowing

Nov 20th, 2011

I think it's a particularity of the French military that they manage to look so fabulous yet are so deadly. This particular bunch are part of the 1er Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes, whose decorations include the 1939-1945 War Cross with 2 palms and the Foreign Operations Cross with 7 palms between its 3 battalions. On the day the picture was taken they had just received the Military Valour Cross.

My favourite uniform is that of the 1st Spahi Regiment, which were originally a North African cavalry. Most of the African Army part of the French military dissolved in the 60s after the colonies became independent, but this one stayed in existence. And that's great, because who else would wear a cool cape like that then?

Nov 20th, 2011

Oh dear, I broke the page. Brad, could you fix this?

Nov 24th, 2011

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