Last Updated on June 21, 2019 by Corey Shaw
Bonjour, ça va? … Ça va bien! Et toi? … Ça va bien! That’s how the usual “hello, how are you?” … “I’m fine, thank you and yourself?” interaction goes here in France. It’s been around three weeks since I arrived in Cannes, and I’m getting more and more into the French culture. As a matter of fact, I’ve been drinking coffee. I don’t even like coffee. It tastes a little different here, I swear.
The atmosphere in Cannes is very calm and laid back, which seems to be a common theme in the southern section of countries I’ve stayed in (i.e. Jamaica and the United States). People just seem to move and operate on a slower basis. There’s even a rumor that people from Cannes speak French slower than people in more northern areas of France.
My classes are going really well. I had taken French a couple of months before by myself. To me, languages are much more fun when done independently. That way, I can move at my own pace and enjoy the culture, as well. I’m in the beginner class, but that in itself was a blessing in disguise. Like my mom said, “Bloom, wherever you’re planted.” The thing about me and French is that I can understand it pretty well, but I can’t speak for the life of me. At least, that was then. Through intensive work, I can now order whatever I want and have a simple conversation with anyone (cough) as long as they don’t get into slang… or past tense… or future tense. BUT SOON!
About two weeks ago, we volunteered at a vineyard which was incredible! When we arrived, we were greeted by a monk named Felipe. He and I had a conversation in French, but as it turned out, I really only understood a quarter of what he said. He was telling me about his friends who live in the States, but I thought he was talking about himself because I heard “go” and the name of some states. Afterwards, everyone made fun of my French (#EverybodyHatesCorey).
As we walked, Felipe gave us the run-down of what we were supposed to do:
- Pick the grapes.
- Don’t talk.
That’s it. Yep, they work in silence (more or less) on the vineyard. The supervisor of the grape picking was Olivie, a timid, slim-built man who was actually a lot stronger than he looked. He lifted the buckets of grapes carried to him and overturned them into tons of baskets waiting on the truck. He helped me with my French as I worked, teaching me how to say ‘hunt’, ‘basket’ and a few other words in French. ‘Hunt’ because we saw a pheasant, and he told me that you can’t hunt them. In return, I helped him with his English. One of the best parts about the trip was just walking around and asking people for the buckets that they put their picked grapes into. It helped my French a lot. I got more confident with speaking, because I got so much practice.
After we finished picking grapes, we went off to explore the island. But more importantly, before we could go off by ourselves, the other volunteers on the island invited us to eat lunch with them and chat. If all nine of us sat together at the long table provided, we would hardly be able to talk to any of the other volunteers. So, we made sure to arrange seats so that every other person sitting was from a different place. I sat next to a woman who was actually an English/French professor. So, for a lot of that meal, I got even more practice because she made me repeat everything. I must have said ‘fork’ in French about 50 times during our meal.
With the evening drawing to a close, we left the island behind, along with all the cool people we met that day. I really appreciated how the locals saw that we wanted to learn French and took it upon themselves to help us, rather than wonder why a bunch of Americans (and one handsome Jamaican) would want to learn French anyway. To me, that gives me hope in people. Traveling abroad and seeing the good in people across different cultures has done wonders for me. I’m learning so much about different lifestyles, and I couldn’t love it any more.
This piece was contributed by Corey Shaw, who is spending his fall semester studying abroad with AIFS in Cannes, France.