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Published: December 17th 2010
Tennis de table
These are solid stone ping pong tables near my place. I really want to try them out in better weather.
In case you haven't noticed, my first post I located myself in Orly, because that is where I am living, but I am locating as Paris from now on. Nobody wants to read a blog about life in Orly, and anyone who I tell that I live in Orly muzzles a cringe, double checks: "you mean the Orly where the airport is?" and then visibly feels sorry for me for the rest of the conversation. That was similar to my reaction when I first saw my neighborhood and my place, but it’s really not that bad. My place is big enough, fully furnished, and I have a 30 minute commute door to door. I am still considering moving, entre murs, but that will have to wait until I have some time to check out what I could get. Talk
I gave a 60 minute research talk to my French colleagues here on thursday, which was my longest research talk to date. I was scheduled to start at 5, after an earlier talk at 4. Apparently they do back to back 1hr talks on thursdays, which is a bit much I think, but I guess you can just pick and choose.
Combien de sucre?
The French café dispensers are quite sophisticated. I wonder if coffee is subsidized?
I showed up at 3:55 with another student, others only began to trickle in at 4. If I was in the US I would have thought I was in the wrong place. After some computer issues, we started at like 4:15 I think, and an extended Q and A took us to 5:20. Then we took a 10 min break, which was probably needed b.c. the first talk was pretty intensive. The first talk was in French also, with English slides, like subtiitles, which is actually a very good idea considering the audience. So after I got lost on about slide 4, I worked on my French - math specific - language skills for the rest of the talk.
Of course I didn’t give my talk in French, but I was at least able to thank my host and apologize for not giving my talk in French in French 😉 I was feeling pretty good about my slides, and feeling the French fraternal spirit – more on that below – but my confidence quickly ebbed in the talk. Usually I can gauge to what extent my audience is interested in and following what I am saying, but here I
Bad photo, I know, but this goblet is what is used to drink water in the cafeteria of the math building. In case you ever forget that you're in Paris!
was looking out onto a sea of visages somewhere inbetween blank indifference and total disgust with life, and certainly NO SMILES! I don’t really know to what extent my talk was off the mark, or that’s just typical for a French audience. In any case, I didn’t go into any hairy details of proofs, so maybe they were disappointed with that. BIFF!!
Today something interesting happened: I got hit by a car for the first time. I was trying to find a café to chill (or rather heat) in while waiting for société générale, the bank I was trying to open an account with, to call me back. Well they never did, but as I was scoping the landscape, a car that had previously cleared the crosswalk decided to reverse back across the crosswalk without checking behind them. I was completely oblivious, so it was like getting blindsided in football américain. I didn’t get hit all that hard tho, I didn’t even fall down, just got a moderate impact on knee, hip, and chest. I doubt I even have a bruise. So the guy parked (that was what he was trying to do all along) and rolled down his
Not too deep yet.
window to see if I was alright. I wanted to say “I’m ok”, and altho the French have adopted “ok” I still feel like its cheating to say it. So since I am trying to communicate only in French, I could only think to say “Je suis bien, pas de probleme,” and went on my way. “Ok” is really a pretty useful word tho. I don’t know a good French substitute for it when using it in the sense of describing a state of moderate quality, or alrightness (rather than acquiescence). Fraternité
One preimpression of French culture that I had, that has so far been confirmed, is that there is a greater sense of fraternity compared to a sense of “everyone’s in this for themselves” in America. In some sense, its obvious that the relative values would stack up like this given the differences in how France and America run their economies. Actually, it’s a lot like the south east of America in many ways, but minus the bible beating. I find conversations with store clerks go uncommonly long, with them making sure I understand numerous details and caveats of their products that I don’t think American store clerks would take the trouble to explain at all. The cafeteria workers at my office seem genuinely pretty happy to perform their jobs, again in stark contrast to the American norm. My landlord has been bending over backwards to attempt to please us. I didn’t mention in the first post, but I had been scheduled to meet him at 2 at my train station, but due to my fiasco of losing my debit card, I didn’t make it until about 3:45, and he was still there, and didn’t show the slightest bit of anger or rush, and still sat down and walked me through my entire rent contract b.c. it was in French.
To continue on this point, in the academic social scene I find it more “sane” than the American academic scene. I still get the sense that some of the students are depressed, as in the US, but overall the stress level seems lower, and their attitude towards their work is less of a “me vs the competition” and more of “I am joining a society of people with like-minded interests in studying this topic and advancing the edifice of human understanding.” In case it's not coming across, I like this fraternité a lot. I don't see myself joining the socialist party anytime soon tho. I should qualify all of this, as I am sure that I am massively stereotyping and simplifying, but this is broadly how I see it with my current exposure.
Snow. It’s snowing here again. It’s not Minnesota-cold here, as I am often reminded, but coming from Santa Barbara 70-75 degree winters, it’s pretty damn cold. It’s also pretty dark. While this is a mild annoyance for my touring the city ambitions this weekend, I am also happy b.c. I have plans to go skiing with my sister and my cousins around new year’s time. Vive la neige!
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fascinating. i like hearing about differences in social attitudes, particularly from our european counterparts. also i'm sure you talk went fine: it's probably the accent! =)
you got hit by a car??? mmmm whaaaa???