the good, the bad, and the French

People (the important people at least) in my life said that I would ‘change’ after this trip. At first I was sort of expecting for (actually desperately hoping for) a change.. Of any kind. That’s why I traveled across a motherfucking ocean and arranged to live in several different countries so far from home. I was unhappy.

Not just bored or jaded really, but unhappy. I felt that even though I had in my life traveled to many different places in the States, that I was unexposed to different cultures and different ways of thinking.
I followed all the travel blogs, I watched Human Planet and Idiot Abroad (LOL)..
And I therefore had a clear idea (I thought) of what to expect and what I would gain by this trip. And I came here to achieve the set goals I had in mind.

The thing is…

That’s not the way travel works.

Hell, that’s not the way life works.

Duh.

Which is a good thing!
Because, if you could prepare yourself and plan out all the experiences you wanted to have ahead of time without fault they would mean less. If you achieved what you wanted to achieve without resistance it would be too easy. And if you changed in the manner in which you hoped you would, you wouldn’t really be changing so much as forcing yourself to fit into the mold of exactly who you want to be which can many times lead you to pretend to be something that you just plain genuinely are not. (Which honestly you can do at home. That’s what all your friends on Facebook are doing..)

This is why travel is important. Because you can’t control the way it will go and the effect it will have on your life. So you are literally forced to let go.

Which is horrifying.

And addicting.

You sort of surrender yourself to The Great Unknown.

And the Unknown, being the tempting siren that she is, may sometimes be just as alluring and beautiful as you thought she might be, but she can also be a moody bitch.

(Sorry not sorry for the language but I am basically Irish now after all)

~

So here’s what new experiences the Great Unknown has led me to recently..

After our first week (dear God has it only been a week?) our kind friend and host, Jolene, asked if she could add a member to our cottage as a former workawayer, and now close friend of hers, has agreed to return to finish the work required in her garden. We, of course, agree. And come home after work-day-number-6 to find our new roomie making himself at home on the couch in our living room wearing a brown sweater and a gold wedding ring on his middle finger.

(which I only mention because he wears these two things everyday so they are weirdly synonymous with his personality to me)

His initial is J (which is actually his real first initial because everyone in Western Europe is named Jamie/James/Jimmy/Jim so good luck tracking him down potential stalkers).
He is French. Meaning (I assumed) that he is from France.. But he quickly informs me in semi-broken English that he is not from ‘France’ he is from Brittany. A county (or something comparable to a county) inside France, but they consider themselves to be very independent from France as a whole and are proud to have their own distinct culture. Okay sure. What do I know? This is my first time out of the country and I didn’t even know Ireland was separated from the rest of Europe by water. That’s right. I didn’t know Ireland was basically a large island until I knew I was coming here and was forced to look at a map.

**While we’re on the subject I’d like give a shout out to the public education system in Alabama for not requiring any sort of geography class to graduate. It’s really made my life abroad that much more..interesting and definitely helps me to dissipate the stereotype of the uneducated self absorbed American.. After all “being uninformed is the spice of life” so they say (or something along those lines)**

Back to our roommate:

My first impression of him is that he is very stereotypically French. He is extremely opinionated. He relates everything to art. The quality of a thing, either physical or intangible, is measured against the French equivalent, who of course do everything better than the rest of the world.
..
“Would you like un orange? It iz okayuh but iz very.. how-you-say…British orange. You know no flavor, no perzonalityy.. No art.. Just orange. Probably better zen any orange you could get in America though so I am sure you will like.”
-is an example of something he would say at breakfast

His accent is really strong, his voice is really deep, and he says everything in French to himself before he says it to us in English (which is pretty entertaining). He wastes little time with polite conversation about the weather and immediately starts asking very deep and somewhat personal questions about what our day to day routine was at home, what led us to leave, and what we are attempting to achieve.. Like in life. He didn’t even ask our last names, or if we had pets, or what our astrological sign was. It was unnerving and challenging to have a discussion with someone I barely knew about topics I don’t have practiced answers for. It was actually amazing and the three of us ended up talking for hours and it remains the shortest conversation we have had with him to date. Maybe sensing our initial shyness, he tells us his own story first which is deep and honestly worthy of a French film.

I am hesitant to share it here… Because J is very anti-Internet. Anti-social media. Anti-establishment. Anti-corporation and therefore Anti-American. But all for sadly legitimate and well thought out reasons. He is also always seeking new knowledge, accepting of different perspectives, and open to new theories about pretty much every subject. He encourages open mindedness towards even the most foreign of concepts but also suggests that you treat everything you read or hear about as theory. Information is to be considered, filtered, and doesn’t have to be accepted in its entirety but can sometimes lead you to your very own personal conclusions. These are called educated opinions. They require independent thought. They are not the sort of opinions that sold to you or taught by biased parties to get you to buy products.

*~*W w o a h H~*~

J did not finish college, and unlike in the states, he cannot return. He is also the smartest person I ever met. He cannot spout out historical dates or facts but he can give valuable insight to literally any subject. He is very serious. Seemingly all the time. And we are the first Americans he has ever actually met, so there is a bit of pressure the first night to not (even jokingly) fulfill the American stereotype which I don’t think either Caroline or I do, but still…

After some deep discussions about the United States’s culture and its effect on Europe, he finally loosens up and by the time we are going to sleep we are all laughing like old friends.

J is curious to know what we have been eating and is appalled by our lack of culinary skill. He however is (of course) an aMaZiNg cook. So he prefers to cook all meals himself sometimes teaching us the basics and sometimes (I think) giving us tasks out of our skill level for his own bemusement.
Case in point the night he made my very animated green haired cousin flip crepes.

Before J, we didn’t even realize how solitary and confined we had made cabin life with the burnt meat and watching the Devil Wears Prada over and over again on the worlds smallest TV every night after work.

With J, meals are an event that lasts several hours. There is no cooking without music and open windows. There are no meals without stimulating conversations and planned after dinner group activities like language practice, games, or walks. Everything he does is done with joy and appreciation for life. Food must be made with care. Words must be thought out before spoken and one should never lie or act in-genuinely just for the sake of being polite.

The point is that we have grown to be very very fond of him, and his contrasting personality causing a harmonious balance in our cottage.

~

Time passes differently while traveling.
It passes both impossibly slowly and incredibly quickly. You may only know the people that you meet along the way for a moment or a couple weeks, but the interactions are more intimate and the relationships are intense. People get to know one another in a different sort of hungry manner because we all suffer from a bit of loneliness and also because meeting people is part of the point of traveling. We all may have different lifestyles that we’ve left behind and different results that we mean to achieve but we were all meant to meet and help each other along the way. Every fellow traveler I get the opportunity to meet seems to understand how important it is that we’ve met. As if maybe part of the reason we left was solely to sit next to each other on the train or sleep in the same room in the same hostel. Which is pretty cool.

Well, time to go now. As we say in France-Mercia (the legal name for our cottage now)

Salut Suckers!

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