Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Second Impressions

To pick up where I left off in my last entry, I will begin with my observations over the past three weeks regarding a couple of French stereotypes. One thing that made me chuckle last week was looking at a map in a French train that purported to show the "principal rail lines of Europe." Having traveled extensively by train throughout much of Western Europe, I was somewhat surprised to see that nearly all of the lines so indicated were to be found in France. Not even the stretch of track between Frankfurt and Berlin that I traveled so many times while living in Germany was listed as a principal rail line. Meanwhile, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia were omitted from the map altogether. Oh well, France still believes it's the center of Europe, if not the known universe.
Even before I moved to France, I was well aware that not all French people possess the greatest English skills (though Nolwenn makes a fine exception to this). So, almost without exception, conversations with shop employees, passers-by, and even Nolwenn's family have been conducted en Français. I'm making a good effort- trying to learn some 176 words a week and grammar as well, but in the meantime, communication is still a bit of a hurdle.
Still despite ethnocentrism and lack of English skills, there's plenty that Lyon and France have to offer that Vienna and Austria don't. For one thing, despite the cultural offerings and despite the fact that Vienna is a much larger city, Lyon somehow feels a little bit more alive, and less a museum. Perhaps the weight of the past isn't as overwhelming here, perhaps it's the longer hours in the stores, the large immigrant population in the district where I live, perhaps it's the better weather and longer days, perhaps it's something more intangible. In any case, I clearly love it here. The architecture is softer and easier on the eye, the food is superb, and- and this is not to be underestimated- it's all new and exciting. Having never visited Lyon before December, and having never lived anywhere in France before, there's a sense of excitement I have being here that left me while I was in Vienna.
Next week takes me to the UK and Ireland for family tree research, visits with friends, and touring grad schools in advance of September studies. But for now, I'd like to end this post by simply hailing the new chief. So ave, President Obama, and Godspeed.

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