I had never spent a single New Years outside of California. At least not until 2017 rolled around. Since my program in Nantes, France began on January 3, I decided that it would be cheaper and more fun to spend some time with my friend in London before making my way to France. Did I mention that this is my first time in Europe?
My journey began in London on a cold and cloudy day. I knew that Europe would be cold, but having lived my entire life in SoCal, I did not even know what cold was. For New Years, I spent the weekend with my English friend and her boyfriend in their house in Essex, which is not too far from London. I was not able to do the stereotypical tourist activities, but I got to see the real everyday life of this region.
When my time was up in England, I was back in the airport again. This time it was very different. In Los Angeles, I was surrounded by English, but the second that I got to my gate in London, I was surrounded by French, and all English had disappeared. I took four French classes in high school so I was very confident in my ability to speak the language. However, this confidence was completely shattered when I got into a taxi at the airport in Nantes. He said Bonjour and then I did not catch a word after that. Good thing he spoke English as well.
As I write this, I am two weeks into my time in France. I am happy to say that I have improved my French skills. I still struggle when they speak too fast or they use slang, but I have plenty of time to improve. Since arriving, I have explored the city, settled into a normal life, and attended a few classes. In doing all of this, I have discovered a lot of differences between San Diego and Nantes.
The first difference that I noticed upon my arrival was that the city of Nantes is behind when it comes to technology and their reliance on it. This was apparent for their public transit system and cell phone companies. The system here in Nantes relies on buying small paper tickets that must be stamped every time that you use the tram. If you would like to buy a month pass, then you must buy a different paper ticket that is valid for only one calendar month which means everyone lines up at the beginning of the month to buy these passes. It feels like there could be a much better system.
Another difference that I have found is that buying a cell phone plan is very difficult compared to America and Australia. In America and Australia, it is very easy to insert the SIM card into your phone and be ready to go. In Nantes, however, we had to fill out a lot of paperwork, buy the SIM card, and then buy a recharge separately. This meant that we had to turn on our service manually. Along the way, my friend Mark and I did something wrong which caused the activation to fail, and the store could not help us. This meant that we were shorted our service for the month. Add a language barrier, and it has made the transition to France very difficult to handle. I would say that this is exponentially harder than my transition to my program in Australia that I did last semester.
Now coming to Nantes has not been all bad by any means! Despite the difficulties that have come with trying to figure things out, I have been having a great experience so far. I have seen amazing sights such as the “Machines de Nantes” which includes the elephant pictured below. That elephant actually walks around Île de Nantes which is an island in the south of the city.
The city is very beautiful, and I have enjoyed looking at the way that it was built. Add the great food and wine, and it has been a great time. Even the cheapest wine here tastes better than most wines that I have had – though I have not tried all that much wine. The bread is also oddly amazing. One euro can get you a fresh baguette from the bakery, and it is so good you can eat the whole thing by accident.
Contrary to the stereotype, the people here are also very nice. They have all been very welcoming and helpful in my time here.
The best part, however, has been meeting people from around the world. I have made friends from Canada, Italy, Colombia, Mexico and France. All of them have been showing me bits and pieces of their culture. For example, when talking to the Italians the other day, they told me how there are big differences in the way that people speak from region to region. It is so different that it is almost an entirely different language all together. Also, their hand gestures are not random, and most of them have specific meanings that correlate to what they are saying. I am pretty proud to say that I am pretty much fluent in “Italian sign language” now.
In my next post, I will start to look at the French culture and how their school system is different to San Diego.
Daniel Haberman is a marketing major. He is studying in Nantes, France during Spring semester.