In some ways, I arrived in France and became a child again. There is so much to learn, and I am acutely aware of my own ineptitude and lack of understanding in just about every relevant area (apparently no one cares about analyzing modern American poetry). What to say, how to get from here to there, even how to use the shower are all new again. I find myself looking around and asking “What is that?” all day long. Every time I go outside my room, I have to prepare myself to run a marathon in my head of what and how to say or do anything and everything. When I meet someone I go through this frenzied thought process: Hello? Bonjour! Salut? Are we doing a handshake, a hug, a real kiss, or la bise? Are you French, American, Canadian, Spanish, British, Russian, Kazakhstani, a blend...? Sorry about my accent. Yes, I'm American. Sorry, yes, sorry. I sound weird, yes. Je suis désolée...Hi. It’s a constant negotiation of making other people comfortable and trying not to look like I’ve swallowed a lemon because I’ve just patted the sides of my face with a stranger's scruff while making kissing noises.
Despite never knowing quite how to interact at first, I have learned a few things. First and foremost that butter and raw radishes are disgusting. I know, I know. France is known for its food, but that is something I cannot get behind. Baguettes, however, are delicious though rock hard by the next day which is a little disappointing. I suppose it forces either indulgence or community. Everything is smaller here, including people and watermelons. By and large, Grenoble is an active, relatively clean community. Speaking of community, the township is communist and fairly ecologically concerned. Coming from an always republican Oklahoma, the political mentality is quite different. People ignore traffic laws, but the bike trails and tram lines are far superior methods of travel over navigating the clustered car-created mess anyway. Plus, though I’ve only been biking around for a few days, I have yet to get hopelessly lost despite my best efforts while wandering the sashaying side streets of the city center. The towering mountains that surround the flat urban area act as pretty good compass needles whenever I’m slightly unsure. In general, I’m beginning to know the landscape of Grenoble.
Even with my right angled learning curve, the main moment of culture shock I’ve experienced thus far was when I went to the mountains with a bunch of strangers to watch a silent Kazakhstani film. All my time preparing to be unfazed during cross-cultural interactions came to nothing when I was confronted with an intimate moment between a boy and his sheep. My hands definitely covered my face and my heart was completely disturbed. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are just some things that are too far afield and a reaction is inevitable. I can’t imagine Jesus being okay with bestiality. In fact, I think Jesus is genuinely concerned with how many people don’t really care about what is or isn’t right both on and off the screen. Some people don’t want to be involved with anything that even smells of religion. I was speaking with someone the other day, and they said, “Your faith is good for you but it’s not for me, I don’t want to know.” That pretty much sums up how things are. The postmodern idea of choosing truth is definitely deeply embedded in the mentality of faith as a private thing. It might be the opposite of Tulsa where you ask where someone goes to church as a method of finding mutual friends.
Apart from that particular film, my day to day normal interactions with people here have been really positive. I haven’t encountered any of the stereotypical snobbery even when people look at me like I’m crazy for believing in God (granted, I might be crazy, but that has more to do with the fact that I majored in English and ended up in France). In fact, everyone has been lovely. The other day I was struggling to buy groceries and had no idea what the nice Frenchman in the market said, but he was patient with me. We worked it out through hand gestures. When I locked myself out in the rain with a full backpack and a dead phone, I didn’t have to sleep on anyone’s porch because my team leader and pastor of the newly founded church helped me out. In fact, over and over again I’ve found that people are willing to help.
Living in a foreign country as a missionary isn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done, but it is a pretty good growth accelerant not to mention that the heat is quite literally on. Currently, France is amid a record-breaking heatwave, there is no air-conditioning, and I live on the third floor. Heat has this particularly annoying habit of rising and settling on my skin. In other words, I look like I’ve gone swimming, but I haven’t seen a pool since I left the States. I may not understand French fluently, but slowly but surely I hope to become better acquainted with the people, language, culture, and the town of Grenoble. So. How am I after just over two weeks in France? I’m hot, stretched, and altogether happy about being here even if I am starting out at an elementary school level.
Pictured is the view from the end of the street where I live.