Some days, I feel like I don’t know Grenoble at all like the day they changed the tramlines without notice, or the day I got lost, I braked too hard on my bicycle to avoid a car, and flew over the handles like a cartoon character, feet flailing. With my knack for attracting trouble and dubious skill of any sort, I sort of expect moments of misfortune. However, I am almost at the two-month mark and though I did have that brief bike accident, experience a bomb explosion, and fall off of small cliff injuring my ankle, I have made it thus far with minimal scarring both bodily and socially. Truthfully, I’ve been having a great time getting to know France, and I have been able to meet some wonderful people.
There are times when I feel like I am a stranger in a strange place, situations when I run out of French words or add to my list of Peculiar Things:
- The way the roads sliver through the mountains and seemingly have so few rules
- The nomadic les gens du voyage and the hatred towards them
- Shredded cabbage and carrot salad with mustard dressing
- Raw radishes with butter chunks
- Ham on cantaloupe
- Wearing jeans and nice things at camp
- The large guns police carry
- The immigrant prostitutes
- The fact that everyone loves listening to Country Roads even if they know no English
Other times, things don’t feel so foreign, like when I decided to make a last-minute pit stop at the bakery to pick up a baguette for a euro (a transaction entirely in French) and take two shortcuts on the way back to my apartment. I’m still learning the streets and trying to fold my tongue into place and become apart of this place.
Something that is simultaneously a challenge and a joy about adapting here is how international of a city it is. There are people, especially students, from all over the world, so it’s not just French culture with which I negotiate. This is where real skill is needed. Unfortunately, I have to practice not looking horrified when asked if I eat dog if I’m going to have more successful cross-cultural encounters.
This morning I spoke with a group of Chinese and Japanese students about names and cultural differences. One told me that eating bitter gourd would clear one’s skin because the bitterness balances out the body. Another replied that modern medicine had better answers than Chinese medicine. People meet from all over the world and sometimes end up as I did the other day, sitting in a group with a medley of backgrounds, beliefs, and countries of origins, singing Arabic songs in the park. Life here is like that a lot: clashing and evolving cultures.
The really spectacular thing is Jesus meets us no matter what situation we are coming from or going towards. Whether we are in France or Finland, Africa or America, Jesus meets us right where we are. This past Sunday standing in a French church, I was struck by the familiarity of it all. The words may have been in French, but the core principles of the Gospel don't change even if the cultural context does. The message is still for God loved the world so he sent his son for us even though we eat raw radishes with butter chunks. Though there are difficulties and differences, we are all dearly loved.