So now that I am home, and had a little time to think, what comes to mind is two French verbs, Voir (to see) and Connaitre (to know). Connaitre is actually one of two verbs that mean "to know", Savoir being the other. The difference is Connaitre is about really being familiar with somebody or something. Savoir is about having a base of knowledge. Connaitre fits better here.
So why these verbs? They sum up the difference of the experience I had on this trip, compared to most other things I have done in the past. Even on previous trips to France, I was there "to see." It was never about really knowing, understanding, and sensing what the country, its people and its culture are all about. This time I was definitely in "to know" mode. And how amazing that difference has been for me. I am sure I will again do things that are oriented towards "to see", but I don't think my mind is easily going to let go of how amazing it was "to know." It may be some time, but I really look forward to continuing my "to know" efforts with France.
For me, my learnings fall into two big categories: what did I learn about the French Language (which was originally the sole purpose of the trip), and what did I learn about life. Yes, mostly French life, but you can't come from a different life and not put the French experience into a bigger picture.
So first, the language learnings. The two weeks left me with two things, more confidence and more humility. I am more comfortable speaking in French, though that is far easier when I am speaking to a native English speaker also speaking French, or a French speaker who gets how English speakers use a completely different enunciation and intonation. Otherwise I can be a deer in the headlights very quickly, though gained a lot of confidence in handling day to day transactions. But I also learned humility, in the face of how overwhelming mastery of a language is. It does not happen quickly, nor is there any one point where suddenly you get a passing grade and are recognized as "fluent." It is a continual process and a continual learning; no short cuts allowed! No magic pills, as Cynthia so often joked about in our first week of class. And it gives you a new perspective on all the people all over the world who, for one reason or another, have had to learn a new language, and maybe not because it has been the luxury of taking on a hobby.
And then there are the learnings about life. Some of that was learning how to rediscover your own resourcefulness. Simple things become much more challenging when processes are different and you have language challenges. Like pumping gas, for instance. I needed to fill up to drive back to Paris but my credit cards kept getting declined. Finding a way to pay cash required a discussion with an auto mechanic who hadn't a word of English. But we got through it. Unfortunately I couldn't pay cash until the auto dealership reopened, later that afternoon, when I would be in class. So I needed a quick Plan B back up, which would be to get another student or teacher to buy my gas on their credit card and let me reimburse them. Not so tough to figure out, really, but it is funny how the panic starts creeping in a whole lot sooner when you are out of your comfort zone--and with time constraints.
And then there are the cultural differences, where you can't help but make comparisons. One thing I loved was spending time in a place (Sancerre, not Paris) where there is absolutely no fast food--no McDonald's, Subway, Starbucks. Nothing even remotely like any of those. No convenience stores. You eat real things and you plan better for your needs. But I think it also drives the fabric of the culture. If you haven't seen the movie "The Founder", it is well spent time. It is the birth of the Fast Food Nation, and our societal structure has not benefited from that.I hope the French can continue to resist its infiltration. On the other hand, they need to get the message about the dangers of smoking. That nasty habit is far too prevalent.
And one final French word, 'Au Revoir." The very literal translation is "to the re-seeing." From my first days in French class I always thought that was a beautiful way to say good bye. And it is how I see the end of this trip. I will be back. There are still places I have not seen, like the north of France, Mont Michael and Burgundy.
Thanks again, to all of you who have shared this experience with me. When I decided to write a journal, I wanted it to be more than a chronology (back to "voir" and "connaitre!") I hope I have delivered some of that. And I know I still owe pictures. My computer just figured out it is no longer in France so hopefully I can now do some uploading.