Georgia Lederman (on the right) is a senior at Oberlin College.
Where were you this past semester?
I was in Paris for 4 months and then Avignon, a city in the south of France for 2 months.
What were you doing there?
I did a study abroad program called CUPA while in Paris, and a program run by Bryn Mawr College during the summer. During the fall, I took classes at the Sorbonne and University of Paris 8. I was in class with French students, studying translation, comparative literature, education and French Islam. During the summer I took literature and philosophy courses with other American students in the heart of Avignon, which is a historically rich city.
What sounds were unique to the area you studied in?
Many. However, one that stands out is this unexpected inhalation that got me off guard. Occasionally, the french make this unfamiliar inward breath when they are saying the word “oui”. It is usually while someone else is speaking. At first exposure, I thought that I was talking to a weirdo with a bizarre mannerism—a nervous habit perhaps. But then I started to notice the asthmatic quality in multiple people’s speech and realized that it was “normal.” Additionally, I started to be able to pick apart the intricacies of the “Paris accent” as opposed to the southern way of speaking. At the risk of sounding critical, I would characterize the Paris style as having a brisk and perky element, whereas the southerners speak perhaps more horizontally, involving their nasal cavity a bit more if that makes any sense.
What is an instance when a friend or stranger showed you kindness?
I had my bag stolen. In the bag was my passport, 2 credit cards, my student ID, my metro card, money, the keys to my host family’s apartment, and possibly a piece of paper on which the address to the apartment was written. This meant that my host family had to re-do their lock system. However, despite this severe inconvenience, when I got home, my host mom hugged me and opened a bottle of beer. Maternal kindness goes a long way.
On another occasion I was feeling very lonely and isolated and the director of my program dropped everything she was doing to talk to me and help me get to the root of my home-sickness.
What meal or type of food would you try again?
As much as I am ashamed to say it, escargot is fantastic and so is “canard.” Escargot is often prepared in a garlic pesto, olive oil sauce. I was a vegetarian for about three days in France… My host father made a wonderful magret du canard (duck breast) and would cook small potatoes in the grease. I will not forget it.
Another amazing meal was one that I prepared when my Oberlin friend, Raffi Boden, came to visit me in the South of France. We went to the market and got fresh figs, fresh local goat cheese, smoked salmon and crusty French bread. We compiled little tartines for our appetizer and it was heavenly.
What words in French do you enjoy saying?
I like saying “déjà-vu” because the way that Americans say dejavous is a completely different pronunciation than the french way. The ou and u were REALLY challenging for me to master and I found that using a hand gesture helped me achieve the right “u”. So I like saying that word because it allows me to completely inhabit my “french self.”
Do you enjoy speaking French?
I love it. It’s like wearing clothes that are slightly different from your normal style, or experimenting with new ingredients while cooking. It’s like taking a vacation from normal thinking patterns. And when words flow and the accent clicks, it just feels good.
What were some odd quirks about a professor of yours? Can’t think of a good answer.
What rules in the French classroom were new to you?
Three hours. No peeing. No leaving. Also, for the most part, students were not encouraged to question the teacher. The most common questions began with “can you repeat what you said about…”
Where in the world would you like to spend your time next?
Honestly, among my friends and family. I would love to go back to the south of France–maybe Avignon again, or maybe Aix-en-Provence. I am also very curious about other Francophone countries. I would love to be able to use my French to understand the world in as many ways as possible.