Oct 07

Ah. My joy at being registered for courses was very quickly replaced with DREAD. Now it would really begin. I’d sit in class completely lost, struggling to understand professors who’d speak at the speed of light in complicated jargon. What if, contrary to everything I’d heard, class participation was a thing, and professors picked on me and I’d have no idea what they were saying? My only comfort was the fact that I’d decided to record all my classes and go over them afterwards. Well, Tuesday morning arrived. I’d found out all my room numbers online but I still decided to get there early in case I got lost. My class was at 8 am so when I left my apartment it was still dark out. Reminded me of high school.

Found the classroom. Ironically it was located in the “Monde Anglophone” section of the building. Eventually we went in and all sat down. There were about 45 of us. A French girl started talking to me (she wasn’t Parisian, she was a transfer student, and I don’t think she knew anyone either) and quickly realized I wasn’t French. We talked for a bit and then as our conversation was winding down, a girl who was also sitting near me said, in English: “Ohmygosh, are you American too?” Grrrr. Yes, I said, I was. We then talked until class started. At least I vaguely know 2 people in one of my classes now?

The prof walked in and took attendance. To my relief I was actually on the list– first on the roll, in fact! People don’t really have a problem pronouncing my name here, since it’s French, which makes me really happy. In the U.S. my name inevitably becomes Gabriel or Gabriella. Anyway, apparently I was properly registered! Hooray. There were 4 people in the class who weren’t, and they were put on a waiting list at the end.

We didn’t get a syllabus. I was sort of hoping we would but… nope. The prof talked a little about the state of Korean cinema now, then told us about how we’d be graded. We have a final on the last day of courses–I think we’ll be asked to write an essay analyzing a scene from a film– and a “dossier”, which is basically a term paper, about a specific aspect of one of the films we’ll study. He handed out a bibliography that was a page long. Apparently there is no required reading, only suggested readings. Lots and lots of books. Like I mentioned earlier, class participation is not a part of the grade. You still need to be present and stuff, but there’s no such thing as discussion. 50% final, 50% term paper. Lord, I’ve never written a paper in French in my life. This is going to be…fun.

Korean cinema! Our prof started his intro to the class by repeating “Cinema coréen!” so many times that it reminded me of David Tennant as the Doctor teaching physics and I couldn’t help but smile. Lucky for me, the films shown in class had subtitles available only in English! But unlike Brooklyn College film studies classes, we do not spend the majority of class watching films– just some clips here and there.

I understood mostly everything that was going on, which really surprised me. I expected to get maybe 50% and feel horrible after, but I have to say I probably got around 85-90% and I was really happy! We quickly went over some Korean history which was difficult for me because of all of the dates–I still have trouble with French numbers. Man, why does 70 have to be sixty-ten? Why is 80 four-twenty? and 90 four-twenty-ten? Belgians (and the Swiss for that matter) made things so much easier. 70 is septante, 80 is huitante and 90 is nonante. It just makes much more sense, doesn’t it?

In the middle of class another film professor walked in. He wished us a great semester and told us that we were, as we already knew, in a great university. And that we were privileged to have our professor teach us. Aw.

Then he went on to say that he also had to publicly give our professor a big kiss, to which everyone giggled, and he kissed our prof on both cheeks. He talked about how they were going to a film festival in Auche together the next week, and how it was their favorite film festival, nicer than Venice and Cannes (and my prof would know having directed one of the programs at Cannes ho hoho) and then he decided to tell us a story about a culture minister who wanted to shut down a movie theatre in a town and the people of the town didn’t allow it. Or something. It was too adorable.

After class I went and asked the prof if I could record his class. “Ah, parce que lsafdjsldlvvkjdfsds français?”, I heard him say. Um. I nodded and smiled. “Ah, oui, bien sur, bien sur,” he said. Well, that works for me!

I ran to my second class, Economie du cinéma hollywoodien. Our professor is apparently also a prof at Paris 8, the other school I’d considered attending, in Saint-Denis. He spoke extremely slowly, which is fantastic for me. It’s actually really funny to be learning about American cinema and the U.S. in French. All the names of American companies, and actors, and places, with a French accent? It’s priceless. Paramount becomes Paramooont, Warner becomes Wahr-nehr… and our prof had to explain some basic U.S. legal concepts that don’t exist in Europe, such as settling a lawsuit in the middle of a trial. Here, you either sue or you don’t– it’s not like the cost of a trial is so great that just the threat of a trial will make the other side give in. I think this course is going to be really interesting not only because I’ll learn something new, but because I’ll learn about  some aspects of the U.S. from a totally different perspective.

And then I was done for the day at Paris 3. I walked over to the CROUS near Port Royal (even though there is one right near Paris 3, I wanted to walk a bit) and it was PACKED. I waited on line to get into the caf for like 20 minutes. But I did get to eat a really great lunch eventually. Haha.

I went back to my apartment to chill for a bit before my 5 pm MICEFA class, Grammaire du Texte. Luckily for me it was located in one of the Paris 7 buildings which happened to be a 10 minute walk from my place. At 3:50 I glanced at the course schedule. OH NO my class was actually at 4, not 5! I grabbed my jacket and ran out the door. And what do you know, I was still on time.

But only 2 other students had signed up for the course, which made for an awkward first class. And yesterday I found out that the course had been cancelled because of the low enrollment. It’s being replaced with a course on France and the media, which is really cool, and I’ll have to sign up for it because nothing else fits my schedule. But I’d had to beg the French department to accept the Grammaire du Texte course as a class towards my French major, and now that it’s a different course it’s very doubtful that it’ll be accepted for anything but elective credits. And god knows I have enough of those. Sigh.

Wednesday! I only have one class on Wednesdays. It’s my Sound in Cinema class. Also around 45 people. Our prof had us fill out a form with some basic info about ourselves, so he’s pretty much my only prof that officially has it written down that I’m an exchange student. Uh…yay. He told us about our assignments (well, a midterm and a final), gave us a 2 page bibliography, and introduced the subject matter.

At one point he told us about the Wilhelm Scream — I’d heard about this but never knew what it was. Apparently it’s a sound effect of a man screaming as he’s shot or something– and since it’s first use in a film from the 50’s it’s been used in over 200 films. Directors include it in their films just to be funny. Here’s a compilation, it’s hilarious.

Describing it he said something like this:  “It’s a scream of someone who’s dying. Not in reality, but for the film. I say this because when I was 5 years old I thought that the actors really died, that they sacrificed themselves to earn money for their families.” Totally deadpan, too. Awww.

Anyway when I asked him to record the course he said: “Oui. Oui, mais…ewoiewfdsjklnfds.” Now, from what I vaguely heard and from his tone I gathered that he’d said something like “but it’s not going to help you much.” At this point I probably should have mentioned something about being an exchange student but I just sort of looked at him and went, “Euhhhh…”

He asked if I’d recorded other classes before and I went yes and he said fine okay. Bottom line it’s all good but MAN. I know my French could be so much worse– I am at the Sorbonne Nouvelle after all– but moments like that just really make me cringe.

Thursday I had my very first CM, or Cours Magistral. This course (History of Contemporary Cinema) took place in a HUGE amphitheatre. There had to be at least 250 students in the class, probably more. The largest class I’ve taken at Brooklyn College probably had about 90 students but even so, the atmosphere was completely different.

The professor stood at the front with a microphone, and every so often the students would just start chatting away as if class wasn’t in session and the prof would actually shush them. “SHHHH!!!” It was awkward, I felt like I was in high school again. But anyway, for this class we’re only having ONE final exam that will determine our ENTIRE grade. I can’t imagine that ever being tolerated in the U.S. However, if you fail an exam here, you do have the chance to make it up at the end of the year. It’s called “rattrapage”. So you don’t automatically have to retake a course because you failed that one exam.

So of course I went and asked my prof if I could record the class. I said: “Je suis étudiante étranger, alors est-ce que je peut enregistrer votre cours?” I realized later that I’d inadvertently made my case much stronger because, well, that wasn’t exactly grammatically correct. Etiudiante is female, so I should have said étrangère, not étranger. Sigh. Smiling, he said: “Ah, no, I actually don’t allow that.”

“Non?” I said, and I too was still smiling, because I was sure I hadn’t actually heard him. “No,” he answered. “You can get notes from one of your classmates.” “Oh, okay, thanks,” I said. I don’t know why I thanked him. Thanks for nothing, PROF! Hahaha. I just had to shake my head and laugh. I wasn’t upset, because the professor actually repeated important points so we’d know to write them down. What’s more, yesterday I actually found ALL the notes for the course neatly typed up on a website online. So no worries. I was just extremely BEMUSED. BEMUSED I SAY.

Later that day I had my British Cinema class, which was, wait for it… in ENGLISH! I was totally expecting the class to be filled with Anglos, but no. This was my smallest class — probably about 20 students — and the professor is British. She told us she was going to run the class similarly to a class she taught at the University of London. I guess the British system is quite similar to the U.S. one, though, because she was intent on making the class about discussion and participation. We had to go around the room in the beginning and introduce ourselves… the whole shebang. And as it turned out, I think I’m the only American in the class. Half the class is film students while the other half is English students.

We started out with Hitchcock and we watched some clips from his early films, which were very interesting. Whenever our professor used a big word or a colloquialism she would stop and ask if we understood her. It was very cute. But from what I can tell, it’s quite a high level class. We still need to write a term paper and sit a final. It’s going to be SO much easier than any of my other classes– but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be EASY.

And with that, I was properly introduced to each of my classes. Straight after class on Thursday I joined two of my friends at a bar– we’d signed up for a language exchange event in Montparnasse. It was kind of like speed dating, but just for speaking– you spoke 5 minutes in French and 5 minutes in English and then switched tables. It was fun, and afterwards we went for dinner.

The French girl I’d met in my Korean cinema class had told me about Forum des Images. I knew about it, they have screenings and film events there, but what I didn’t know was that they had a screening room where, if you’re under 25 or a student, you can watch movies from their collection for 2 hours a day, absolutely free. I just needed to sign up for a pass, which I promptly went and did. I went upstairs to the room, which was super modern and comfortable– orange and purple couches everywhere, with plush headphones… I browsed their collection and since I was low on time I just watched a Charlie Chaplin short called Easy Street. I am definitely going back there– they have 7,500 films in the collection! Watch this slightly weird advertisement for it…

Bande-annonce Salle des Collections par forumdesimages

I’ve been having such issues with my phone, by the way. First I got a prepaid sim card to hold me over until I could open a bank account and get a plan. Then I did that, ordered a plan, waited 2 weeks. Meanwhile my old number had been cancelled because it had been transferred over to the new plan. So I got another temporary sim card to hold me over again. Phone number #2. Then, I heard from other people that their sim cards had never arrived, even after a month. So I cancelled that plan and ordered a new one. That sim card arrived within 2 days. Awesome, right? No. Not yet anyway. Now I had a third number, and I had to wait for my old number to transfer over. Except it never did. So I called, and apparently I had the wrong transfer code so I had to get the right one and I called my old company and did, and now my old number will probably transfer over on Tuesday. But all in all does this sim card work with the iPhone I specifically unlocked before I got here to use? No. No it doesn’t. So meanwhile I’m using this 8 year old pink RAZR  (I like it, mind you, but it has no data option, which I’m still paying for) and I still need to go to the Apple store or some other phone store and and SIGH. The customer support people were nice enough though, especially given my French. Whatever, this is Real Life And Stuff.

Saturday night was Paris’ Nuit Blanche– a night when museums stay open and art installations and performances are going on all across the city, all night. It was raining so we didn’t stay out too late, but we got ice cream at Amorino– a great gelato chain– and walked along the Seine.

That’s lemon, raspberry, pear and grapefruit sorbet. YUM!

That’s one of the things we saw on the Seine, it was a tiny boat and people were actually inside as it shot out flames!

I don’t have classes tomorrow. Because it’s Monday and I don’t have classes on Monday. Woo! But I have to go to MICEFA and get my course situation sorted (AGAIN), and then I may FINALLY, FINALLY! go to the Cinematheque Francaise with a friend!

Now you’re all updated… and if you’ve actually read this far, you deserve a personal congratulations. <3

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Gabrielle in Paris