This week has been very busy with meetings in Paris. Fulbright France brings all Fulbright grantees from across France to Paris for a mid-year meeting to exchange ideas, learn from one another and just build social networks. They also have a meeting in the fall but since my grant didn’t start until January, I was not able to make that meeting. We heard from so many fascinating speakers from people at the US embassy in Paris, to people in the government, to American reporters covering news in France.
In addition to outside speakers, we also had the opportunity to meet with one another to discuss our individual projects and host cities. Due to the nature of the Fulbright program, all awardees in France are American so it was interesting to be surrounded by Americans having a similar experience to my own. Though we had many common experiences (the misery of opening a bank account), we are also very different. There were scientists like myself, artists, teachers, and historians just to name a few. Most of the awardees were living in Paris but they were also scattered from Marseille in the South to Rennes in the North to Strausbourg in the East and of course me in Bordeaux in the West.
We shared our experiences in trying to communicate in French. Some of them are near native speakers, others only have a few French words here and there. We talked about our favorite foods and the local customs we were learning. We discussed regional identity in France and the education system. I got to hear first hand from some of the English Teaching Assistants on their experiences with high school education in France and I shared with them what it is like to have a child in French public school. At the conclusion of the program, on the second day, two of the Fulbright Awardees who are artists performed for the group. One played the cello and the other shared a video of herself doing an aerial performance. The final atrtistic performances truly punctuated the whole experience which was exciting and energizing. The 60 or so of us there were so different in terms of what we do and yet so united in terms of a universal experience and passion for our craft.
Since I have Fulbright meetings in Paris Thursday, Friday and Monday and my son is on a two week vacation from school, called vacances scolaire d’hiver (winter break - did you catch the 2 week part?), my son and husband joined me in Paris and we decided to stay the weekend. Over the weekend, we stayed in the northerns suburbs of Paris so we could explore the countryside. I do some research related to rural and urban differences in diet and I really relish the opportunity to get out of the city to study how rural life impacts dietary habits. My son and husband enjoy seeing war artifacts so Northern France is the perfect place for the three of us.
The challenge with seeing rural parts of France or rural parts of any place is that usually a car is needed. Luckily, when I was 16, my father took me to my high school parking lot and insisted I learn to drive a stick shift, so renting a car in Europe (where automatics are rare) is no problem. Driving in France is not that much different than driving in the US. The major differences are road signs and roundabouts. The roundabouts are easy once you get the hang of them. They even make me wonder why we don’t use them in the US. They are so much better than 4 way stops. The road signs are not always so easy. There aren’t any words, just pictures. Luckily, most of them my husband and I knew from previous trips. We have rented cars to drive around Southern France and Normandy in the past. But one was new to us. I have included the picture below. At the time we saw it, we didn’t have cell phone reception so we couldn’t look it up. My husband joked that he thought it translated to intersectional free for all and meant good luck getting through without hitting someone. We googled it when we got home and found out it basically meant 4 way stop, car on the right has the right away. So in many ways similar to intersectional free-for-all.
That term, intersectional free-for-all, became a metaphor for my week with other Fulbright scholars and my time along the World War I western front. To me, it symbolized that every one gets to the same place from a different direction. When you get there, respect those that got there first and might be on a different path that you. But if everyone gets there at the same time, let the person on the right go first. Sometimes it is tough to tell who gets there first. If you pause and are careful/reflective before you get to the intersection, you can tell who gets there first or who is on the right. It seemed to really sum up what I had learned this past week plus it gave us numerous laughs in the car. My son even asked I would mention the intersectional free-for-all in my blog which only solidified the need for me to explain it!