There isn’t a good translation for “nerd” in French. In fact, I hear many French students jabber in French and pepper their conversation with Anglophone words like “nerd” or “geek.” I’m not sure if I’m cool enough to be a nerd, but I aspire to be one. Let’s take a look at some of my nerdy activities since I came to Nantes.
The library was one of the first places I visited on campus. Secretly, I judge a university by the quality of their library. Do they have a good collection of books? Are the books ranging in subject? Is the classification system easy to understand? Is it quiet? Do I feel comfortable here? Is the staff helpful and knowledgeable? The library, to me, is the heart of any university. So, when I came to Nantes, I walked into the library for the humanities with a critical eye.* It’s a big library with a significant collection of English texts and, of course, French works. In my opinion, the library in Nantes is a fantastic library and I love it. Today, I saw this English book on the shelf and, 165 pages later, I decided to check out my first book from the library.
“Bonjour. This is my first time checking out a book…” I said nervously to the librarian at the front desk.**
“No problem. I’ll activate your student card and you’ll be able to check out any material you’d like,” she said with a smile.
She explained how many materials I can check out and for how many days. I’m very excited. Okay, yes, this book is in English, but I couldn’t resist. I just wanted to read the first page and then I realized I had been standing in the stacks reading it for like an hour. I promise to read books in French. It is my intent to go back to the library tomorrow and find a French book to read.
There is also a library for foreign students. It’s a small room, but it has everything I need – computers, a photocopier (for all of the paperwork I’m required to do), a printer, books, magazines, dictionaries, DVD’s…and, most importantly, a kind and understanding librarian.
I am also looking to participate in the Quidditch activities at Nantes. For those of you unfamiliar with Quidditch, it is a sport from the mind of J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. It is usually played on brooms, but Muggles (non-magical humans) do not have the ability to fly. Luckily, a student in the United States was able to create a Muggle version of Quidditch. It’s an extremely fun sport to play with friends and I’ve been playing since my freshman year at WVU. Here in Nantes, I was able to participate in a few drills last week. This week, I attended their annual meeting. It was conducted entirely in French and it was quick, familiar and business-focused French. I admit. I didn’t understand everything, but I understood most of what was going on. It was a great listening exercise because, unlike speaking with other foreigners, French people talk fast. They talk over one another. They use complex phrases and idiomatic phrases. Most importantly, when I did need clarification, they were kind enough to repeat and reword sentences for me. The team is comprised of a good group of people and I’m excited for the rest of the semester.
Another nerd-like activity: I go to the English table at an Irish pub on Tuesdays. French students practice their English and I take the opportunity to speak English. Sometimes, after speaking non-stop French, I want to make sure I can still speak English! Yesterday, it was karaoke night at the pub. While it’s not really a nerdy thing, it is something worth noting. I watched an entire pub of French people sing “Barbie Girl.” It was…interesting.
My last nerd moment is my literature class. I adore my professor. He has such a passion for literature and he inspires me to look at French literature, and literature in general, in a new light. Here’s why. He hands us a poem or a short story and tells us to read it. That sounds pretty normal, right? Yes…except he cuts off that last few lines. He asks us to determine what is going on. He asks us to analyze what we have in front of us without knowing the ending. We spend class formulating hypotheses. Maybe the narrator is dying. Maybe he’s crazy. Maybe… We come up with dozens of theories and everyone has a different perspective. Then he sends us home and we’re left with a burning curiosity.
Please. We beg. Please. Let us know what happens.
He smiles and then tells us that we’ll find out next time. The next time we meet, he has us read over the story again and recaps what we had discussed. Then, he hands us the last couple of lines. We are always stunned. It never ends the way we imagined it would. But, when we go back, we can find clear evidence that the author planted to justify the ending. When you know how the story ends, you can obviously see all of the foreshadowing techniques that lead to the ending. But when you don’t? It’s just a jumble of clues and you’re left to put together the puzzle to the best of your ability.
I feel like that my journey here in Nantes is a story that my literature professor handed out. I have all of these pieces, these lines of learning. I’m trying to put them together, but the puzzle isn’t fitting together quite right. I know when I have those last lines, when my time in Nantes comes to an end, I will see the puzzle in its entirety. And it won’t be anything like I imagined. It will surprise me, but when I look back at the individual lines, I will see that the image was there all along.
*The Université de Nantes has several campuses around the city and, as such, several libraries. Since I am studying French, I am only truly interested in what can be found in the humanities library. I am sorry to disappoint those of you curious about the quality of the chemistry journals in France – I don’t read chemistry journals in any language!
**For the sake of prose, just assume that everything in quotations is in French unless I specify otherwise.