University of Wisconsin–Madison

The Most Normal Post You Will Read

I’ve been trying to figure out what to write for the past couple weeks, and I haven’t found much—life has been pretty normal here. ..Finally! It is finally becoming normal to walk the streets of Aix, do homework at the political science library, and to hear French wherever I go. So I suppose that is my subject. Though studying abroad affords many opportunities for travel and to have new experiences, I am content to find my rhythm here. Lulls are not very exciting, but they can be comforting.

So since life is becoming more normal, here are a couple of normal things that happen in Aix. The sun is almost always out, and rain is a rarity. Currently (in winter) we waver from high 30-60 degrees from day to day. The locals talk about the mistral—a strong wind which comes from the coast and can bring the temperature down up to 10 degrees. Thankfully the mountains near Aix block the cool temperatures, so the weather is still much warmer than Wisconsin. And if you ever need to know, the conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit is (C degrees x 2) + 30 = F degrees.

A clear way to find foreigners, particularly international students, is a backpack. I’ve had many Aixoise (habitants of Aix) identify me as American before we’ve talked just by my backpack. Most students carry a satchel or purse of some kind; however the homework load is light enough that we don’t have much to carry.

Water and electricity are much more expensive here. We are learning to be more conscious about using minimal lights and taking ten-minute showers. However whatever energy we save with showers and light switches probably goes to all of Aix’s celebrated fountains and heaters for outdoor seating at cafés. The trade-off seems pretty fair, though.

Many TV shows and films are the same that we have in the states; they will just have French subtitles or French voice-overs. I can’t say I imagined watching Captain America in French, but it is an accomplishment I can add to the study abroad list.

When walking in Aix, the Midwest hospitality of smiling to people you walk by or even making eye contact does not exist here. The French can be very warm when you start talking to them, but don’t expect a friendly nod when you walking past strangers. This may be better in the long run so you can then direct your attention to the sidewalk—it is not common for people to pick up after their dogs.

Buying groceries is a little different—the French buy enough groceries for maybe 3 days and then return a couple times a week. Expirations dates are shorter so buying groceries for the week is not easy. Most establishments close on Sundays as well, so one needs to do some shopping by the end of the week. Right now, nation-wide sales called Soldes are occurring for about a month. These happen twice a year, and they take the place of sales happening every holiday like in the States. It also provides an extended period with a good excuse to go shopping, right, Dad??

Bakeries and patisseries are EVERYWHERE! You could by a chocolate croissant at one establishment and then a warm Nutella crêpe next door. The romanticized stereotype of people walking around with a baguette in hand is so true, and it has become a favorite custom for the study abroad students!

There you have it. It is not earth-shattering or Instagrammable, but lulls and normal life are still a part of study abroad. Hopefully, for me and the other students, Aix will continue to progress from “normal” to “home” before long. I hope your lives around the world, whether normal or exciting, find you well!