A Travellerspoint blog

Life is more interesting when you don't understand it 100% !

semi-overcast 18 °C

Well, I have passed yet another few exciting days of existence! Honestly; I think this week wins, and it’s only Tuesday!

Starting with the relatively mundane, I have purchased the train tickets for my first weekend trip – I’m heading to Paris bright and early on the morning of Friday the 10th of October! This particular trip was inspired by the fact that there is currently an exhibition of the paintings of Marcel Duchamp at the Centre Pompidou. So I’m all over that! Thanks to the fact that I don’t have classes on Fridays and my first class on Mondays starts at 1:30, I get to spend all day on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in Paris, and head back to Besançon on the crack-of-dawn Monday train. It should be pretty exciting – right now I anticipate hitting the museum shortly after I arrive on Friday, because it’s only about a mile from the train station. Then I’ll have the rest of the weekend to explore the rest of the city…

Last week, I received an email from the Franche-Comté coordinator of my study-abroad program asking me to prepare a testimony of my experience in Besançon thus far - why I chose this school, how nice everyone has been, etc., to share with the president of the university. First of all, it was worded like I didn’t really have a choice; secondly, it seemed like a very nice, but normal enough occurrence to have the president invite all of the international students over to meet and welcome them in person. So, of course, I said yes, despite the fact that I was more than a little hesitant to speak to an important person in French….

So then a few days later, I got a follow-up email from the President’s secretary inviting me to a debriefing to prepare for the meeting. This struck me as a little bit dramatic, but the French are really professional and have high quality-control and whatnot, right? So I show up at the administration building (running, because I was about five minutes late) and go to the appointed office. Sitting outside the office on a couch was one other international student who I recognized but hadn’t actually met yet. So we sat there for a few minutes, equally confused about what was going on. Finally, one other student showed up. So we hung out in the hallway for about ten minutes waiting (events, meetings, classes, and such things rarely start on time here). So I had the occasion to get to know Stjepko, who is from Croatia and is working on his graduate law degree, and Elyas, who is from Bolivia and is working on his Master’s in psychology.

Finally, we were ushered into the office, where we were introduced to the president’s personal secretary, a university department head, and finally the President himself. That last one kind of threw me off a little bit… So the meeting began and we were asked to tell a little bit about ourselves – where we come from, what we study, why we chose Besançon, etc. All the while, the secretary was taking notes, and all three adults were nodding their heads every once in a while, saying things like, “Oh, yes; that will be great” and “Ah, wonderful – the CLA! We need to make sure that that gets mentioned.” After our introductions, the president told us how excited he was to have us representing the university and the international program, and not to worry ourselves about our language levels (I’m fairly intermediate but make really silly mistakes when nervous, Stjepko is a little less advanced (but he also speaks like three other languages fluently…), and Elyas is pretty darn fluent, making us both look bad in comparison!)

Then they went on to tell us how the presentation would unfold on Monday (yesterday). We would meet around noon at the administration building, and all of the university representatives and the French students who would also be making presentations and we, the internationals, would all go have lunch together and mentally prepare ourselves. They made a point of telling us that we had to be careful – we couldn’t tell anyone about this presentation for security reasons.

By this time, I had finally figured out what was actually going on. We weren’t going to share our experiences with the president of the university – we were going to speak at a press conference with Manuel Valls, the Prime Minister of France. Yes. So that happened. Monday came, and we went and ate a delicious lunch at a café downtown. We had about two hours to kill after that, so Stjepko and I ran around taking selfies to commemorate the day.


When it was time to head back to the building where the conference was to be held, we discovered that the street had been blockaded and we couldn’t get across to where we needed to be. We had about two minutes until we were supposed to meet up, but we had to run down about four blocks to the next bridge, cross the river, run back those four blocks on the other side, and cross the river again. But we made it. In this case, the standard French lateness was quite convenient. So I had been hesitant about speaking to the president of the university, but instead ended up speaking to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Education, and the Minister of Higher Education and Research and a room of about forty reporters. Whatever. I talked about how Franche-Comté is perfect for me because I can spend one semester immersed in one of my majors and the next in the other (that’s really not possible in a lot of other French universities – the CLA is a pretty unique resource), and he asked me follow-up questions about my studies and got to talk a little bit about my research. In all, I think that it went fairly well! It helped that all of the French people were ridiculously nervous, too. This is the only picture that I could find in all of the press coverage that actually had a bit of me in it – you can see the back of my head in the bottom left corner! The Ministers are in the middle of the horseshoe surrounded by French students who talked about student life, research, job placements, etc. This picture is from the very beginning; that’s the president of the university giving his welcome in the middle.


So that’s definitely a story that will be going down in the books!

Also, I did my grocery shopping for the week today, so here is a bonus feature for fellow food enthusiasts – some fun facts about grocery shopping:

• There are a bunch of different varieties of ready-made (jarred or canned) ratatouilles, much like we have canned soups in the US. So I bought one today, and will try it on a night when I don’t really feel like cooking…also, there's the vegetable ravioli, which turned out to be pretty great.
• Toast is not really a big thing here (there were a few toasters at the electronics store, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they are for the Americans and Brits who have relocated only to find themselves in a toast-desert). Instead, a fairly typical breakfast option is “pain grillé” (literally, “grilled bread”). It is sold in a box of about 15 slices; and is pretty much just super dry and crunchy premade toast. It is kind of a bizarre concept to me, but it is pretty bomb with fruit preserves or Nutella, and accompanied by a cup of coffee!
• There are SO MANY interesting flavors of confitures (fruit preserves) – blueberry, orange, peach, cranberry, rhubarb, lingonberry, fig, prune, plum, lemon, chestnut, quince, currant, and gooseberry. In addition to the typical blackberry, raspberry, cherry, strawberry, etc. – but I actually haven’t seen any grape… Anyways, I have my work cut out for me!
• The cheese cooler is a dangerous black hole that could easily suck up my entire stipend. There is a RIDICULOUS selection of amazing looking fancy cheeses that range from way cheaper than anything that could be found in the US to gourmet things that are handmade by ancient old hermit women in their tiny cottages in the mountains that cost like €35 for half a kilo. The best thing so far is the fact that the “cheap cheese” is Emmental. A bag of shredded Emmental magic costs a third as much as the same amount of mozzarella! One can also buy crème fraiche in a tub as easily as one would buy sour cream back home.
• Nutella is such a staple here that there are generic brands, too! And the one that I bought is just as good as the real stuff. Even the real stuff is relatively affordable – nowhere near as expensive as in Omaha. This is countered by the fact that peanut butter is NOT a thing here. I have only seen Skippy, and only in a few stores. When it can be found, it is in a jar about half the size of the smallest option in the US, and it costs almost $5…
• In the produce section, almost all of the products are bulk, and you choose what you want – including individual giant leaves of spinach!
• The apple species are different – there are Pink Ladies, but they are prohibitively expensive – almost $5 per kilo. So I have discovered both the Jonagored and the Boskoop apple, both of which are quite scrumptious.

Posted by NKammerer 15:01 Archived in France Tagged food paris pompidou groceries pressconference primeminister

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WOW - your very own press conference! I wonder if that's something we could find "on line" so that we could hear you speak in French with all the dignitaries? Your race to make it to the conference after you discovered the closed street sounds like a scene from one of Eva's silent picture shows.

I wouldn't dare get started on all of the wonderful cheeses that you're experiencing - I'd gain sooooo much weight!

Another wonderful blog!


by Judy Trout

Cette histoire est incroyable et aussi es toi! Félicitations pour une autre semaine victorieuse :) Je voudrais entendre ce que tes amis français ont pensé de ton aventure.

by Lisa Kammerer

Your father just called & told us to read your latest blog You are having the chance of a lifetime - we dearly love your blogs - keep them coming !! Love, Muti & Pa

by Muti & Pa

Hey Natalie! Once I found the card with your blog info I was able to catch up on all your great posts! You should know that typing your name and "blog" into Google will not yet bring someone here - I tried it a few times in various iterations before finding the card...but yowsa what a time you are having! Thanks for sharing all the detail and now relax - after speaking to the Prime Minister of France you can coast the rest of the year!

by Scott

Congratulations on being selected to participate in a press conference with French dignitaries. WOW!! I am in absolute awe of your successes and courage. Be safe and please continue sharing the details of your experiences.

by Aunt Barb

Glad to hear that you have expanded your French contacts somewhat. Who's next the head of the EU or maybe the Pope?

You are incredible.

by Opa

What darling pictures of you!! no wonder they picked you to meet the PM. your smile alone would totally disarm everyone even if you were speaking spanish......so very proud of you. love aunt betty

by betty eckley

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