Last weekend we headed to Toulouse to spend some time with several of Olivier's friends...well, more like "our" friends that were Olivier's friends before I met them and got to know them all. We had a wonderful time!
Honestly, living in France is wonderful, but sometimes it is hard to be the foreigner in the crowd. I don't talk a lot about it, not wanting people back home to worry. Life as a foreigner can get very lonely. Trying to keep up with conversations and understand jokes, etc., can be exhausting and often leads to my mind wandering into it's own little world. With every other foreigner that I have come into contact with over here, we have discussed similar feelings and it turns out that we all feel the same way. In group settings, we often feel lonely, not because people are intentionally leaving us out, but because we really just don't feel like ourselves, and that can be frustrating. When putting so much effort into simply comprehending what is going on, I am not my normal self, talking, being sarcastic, adding my tid-bits here and there...I'm just not my normal, fun (I think I'm fun, anyway) self. About a year ago I was frustrated after having been to a group gathering and I asked Olivier when I would stop feeling like such an outsider. How long does it take to just be myself and stop trying so hard just to understand everything? I felt as if I had a learning disability and was several steps behind everyone, and then simply getting lost because I couldn't catch up (education classes coming into play here, thanks Ferris State University). He lived in Denmark for a year so I thought he might know when this transition actually happens. Well, he didn't know, so I just kept waiting. Nowadays, things are much easier. I still have to put effort into paying attention and comprehending while in a group setting, but I am much more comfortable now than before. It was a lot more isolating a year ago, but since my knowledge of the French language has improved, so have my feelings when in a group setting. I'll just add that when it's just a few people, it is much easier to follow and be a part of conversations in French.
To me, the weekend in Toulouse was a small victory in this struggle. For the first time, I found myself having real fun in the group, talking, laughing, understanding. It felt so great. I think a lot of this had to do with the fact that I was with truly wonderful, fun, caring people. There are so many hurdles in becoming part of another culture, and this is a big one, at least for me. I still find myself confused from time to time, but at least I'm not in my own little world, lost from the conversation as I was before. Anyway, on with the story of our weekend.
We arrived late Friday night. Toulouse is about 5.5 hours from Nice by car. Everyone else came from Paris, so we all arrived around the same time. We talked, ate, and drank for a few hours and then everyone headed to bed. The next morning, we all got up and left for Carcassonne, a fortified city about an hour east of Toulouse. On the way, however, we stopped for apparently the best Cassoulet. Cassoulet is a delicious French dish from the region. It is essentially beans, sausage, chicken, other meats all in a crock pot. It is very good.
After the filling Cassoulet, we went the rest of the way to Carcassonne, where we were traditional tourists, checking out the historic city and its ruins. We had fun climbing on the walls and taking pictures. Here are a few pictures of our time in Carcassonne.
When we returned from Carcassonne, we all played a game of petanque, which is similar to bocce ball, and very popular in France. We played for hours, laughing and having a great time. It ended in a few of the losers being thrown in the pool, and then a card game to end the night. That night was the most fun I have had in a while.
Sunday was our last day in Toulouse, but it was awesome. That's the best way to describe it, really. Pierre and Laetitia are the couple from Toulouse, and Pierre's father is a pilot. He took us all up in a little four-seater plane to see Toulouse from above, making three separate trips to accommodate us all. It was thrilling and the city was beautiful. It is known as la ville rose, as it looks pink from above.
Luckily we didn't have to catch a train, so a few of us were able to walk around Toulouse for a few hours before departing. I found it quite charming. Our hosts could not have been more welcoming or accommodating to us. I am very thankful for having spent such a wonderful weekend with them and for gaining such great people as friends.