Spending 9/11 with a nun in an abbey and visiting a middle school where there are a large number of immigrants (over 20 nationalities in the 3 classes I attended) were just two of the outstanding experiences I had in my 2-week visit to France in September. There were also numbers cultural differences that I found fascinating as well as sometimes frustrating.
Although I had expected France to be really hot because of the dreadful heat wave in August, it was actually rather cool and sometimes downright cold. At the last minute, I had thrown a couple of long-sleeved shirts into my suitcase, and I worse those frequently. It seems that every time I visit France is after some kind of disaster. Last time it was the "tempest" that downed hundreds of trees, many of them huge. (See photos at: http://www.geocities.com/camiya.geo/travel/france/swfrance.html and http://www.geocities.com/camiya.geo/travel/france/cemetery.html). This time it was 2 weeks of extremely hot weather between August 3rd and 13th with temperatures of over 40 degrees Centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit). There were reportedly 11,000 MORE deaths than usual, many of them elderly people who lived alone. The reason for so many deaths might have been because the whole country goes on vacation during August, so many families were away, leaving older people behind. The number of unclaimed bodies was also rather shocking. While I was there, I saw a news report of the cremation and burial of 65 people whose relatives had not shown up to claim the bodies. Fortunately, my friends all survived by means of cold towels and baths, and moving around as little as possible.
When I arrived in France, my first experience with culture shock came at the baggage carousel where a tall Frenchman with fairly long blonde hair stood calmly smoking a cigarette, using his own ashtray. I later learned that smoking is illegal in the airport, but French people, I discovered, have a blatant disregard for any laws they consider petty. For example, the "don't walk" signs at crosswalks were largely ignored, very unlike Japan where pedestrians will stand waiting until the walk light turns green even when there are no cars in sight. French are also forbidden to use cell phones while driving, but they use them anyway, simply keeping them hidden, especially if the police are around. Cell phones are permitted on subways and trains, however, and I even saw them being used in restaurants. However, the conversations were always in a low voice and very discreet.
Before I left for France, I bought a new cell phone (Vodafone) that I could use internationally, though not in Japan. The monthly rate is very reasonable, although calls are expensive. I was excited about using it when I first arrived at the airport to let my friend know I was in France. I later found it handy to let friends know what time I'd be getting to their place. Once when I got lost while walking around Paris, I was also grateful to have the phone to call my friend to say, "Help! Where am I?" One problem was that, although I could call others, the Vodafone people failed to inform me how friends could contact me which was not simply by the number they had given me. Another was that I couldn't recharge the batteries since the outlets in France are different from those in Japan. Again, Vodafone didn't let me know that a traveler's pack with adapters was available. Well, the product is new (made by Motorola), so I expect improvements, including being able to send/receive email, by the time I travel to the U.S. next March.
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