Bonjour, Buenas Tardes, Good Evening, Dobrú Noc...
I have always believed life would be easier if there were at least three clones of myself so that I could experience several things at the same time. Nevertheless, my language stay in the second largest French city on the Mediterranean coast, Nice, proved to me that sometimes you do not have to break yourself into pieces, but there are moments when the world breaks into pieces right before your eyes. I went to Nice in order to improve my French and learn more about French culture. However, what I had not expected at all was that this trip would turn out to be the most multicultural experience in my life.
It all started when I came to Nice and greeted my host family. Two nice elderly people were ready to tell me everything about their culture and a little bit about Corsica as well. That island was like their second home. When I heard about traditional Corsican specialities like povarunata (a kid ragout with paprika) or brocciu (a traditional goat and sheep cheese), my stomach started to growl. In addition, I had an opportunity to speak English too because their children and grandchildren living in Britain were paying them a visit during my stay.
But the real multicultural surprise came when I was having my first lesson at the language school. I was wondering if there was anybody from Slovakia or at least from the Czech Republic. I looked at a girl who was just going to introduce herself and I said to myself, “She must be Slovak, she has Slavonic features. Actually, she looks a bit like me.” “Hi, my name is Nadia and I am from Mexico,” she said. At that moment I realized what little information about her country I had. When a black woman with beautiful wavy hair was introducing herself, I was sure that I would learn something about another faraway country, but then she said she was from the Czech Republic. Really unexpected, I can tell you. Then there was a girl from Russia, a boy from Turkey (who told us how to prepare real Turkish kebab), two ladies from England, a red-haired guy from Ireland and a very kind man with Aztec roots from the USA. By the way, did you know that Aztecs used to call themselves Mexica people? The last person was a Japanese girl called Maho. She told us about Japanese systems of writing. It is Kanji, Kana, Hiragana and Katakana. Our class was especially interested in Kanji because it comes from China. It is a type of writing system based on metaphorical transcription of things. Maho told us that Japanese writers use Kanji because it has a special artistic tone to it.
After this dose of marvellous information it was time to speak French, about the French, in France. Our teacher Elisabeth (whose husband was an Englishman by the way) was a very lettered person and tried to clarify the spirit of the French as a mixture of Cartesian and courtly spirit. The Cartesian one was represented by reason, science and everything connected with usefulness and sensibleness. On the other hand, the courtly spirit was represented by art, creativity, pleasure, disutility and impracticability. In other words, the French are “serious fools” according to her.
When the lesson finished, I went for a walk to the Promenade des Anglais beside the sea. When I was looking at the people passing by, I realized that the lives of the four hundred thousand citizens were completely different from those of ours in Slovakia. They could enjoy sunshine almost all the year; they had markets where they could buy home-grown fruit and vegetables, fresh fish or ravioli. Even the air seemed to be different there: it was as if just breathing took all my troubles away. No wonder that almost everybody was so vital and happy. The Promenade des Anglais was the first place in my life where I saw a sixty-year-old man preparing himself for the Iron Man competition.
I spent most of the time with Nadia and her Mexican friend Sofie from another group. We participated in all activities and trips together, talking about our lives and countries. Monaco was the first place we visited. We went there only a few days after Prince Albert II and Charlene got married so there were still flags of Monaco and South Africa fluttering everywhere. At the information office you could even get a miniature version of them. In my opinion, Monaco was a magic, safe place, very suitable for a princess. In connection with this, a question came to my mind. “Is Mexico really as dangerous as people tend to say?” I asked Sofie. She told me it was not at all, with a few exceptions as, for example, when you get lost in certain streets at night or when you drive your car alone at various roads or when you meet strange people or when you visit some places near the borders or… She stopped for a while, looked at me and chuckled friendly. She knew what I was thinking about. But one must admit that Mexico is a huge country with loads of different people so the fact that there are many criminals seems to be quite natural. ‘In addition, if there are many people like Sofie and Nadia in Mexico I do not care about how dangerous it is, I definitely want to go there,’ I said to myself and looked at a huge statue of octopus on the ceiling of the Oceanographic Museum where we had just come.
During another trip, which was to the International Museum of Perfume in Grasse, we were talking about a very delicate topic concerning Mexicans and Americans calling each other gringos and beaners. “Do you know a Mexican band called Molotov?” said Nadia and looked at a huge machine producing nice soap roses. “They have a record where they sing about it. They are quite known in Europe.” I learnt these were very offensive nicknames and was advised not to use them. The smell of perfume suddenly settled in our heads and numbed us. When we left the museum, we were not able to return to this serious topic anymore. The only thing we were capable of was laughing.
On the last day we visited a castle in a village called Èze. As we were walking up the paved narrow castle streets, we began an interesting conversation. I said that it was generally believed that Americans were not very educated. The girls looked at each other with a strange smile. Then Nadia explained to me that she did not understand why so many people called the citizens of the USA Americans. Aren’t Mexicans Americans as well? Aren’t the others living in North or South America Americans as well? They are, of course, and we solved the problem immediately. There is a word in Spanish which distinguishes the citizens of the USA from other Americans – estadounidense. I literally translated it into English and started to use a new word – USanian. We got used to it very quickly, and after a short time almost everybody from the school used this new expression.
Since the morning we had been looking forward to seeing an exotic garden which was situated on the top of the castle. When we finally arrived, Nadia and Sofie started to laugh. There was nothing but various species of Mexican cactuses. So after all the multicultural experiences from different towns and from the class full of foreign students there was it. A piece of home was lying before them.
We walked down the famous Path of Nietzsche and ate the last meal together. We tasted special pancakes called socca, les farcis, which are tomatoes filled with meat, a special pizza called la pissaladière and la tourte de blettes as a dessert.
When I came back to Slovakia, with bags full of French wines and goodies, I felt the Slovak Republic was my home and always would be. Nevertheless, I will never forget my charming friends from Mexico and the valuable experiences that helped me to discover new points of view on life.
Photos: By courtesy of Dominika Kepštová
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