Friday, July 19

I think about politics and, of course, more about language.

Good morning. 5:30 am. Notes transcribed, grammar homework done, dishes done, showered, making breakfast. Still have to study vocabulary for test. High today 30 C (86 F) with humidity about 50%, sunny skies. Hot for Paris.

Was feeling very down yesterday due to difficulty of classes and lack of sleep. Took 3 hour nap yesterday afternoon and just woke up from another 8 hours of sleep. What a difference! Feel much better now, although I notice that I don't smell very sweet and need a shower. I also notice that I'm getting very tanned (more "awful shade of pink" than tanned) from all the time spent walking in the sun.

Had an interesting conversation with a French immigrant from Columbia on a bench in the Arènes yesterday. Managed to remember to take my keys with me this time.

Talked again to the older couple from New Zealand who are taking a beginning level class. They can't believe how much work it is and are regretting their decision and say they would have preferred something less academic and more casual and easy and aimed at basic conversation. I said that I had taken such a class last year in Chicago and came here expecting to be more challenged and was "enjoying" it. Although "enjoy" is not at all the right word, I think.

At the Arènes yesterday three little kids were running around and playing, two boys and a little girl. One of the boys jumped up on a ledge with a stick and made rumbling noises and waved the stick and shouted "tonnerre!" That's a word I just learned a few days ago. It means "thunder!". Kind of cool. Cheered me up a bit. The kids playing always cheer me up.

I've noticed that when I overhear conversations, I understand what the kids are saying better than with the adults. Interesting.

I'm very much like a 64 year old little kid here in terms of the language. I cracked to Baptiste that it was like I was in junior high, but it's not just a joke.

The French say "ok" a lot, even in formal speech like lectures. But with a French accent. It's cute.

In the US, 30% of people age 65-69 are still working. Here in France, the number is 6%.

In 2005, in France, the SMIC (national minimum wage) was 1,115.18€ per month for a 35-hour work week, with 5 weeks per year of nationally mandated vacation time. That works out to 7.35€/hr, which at current exchange rates is $9.66/hr. In the US, the minimum wage is $7.25/hr, with no guaranteed vacation time.

At the end of 2012, among prime working-age adults, France had a lower unemployment rate than the US. We're both suffering from the continuing recession, as is most of the rest of the world, but France is actually in slightly better shape than we are.

The French national health care system is arguably the best in the world. Ours is without question one of the worst in the world.

Are the French lazy or smart? I pick smart. Are they better or worse off than we are? I pick better.

And their military dress uniforms are MUCH better. :-)

One of the effects of higher taxes in France is much lower income inequality. (The GINI index in France is 32.7, in the US it is 45). Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Ultimately that's a value judgement. Are rich people entitled to keep all or most of their money, or are they under some kind of moral obligation to share their wealth with society as a whole, and to what extent should the state coerce this obligation via high and highly progressive taxes or other means? It's not an either-or question, but one of degree, except for the residents of the far-out crazy radical fringes. I lean farther than most in the share-the-wealth direction.

I haven't been around the rest of France much, just a day trip to Tours to see the châteaux. The TGV is not just a Paris benefit, though, and neither is health care. I think their educational system up through high school (lycée) is better than ours, especially for younger children. We have better universities in general, except for the grandes écoles, which are only for the very top few percent of students here (based on merit, not wealth, but still exclusive).

Political discussions are much better here in France than the humorless flame wars we have back in the States, which just goes to support my thesis that life is better here. Must confess to "rose-colored glasses" view of La France as a foreigner making an extended visit for the first time ("de l'eau à rose"?). I do know that they have LOTS of problems here, many of them the same ones we have in the States. Summary: Life sucks EVERYWHERE, is going downhill fast, and all of our politicians are idiots - there's something the Americans and French share besides "freedom fries."

So on my first test in phonetics I thought I did horribly and got 15/20. On my second test I thought I did fantastic and got ... 15/20. Go figure! Did get a "TB" notation next to one of the sentences though (TB = "très bien").

On the phonetics test I did not properly "chute" three of the e's, and I did not properly pronounce some of the "/oe/" sounds (in "plusieurs", "erreurs", and "leur") because my mouth wasn't far enough open. Did I mention that this class is hard?

The test in grammar was not easy. I didn't know all the answers. But talking to other students afterwards I discovered I wasn't the only one. When asked beforehand if the test was going to be easy, the prof said with a twinkle in her eye "Oui, pour moi" ("Yes, for me"). Sadist.

Had to listen to another oral conversation in class and talk about it afterwards. As usual, I understood nothing. Very discouraging. I don't have time for it here in Paris, but when I get home I really need to spend half an hour or so every day watching French TV to work on this comprehension problem.

I have lots of homework to do this weekend, including another writing assignment. They just don't let up at all here. But I will find time for Versailles and for the Tour de France Sunday evening.