Things that are true:
- In some parts of France, people pronounce google “googie”
- Gas is cheaper in Spain than France and it is not uncommon for people who live near the border to drive to Spain for the reduced price.
- Everyone in France hates Macron.
Things that are true:
Gotta say WWOOFing ain’t always a dream. One day you might find yourself holding an over-sized ladle stirring “confiture du lait” (literal translation: milkjam) for four hours at a time, in a rapidly heating room, accidentally burning yourself and trying to defy the romantic pursuits of another WWOOFer. You might find yourself with bad cooks (What?! Bad cooks in France?), antisocial farmers, or hippie-therapists with negative energies. But when life hands you a microwaved bowl of over-salted couscous, you make a story out of it. And reconsider your life choices.
Spoiled American: Lily, (me). 22 years old, on a WWOOFing adventure in France. Tall, lanky, used to friendly smiles, words of encouragement, independence, friends, the English language, and having fun.
Soiled Room no.1: A French Fromagerie
Location: Normandy, France
Date: Mid October 2018
Evelyne, the 38-year old WWOOFer who recently went to a french barber and asked them to shave her head until only 5 centimeters remained, stands in the French fromagerie holding a giant tomme de vache (cow cheese). She is shaking it vigorously and laughing. It is 14h30, my third week at this French sheep farm, and I still feel like a lost lamb. The two of us were instructed to work with the cheeses by the farmer with quick and incomprehensible directions. Something about turning the cheese upside down and salting them. And cleaning something- the tables? Also something about working with the fresh cheeses… apply another layer to the cheese already drying out? We laugh because we understand that what we are experiencing is ridiculous. Minimal instruction, a man who is incomprehensible even sometimes to fluent french speakers, a title we both fear we will never be able to hold ourselves. But at least we are in the same boat: two intermediate french speakers holding giant cheeses and imagining whatever the hell the farmer intended us to do with them.
I have an idea.
“Est-ce qu’on peut appeler Stéphane, Evelyne? Peut-être il peut nous instruire un peu mieux…” Can we call Stéphane, Evelyne? Maybe he can instruct us a bit better…
“Oui, bonne idée. Tiens.” Yes, good idea. Here. She hands me her phone. “Vas dehors.” Go outside.
I call Stéphane.
“Salut Stéphane, alors, erm, qu’est-ce qu’il faut faire avec les fromage frais une fois de plus, je ne comprenais pas toute avant.” Hi Stéphane, so, um, what do we need to do with the fresh cheese again one more time, I didn’t fully understand before.
“Le fromage ldkjg dslkgjbs lkjgbwlkj frais, lkhgbssk tourne, jgbldkfbh lesse le, apres kfhbkdfhb et ca va.” The cheese ldkjg dslkgjbs lkjgbwlkj fresh, lkhgbssk turn them, jgbldkfbh leave them, after kfhbkdfhb and it’s good.”
“Fais comme avant. Dans le fgbsldkh et flkbgjsegd. Commence de nouveau les fromage frais dxlfkghbfk, la grande boit.” Do like before. In the jfgnsdlhb and lgskhbgsl. Start again the new fresh cheese flghfkgd, the big box.”
“Ok… j’ai compris un peu. Erm, merci.” Okay, I understood a little. Um, thanks.”
I return to Evelyne and explain what I understood. We start a new batch of fresh cheeses. There are two different shaped boxes with holes in them that shape the cheese. One is round, the other is rectangular. On the table are about 15 already drying fresh cheeses in rectangular boxes. So, we decide to follow the example and make more rectangular cheeses.
Once we have salted and turned all the cheeses, filled new batches of new cheeses, cleaned all the tables, the floors, the appliances in the sink, not to mention having already gone on a long excursion trying to find creme fraiche and St. Nectaire cheese earlier, and fed all the sheep, I’m tired. And perhaps a bit starved of positive feedback.
When Stéphane comes back he asks why we made rectangular cheeses.
Soiled room no.2: A dim-lit room with a low hanging ceiling.
Location: Plaisance, France in an eco village
Date: Early November, 2018
I am staring at a pile of slightly dusty towels, holding a label, flabergasted and frustrated. It is my eighth day working at an eco village in the South of France, and my fourth day breathing in dust and sut from the inside of this dark room with a low-hanging ceiling and beams that stick out and hit you in the head anytime you stand up too quickly without thinking. Days ago, though it feels like years, I was given the personal nightmare of a task to, after trying to teach English to a child who refuses to learn, enter this hell room and organize every single item. I’m talking rugs with cat pee stains, sheets of random proportions, feet pillows (Yes, FEET PILLOWS!!??), little pieces of fabric, giant comforters with giant holes in them, children’s clothes, ski equipment, etc. My original partner in crime in handling the room quit, straight up left the eco-village (tempting me to do the same). Today was supposed to be the day I would have the honor of labeling all of the items, having finished the cleaning and organization part of the work. Except Raphael, the man in charge of the eco village, begins explaining how he would like me to reorganize the sheets, the towels, in fact just about everything I thought I had finished organizing. So, I’m standing here trying not to start screaming, wondering why in the world did I ever willingly come here? when suddenly Raphael’s ex-wife enters the room and begins complaining that he should have consulted her because all of her stuff is now reorganized by a stranger and I didn’t organize it the way she wants it. All the while I’m standing there waiting for even a hint of praise or appreciation for what I’ve done. Also wondering why French people love to make their guests incredibly uncomfortable all of the time. (In America you would obviously wait to complain about the changed organization until the poor tired worker is out of the room).
Am I spoiled? I think to myself under the hum of French conversation around me. I begin to dislodge the piles of towels. Maybe I’m just spoiled.
Yes, maybe I’m a spoiled American, but where is the, “Hello, Lily, how are you liking it here? How was your day? Wow, look at all that folding of disgusting stuff you did! Thank you, I appreciate it! Look’s great!”
I know what it is, I think.
In France, there is a lack of insincere compliments, the needlework of American social life. The way we fill up dead air, lighten the mood, and encourage ourselves. The pleasantries of small talk. If you’re a sensitive baby like me, you just might miss it.
You also might not have found the best farms to WWOOF at.
It’s a gamble, those three sentence reviews.
Didn’t have WIFI yesterday so please excuse the lack of post! Bought an incredibly last minute train ticket to voyage from Normandy (the North of France) to Montpellier (the South of France). I am now living in an “eco village,” a community of, in this case, six people who aim to live in a more socially, culturally, economically, and environmentally sustainable way. Today I was told that BBQ is carcinogenic. Also, just simply when oil bubbles on a pan, it will give you cancer. And if you eat tomato sauce (a.k.a. fruit sauce, apparently) it will make you obese, which is why we have an obesity problem in America.
Day #4 of Challenge #1: 30 Days of Animals
Day #5 of Challenge #1: 30 Days of Animals
Day #2 from Challenge #1: 30 days of animals. Check it out here.
This is my favorite petit agneau on the sheep farm I am currently WWOOFing at. I name him moo moo. His mum doesn’t produce any milk for him, so I feed him and his friend twice a day from a bottle. When I walk into the barn, they run to me. I try to hug this baby every day, not only to show it love but to feel loved as well. Today I learned that mon petit chou (my little cabbage a.k.a. moo moo) is sick. We gave him antibiotics but apparently little lambs, especially those who drink from bottles, are the first to pass away when any of them get ill. My moo moo was shivering a lot today and I held him and tried to warm him up. Think about my poor moo moo lamb baby. I love him so much. 😦
My first word was “bouteille,” French for bottle. Every night, or rather, multiple times per day, my French mother would fill up bottles full of soy milk for me to drink (this being, of course, before research was done potentially linking excessive soy milk consumption to breast cancer and a slower mind). It’s okay, I turned out okay. Although I did forget how to spell “sewer” the other day and typed into google: “how to spell the poop place underground”. When that didn’t help me, I wrote, “where does the poop go” until I found it. Point being, maybe I drank too much soy milk for my own good. But any way, my first word… It was “bouteille”. I love to flaunt this fun fact when asked or not asked (let’s be real, after about the age of 2, nobody asks you or your mother what your first word was anymore). But to the world, I wish them to know, I am not merely American, I am also French.
But do I speak French?
Well, this has been a life long struggle. Hence, why I am here on the outskirts of Alençon, France as we speak, volunteering on a sheep farm as a WWOOFer (a.k.a. a volunteer with the organization Worldwide Work On Organic Farms where in exchange for food and a place to stay, you work on a farm). My main goal here is to finally, finally improve my French to a point where I am fluent. As fluent as possible.
How’s it going?
Well, I came in, as I usually do, thinking it’ll be no biggie. I have a solid base in French, I can say stuff, I understand my mom and her friends when they talk in French, I’ll be fine. Sheep are cute. And yes, I’m fine. And yes, sheep are cute. But I didn’t anticipate spending most of my day with a mumbling 16 year old apprentice and the farmer, who speaks French faster than news anchors. It often feels like a different language altogether. Sometimes I have absolutely no idea what they said. And having to say, “comment?” and “désolé j’ai rien compris” over and over again when all they’re trying to explain is how to milk a sheep or move this giant pile of hay over to the other side of the barn… well, it’s sad. After a week, however, I can confidently say it is getting easier. I also have some strategies to speed the process.
SPEAK: I force myself to say things. It’s so easy to become a wall flower when you are a foreigner in a foreign country. People become accustomed to you not knowing words and not knowing what they are saying. 16 year old boys might even say something in front of you that’s a bit inappropriate thinking you didn’t notice– oh, but you noticed! And you told him! And he was embarrassed. And it was great!
I carry around a little handy-dandy notebook (“mon carnet français”) everywhere and write down as many french words as I can that I don’t understand. Then I translate them and add them to an online quiz to study. Check it out. I add to it daily. (Often times French people don’t want to repeat themselves more than once and then spell out the word they just said quietly, quickly, and while mumbling– but you must force them. Respectfully, of course. But push, push!)
READ HARRY POTTER: As all sane human beings, I love Harry Potter and re-reading the books makes me feel at home. Currently I’m reading “Harry Potter À École Des Sorciers” (the first book) in French. I’d say the only downside is I learn odd phrases in French such as “une poursuite haletante” (a panting pursuit) and “des sifflements d’oie furieux” (furious goose whistles).
MAKE LIL VIDEOS:
Every night I record a little video where I speak to myself in French and check in. So I can map my progress with the language. This is what people do when they don’t have a thriving social life or friends other than sheep. Here’s a very short clip from one of them:
JOURNAL IN FRENCH:
I write a journal entry in French daily. Gotta get them memories of me pouring sheep yogurt into containers ingrained in my mind forever somehow.
CUDDLE CUTE BABY SHEEP:
While the family is very kind here and I get along with them well (better each day that passes)… I try to give these two baby sheep that I feed from a bottle a long hug every day. To keep me happy. These baby sheep and I can communicate without language. Plus, they don’t ask me to complete laborious tasks.
Here’s to hoping one day, I can speak fluent French. Let me know if you have any advice on how to speed the process. I must sleep now because I have to wake up early to give grain and hay to all the adult sheep, give the babies their bottles, milk the mommies, and maybe go to the fromagerie to make some cheese, yogurt, confiture du lait, riz au lait, creme fraîche, or something or other. Or clean things, lots of things to clean here. More on that later.
À toute à l’heure!