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MIT student blogger Sam M. '07

Wouldn’t it be Nice? by Sam M. '07

...actually, I'm kind of glad that I'm not older.

DID YOU KNOW? The town of Nice was originally a Greek settlement named after Nike, the god of victory.

So, according to the German work calendar, Thursday was “Fronleichnam,” or the feast of Corpus Christi. Then nobody came into work on Friday, because there’s WORLD CUP SOCCER to be watched. By the way, did you see that last US-Italy game? Three red cards! Unbelievable! And we could still be in it if we manage to beat Ghana.

My supervisor actually just said to me, “We have a small problem this afternoon. Germany is playing against Ecuador in the World Cup at 4 PM, so Dr. Kau√Яmann and I are going home early. We’re going to have to close the lab, so you have to go home early too.”

I don’t really see how that is a problem, small or large, but maybe I just don’t possess the infamous German work ethic.

Oh, right. Well, what better way to spend your random 4-day weekend than by taking an 18-hour train ride down to the French Riviera? Now, it doesn’t usually take 18 hours by train to get to the French Riviera, but we didn’t start planning this trip until 9 PM the night before we left (in that respect, it was like most of my MIT problem sets last term), and discovered that between the four of us, Ling ’07, Stefanie, Vanessa, and I could not take any trains requiring reservations, and could not travel through Switzerland, Belgium, or Luxembourg. With this Course 1-worthy problem in mind, we traveled over to Kпњљпњљln and asked at the travel bureau what the best arrangement of trains would be. Because, as I learned from a poster in my high school library when I was 13 years old, “Being smart isn’t knowing all the answers. It’s knowing where to find them.”

Then again, my high school librarian didn’t know what Google was. No, really.

Now, I wrote something before on how even if you don’t know all the words that somebody is saying in another language, you can probably pick up a few and figure out what they’re saying from that. Well, having asked my lab supervisors to talk with me in German, I’m getting an intensive cultural experience for at least 8 hours a day, and I think I’m actually picking up some listening comprehension skills. But French? Well, I just don’t know any French at all. I haven’t actually taken it since middle school, and all I remember from that is that my teacher quit to become a professional female bodybuilder or something, and she used to do a really cool dance to a rap song about counting. But even then, I can only count up to 10. Oh, actually, I remember “May I have a tissue?” and “May I sharpen my pencil?” also.

So it’s really different to have someone speak to you without the burden of understanding. Over the course of two days, I remembered how to say “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me,” and picked up “I would like…” So going to restaurants pretty much consisted of “Je voudrais… uh, [points at item on menu].” This strategy, and the ability of most of the vendors in a French resort town to speak a little English, was enough to get me a great plate of gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce at the “Cafe de Gesu” (does that mean “Jesus Cafe” in Nicoise?) and two scoops of ice cream, one of which was creme brulee and one of which was chocolate with black peppercorns. As much as I like JP Licks, I have to say that this chocolate pepper ice cream was way better than the “Disco Inferno” I once tried as JP Licks, which just tasted like chocolate ice cream garnished with a shot of tabasco sauce.

Still, we managed, and fumbled our way to the beach, up a hill to a chateau, to the Museums of Fine Contemporary Art, and to the palace of justice. Possibly the greatest barrier to comprehension came while we were on the beach, and a man came up to us and warned us not to fall asleep, because at four o’clock something would happen. That’s all that we got out of it, and even that was only because he was making sleeping motions and holding up four fingers. We couldn’t agree on exactly what would happen at four o’clock, either… interpretations ranged from “they come and sweep the beach”
to “people might come and steal your stuff” to “the police will come” to “The End of Days is upon us.” Nevertheless, we did end up leaving the beach as he instructed.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that you should probably learn a little bit of the language before you go somewhere, and the next time I see somebody wearing a “This is America, speak English!” shirt I’m going to punch them in their face. Also, I think that we should reform our current education system such that the first thing you learn in any language class is how to order stuff at a restaurant or ask for a hotel room. Because, honestly, why do I need to say “How’s the weather?” or “What time is it?” or “My grandmother is Azerbaijanian” all of which I learned how to say in middle school French. I can just look at my watch or look at the sky or… well, even if it were true, why would I need to tell somebody in France that my grandmother comes from the land of eternal fire?

Next up, I might be able to give you kids some pictures of Nice, if you really want them.

3 responses to “Wouldn’t it be Nice?”

  1. John says:

    We didn’t manage to be Ghana.

  2. John says:

    *beat

    I can spell.

  3. Emmm… Sam I don’t think you are much of a football (soccer) fan eh? Your comments sounds like a girl’s who is trying to sound interested in a game that her boyfriend plays :}}