Marques de Fabriques

Sorry people. Blogging has fallen by the wayside. WHOOPS!
Life is good here in Bretagne. That is the region of France I am in, for those of you who are not versed in French culture.
My days have been full of autumn sunshine and eating way too much food and of coure, lots of French.

Bretagne (also known as Brittany) is a very distinct region culturally. People who live here are Breton first and French second- they like to say that Bretagne is not France.
My host parents aren't from Bretagne but they've lived here for a long time, so they really understand and love the Bretagne culture, but not in a heritage-y kind of way.

One classic regional thing here is FÊTES! Festivals. There is a festival in some neighoring village or another every single weekend. Each fête has a theme that has to do with the Bretagne culture. Or sometimes when they run out of cultural elements to celebrate they have a fête in honor of...well, anything they can think of. For instance, about a month ago my host parents went to a fête in honor of cows. My host mother told me it was boring. I wasn't surprised. My image of a cow fête is a bunch of people standing under tents in a field chewing cud with hunched shoulders and glazed eyes.

Anyways, last weekend we went to a fête in a nearby village called La Fête de Fruits d'Automne. A harvest festival, basically. In the morning we did this thing called a Ballade Chantée where you walk around the countryside in a big group and sing french songs. Apparently that it is a classic Bretagne thing- to sing while walking. In the afternoon we ate traditional food (roasted chestnuts and Galettes and hard apple cider), listened to bands play and danced the traditional Breton dance, which is a goofy, celtic-influenced line dance involving very rhythmic little steps. It's really fun.

This weekend there is a great big fête here in Redon in honor of chestnuts. Chestnuts (especially roasted chestnuts) are a big thing here. People are crazy for them. And I must say, they are really delicious. Roasted chestnuts by a fire on a rainy saturday afternoon... What could be better? They also have this stuff here called Crème de Marrons which is a sort of a chestnut spread that you eat in yogurt or on crêpes and it's AWESOME.
I don't think I'd really ever eaten a chestnut before coming here. I have a newfound respect for them.

Besides alcoholism, rain, and stubbornness, fêtes are a "marque de fabrique" of Bretagne. That is a french expression that I know! My friend Louis taught it to me. It means like a signature thing that a place/people are known for. I know there is an expression like that in English, but I can't remember it.

For example, a marque de fabrique of France would be...
Also known as strikes.
When the French are unhappy they go on strike. And the French are never happy. Therefore, the French are known for striking a whole lot.
You may or may not be aware of this, but things are getting a little tumultuous (<-- is that how you spell that? I have no idea, spell check is in French on this computer...) here in France. The french, in general, are really unhappy with the government. Most of the unhappiness has been targeted at the retirment system, but there are really just a whole lot of problems in France right now and it is all Nicolas Sarkozy and his administration's fault. I know there is a lot more to it than that, but people have been explaining it to me in rapid French, and well... I don't really understand.

On my first day of school here there was a strike, but basically all that meant was that a few of my teachers were missing. A few weeks later, there was another strike and enough of my teachers were missing that I just didn't go to school. Last week there was a strike once again, which meant that I had a wonderful picnic/autumn afternoon in the park with friends.

The interesting thing is that in America, people threaten to go on strike, but hardly ever do, and the simple threat of a strike inspires people to start negotiating. Here people go on strike and they strike and strike and strike and protest for weeks but the government ignores it.

So after more than a month of pretty regular striking and protesting, France is getting fed up. I noticed a definite change last week- there have been protests and strikes and sit-ins everyday. The students joined the protests last Thursday. I went to a sit-in in town with some friends on Thursday afternoon, tons of students just sat down in the middle of one of the biggest intersections in town. It was a lot of fun.
For reasons that I don't really understand, the gas stations are on strike (or maybe it's the refineries that are striking and not the stations themselves) and so are a lot of trains and buses, making transportation very complicated. School has become sort of optional: if you don't want to go to class, you can go join the protests in town because they are literally always going on. Or you can just stay home, because half of the students and teachers aren't at school anyways. This morning students held a Blocus in front of school, meaning they blocked all the entrances to school so no one could go to class and was basically forced to go on strike. After standing around in the cold for an hour (first frost last night! woohoo), my host mom came and picked me and my host sister up. We spent the morning at home and then went back into town later for a student protest. Tomorrow is the last day of school before a ten-day vacation. I think the strikes will calm down during the vacation and pick up again afterwards. We'll see. Right now the government is just sitting on their fat asses (pardon my French), plugging their ears, repeating their mantra that everything is just fine.

Honestly, I am loving experiencing all this striking business. I find it so exciting. But for the sake of the French people, I hope something happens soon.

So there you go. Two marques de fabriques that I've been learning a whole lot about. Pretty fun cultural immersion stuff.

My next blog post will be sooner, I promise.

Until then,

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