Hello Again!

The other day, I was sitting in a pub taking in a soccer match with some fellow international students when we got on the topic of money.  While the French consider chats on money to be taboo, we foreigners seemed to take no issue with it.  I was relieved to find that my peers seemed to be having a difficult time living a frugal lifestyle, not due to careless spending (for most of us), but simply an inability to find anything of value at a low cost.  Even tougher, we decided, the Euro can be very deceiving.

“It’s hard to remember that the 2 Euro coin is a boss,” remarked the Aussie seated across from me.  He couldn’t be more correct.

Back home, I often find myself trying to get rid of change.  Simply put, I find it a nuisance to carry around.  Quite literally, I suppose you could say it burns a hole in my pocket, and often falls victim to a vending machine, cheap pick-up at the grocery store, or when I resist the temptation, a savings jar.  

The Euro presents a problem, because coins come in 1 euro and 2 euro, in addition to cent pieces.  Conveniently, all delicious French baguettes and pastries are all priced in the 1-2 euro range, making it easy to dump a “boss” for a delicious treat.  Yet, what is difficult to comprehend when your lips are wrapped around a croissant is the fact that a 1 euro coin is $1.35, and the 2 euro “boss” is in fact $2.70.  The rate of exchange also can play some tricks of its own.  Lunch for $5 back home is a decent bargain, so naturally, seeing a deal for a 5 euro lunch will pull me inside almost any cafe.  It’s only after I’ve enjoyed a panini and apricot juice that I realize I’ve coughed up $6.75 on lunch, which isn’t as great a bargain.  Even the government subsidized cafeteria lunch is 3.10 euro, which is $4.18.  Believe me when I say you don’t even get what you pay for.  Cafeteria food here is the bottom of all barrels. 

To sum it up, Bordeaux is not cheap, though it can be deceptive that way.  To be honest, I believe that the U.S. offers much more bang for your buck, even if our food is mass produced and loaded with preservatives.

The other thing I have noticed since arriving in the Bordeaux area is that the folks here are very accepting of people from all walks of life.  No one really makes a scene over what has become a very ethnically diverse city.  Even in my Finance course, I am one of two Americans, with students from Morocco, Kuwait, Germany, England, Poland, Mexico, Malaysia, China, South Korea, Canada, and France.  Yet, the diverse background hasn’t hindered the classroom environment, and has, in fact, only enriched discussions.

I have been very curious about foreigners’ views of America, and have inquired when I felt comfortable.  The reactions I’ve gotten have all been pretty similar, and seem in tandem with what’s been reported through various media outlets.  Most folks don’t necessarily care for the authority that our government has at times asserted over the rest of the world, but nonetheless, can respect what our nation has accomplished.  Most people have become more accepting after Obama’s election, seemingly because his political lean tends to align more with the majorities in France.  Yet, despite all of this, not everyone is fully on board.

Last Saturday, I returned from a run to the supermarket to find two policemen standing in the driveway of the house I am staying at. My whole body was tensed as I shuffled through the gate.

“Monsieur? Est-ce que je peux vous aider?” I mumbled to the first cop. At that point, my landlady hustled out of the house, and I soon learned what had summoned the men to our neck of the woods. There had been an unclaimed bicycle left in our driveway for the past couple of days, and someone gave my landlady the idea that it could be a stolen bike that was ditched here in the night. My landlady gets up early (like, 3 AM early) to go to work as a florist, so our gate is not always closed in odd hours. Anyways, she did not want to be suspected of stealing the bike herself, if it be found in her yard.

The policemen began questioning her about who lives at the house, and if they might have friends who had left it. When they inquired about me, my landlady said something that caught me quite off guard. When the men asked why I didn’t understand everything they were saying, my landlady told them I was British. Not knowing what to think of it, I played along.

After the police left, I learned that some members of law enforcement don’t have a favorable opinion of Americans. Consequently, steering clear of referencing anything about the land across the pond can keep matters calm.  In other words, it’s okay to be here, but don’t go waving your flag around.

I can live with that.

Until next time,

Jack

  

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NBA legend Charles Barkley once remarked, “I’m not a role model … Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”  While the “round mound of rebound” may have been speaking casually at the time, he may have hit on something important.

Growing up, perhaps the two sports figures I admired the most were Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong.  Both athletes seemed to have an unparalleled level of focus that demanded respect from their opponents.  Both excelled at the highest level of their sport, achieving nothing less than total domination.  Crowds would gather to watch them perform, the casual fan and the sports aficionado alike cheering every step of the way.  I so desperately wanted success for these two men that even their opponents, who by most accounts were fine people, seemed like antagonists to me.

When we all found out in late 2009 that what lied beneath the poker face of Tiger Woods was a much more complicated and confounded individual, I was struck pretty hard.  Folks will debate as to whether or not this particular situation should have been made public, but nonetheless, the facts presented an image of a man I felt ashamed to have admired for years.  Upon hearing confirmation of the story, I ran to my room and tore down his poster I had hanging above my desk, and proceeded to toss it in the trash.  In the immediate days that followed, the simple mention of Tiger’s name made me tense up.  I couldn’t believe that a man who I had aspired to be, who I thought of as a hero, who I looked to as an example of self-discipline, had betrayed every sense of those accolades.

This time around, however, I was able to view the disheartening news in a new light.  Perhaps I was numb to the feeling of pain after the Tiger scandal.  We can also separate apples from oranges here, and acknowledge that in the case of Lance, we’re talking about steroids and admitting to usage, something we as a society are all too familiar with.  Nevertheless, I felt I was able to see the situation much more objectively this time around.

I got to thinking about the concept of having role models – folks that we look up to in admiration, and for inspiration – who end up letting us down in ways described above.  The conflict, I decided, is that we seem to hold our role models in a place that transcends their human element.  In particular, I’m talking about role models we have who are public figures, and who we don’t have personal relationships with.  This internal place they hold, I believe, is similar to where we place the protagonists in the books we read and the movies we watch.  Thus, when the Disney endings don’t play out in reality, or when we find out that all that glitters is not necessarily gold, we are crushed. 

You may think I am advocating for an abolition of holding a celebrity at such a high level.  I actually think the opposite, though our perception could be modified.  I came to the conclusion that I never admired Lance Armstrong, the person.  How could I?  I’ve never met the guy.  I admired the heroic image that Lance Armstrong projected.  I mean, shoot, Lance Armstrong made it trendy to support cancer awareness!  My image of “Lance Armstrong” motivated and inspired me in more ways than that as well, but the idea is that in not knowing him, in not loving him, I lose nothing as a result of the Oprah interview.

I understand that many folks feel betrayed and angered by the lie that Lance Armstrong was living.  For those personally affected as a result of being sued by him, I can understand their pain.  Yet, for folks who never met the man, I think it is simply best to remember the good in what the image of Lance Armstrong brought to their lives.  For some, it motivated them to start working out.  For some, it motivated them to help folks affected by life threatening diseases.  And for some, it motivated them to beat those life threatening diseases. 

I think it goes without saying that Lance Armstrong will have a very difficult road ahead, and will go through a lot to repair the damage he has personally inflicted on those around him.  We as former fans don’t need to spend time tearing him down.  Instead, we can only look back with fond memories of the way his image once inspired us to be more, and now hope that he will revive some of the role model image we all once saw in him and mend the wounds he’s caused and fix up the sport he and so many others trashed.

To return to the idea of role models, I feel as though we thirst for a jolt of inspiration, and have a need to be in awe of what a human is capable of being, and having a celebrity role model like that is important.  However, it’s important to be reminded that while a role model may demonstrate acts of valor, it doesn’t make them immune to imperfection.  We instead must embrace the image that they portray, but be careful to glorify them on a personal level.  After all, they are human like us, and are still in the constant pursuit of being all that one can be.

That’s all for now, folks.

Until next time,

Jack

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Hello Again!

I apologize for the brief delay in blog posts, as the hiatus was caused by a visit of a friend who was backpacking through Europe and Asia. In an attempt to be a welcoming host, I delayed sitting down to write for awhile.

I am looking forward to hopefully being able to watch Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey tonight, as it will be streaming via her website at around 3 AM local time. I have thought a lot about the situation, but will delay my thoughts till we hear what he has to say. While I have heard that the story is making headlines everywhere back home, I can’t say the same for here in France. However, the French have their hands full after exercising military action in Mali a few days ago, an action that has only gotten progressively more serious with the hostage situation in Algeria, believed to be linked to the event.

The scenario has been on my mind as well after encountering a caravan of coach buses dropping off French soldiers at the airport on Wednesday. I was there with my friend, renting a car to drive out and see the Dune of Pyla, the tallest sand dune in Europe. When we walked into the Hertz counter, there were a number of armed men patrolling the grounds as the soldiers passed through the check-in area. I assume they were headed to Mali, or were in some way involved with the situation, given the timing. The sight of so many armed men was frightening, and I desired to leave the airport as quick as possible. That was enough of a shock for me in one day. Little did I know what would follow.

As I am without a printer here in Bordeaux, we could only write the directions to the dune on paper, and hope that street names would present themselves as indicated. This, however, was not the case. While we had the opportunity to see a hand full of quaint seaside towns that MapQuest would have had us otherwise avoid, the journey took over two hours, much longer than the computer estimated 45 minutes.

As you might imagine, we were thrilled to arrive at the dune, only to pull into an empty parking lot. Given that this is perhaps southwestern France’s most prized natural gem, it would be plausible to think that it would attract many tourists. In fairness to every human we expected to be there, it is January, and it was raining off and on all day, accompanied by a piercing wind that really makes summiting a pile of sand treacherous. In retrospect, I suppose the dune is not on a natural route through Europe, given that its closest major cities would probably be Paris or Barcelona, hours and hours away.

In any case, we began to trek along the footpath through the forest, and out to the dune. It is worth noting that along the way, we passed by a multitude of tourist shops, restaurants, and circus attractions, all boarded up and deserted. For the second time in one day, I felt scared. Were we not supposed to be here? Was the park actually closed or something? As my mind swirled with questions, my body continued to approach the mass of beach in front of us.

Climbing up a dune is a very unique experience. If you close your eyes, it feels similar to walking up a sledding hill in the winter. You don’t get perfect traction, but the ground is soft and forgiving, making the ascent relatively stress-free. Reaching the summit was a different story. We had gone up the backside of the dune, shielding us of any view of the ocean – and the wrath of the speedy winds. Because the dune is made of sand, the wind was sweeping in off the waves and blowing the sand straight up and over the top of the peak. Consequently, reaching the summit was like being the kid who gets ambushed in a snowball fight. Only in this case, the “snowballs” were grains of sand, which made me feel more like a filet mignon at the mercy of the salt and pepper shakers. I had to turn my head away as I traversed over the top, so as to avoid sand getting in my eyes. Once over, the experience turned extreme. First, the view was stunning. I will post some pictures to exemplify this, but what also made the experience extreme was the aforementioned wind gusts, which I’d imagine had to be in the upwards of 50 mph. I’m no wind expert, but I think even guys on the PGA Tour would struggle to hit a ball more than a few yards into that force.

To top off the whole experience, we were the only signs of human existence that we could see on the dune. It was truly a man v. wild experience, and one that I will not forget for a long while. I can say that one of the most entertaining parts about climbing up a dune is coming back down. The ground is so soft and powdery that folks have even skied down. For those of us who don’t frequently channel our inner Lindsey Vonn, hopping down the dune will provide almost an equivalent level of fun.

This morning, I was still washing some of the beach out of my hair, and dumping it out of my shoes. Yet, for what was made of it, the excess sand is totally worth it.

Take it easy,

Jack

Hello Again!

In reviewing my recent posts, I realized I have forgotten a few things probably worth mentioning.

First, you may wonder where the name of the blog comes from.  To be honest, I was surprised at how original I had to be.  WordPress didn’t accept generic domain names that would be straight forward, and to the point.  Either there are a lot of folks out there with my name, or WordPress is challenging me to be creative.  Nonetheless, the name was taken from my sports column I wrote for the high school newspaper.  No, the name does not intend to reference the 2010 movie starring Al Pacino, but my co-editors thought it rolled off the tongue well.  Thus, here we are.

Additionally, I thought I would inform those in search of a travel blog to return in late February, when I will have the month to see Europe.  I can’t wait to channel my inner Rick Steves either, but for now, it will be more thoughts on everyday living here in southwestern France.

That’s all for now.  The weather here has been cloudy and rainy almost everyday, yet mild in temperature.  I guess it’s good for the grapes.

 

Keep it real,

 

Jack

 

Bonsoir!

 

In hindsight of yesterday’s post, I feel compelled to talk about educators, and the way I view them.  From a young age, we are exposed to teachers, most likely in a nursery school or preschool.  Thus, the authority of a teacher is instilled upon us at a young age.  Think about it.  Our perceptions of the world are largely shaped by teachers, who for the vast majority of our youth are providing us with knowledge that will shape the future of our lives.  Putting it on that grandiose a scale may be daunting, but nonetheless, we owe a lot to our teachers for what they do for us.

Yet, I think what is most essential in a teacher-pupil relationship is that the teacher be a good leader.  I don’t think that a teacher needs to have a close and personal relationship with a student for the connection to work.  Simply put, they have to lead effectively.  Here is what I mean by that.

In my book, leaders are not made by their words, but rather, their actions.  It is when a person’s actions dictate who they are that gives their words the strength to be truly effective.  I concede that this view may be in part due to my distaste for folks who, well, shall we say, “talk the talk,” but don’t “walk the walk.”  Either way, I believe a good leader is someone who ascends to that position through acting, rather than speaking.  Why?  Because, as President John Quincy Adams noted, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”

There are many public figures, both past and present, who could give a good speech.  Yet, what inspires us more?  Is it a person who gives a speech on why the world must change, or is it the person who demonstrates the need for change through action?  A few examples come to mind.  How about a woman who refuses to give up her seat on a bus simply because society expects someone of her skin color to do so?  How about a man who peacefully resists oppression in India, risking his life to do so?  Or perhaps a woman, who, though expected to sit in the “whites only” section of a Birmingham church, decided she’d place her chair right in the aisle separating the two races, demonstrating a disdain for the status quo? 

These stories reflect actions that inspired many.  Not only that, but it was actions like these that gave these three leaders their voices.  When they spoke, others listened.  They didn’t listen because they had to, or felt an obligation to, but because they wanted to.  They wanted to be more like these leaders, who never promoted themselves, but rather, set an example for others to follow.  Indeed, it is no surprise that Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, and Eleanor Roosevelt were some of the finest leaders of the 19th and 20th centuries.  Yet, the list of selfish leaders like these goes on and on, even today, and not just in the area of human rights.

Today, there is a multitude of examples of people who put forth a model for success that others desire to replicate.  For those teenage guys like myself looking for an example we see often, I am giving special consideration to Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, who is gaining respect as a leader through hard work and dedication to his craft.  He never tries to do too much on the field, but rather, remains level headed, and puts the interest of the team first.  He regularly spends time improving the Seattle community, regularly volunteering to help youth in need.  He also doesn’t get caught up in his own fame as his team cruises through the play-offs, and remains true to God, posting a bible verse on his Twitter feed daily.  This is all despite being a rookie who most thought was too short to be a quarterback in the NFL, much less lead a team to the play-offs.

Folks looking to get to know him better can check out this commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ja8SRzCtEVY

Anyways, back to teachers!  How does this all tie together?  I learn best from teachers who set an example that I’d like to follow.  No, they don’t have to change the world, but seeing a teacher who is passionate about their work inspires my thirst for knowledge.  I believe that this is why I was so frustrated yesterday.  To have a teacher be the last to arrive in a classroom and not be very organized rubbed me the wrong way.  I suppose it is something I’ll have to get used to.

 

Take Care,

 

Jack 

     

Bonjour!

In wrapping up the second day of classes here in Bordeaux, I must say there is an aspect of the French way of living that I have found at times troubling, and at others, relieving. To put it simply, the French are very laid back about a lot of things, especially school. I hesitate to call it a Type B society, as I don’t think even that gets to the core.

My class was scheduled to begin at 1:30 today. As I do back home, I showed up at 1:25, and was surprised to find an empty classroom. I wondered if I had made a mistake, but after checking the video boards outside the classroom, I confirmed that this was indeed the correct time and place. You might be thinking, “Well, didn’t you have this class yesterday too?” The answer is yes. However, it was at a different time, in a different classroom, and with a different teacher. Indeed, every single day the professor, location, and time of class changes. Sometimes, the professor remains consistent for a few days of the week, but not in the case of my class.

Anyways, there I sat, waiting for anyone to show up. At about 1:30, there was a group of students who walked in, though half of the class was still absent. By about 1:40, the majority had arrived, but still, no professor. Finally, at 1:45, he comes strolling in, no apology whatsoever. I found this a bit odd, though something similar had occurred yesterday. In addition, there is a 15 minute break in the middle of class, which I think was put in place so students could take a smoke break. Yeah, so many people smoke, they need to take a chunk out of class time to assuage the withdrawal that could potentially have added up over the course of an hour and a half. In any case, the 15 minute break became a half hour break today, as the professor took his sweet time returning to class. Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating for a military system, but I think set times ought to be respected a bit more. However, the problem isn’t just there.

With 6 hours of class in the books (it’s more intense, as at this school, students take one class at a time for 3 weeks), there has been no syllabus, course outline, or even any homework. We have passed the time by partaking in speaking activities (French class), but have not once stopped for a lesson in grammar or vocabulary. Perhaps my frustrations are a bit forthcoming, and I should let a few more days go by, but I am a bit anxious about what the class might hold in the future. Perhaps this is simply an attempt to slowly acclimate us with the school, and more concrete material will follow. I hope so! I also am hopeful that I will not fall into the trap of being to laid back when it comes to my education. Everyday, I have been making a to-do list to keep myself moving. It isn’t so that I can accomplish tasks simply for the pleasure of making my way through a column of to-do’s, but rather, to avoid putting my feet up too much. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

Cheers,

Jack