I sometimes find myself at large gatherings of sophisticated people. Most of my experience has been with older crowds of distinguished professionals, but this high heeled, button downed, long dressed, hair did event was quite different.
I strolled from my measly, culturally woven dorm to an old hotel turned art gallery near the heart of the Aix-En-Provence. Around 6 o’clock, Aix glows from light bouncing off beige buildings. Outside the old stoned arched entrance was a red mat and a pair of bouncers.
The only accreditation we had was our stunning attire and the mention of “Science-Po students” to the bouncers. We were in! A rowing team extravaganza with some of France’s top rowing members from past Olympics. The captains and members of Science-Po Aix-En-Provence rowing team hosted. It was the best pre-season meeting I have ever been to. The hotel had a large courtyard scattered with tall cocktail tables throughout. The menu included bottomless glasses of France’s most eloquently inexpensive rosé and artisan sheet pizza pies. I wove in and out of local students and helped myself to a few glasses of rosé and a couple bite size pizza squares.
At my university in the U.S., I work for the catering kitchen on campus and have been to countless shindigs like the rowing party. I have served professors, presidents of the different schools on campus, board members of the Montana colleges, and even a couple of celebrities. Who doesn’t like dressing up, feeling extremely confident and eating free food and beverages? It’s hard for a college student to not be drawn to a free food and wine table at 5 p.m. on a Friday night. We’re in France, and the two biggest stereotypes are espresso bars and turtlenecks. Who cares about chilled French rosé and rosemary thyme olive tapenade crostini, especially when they are free.
I’m not one who can stand around and talk for a long while, so I start scoping out where I’m going to wander. The crowd started migrating, and that was my key to get out quick. Bumping shoulder to shoulder at gatherings, greetings with a “faire la bise” (two kisses on either cheek), someone breathing down your neck in any sort of line are everyday occurrences in France. I’ve been in school almost three weeks and the class sizes are no bigger than 500, so a lot of the faces around the gathering were recognizable.
Away from the crowd, there was a gallery set up with pieces ranging from bite-size to wall encompassing. We wandered from room to room with the occasional pause, head tilt right, eye squint, and the famous head nod with a sigh of “AHH.”
I had my fun in the gallery and then it was speech time. I’m not sure what is more thrilling, the anticipation of a speech in French, or art. The speeches were uninteresting with big French words that I didn’t understand. Any moment not understanding French is a moment of learning for me, though.
The conversation in the circle of exchange students was about the hype of our school, Science-Po. Someone mentioned this school was part of a collective branch with schools all throughout France, and all are very prestigious. Science-Po in Paris produced the four out of the last five presidents of France. I haven’t had any papers, reading assignments, textbooks throughout my three weeks and the sister school of my program is an assembly line for French bureaucracy? A feeling of gratefulness, panic and curiosity came over me instantly after hearing that.
My father instilled a phrase in me: “It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know.” When I find myself at distinguished parties, honorary events, ceremonies and fundraisers, those words have rung true. I can go home and let him know that it’s comparable over the pond.
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