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Published:August 8th, 2009 21:20 EST

Adventures in Cheese Snob Land: Filling Out the Days

By Christine Stoddard

La Rochelle is not Paris, but that doesn`t necessarily make it the boonies. Tourists, like me, simply have to be more creative about planning their day, since there isn`t something arresting on every street corner. That is, except during Les Francofolies.

What is Francofolies? Or, more grammatically correct, what are they? Short answer: An annual French language concert in La Rochelle, France. Long answer: An annual French language concert, featuring famous artists from Africa, Canada, and Europe as well as numerous vendors and street performers, located in La Rochelle, France. The name literally means "Francophone craziness."

Imagine every kind of European--nationality, race, sex, age, socio-economic level, etc.--crammed into a medium-sized port city, competing to see both free and ticketed concerts, rummaging through marketplace wares, and edging into the circles around street performers. Many of them are drunk, many of them are smoking, many of them are oversexed, and all of them are loud. Over 100,000 people alone buy tickets, but that does not count the scores more who come to check out the free festivities.

It`s both thrilling and overwhelming at the same time, perhaps even more so because everyone is speaking a language other than my own. Whenever I stop by the Francofolie, I find a million reasons to cement my belief that French people are some of the most adorable people who have ever lived (it is very amusing, for example, to hear a French person pronounce the word "hardcore.")

Apart from making every effort to get near the Francofolies during its July 10 through 14th stay, however, you probably wonder what I do with my time. The answer is not, "Sulk in my room for a lack of English-speakers and fellow Americans," as much as it might please some people to hear me complain about the language barrier. Nor is the answer, "Get plastered." I don`t view much of a point in getting drunk period and see even less of a reason to get drunk here in France when I have paid several thousand dollars to visit a country I have never seen before. The real answer to the question is many things. Call me vague.

I ride my bike--ahem, a bike borrowed from my host brother--everywhere. Sometimes I just go for joy rides around the neighborhood or to one of the numerous beaches in La Rochelle. At the very least, I get to people-watch and house-hunt. My Sup de Co teacher constantly asks questions about Americans, but she should spend more time observing her fellow Frenchman.

Not many people call their lovers cabbages and inhabit buildings with more doors than the labyrinth in Alice in Wonderland. (Note: Every room in every French house has a door. These doors must remain closed at all times, even the bathroom door. At first I wondered if the French worried about circulation and mildew. Now I realize that they are all trying to grow cheese in their houses.)

When I am not biking, I pop into a bunch of boutiques. That does not mean I approve of the prices (the cost of one of their blouses could send a Haitian child to school for a year), but I do enjoy inspecting dolls dressed as carrots or flipping through satirical books from 1882.

It is also interesting to note that; judging by the store selections, French women apparently do not wear bigger than a size 9 in shoes or 10 in clothes. How such clotheslines would fail in the United States, where "Mammoth" is the size that best describes most of us American women--relatively speaking. While shopping, I also observe the other shoppers: no matter how old French women get, they make every effort to look sexy. That means no sneakers and encouraging 80-year olds to put on high-heels.

My host family is my most common source of entertainment, though. Their foster daughter especially makes an effort to talk to me, sweetly mock my pronunciation, include me in her strange French childhood, and get me to eat whenever possible. I am not sure how many times I have lied to my host mother and told her I was hungry for dinner when I wasn`t, simply because the foster child felt like munching on cheese. The girl insists on telling me that the Mario Bros. are French, and she does not believe me when I say that Bros. is an abbreviation for brothers in English.

When the occasion arrises, the girl puts on spectacles for me, too. These spectacles involve song and dance routines, sequined cowgirl hats, and sunglasses. As difficult as it may be to believe, there is nothing kinky about them. I converse with my host parents; as well, and do my best to answer questions about American culture, including whether or not Prince is homosexual.

In addition to all of this, I obviously attend class (as annoying as it is to travel 40 minutes by public transit, my perky professor compensates for the commute) and sightsee (before you die, be sure to see a Napoleon fish, as I did at the La Rochelle aquarium). Occasionally I have time to read, write, and draw, too, but I try to avoid such activities because I can so easily do them at home. I would rather lounge in my family`s courtyard eating apricot pie and listening to Charlie Winston`s "Like a Hobo."