Luke Bagnall writing on me and my girlfriend Tilly’s snowboarding trip to the French Alps during Reading Week.
More bludgey degrees the world over appear to have at least one thing in common – a week off from classes in the middle of semester for no determinable reason, usually called something vaguely suggesting productivity (‘Reading Week’, ‘Study Week’, ‘Postgraduate Week’) but never actually living up to that suggestion. Kind of like the Patriot Act. Anyway, in the UK, this week is especially superfluous due to the miniscule amount of contact hours we have, so Til and I decided to put our Reading Week to good use by spending it snowboarding in France.
We had a massive journey through London to ski shops and such before we left, and I found the train advertisement below pretty amusing:
I like how the Australian expression is the big one in the centre.
Les Deux Alpes featured on the board in the English snow shop.
From Grenoble airport we had a massive trip in a pre-booked taxi which for some reason left its meter on the whole time, causing us occasionally to pass nervous glances at each other as it crept towards 280 euro, hoping the driver wasn’t going to try and make us pay when we arrived.
That first afternoon we met our roommate Jean-Paul, another Aussie, then went for a ‘splore.
Surrounded by les boulangeries!
Cool roof snow
Random fox! Babelfish says: Hey!!! Made as me … Smile!!! But our French-speaking friend Caroline says: Hey!!! Do what I do … Smile!!!
We were feeling pretty French by this point. Every time I heard someone speaking it I’d get one of the four to five French songs I know (‘Champs-Elysees’, ‘Ta Douleur’, ‘Radio Song’, etc.) stuck in my head. Like how I almost racistly think of that Just Car Insurance ad voiceover that goes ‘Jhia, ru’ or something when I hear Asian languages. Also at this stage we were hungry, so we decided to have a French feast. It was amazing! The bread! The cheese! The BUTTER!
That night we were s’posed to meet the rest of the people doing the package and our guide person thingy in the bar. We headed down to the hotel bar looking for a rowdy pack of Australians, but they were nowhere to be seen. Then this Canadian girl said hi unexpectedly, and I confusedly said it back, to which she replied ‘I don’t know you but I can see you’re from Australia from your jumper (I was wearing my uni hoodie). Are you on the Topdeck tour?’ Ten seconds later I caught up:
Turns out she was the guide person thing, Chrissy. For some reason this awkward exchange repeated itself like, four times over the week, each time for different reasons. She spotted us from a chairlift and waved one day, but was all geared up and far away, so that took a good thirty seconds (who else could it possibly have been, Luke? You’re in the middle of the French Alps, for Christ’s sake), and then we ran into her in the bar and she had her hair down for the first time, so I didn’t recognise her again!
Chrissy was sitting with Jean-Paul, and informed us that we three comprised the entirety of the tour group. Three people! Apparently she often gets numbers as big as forty, but we had three! We were a bit surprised, but it turned out to be good ’cause we could go places we couldn’t have if there were more of us, and Chrissy and Jean-Paul were really cool.
We made plans to meet up again later for some guided exploration and went upstairs to have dinner. All our meals were included in the package, which could’ve sucked, but thankfully the foooood wassss incredibllllle. Different stuff every day, but always delicious, always baguettes and icecream. I cannot communicate in words the awesomeness of three French-cooked buffet meals a day. I ate so much that despite all the snowboarding and the cold weather and such, I stayed the exact same weight. The food in general in Les Deux Alpes was really good. There was the incredible lolly shop where we accidentally spent 15 euro, and Crepes a Go Go, where Tilly and I devoured caramel- and cheese-drizzled crepes respectively.
Also, they drink cider from bowls!
Til and Jean-Paul being led by Chrissy
The Polar Bear – an English pub.
Then there was the actual snowboarding. So good. It’s going to be pretty crap going back to Perisher after that. I improved substantially while I was there. Finally got the proper motion down, under the keen tutelage of our instructor Nancy, who had to keep translating her instructions solely for our benefit, and who could never remember the word ‘above’. But even Tilly learned some stuff from her (Til’s gone to the snow every year since high school started).
We were a bit worried at one point that Nancy was spending so long explaining things to the French people in our group, and then kind of just talking for thirty seconds to us, but Chrissy explained that it just takes longer to say things in French, as evidenced by these signs:
And while we’re on the subject, we found this display pretty funny:
On the Tuesday night, Til, Jean-Paul, Chrissy, her friend Owen and I all went out for a big one. Got a bit messy, learned some good drinking games, danced, and played with the camera:
‘Fingers in the middle!’
Til and I with Jean-Paul and Owen.
At one point some green face paint emerged from somewhere, and I narrowly averted having it forced upon me. For some reason I’ve always had some irrational aversion to face paint, even when I had my Lion King fifth birthday party and Mum made me an awesome Simba costume – she convinced me to let her paint my face like a lion and I could wash it off if I wanted afterwards (thinking I’d be convinced by how awesome it was) but I insisted I wash it off. Tilly wasn’t so prudish, but she paid for it the next day when she couldn’t get it out of her eyebrows and she was wearing orange so she looked like an Oompa Loompa, moreso than this picture reveals:
‘What do you get when you guzzle down sweets? Eating as much as an elephant eats …’
That’s okay though, ’cause judging from the picture further above I looked like a giant smurf in camo on the slopes.
While we were out I kept noticing things different about the drinking culture in France. All the bar people drink while working, but they’re all just generally more … responsible? Maybe that’s why we have such strict laws in Oz. At one point I saw the bar girl filling up this keg with beer – it was kind of like a gigantic transparent tube with a tap, and I thought ‘here we go’. But no, the gentlemen who bought it simply kept it next to them, refilling their glasses politely and drinking it in a responsible amount of time. I was floored. In Australia, the sole purpose of such a contraption would be to pass it around drinking it as fast as possible and sculling it beer-bong style. Later that night I saw some guy buying a massive bottle of Champagne at the bar, which wasn’t weird until I saw him taking it back to his table. It was four young guys with Champagne glasses, taking photos of themselves. Not allowed in an Australian bar, haha. The men also all kiss each other hello. Often on the lips. So different!
On the subject of diverging cultural conceptions of acceptable masculine behaviour (haha): they’re really into their foosball over here, apparently instead of pool? Can you imagine four beer-bellied, tattooed, shearing singlet-sporting Aussie blokes crowded around a foosball table in a pub? VBs in one hand, handles in the other? We were just sitting next to a foosball table and these three French guys asked us if we wanted to play. Jean-Paul, being a more experienced European traveller than I, immediately declined. I was on the verge of accepting when another one turned up, making their number an even four – and lucky for me ‘cause they have CRAZY skillz. It would’ve been pretty embarrassing.
I think it has something to do with passion – that’s why the Europeans love soccer so much. We’re too cool; laconic. Emotive displays make us cringe. We’re embarrassed by the idea of a sport where scoring is so rare that it necessitates explosive outbursts of joy, a sport that encourages you play-up your injuries – it’s just not cricket (hardee har har). Aussie men need a pub game where they can stoically stand back, an approproate distance from one another, drinking their beers, taking stock, and casually sauntering up and knocking a ball into a hole with a big stick, not the intensity of foosball, squeezed in around a table yelling. Maybe it’s all the pulling and spinning and gyrating of those little knobs that doesn’t appeal to us, I don’t know.
Their clubs reflect this kind of thing as well. Obviously there’s all the Dance RNB Hip-Hop Pop stuff we get in Western clubs, but there’s also this weird kind of ballady folkie empowering anthem type-stuff that’s sung in some European language which gets a reaction out of them that the other stuff doesn’t. They all stand around in a circle swaying and singing along and waving a pointed finger around in the air for emphasis. It’s kind of cool and kind of cringey, I think because it’s related to something that was in fashion for the rest of the world in the nineties, which originated in Europe but never died out there. I got some footage of this on my iPod, but once again this site doesn’t allow mp4 uploads.
I think the clubs we went to were more fun/nostalgia-oriented and less cool-oriented. Let’s just say I thought I’d danced my last Macarena when I stopped going to school discos, and I had no idea I remembered all the words to ‘Mambo No. 5’.
The morning after our big night, I slept in, but Til’s been too ingrained with the Australian Snowtrip mantra of ‘Must … make the most … of this ridiculously priced venture. Must … get up at six … and come home at six.’ I decided to take it a bit easier, ’cause the only two times I’d been to the snow before, I’d had trouble with my knee and leg cramps, and the longest of those was three days. I lasted fine, but Til burned herself out a bit and had to ease off towards the end. Anyway, that morning while we were all floating around in the half-consciousness of hangovers, still in bed, a girl appeared at our window (two storeys up, but there’s a roof between it and the next building) and started talking in French. We were like, ‘Sorry … Anglais?’ and then she just jumped through our window and out our door. It was pretty surreal, but she did it again a few mornings later. We figured she was from next door and went out onto the roof to smoke and got locked out by her friends, but I guess we’ll never really know … *wist*
The window (doubling as a fridge).
At some point we went to a trivia night held in French, which was challenging, but we came in like third or fourth place with the help of Chrissy’s translations. Apparently the hotel decides based on the turnout at the trivia night whether or not all the ski and snowboard instructors put on a sketch show, and since it was so packed, they did. It was mostly really physical humour that we didn’t need to speak French to get, so it was great. There was one sketch, though, where a guy walked out onto the stage with a rope trailing behind him. He turned around and began talking offstage, as if he had an animal tied to it. The animal turned out to be a dead, skinned hare which he proceeded to swing around the stage by the rope, occasionally hurling it out towards the audience, chunks of gristle flying everywhere. French humour.
Awkward but entertaining audience participation.
Another night Chrissy arranged for us to get discounts going night time snowmobiling. I decided I wasn’t going to tell this story here … for the shame. But I guess I am, so oh well. We walked up to these skimobiles and this French friend of Chrissy’s, named some Gallicised version of David like Davide or something, who runs the skimobile thing told us how to make it go and how to make it stop and to lean when we’re turning and that was about it. He asked if any of us had any experience with quadbikes, which I had, and said that we should be the ones driving up the mountain ’cause it’s more difficult, and our partners should drive back down.
So off we went. About five minutes in, mine and Til’s skimobile went right off track. I couldn’t see a thing because I didn’t realise there were two layers of visor on the helmet and I had both down, one being a sun shade, and also we were at the back of the convoy getting everyone else’s dust. So the French dude came down and set us back on course.
The track wound up the mountain Mt Ousley-style, and we’d been driving for about twenty or thirty minutes and still hadn’t reached snow – there were sparks flying off the bottom of our skimobiles. At each of the bends in the run one of the leaders would stop and wave us past to make sure we didn’t go careering off the mountain. So when we came to yet another turn in the anfractuous track and the French dude had stopped, I just assumed that’s what he was doing. It then became apparent he was telling me to stop, which I did. He stormed over and told me off a bit for not listening and then started telling us about how dangerous the next part was. He made it sound so dangerous that we started to wonder whether we should be doing it at all. When I said I had quadbike experience I meant in a field or a bush track, five years ago, not a fricking mountain! A mountain with no snow on it, no less.
We did end up just going back down. Pretty embarrassing. Chrissy said she’d never had anyone not be able to do it before. I didn’t think I was that hopeless, so I wondered if it had something to do with driving a skimobile for the first time without any snow, and Chrissy confirmed that the snow had never been as dried up as it was at the moment and usually the whole track was covered in it, so that could’ve contributed. Anyway, I’d rather be embarrassed than dead so there you go, haha.
On our last day in Les Deux Alpes, we were going up for one last snowboard. We were waiting for the bus when I looked down and noticed a gaping hole in the snowpants I’d borrowed from Rob Perry, a friend from UEA. It was right in the crotch, and all the insulation was exposed. There was no way I could snowboard like that, so my last day was ruined by a wardrobe malfunction. I felt really bad ruining Rob’s pants, so I went around Les Deux Alpes asking various ski shop employees if they did repairs and if they could fix it. I kept having to ask sheepishly ‘… Pardon, Anglais?’ to which they would reluctantly reply ‘Oui’ or ‘A little’ before spreading their hands and shaking their heads in reply to my question. Finally I thought to ask if they had any idea where I could get it fixed and they said to ask at the tourist centre. By some amazing stroke of luck, the woman at the counter was a seamstress herself, and said she’d fix it for five euro and I could pick it up at four. So that was lucky, but it still meant I had to sit around waiting instead of snowboarding on my last day in the French Alps. But at least the bus back to the airport had a window ledge!
And so ended our very productive study week. I hope everyone else got as much reading done as we did!
Segment from my short-lived blog ‘WilliamintheNetherlands’ (http://williaminthenetherlands.wordpress.com/wp-admin/). August 11. Traveling in Krakow, Poland, a month before my exchange in the Netherlands starts. Not really a cultural story, but a traveling story nonetheless. Some swearing.
As expected, my drunk room mates entered at about 4am. Loud whispering, back slaps and yahooing – the usual sh*t. There were 2 groups, one French and one English, who it seemed had been drinking together. My other sober room mate was a girl. The sh*t lasted for about half an hour. I woke up early – 6:45 – with plans to visit Auschwitz. If you get there before 10am it’s free entry (ie you don’t need a tour guide to get in) and the bus leaves at 7:50.
HOWEVER: I noticed my shorts were in a different position to where I’d left them last night – closer to my neighbours bunk. I grabbed them and checked my wallet and camera. Camera was there, but my wallet was missing 50 euro. I waited a minute then went apesh*t. OK, so leaving my wallet in my shorts was lax of me, but it was right next to me on top of a cupboard. I shook the guy on the middle bunk awake. They were English. I tell him I’m missing 50 euro. Back and forth a few standoffish comments (f*k you where the f*k is my f*king money). He showed me his wallet, and it didn’t have much in there. By then most people are awake but I had the upper hand – no hang over. I asked the guy on the bottom bunk (f*k you where the f*king is my f*king money). He was a lot quieter, but again, no money in his wallet. By now I’m realising there will be no end to this – how do I identify 50 euro as mine? The guy on the top bunk starts mumbling ‘where’s my wallet?’. I stood up on the ladder and told him to look under his pillow (f*k you, look under your f*king pillow like all your f*king dipsh*t friends did). He pulls out a camera case but no wallet. F*k. I return fire with the middle bunk man, who insists they aren’t thieving tossers. Top bunk guy pulls out a $20 note from his camera bag. A $20 AUSTRALIAN note! “You f*king…” I grab the bag off him and find my 50 euro, along with some coins and a locker key. I gave him the once over, gave his mate in the middle a once over, packed my stuff and went to the bathroom. Now that I’d recovered I still needed to make it to Auschwitz. After my quick shower – heart still beating a 100 times an hour – the thief is waiting in the lobby. I’m glad that I’m taller than him. He says he’s sorry, but he can’t find his wallet or his locker key, he thinks his key was in his camera bag. After much unhelpful comments from me (f*k you I took your key – you’re the f*king thief!). I let him look at my wallet where the dumbarse thought I had his key. Of course, it was in my pocket. I left smiling that he was going to lose his 20zl deposit.
Before beginning my student exchange I participated in a working holiday in Okinawa, which was an absolutely unforgettable experience. I learnt so much not only about the Japanese and work culture but myself. Being in Tokyo I actually miss the breathtaking place and the amazing people who I met down there.
Despite having no prior experience working in a restaurant or a bar, I was placed working behind a bar, pouring beers and mixing cocktails for the Japanese customers. What surprised me is that anyone who wants to can work behind a bar. During my two months working at that restaurant we also had numerous high school work experience students who worked with us behind the bar, not only serving drinks but also making them. The legal age to consume alcohol in Japan is 20, so these students were definitely underage. This contrasts the strict RSA laws that exist in Australia.
Furthermore, marine staff and lifeguards are not required to hold any formal qualifications; they do not even need to know how to swim! Being a qualified pool lifeguard, holding numerous mandatory first aid certificates myself this shocked me, particularly to think what would happen if there was an emergency. Frequently the marine staff would be asleep at their post despite being the only lifeguard on duty and people being in the water.
Another thing that I found strange was that despite living on a beautiful island the Okinawan people do not swim and if they do they go in the water fully clothed (shoes included) and almost always wear a floaty. Very different to the Aussie beach lifestyle that I am used to!