Just a kid at the Sorbonne...

A little festive cheer never hurt some book learnin'...
Waiting for grades at the Sorbonne is tedious business.  Not only do I not know when the grades will appear, but I’m pretty sure that they won’t mean much to me when they are finally posted online.  The French grading system evaluates students out of 20 possible points, and apparently an 11 isn’t too shabby.  That’s like 55% -- not something to call home about in an American mindset.  I figure that as long as my grades stay in the double digits, I’m safe and they can’t kick me out of the school or the country, so let’s cross our fingers, shall we?

Meanwhile, classes resume on Monday, Valentine’s Day, just as the rest of the scholarly world seems to be packing up for their two weeks of vacation.  I’ll be the first to admit that having two weeks of vacation in February just after the Christmas holiday does seem a bit excessive, but I’m in the system now.  It’s been over two years now that I have lived in France.  I drank the punch and I’m all on board.  I just can’t wait until April when the next vacation rolls around.  Work is just something we Parisians (can I say that?) do in between trips to Marseilles and weekends in the mountains, apparently.

But I won’t be heading to the Alps just yet, and that’s not just because I don’t like skiing.  Rather, I can’t ski.  I tend to fall or slide down the mountain the majority of the time.  The skis just make me look that much more ridiculous.

Instead, I’ll be studying my little heart away at the Sorbonne, working on my memoire, which is the equivalent of a master’s thesis in America.  This is the bad-ass long-term project that all master level students pour their souls into.  A more accurate description would be to compare the memoire to a long-winded book report.  With a forty page limit (not minimum) the memoire has to contain at least three, yes 3, sources.  Letters to my grandma contain more than three sources, so I am appalled at the reduction of the task.  I have taken it upon myself to impress my French professors with my perseverance and an astonishing display of research, mostly in English, which will make me seem both dedicated and well-cultured (“He reads in zee English and he writes in zee French!?” they will marvel).  And, in typical Bryan fashion, I am doing too much work.  Or, at least, I am not focusing my work on the correct tasks.  I need to be like the other kids at the Sorbonne.

After careful observation of the French in action at the Sorbonne, I have noticed where their energy goes.  Instead of grappling with concepts and challenging different ideas, French students spend around 75% of their time on aesthetics (the other 25% is spent, like all students, staying awake).  From carefully underlining their notes with a ruler to using the right hue for certain notes, the French students are meticulous.  You can spot them in a crowd instantly.  They are the ones with a distinguished-looking pencil case full of colored pens, pencils, rulers, and various forms of white out just in case they mistakenly write the wrong word.  Crossing out is abhorred and probably, unofficially, grounds for expulsion.

So while the rest of us silly heads are, you know, listening to the teacher, the French students are illuminating their notes with the ardor of a thousand monks, making sure every detail is perfect.  Little do they know that the professor no longer gives gold stars for pretty penmanship at the university level.  Still, their dedication to their craft is astonishing.

Sitting in class one day, my friend let out a slightly alarming and not all-too discreet curse word, akin to grumbling “fuck” so that everyone could hear.  The professor continued lecturing, as he was paid to do, but did look our way briefly.  I was concerned.  Was everything OK?  Did he need help?  Was his appendix on its way out?

“No,” he said, with a long exasperated exhale, reaching for his white out.  “I wrote the wrong date.”

He carefully applied white out to the loose leaf, possibly preparing for a future in art restoration.  It was flawless and over within minutes, but the damage had been done.  I, meanwhile, finished adding the whiskers to a playful puppy that was wagging his tail between bullet points on the Frankfort School and Judith Butler. 

I guess we can compare grades later to see who produced the most effective notes, but all I’m saying is that I’m not jumping on some bandwagon and running to the store to get a pencil case full of art supplies for my lecture classes.  I'm all about red wine, pointed shoes, and lots of vacation, but I can't do the pencil case thing.  It’s hard enough understanding the professor – how can I spend time deciding which color goes best with his words?