Our month-long class at CUEF helped us not only improve our French language skills but also get a valuable first glimpse into the culture that we had entered. That first month we fell into a rhythm in Grenoble, spending half the day in class and the rest of the day exploring the city. Living in our pricey extended-stay accommodations with a one-month lease pressured us to pound the pavement in search of an affordable rental for the rest of our year-long stay. But we didn’t let the stress of time running out on our rental keep us from delving into all that Grenoble had to offer. Apartment hunting and experiencing Grenoble went hand in hand.
After class at CUEF, we sometimes stopped at eve, espace vie étudiante, a quasi-student center equipped with a bar. (This is France, no?) On our first visit there, we took our chances and ordered a local beer since that was the “bière du jour.” We were open to trying all things novel in our new environment. It was served in a sturdy plastic 1/2 litre cup with cool graphics and much (French) writing. Steve stepped up to collect the beers and pay and almost choked when the cashier said, “Douze euros.” (12€) At that time that was about $14 for two small beers! Our looks of confusion and disbelief prompted the server to offer up an explanation of how that price was derived. Her economics lesson commenced with an introduction to this unique system where the customer pays this huge up-front price that covers a deposit on the cups and the price of the first beer. When finished and you return the cups, one euro is refunded. If you refill the cup, the beer costs four euros. We decided to keep the cups because they’re very sturdy and would be reusable when we stopped for a drink there again. At the very least, they’re a souvenir of our French beer-drinking time in Grenoble.
While recovering from the sticker shock of beer prices in France, a man approached our table offering to give me a very nice sleeveless silk blouse. At first, I refused, but he was insistent. I was becoming uncomfortable, but he was persistent and induced me to take a look at it. It looked like it would fit me perfectly, but I still tried to maintain my distance from him. Then I noticed his surreptitious glances at my beer. It was then that I realized his angle. He wasn’t a student at all, but he was actually a semi-vagrant who hangs out at the school’s student center. What a shtick–he offers items from who knows where to students, and then they buy him a beer. I played his barter game, and after he thirstily downed his beer, we bid him au revoir and boarded the tram for home, “new’ blouse in hand.