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Studying French in France - Ecole des Trois Ponts

Studying French in France - Ecole des Trois Ponts

Old Dec 11th, 2003, 12:05 PM
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Studying French in France - Ecole des Trois Ponts

I've been lurking around the Fodor's Board for about a year and a half now, occasionally asking a question or making a comment, but mostly just picking up valuable information by reading threads with answers from regular participants. Now it's time to give something back in the form of a report for anyone who might be interested in studying French in France, so please, don't flame me if I say something you think is stupid; believe me, writing this is scary!

I've been wanting to improve my French language skills for a very long time now, and explored the Internet to find someplace in France I could study for a short time to give me a "kick start". Found a site for l'Ecole des Trois Ponts, corresponded with them, and finally ended up spending three weeks there last September, taking the intensive course.

So here's a report; it'll be mostly my impressions, because if you want formal particulars, their website is at http://3ponts.edu/Welcome.htm I'm afraid I have trouble being concise, so there may be a lot more detail than some people want, but for those who are really considering something like this, I think it not possible to have too much advance information.

First you should know that this report will be totally favorable; I loved the school, the people, and every minute of my three weeks. Ecole des Trois Ponts is a small private school for foreigners who want to improve their French, offering courses in modules of one week at a time. (The school also offers a course in traditional French cooking every week, except that a couple of times a year that's replaced by a patisserie course.) The school is located about an hour by train northwest of Lyon, in a renovated chateau outside a mid-size town called Roanne mostly known for the three-star Troisgros Restaurant located there. The school is run by Rene Dorel and his wife Margaret O'Loan, although the current situation is that Margaret lives in town and Rene lives at the chateau. Margaret, I believe, still participates in the business end of the school, and works with the cooking students by taking them to morning markets to select and purchase food, but Rene is the one involved in the day-to-day running of the school, and he is merveilleux!

LIVING Students live at the school; the chateau could accommodate, I think, about 24-25 people at most, but the number was under 20 for two of the three weeks I was there. You can request a single room or a double, with or without private bath, and the prices vary accordingly (and, bien sur, they also vary according to the type of course you're taking). You eat at the school, with breakfast being a pretty simple buffet of bread/croissants, fruit, juice, cereal, yogurt, and coffee from the always-on little coffee machine (it would spit out on demand a "large" cup that I thought was very small, or a "small" cup that was minuscule!). Lunch was also buffet, but the chef (Julien, who is great! Not so much the cooking, although I loved his cooking, but just so fun and so friendly -- we celebrated his 25th birthday while I was there, and I think he was very pleased, although he was in a hurry to clean up after dinner to make it to a late-evening party that was being given for him by friends.) fixes at least one hot dish, and there are various salads, etc., available.

Dinner was the climax of the day, with everyone meeting at 7:30 for four courses: entrée, plat, fromages, and dessert (or maybe it's technically three courses, with the cheeses just taken for granted?). Most of the time one long table was enough to seat everyone, although my third week there were enough students that we had two tables. There's wine at dinner for those who want it, and the atmosphere is very congenial, convivial, and entertaining ? the very last people usually leave the table about 9:30. Although (theoretically) we all helped with clearing up, Julien usually got the kitchen in order so he could leave by about 9:00 or so. With all at the same table, one end is "'English-speaking" (most of the students do speak fluent English, although there were some Japanese and some German students while I was there, whose English was limited), and the other is supposed to be French-speaking. Either Rene or one of the"profs" (or both) would always eat dinner with us, and although they were in theory the "language police", they ended up being language resource people more than anything else. I must tell you that my most vivid memory of dinners is after the main course was cleared away, when Julien would come stand at the head of the table with a plate of five or six kinds of cheese in his hand, and say something like, "Messieurs et dames, votre attention, s'il vous plait! Je vous propose des fromages ?.". Then he would proceed to explain what kind each was and where it came from. And he would give us little tips, like how best to cut the cheese, and always end that explanation with "ne massacrez pas le fromage!"

to be continued
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Old Dec 11th, 2003, 12:06 PM
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The chateau is a very pleasant place to stay. It's on the outskirts of Roanne, I suppose, although there's greenery all around, and you walk for about five minutes towards town before you even come to regular cross streets. You could walk all the way into town (about 40-45 minutes), but it's much quicker to walk only about 10 minutes to a bus stop and ride in to the town center from there. Because there's still considerable land (I think about 13 acres) around the chateau, it's very peaceful and quite lovely. Facing the "front", which is actually the back, since the road leads up to the "back" which is therefore the front (got that?), there's a huge beautiful greensward with trees and bushes surrounding it and a pond in the middle. If you cross this area, there's a gateway that leads to the canal behind the chateau, with a walkway all along it. Rene told me that the bridges across this canal were one of the reasons for the name of the school, although figuratively the name also refers to bridges across languages and cultures. There are fields surrounding this side of the chateau grounds, most with some of the region's ever-present Charolais cows grazing.

Inside, the rooms vary in size and are individually furnished; mine looked out over the greensward and also the graveled area right outside the foyer where there are tables and chairs for people to use in fine weather. The chateau also has a swimming pool for use in fine weather. The students' rooms are all on the second and third floors (American style ? first and second floors European style), and there's also another building with a few rooms for overflow. The kitchen that Julien uses for cooking meals is right off the dining room and lounge in one wing of the ground floor, but the larger kitchen used for the cooking courses is in that other building. The large entrance foyer in the middle of the ground floor has chairs and tables where students can gather, as well as a computer for student use (you can either pay a weekly fee for unlimited use, or pay per minute of actual use). The other wing has the rooms used for classes, the school office and teachers' room, a large collection of books along a hallway, and way, way at the end (accessible also from the outside), the laundry room that Danielle, the housekeeper's assistant, uses for daily laundry, but which students are also free to use for their personal laundry. Danielle, by the way, is very friendly and helpful, but most of the time people would go to Marianne, the housekeeper, with their problems; Marianne's husband, Jacky does the outdoor maintenance and handyman kind of things.

Oh, and getting there ? there are many possibilities; depending on where people were coming from, probably all of them occurred. I took a plane from LAX to CDG, the TGV from CDG to Lyon, and a regular train from Lyon to Roanne, and finally a cab from the Roanne train station to the chateau. The driver told me it was his third trip to the school that day; too bad we couldn't all coordinate our arrivals!

to be continued
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Old Dec 11th, 2003, 12:06 PM
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STUDYING The basic French course, called the general course, consists of 19 hours in a small class of students at very roughly the same level of competence. Students meet for three hours every morning Monday through Friday, and on Mondays and Thursdays two more hours between 5 and 7pm. In my experience there, no class was larger than 5 students. In fact, most were smaller, as you can imagine from knowing that there are only accommodations for about two dozen people at most, and that people often come just for the cooking course, not the language. Three separate class levels were taught each week I was there: one for beginners, one for intermediate students, and one for more advanced students. I imagine that more than three levels could be accommodated, if the need arose, but with such a small group of people, the need probably doesn't often arise. The classes are basically conversation-based, with grammatical issues worked in as each teacher sees the need for his or her particular students. In fact everything is oriented to the needs of each particular group of students, with grammar, pronunciation, and other issues just falling naturally into place in the course of the interactions among teachers and students. I can't speak highly enough of the skills of the teachers ? "profs" -- I came to know while I was there. They all have mountains of materials at their disposal if they choose to use them, from written exercises to films on tape to French-language newspapers (two or three delivered every morning), and they each select what seems to be most appropriate for their students each week. I had a different prof each week for my general class, and each had his or her own style, although basically following the same very interactive, responsive methodology. I remember that in each of my three different classes we did an individual presentation that took some preparation, as well as more spontaneous individual ones, in the course of each class. The first week Pascal had us each prepare an oral presentation on any subject we wanted ? it was supposed to be about 10 minutes, but I unfortunately ended up talking for about 25 minutes!!! Pascal would let each student continue uninterrupted for the most part, but when some issue arose that was of general interest, or some consistent error, he would take a little time to go over it. Then the second week my prof was Catherine, and she taped an evening newscast and made it available to us during the week for each to choose one news story to describe and explain to the class. The third week Marie-Eve had us choose any newspaper article and do the same thing. But, as I said, these were merely the most formal presentation; mostly we just took part in conversations and discussions that were guided (pretty subtly, I have to say) by the profs.

Since classes occur in modules of one week, (and most people stayed just a week, though several for two weeks, and one other student and I for three) what happens is as follows: Students arrive on Sunday afternoon, move into their rooms, gather around 6-6:30 pm for a walk around the place and a very general orientation by Rene, and then have dinner together at 7:30. Then, on Monday morning after breakfast, people collect in the foyer and wait their turn for a conversation with Rene or the supervising teacher (Valerie is currently that). Based on the results of a short multiple-choice exam that students turn in with their registration materials, but especially on that conversation, students are assigned to class levels, which are announced as soon as the profs and Rene have consulted about assignments. Rene will come out to the foyer and announce something like, "Sandy, Gaynelle, Kerry, Hisako, and Arline will be with Pascal in the first classroom", etc., etc. So class starts a little later than usual on Monday mornings depending on how many new students there are to interview.

The classrooms are just rooms ? what can I say? Each has a table with seating for up to 6 people (the maximum size of any class),perhaps some easy chairs, a TV used mostly for movie tapes or DVD's, and a greaseboard on an easel. The profs bring in whatever materials they plan on using. Classes are from 9:15 to 12:15 (or 12:30!), with a break in the middle. Lunch is at 12:30, and afternoons are free (until 5pm on Mondays and Thursdays.) There's no "homework" per se, although if there's a presentation to be prepared, you would of course work on it as you saw fit. And occasionally there might be a short written exercise for people to complete for the next day's class, on some grammatical issue that seems to need discussion.

Now that's the general course. If you want to take the intensive course, as I did, there's an additional 6 hours of study, but this is just you alone with a prof acting as your tutor. Intensive students meet with their profs on Tuesday and Friday afternoons from 3pm-6pm. There's absolutely no fixed curriculum for this; it's at the student's desire. You tell them what you want to learn about, or how you want to study, and voila, that's what happens. For example, I like a certain amount of structure, and I asked for what they called a thematic approach. So what themes?, I was asked. I ended up working with my tutor on things like the parts of the human body, the furnishings of a house, i.e., vocabulary items in areas where I felt weak. But I'm sure other students did totally different things. And even so, we spent a great deal of the time just having long, long conversations on those Tuesday and Friday afternoons, which roved across many different topics, from exchanging family histories to discussing the state of world politics. And my second week, when Valerie was my tutor, I asked her if we could go into Roanne one afternoon and just walk around and talk about what we saw. Actually she ended up driving the two of us into town and helping me buy a replacement alarm clock and also make an appointment for a pedicure. So you see, there's no pre-ordained curriculum at all

Speaking of profs ? there were four working at the school while I was there, two full-time and two part-time. By part-time I don't mean that they necessarily worked fewer hours, but that with the inevitable variability in the size of the student body, some weeks there wouldn't be a demand for all four. Valerie was the head teacher and administrative assistant to Rene. She works year round, I think, because in one of our conversations, she described spending part of the last winter repainting and refurbishing some of the rooms. You see, the school is open only from May through October, so even a full-time teacher wouldn't be working all year. Pascal was the other full-timer while I was there, and he had a pretty neat arrangement with his wife, who worked most of the rest of the year from October through May (actually I think their jobs overlapped part of the year), so that one of them was always at home to look after the children. Catherine was the teacher with the longest tenure; I think she helped start the school when Rene and Margaret first opened it some 20 years ago. Marie-Eve was the newest teacher, and she lived on a farm some 20 miles or so away with her children and their father.

I had some experience with all four, as follows: Week 1, Pascal taught my general class and Marie-Eve was my tutor; Week 2 Catherine taught my general class and Valerie was my tutor, Week 3 Marie-Eve taught my general class and Pascal was my tutor. This was partly by design, since for multi-week students, Rene feels that they should experience different teachers.

There's no grading, per se, though at the end of a student's stay the class teacher will write out an evaluation of the current skill levels of the student in various areas. Also, Friday night dinner is special because that's when everyone receives their certificates of completion and there's lots of congratulating going on. I had to wait three weeks for my certificate, so I told Rene that it should have been three times as big as the regular ones. He said, sure, fine, but he'd have to order it specially and it might take awhile to arrive, ho, ho, ho.

to be continued
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Old Dec 11th, 2003, 12:07 PM
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MISCELLANEOUS Students leave on Saturday, most on Saturday morning, because the school is effectively closed from Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon. There's breakfast served as usual Saturday morning, but no lunch and no dinner, and no meals on Sunday until dinner. I stayed for three weeks, and learned to fend for myself pretty well over those weekends. You can go into Roanne and eat out; you can buy some food at a market and fix it yourself. As a matter of fact, the first weekend, Caryn, another student who stayed for three weeks, and I were there, as well as Joe, who was a cooking student there only for one week, but who was staying over an extra night before going home. Well, Joe offered to cook a fine dinner for all three of us and Rene said that would be ok. So we went into Roanne Saturday afternoon and bought all the supplies, and then Joe spend the rest of the day cooking up a storm. It was a great meal, let me tell you! We were careful to clean up thoroughly after ourselves, of course. And both the first and third Sunday mornings that I was there (I stayed over an extra night my last week, leaving on Sunday), somehow Rene had the normal breakfast set out on the table! So, you see, the rules can be flexible. My second weekend I went by train to Lyon from Saturday morning til Sunday afternoon, and that's a pretty interesting city; wish I'd had more time.

This was a wonderful experience for me because I was exposed to exactly what I wanted: an intense immersion in French with great teaching. But it was also wonderful because the atmosphere and the social climate at the school are so comfortable, so relaxed, so non-threatening -- and also because I got to meet so many interesting people: Caryn, the graduate student who was there for three weeks of the intensive course the same as I, and who was going to continue studying with, I think, the Alliance Francaise in Paris for three more months; there was Peter from Yorkshire who is a wonderful man, with a very sly sense of humor; Paula from the UK who was very good in French; Charlie the cockney businessman from London who sounded great in French, and was always joking; there were Hisako and Masami, whose husbands worked for the Japanese government in Luxembourg of all places; there was Kay from Richmond, who was there for the cooking class; and of course, I can't forget Joe from Israel ? his name was actually Roy, but we started calling him Joe and it stuck somehow; there was this whole group of women from South Africa who came the third week to take the cooking class ? Stella and her two daughters, her mother-in-law Annetje, Annetje's daughter( and Stella's sister-in-law) Ansie, and their family friend Elmori. They were the friendliest women you can possibly imagine, and there's a good possibility I may be visiting them next fall for a little while. Well, anyway, that's just a sampling; I feel as though the experience of living and working with the other students was just as valuable as the French language learning.

(P.S. The cooking class was taught by Jean Marc, a traditional French chef, and everyone who took it seemed to love it ? we got to sample some of their results at dinner, but mostly they ate what they cooked themselves!!. Cooking class was from 2:30-6:30 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. It was possible to take both the general French course and the cooking class, but then you'd lose the four afternoon hours of the language course ? several people did that: French all morning and cooking all afternoon!)

So if you're considering studying French in France, I recommend Ecole des Trois Ponts with great enthusiasm. And if you've made it through this lengthy document and still have any questions, please ask. I may be away from my computer off and on the next few days, but I'll check for questions.

Sandy


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Old Dec 11th, 2003, 12:23 PM
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Sandy--good report, but for the sake of clarification, should one have a basic knowledge of French to attend? You seem to imply it.
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Old Dec 11th, 2003, 12:28 PM
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I had the same question. Doesn't sound like a thing for "beginners" or are there those too? And what was the age range?

Can I ask how much this costs?
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Old Dec 11th, 2003, 12:29 PM
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Flame you? No way! I was riveted to your every word. How about telling us the per week cost and posting contact info for the school?
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Old Dec 11th, 2003, 01:53 PM
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I went to the school's web site which Sandy provided and the rates are listed there. Something nice to fantasize about.
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Old Dec 11th, 2003, 03:19 PM
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Ok, I have tried FIVE times to post replies to the old thread, and they just disappear. So here's my SIXTH attempt:

Michael, yes, true beginners can take courses, although most of the students do speak French to varying degrees when they arrive. Let me tell you about Pam, a lovely woman who was living in Germany with her husband who was stationed with the military. She came my second week for the patisserie course and stayed for the regular cooking course the next week. Monday morning she decided she'd like to try French as well, and asked Rene if he could work it out -- he said fine. And Pam spoke NO French -- maybe she knew "oui" and "non", but I'm not even too sure of that. And she made definite progress, although she can not by any means be said to have "learned to speak French" in just five days (and a week before that listening to many of the rest of us chatter on!) And, don't forget, my descriptions of classroom activities were for the advanced level classes; I don't exactly know what the beginning and intermediate classes did.

Patrick, I went the expensive route (and believe me, I saved for it!) - private room with private bath and the intensive course -- one week of that is almost 1500 euro, but three weeks was about 1450 euro or so per week. The general course is less expensive -- check their website for current prices. I know it sounds like a lot, but that's complete board and room as well as the school.

Oh, yes, the age range. Well Stella's two daughters who came for the cooking class my third week were about 12 and 14 I think. The youngest language student was, I think, Melanie, who was probably about 22. And Peter and I were the oldies -- he's probably in his late fifties and I'm 63.

Betsy, thank you for your kind words.
The complete URL is in the first installment of my original post, but I find it easiest just to Google Ecole des Trois Ponts.

Sorry about the problem with the original post.
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Old Dec 11th, 2003, 05:01 PM
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Hi sandy,

Thank you for a great and thorough report. I've often thought about doing something like this but never seriously looked into it. This school sounds like a wonderful place to improve language skills; I'm so glad you've enlightened us.
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Old Dec 11th, 2003, 05:33 PM
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Sandy, thanks so much for your wonderful, thorough report. The school sounds really terrific. I would love to do something like that, and may look into this one. I like the fact that you can enroll for weekly increments, as I can't stay away from home for too long at the time.
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Old Dec 11th, 2003, 07:31 PM
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I'm amazed. You know how we all form pictures of people when we read their posts (well, don't we?). I pictured sandyh about 30ish, a young professional woman. Sixty-three? You go, girl!!!!
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Old Dec 11th, 2003, 07:49 PM
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Oops, sorry! Missed the URL on the first read. The website is very comprehensive. There's even a little French quiz you can take to assess your competency.
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Old Dec 11th, 2003, 08:07 PM
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I might need to start another thread, but does anyone have any experience studying in Paris at either Accord or Ecole France Langue (also has a branch in Nice).
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Old Dec 12th, 2003, 05:44 AM
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I spent 3 weeks at the American University in Paris and would recommend studying in Paris as a trip of a lifetime. Study abroad if you can, my husband did it for Spanish and I for English.
I was in my first year of college French as a hobby and was in my mid-40s when my husband suggested I do this. I researched many schools in and out of Paris (originally thinking I would tire of the big city). My husband and I were in Paris 3 months before my course, so I personally visited the school and arranged to meet the family I might live with. Highly skeptical at the start, totally in love with the experience.
Half of the class were college students, half were in my age range. We all got along very well and our teachers were excellent. Testing the first morning determines the level of class. 5 hours of class are followed with lunch with the French teacher in the school cafeteria. Optional afternoon classes included a fabulous walking tour with an architectural historian of Paris neighborhoods twice a week and a conversation group for 2-3 hours twice a week. Our sweet teacher took us on an outing 2 Friday afternoons--to the famous Poulaine bakery to see the behind the scenes workings, to meet a violin maker and ride the Bateau Mouche.
Speaking NO Enlgish all day is an amazing way to improve a foreign language 100%. Living with a family added to that. To spend part of your days in world class museums, attend theater and ballet at student discount prices, and see Paris in such a different light was truly amazing, even for someone who had been to Paris 3 other times.
Cost was very reasonable. Be advised that I had an excellent family to stay with, others at the school had mixed reviews. If someone finds a bad experience, it requires a forceful attitude to have the school change the arrangements.
Ten years later, I still marvel at the experience.
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Old Dec 12th, 2003, 06:01 AM
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Ditto Aleta - I too am in my 40's, having just returned to college this semester after a 23 year absence. For credit thru my university, I only have the options of certain language schools. There are about 4 or 5 in Paris I can choose from, but Accord and Ecole France Langue are the most affordable. The tuition is coming out of my pocket on top of my home university tuition, and I have to do 8 weeks for the credit I need - OUCH!

I am having one heck of a time deciding on accomodations. At my age, I just don't think I want to stay with a family, especially for 8 long weeks. Apartments are tricky, what with hefty security deposits on top of the rent. But I feel I need more, especially privacy wise, than a room in one of these student dormitories. But I've got a little time yet to decide. I'm going in mid-May.

As I have been doing the legwork, it appears that the flight is going to be more costly than I've ever paid before due to the length of my stay. Once you go beyond 30 days, the prices double. Again - OUCH! I thought being a full-time student would allow me to use some of these student agencies and cut rate flights, but nope, serious age descrimination!

I welcome suggestions from any and all on flights and staying in Paris for an extended period like this. Thanks.
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Old Dec 12th, 2003, 07:41 AM
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Patrick, actually I am a 30ish young professional woman - inside.
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Old Dec 12th, 2003, 10:26 AM
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tallyhotravels, Priceline can often get around that penalty for 30+ day trips. Of course it has several other disadvantages.
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Old Dec 12th, 2003, 10:31 AM
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LOL, great attitude, sandyh. And just for the record I'm a 21 year old "stud" inside.
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Old Dec 12th, 2003, 10:46 AM
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Well then obviously, Patrick, you're much too young for me -- too bad.
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