Au revoir?

My bags are packed, and in about 8 hours or so I will be on a train headed back to Paris, where this all began, to catch a plane to the states.

Yes, in less than 24 hours, my stay in France will end. I can’t believe it. It seems like yesterday that I was getting on an airplane to Paris, scared out of my mind and yet incredibly excited for what was to come. Yet here we are, on December 17, preparing to head home after an incredibly short (nearly) four months. I am excited to see my family for the holidays, but I’m also scared. Life in America seems like a distant memory. I only hope I’ll be accepting as my home culture as I was of the one that so willingly accepted me.

My stay here in France has been the most amazing experience I could’ve ever asked for. I don’t really know where to start, or what to say, to describe it in a way that anyone could understand. It was such a great thing to be able to live in someone else’s culture for a little while. I have spent this entire time having little moments where I think, “Wow, I’m in FRANCE!” but never actually thought about the implications of what that phrase meant until today. I am in France, 4,000 miles away from my country, in a completely different culture, living as they do, having changed my habits to accomodate theirs. These people, who are so different from the people in my own country, have become normal, familiar almost. I don’t think there’s much more I can ask for. My French has taken a slight jump in improvement too, which is always nice, but that is just one side of the coin.

I’ve been here through the grèves, through the snow, through the long dinners with my family, using the trams as any other person would, walking the streets with them, just living like anyone else. I feel like I have really broadened my horizons in general. I have realized that I love so much more than just French (and oh, how I love French). I love this culture. It is going to be so hard to leave, but I know that all good things must come to an end… including this.

My host sister has forewarned me that she’s going to cry tonight, which I’m not too excited to witness. I’ve already gotten rather emotional today…

I am looking forward to heading “home” (I need to learn how to define that word!) with a new outlook. It’s one thing to visit a country as a tourist, and it’s another to live there as a native would (mostly). I can’t be happier that my first international experience was, the vast majority of the time, the latter.

I’ll never forget it, and I’m sure I’ll always miss it.

Things I love (and will miss): Dinners with my family, breakfast, lunches with my family, pains au chocolat, Sunday night crêpe night, the mountains, the bread, the coffee, the butter, almost everything my host mom makes (except perhaps endives, I can live without them), the facility of public transport, the emphasis toward politeness in shops and whatnot, cafés (Specifically John’s Bar), the water in Grenoble (which tastes amazing, as it comes directly from the mountains), les infos, my host sister and her drawings, …. and more, which I will add as I think of it.

Click on the following link to read a little snippet about my time in Lyon.

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108 days…

…have dwindled to 11.

It’s hard to believe that in 11 days my stay in France will end. These last three months have gone by so incredibly fast that I don’t even know where the time went. I can’t believe that i have gotten the opportunity to spend four months here, and yet I wish I could stay longer because the time has flown. You get here and then, in the blink of an eye, it’s over. Last night at dinner, my host dad reminded me that in a couple of weeks I’ll be readjusting to my own culture again… and I don’t know how I feel about that.

In the meantime, in order to avoid what I feel like could become a wave of nostalgic comments, I will talk about what I’ve been doing the last few days…

A whole lot has happened in the last week. A week ago, I slipped in the middle of the street while walking to the bus stop early in the morning and hit my head (wet ground, bad shoes). I went to the doctor immediately after with a friend, missing the first part of my French class. Nothing was wrong, and they gave me some medicine that they said I could go get at the pharmacy for something like 1,90€ (“Is that okay?!?!”) and sent me on my way. We had gone to the student clinic, and it was surprisingly empty. The friend I went with seemed kind of surprised, as she said a friend had gone before and it was packed. Maybe it was the time of day. I tried to go back to class but i had a headache and left early. My professor was really understanding. I wrote him an email and explained the problem and also told him I wouldn’t be in literature class later that day. Everything worked out fine and I was able to stay home and rest off my headache. The next day, I was fine, but everyone in API knew what had happened.

The snow in my driveway. It had snowed a LOT.

Then on Wednesday, it started snowing. A lot. It snowed 15 centimeters overnight, and all the buses were blocked in the morning. I had to take a different bus than usual that went into town (far away from my university) and then take the tram back to the school. It was quite a trek, and with the snow, it was kind of a nightmare. I learned very quickly that I don’t have appropriate shoes for snow. The boots that I brought are suede, which means they get sopping wet in the snow (and not to mention they have holes now, but that’s a different story) and I don’t have any good shoes for snow and ice. The good news is that after a week of slush, it finally melted starting yesterday. Oddly enough, it’s actually colder where I go to school than it is here. That will change by the end of the week, though

Last Friday I took a test de grammaire for my French class that would count toward my grade and today I got it back. I basically got an A+, which makes me happy, but I know that if I had done badly my professor wouldn’t have counted it. He told us it was only counting if we did well… So I guess that’s going to improve one of my grades… somewhere…

Sunday, we went to have lunch with my host mom’s parents. They are both 84, and I have to say that her dad is probably the best French guy I’ve met. It was his birthday this past week so he had a birthday cake after the apéritif and lunch, and he asked me to help him blow out the candles for the purpose of “Franco-American relations.” When I wasn’t doing it, I got a “SOUFFLEZ, SOUFFLEZ!!” (BLOW!) I think Laure took pictures of the event for posterity’s sake. I need to get them to e-mail them to me. We spent quite a bit of time talking before and after lunch. Grandpapa knows a lot about American politics, so he asked me about healthcare and why we won’t pass sécurité sociale. He then asked me if I knew who General Lafayette was… I didn’t, and I was quickly informed that this was the general who helped America gain its independence way back in the day. “You should be thanksful for the French!” If he only knew… They were very kind, and at the end we said goodbye the French and the American way. I must say it was really weird hugging someone after not doing so for months, but he was determined to say goodbye in the truly American fashion.

It was certainly weird getting “vouvoyer”d the entire time I was there, but I have to say it was kind of nice to know that they aren’t just going to use the informal version of “you” just because I’m young. Granny did slip up once, but I don’t judge.

I had 3/4 of my DELF (Diplôme d’études en langue française) exam today. I am so not looking forward to writing a paper tonight after that! We had to listen to two radio programs (one of which was long and VERY fast — hard to take notes and keep up at the same time!), read two articles and answer questions, and then write a semi-formal letter. I think it went okay. I only need to get 50% to get the dipl ôme so I am hoping that I didn’t completely fail. I have the oral part next week… that is going to be nerve-wracking! I hope I don’t pass out.

I had to give a presentation today in my French class but it went decidedly well. I gave it on the Peace Corps and I must’ve done okay (I don’t remember much of what I said, as is the case when I have le trac) because people said it was interesting.

I got on the wrong bus today (couldn’t see the number) after my exam. Fortunately it had a stop very near Carrefour (a stop on my bus route) so I was able to correct my mistake. If it feels like I’ve only been here 2 weeks (it does) I am certainly making it seem like it with my crazy.

I am looking forward to spending my last few weeks here wandering around, going to the Christmas markets. And this weekend coming up, I get to go to Lyon for the Fête des Lumières. We’re not done yet…

Strasbourg

As soon as Thanksgiving ended, I headed home to pack my clothes for the weekend, our last excursion of the semester. I have to say that they saved the best for last! I LOVED Strasbourg! We left around 10:30 or so in a bus, and it took us roughly 7 hours to get there with stops included. It was well worth the effort!

Comté!

The most important stop had to be the Comté museum in the Jura. We got to see (on a map) where Comté is made, and learn about the different flavors and aromas people can “smell” in the cheese. I never knew a cheese could smell like chocolate, but evidently that’s one of the things the experts smell… There was a movie with a little animated piece of Comté acting as narrator. That was funny. We  got to taste it afterward and I must say I really liked the older Comté better. The one that hasn’t been aged as long apparently isn’t as expensive, but still. I prefer yogurt to cheese but I told my family that I might actually want to start eating some cheese at dinner… sometimes. I am not really interested in the Vache qui rit, however, and they don’t buy much cheese because they don’t like it all that much, so I’m not too worried about it if they don’t get me any.

la Capitale de Noël

We got to Strasbourg that night and I was pretty overwhelmed upon seeing it. I think the Christmas atmosphere kind of made things worse, because I got all emotional walking to the hotel. It was so beautiful with the lights and the Marché de Noël. I felt like I was walking around in a fairytale. Our hotel was very nice and situated right near Place Gutenburg and all the Christmas markets. It wouldn’t surprise me if they have to reserve our rooms well in advance because it was really perfect in every way.

The first day we had a guided tour of the city. We visited Notre Dame de Strasbourg (as I think I’ve said before, there’s ALWAYS a Notre Dame) and saw the astrological clock they have from the 16th or 17th century. It was awesome. Strasbourg time is 20 minutes behind Paris (ETA: okay apparently not, but it is different), so we got to see what happens when the clock chimes on the hour (it chimes every quarter hour). There are little figurines that move around and show the symbolic passage of life. There is also a moon that turns on itself (there is a dark and light side) to show an accurate depiction of the current lunar phase.

The astronomical clock at Notre Dame de Strasbourg. You Up near the top, you can see the figurines that move. The moon is above the clock face. The little angels below the clock chime also take part in the motions every quarter hour.

This was by far the coolest thing I have seen in a while (though I did go to the Musée dauphinois and see an exposition on robots and wind-up toys from the 1700s several weeks ago… that was neat too).

After the tour, we were supposed to go to a beer tasting at Cronenberg, but I decided to stay behind with Joe and walk around Strasbourg a bit. I didn’t really have any desire to leave, and we wouldn’t have very much time to visit the Christmas markets. We made the rounds and I did a little shopping. It was absolutely charming. It didn’t snow all that much but it was starting to fall, and it was the perfect atmosphere.

An example of the architecture.

I also really LOVE the architecture in Strasourg. We walked around a bit just taking pictures of all the houses. It is very German. That makes sense, of course. Strasbourg has fallen in and out of German possession over the last two-hundred years, so everyone has the choice of whether or not they want to learn German as a second (not foreign) language in school and sauerkraut is a popular dish. We heard so much German just walking around the Marché de Noël, too. I sort of felt like I was getting the best of two countries.

We stopped to get a kebab (Joe loves kebabs) and ended up having a political discussion with the guy working there. He was very intelligent and knew a lot about politics, so it was interesting. He’s fom Turkey (irrelevant) and seemed to know a lot about American politics. It was definitely a highlight to my trip and made me glad I had decided to stay in town that day. We had gotten Italian the night before (I would’ve preferred Alsacian food, I can’t lie, but I was not about to go alone) and that night a couple friends and I went to another Italian place, where I got a dessert (chocolate mousse) instead of a second dinner. It was still delicious.

The next day, we headed to Colmar for the second Marché de Noël. We also went to a the Museum that was a converted monastery. it was snowing rather hard in Colmar, and we were freezing. We went inside a restaurant to warm up and bought lunch. I ended up getting the potage du jour (soup du jour) and a café viennois (coffee with whipped cream, my favorite thing) which I know don’t go together but I was fine with that.

We got to see the European Union Parliament building from the bus. Exciting. And then after a long busride home, I got to eat crêpes with my family. It was a great weekend!

One thing is for sure: I envy anyone who lives in Strasbourg. I want to move there one day. I would move there now if i could. It put a spell on me…

Thanksgiving

And thus begins a slew of entries on the last two weeks, as I have been horrible about updating and a bunch of stuff has been going on! Last Thursday (Thanksgiving, not two days ago), the entire API group got together for our own Thanksgiving dinner.

That day was strange. It was strange because the Americans and I were the only ones who knew that the day was anything other than just another Thursday, and we were the only ones yelling, “HAPPY THANKSVIGING!!!!!!!” in the hallways. Everyone else msut’ve thought we were crazy! I skipped class that afternoon to go home and cook my rice and cornbread (mentioned in a previous entry) because we were having dinner at 6:30 and I didn’t have enough time to go to class from  2-4, take the bus home (30 minutes) and cook before going back into town. Évelyne helped me cook the rice, which was great because she knew how much rice I should probably make for the amount of people who were there. She also helped me make the cornbread; her oven is in Celsius and, from my experience at the beginning of the program trying to make a Nutella cake with some friends (failure) I know that French ovens are a bit different.

Everything turned out perfectly and I made it to the dinner just in time. It was really great! When I got there I noticed that Marie had gotten us Peanut Butter Cups when she took a trip to the States, and she had decided to put them on our plates at the dinner as a surprise. It made me kind of nostalgic, I love Reese’s.

Everyone’s food was good. Everyone had made or brought something. Desserts, broccoli casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, and even cranberry sauce (this was a real surprise as it is impossible to find cranberries in France). It was probably an excellent Thanksgiving, but I missed having my family around. I got home and skyped with them, though, and they were still busy preparing their meal. That was probably the first time I felt homesick this entire time I’ve been here. I feel lucky, though, that i got to have Thanksgiving at all, and with such a great group of people!

API Fall 2010

la Vache qui rit

Eventful days here dans le coin….

Yesterday, “the other Molly,” Emma (two Intensive students) and I went to the Salon du Chocolat, at the the Halle de Clemenceau in downtown Grenoble. It was pretty interesting! It’s basically just a bunch of tables set up in a hall, and all the chocolatiers in the area, or a lot of them, will have their chocolate for sale with some chocolat samples. For 3€ we got to sample everything. We did get some sucettes de chocolat (chocolate suckers) but they were worth the 1,50 € ! The crêpes we bought were the worst I’ve ever tasted here, which is a real shame. Crêpes should always be good! Fortunately Sunday night is crêpe night chez les Biboud, so I got to eat a bunch of crêpes for dinner last night to make up for the one bad one. They make fun of me because I prefer crêpes au beurre et sucre to anything of the other crêpes sucrées (sweet crêpes) I had a choice of. What can I say, I’m easy to please.

This Thursday is Thanksgiving, and it’s really the first time I’ve felt homesick here. There’s something weird about missing the Thanksgiving that happens every year at my house. I know the things we make, and the things I don’t dare to try, and now I won’t even get to share in the magic. Fortunately API is setting us up our own Thanksgiving feast on Thursday night, and we can all make a little something. My grandmother sent me some cornbread mix a while ago, so I’m going to make cornbread and another dish that is common in my family called rice o’brien. Rice o’brien is delicious, by the way (when made right)… it has olives, green bellpeppers, red bellpeppers, and corn in it, as well as bouillon for flavoring. I really hope I don’t mess it up!

This afternoon I took an always exciting trip to Carrefour (French Walmart, basically) with Chelsea to buy the ingredients for the rice and some other things for the cornbread, which is a mix, so it shouldn’t be that hard. Going to Carrefour is always an adventure. The last time I went (which was also the first time I had ever been) I absolutely had to buy something, but it was a jour férié. This meant that everybody else was there, too, making for an irritating shopping experience. I couldn’t figure out how to use the self-check-out lines at that point, so I was stuck in line with everyone else who was there (apparently all of France had bought everything in the store) with my one item. What I’m getting at is, it was a real drag, and I’m glad to say that this time was a lot less irritating. There were fewer people, and that helped. I also bought a reusable grocery bag while I was there for 0,60 € that I’m going to take back to the states. It holds a lot of stuff!

Harry Potter comes out Wednesday here in France, and I think I’m going to have to go see it in French. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble at all understanding it, it’s just more the idea that the first time I see it will be overdubbed. I will be seeing it with my twin sister in December, but as someone who used to identify herself as a die-hard Harry Potter fan, this is somewhat disappointing. At least overdubs are supposed to be well-done here.

This last week has been decidedly uneventful. I got my history examen blanc back and found out I made a 13/20. That’s a B-ish. I was not too pleased, but I have a friend whose test wasn’t even graded, so I guess he graded us pretty hard… or I hope so, anyway. At the end of the day, it doesn’t count anyway, so no matter. :)

Two Sundays ago my family and I went to the Château de Vizille, and I got to see the Museum of the French Revolution. It was a good experience, and the château is pretty! Unfortunately we weren’t able to walk around the grounds because limbs had apparently fallen and struck someone in a different part of France. It really was quite windy there, so I can’t blame them! I do wish I could have walked around the gardens, though. They were really expansive and nice.

I bought some soup for lunches, so hopefully I’ll be spending less on those over the next few weeks. I doing thing I’m spending a terrible amount on food, but I want to be able to buy some things next weekend. We’re going to Strasbourg on Friday! We will be spending Friday to Sunday there, which should give us enough time to scour the Marché de Noël for some gifts. I’m hoping to find something for my host family while I’m there, at least. I think it’ll be a real experience, and a lot different from here. I can’t wait to try the sauerkraut…

The other day, I woke up to la vache qui rit. Nobody understands that phrase, because in the US, we don’t have it. La Vache qui rit is a brand of cheese here that comes in a round box, and it’s typically thought of as a good cheese for kids because it is cut into small wedges. We had some in our fridge, but several nights ago Laure asked for some of that instead of yogurt at dinner, and it was all gone. My host dad then asked me if I didn’t want to take the Vache qui rit box back to America as a “gift to my grandmother.” It is, after all, a real French product. However, I told him jokingly that she probably wouldn’t be interested in a box she can’t even put anything in. He then said something along the lines of “Well all right” and left it at that. The other day, I woke up and found the top part of the box propped up on the shelf above my desk. Cleverly placed by someone…. when I went downstairs to breakfast and let it out that I had found the Vache qui rit surveilling my room, my host dad laughed and said, “I wondered when you’d see it! You need to take it with you!” It was definitely a winning moment.

I think when I go home, the Vache qui rit will go in my scrapbook, along with all the other things I have saved like a packrat during my time here. Sad that I only have 25 days left here… time really flies when you want it to slow down…

Lunch à la française

My host family isn’t required to feed me lunch (even on weekends) so imagine my surprise when my host mom told me that she had left some food for me to eat. I am always willing to eat whatever she makes… it’s almost always delicious (the only exceptions being when it’s something I didn’t like to begin with, like broccoli). My family had a dedication to go to today – there is a home for mentally disabled people being opened nearby – so my host mom and Laure went. I don’t think my host dad is able to go, as he works at his bookstore on Saturdays.

So, lunch. I took pictures of it, because I was the only one around.

The second course, the first being cauliflower and vinegar dressing (see: bowls). I don't remember what this is called but it was delicious!

If I ever eat alone I always do it the French way…. I think it’s just habit now. The newest baguette is even better than usual. I usually have 2/3 slices of bread a meal but this time I was considering getting more… so. good.

The "third course" : yaourt nature sucré. My favorite thing ever, but I'm easy to please, especially where food is concerned...

We almost always change plates for the yogurt/dessert part of the meal. If we don’t (has only happened once) it feels strange to me.

With the very rare exception, dessert is almost always fruit. There are of course times when my host mom will make something for dessert, but it’s not the norm.

Dessert.

I am decidedly bad at peeling fruit, but I absolutely have to do it except with grapes, which we rinse in a bowl of water before eating. I think I’ve gotten a little better about it as time has gone on, but I still have a nasty tendency to send my fruit flying across the room, especially with apples. Today, I did much better than usual. It was a shame no one was around to see. I felt proud of myself.

Tonight is my friend’s birthday so I’ll be going on to dinner to celebrate. I’m glad I got to eat a homecooked meal for lunch.

We have a guy staying with us for the moment (until Monday, I think) who doesn’t speak any French, so I had to explain to him how things work around here with regards to the toilet (you have to turn the water on before flushing, turn it off afterward) and the lights and whatnot. It’s so strange speaking English in the house! i’m kind of glad he’s leaving because I like having to come home and speak French all the time.

Speaking of French, I’m starting to think in French. Finally. :)

 

It’s a jour férié…

… so I suppose I should make myself useful and write an entry!

I woke up really early this morning, around 7 (which stinks, I was hoping I would sleep later) and read Le Monde/fiddled around on the internet until I heard my family starting to wake up. I didn’t want to be the first one to go get breakfast on a jour férié (natonal holiday) when I am supposed to sleep in! As soon as I heard them I went into the kitchen and heated uo some water for my coffee. It’s another difference that I’ve gotten used to. it seems like no one really uses cafetières (coffee makers) here, they tend to stick to an electric pitcher. That, two spoonfuls of “instant” coffee, and two sugar cubes are usually my morning ritual. In the beginning I would take some tea sometimes instead of coffee, but I am not a mornng person so I have fallen back into the old coffee habit. I am groggy enough in the morning that it helps. Coffee later in the day leaves me strung out. But back to my story.

I put the coffee in my bowl and slice my bread (usually, today it was presliced). I think the one thing I’m going to miss most about France is the baguette for breakfast. I so look forward to breakfast these days. Usually I’ll put miel de fleurs (some sort of honey spread) and butter  on my toast, but today I decided to have one slice of bread with confiture (jam). My host dad has noticed that I am falling back on old habits, yesterday remarking that I apparently prefer coffee to tea and today asking why I don’t put confiture on my bread. I told him “Je préfère le miel à la confitureeeeee” and left it at that. Really, we don’t have honey spread stuff like that in the states. It’s delcious! I am definitely bringing a jar with me when I get ready to head home.

Breakfast lasts quite a while (though not as long as dinner) which I am certainly not complaining about. My host parents noticed in the beginning that I was always rushing around in the morning, rushing at breakfast, rushing afterward, forgetting things, rushing out, rushing to the bus, rushing… and told me to take more time to eat breakfast in the morning, so I have slowed down considerably.

They put on Catholic radio in the mornings, and that is another reason I really prefer it when I can eat breakfast with them. Despite my atheism, it helps me practice listening when I listen with them, and also they give briefings on world news so I can get a good update of current events before I go to school. Some of the things they discuss me gène but that’s forgivable. I have had to really compromise things to live with a famly who is so religious, but I like them a lot, so it’s all right. On Toussaint my host dad asked me if I didn’t want to go to church just this one time “for the service in Latin” and told me “Les chants sont très beaux!” (The chants are beautiful!) but I declined. He got credit for trying! I think in general I’ve gotten really lucky in not having very many conversations with the parents about my beliefs. My host mom asked me if my grandparents went to church one time, and I told her they went all the time. That was all it took.

When I’m not in class, I usually go around town with friends or go to our favorite café with friends to get a coffee and a tartine beurrée. It is the simplest snack ever, but also the most delicious, so I’m not complaining. We got a picture with our favorite serveuse the other day.

Joe and me with our favorite server at the café. She helps us with our French. :)

It was a friend’s birthday last night and I decided not to go because it was raining, cold, and I would have had to walk for an hour to get to the tram stop as there were no buses running at that time. I wish I had gone but I really don’t regret choosing not to walk one hour both ways. I am rather lazy like that. Instead I watched a movie (in French, of course) and went to bed, being tired and all. My parents had gone to a mass last night, so they left me something to eat thinking I was going out. They actually came home when I was still awake, which was kind of awkward. They are going to mass today to celebrate the life of my host dad’s sister-in-law, who died on this day last year of a heart condition at the age of 49.

Next Tuesday is my presentation in my Techniques of Written and Oral Expression class. We have to choose an article (she gives us two to choose from) that interests us, figure out what point the author is trying to get across, and then discuss our opinion on the article while analyzing both sides of an issue that the article presents. I changed classes about a month ago, moving into a higher-level techniques class because my other one had way too many people, and I’m glad I was made to move. I don’t mind the other teacher (she’s also my Vocabulary teacher, and she does a great job in that class) but I didn’t think I learned very much in that other Techniques class. This new teacher gives us interesting articles to present that are longer than the articles we’ll have at our exam (so we’ll think the exam is easy) and corrects our French and the structure of our presentations when we make mistakes. It has really helped me, but I’m worried abuot getting in front of everyone. I don’t want to read from a script as some people are doing, so I really need to be prepared. I’ll start working on that tomorrow. No homework on jours fériés !

Speaking of my Vocabulary class, I am excited to report that we are actually starting to learn useful vocabulary. Though I felt like the review of morphology was interesting and helpful, now we’re learning les expressions imagées (idiomatic expressions) that will actually come in handy. It’s rather surprising that it’s taken us this long to get there. We had a Vocabulary test on Monday and seeing as I didn’t really study for it, I’ll be surprised if I make a 40 (out of 60). Some parts were easy, but certain parts, like the “Write a story using these 10 latin expressions (5 of which I didn’t know)” were definitely bombed. Oh well, I’ll know what to expect for our big exam at the end, at least. I don’t even know if this one counts for anything. They don’t really tell you these things in France.

I woke up this morning and immediately thought something in French. I rarely remember my dreams so I guess this is the next best thing. My French has progressed a lot slower than I thought, though I’ve sensed an improvement, probably due to having all American friends and hearing a lot of English, but it’s moving along. I do my best to make sure that all other things I might do (listening to music, reading, movies) are done in French to make up for the English I hear elsewhere. It works out.

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