I have finally finished my first week of orientation- which is just a mixture of classes of French history, politics, grammar, university life and French culture. It’s actually been very interesting and informative (I had no idea that ami(e) was only used for very close friends), but the days have been pretty long. With the limited time I had during the week, I’ll write about one part I know well but that I haven’t yet touched:
Chez “moi” and my host family.
My host family is really just ma mère d’accueil who has an apartment on the 3rd floor (that’s the 4th floor in a building in the U.S.) in the 4 ème arrondissement, close to la Seine, le Marais neighborhood and la Bastille. My host mother has traveled a lot and to many places around the world, which explains why her eclectic apartment is full of authentic souvenirs and antiques from magnets to blankets to photographs to other little artifacts. My room looks very vanilla in comparison but suits me well. I have a tv and large French style window and all those other things you would expect to find in a bedroom. My window looks out and down into the courtyard and across into the windows of my neighbors on the others side of the apartment. At night I try to see if there are any lights on or anything interesting happening, but so far it’s been disappointing. One last thing I will say on the topic of my window and room is that I detest how, on certain mornings, I can hear the cooing of pigeons and the flapping of their dirty wings.
Personally, I think living with a host family is an excellent way to acclimate yourself to living in Paris and French culture. Not only can my host mother answer my questions about how to use a Velib or suggest a restaurant to go to, but I also think it helps to have conversations with someone who is not your French professor. It took me a while to comprehend my host mother. Even to this day I don’t always understand her. With my professors I have no problem. The difference here is that she, like every French speaker, uses slang (argot) and is speaking “real” French. Professors, I think, are more likely to annunciate and speak more clearly, just as you would speak more clearly if you were giving an oral presentation in class than if you were hanging out with your friends. And this subtle different of accent, pronunciation and vocabulary make all the difference for someone like me who has never really spoken casually with a native French speaker.
Another bonus is that my host has an interesting and extensive group of friends. She’s also someone who enjoys cooking and has made some pretty great dinners. I got to meet some of her friends and family one night when we had picnic dinner along a canal just a block away from the apartment. I think I really lucked out in this regard because, since it’s very untrue that all French families serve delicious and well-made dinners, there are some students who have to sit down to dinner every night and eat a ill prepared or boring dish with their host families.
Not I! I’ve also gotten the chance to eat some things I’ve never had before like shrimp served in their full glory (head, eyeballs, antennas), veal, fillet de sol with the bones, camembert, brie cheese (well I have eaten brie from Trader Joe’s which was imported from France and let me say, not a big difference), melon and jambon, sterilized milk (what even ?), full fat yogurt (mon dieu!) and lamb (which was the first time I ate in since I can remember and I hope I won’t encounter it again anytime soon).
It’s only been a week that I’ve been living here but I am starting to feel more and more comfortable and at home. I have established routines like: waking up and walking 45 minutes to class. It sometimes amazes me that I get to pass all these significant or beautiful sights/sites just as a part of my walk home (and other times I am speeding past them because I’m so cold all I can think about is getting inside and getting warm. Yes, it’s been in the 60s in the last week of August).
On my way to class I get to walk across the Seine. On my favorite route I take the pont des Arts and pass the Notre Dame. In the afternoon I can’t help but feel superior, proud and a bit Parisienne when I get to pass all the tourists stopping on the bridge to make out and listen to the street-musicians or taking photographs of themselves eating ice cream in the Ile de Saint Louis. My inner dialogue says Yes, you’re on vacation but you’re also in my way. I live here and I’m just trying to get home. But in reality I enjoy every second of it.
My neighborhood, which has been compared to NYC’s West Village, is nothing like NYC’s West Village. I guess people make the comparison because there are cafes, boutiques and gay residents/culture (of which I haven’t noticed because I still haven’t reached the point where I can distinguish a heterosexual Frenchman from a homosexual Frenchman). My neighborhood (or what I consider it to be), le Marais, has a bunch a small streets, some are so small the sidewalk barely fits on person. In this neighborhood I get to profite from a metro stop close to chez moi, the good cafes and restaurants that are near by, a boulangerie right next door and, like I already mentioned, being a short walk away from Ile Saint Louis and the Notre Dame which is extraordinary both during the day and at night.