Thursday, October 8, 2009

Home, sweet home.

To keep accurate track of my study abroad experience, and since you already know all the many things I've been thinking, it's only fair that I relay the many things that I've been DOING.

I will begin with where I live. Hint: I don't actually live in Paris. In fact, the humble abode which I now call home is situated slightly southwest of Paris in a small city called Vanves. Vanves is located in Ile-de-France, which is the term coined for the entire surrounding area of Paris composed of 26 different regions. There are approximately 2 million residents in Paris itself; in Ile-de-France, there are 12 million.

The area in which I live is quaint and very quiet. There are some great Italian and Japanese restaurants and a handful of patisseries that line the main street, and often times a flea market is set up in the main square that sells everything from fresh produce to children's toys to high-heeled boots.

My house lies on the top of a very steep hill, which, by the way, has contributed to significant quad muscle building over the last month.

Through the front gate of the house is the garden, an outdoor table set, and flower pots perched outside every window. The house is white walled with two stories; on the main floor, a kitchen, dining room, and a living room with a piano, and a bathroom. Downstairs, the laundry room, office, and the parents' bedroom, and the basement.

Upstairs are 2 bathrooms and 4
bedrooms, 2 of which are mine and Bridget's. Quite the lavish pad, you might say. But don't be fooled, because remember, everything in France is on a smaller scale--meaning my bedroom here is about the size of my family's stove at home.

But this house is considered big, especially for the French, whose homes are typically smaller than those in the United States.

The family are some of the kindest people I have ever met, and have been hosting foreign students every year since 1987. The mom, Beatrice, is a highschool teacher, a singer in a nearby church choir, and a mean cook. The dad, Frederic, is an engineer at IBM who travels frequently all around the world. They have 4 children: the oldest, Camille, is married with a 4-month-old daughter named Charlotte, whom I unfortunately have not had the pleasure of meeting/playing with yet. The second eldest daughter is also married, though I forget her name. The 25-year-old son, Thibeau, is a physicist and a singer in a professional choir who half lives a home, half lives in an outside appartment. I often hear him humming cheerfully around the house. And the youngest, Hermance, is my age who lives in a dorm at her university during the week and returns home for the weekends to relax and enjoy her mother's mean, mean cooking.

Speaking of food (again, of course), this brings me to

Lesson #3: Familiarlize yourself with cultural customs before eating in a foreign country.

After some awkward experiences during family meals, I was kindly introduced by my host family to traditional French table manners. This, if you know me you will know, was very hard for me to internalize, as I am inherently (and very stubbornly) American manner-orientated.

First, your bread NEVER goes on your plate; it belongs on the table cloth, regardless of how many crumbs it produces--a rule that dates back to the Middle Ages when the bread WAS the plate. In the U.S, after family dinners are finished and all the plates are cleared, upon examining what remains, my family members always get a good chuckle at the significantly more noticeable mess my eating habits have left behind compared to anyone else. So this new rule is quite relieving to me.

Second, your hands NEVER go in your lap; they belong in sight at all times.

If I can't put my hands under the table or in my lap...where do my arms go? On the TABLE?


Each time I am forced to do this, a familiar tune rings in the back of my head--one that my grandmother created when I was about 8 years old that has, throughout my entire life, served as a reminder every single time I sit down to eat:

Rachel, Rachel, strong and able
Get your elbows off the table
This is not a horse's stable
But a decent dining table.

I can understand why slamming your elbows on a dinner table is considered rude and slightly barbaric so this new rule, even after so many formal meals, still seems silly.

Another strange custom: the French don't take naps.

In fact, they don't even have a word for nap.

Coming from a person who, since as far as her memory stretches, has reserved at least one hour out of everyday for some snooze time, this new way of life is difficult to get used to. When 3pm rolls around and I find myself disorientated, confused, aimlessly and ineffectively searching for a pillow, I'm reminded again that I am in PARIS, and that mid-day sleeping is not only a waste of precious time to be spent elsewhere, but literally doesn't exist.

Lesson #4: You can't feed the hunger of your soul when you're sleeping.