2 Months in Paris: Halfway There

It’s pretty crazy that I’ve been living in Paris for two months now! Which also means I have two months left to go. Each week goes by faster and faster, so I think this last half will go by much quicker than the first.

As far as school goes, this past week was mid-semester. I’m now working on final projects/papers for all of my classes. I think maybe towards the end of the semester I’ll make a post dedicated to how school is here, so I don’t go off on a tangent. Basically, it has been kind of difficult adjusting to a new school, particularly one so much smaller than what I’m used to. I definitely appreciate KCAI even more now that I’ve been away from it and I’m so excited to go back next semester.

My French has definitely improved in the past two months, though not in the way I expected it to. I am really comfortable with practical French and do all of my  daily “transactions” in French. This past week I even got a haircut without using any English! I am still not very good at conversational French, and I am not happy with where my vocabulary is at. I know this will improve over the next two months, and once I leave France I will continue to work on it! I also think I have a pretty good French comprehension, as long as whoever is talking speaks slowly and uses enough words that I know. I was pleased to find that while waiting in the hair salon, I could read the celebrity magazines and understand almost all of it. I didn’t expect to become fluent within only four months, but living here has definitely given me a great start to understanding the language. In Amsterdam last weekend, I had to resist the now-impulse to speak French to everyone, which I guess is a good thing! I still have off-days where I can’t seem to understand what anyone is saying to me and I feel really stupid, but then there are equally triumphant moments where I completely understand someone and am really proud of myself. It has, like most things in this experience, its ups and downs.

I think in my one month post I described the stereotypical outfit for a Parisian woman, but it’s taken me a little longer to figure out men. In some ways, they’re almost exactly the same as women. The working men all wear business suits, but your average everyday outfit for the Parisian male consists of jeans or pants, shoes (meaning not sneakers or sandals), and a blazer. Under the blazer could be a plain t-shirt, light sweater, or a button-up shirt. Chambray button-ups are also big with men. And it is perfectly normal to wear scarves and have a murse.

Paris is every man’s urinal. I think this is because of the lack of public toilets, as well as the fact that most of the homeless seem to be men. I’ve seen men peeing along the sides of all types of buildings; one down the street from me to the Jeu de Paume in the Tuileries! The metro is basically the unofficial sewer system of Paris. There are little gutters along where the floor meets the walls that I’m sure were made with the homeless and drunk in mind, but I’ve seen plenty of people clearly neither of those things use them as well. Once I saw a man along with his two small children, a boy and a girl, all peeing in the metro. I also saw a woman having a conversation with someone while her dog peed right there on the floor. So, beware of puddles!

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the American chains that also exist here in Paris. Obviously there is McDonalds, which I haven’t gotten anything from because it’s not somewhere I go even in America, but I might just for the experience. You order on these touch screens and they have croissants and macrons there as well as everything else. I wonder if cheeseburgers are really called Royale with Cheese? A chain that surprised me here is Subway. For some reason it’s really, really popular. I don’t know why, considering all boulangeries sell sandwiches, but I guess in a way hoagies (or subs, or whatever you call them) are the closest thing in America to French sandwiches. They also have Pizza Hut here which again I don’t understand because you can get pizza almost anywhere and it’s probably a million times better than an American chain. There is the one Chipotle which I have gone to. It’s super expensive though, so unless you’re dying for it, it’s not really necessary to go there. Another surprise to me was Office Depot. It’s such a random chain to have here in Paris, but there’s one that I pass every day on the way to the metro so I’ve become used to it.

This second month has been fairly difficult, emotionally. I have tried to be honest on this blog about my experience studying abroad to make this as real and accurate as possible. However, there are a lot of things I haven’t shared on here yet simply because I didn’t feel ready to, or that they didn’t fit in with my previous posts. Mostly these have been very mixed feelings about living in Paris. I even felt guilty for a while, because I honestly do not like living in Paris, which is a dream come true for so many people! However, after talking with many other semester-long exchange students from America at my school, we all seem to be going through the same things and are on the same page, which is so relieving. Basically, none of us are that crazy about actually living in Paris. We think it’s beautiful and we love being able to see things in person that are not possible in the US, but none of us find Parisians to be accessible. This is heightened especially for me, because I specifically chose to live with a Parisian family and I had so many expectations, none of which have happened. Parisians are very prideful and private people. Whenever I see couples ogling all over each other (every day) I am more and more amazed that they somehow had an opportunity to speak to each other and get to know each other enough to be in a relationship. I don’t actually know any French people and I’ve been in France for two months! This is a pretty frustrating realization, but it’s one I’ve mostly come to terms with over the past month. This is the way it is here, which is something that I wanted to find out. It’s not what I expected, but I think I’m okay with that. Also, the main reason I chose Paris was because of all the history that the city holds, and regardless of who lives here, that is all still intact and has been well worth the trip. Still, I definitely think Paris is one of those cities that is much better suited for being a naive tourist for a week or two, seeing all the sites, eating the food, and then moving on. You will have a much more enjoyable time than trying to assimilate with people that are indifferent.

Another huge source of stress for me here has continued to be food. Every time I feel like I’ve finally found some stability, it doesn’t last very long. I honestly think that it is not possible for me to eat the way I want to in Paris. I’ve already decided to stop stressing so much about it and have since finally started eating baguettes every once in a while. Still, I dread every weekday at school when lunch time comes around and I have to struggle to find something in the area to eat that is somewhat decently healthy and not entirely composed of bread and cheese. The worst are cheese paninis. A lot of times this is my only option, and it is literally a bunch of cheese melted on some bread. I always regret ordering this, but sometimes I’m so hungry and frustrated I do it anyway. I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to just take out half of the cheese and add in some vegetables, considering most places at least have lettuce and tomato, but it is not always an option. Why not get salads, you may ask. Well, salads are usually much more expensive than sandwiches and are also less filling. So I usually opt for the cheaper, more filling, but less expensive option, because being full longer means potentially not having to spend money on food later. Not being able to eat healthily would also not be nearly as stressful for me if I could work out the way I want to, but that is not an option either. I have no weights, no yoga mat, and there is no running trail near me. I have been making do with doing Youtube pilates videos on a towel, but if you’ve ever tried working out on a towel on tile floor, it is awful and extremely difficult. It’s better than nothing, though, and there have been a few days where I felt like I had a decent workout. I’m pretty sure I have gained some weight here, but that seems to be pretty normal and I’m trying not to worry about it because I can lose it when I get back to the US (after Christmas of course!)

I’d like to end this post on a more positive note, so here’s an update on my internship! At times it has felt very overwhelming and potentially impossible, but overall I am really happy that I decided to do this. My main job so far has been taking quotes that Annie used in the French version of her book and finding the English translations of them. This is an incredibly difficult task, especially in the cases where she did not have a source for the quote, so all I had to go off of was the person who said it and the translated French version. We are really close to (finally!) having all of the quotes translated, which I will be so happy about. I’ve been able to complete this mostly thanks to Google Books and the American Library in Paris. Annie always lets me know how grateful she is for my help, and I am learning a lot in the process, so despite my few moments of doubt this has been a really wonderful experience.

This coming week is going to be a very full work week for me because on Friday I leave for Krakow, Poland to visit my friend from high school, Janka! I’m really excited to visit somewhere so different from Paris, and I’ve heard great things about it from people who have been there. Before then, I’ll update on this past weekend, but other than that I have a ton of work to do!

Week 1: Reflections & Observations

I can’t believe I’ve already been in France for a week! I thought this would be a good opportunity to share some random thoughts I’ve had that don’t really fit into any of my previous posts. I hope this gives more of an insight into what it’s like here!

-Anne is a very sweet old woman who reminds me of my great-grandmother, Nanny. Whenever she is explaining something to me, she says “Viola!” a lot. She also said it when I returned from Provence. She says “Bon Apetit!” whenever she catches me making food or eating.

-The microwaves here say “Bon Apetit!” when your food is done heating up.

-Anne’s grandson also lives with her. I’ve only talked to him once and seen him three times. He is either away at work or in his room. I think he must be shy, because the only reason I talked to him in the first place was that Anne cornered him after he got home from work and introduced us. I can’t imagine why someone spends all day in their room when they live in Paris! The only other things I know about him are that he is 23 and is going to a university in Paris called Sciences Po. I have no idea what this means, but sometimes I hear clinking glass noises from his room, so I imagine he has a chemistry set and is doing experiments. This is probably very inaccurate.

-The weather in Provence reminded me of the Western US. It was very dry and cloudless with lots of direct sunlight. The temperature was pretty consistently in the early-mid 80’s though, so it never got too hot. In Paris it is much cooler, with the temperature being mostly in the 60’s-70’s so far.

-Like in Germany, the light switches are large buttons rather than the little guys we have in the US. Also like in Germany, they have super metal blinds that go down over the outside of your window at night to block all the light from coming in. Why the US has not picked up on this yet amazes me. However, unlike in Germany where I just pressed a button, the blinds in my room have to be manually controlled with a metal rod that I turn. It is very squeaky and gets stuck a lot, so I usually just keep them down.

-When you order water while out to eat, they give you small glasses and a large glass bottle of cold water (a carafe). When you use up the water in that bottle, they give you a different glass bottle filled with cold water, and the cycle continues. I like this method because I usually drink a ton of water at restaurants and I don’t like all the ice they put in your glass in the US. Also, the napkins here are incredibly huge.

-The French love their coffee and tea. They always start out their day with some of either, or even both. One of the first things Anne asked me was if I drink coffee or tea in the morning. Honestly, I don’t regularly drink either, but if I had to pick one it would be tea. I like coffee, but it stains my teeth, and I try to avoid caffeine in general unless I really need it.

-Grocery shopping is quite difficult for me, though I’ve only tried it once and it was at a small city store. I don’t eat like a French person, let alone like most Americans. Being a vegetarian, I am very conscious of my protein intake, and I mostly try to only eat things high in protein along with fruits and vegetables. This includes Greek yogurt, peanut butter, nuts, veggie burgers, and 10-20g protein bars. I found none of these things, except for nuts, but they were in really small packages and not worth the price.

My first grocery store swag: nectarines, fruit yogurt, granola cereal, bananas, and a box of Mondrian tissues.

My first grocery store swag: nectarines, fruit yogurt, granola cereal, bananas, and a box of Mondrian tissues.

Is it taboo to say that peanut butter is better than Nutella? Because it really is. Europeans need to get on that.

Is it taboo to say that peanut butter is better than Nutella? Because it really is. Europeans need to get on that.

-French people can generally be described as being really tan and really skinny. The tan I can understand after being in Provence for several days (as Anne said when I returned, “You bring the sun with you.”) However, their skinniness is amazing to me considering how much bread they eat. Like, their breakfast consists of bread and croissants, and then they have bread with every meal. However, they do walk everywhere and their food comes from much more natural sources than ours in the US, so maybe it evens out?

-The metro system in Paris is awesome! Since transportation is always a huge issue for me in the US, I think I will use the metro as much as possible here and I will really miss it when I leave. The trains are nice, too. I’ve always loved trains and the ease of just hopping on one and taking it into Philly or Doylestown, and the ability to go to New York City/anywhere else on the East coast.  It’s something I’ve really missed going to school in the Midwest.

-There seems to be no point getting to a train station (or the Oslo airport) early, because they don’t post your track/gate until it is time to board (15-20 minutes before departure). This caught me really off-guard, as I am used to thinking in terms of the Philadelphia airport.

-At the touristy sights, most of the tourists are French-speaking. I don’t know why this surprised me. I mean, Americans visit the Grand Canyon, right? Other than that, the languages I have heard the most are German, Italian, British English, and Spanish. I have only heard a few Americans so far.

-Whenever I approach someone, they assume I’m French. I suppose this is a good thing, but it sometimes confuses me because they speak very quickly.

-I have tried to speak as much French as possible while I am here. Mostly I have only had to say “Bonjour” and “Merci beaucoup” but on the occasions I have had to speak more, usually whoever I am talking to will reply to me in English. I have been persistent though, and in some cases the person will start speaking to me again in French.

-I have not yet encountered the “rude” French stereotype. Everyone has been very kind and helpful. As you walk down the street or use the metro, you will often hear people saying “Pardon” if they accidentally bump into each other or need to get by. So they’re actually more polite than most Americans.

-I have seen some very stereotypically dressed Frenchmen. As in, young men with large noses wearing horizontally striped shirts. Also, I have noticed that French men seem to have no shame in picking their noses in public. Otherwise, they are also a hygienic people, ruling out that stereotype as well.

-I did have one strange encounter with a French person so far. As I was approaching the Pont Alexandre III, I noticed a woman standing still and looking very confused at a man. I kept walking forward, wondering if they were having a fight. As I got closer, I noticed the man walking towards me. Suddenly, he started walk full-speed directly at me. I freaked out and tried to move to the side, but at the last second he swerved around me. I kept walking forward trying to hold it together, past the woman who was still standing in confusion. She said something to me in French and I shrugged. By the time I got to the other end of the bridge, I saw the same man crossing from the other side. This time he started doing the same thing to others on the bridge. This made me feel better that he didn’t single me out. I suppose he was either crazy, or had something against tourists. Or maybe he was doing a social experiment. In any case, if you’re ever on the Pont Alexadre III, watch out!

-I went to see Elysium because I was curious how French movie theaters were. They have a lot of ice cream commercials before the trailers, and then just as many trailers as we have in the US.

-The first night I was here, I found out that Netflix does not work outside of the 50 United States. This has since lead me to consider getting a US IP address while I’m here in Paris. I mean, I haven’t even watched the most recent season of Mad Men. But, there are advertisements all over the city for House of Cards, and on the plane over here the person next to me was reading a Norwegian newspaper with a big spread about Orange is the New Black. So, they get Netflix shows over here somehow. Still, it’s really annoying having every website I go to automatically redirect to the “.fr” version of that site. This may be a worthy investment.

Well, I know this was a long, wordy post, but I hope you found it interesting! I may do more of these in the future to help me document my experience.