Monday, September 6, 2010

Rich like Daddy Warbucks

It's only been eight days, but I have managed to satisfy more dreams and indulgences than I thought humanly possible-- I've visited historic landmarks, seen some of the most magnificent parks, palaces and gardens, had my breath taken away by the best views in all of Paris, and consumed enough brie, baguettes and wine to last me a year.

Needless to say, I could die a very, very happy girl right now. 

I'll warn you now that this post is going to be long. I have a lot to cover. Becauuuuse....

Yesterday, we moved in with our French families! To sum up how I was feeling in one word: anxious. The nervous kind, and the excited kind. CaroLine PLyLer compared the scene to being adopted-- the foyer where we were staying could easily pass as an orphanage (with very strict "quiet" hours.. which I don't think Americans understand, a better term is silent hours), and all of us little orphans waiting for our families to come and adopt us. Then one by one, we leave the orphanage for home.

Since my family was at a wedding in the south of France (naturally), I was picked up by another girl's family living in the same neighborhood. Having her there made me a lot less nervous about the awkward car ride situation. After a few sarcastic comments by her parents about the amount of luggage that they needed to now squeeze into their euro-sized car, we were on our way. Driving out of Paris was sort of surreal-- down the Champs-Elysees and past l'Arc de Triomphe. 
*Quick sidenote about Parisian drivers-- they drive crazier and faster than the worst New York and Boston driver you know, combined and doubled. Yeah. I did not breathe out the whole drive home.

Their house was about what I expected, very cute and very French. We ate lunch out in the garden alongside their cute white cat, Couton (?)... and let me tell you, French food is something I can DEFINITELY get used to. Here's what a typical lunch includes:

A boire: Water and hopefully usually red wine 
l'Entree (Appetizer): Sliced cantaloupe or tomato with mayonnaise
Plat: Grilled meat, like kebabs and frites (french fries)
*Things got awkward when I told them I don't eat meat. They showed me how to cook myself some eggs, and I heard the Dad say "Tant pis." Translation... your loss. 
Apres: Fromage 
Dessert: Three different flavors of ice cream-- cherry, vanilla and chocolate

My own family came later than expected, around 19h45, so me and Erin and her 20-year-old French sister, Servane, took a tour of the neighborhood and chatted more frankly about Parisian nightlife. I'm lucky that Servane is good friends with my French sister, Anne, because she's really sweet. We spent the rest of our time listening to Erin play songs from Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera on the piano while I dosed off on the couch.

I perked up when my family finally arrived. I was so anxious to move-in that we completely bypassed the awkward stage. My French parents, Laurence and Bertrand de Kergolay, are great. They're high energy, funny, and are very charming. Oh, and did I mention? They have seven kids. 

After some more sarcastic comments regarding my luggage (I get it... I brought too much), we drove around the corner to my new home. Again, very French. Most homes in the "banlieus," suburbs, are gated to provide extra security. Many have a pretty garden out front (rarely manicured) and a stone structure. Their home was built in 1905, soooo it's on the older side of old. It's pretty big, with three or four levels, and very comfortable. I love it already.

My setup here could not be better. My room is in "la cave," the basement. And yes, I was nervous upon hearing that. But the room is more like a studio apartment, with everything that I could need. Carpeted, a nice sink and mirror, storage, a huge desk/table, book shelves, 2 side tables, a futon (which I prefer to leave couch-style), and the best part of all, a HUGE closet. I'm talking double doors, room for hanging, six or seven spacious shelves, plus room for all my shoes (and any new additions I might happen to acquire over the next 14 weeks). I'll make sure to post some pictures, soon.

I share a "salle de bain" on the 2nd level with the other exchange student, Felicia. She's from Sweden and will be staying with the Kergolays for a year. Surprisingly, her English is better than her French... which isn't saying much. In the "salle de bain" is a tub-ish shower, a bidet (which I can say with 100% confidence I will NOT be trying), a sink, and a vanity. But it should be noted, also, that a classic French shower, or "la douche" (permission to laugh), is really a tub with a drain that doesn't stop water, and a shower handle spout thing. After awkwardly trying to figure out how to use it properly, I kind of relished in the retro feel of it all. Another note, "les toilettes" are separate from sinks, which are separate from the showers, or douches. I'll go ahead and declare that bathrooms are one thing that Americans got right. 

Dinner with the family was a lot of fun. They have a huge dining room table, which is definitely more than necessary. Sunday night suppers are simple in France. We had:

A boire: Water 
Plat: Two giant platters of spaghetti served with Gruyere cheese, ketchup, and soy sauce... you tell me. Laurence also baked homemade bread made with "cereal complet," whole grains. 
Apres: Salad with homemade vinaigrette and parsley, and a very strong Camembert 
Dessert: Wedges of fresh pineapple

Around the table were the twins, 15 or 16-year-old Celine and Thomas, Felicia (the Swiss exchange student), Bertrand (mon pere), 13-year-old Benoit, 9-year-old Claire, 19-year-old Romain, Laurence (ma mere), and me. Missing from the table, and who I have yet to meet, are 23-year-old Hughes, and 20-year-old Anne, who is in Holland en vacances.

With such a big and lively group, I'm expecting an amazing semester here. I know it's premature, but I'm already dreading the moment when it will all be over, mostly because I don't know how soon it will be before I'm back here. And just like I categorized the departure as "not real," going back to life before Paris doesn't seem possible either. 

Classes start tomorrow, coincidentally the same day as "la greve," the strike, so I'm sure I'll have more updates coming soon.

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