Yesterday finally answered the biggest question people had been asking me before I left: what would my homestay be like?
Well, folks, here is the answer you’ve all been waiting for!
Originally, my assignment said I was living with a woman (an artist!) and a cat. Don’t get me wrong, that would have been fine, and I was emotionally prepared for it when I arrived at my new address.
Except…except….after I rang the buzzer twice and someone finally opened the door, it wasn’t a woman (an artist!). And no, it wasn’t the cat either. It was a friendly, grandpa-looking fella who didn’t seem at all surprised to see me. He was all “Bonjour! Welcome! Let me take your suitcase!” and I had YET ANOTHER Taken flashback (curse you, Taken!!).
Even though I wasn’t getting in a cab with a cute guy, I’ve found that I’ve picked up the bad habit of thinking about that movie whenever I am told to follow a stranger. Whatever. There are worse thoughts to think about strangers, right?
There was no elevator, but it was on the first floor so it wasn’t that bad. It turns out that he was the artist’s husband (husband!!) and the artist would be in soon with their daughter (daughter!!). In for a penny, in for a pound and all that.
The house is gorgeous. I knew it would be a two-story house (at least my assignment got that right!) and the description even said that it would be pretty, but pretty didn’t really cover it. There is art everywhere and colors with wooden floors and wooden walls and big arching ceilings and lofty open space. This definitely isn’t the typical French apartment or living space. And my room is gorgeous, a picture waiting to be painted. As soon as I saw it, I felt a little less nervous (but not enough).
And the location is gorgeous—it’s literally across the street from the fence of the famed Pere Lachaise, which I had already visited. Fun fact, I must have walked right through my soon-to-be neighborhood then because the same Metro stop I took back that day is a block away from where I live. Sometimes life can feel so incredibly small. But it seems to be a pretty hip, artsy area with lots of things to do (like there’s a McDonalds down the street). It’s in the 20th arrondisement, which isn’t in the heart of Paris, but even though it’s on the outskirts it is in no means in the middle of nowhere. I’ll have a lot of exploring to do, for sure.
My French parents are a little older than my parents, and my French sister is a lot older than my real sister (she’s three years older than me). But I was able to converse with all of them pretty easily because they talk a little slow. They thought my French was pretty good—haw haw haw (how does one really transcribe that stereotypical nasally French laugh?! Must figure out while I am here).
I had some time to unpack) before dinner, but I spent most of the time looking up key words and sentences I knew would come up. I brought my host family a gift of salt water taffy from the Cape Cod town my dad’s side of the family vacations in during the summer because I knew salt water taffy was an Eastern Atlantic seaboard thing. And that’s pretty much how I had to explain it since there is no word for “taffy” or “chewy” in my French-English dictionary.
Dinner went well though. I could answer and understand all of their questions and ask some of my own. We had red wine with a very simple, French meal: roast chicken, roast potatoes, green beans, and a salad (which was literally just lettuce and a secret homemade dressing—French salads are so amusing!), and for dessert: Magnum ice cream popsicles (haha).
It turns out they had some missed expectations about me too. They were told they would have a boy who was a comedian (which honestly describes 2 out of the 6 boys in my program) but they’ve had three girls before me. It was something to talk about at dinner, I guess.
Immediately afterwards, I went with the daughter to a film festival in the park where I met her friends and did MY FIRST-EVER BISES Y’ALL! The “bises” are the cheek kisses (two of them, one on each cheek) that the French do as a form of greeting/goodbye and that was honestly what I was most scared about in France (I can’t say I’ve ever practiced cheek-kissing in any of my French classes).
Cultural side note: Hugging is too intimate for them but kissing stranger (or a friend, later) on the cheek isn’t?
But c’est la vie and it’s something I’m going to have to get used to. My first bises was when I met the daughter’s friend in the park. I didn’t even know it was going to happen (I just kind of awkwardly shook hands or smiled at my host family) and the girl—oh shit I forgot the name of the girl I had my first bises with, SACRE BLEU!!—was on the phone talking and just stopped mid-phone-conversation to say bonjour and lean in and kiss me. Which is unfair, really—not only did I have to figure out where to put my lips on her cheeks, but I had to do it so I wasn’t going to kiss her phone (can you imagine? I wonder if French women’s magazines have those super embarrassing sections like in American magazines where readers submit their most mortifying moments). And then that was it! I had to do it again with another friend, but I was a seasoned pro at that point (not really, but at least I wasn’t a virgin at it!).
All I can say is: watch out, France. Now I can faire les bises and nothing’s gonna stop me now.
The film festival was cool, very bobo (I seriously love that word. It’s my new French word even though it doesn’t sound very French. Sorry, pamplemousse). All of the films were short and of different languages–two in French (none in subtitles), one in British English, one in Polish, and a couple of silent ones. I’m not really sure why they were playing or why this was happening, but I kind of just went along with the ride. It was worth freezing for half the night and coming home reeking of cigarette smoke (can you smoke in French movie theaters?? Because lemme tell ya, you can definitely smoke in French film festivals. It smelled gross but man oh man, even in the dark people’s illuminated outlines looked super cool.) And there was a lot of French happening on the blanket we were all sitting on and around it that I didn’t even come close to understanding, but it was still a good time. Like most good, late nights, I even got asked to go to the McDonalds down the street.
That first night, even, was still a good time. Nothing at all like I expected it would be, but I’m finding it easier to stop stressing in France (especially when I get lost in the streets–then it’s just like, the buildings here are pretty and if I just follow these pretty buildings then eventually I’ll get to a pretty building I know and voila!). C’est la vie, c’est la vie, c’est la vie.