It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Christmas in November—and even in October sometimes!—usually means that it’s the most wonderful time of the year to listen to my iPod so I don’t have to listen to the Christmas music on the radio. It’s also the most wonderful time of the year to purposefully walk past the Christmas candy that replaces the Halloween candy a week after the holiday; this year, I had to pretend not to see the candy Advent calendars or holiday boxes that were put out in the French grocery stores around the same time as the Halloween candy was being put out in American grocery stores. QUELLE HORREUR!

But I’m never annoyed by Christmas window displays, oddly enough. I think it’s because my mom had a children’s clothing store when I was growing up and she put so much effort into all of her window decorations, especially the Christmas ones, that I can’t not appreciate the end result of anyone’s window displays. When I was older, I’d help brainstorm concepts, but she didn’t really need my help—she used to always win “Best Holiday Display” at the end-of-the-year awards ceremony given by the town’s local employers and merchant’s board.

She’d buy ten plush snowmen from Hallmark one year that would become “friends” with the mannequins, and the next year it’d be ten big cookie tins with smiling gingerbread men that would be hanging from the ceiling. And even though she closed the store about eight years ago, we still use the snowmen for Christmas decorations in our house and the cookie tins hold all of our Christmas cookies, so I’m always reminded of the beautiful window art even when I’m not out shopping.

This applies for other holidays as well. For Halloween, my mom dresses up leftover mannequin dolls in bloody hospital gowns and hangs them from the window or hides them behind columns, so you can tell she really likes decorating. I’m used to not seeing the house in its Halloween costume because I’m always in Philly for the fall.

I don’t have a photo of the house at Christmas since I’m always there to see it and my mom doesn’t have to send me one. But this should give you an idea of what my mom is capable of doing.

But Drexel’s quarter system works so that I’m usually home the first week of December, which is just in time to start dressing the house in its Christmas finery. However, I won’t get back from Paris until after the tree is picked out and the house is decked out.

And to make matters worse, not only will I not be able to Christmas-ify my house, but I won’t be in the states to see how the stores Christmas-ify themselves.

This weekend was officially the start of the Christmas season for the three big fancy department stores, or grands magasins, in Paris, and I visited Printemps and  Galeries Lafayette. And even though I can’t even afford to buy a pair of socks in either of these stores … I went to both of them this weekend, just to look at their Christmas displays.

It’s the Rockefeller Christmas Tree’s fashionable, French cousin.

On Friday I went to the Galeries Lafayette. The center of the building housing all of the women’s departments is always awe-inspiring and photo-worthy, because of its Belle Epoque architecture and a ornate colored glass dome hovering over an opening covering four floors of fashion. But it was even more beautiful because of the stately, magnificent decorated Christmas tree that touched the top of the dome.

The tree had big buttons of colored lights that would change every couple of seconds, and there was a big, classic white star all the way at the tippity top of the tree. But this wasn’t your average big public Christmas tree—the bottom of the tree had this kind of upside-down chandelier thing going on made out of Swarovski crystals. It was hard to get a picture with the crystals on the bottom and the star at the top.

The outside of Galeries Lafayette was festive as well, but nothing could ever stand up to that giant tree mounted on top of a beauty cart. The displays on the homegoods store, Galeries Maison, looked pretty but not enough to make me want to brave the tourist traffic and cross the street. From what I could see, there weren’t any models or fancy dresses and for me, then there’s no point. And the one window display I could see was of twirling doll couples wearing animal head masks. It was pretty, but not really festive. It was just kind of weird. 

Je ne comprends pas.

Right down the Boulevard Haussman is the Galeries Lafayette’s biggest competition, Printemps. Both stores have been there since the Belle Epoque, so I imagine that every year they have to compete for the best holiday displays. Well, my vote goes for Printemps.

How could it not? All of the decorations were provided by Dior. Dior, okay? Doesn’t get any fancier or more French than that. But name-dropping aside, everything was gorgeous and fun and, most importantly, festive.

There was snow and watercolor-painted scenery showing Paris in the snow—even a snow-covered Arc de Triomphe! And the seventy four little Dior dolls acted out winter activities like ice-skating and dancing outside. Yeah, there were some non-winter scenes like the girlies in strapless tulle gowns eating sparkly cotton candy underneath a Ferris wheel. But everything was so girly and cute that I didn’t end up minding.

Check out the Dior ad.

There were even life-sized mannequins modeling actual Dior attire and accessories, so it wasn’t all dollies. But apparently my inner five-year-old isn’t really so inner, because I got really excited about the doll’s doll faces and doll hair and doll dresses. I would have totally been happy to play with the dolls when I was a kid, and even now I wanted to look at them up close, just because I knew they were hand-crafted dolls designed by the ateliers at the haute couture Dior shop located nearby on one of Paris’ most fashionable streets, rue Montaigne.

And the displays always made sure to highlight the Dior brand, whether it was randomly placing little bottles of Dior Miss Cherie (my perfume!) next to a doll holding a balloon. Or there was one window with a wedding cake-like display that looked like it was stolen from a Cupcake Wars display and was covered with random Dior products like shoes, perfume bottles, and Dior kitchenware.

One window even had a Dior Advent calendar and a 350 euro Dior snow globe. Which is absolutely ridiculous and I couldn’t believe it was listed among the products available for purchase on the tiny sign at the corner of the display. As my friend Lily said, “If I’m paying 350 euro for a snow globe, I want it to control the weather.” But I mean hey, compared to the Chanel snow globe, it’s a bargain!

I want glitter cotton candy Mommy waaaaaah!

Lastly, I’m not sure if the Christmas icicle lights dangling from the ceiling outside were Dior or not—and at this point I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was—but it was a nice garnish that jus added to the festivity and frivolity of the window displays.

Both of these stores gave new meanings to the phrase “window shopping” and it’s a fun, FREE way to get in the Christmas spirit, even if you can’t afford to actually go inside and buy anything. But the two are situated right next to each other in the busy Opéra section of Paris, and it’s still very easy to spend a couple hours just wandering through the stores and looking at pretty things. I went to Galeries Lafayette alone, but I had friends come with me to look at the Printemps displays.

Watch out though, because there’s going to be some serious pedestrian traffic around both of these stores. They’re such big tourist AND local destinations that there were huge crowds on the sidewalks. Just based off of what I’ve seen in the off-season, this is pretty much a constant. It’s like having to force yourself on to the Metro during rush hour, except you’re outside so the BO component isn’t as bad.

Note the Advent calendar and Dior snow globe at the foot of the bed.

Plus, with the window displays, a lot of people are just standing taking up space while snapping photos on their camera. Obviously I had to become one of those people, and you will too if you do end up checking these window displays out for yourself.

You know how when you’re driving on the high way and all of a sudden you hit traffic and you’re not sure why until finally, FINALLY you see some flashing lights or a police car on the shoulder up ahead and when you get past them you see there’s been a car accident or even just a car that broke down? This is exactly like that. Except, you don’t think, all of that traffic just for that? But for this street traffic and the window display equivalent of the shiny lights of a cop car, you’re not going to think that. Or, at least I didn’t, and I hope you won’t too. This is an instance where the traffic is warranted. I think it’s worth fighting for foot space.

My new goal is to create a real-life version of this. I just need balloons, a chic Dior wardrobe, and snow. Pretty sure I’ll only be able to get one of those in Paris.

But like I said, I’m a sucker for window displays, so this was like going to a museum for me. Plus, I know my family and friends would skin me alive and eat me for Christmas Eve dinner if I tried gifting them with something that wasn’t French, so I’m not going to be heading to a mall in the States before Christmas and I wouldn’t want to considering I land in Boston on December 23rd.

But after Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, I’m not complaining.

If you’re interested, Vogue UK put up a little explanatory article and better pictures of the dolls and the windows that I highly recommend.

Editor’s note: So when I was setting up this post I realized that I now have had over 1,000 hits on this blog that has been up for a little over 2 months! SQUEE!! So thanks for reading this, whether you actually have a personal connection to me or not, and feel free to drop a comment or a question about anything!

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How to Live in Paris and Not be Awkward

I am now seven weeks into living in France. SEVEN WEEKS! It’s astounding to think how long I’ve been here.

Yestrday was the first time I went on the Metro and didn’t wonder if people thought I was French. I don’t feel like a secret agent anymore when I wander around Paris and blend in with the Parisians. So that’s nice.

Basically, I feel like I’ve finally earned all of the moments where French people or American tourists ask me for directions in French. Although, I could have done without the two French girls asking me where the McDonalds is…

What I’m trying to say is that I feel like a true Parisian and have learned the tricks of how to survive in France. And now I will share with you the Dos and Don’ts that I have learned along the way, so you don’t have to have all of the awkward or newbie experiences that I have had. And lemme tell ya: I have had A LOT of those awkward experiences.

And to make matters worse, there literally isn’t a French word for “awkward,” because French people are way too cool like that. Like, you know in the States if something awkward happens, someone (usually me) always says “awkward….” to comment on it? Yeah, can’t do that here.  So that makes this even more awkward….

Although I am embarrassingly awkward in English without any cultural or linguistic excuses to fall back on. So I guess I’m kind of a pro on being awkward. No biggie.

For example…..

DO: Mentally prepare yourself to have French people ask if you are British or Australian or Irish. It doesn’t matter where: the Metro, the bar, the café, the street, the museum, the shops. It doesn’t matter if I’m sitting with my friends or on the phone with a friend or, in one case, when I dropped my bag and swore in English. And it doesn’t matter the age or gender of the curious French person. I get mistaken for a non-American every couple of days.

It’s not annoying to have people eavesdrop or interrupt your conversation. Having someone think I am Australian (the most common, actually) is the opposite of that. It is literally the best feeling in the world, especially if you’re a young girl like me who swoons whenever she hears a British or Irish or Australian accent. And to think that someone might feel that way about my (faux British or Irish or Australian) accent? It’s powerful stuff, man. It’s the nicest compliment especially when it’s for something I don’t have to try to be good at. People just automatically think I’m British and that makes me very, very happy.

The French are usually decent at speaking English, but they’re not so good at figuring out what type of English they’re hearing. I’ve tried to talk in a Southern accent, then a Boston accent, and then my regular accent to French people and they’ve all honestly said that they couldn’t tell the difference. Crazy, right?

DON’T: Say you are from China if someone asks you where you’re from, especially when you are a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl like me. Sarcasm doesn’t always translate. I’ve received a couple of blank stares from people after that joke fell flat.

D0: Expect to have random strangers come up to you and strike up a conversation based on your accent. If you’re with a group of American girls in a bar, chances are you’ll end up talking louder than most French people, and since you’ll be talking in a foreign language, you’re going to attract attention. It’s an instant conversation starter that can last all night and it can be very informative and funny to compare customs or phrases or movies or shows.

And it is very, very odd to realize that just because you are American you are instantly cooler and more interesting.

I’ve literally had a group of Texan boys walk by me and my friends in a bar, then turn around and point to us and say “Americans.” And, this is true, I only knew that they were Americans from that first introduction because Europeans would never have been that rude.

DON’T: Shy away from the conversation. It sounds sketchy, and if someone back home tried to pull the “Where are you from?” I’d be a little annoyed and like “Really?” But here, I’ve met really great people from all over—Norway, Germany, Ireland, and mostly France—just because they heard me talking. I’ve had Americans come up and try to talk to me too, just to talk to another American. The conversation can be awkward and stilted sometimes, but usually it will turn out to be pretty funny.

DO: wear deodorant. Dear God, please wear deodorant or antiperspirant or even slather on some hand cream under your armpits, just so you don’t smell like B.O. It is so, so obvious when someone isn’t wearing deodorant. Not in a HA I’M SO CLEVER, I FIGURED IT OUT kind of obvious, but more in an obvious way like you pooped your pants and you smell and your butt is brown and yeah it’s obvious.

JUST WEAR DEODORANT AND EVERYONE ELSE (OR AT LEAST ALL THE AMERICANS) ON YOUR METRO CAR WILL SILENTLY THANK YOU AND LOVE YOU WHETHER YOU KNOW IT OR NOT.

DON’T (bother) wearing perfume if you go out: you will inevitably end up smelling like cigarette smoke because everyone and their mother (literally) smokes here. Why put on purchased perfume when you’re going to wear free eau du cigarette anyway?

DO: count on seeing blazers, leather jackets, nautical striped shirts, endless colors and types of scarves, skinny jeans and pointy shoes (for men and women). Every other stereotype about French fashion is true. BUT…

DON’T: count on seeing a beret. Seriously. Start prepping yourself for endless disappointment and no beret-sightings as soon as you make up your mind to go to France. No berets ever.

No. Berets. Ever.

NO. BERETS. EVER.

NOBERETSEVER.

(Imagine the last line said in the high-pitched Gretchen Weiner “YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!” voice)

DO: Get ready to kiss cheeks. A lot. All day, every day. I feel like I’ve gotten, if not better, than at least less awkward about my bises. You just have to get used to it, I guess. Practice makes perfect. And it’s not worth complaining about the bises to French people, because then they don’t know what to do when you go to say goodbye or hello to them and they awkwardly stick out their hands. It’s so awkward that kissing them is just the better alternative (never thought I’d have to ever write out that sentence, am I right?)

DON’T: Hug. No hugging, ever. You know how in Arrested Development  there’s the running joke with George Bluth Sr. in prison where he touches one of his family members visiting him and that prompts the guards into yelling “NO TOUCHING! NO TOUCHING!” and he immediately puts his hands up and repeats “NO TOUCHING! NO TOUCHING!” That’s what I’m like in France. NO TOUCHING! NO TOUCHING!

I’m such a huggy person, it’s embarrassing. I hug for the dumbest reasons. You got an A on your exam? HUG! You failed your exam? HUG! You went to your exam today? HUG! I am the opposite of the hug Nazi—HUGS FOR EVERYONE! And I have to remind myself not to hug people. It’s hard for me, all right?

DON’T: order shots at a bar. They will be ridiculously expensive. Like, 5 euro expensive when a beer is 5 euro and a mixed drink is 8 euro. And they won’t even be good shots. It’s tequila, rum, or vodka here; and none of that flavored stuff either. If you ask for a shot of vodka you’re going to get a shot of Absolut and no chaser. It is not worth it. And the cutsey, fruity, sugary shots are usually more expensive when they’re available. The French don’t binge drink, ergo they don’t need shots.

D0: Buy wine. A bottle of wine at a grocery store costs as much (more or less) as a shot at the bar. Sometimes it cost less than soda or juice. Good wine too, not just shitty wine.

[sub-don’t]: Buy the disgusting rosé for two euro that came in a plastic bottle, like a soda bottle. It came with a plastic cap and everything. Wasn’t even worth a cork. with a cap and everything. Good story, bad wine.

DO: Eat bread. Eat all of the bread you are offered and don’t feel bad. Bread and carbs are your friends here. No, scratch that, they’re more than your friends—THEY ARE YOUR AMIS! Trust me, that low carb/no carb crap? It’s a mean American invention that just magically doesn’t exist in France so you should definitely take advantage of it while you can.

Pro tip: Keep your bread on the table, not on your plate or your napkin. Don’t worry about the crumbs, because the French don’t. Just trust me. I’ve eaten a lot of French bread in a lot of French places.

DON’T: Look to salad to being your healthy meal. Salads in France are loaded with weird, random, not-salad ingredients, like ham and deviled eggs and lots of other lunchmeat. If you go to a café, or even a take-away café, the salads are usually at least 3 euro more expensive than a baguette, and it will be salad with lunchmeat or eggs on it and maybe tomatoes.

And if you buy a prepared salad at a grocery store, it will usually have cold cooked pasta on top of lettuce. SO WEIRD. It is completely acceptable, therefore, to take pictures in the Franprix of “Penne salad” that is, as the simple title states, penne in an Alfredo or olive oil-based sauce on top of a bed of lettuce. Even if there’s more on the salad, like chicken or carrots, you’ll still get the pasta with it too. So they’re not always as super healthy.

I’ve even ordered a salad in a restaurant with mayonnaise as a dressing (with the other toppings being shrimp, grapefruit, apples, and tomatoes). And it was called La Salade Louisiane, or the Louisiana Salad. Although I’m pretty sure that salad doesn’t exist in Louisiana or in all of the United States. Because mayonnaise on salad doesn’t exist.

Basically, the French aren’t AMIS with the salad. Therefore, Alissa isn’t an AMI of the French salad.

Pro tip: Best bet for an American salad is to buy your own ingredients and just make your own. Just don’t expect to find any salad dressing either.

DO: eat Nutella on everything. Your takeaway from this is that you should eat Nutella always. It’s a free pass! Nutella for breakfast? Okay, sure! Nutella crepe for lunch? Why not? A knife’s-worth of Nutella for a snack? Sounds good!

DON’T: NOT eat Nutella on everything. Your host family will think it’s weird you don’t put it on chocolate chip bread, American bread, or a baguette for breakfast. And they will laugh when you say it is too early to eat something so sweet.

DO: speak French as much as you can. Even if you know a little French, like “Bonjour” or “Merci!” it will go a long way. And if you know more than that, like how to order food at a restaurant, then you should totally use it.  The waiter or the French speaker might switch to English, but stick to your French guns if you know enough vocabulary.

I’ve also done this with French people at bars, where we agree to talk in our other language until we get to a word or a phrase we don’t know and then we switch back to our native tongue. For whatever reason, that makes the idea of conversing in French less daunting for me, and I think it really helps everyone out in the end. Usually I’ll try and describe a thing in French and ask what that word is in French before I’ll just say the English word. It really has been helping!

DON’T: be afraid to ask someone to speak slower or repeat or explain. Maybe it’s because I do this with my host family more than with random people, but I’ve gotten rid of my fear and embarrassment about this.

DO: Study and practice using the different colors and sizes of Euro bills and coins so you won’t fumble with them when you buy something. You will be tested on this and just like regular tests, it is not a good feeling when you fail or do poorly on them. Your tests are when you try and buy something and you have exactly 0.5 seconds to get the right change out before the shopkeeper starts judging you. Not the best feeling in the world. So it’s worth dumping out your change and wallet on the bedspread and pretending to play “shopkeeper” with yourself so you know how to do it in the real world. No shame.

And, you know, if you can get a friend to play with you, you’ll probably feel like less of a loser…

DON’T: Call the different colored Euro bills cute. The French do not think they are cute. And they will not think you are cute for calling their money cute. Just trust me on this.

DO: HAVE FUN!!!!! YOU ARE (OR WILL BE) IN FRANCE!!! C’EST LA VIE EN ROSE COLORED GLASSES!!!!

DON’T: worry about making a fool of yourself. Just accept it. It’s gonna happen so you might as well have fun and get a laugh and a story (or a blog post) out of it. It doesn’t matter anyway because you are in France and that means everything will automatically be better, even the bad parts.

My, what American teeth you have!

So today I had a very enlightening conversation with a random French man about how I am such an obvious American.

In other words, it is Monday.

Before today, I thought the easiest way to identify someone’s nationality was by their choice in footwear. Like everything else European, European shoes are generally sleeker and skinnier, more angular and polished than their American equivalents.

And, a lot pointier—even (or especially) for men’s dress shoes.  I’ve seen ones that are more triangular at the top than any woman’s heel, or even any female Barbie’s heel. It’s certainly something to look at when you’re in a crowded Metro car and can’t look up or stare ahead without invading the personal space of someone’s armpit.

Even their sneakers are somehow more polished. They’re not as wide, I guess, is the easiest way to describe it. And no running shoes—all fashionable sneakers, which is more of a thing in France than in America.

Somehow this also relates to Converse sneakers (which are actually a Big Deal in France and are sold everywhere), and they seem not at all like the sloppy, Ramones rock ‘n’ roll Converse we have in the States.

So this is another game I like to play on crowded Metro days: guess the nationality by their shoes. Surprise, surprise, most of the contestants are Europeans, but when you hit the clunky running shoes, Tevas, or Toms, then ding ding ding! We have an American.

The one thing I keep getting thrown on is French Crocs. I finally found something that isn’t automatically cuter because it is French. SCORE!

And while I still think this nationality theory is true, I was given another method of guessing while shopping at the Fran Prix (like the closest thing the French have to a supermarket). I was in the cheese aisle (of course) trying to pick something out and there was a twenty-something guy who was kind of close to me, not in a creepy way but in a hey, we’re in the same aisle, I won’t look at you but I will move to give you room if you continue this way. And we both turned to walk down the aisle our own ways and ended up doing the whole awkward dance to get around each other thing—that happens in France too, or at least I make it happen in France.

Of course I smiled awkwardly, as I always do, and he said, in Frenchy English, “You are American?”

“But … but … I wasn’t even wearing my American flag grillz!”

Ok. Not to get all Gossip Girl on you, but I was wearing jeans (rolled up at the cuff à la Katie Holmes), a black shirt, and a long black sweater—accesorized with plain nude ballet flats and a blue bandana in my hair, Rosie the Riveter style (I did not mean to dress like a cross between Tom Cruise’s ex and a feminist icon, I assure you). So my outfit wasn’t crazy American, right?

French girls wear nude flats all the time. I know this because they are generally cleaner and less scruffy than mine and I am insanely jealous.

“Oui. How did you know?” I asked (in French, of course, but it was still a dead giveaway).

“I knew it as soon as I saw your smile.”

I mean, it’s no “you had me at hello,” but….. just kidding.

“Really?” I asked skeptically, smirking because I didn’t want to show teeth again.

“You Americans have such straight, white teeth. Good work,” he said, before wishing me good day and successfully walking past me.

Um. Well. Okay then. Thanks for complimenting the people (and their dentists and orthodontists) of my home country, I guess?

Nothing happened with him, obviously, and I didn’t get a creepy vibe from him. In the end, he didn’t give me his number and we didn’t go on a date but he did give me some food for thought.

They’re just my teeth. Yes, I had braces, so they’re nice and straight—as they should be, after four years of wearing the teeth train tracks. And I’m a good little girl so I brush my teeth twice a day. But are they really that American?

Come on. I wasn’t even wearing my American flag grillz … because that douche bag Ryan Lochte hasn’t returned them to me yet.

But seriously. I learned an important cultural lesson today and it happened in the cheese aisle in a little French grocery store, of all places: apparently I can wear all the red lipstick and pointy black flats and little black dresses and Longchamp bags I want but it doesn’t even matter one bit because I will still be an obvious MURRICAN.

I mean, at that point, why not just bring a fanny pack and a L.L. Bean fleece jacket with me everywhere I go?

Seems like my best bet is to just not smile anymore. And honestly I think that would be harder than wearing a fanny pack in public.

Hosting a French House Parrrrr-taaaaaay!

HEY GUYS GUESS WHAT? I WENT TO MY FIRST FRENCH HOUSE PARTY … and then slept through most of it. Because it was being held at my house.

Friday night. I’m in my black sequined dress, my host family’s daughter/my host-sister from another mister was in a cute pink polkadotted romper that I would double-dog dare anyone to wear in America. I’m going to the Latin Quarter (rue Mouffetard—read A Moveable Feast, yo) to go to some bars with my friends. And I thought Anaïs said she and her friends were going to a party and did I want to come with my friends? (I should note that the host parents are away for another week or so).

I’m an idiot, so I said no merci, I have plans. Well then, did I think my friends would want to come to the party after? And I’m a huge idiot, so I said no. I knew we would be out late (the Metro closes at 1) and I live kind of removed from everyone else so we would have to leave the bars after like an hour to make it to wherever this mysterious French party was.

And sheesh, you’d think I would have picked up on something when two friends (my first-ever bises and who would then become my first-ever male bises…the most awkward—if that is even possible—of all of my horrible French cheek kissing attempts because I was sitting cross-legged on the couch with my laptop on my lap while he stood over me, kill me now especially when I said my name was Alissa and he just said ‘Enchanté’ and walked away so once again I don’t even know the name of the person I kissed!) came over with potato chips and frozen pizza and wine. And you’d really think I’d notice when they pulled out this huge cylindrical glass jar (one more suitable as a vase) and dumping red wine and lemonade in it.

But nooooooooooo, silly me, I just thought they were doing some crazy French pre-gaming  and I was already running late and had to peace out before they finished dumping the second bottle of red wine into the vase.

Joke was on me when I tipsily (but safely!) stumbled back home at 2 in the morning after having banana beer (yes, I typed that right, and it was 20% banana juice), only to hear music coming out of the apartment building (French after party? I stupidly wondered as I clomped up the stairs) and then went inside to hear lots of French voices mixed in with the Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy” and the sound of about twenty French shoes hitting the wooden floor.

This wasn’t their French after-party. This was their party party. But it was my French after-party—because apparently I can go to those now.

This was a big occasion. This wasn’t just the first French party I went to. It was the first house party I had ever been to that was hosted in my place of (temporary) residence.

Yes, I wasn’t at all involved in the actual planning and inviting and decorating. Yes, I didn’t even know it was actually happening until hours (probably, because I don’t even know when it started) after it started happening. And yes, I only knew one name and three familiar faces in the entire loft area.

But goddamnit, I’m just going to go ahead and say that it was my first house party because I’ve never thrown that large of a party at any of the houses I’ve ever lived in (yes, Mom, I’m not just saying that).

I understood more of the music than the conversation. Anaïs had created a playlist specifically for that party and it had a lot of English-language songs like “Lonely Boy,” The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” The Clash’s “London Calling” and a couple of ‘50s-ish swing and ‘60s-ish Motown. And even better, these twenty-something French bobos (hipsters) were actually legitimately dancing to them (and, as with “Satisfaction” kind of singing along to them in an adorable French way!). I wish I had had the courage (or the alcohol-courage) to jump on the makeshift dance floor so I could dance to music I actually have on my iPod and can sing along to. When was the last time that happened at Skrillex Land, USA?

But my shyness (which was mostly comprised of my inability to feel confident engaging in French small talk with the few French people I know, let alone French strangers) was very evident. I only talked to the daughter and her friend, the second person I’d ever cheek-kissed, though I did exchange words (literally only words) with the bises boy (when I told him I was from Philadelphia and he just said “EAGLES!” and then walked away shortly after) and some other boy who told me, in stilted English, that he would light my fire with his lighter if I were a smoker. I should add that this was not as random or creepy as it sounds, since I was talking with second bises girl about how I felt like I needed to get more into the smoking scene in Paris to meet actual Parisians (jk Mom).

But after an hour of alternating between talking with second bises girl about French music festivals and the higher education system in Paris and seeming really engrossed in my plastic cup of red wine and/or my phone, I’d had enough. My second wind had only lasted for so long and I went downstairs to try to sleep. After I put my favorite go-to-sleep album (and not because it’s so boring), The Cure’s Bloodflowers, I was out after the first two songs—and when I woke up at 5 a.m., it was because the music had turned off and people started clapping!

Dancing until 5 a.m.! I sure know how to throw a French house party! NOOOOOT.

The Last American Bookstore in Paris

Now that tomorrow is my last day of the first week of classes (hello, three-day weekends for the next four months!), I’ve finally started searching for the books that I need. And forget just griping about textbook prices and doing more online shopping for textbooks than clothes trying to find the best deals—here, in Paris, the biggest trouble is just where to find the books and knowing that I’ll have to suck it up and pay any price just to have them.

This has not been the case for most of my classes. I bought my French Phonetics textbook and my French grammar reading (an adorable French short story collection called “The First Sip of Beer” that’s all about the French appreciation of life’s small pleasures—like the first sip of beer. But, I’ve had the most trouble with my only literature course, the 20th Century French Novel, which is also my only class that will be taught in English.

Outside of the classics (ie. Victor Hugo, Flaubert, other old dead French guys), the only French books I’m familiar with are The Little Prince and the TinTin series, and I that isn’t something I’m proud of (you’ll notice that it is something I can joke about, though). Needless, to say, I wasn’t too surprised to find that those titles weren’t on the syllabus, but I was surprised that I recognized two out of the six authors on the syllabus—so that’s 1/3 of the authors, which is coincidentally the amount of time in years that I’ve completed for Drexel.

I read Albert Camus’s “L’Étranger,” or “The Outsider/The Stranger,” in a French class, and that was pretty dense, philosophically speaking, but hopefully I’ll get a better feel for it in English. The other I hadn’t read but I did know about, and that is Marcel Proust (we’re reading some of the first volume, Swann’s Way) just because I’m more familiar with his name through literary connections and esteem than his actual work.

In addition to these two works, I have four other books I’ll need to buy: Colette’s Chéri, Marguerite Duras’ The Lover, Maryse Condé’s Crossing the Mangrove and Patrick Modiano’s Honeymoon.

Give yourself a clap on the back if any of the authors or titles seem familiar, because I sure as hell didn’t know any of them. And then give me some help finding them, because I sure as hell could use it.

My teacher told us to go to Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore, which made me happy because I used to go to the cute, tiny bookstore-looking bookstore with my dad when I would visit him and buy Harry Potter books there. It’s in walking-distance of where my dad used to live and I’d been meaning to go to it anyway because lately I’ve taken to revisiting places we used to go to, like the open-air market we’d shop at on Sunday mornings or the patisserie we’d buy macarons from. Random things like that.

It was for that reason that immediately after class ended I set out to visit the bookstore my dad decided to show me instead of Shakespeare & Co.

[Side note: honestly, dad, wtf? #literarywhitewhine].

It was easy-ish to get to, because I remembered what street it was off of and what side of the street it was on and things like that. It was exactly like I remembered, except some of the bookshelves were only half full and I was like, huh, you never see that. And after asking the man sitting behind the desk who had been watching me scour the shelves for my books, I found out why—the bookstore is closing. Or not. I’m not sure, and the man isn’t too sure, but from the way our conversation went I’m definitely freaking out more about it. It turns out that the store wasn’t carrying any of the books I need because it might be permanently closing by the end of this week (“We might still be open on Saturday but it’ll probably be later in the day because it might be our last day”). He wasn’t sure that they’d even be open next week because they haven’t come up with rent money.

What. The. Fuck.

I couldn’t believe it. And I’m not just talking about how blasé he seemed about it (although that might be because he’s French, or that might be because he isn’t French. Just like with everything else about this strange little man, I have no idea). Granted, I have the bare minimum connection to this store, as much as I like to pride myself on it, but I still felt like I’d been shopping there my whole life and just found out it was closing (or not, no one knows). I guess sitting on the grungy wooden floor of the only English-language bookstore (to the best of my middle-school knowledge, thanks dad) in Paris and buying books off your summer reading list makes you feel like it really meant something.

It seemed to mean something two for the guy. He smiled and leaned back in his chair when I told him I once bought the newest Harry Potter book when it came out when I was visiting my dad in Paris. Heck, he even said he’d have to tell Penelope (the owner of the store? A part-owner of the store? Clearly I don’t know as much about this store as I should to deserve to feel this genuinely distressed about the news of its imminent closing) because he thought it was a wonderful, enriching memory.

The enigma of a man didn’t really go into specifics of why the store was closing other than rent money. But I’m still surprised. Paris is a huge supporter of the arts and has always been, but there are books everywhere you get lost here. There arelibraries,” or little neighborhood bookstores in every little quartier. If you walk along the Seine, you’ll probably be just as fascinated with the antiquated bookstands lined up along the river wall as the sights you’ll see on your walk. Even the French Barnes & Noble, Gilbert Jaune, has a lot of locations and always seems busy (although, to be fair, some of that might be because of back-to-school traffic). It’s very appropriate for a city with as much literary history as Paris.

These were all examples of opportunities to buy French-language books. And you’d think that because everyone in France seems to be able to speak English (including waiters and taxi-drivers and other people you wouldn’t expect to be bilingual—trust me, everyone speaks English or at least enough to make conversation with someone who is unfortunately obviously American), there’d be a lot of opportunities to buy English books, right? I think there used to be. Now I’m not so sure.

Red Wheelbarrow is closing (or it isn’t). Another, Village Voice (no discernible relation to the newspaper) closed less than a month before I arrived in Paris. Another, Tea & Tattered Pages, closed in June—so less than two months before I arrived in Paris.

The guy from Red Wheelbarrow directed me to a small French-English bookstore on the northern part of the arrondissement with the charming, quirky name I Love My Blender. It’s a great, funky little bookstore with primarily Anglo-American authors and their French translations, but they didn’t carry any English versions of French writers. The cute guy there said he could order them for me but I wouldn’t be able to get them before next week, which is when I need the first book. And I was cranky and tired and not in the best mood to stop and go through every book like I intend to do later, so I just asked (in French of course!) if he had any other recommendations besides Shakespeare & Co. and he just said he thought that would be the best for me.

I was already planning on creating my own literary tours of Paris (i.e. reread A Moveable Feast and The Paris Wife and make a map of all the apartments and haunts of Hemingway) but now I think I just added a different type of tour. I’m hoping that nothing short of WWIII will close down Shakespeare & Co. (after all, Sylvia Beach’s only closed down for WWII), but I’m not as sure about the other Anglo-American bookstores in Paris.

So now I’ve made it my prerogative to go about finding other bookstores that didn’t close one or two months before I arrived in Paris. And, ya know, find the books I need for my class.

I have a French family now!

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?

This is where the magic will happen….because of the desk I can use to do homework, duh.

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.

Note the fireplace. Seriously. There’s a fireplace.

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.

I can see the Pere Lachaise from my house!! (it’s that wall by the reddish trees)

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.

Is it my closet or is it art?

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.

Shh…I’m Wearing My Big Girl Panties

So, you’d think that moving to a new country where they don’t speak my native language would make me feel mature and adult like. Well, you’d be wrong—especially considering how embarrassingly excited I got yesterday when I found gummy Smurfs!

But I can honestly say that I feel like an adult now, after more than a week of living in Paris. I had to take care of big girl things I don’t have to worry about in America that I always associated with being an adult—mainly, being responsible for my own cell phone plan, buying a pass for public transportation, and legally buying alcohol (sorry Mom!)

The hardest was the cell phone plan. Remember that quip in Girls where one character kind of takes a dig at Marnie because her parents still pay her cell phone bill? Yep, that’s me. And what’s even worse, I wasn’t even responsible for picking my plan (although I don’t have a smart phone so it couldn’t be too complicated…I’m assuming). But nope, not in Paris.

True, I did buy my (also not a smart phone) in a group with other students, but there were so many problems involved with getting the cell phone plan. My group was the last to get our phones and we couldn’t even go to the phone store (called Orange, it’s like the French Verizon) because the other students who went before us took all of the non-smart phones. So we had to go to just a cell phone retailer, no big deal, but we arrived back at the center so late we had to get our plan at Orange at another time (compared to the other students who got their phone and the plan at the same place).

No big deal. We got like 5 euro worth of texting and calls as a gift for buying the phone, so I wasn’t worry but I did practice asking for the unlimited calls and text plan for 30 euro a month. The next day, we went with one of the CIEE people to Orange and was told that their computers weren’t working (!!) and we couldn’t do it. So, the CIEE person gave me directions to go to another Orange store to buy my plan, which scared me so much but I pretended like it was no big deal—never mind the fact that I don’t know how to ask for a phone plan in English, let alone French. And when I went to that Orange, I asked in French and everything and the saleswoman said (in French—she didn’t respond in English!!) that the 30 euro a month plan didn’t exist but I could do the same thing for 60 euro a month. Um, non. So I go back to CIEE—apparently that plan came out last week—and tried going to the first Orange where their computers still didn’t work (!!). The next day, another student got to buy her plan, but of course when I returned the day after that I was told they didn’t do that plan. OH MON DIEU.

I finally just went to the Tabac (like a corner store that sells gum, lottery tickets, cigarettes, and phone cards) and bought a plan for 25 euro worth of calls and texts that expires in November. So hopefully that works or else I will start getting grey hair, I’ve had to deal with such an adult thing for so long.

The other two adult things were way easier. Buying a Metro pass makes everything easier—unlimited swipes for 60 euro a month. And with the commute to and from work (one transfer, but the whole thing is for about 45 minutes) and all of the sightseeing—it’s been totally worth it. And it would have had to been, because I had some troubles getting the pass. I went to a machine (IN ENGLISH!!) and it wouldn’t take my debit card. ZUT!

So I had to use two 50 euro notes (womp womp) and that worked….except, it kind of didn’t. I guess it depends on your definition of “worked” because I was able to purchase my Metro card, but I got 38 euro back in 2 euro coins. I pouted for about two seconds before I thought, “This will make going out so much easier now!!” Is that bad? Haha. Silver lining to everything, right?

As for the alcohol…my first legal bottle of wine, anywhere, was a 2-euro bottle of rose that came in a plastic bottle and had to be opened like a soda can. And it was so disgusting I could barely finish one drink. But whatever, I drank it in front of the Eiffel Tower so it’s fine. Even though one of the people from CIEE told our class never to buy them because they’re disgusting and are usually full of just random leftovers of wine. Oops. 

But I am trying to be more adultlike, even though I am just kinda failing at it.