Awkward Abroad: crashing my host sister’s birthday party

The last time my host daughter had a house party, I was a complete American fool for all of it, even before the guests came over. But I was a little—dare I say it?—cooler when the second house party came around.

For a recap (for a lengthier, funnier version, read the post), I thought my host daughter was asking if me and my friends wanted to go to a party with them somewhere else, when she was really telling me that I could have friends over.

Le DUH, as my friend Lily would say.

Then, right when I was getting ready to leave, this guy came over that I had my first-ever male bises with and what is still, to this day, the most awkward cheek-kissing I have ever done. I was sitting on the couch with my laptop on my lap when he sauntered over, right up in my personal space so even if I did try to politely stand up I would have had to stand on his feet, and leaned over to kiss both of my cheeks. While I was sitting down. While I was holding my laptop. Ugh, I’m still cringing just writing it.

I didn’t include this in the original post, but I thought he was really cute and was just so embarrassed about how awkward I had been with the bises. And then he left that night to buy beer and was coming back right when I was leaving. There’s a tiny stairwell you have to walk down before sliding open a glass door to get to the mudroom to leave (complicated, I know), and literally as soon as I was four or five steps away from the door it opened and he squeezed through with two big boxes of beer and, with his back to me, closed the door before turning around and almost hitting me in the gut with the box of beer. It was so awkward. He had to press himself up against the wall to let me through so I could open the door he had literally just closed.

Gah.  I just knew any chance I had with the guy was over because I was on the wrong side of Zooey Deschenel’s adorkableness.

When I came back from my barhopping that night, the house party was raging on, and I alternated between having Franglish conversations with Meleine (not sure if that’s how it’s spelled but it’s definitely how it’s pronounced), my favorite friend of my host sister, and  sending Lily “OMG TEXT ME SO I HAVE SOMETHING TO DO” texts. That lasted for an hour, and then I went downstairs for my bed and slept while the people upstairs danced to random American songs until the Metro opened again at 5 a.m.

So, with that being the last time I presented myself at a French party, there was no way to be worse than that, right? And I was better this time around. Honestly. Not only was I awake when everyone left, but I was there to kiss them goodbye.

It started on last Friday, when the friend of the host mom who stayed over for the week casually asked Anaïs, the host sister, what she was doing for her birthday.

“It’s your birthday today?” I asked, almost spitting out my food.

“Tomorrow,” she said, and then answered the original question.

I didn’t pay any attention to what she said. I was just so shocked. I had less than 24 hours to get her a present, and I would be in the town of Chantilly for all of the day of her birthday. I had literally told Anaïs and Meleine earlier that week that I was going to Chantilly on Saturday and neither of them thought to tell me that was her birthday.

I was actually kind of pissed about this. My host family really never tells me anything. There’s always people spending the night or the weekend or even the week and they never tell me and I have to awkwardly find out on my own.

Like the time I came home from Dublin and found three British passports and sets of male shoes and had to wait six hours to learn what was up. And there have been at least two different times where I went to go upstairs to the kitchen, heard someone sleeping in the loft upstairs, and just slunk off to school without eating any breakfast because I didn’t want to wake them up.

So the next morning (her birthday) I had to wake up early to get the bus to go to Chantilly, and I didn’t see anyone from my host family then. I spent all day at a chateau (post coming up about that), and when I came home I bought a box of nice Belgian Leonidas chocolates, mostly because I knew they came pre-wrapped.

I’ve said before that this host family doesn’t really do dessert (I found out the hard way when I gave them a box of salt water taffy that they only politely left out for a couple days before tossing it). But the host daughter does like to eat unhealthily (aka like me) when her family isn’t around. When the British guys were here, she ate McDonalds everynight when they came home at like 4 a.m. from the Pitchfork Music Festival, and she also has bars of chocolate (Milka or Crunch) that she sometimes leaves around. So I thought I’d be good.

I was, I think. She said I was really nice for buying her a present when I didn’t have to, complimented how pretty the box was, and then invited me to the party. I told her I already had plans to take my friend Lily to an absinthe bar at 9:30, but she said that people were coming over at 8 p.m. and I definitely should hang out with them then.

I should mention that this whole conversation happened in the kitchen, where she was cooking things I didn’t really look at. And when I tried to be fun and ask what she did for her birthday that day, she just said she cooked all day. I interpreted that as, she’s turning 25, it isn’t a big deal, and she just cooked. I should have thought, wow, why would you need to cook all day?

This is important later because she was not throwing a birthday rager. She was throwing a small birthday dinner party.

I totally was going to go upstairs once I heard the doorbell ring a couple times, but I got too wrapped up watching Hulu (The Next Iron Chef: Redemption, for SHAME) and by the time I started getting ready to go out, it was too late. Mostly this was because I put a lot of effort into my appearance because I knew I’d definitely go upstairs to the party when I came back and Anaïs and all of her friends are frickin’ gorgeous. But, by that time, I was too lazy and just not in the mood to make awkward small talk in French. I was exhausted and tired after doing that all day in Chantilly.

But I wish I had just sucked it up and gone upstairs, if only for two reasons.

1.) When I left at 9:15, I thought enough time had passed that I wouldn’t meet anyone awkwardly in the stairwell—the memory with cute bises guy from the last party was still awkwardly replaying in my head. Plus, I hadn’t heard the doorbell in a while. So I thought I was safe. But I thought wrong. Literally, as soon as I put my hand on the lock of the door to leave, the doorbell went off.

Shit, I thought as I waited four seconds so I wouldn’t have awkwardly opened the door a second after whoever was on the other side rang it. This WOULD happen to me. 

It was people I knew, so I didn’t have to awkwardly ask if they were Anaïs’ friends. It was two pretty girls who were at the last party and who came over one night to eat crepes de Bretagne (crepes with ham, cheese, and a sunny-side up egg; not seen at regular crepe stands because they are open-faced crepes from the Bretagne countryside region where my host family has a country house they’ve never invited me to). One was dainty and looks like Shoshanna from Girls if Shoshanna was French. And the other has the most hipster glasses I’ve seen here and loves taking Instagram photos of Arthur the cat whenever she’s over.

They recognized me and were like “Bonsoir Alissa! Aren’t you staying for the party?” as I pressed myself up against the wall to let them in and I had to hang my head and say I was going out with some friends but I’d probably come back before the party ended before dashing out the door.

2.) If I had known it was a dinner party, I’m not sure I would have asked Lily. If you’re reading this, Lily, I’m sorry, but it’s true. If I had known it was a dinner party I probably would have stayed out as late as possible just so I wouldn’t have to go home, so I wouldn’t want to make anyone else go there either.

And then some of my friends bailed on going to the bar because they were too cold or too sick or too tired (which all means they were too lame…), so it was just Lily and I at my favorite punk-rock absinthe bar. Which was still a good time—especially because I kind of impressed the bartender (a new one, with missing teeth) by recommending the Mata Ari for my absinthe newbie friend and not telling him that it was recommended to me by the bartender the last time I came here. Chya. 

It was a chill night, but Lily and I usually get into lots of trouble when it’s just the two of us and she seemed like she was really, really, really paying attention when I was talking about my host daughter’s birthday, even though she had already heard about it during the whole day we spent together at the Chantilly chateau.

So I offered to text my host daughter to see if it’d be okay if I brought a friend over. I wondered if Anaïs would remember the last time when I kind of chilled by myself or only talked to people one-on-one, and would take pity on me and let me have a buddy so we could be awkward together.

Anaïs texted back immediately with a “Bien sûr!” which is the go-to response for French people, I’ve learned.

I showed it to Lily. “All right. Let’s do this,” I said.

I’ve gone over to Lily’s host family’s place before, just the two of us, and now it was her turn to see my place of residence—and witness the craziness that I always talk about when it comes to my actual house (as opposed to the cramped apartments everyone else in my program stays at) and my crazy host family.

I heard music and the hum of people talking in French when we first came in, and I did think to myself that it didn’t seem as loud as the last time Anaïs hosted a party. And when we finally came upstairs, I figured out why—because it was a little birthday dinner party with only nine people. And I was bringing a friend.

This would have been awkward in any language, I think.

But Anaïs was very friendly and immediately started pouring us drinks. It was the same candle holder-turned-wine container that was used last time, only now it had a summery white sangria-esque mixture of white wine, pineapple juice, mango pieces, and lychees. I had to introduce Lily to a table where I only knew about half of the people, and my joke about her being like my sister since we go to the same university and live in the same city didn’t translate well. But we pulled up two chairs to the dinner table and slowly immersed ourselves into the conversations.

I was glad I brought a flyer from the punk-rock absinthe bar, so I would have something to talk about (or point to, in a worst-case scenario). The French friends played like a weird version of musical chairs where they got up to smoke by the window every couple of minutes and would sit somewhere else when they returned, so whenever someone made the mistake of sitting next to me, that was what we always talked about at first. It was interesting, though—no one had ever heard of it, and no one had ever tried absinthe.

So I explained absinthe and the concept of an absinthe bar to a group of French hipster twentysomethings and pretty much felt like a badass.

But when there wasn’t anyone by me or if they were talking about something I didn’t understand—which would then be explained to me because it was an inside joke or a French pop culture reference—Lily and I would just sing along to the music Anaïs was playing from her laptop. Like last time, it was her playlist of mostly English songs, and Lily and I really liked the randomness of it.

The playlist was of songs we knew the words to but just hadn’t thought of in a while. It was funny to get the French take on them. I think people thought it was cool that we knew these songs, but Lily and I thought they were weird for not knowing them.

For example, when the Root’s “The Seed 2.0” remix of the Cody Chestnutt song came on, Anaïs was like, “The words in this song are meant to be nasteeee, right?” (English in Italics, but purposefully drawn out to be silly). I giggled and nodded my head, as I belted out, “I push my seed in her bush for life; It’s gonna work because I’m pushin’ it right.”

Or when not one but TWO David Bowie songs came on—“Let’s Dance” and “Heroes”—and Lily, love her, was like “Hey it’s like that blog post you wrote about David Bowie!” And I wondered what that post would have been like if Anaïs had been there when the first song I recognized on French radio was a David Bowie song and neither host parent seemed to think that was as big of a deal as I did.

But the best part of the night was when Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You” came on and Lily and I completely fangirled and went all “OH MAH GAAAAAWD” and literally sang every damn word.

Anaïs was sitting next to Lily, who was in the middle of us, and so she was always immediately there to hear what we were doing. And also it’s her playlist, so I understand that she would want our take on it. Plus, she’s an absolute sweetheart, and whenever we were quiet for a while and hadn’t talked she would say something to us, in French, which I really appreciated. So normally she would sing or make a remark on the music, but it was only ever just her who paid attention to our singing.

Until “Fuck You” came on.

Everyone kind of stopped and watched us. We weren’t singing loudly (at first) but I think they couldn’t help but notice when all of those “Fuck you” kept coming up. Now, most of Anaïs’ friends have a pretty good grasp of English—one knew how the American “Happy Birthday” song was sung and sang it to us after Lily and I kind of mumbled our way through the French version of the song when it was sung for Anaïs’ birthday tiramisu—because if I have trouble understanding or translating, they sometimes will help me out. So they knew that it was weird that not only was this English-language song repeating the same swear word over again, but that it was done so obviously and as much of a part of the song as “fuck you” is for “Fuck you.”

Someone even asked what song it was and who it was by, and didn’t understand who Cee-Lo was so Anaïs had to explain that it was the guy from Gnarls Barkley who did the “Crazy” song. That was funny for me, because the first time I visited my dad in Paris that song was EVERYWHERE.

Obviously, Anaïs knew the “Fuck You” song, but that was it. And she only sang the “fuck you” parts. Lily and I, well, we sang every part. And danced to them too, even in our chairs. For the whole duration of the song. We were just doing our own thing in the corner, performing for the table and having a karaoke-night amount of fun. That was the best part of the night, for both of us.

It was midnight then, and we’d been there for about an hour and a half, so Lily was ready to go. It was a sizeable amount of time to stay, I think. Anaïs even said she could sleep over if she wanted to, which I really appreciated, but it wasn’t necessary. So I walked Lily to the Metro.

“I completely understand now why you said you had to put makeup on tonight because everyone was so pretty,” she said on the way to the subway. “I get it now.”

Though Lily was surprised when I said I would go upstairs when I came back, I forced myself to do it,  sans an English-speaking buddy. After all, I wasn’t social when the first people came over and didn’t even go upstairs for the hour I was home before I went out.

So I went upstairs and sat back down at the table. I talked about Chantilly and learned that no one in that conversation had ever been there, so that made me feel a little Frencher too.

Plus, it was hilarious when Robyn’s “Dancing on my Own” came on and everyone started moving to that, in their chairs. Turns out they knew the song because of the Girls episode where Lena Dunham’s character dances to the song with Brian William’s daughter’s character. So that made me laugh.

And I almost cried when Anaïs’ gay friend dramatically huffed “Histoire de ma vie” (“story of my life” in the same tone as you’d say it in English) after the chorus that is “Dancing on my Own.”

But my host mom and her friend who had been staying over came home like twenty minutes after that, so I wasn’t stranded for that long. But it was worth being there when they came back and realizing that only two of Anaïs’ friends had ever met her mom, which blew my mind. I knew that the French were kind of closed-off when it came to their houses, which was why I was so blown over by Anaïs letting Lily come and allowing her to sleep over.

But still. It was a big deal for me. As I’ve said, my host family is VERY hospitable and always has people over so I thought they were the exception. Which they kind of are, but at least they weren’t that night.

It was very gratifying to have Anaïs introduce everyone at the table and then say “But you know Alissa, of course” and I was one of the few people Monique, the host mom, knew.

But then everyone got ready to leave, and I had to bise everyone goodbye. HISTOIRE DE MA VIE. Nine bises, all in a row, like I was working the bises line at the bises factory.

Then it happened. I found out that one of the three guys from the birthday party had been the awkward laptop bises guy from the first party. SACRE BLEU!!!!!!!! I had just completely forgotten what he looked like—probably from trying to block out the awkwardness of that memory—and therefore didn’t recognize him as that guy on the night of the second party.

 

Which is funny, because I recognized him as the guy who SPENT ALMOST A WHOLE WEEK SLEEPING OVER AT OUR HOUSE when the host parents were in Turkey last month. But even then, when he was sleeping over, I didn’t recognize him as awkward laptop bises guy.

Obviously, I remembered him from his weeklong sleepover here. I said hi to him at the birthday party but he was sitting across the table so we didn’t really interact. But I just never put two and two together and connected him with the guy from the first party.

Which is sad. I thought he was so cute then. But when he stayed over at our house, and even at the birthday party, I wasn’t hit with the same “OMG HE’S GORGEOUS” feeling I had the first party. Maybe I just subconciously knew he was the awkward laptop bises guy.

And I didn’t remember that he was that guy when he stayed over AT MY HOUSE for a week. I actually thought he was such a weird guy that week. But I think maybe it was a good thing I didn’t recognize him, otherwise I never would have walked around in my PJs at night.

I should have known he was awkward laptop bises guy because when I first walked into the kitchen when he stayed over for a week and was told “This is _____ (I STILL forget him name, like I forget everything about this guy) and he’s going to be staying here for a couple days,” he slowly put his hand out for the weakest, most grandma-like handshake I’ve ever had with a guy.

It was like he had the strength and arms of Spongebob Squarepants, that’s how fragile his handshake was; and it was obvious that it was a “I don’t know what I’m doing” weak handshake, not one of those “You are a woman and I will break your tiny woman bird hand if I shake your hand normally” handshakes. That night, I wondered why he shook my hand instead of kissing my cheek. But I guess now I can understand why he wouldn’t want to bise with me. HAH.

I was so crazy about him that night of the first party. I was so disappointed that our greeting was weird, my leaving the party was weird, and that it was weird when I came back to the party and literally all he said to me was “EAGLES!” when I said, in a group conversation, that I was from Philadelphia. And then he walked away and I didn’t talk to him for the rest of that night.

But when he stayed with us for that week, I couldn’t care less about him. It’s weird how apathetic I felt about him. He was just there.  I made no effort to hang out with him. When I ate dinner with him and Anaïs, I just talked about the American university system and college costs and SATs (and made him think I was a genius because of my SAT scores and my scholarship). He asked all the questions; I only asked where he was from and that was it.

But, I wanted to ask why are you here??? but I didn’t. And I wanted to ask what his relationship was with Anaïs, but I kept my mouth shut for that as well.

Since I didn’t remember him as the awkward laptop bises guy who is friends with Anaïs, I thought he was maybe Anaïs’ boyfriend or something. When the British guys stayed over, or other people stayed over, they slept on a futon in Anais’ “office” part of her bedroom area, and the door was closed then so I knew that they were sleeping in the room. Or when someone stayed over, they would sleep in the loft upstairs sectioned off over the living room area, and I found that out because I would hear them when I went upstairs to eat breakfast or I would see them go up the stairs to the loft.

But neither of those happened with this guy, so I assumed he was sleeping in Anaïs’ bed. And that kind of annoyed me that she was sneaking him over while her parents were away and putting me in that situation. Or so I thought.

On the third night he stayed over—aka after three mornings where I went upstairs and just ate breakfast by myself—he finally walked up the stairs to the loft area and I turned to Anaïs, shocked, and whispered, “He’s been sleeping there?

Because for the past three days, I had been going upstairs and making myself breakfast: putting bread in the toaster, getting out the butter and OJ, taking the toast out, eating it, and cleaning up. I’m not particularly noisy, but I’m making noise while he’s in the room.  It’s like a seven minute process, by my count. And it made me wonder if every day that week I woke him up and he just kind of laid in his bed like “Should I get up? Or should I just stay here and wait till she leaves?” (or maybe he’s not awkward like me, because that is totally what I’d be freaking out about if I was in his position). So the next few days, I just grabbed two sad little pieces of bread and ate that for breakfast instead of preparing my meal.

The last night when he left,  I was watching Sabrina on my laptop at the kitchen table (I like watching American movies that take place in Paris and pointing out the inaccuracies). And I kind of blew him off when he literally stood behind my chair and watched the movie over my shoulder with me for like five minutes. It started off when he asked, “Oh, is that Sabrina? With Audrey Hepburn?” and I said “Oui” and thought it was weird he knew what that movie was (stereotyping, I know, whatever). And I thought that was it, that was the end of the conversation.

But noooooooo.

Then he had to come over and watch for a bit while I sat rigidly in my chair like “What the heck is he doing? I hate him for doing this to me.”  We even talked about whether we preferred Humphrey Bogart or William Holden, after I asked who William Holden was and he literally leaned forward to point to the actor.

I bised him when he said goodbye that night. And then I bised him last Friday on the birthday party night. And that was when he said, “You looked like you had more fun and talked more at this party,” after we cheek-kissed, and it was totally a light bulb moment for me.

It was then that I suddenly saw his face in my memory of the awkward bise and the awkward goodbye. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t move for a couple seconds after he said that, trying to cope with the OMG-ness of the situation. Who’d have thunk!

I just can’t get it right with this guy. But I did get it right at this party, at least.

P.S. Just because it seems like all I do is complain about bises, here is a video (in French, sorry!) that I watched in a French class at Drexel before coming here. Just to give you a cute cartoony version of how scary the bises really are.

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