Best and Worst of Paris

I MADE IT HOME Y’ALL.  BACK IN MURRICA.

It took two flights, twelve hours, and a lot of airport food to get me back to Boston, but I survived it as well as I survived my four months in Paris. I’m still pretty jet-lagged and trying to press the button on my childhood toilet, but I’m coherent enough to write down the five best and worst things about my Paris … aka the things I will miss and the things I most definitely will not.

 

Top Five Best Things About Paris:

1. It’s beautiful being lost

Even though my Paris Pratique pocket map has the cover torn off and the pages wrinkled and stuck together and circled streets and attractions on every page, I still would end up getting lost. The Paris streets are not organized in the clear, comprehensive grid pattern that Philadelphia is, so it was very easy to go the wrong way or walk past a certain street—and this is something I did up until my last week in Paris.

The best thing, though, is that I never felt very terrified getting lost. In fact, sometimes I would just wander around and wouldn’t look at a map until I found a Metro station. Let me tell you, you cannot just wander around in Philadelphia, so it was a treat to find the beauty in being in a new area and stumbling upon a pretty garden or a cute café or a little deli.

Maybe it’s because in Philadelphia, I always had real schoolwork and actual jobs, so I didn’t have time to get lost. Or maybe it’s because in Paris, I always felt guilty just being a schlub on my laptop at home, so I would force myself to get out of the house for a couple hours. But it’s something I made sure I did a couple times a week, and that’s really the best way to know all of the individual neighborhoods.

2. Everyone puts a lot of effort into the littlest things

This was something that took a while for me to notice, but in Paris, beauty is really paid attention to and people always try to be beautiful or make beautiful things.

There’s a patisserie by my house where the employees always wear crisp black blazers and white button-down shirts … even though it’s a pastry shop and you can buy a big macaron for a euro. And even then they will put it in a little shiny gold box and tie a ribbon around it.

When I bought my host family flowers as a goodbye/thank-you present, I went to the neighborhood Monceau Fleur and felt really incompetent when I looked at all of the different flower choices. I didn’t want to actually tell my host family I loved them romantically or something like that, you know? But the florist there was super friendly and helpful once I told her I wanted to buy flowers for a gift. She asked me my budget and regular stuff like that, but also who the flowers would be for, how old the recipients were, how long have I known them—very personal things that showed how seriously she was taking it. Turns out she thought 60-somethings would like red winter tulips, and since I had no idea there was even such a flower like the winter tulip, I just went with it. So she picked out the tulips, then these ferns, and then these little sprouty things (obviously this is why I had to ask for help), and then cut them, watered them, wrapped them in red tissue paper, then plastic wrap, then put a red ribbon around the stems, then curled silver ribbons to tie around the stems, and then put a sticker on it. And after all of that time, even though there was someone waiting in line behind me, she still took the time to ask me if I was a student, where I was from (and then where I was from in America), what I was studying, which country I liked better, what was the biggest difference between the two countries, and then told me she hoped to go to America one day. By the time the conversation was done, there was a line of three people behind me, but she didn’t care. It was a lovely experience—but I’m sure that if I had been one of the people behind me, I would have been a little cranky.

Appearance is everything and this applies to industries or professions that you wouldn’t necessarily think of.

3. It’s really easy to meet people

Your accent, or your English, will be the greatest conversation starter. Sure, sometimes you’ll be cornered by creeps and weirdos, but the amount of good people you’ll meet really outnumbers them. It doesn’t matter what kind of social situation or setting you’re in, because inevitably someone will want to talk to you about America or Paris and then you can move on from there.

I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t go to bars in Philly, since I’m not 21, or if it’s because I didn’t go out as much as I did in Paris. Maybe we’ll see once I come back and can legally drink in American bars. But then I won’t be able to play the “where is your accent from” game, really.

4. No one wears makeup!

When I told boys who were friends at Drexel that I was going to Philly, a lot of them were like “Awh, man, French girls are the hottest.” And you know what, once I came here, I found out that was totally true—but for different reasons than the guys. I’ve seen the most exquisite bone structures and haircuts and legs and clothing, but I think that the French girls were so absolutely gorgeous because they wore minimal, unnoticeable makeup. And that astounded me.

These girls clearly aren’t wearing eyeliner or mascara or blush or lip color … but they still looked so good.

I wouldn’t say I cake on my makeup, but I would say it usually takes me like fifteen or twenty minutes to “put on my face.” And I thought that my makeup routine wasn’t that noticeable or involved, until I came to Paris. And it suddenly became very obvious to pick out who was American, because those women wear eye makeup and foundation and bronzer and everything. I realized how very American it was to line the upper and lower lids of your eyes, at the same time.

And … in a combination of laziness/”who cares, I won’t run into anyone I know”/”when in Rome,” I stopped wearing so much makeup. I would only put concealer on, and once I got bangs I stopped doing that as well since the only acne I still get is on my forehead.

True, I would still put on makeup to go out to bars and stuff, but that was it. And it was actually kind of empowering (and, you know, let me sleep in for twenty minutes). It sounds dumb, but if someone complimented me on some part of my appearance when I wasn’t wearing makeup, it kind of meant more. It sounds completely dumb and superficial, but I stand by it because it’s true.

I hope I can continue this no-makeup makeup routine once I’m back in the States.

5. Being blasé

The French are very good at relaxing. It’s why they have so many vacation days and long lunches. I didn’t get those, since I was just studying here, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t try to be as relaxed as the French.

It was nice to be able to spend two hours at a café after only ordering a four-euro cup of coffee that was finished in the first half-hour. Tip is already included in everything you buy at a restaurant, so the waiters don’t have to work for their tip and therefore, unlike American waiters, don’t pester you every ten minutes asking if you want more water or the dessert menu or anything else, anything else, anything else. Bartenders are more likely to just let you sit and talk too, even if it’s been kind of a while since you bought your last drink.

 …

Top Five Worst Things about Paris: 

1. Public Urination

Look, I live in Philadelphia, but I was still shocked about the amount of public urination there was in Paris. Even if you didn’t see it happening or that it happened, you could still smell it—especially on the Metro.

I’ve been in the Metro and watched homeless guys sitting on plastic chairs, just peeing in public. I’ve seen guys who don’t look homeless pee on vending machines, which is why I will never, ever get anything from a vending machine, whether it’s the white chocolate Twix bars I can’t find anywhere else or if I am literally about to kneel over and die from starvation or thirst. I’ve just seen too many people pee on them.

And there’s public urination above ground too. There have been too many times where I would round the street corner and almost run into a guy peeing on the outside of a building. There are even public urination stands where a guy can just walk up to this plastic receptacle and just start doing his thing.

2. Paris PDA

I get it, I get it. Paris is the city of love. I believe you. You don’t have to shove it in my face or push it against my side or step on my feet while showing me. But I’ve seen people sucking face in the most unromantic of places—like down in the Metro where there’s a homeless guy peeing on the left of me and a couple making out, hands everywhere, to the right of me.

It’s like I’m third-wheeling even though I have no idea who the other two people are. Paris, je t’aime, but not that much.

3. No berets

There are the stripey shirts and scarves and leather and trench coats, BUT NO BERETS. The first person I saw wearing a beret in Paris was my grandfather when he bought one for eight euros at a cheapy tourist stand across the street from the Louvre, and that was at the end of September. I’ve seen a couple more berets outside now that it’s gotten colder, but even then it’s mostly on grannies with dyed red hair.

4.  No smiling allowed

I really had trouble with this. I’m smiley by nature, and this is a bad thing in a country where, as a French professor aptly put it, “smiles are rare and people have to earn their smiles.” Well, I did not make people work for their smiles, and that gave people certain assumptions that they should not be making. Mostly, guys.

I have a lot of smiles that I give out, and I have some smiles that I don’t really mean. It’s sad but it’s true. I guess the French don’t have those kind of smiles.

So when some guy asked me what time it was and I gave a close-lipped half-smile as I responded, all of a sudden he wanted to know my name and where I was from and what I was doing in Paris and everything that wasn’t what time it was. Or when I went for a Metro seat at the same time as a guy and he let me have it and I thank-you smiled at him. And I thought that was that and we’d each go off into our own little Metro world and just stare blankly at the floor. But then suddenly he unnecessarily was standing way too close for comfort while he not-so-subtly looked down my shirt as I sat awkwardly in my chair until I switched cars at the next stop.

Smiles are like come-ons here, I guess. So that made me an unintentional smile-slut in a weird sort of way.

5. Being blasé

This was both good and bad, as you can already tell. It was good outside of the house, but it was bad with my host family. And from other stories my friends would tell, it wasn’t just my French family in particular. Family members would leave and come back without letting me know, and they’d let people stay over the same way. I’d go upstairs in their upside-down house and see this random person sitting at the kitchen table or at the couch and be like “HI … who are you?” It was like they thought this was something I shouldn’t have to worry about … but I got really freaked out and annoyed every time it happened but of course never said anything.

Paris To-Do List: DONE!

I wish I had posted my list of things I wanted to accomplish in France in the beginning of my study abroad experience, but I didn’t. Rest assured, I didn’t just put up random things that I did so it could look like I am Super Woman.

There were things I didn’t do that I would have liked to have done. For example, I would have liked to go to an apple ciderie in Normandy, but I really didn’t put that much effort into going there. It wasn’t on the list, but it was worth mentioning. Next time, I guess!

And there were things that I wanted to do that I did, but they weren’t that big of a deal. I drank hot wine, I ate macarons, I bought baguettes and ate half of them on the walk home. They weren’t big deals or anything.

Anyways, here are the top five things I would have been pissed about if I didn’t do them while living in Paris:

1. Eat weird animal products.

This was the biggest, and also vaguest, thing I wanted to do. There were specific meats I wanted to try—horse, rabbit, duck, snails—and there were specific animal products I wanted to try—foie gras and boudin, mostly. Basically, I wanted to eat all of the crazy French foods I would never eat in America, which is pretty much what I did, minus frogs legs. I really had no desire to eat frog legs and, what’s more, I didn’t see them at all on any of the menus I looked at.

Robert et Louise -- (L to R) rillettes, boudin, foie gras.

Robert et Louise — (L to R) rillettes, boudin, foie gras.

But whenever I saw something on a French menu I wouldn’t necessarily see on an American menu, I ordered it. Granted, I was still eating on a college student’s budget while in France, so that would sometimes mean a week living off of a one-euro bag of pasta, but I did eat out sometimes and when I did I tried to make it count.

The hardest part, for me, was finding a restaurant that sold horse meat too—I would only find horse meat at open-air markets or at butcher shops, and goodness knows there was no way I would try and cook horse. It wasn’t until the last week when I finally asked my program director where was the best place to eat horse and he gave me a recommendation.

Except, they didn’t have proper horse on the menu, which was good because the cheapest plate was 24 euros and my friend Jenn and I started hyperventilating about how to leave this super expensive restaurant. I asked the overly attentive waiter if they had any horse, and he even went to the kitchen to ask. I said we came just because we heard this had the best horse in Paris, and he said we could have “charcuterie de chevaline,” or horse charcuterie  which is basically saucission or jerky of horse meat.

IMG_0203

Jenn and I split it for 14 euros and even though the waiter asked if we wanted wine, coffee, or dessert after, he let us do it. So I did eat horse, but not the kind I was expecting.

And, I ate a lot of unpasteurized cheese. So much that something weird should have happened with my body but it didn’t. I just liked the idea of eating cheese that was illegal in the States, so sue me. I would literally ask the fromager at a fromagerie or a cheese stand what was illegal in the States, taste whatever they offered me, and then end up buying it.

 2. Get my French makeover

I already blogged about this, but I did get a French makeover even if it was one that wasn’t exactly like celluloid makeovers. Still, I got bangs and five inches of haircut off, so I consider it a success.

I also picked out a nice pair of frames for my dad to give me for my birthday, which is December 28. They’re men’s glasses, but they don’t look like them, I swear! (although I have a wide face so they kind of had to be a little bigger). So I really will come back a whole new person!

 3. Receive an invite to a French party

I wanted to do this just because it would mean that I would make French friends, and good enough French friends to get invited to their house. Being invited to a French person’s house or apartment is like a big deal, because they are oddly private.

I did get invited to French parties … that were taking place in my house. Haha. But still, I was really, actually invited to them. And what’s more, at the last house party, my host mom came home early and I helped make the introductions between her and most of my host daughter’s friends. So that made me feel really welcomed!

 4. Give directions in French

The first time someone asked me for directions, it was only the second week I was in Paris. But, it was a letdown because some American girls asked me, in English, where the McDonalds was. Talk about stereotyping! The worst part is that I actually knew where the McDonalds was … because it was literally down the street, within viewing distance, so the whole asking for directions thing was completely unnecessary on their parts. Hmmph.

This is what escargots look like BEFORE you throw them up.

This is what escargots look like BEFORE you throw them up.

But the other times I gave directions in French were much better, mostly because they were done in French to French people. I’ve given directions to the nearest Metro stations, the nearest biggest streets, and how to get to my apartment from a cab. One time someone asked me where the closest Metro station with Line One was and even though that question was crazy specific, I was still able to do it (only because there were two stations with that line within walking distance).

So not only did people think I was a local, but they thought I was a competent local who knew where shit was. Boo yah!

5. Become a regular somewhere

This was just me being superficial and wanting someone to recognize me. The first time I became a regular was at my local Franprix, but that’s easy to do so it doesn’t count. I wanted a kind of Cheers deal where everyone knows my name, or at least my face or my drink order. But have this happen in Paris.

I got that at The Green Linnet, this Irish bar by Châtelet. It’s a block away from the Metro, and originally we only stopped in because I couldn’t remember the bar we had set out to go to and it was cold and rainy and we wanted to go inside somewhere, anywhere. Blindly, we made a good choice. It’s small and cozy, with couches and wooden furnishings and live Irish music every Saturday night. It’s a chill bar where you can hear yourself think and most of the other patrons let you do just that.

La Fée Verte -- parmentier de canard

La Fée Verte — parmentier de canard

Plus, there was an American bartender from Green Bay, Wisconsin who studied abroad when he was in college and loved to give us tips and ideas and recommendations. He warned us no one would ever know what our study abroad experience would be like besides us, and he said this to me so long ago I had no idea how right he was until now. He was wise that way, and also because he gave me the name of the best authentic Mexican food place in Paris that helps during those times he described as “when you just really want some fucking sour cream, you know?”

But, best of all, he knew my drink—the fantastically cheap and wonderfully strong martini blanc—and he knew me enough to say “Hey! How you doin’?” instead of “Bonsoir” whenever I would first come in.

Getting a haircut in France

While some kids were opening up their French textbooks in the days before we left for Paris, I did some auto-didactic learning about Paris through American and French films. And maybe it’s because all of the actresses in American films about France—Kate Hudson in Le Divorce, Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina and Funny Face—all got these terrific, life-changing makeovers.

And I wanted that to happen to me, little ole Alissa, in real life, in real time, in real Paris, in a real salon.

When I had to fill out applications asking me what I hoped to accomplish in Paris, I would always right that I hoped to be fluent enough to get my haircut in a French salon and only speak French to give directions.

I waited until the last week to do it, but I finally got my French makeover experience.

I wish I had started earlier, though. The one makeover place—that actually gives hair and makeup makeovers, not just haircuts—didn’t have any openings until after Christmas, so my friend Lily will able to get her France’s Next Top Model experience then since she’s staying the whole term. After that, I found out that two other hair academies were on vacation, so there weren’t any students to give me free hair cuts, and three other academies or salons were booked until after Christmas. So I was all the way down on the bottom of the list when I called this one academy that only offered haircuts, no colors, and made you pay 10 euros.

Asking for the makeover was half of the problem. All of the places had advertisements for “models” so whenever I asked I would have to say, “Um, yes, hi, I would like to be a model?” and that’s an awkward sentence to say in English, let alone French! For the first two places I tried, I walked in there with the list of some random blog’s recommendations for cheap hair makeovers, so I would say “I would like to be a model” but also point to their spot on the list to have backup. But once I got tired of running around Paris, I ended up just calling these places and having to explain myself in French. And then listen to their rejection in French.

But finally, I found a place and got a time slot. I just said I wanted to be a model and the woman on the other end of the phone knew exactly what I meant—“Of course, come in at 11 on Monday” she said, “Au Revoir!”

Well, that was easy, I thought to myself as I listened to the dial tone. I hope that’s a good sign of what’s to come.

It kind of was.

For starters, I showed up at the place with Lily, and there really wasn’t a reception area or a front desk when we immediately walked in, so we were being awkward and they were being blasé French right from the get go. But once we were ushered it, it seemed like in the next minute I confirmed my arrival, paid 10 euros, gave them my coat, put on my cotton bathrobe (and it’s sash—can’t forget the sash), and was sitting in a chair.

The first thing I noticed was that there were all old ladies with grey hair getting their hair cut.

Not the most promising sight.

The "Before." DUH DUH DUH.

The “Before.” DUH DUH DUH.

And my student haircut guy (never got his name and he never asked for mine) was this tiny Asian guy with beautiful, delicate features and a tiny black soul patch. He was wearing black cargo pants that did the whole zip-off-shorts thing … which he paired with pointy black dress shoes.

Again, not the most promising sight. This was, after all, the guy who would ultimately be responsible for my style.

I’ve gotten my hair cut at beauty schools before, so I wasn’t surprised when an older guy wearing nicer black shirts and nicer black swishy pants (swishy pants! Really! With black dress shoes!) came over and started asking my little Asian haircut guy where my split ends were and where the dead, dry hair ended and where the highlights ended.

I was a human pop quiz, y’all.

The instructor had fantastically shiny Disney prince shoulder-length hair, which I got to admire while he got all up in my face and studied me for a couple seconds, looking at me from every angle and even picking out a strand of hair and twisting it between his fingers. I really wasn’t kidding about being a human pop quiz.

“This is your first time here, right?” he asked once he moved out of my personal bubble.

“Of course,” I answered.

“But you know what we do here, right?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, “I do.” Believe me, I do.

“Great. Ok, okay,” he said, and then looked over to little hair cut guy. “It will be the ends. But now, shampooing!”

The little hair cut guy, who literally has only said “come” to me by this point, said it again and gestured towards the sink area.

Shampooing? We’re not discussing my haircut? I wondered as I followed him.

Lily, who had been awkwardly waiting in the non-waiting area, hissed, “So what’s up? What are they doing?” when I shuffled by her.

“I have no idea. I think they’re only cutting a little,” I whispered, which was ridiculous because no one had given any indication that they spoke English.

“All right, I’m gonna go to Starbucks. Text me when you’re almost done,” she whispered back, and then she was gone and haircut guy was impatiently pointing at the chair in front of the sink.

I sat down in the shampoo chair and closed my eyes as he wordlessly rinsed my hair with warm water. That, I was used to. But the shampoo was freezing, the equivalent of being sprayed with freezing cold water—which I know because my hair was rinsed off with freezing cold water, which has never happened in a hair salon. And, even worse, I was done after the shampoo. No conditioner. And with my thick curly hair, let me tell ya, you need the conditioner. Especially if you’re going to be brushing it afterwards.

I did not make any friends.

I did not make any friends.

Aiiiiight, it’s your funeral, I thought as I followed him back to the chair.

When I was seated, he started combing—not brushing—my hair. Now, my hair was in its normal crazy curly state when I came in, so he should have known what he was working with. He didn’t even spray a detangling spray or anything!

It really was his funeral—and mine; his was going to be death by hand exhaustion and mine was going to be death my embarrassment.

But in reality, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. There were a couple tugs and a couple knots, but nothing I couldn’t handle (or hadn’t already handled in previous trips to the salon). Usually during the brushing part of the hair cut experience, the stylist always says something like “You have so much hair!” that is meant to be positive but really isn’t.

I didn’t hear it this time—but I’m not 100 percent sure that’s because of just the language barrier. My haircut guy wasn’t that social and didn’t ever interact with the other haircut girls; while I was waiting for my hair to dry, he just leaned against a table and flipped through a magazine.

So he brushed my hair and starts sectioning it off in clips and I started to get excited. I still wasn’t really sure I completely understood what the instructor said they were going to do to me, but I signed up to get a surprising makeover, didn’t I? So I watched the little haircut guy in the mirror as he … started cutting off maybe two inches of hair. And that was it. Every section he took down, he’d cut just my split ends off.

And when your hair is as long as mine was, it really isn’t that much—and definitely not enough to count as a real French makeover.

I was trying to quietly not freak out about how small my French makeover would be when the haircut guy called over the instructor. Shit, I thought, that means he’s done and wants to get approval.

Haircut guy says something to me, and I just have no idea what he’s asking. I was so surprised he said something other than “Come” or “Sit” that I forgot to pay attention and there weren’t any context clues words to help me figure out what he just said. I heard “right” and “left” but don’t know anything else.

“What?” I asked.

He kind of hits my knee—not hard, but in an oddly familiar kind of way. It’s the kind of smack you’d give to a friend if she was talking about someone and that person just walked in. A “hey, pay attention” smack, if you will.

And then it clicks. He wants me to uncross my legs for the instructor. Sheesh. But I do it.

Disney hair prince comes over. He snips some pieces, measures the bottoms of the front pieces, and walks around in a circle. “Nice work,” he finally says to haircut guy, and then looks down at me. “C’est tout,” he tells me—“That’s all.”

I looked at the mirror, at my reflection, at my barely noticeable haircut, and muster up all of the French haggling vocabulary and courage that I can muster.

Little haircut guy and Disney hair prince. And me, crossing my knees like an oaf.

Little haircut guy and Disney hair prince. And me, crossing my legs like an oaf.

Non, ce n’est pas tout,” I said—“No, that’s not all.”

Disney hair prince raised his eyebrows, or at least I think that’s what’s going on under the heavy bangs. “You don’t like it?’ he asked.

“No, I do,” I earnestly told him him, even turning and giving haircut guy a smile.

How do I say this? And not get like the salon equivalent of the restaurant spit trick? “But I signed up to be a model. I want … a new identity.”

Why the hell didn’t I look up the French word for “makeover” I yelled at myself. Or at least make sure there’s a ‘France’s Next Top Model’ with the drastic makeovers. 

They didn’t look that confused by my sudden spy lingo. “You have a new identity, and it is beautiful,” Disney hair prince tells me, gently brushing my hair as he points at my reflection in the mirror.

I’m almost tempted to pick up the scissors and hack off some hair just to get this moving. “Yes, it’s beautiful, but I wanted a good French haircut for when I leave to go to America next week,” I said.

This is diplomacy at its finest, kiddos.

Disney hair prince taps his lips. “Okay, then,” he says, and leans forward in front of me, his eyes meeting mine in the mirror. He takes out his comb and starts brushing my hair so it’s covering my face. And it isn’t until he’s reaching for the scissors and taking a clump of hair that I realize what he’s going to do. And by then it’s—

“Say goodbye to your forehead,” he says, and cuts through what used to be the sides of my hair like he’s cutting a paper snowflake.

What a lame reference to “Say hello to my little friend,” is my first thought.

And then I realized, Holy shit I have bangs now. 

New identity, indeed.

Beetlegeuse hairdryers!

Beetlegeuse hairdryers!

“Eh?” Disney hair prince says, smiling and holding the handful of hair that he just cut off.

“It’s perfect,” I say, grinning. Bangs. Bangs. Okay. I have bangs.

“Perfect,” he grins back, and then walks away, still holding the handful of my hair.

I tried not to think about why he would need that hair as haircut guy steps in to trim the bangs.

Haircut guy burns holes into my eyes as he snips snips snips and I’m not sure if it’s because of concentration or he’s pissed that he has to do more work. He cuts off another four inches of hair now, almost for the hell of it.

My hair is now shoulder-length and shorter than it’s been since … elementary school, when I cut my hair to make my growing-out-my-bangs stage complete. It’s kind of a Bettie Page kind of look … if Bettie Page had thick curly blonde hair that was brushed out Hermione Granger style

Now that I got the haircut out of the way, I’m looking forward to the finishing. I didn’t bring a hair dryer or straightener over with me, and I didn’t buy any either. It’s the first time in four months that I will have straight hair and I’m stupidly, superficially excited to remember what my hair looks like straight and compare it to what it will look like straight now. I’m already trying to guess if the blowdry process of the hair cut will be shorter than what it usually is, now that there’ll be less hair.

I don’t find out. Little haircut boy tells me “come” and “sit” at this Medusa lamp-looking chair. It’s like a chair from Beetlegeuse with big red light bulbs coming out of its arms. He turns on a button when I sit down and I immediately feel heat coming out. So it’s a dryer, I think—the kind of dryer you’re supposed to sit under if you got your hair colored.

And so I just sit there for the next twenty minutes or so. No magazines are even in sight, except for the one haircut boy is lazily reading. Lily left to go to a Starbucks and work on a paper, so I amuse myself by texting her I think I’m almost ready. I tell her I got bangs and shorter hair, but that’s it.

My hair is going to look horrible, I think. Like I said, I have thick curly hair, and whenever you brush curly hair you’re going to brush out the curls and be left with these kind of thick, frizzy strands. Pre-haircut, I would brush my hair maybe once a week, and even then it’s before I would take a shower. I get Hermione Granger hair if I brush my hair. And now, they brushed my hair and then threw me under a dryer, so I just know it’s not going to be a good hair day even though I went to a salon.

The "after" pic I took at home, not at the salon.

The “after” pic I took at home, not at the salon.

This kind of pisses me off, but not enough to speak up. I did pay for a haircut, so maybe a blowdry is extra? Or isn’t guaranteed? There’s a small part of me hoping that they did this just to get the hair dry before they style it, but that part withers and dies when haircut guy finally gets me—“Your hair’s dry, right?”—and shuffles me over to where Disney hair prince is combing the hair of a beautiful elderly French woman with a sleek, thick shoulder-length bob.

Lily’s arrived at this time, and she’s smiling at my hair and telling me I look good and taking pictures. And I feel good and confident about the haircut, just not about what they did with my hair after it was shorn. I kind of hope Disney hair prince will be my Prince Charming and say I’m fit for a blowdry now.

Disney hair prince gives me the once-over. He half-smiles and then turns to his client. “This is what I am going to do. Your hair is thick like hers, so it will puff out too”—or, at least I imagine that’s what he’s saying, because I understand up until the “thick like hers” and then he mimes having puffy hair and I try not to get insulted.

“Yes, I love it. It’s pretty,” she says, looking at haircut guy and not me, so I’m not exactly sure who she’s complimenting.

“Great. Thank you,” Disney hair prince says, dismissing me with a flick of his comb. I wonder if it’s the same comb he used on my hair as I follow haircut guy back to the chair.

“Thank you. Have a nice day,” he tells me, and then practically runs away from me down a random corridor.

“Thanks…?” I call out after him, watching him walk away.

I mean, I had watched the old ladies finish up, say thank you, get their coats, and then leave—so I knew there was no tipping here. But still. It was like he couldn’t wait to be done!

Lily patiently listens to me explain basically everything I’ve written about here, and by the time I’m done we’re back in the Metro station, ready to go over to Rue Mouffetard so I can give her the unofficial Hemingway tour as a thank-you for coming with me to get my haircut. I’m at the point where I’m complaining about how bushy my hair is now that they didn’t style it, and she just says, “Why don’t you put it up in like a little hipster bun at the top of your head?”

The Metro "After" pic. Thank goodness.

The Metro “After” pic. Thank goodness.

And I do, and she takes a picture of it and shows it to me, and just like that my crankiness has been cut off, like my hair just was. I really like how I look now that my hair isn’t triangular. I start imagining hairdos, wondering whether I’ll be able to French braid my hair now—turns out I still can, but a regular braid is pretty small—and I feel much better about my French makeover.

It may not have been exactly what I was expecting, but it was still a makeover and it was still a story.

I’m still trying to figure out my hair. The first shower I took, I had to unscrew the cap of my conditioner bottle and put back about half of the conditioner I had squeezed out—too used to having long hair, I guess. My hair only takes about an hour to dry, as opposed to three, but I’m still trying to figure out how to walk down a street and not have my bangs flying in every direction.

It’s also a little hard because, like I said, I don’t have a hairdryer or a straightener and I only have four days left in Paris so it’s not like I’m going to go out and buy one. That’s a good thing about waiting until the last minute to do this, I guess, because I definitely would have just sucked it up and bought a blowdryer if this happened in the beginning of the program.

But each day is a new hairdo and I love that I can think that now! I had to fight to get this haircut and you can bet your butt I’m going to make it work!

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in Paris?

Having a funny accent pretty much guarantees that I’m going to be asked where it comes from, so I’ve had to do a lot of explaining over the past couple of months.

Being asked where you’re from is always going to be a story. It’s one that is constantly retold but also constantly updated—based on your audience and how bored you are.

The thing that really annoyed me and made me homesick was that I always was being asked this question—both at public places (like bars or restaurants or hostels) or at my house (which was practically a public place given how many guests stayed over for dinner or a night or a weekend or a week).

Towards the end of the four months, I really struggled with coming home from answering questions and meeting new people, only to have to do the same thing all over again. If someone asked if I had any brothers or sisters and I was chewing or something, my host mom knew enough to answer and say that I had a younger sister named Erica who was fifteen and lived with my mom outside of Boston (which, to be honest, is a lot to remember so that’s how I really got a sense of just how often I said it).

But at least it made me practice my French, right? And it kind of forced me to think on my feet while thinking French.

See, it’s hard for me to explain when people ask where I’m from even if the question is posed in English. I grew up in a little town outside of Boston and before going to Paris, I went to school in Philadelphia.

But what do you say when the people you’re talking to have no idea where either of those places are?

In the beginning, when I still got excited when I had to explain myself, I would say I grew up close to Boston and now go to school in Philadelphia. But it ended up that not that many French people know Boston.  Really.

I had to show it on a map to my host family. My host parents lived in apartheid South Africa for three months but didn’t know the birthplace of America. I’m judging a little because I knew where to find both of their birthplaces on a map of France (but to be fair, the host dad grew up in Paris so that was easy).

So then I started fibbing a little by saying I was from Philadelphia and that was it. This also coincided with the period of my study abroad experience where I was the crankiest about constantly having to introduce myself.

The funny thing is, I think that maybe it’s because there are more accessible pop-culture references about Philadelphia than Boston. And to be fair, Will Smith never wrote an insanely catchy rap song about Boston…

What, you don't remember this episode?

What, you don’t remember this episode?

Yes, it is true. That was the most common response. I got it in France, Ireland, and Germany—the three countries I stayed in. Some people just asked “Like Will Smith?’ and I would know what they meant; others went further, asking “Like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?” OR EVEN SINGING THE FIRST LINE OF THE SONG.

Because yeah, that happened. It happened twice and both times were extremely magical.

I could put the link up, but you know the theme song already, don’t you? You’ve already thought of the “Innnnnn West Philadelphia, born and raised…” haven’t you? Come on. I know you have. It’s okay. We all have.

Mr. Will Smith and Mr. DJ Jazzy Jeff: making study abroad experiences memorable since 1990. You could even say they’ve been making life memorable since 1990 too, even.

The other big Philly pop-culture reference I got was Rocky. Which, to be fair, is a pretty big Philly-monument—they even moved the Rocky statue to the bottom of the huge stairs outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art because all the tourists were too lazy to job up the stairs in grey sweat suits (or you know, actually visit the museum).

There was even a guy at Temple Bar—the same German from the Awkward Abroad: Inglorious Basterds post—whose wingman friend looked exactly like Sylvester Stallone. He even pulled out his iPhone to show me his friend’s picture via his contact book from when was wearing a grey sweatshirt and I wasn’t lying when I admitted that yes, he really did look like Rocky.

Oddly enough, one of the Germans we sat next to at Oktoberfest stayed for a couple months in Upper Darby (the Philly suburb Tina Fey grew up in). I’m not exactly sure about what he was doing there, but I’m pretty sure I would have asked that day, just because it’s so crazy that he lived so close to Philly in such a specific suburb. So it turns out he really knew Philadelphia, and a Philadelphia that wasn’t taken from someone else’s idea or interpretation of Philadelphia.

And on the other side of our Oktoberfest table, the two thirtysomething Norwegian guys also knew exactly where Philadelphia was and what it was like, because they had lived in Baltimore for two years. But those were the only two instances where people had actually been to Philadelphia, which I usually describe as “a big city south of New York” if someone hasn’t ever heard of it (coincidentally, Boston is described as “a big city north of New York”).

The Eiffel Tower in the background is so pretty.

The Eiffel Tower in the background is so pretty.

The most surprising “Yes, I know Philadelphia and this is how I’ll prove it” reaction that I got was for the Philadelphia Eagles. I think I already wrote about that, but it came from the awkward laptop bises guy from the first house party my host sister threw.

I was standing by the table, pouring myself a mug full of crappy red wine after walking up the stairs and seeing all of the people dancing in the living room in the wee hours of the night. My host sister was introducing me to some people and said “This is Alissa. She’s from Philadelphia.”

I was met with blank stares from a girl, a guy who had either the most ironic or most sincere imitation Civil War-era handlebar mustache, and the awkward laptop bises guy. Until awkward laptop bises guy enthusiastically said “Eagles!” and then literally walked away from the table three seconds later.

Football americain, as the French say, isn’t that important in France. Most people only know it as that crazy game Americans call “football” even though it’s mostly played with their hands. So I would have been impressed if he knew any football team, let alone the one from my college hometown. But he did, but I never asked how he knew.

Betcha this is how he knew the Philadelphia Eagles.

Betcha this is how he knew the Philadelphia Eagles.

It was at that same French house party that someone asked if I lived in Philadelphia “like Tom Hanks.”

I was tempted to make a joke and say yes, but I don’t have AIDS (haha … kind of).  But it was early in my French experience and I wasn’t sure how good I would be at making jokes in French … no worries, turns out I’m pretty awesome at it.

Interestingly, that girl didn’t ask if I lived in the Philadelphia streets that Bruce Springsteen talked about. There are posters all over for The Boss’ Parisian concert in June, so obviously there’s a market for him over here. Oh well.

And, even more of a disappointment  I haven’t gotten a single cheesesteak reference. Which is weird because that gets mentioned all the time back home. But I still have a couple of days left in Paris to find that special someone!

Speaking English like a local

I knew that when I came to France, I was going to improve my French accent. What I didn’t know was that I would have to improve my French English accent.

Let me explain.

Just like there are French words in the English jargon (like crème de la crème or à la mode), there are also English words in the French jargon. But they are, for lack of a better term, random words (like “wheesper” or “haute dog,” in addition to the American companies found in France, like “Starbooooks” or “Skipe.”

And these words are spoken with a French accent, bien sûr.

I’ve been having trouble with this, and have been since the very beginning. Number one, I sometimes forget to say the Frenchified version of the word, which makes it difficult for the French to understand since the pronunciations are a little different. And number two, I still giggle a little and feel like I’m putting on airs when I remember to pronounce “Starbucks” like “Starbooooks,” with the “ooo” sounding like “coo.”

But still. Sometimes I feel like I just sound like Steve Martin in The Pink Panther.

When I go to Starboooooks to get some weefee and order a moofan, if I ask for a “muffin” and not a “moofan,” the person behind the counter won’t understand me. It’s the same kind of awkward situation when I mispronounce a French word because of my accent … only this is because my accent is right in English and wrong in French. If I don’t Frenchify the word, then the cashier will give me the same look as if I mispronounced “muffin” for “Eiffel Tower” or something equally preposterous.

I’ve even had to Frenchify my own name so people can say it (or try to). The “li” sound of “Alissa” is similar to the “li” sound of “lick.” Alicka, Alissa. But in French, “I” is only pronounced like “e” is in English. So for the past three months, I’ve been introducing myself as “A-lee-sa.”

My three Drexel friends, funnily enough, also all have “I” in their name (Jennifer of “Jenneefur”; Brittany or “Breetanee”; Lily or “Leelee”). So in a way, we’ve all literally become new and different people in France, I guess.

It’s funny because between in our classes or in our conversations with Frenchies who know English, we’ll speak French as long as we can before we get to a word we don’t know, and then we just say it in English. There have been a lot of times where I get stuck and ask a bilingual person (or describe the word I don’t know in French) for the translation, only to be told it’s the same word but with a French accent. Now I know that if I’m not sure of the word, I’ll just Frenchify it, smile a big toothy smile, and hope it works. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

But this Franglais exists outside of our classrooms, with actual French people. There will be advertisements in English hanging in the Metro, or there will be shops with English written on their windows or on their products. It makes me wonder if that’s why so many people speak English here: because they’ve grown up around bits and phrases. There’s English in French stores (Kookaï’s “___ but chic” shirts and sweater campaign that uses adjectives like “hungry” or “cool”) and French bars (happy hour becomes “Appy Awar”). And English is definitely more accessible in France then French is in America.

When I told people back home that I would be spending four months in Paris, the almost immediate response was always, “Are you fluent?”

I would always say, “Fluent enough,” and leave it at that.

When I come back to Philly and tell people I just spent four months in Paris, I’m assuming they’re still going to ask, “Are you fluent?”

Now I’ll be able to say, “Now I’m fluent enough in French and French English.”

Bisous! (kisses)

Aleesa

P.S. This is kind of a Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder—“I know who I am. I’m the dude playin’ the dude, disguised as another dude!”—reference, since Steve Martin is an American actor who played a French detective in The Pink Panther trying to improve his French accent. But I love the hamburger scene so I’m kind of trying to make it relevant to this post just so I can add it in.

My Paris, my dad’s Paris, and Hemingway’s Paris

My dad left more than a week ago, but between schoolwork and Paris work I’ve been really busy and haven’t had the time to write sooner. I should have, though, because this is all such an interesting and unique story.

I was luckier than most of the kids in my program in that my dad used to live in Paris and I had visited him a couple of times while he lived abroad. Even though that was a couple years ago, it really did shape my visit because not only did I get the touristy things out of the way, but I did them while also having the local experience of going to a market every day and buying all of your bread and cheese and vegetables and wine fresh. And I had a heads up on everyone, because I had a working (but still a little rusty) knowledge of at least three different neighborhoods in Paris because of my dad.

And I am used to staying in apartments or actual lodgings in Paris, rather than a hotel. It’s weird to think of it like that. There was the hostel for like a week in the beginning of the program, but I’m not counting that because I never want to think of that crappy hostel ever again.

That’s one thing I have up against my dad—in case you haven’t noticed, I like being very competitive about Paris when it comes to him. He’s stayed in hotels in Paris before he lived here; as he joked, “The first time I was in Paris I stayed at the Hotel de Crillion and it’s been downhill ever since.” No kidding: the fancy smanchy hotel has the prime location of being between the Champs-Élysées and Place de la Concorde, and has had everyone from Louis XV to Madonna visit (you could say Louis XVI visited too, since he was beheaded right outside of the building).

Last time I was in Paris with my dad (and my sister). I'm still the only normal one.

Last time I was in Paris with my dad (and my sister). I’m still the only normal one.

So not only have I had a different Paris experience by myself, but I’ve also had a different Paris experience with my dad. And of course, he’s had his own Paris experience that I don’t even know about. But I got a little insight when he visited when he kept pointing out things that were different and things that were the same.

I can’t wait until I come back to Paris and am able to do that.

The biggest thing, for him, was Starbucks. Or, Starboooooooks, as the French say.

There were no Starbucks in Paris when he lived here like four or five years ago. As my French teachers love to tell me when I don’t know a translation and just pronounce the English word in question with a French accent, “Ça n’existe pas,” or it doesn’t exist. He was really taken aback by how many Starbucks he would pass on his morning runs or daily walks—especially with the one that popped up in his own neighborhood.

But like the French people before him (and the American people before them), he adapted pretty quickly. There are two Starbucks on opposite sides of the street that my school is on, and twice I met him at one of them after classes. Or, after classes I would meet up with him and ask what he did, only to be told that he went to Starbucks and worked on his computer.

That leads us to another big change: wifi. Although, to be fair, I guess wifi wasn’t that big of a deal five years ago? Or maybe it was? Or maybe it was in America? I’ll say that we’re much more addicted to it now than we were back then, because surely that’s right? It was hell when there was no wifi in Charles de Gaulle, and then everyone freaked out at our hostel because you could only get wifi sitting in the lobby and even then it was really low strength even without the thirty other kids trying to get on it. The French had wifi in McDonalds before Americans did (I love that fact) but you have to look for restaurants, bars, or cafes to advertise with a sign in the window that they have wifi, and even then it’s not always free. Maybe that’s why Starbucks is so big in France; it’s certainly why my dad visited Starbucks when he was here.

We talked during our cafe stops, despite the presence of Apple products in our hands.

We talked during our cafe stops, despite the presence of Apple products in our hands.

But we still did the whole “sit under a heater on a wicker-back chair on the sidewalk and sip espresso while watching the world walk by” thing when my dad was here. We walked all around Paris and would only stop to drink at a café—always outside when it was available. That was how I found out that there are a lot more runners and joggers on the streets than there were when my dad lived here. Which is funny, because my dad said he forgot how thin everyone was here.

My dad, mostly because of my stepmom, is a big runner. They ran their old running paths while they were here, and I guess they weren’t used to sharing sidewalk space. Even during non-prime running time, like very late morning or early afternoon, there were runners in the big populous areas. But you could always tell who the French runners were. They were the ones wearing head-to-toe spandex. They were the ones carrying Walkmens while they ran. And, most of all, they were the one wearing scarves while they ran.

Seriously. Wearing a scarf while exercising. I love it. That’s so French.

And, according to my dad, there weren’t more dogwalkers, but there was less dog poop. That isn’t to say that the sidewalks are completely clean—because they really aren’t and it’s disgusting how much poop you might step into if you or your friend isn’t looking down. But one time my dad saw someone picking up dog poop and that was literally the first thing he said to me when I met up with him that day. It was that big of a deal.

That was a “Oh … cool, dad” moment for me (sorry, but it was). But one of the biggest moments for me was showing my dad the lock bridge behind Notre Dame. It was something I noticed during my first weekend in Paris, during the standard Seine boat tour, and I was pleased to have something to teach my dad.

On the Pont de l’Archevêché, and other bridges and areas I don’t know the names of, you’ll see both sides of a bridge absolutely covered in locks (even bike locks in some hilarious cases). I’m not sure where this custom comes from, but apparently lovers write their initials on the locks, hook it to the bridge, and then throw the key into the Seine so their love is eternal. You can bring your own lock or even buy ones at the stands along the riverbank. I’m not sure when the custom started either, but apparently it was after my dad left.

Something else I’m proud of was that I took my dad to the Christmas Village on the Champs-Élysées. I wrote a blog post about it, so I won’t go into too much detail, but I went at night and during the day with my dad so turns out he likes being a little touristy sometimes as well.

We went on two tours when my dad was here. The first was to the Père Lachaise cemetery right down the street from me, because it’s so expansive and cluttered and disorganized that you’d get lost trying to do more than find Jim Morrison’s grave. It was his first time there, and my stepmom’s second, so I felt like I was able to contribute to the experience even though I wasn’t the one giving the tour. The cemetery—and my house, by virtue of location—are kind of on the outskirts of Paris, two Metro stops away from the suburbs, so I wasn’t surprised that my dad had never made the trip to the cemetery.

At Père Lachaise.

At Père Lachaise.

The other tour was the Hemingway tour, which I thought I could have done self-guided jut because of Google and A Moveable Feast, but I was completely surprised when we ended up at Hemingway’s first Parisian apartment that is literally a two-minute walk away from my friend’s apartment and apparently I’ve walked by it a couple of times and completely missed the little plaque announcing that Hemingway lived there. The apartment, as well as his writing apartment, is right off of Rue Mouffetard, which is where Lily lives and where I’ve gone to drink late at night and shop during the day.

Egg on my literary face. I couldn’t believe my blog name comes from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and I didn’t realize that I was making my own Paris memories in the same spot where he had made his, and also written about his.

And it turned out my dad had been on Rue Mouffetard too and didn’t know it—way back when on his first day in Paris where he got an egg and cheese crepe with lettuce and tomatoes (and was never able to find it or the meal again until that day).

Another time I thought I mapped out a piece of Paris my dad didn’t know about was when I took him to Rue Montergeuil, a busy little street in a piéton, or pedestrian-only, cobblestone neighborhood that’s right by my school.  There are a lot of little fromageries, patisseries, boulangeries, and butcher shops on the street and my friends and I have gone here for French, Thai, Indian, and Chinese.  When my dad visited my school, I made sure he also came to this street so he’d get the full “Alissa at school” experience.

Like father, like daughter, like Bourdain (at Robert et Louise).

Like father, like daughter, like Bourdain (at Robert et Louise).

Which he did have, but it became the “Alissa at school/that bakery tour we did ages ago” experience when I took him to La Maison Stohrer, one of the oldest bakeries in Paris where the Rhum Baba was invented. Then he remembered the street and I pouted a little.

But I couldn’t get mad. How could I, when my dad showed me the bar he used to go to because they had happy hour until 10 p.m.? And the Scottish bar where he watched rugby every Sunday and eat cans of peanuts bought out of a vending machine?

We were sharing both of our own Paris experiences with each other, to create a Parisian experience together.

I will say, however, that I was jealous when we went to a restaurant and the manager/owner recognized my dad and my step-mom from the last time they were there five years ago. The restaurant, Robert et Louise, and its’ proprietor François (Robert et Louise’s son-in-law) were featured in the first episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and my dad is recognized in there. What the hell!

I really, really, reeeeaaaaalllllyyyyy hope that happens to me.

I think the baristas at Starbucks, this one bartender at an Irish bar by Châtelet, a big creepy bouncer at a dive bar near Hôtel de Ville, and the cashiers at the Monoprix by my house all recognize me now, but will they do that in five years? Probably not.

And none of them have ever met Bourdain and presumably remember him as well.

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.