Awkward Abroad: The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”

It started at Oktoberfest. French people I had talked about Oktoberfest with told me that Germans spoke better English than Americans, so I thought that’d be true. WRONG. Everything was in German, even at the train station and at the metro and the signs for everything. It was a huge culture shock and my shoddy scribbled list of German phrases did nothing, even when I showed it to the Germans sitting next to me and asked for pronunciation help. By that point, I had pretty much resigned myself to walking around Munich completely oblivious until …

The beer hall we were in had a traditional German band that played the White Stripe’s “Seven Nation Army” like every ten minutes. Seriously. Every ten minutes.

And the 10,000 people in the beer hall knew the iconic “DUH… duh-duh-duh-duh DUH… DUH” part just enough to repeat it OVER AND OVER AGAIN EVERY DAMN TIME. With the same amount of people standing up or raising their liters of beer at the end of the song.

I didn’t know if it was because they were hammered or because it was such a great song.

“Why is this song so popular?” I asked the German guy next to me.

“I don’t know. But do you like it?”

“Yes! It’s the White Stripes!” I said. Le duh!

“White Stripes!” he repeated, matching my enthusiasm in such a way I didn’t know if he was mocking me or being sincere.

“Yeah,” I said, apprehensively. “And this is ‘Seven Nation Army!’”

“White Stripes!” he repeated again.

“Um, yeah … is this song a soccer thing… or, I mean, football?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if he knew the White Stripes or just knew that I knew the White Stripes.

“I don’t know. But everyone knows this song.”

“Pretty sure it’s a soccer thing. I mean, football,” I sighed into my beer.

It totally was a soccer thing. It’d play on the TV when the French soccer team was discussed on the French news program. It’d play in Irish bars (or be sung by Irish people in Irish bars) when soccer games were on.

But then, it’d play during the first house party my host sister threw and I watched drunk French twentysomethings dance to it. It’d play at a French bar and people would drum their fingers on the counter in time with the music.

And no matter where it was played, EVERYONE knew the guitar part.

It made me wonder if everyone knew if the White Stripes had broken up this year.

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.

Say “Mac and Cheese!”

So as I’ve mentioned here before, one of the biggest—and most surprising—“homesick” foods I’ve been craving was macaroni and cheese, aka mac & cheese, aka perfection. And perfection became a reality last week when my dad smuggled nine boxes of it in his suitcase when he visited me in Paris.

When he had asked me, a week earlier, what I wanted him to bring, I quickly answered “Annie’s mac & cheese—the shells and white cheddar in the purple box—and Kraft mac & cheese, with the character pasta.”

“And, you know, bring yourself,” I added, almost as an afterthought.

Daddy came through with the goods. A six-pack of Annie’s and three boxes of Kraft. I took a picture of all of the boxes, knowing that would have to last the week until my dad left and I would resume being in charge of (and paying for) my own meals.

It was worth the eight-day weight. The first night I made it—I picked Annie’s because of the 2:1 ratio—I was testing to see if the pasta was done every thirty seconds. No one was home and I ate it slowly, licking the spoon after every bite. I wouldn’t have to hide my powdered astronaut cheese.

The second night, I conveniently wasn’t hungry until the host daughter left. Then, it was time to creep into my room, grab a box from my suitcase-cum-pantry, and run upstairs to get the water boiling. Another night putting off the eventual judging!

But then she came back fifteen minutes later, right as I was getting ready to dump the pot’s contents in the strainer, and my heart almost stopped—and not because of the upcoming dish.

“What are you making? Pasta?” she asked, coming over RIGHTNEXTTOME to grab a fork.

“Do you know mac & cheese, or macaroni and cheese?” I replied. She travelled around North America for the whole month of October. There was no way she couldn’t know mac & cheese.

She laughed. “Yes, I do. I’ve never tried it. But an American friend of a friend described it to me. He said it was like … comfort food?” (English is in italics).

“Yes, exactly,” I replied, trying not to sigh in relief.

“So that’s the pasta, and that’s the cheese?” she asked, daintily placing a slender, French finger on the packet.

“Um, yes.”

I waited. Oh, how I waited.

I waited for the “Oh, that’s nice,” airy response my French teacher lobbed at me when I told her what I missed the most from school. I waited for the “Why would you miss that in France?” speech that her friend had thrown at me (in French!) in September. And, most of all, I waited for the “you might as well have said you missed eating earthworms” face the Irish guy made when I told him I missed mac & cheese (I ended up explaining it as Ramen noodles but a thousand times better, and I dont’ think it really worked, judging by his face).

Yeah. Europeans don’t really get mac & cheese. 

“Cool,” she said, and walked over to the couch and started watching television on her laptop.

The smile I had on my face when I mixed the butter and the milk and the cheese shockingly had nothing to do with the meal I was preparing.

Two boxes down. Seven to go. Nineteen days left of Paris. Whassup.

P.S. Pretty revealing that I wrote the “mac & cheese” blog post first before the “my dad visited me” post, right? Love you, dad! 

Awkward Abroad: Hitchhiking

I don’t know when exactly this happened, but sometime between when my dad’s best friend would hitchhike from his hometown thirty minutes south of Boston to his college in Providence, Rhode Island and to the time when I was born it became this huge thing in the States where hitchhiking was something that just never, ever happened.

When I was in elementary school, I remember having to ask my dad what that guy was doing walking along the highway (something my parents had told me never to do) and he had to explain what a hitchhiker was. Hitchhiking was just something I never saw and, therefore, I never really had any desire to hitchhike and never really considered it an actual mode of transportation.

Maybe it’s because I never saw anyone or knew anyone who did it when I was alive, so that made me want to do it. Maybe it’s because of horror stories or movies about the innocent person who picks up the creepy hitchhiker or the creepy driver who picks up the innocent hitchhiker and, well, something undesirable always happens after that. Maybe it’s because everyone stopped being hippies and got jobs and cars. I don’t know.

But I do know that whatever contributed to this change of public opinion has not happened in Europe yet. Or, at least, the Europe stretching from the Netherlands to Paris.

There was a guy who had hitchhiked with his friend from somewhere in the Netherlands (never asked where specifically) to Paris—and as if that wasn’t crazy enough, it was just something they had decided to do for a weekend trip, completely in-the-moment and absurdly, admirably spontaneous.

“We were very lucky. It only took 12 hours and three car rides,” he proudly told me.

“You were very lucky because you didn’t get killed,” I replied.

He threw his head back and laughed. “You are such an American. You are so American right now.”

I shrugged. Yeah, I know. He was right.

“So how are you going back home? Are you going to risk hitchhiking across country borders again?” I asked.

He said yes, but he was shaking his head at much. “Such an American,” he muttered.

I didn’t shrug this time.

I think he was just as taken aback by my incomprehension as I was taken aback by his spontaneity. He was the first person I ever met who had hitchhiked in the modern era. And I’m twenty years old!

“You are an American and you are abroad, so that shows me you are open-minded,” he said, echoing what many Europeans have said to me. “Why wouldn’t you want to try hitchhiking one day?”

Because I want to live, I thought to myself. “I’m a girl. It’s different for me,” I said, stupidly thinking that would be the argument-ender so we could move away from this topic.

“Nonsense. I know girls who hitchhike all the time. You should try it. Maybe you could hitchhike when you are abroad,” he persisted.

He didn’t stop there. It was life-changing (not life-ending). He felt like he grew more as a person because of it (because the driver didn’t hack off his limbs with a machete). It was cheaper (but riskier and deadlier). If he was a candidate in the Mister World competition, he would wax poetic on the advantages of hitchhiking as a way to bring about world peace.

Hitchhiking, hitchhiking, hitchhiking. Blah, blah, blah. Kill me now. And not by forcing me to hitchhike.

This was one of those instances I just couldn’t win and had to forfeit. Usually when that happened, it was about French people telling me how Romney is Satan and Obama is God and regardless of my political beliefs, I don’t agree with that and don’t think it’s as black and white as that.

But do I say that? No! Mostly because I’m a weenie who doesn’t want to debate or have an argument in any language. So in those situations I swallow my ideas, my thoughts, my opinions and my words, and just suck it up.

“Yeah, maybe,” I said glumly. And then I hitched a ride out of that conversation thanks to the bathroom excuse.

Funnily enough, one of my friends that I went to that bar with had actually  recommended hitchhiking to me the first night I met him. We were in an Irish bar talking about my upcoming vacation in Dublin and how he went to Ireland this past summer. And guess what he did? Hitchhiked.

He just went to Ireland by himself. On a whim, for a week or so, just because. He’s that kind of guy (I guess I keep meeting a lot of them around here). And that same kind of nonchalant attitude carried over into Ireland, because he started hitchhiking in the countryside to get to Irish Place A to Irish Place B (I want to say Dublin to Gallway but I don’t really remember).

When he got picked up by this gruff middle-aged man, the guy only agreed to take him a little bit. And then once they started talking (this guy’s English is really good), then the guy said he would go out of his way to drive him to his final destination. And then later the guy said he’d still drive my friend to the end place but first they could have dinner at his place.

“And you did that and nothing happened?” I asked, flabbergasted.

“Of course!” he cheerfully responded. Oui, of course!

Obviously, my friend’s still alive. But his experience, as fun as it seemed, is not one I want to replicate anytime in the near future.

“You should try hitchhiking in Ireland,” he gushed.

“Um … we’re four girls, so I don’t think that’s going to happen,” I replied. The large number of people, coupled with our gender, was enough to make him back off.

So am I just being an American wuss? Have any of you guys ever hitchhiked? What was it like?

My, what American teeth you have!

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

In other words, it is Monday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hosting a French House Parrrrr-taaaaaay!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greetings from French Camp

Second day of French camp was good. And that’s absolutely what I’m going to call the orientation time where I’m at a hostel because it really is like summer camp, except my parents didn’t drop me off =/

For one thing, we have to wake up at a god-awful early time, which is especially sadistic because we all still have jet lag. We had to meet at 9 a.m. (aka 3 a.m. in EST) to take the Metro to our school, which meant I woke up at 7:30 a.m. and ate breakfast at 8. And when I have 8 a.m. classes, I usually say “eff this” and sleep until 7:50 and then run to class and my hunger keeps me awake until I can run back and have breakfast. So this morning was pretty rough.

I know I set out to write about French food mainly for this blog but I don’t think I will be able to do that for a while. We all received breakfast and dinner vouchers for the time we spend at the hostel, and what we get to eat is basically French cafeteria food. And I can’t bring myself to take pictures of cafeteria food.

Breakfast today was literally orange juice, a choice of Kellogs corn flakes or Chocolate pebbles, a roll or croissant, and for condiments there was butter, honey, and a knockoff version of Nutella. The milk was lukewarm whole milk and the coffee was very, very strong and I added so much lukewarm whole milk it looked like baby coffee.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine eating this food. It’s good and it’s filling, but I don’t want people to think that all French food is like this. And yeah, I’ll admit, I haven’t been as culinary adventurous as I would like because my stomach is still acting up and being queasy and I haven’t really been hungry when it is meal time here.

So far we’ve just had takeout pizza for lunch, which I thought was hilarious because the pizzas are like the size of a small pizza in the States so there were like 30 pizzas ordered for 40 people. The cheese pizza was literally a cheese pizza—in addition to mozzarella (and no tomato sauce) they threw a bunch of different cheeses on the pizza so there was a different cheese in every slice (pretty sure I just came up with a slogan there). I had a slice of mozzarella and blue cheese that I traded with someone (see! Summer camp all over again!) who had a slice of mozzarella and brie, and someone else had goat cheese on their pizza. The French meat lovers pizza had big, thick slices of Easter ham that fell off the slice as soon as I picked it out of the box, and there were little crumbles of sausage (however, I don’t think it wouldn’t have bummed out Liz Lemon). But the veggie pizza, man, it had olives, spinach, eggplant, a bunch of other chopped green veggies, and we all think maybe a white carrot or something. It was really veggie-y.

Dinner was at the hostel again, and we get two small sides, a big plate, and a drink. The small sides can be a variation of a small salad bar plate, cheese, yogurt, or an actual salad, or one of the different kinds of dessert. The wine dispenser (like a soda dispenser when you have a bunch of different sodas and drinks and you can press your cup on a lever and the drink comes out…no one I’ve asked knows the word for that) wasn’t available though, which was embarrassingly disappointing.

Basically, we have all of our meals taken care of even though technically we are free to eat anywhere we want. Because the Drexel study abroad office lied to me and I am actually at a summer camp in Paris.

The teachers are like our camp counselors, taking us on exciting excursions like buying phones or going to the pharmacy. It was the worst when we squished ourselves into a Metro car and one of them hollered “CIEE STUDENTS WE GET OFF AT THIS STOP!!!!” and even though I was standing in a throng of college-kids at the other end of the car I still felt like, Mommmmmmmmmm stop it, you’re embarrassing me!

Then we split into groups with a different leader that gave us little lectures on different topics. My group leader, the in-house guidance counselor/director of housing placement/French professor, talked about health and safety tips.  The two takeaways I got from that was a) apparently my international life insurance policy is worth 100,000 Euro and b) I have to stop smiling at French people (mostly men) on the street because they’re going to think that the blonde American girl with blue eyes is hitting on them. And yes, the guidance counselor used me as an example because she said I smiled too much during the talk—and not even at my friends or something, but I smiled too much at her. Um, sorry.

Mostly it was like the talks they give on the first day of camp and then we went on a field trip to the most ridiculous boat ride on the Seine. So I went by the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre and a bunch of other important French landmarks, but I didn’t take pictures because I have them from the other times I’ve been to France. Just Google them or whatever.

After we split up and my group went to Monoprix. Monoprix is basically a Tar-get but it is actually French. I bought my face wash there and was too vain to buy a French face wash, so I just bought the same Neutrogena pink grapefruit scrub I use at home. It’s still cuter than that American face wash, obviously.

But unlike the American Targets that I am freakishly in love with and spend exorbitant amounts of time and money at whenever I’m home, this Target let me down. I was like 99% sure you used le flip-flops for French class, and all of the girls I was with thought that was right. So when I went to buy my faux-French face wash I politely asked Avez-vous des flip flops, or ‘do you have flipflops?’ and the cashier just looked blankly at me. So no English skills, then. I had to be very poetic and ask if she had plastic sandals that you can wear to the beach, and she finally understood what I meant and said no, they didn’t have it and I could try this little boutique down the street. Which was really disappointing, especially because the store had literally twelve different pairs of slippers.

SO now that we have free time for the rest of the night, it was another night of standing on large hand towel in my crappy prison shower because I didn’t get a pair of stupid shower flip-flops. But hey, I still showered, which is better than some of the people at this camp and even some French people on the streets. It’s really disconcerting because the man or woman will look professional or normal and then you walk by and you have to turn around to make sure you didn’t just walk past three naked homeless dudes.

P.S. The French word for “hipster” is “le hipster” or “le bobo.” I have no clue why that isn’t printed on a crop top at Urban Outfitters but it needs to be.

P.P.S. photos take FOR-EV-ERRRRRR to load. And the Internet access keeps dropping. I haven’t tried the wifi on my laptop at school so maybe that will help. But I’ll upload most of my photos on Facebook, FYI.