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.

The best foodie picks for Paris

It’s that time of year again where blogs, magazines, and other media publications start putting together their “Best of ____ 2012” end lists to sum up the year in review. And since my four months in Paris were the best of my 2012, I’m going to do a “Best of Paris 2012” of my favorite Parisian foods and restaurants.

So in no particular order…

–Best pizza: La Tavola, 8 rue de la Roquette, 75011

This place looks like a cheap and cheesy Italian restaurant, complete with red and white checkered tablecloths and a sign in red, white, and green—but its’ pizza is legit. Where else can you find a pizza with a fried egg?

La Tavola -- fried egg and merguez sausage pizza.

La Tavola — fried egg and merguez sausage pizza.

I recommend the pizza with chorizo or merguez, two different types of spicy sausage.  And there’s this olive-oil based chili sauce that really complements the pizza, which is cheesier than it is tomatoe-y. You get the fattiness of the cheese cut with the spiciness of the sauce, and the fried egg and thick crust is there to mop it all up.

Definitely get your own pizza, because you can eat it on your own and, more importantly, you’ll want to eat it on your own too.

–Best hot chocolate: Les Deux Magots, 6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés  75006

Hot chocolate or no hot chocolate, you should really try to visit Les Deux Magots, especially if you’re into the famed literary scene of Paris.  Located in the fashionable Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, the café was the thinking and meeting place of a lot of great writers like Hemingway and Sartre & de Beauvoir, Les Deux Magots has such a good literary reputation that once a year it gives out the Deux Magots literary prize to a French novel.

Les Deux Magots -- melted chocolate bars in a cup.

Les Deux Magots — melted chocolate bars in a cup.

But on to the actual restaurant. It’s in a beautiful Belle Epoque-era building, but it’s almost worth sitting outside on a sidewalk table to see the waiters in the stereotypical suit and long white apron getup dance in between pedestrians to take orders.

My dad took me here when he was in Paris, and I ordered the hot chocolate because it was freezing and we had been walking around all day. I didn’t know that I’d be ordering a melted chocolate bar, because that’s pretty much what I got. I was so surprised when I took my first sip—not only is the hot chocolate really rich and flavorful, but its’ consistency is also on par with a melted chocolate bar.

Also, I know that Angelina’s has a reputation of having great hot chocolate (with a not-so-great expensive cost). And it does, it totally does, but when I went to Angelina’s I ordered their famous hot chocolate and a Japanese cheesecake thing (basically lemon cream cheese on a thick biscuit covered in white chocolate with strawberry cream) and I felt like vomiting afterwards because the hot chocolate + pastry = stomach overload. So maybe there’s a bias and it was experience-based, but I’d still pick Les Deux Magot because you could sit outside and sip.

–Best typical French food: Robert et Louise, 64 Rue Vieille du Temple  75003 Paris

This is where I had my first boudin noir black blood sausage, my first rillette pork fat paté, and my first foie gras (the sandwich doesn’t count in my book because that was just foie gras on a baguette and now I know that’s not how you’re supposed to eat foie gras).

But the best typical French part about this restaurant is that there’s a huge open brick oven right there in the dining room—not even sectioned off from the tables that are like three feet away—that is surely breaking a bajillion American health codes. Who cares, though—like the honey badger, Robert et Louise doesn’t give a fuck. You don’t even mind waiting for your food because you get to watch the two cooks on duty carry the raw meat up the stairs and throw it in the oven and then cut it up and then put it on a plate.

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

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

In fact, watching the cooks is most of the fun. There really are only two chefs—one sous-chef and one head chef, I guess. But from what I could see, there’s one guy that’s in charge of the meat and one guy that’s in charge of everything else, like the salad and potatoes.

This is a nice place to get the French experience, so you might as well go all out for your meal. When I went with my dad and step-mom, we each ordered an appetizer, so we got to split the blood sausage, the rillette, and foie gras (served with American toast and an orange marmalade that really complimented the fattiness of the foie gras, especially when paired with the sweet white wine that comes with the foie gras). Plus, you get a basket of nice, thick pieces of French baguette that you can watch the waiter cut in the tiny makeshift kitchen.

For the main course, I got duck confit and my dad and step-mom split the beef ribs for two. You get baked potatoes with herbs de Provence and a clean salad with a typical French salad dressing (which, coincidentally, is nothing like the disgusting French dressing in America). Everything is simple—no ornamentation, no fancy positioning on a fancy plate, no random dribbles of some sauce, no uneatable piece of green leaves. It is literally meat and potatoes and you wouldn’t want it any other way here.

Robert et Louise -- beef ribs, potatoes, salad.

Robert et Louise — beef ribs, potatoes, salad.

Unless you want to sit at the communal table, I’d recommend getting a reservation here, especially if you’re going on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night. There are two main dining rushes—7 and 9 p.m.—but if you go before or after you might be okay. And if you buy the cheapest “dumb” phone like I did—30 euros for a phone that looks like it came straight out of 2003—be prepared to have the cute guy (the grandson of Robert and Louise, we think) laugh at your little phone, but in a cute way.

My dad used to come here all the time, I guess, when he lived here—and more telling, this is where he would bring people who were visiting France, so they could get the real experience. His frequent appearance, coupled with his obvious Americanness, made him memorable in the eyes of the current proprietor François, who is the son-in-law of Robert et Louise. Robert et Louise’s daughter, my dad says, used to make the desserts but I’m not sure if she does now; I am sure that she remembered my dad and step-mom because she waved and smiled and said “Bonsoir” to them when she walked by. François definitely remembered my dad, even saying that it’s been a while since he was there. He came and talked to us at our table, but he did that for all of the guests.

Robert et Louise -- the oven is to the left (with the meat cook) and the kitchen is to the right (with the everything-else cook).

Robert et Louise — the oven is to the left (with the meat cook) and the kitchen is to the right (with the everything-else cook).

François is a character. He sits at the bar all night manning the phone and drinking rosé. My dad said that he first talked to François one night when they were at a table for four and it suddenly got really busy, so the two of them told their waiter they could have their after-dinner coffee at the bar—which put them in François’s eyesight and good graces. He bought them each a glass of wine as a thank-you gift and they started talking from there.

And when my dad took me here, he made sure to send François a glass of his favorite rosé as a thank-you. When François noticed the glass—and that we were leaving—he got up and gave my dad the traditional bises, which was kind of funny to see because François is this big, balding French guy who looks really intimidating. My dad introduced me (in English) as his daughter and said I was studying abroad in Paris for another month, which made François really smile and ask me (in French) if I knew French and that I should come back and drink a glass of wine with him and practice my French. Where else are you going to have a restaurant owner say that to you? It’s been two weeks and I haven’t gone back there yet, but I might—if only because François told me “I am going to do the bises with you” in French as a warning, so I loooooooooooved that (those are not sarcastic “o”s, those are sincere “os”s btw).

–Best duck: La Fée Verte, 108 Rue de la Roquette  75011

I went to La Fée Verte because a former co-worker of my dad recommended it for us to all meet up. The name is literally translated to “The Green Fairy” and both the French and English versions are of the nickname for absinthe, because this is an absinthe bar. But unlike the absinthe bar that I’ve written so much about, this is a restaurant AND an absinthe bar, and the food is just as out-of-this-world as the absinthe. I’m assuming this because I didn’t drink absinthe here, but I did ask where they buy their absinthe; the bartender gave me the business card of the absinthe bar (Vert des Absinthes located right in the Marais) and I ended up going there and buying two bottles of absinthe for my dad to bring home for me.

Anyway, everyone but my dad ordered the parmentier de canard (he ordered a hamburger and got mocked by his former colleagues), but everyone at the table loved it. Parmentier is the name of the guy who popularized the potato as a major source of food in Europe—he even has his own Metro station in the cool Oberkampf area where there is literally a statue of him with a potato—and that works because this dish is basically  a mound of mashed potatoes on top of a mound of shredded confit de canard.

La Fée Verte -- parmentier de canard

La Fée Verte — parmentier de canard

Can you just imagine how fabulously fatty and rich that would be? It was heavenly. I wish I was eating some now. I can’t find the menu online but I’m pretty sure this was an expensive dish for my student budget (not that it mattered the night I ordered it since my dad was paying). It would be worth scrimping just to justify eating this luxurious dish.

P.S. You might notice that this is on the same street—Rue de la Roquette—as the “Best Pizza” place, La Tavola. Rue de la Roquette is this long straightshoot of a street that has a lot of great restaurants, many of them ethnic, and it’s a great place to walk down if you’re hungry but not sure what you’re in the mood for.

–Best French Onion Soup: Aux Anysetiers Du Roy, 61, rue Saint-Louis en L’Ile, 75004

This place is also the unofficial runner-up for best traditional French cuisine. But I love it so much, I just had to include it on this list. It’s so traditional French, its’ name is actually written in Middle Ages French and not modern French—it’s called “the ancestors of the king” but “roy” is the Middle Ages French version of “roi” for “king.”

When I went here with my dad, we ordered the French onion soup as an appetizer and it was so filling I would have been completely content with asking for the check afterwards. It’s French onion soup, but it’s French French onion soup and not the Americanized version of the meal. You get all of the typical French onion soup parts—broth, bread, cheese—but they’re each in separate bowls. You don’t get the queasy thick cheese layer, but instead you get a bowl of broth with a bowl of shredded cheese an a bowl of bread croutons and you get to make your own French onion soup.

Aux Anysetiers du Roy -- French onion soup

Aux Anysetiers du Roy — French onion soup

The difference in preparation technique is extraordinary. You don’t get like seven spoonfulls of cheese and then the rest is just the broth; you’re in control of the cheese, so you can have the cheese and bread and soup in perfect proportions. Before I came here, I had never had French onion soup like this—and now that I’ve been, I’m not sure I’ll be able to order a typical French onion soup ever again.

Head’s up: the soup was 9 euros, and like I said, it’s totally a meal on its’ own even though it’s listed as an appetizer.

–Best Bar Areas: Rue de Lappe, Bastille; Rue des Lombards, Châtlet; Rue Mouffetard, Place Monge; Rue Oberkampf, Parmentier

There are two things you should note about that superlative. One: it is not just one bar, but bar areas. Two: it is not just one bar area, but many.

That’s because for me, the best way to meet French people was at a bar. My program was only for American students, so you were kind of on your own to meet French people to talk to; there was a “conversation buddy” program with a French fashion school down the street, but I don’t think anyone actually met up with their conversation buddy outside of the first required meeting.

Now, granted, my host family had someone sleeping at our house every week so I really got to meet French people. But most of these people were old artists who would just ask me basic questions and then be really artsy whenever I tried to talk to them (example: “How are you?” “Fantastic because I am going to go take pictures of Père Lachaise in the rain.”). So going out and meeting French people was really a big deal for me and my friends and the best way to do that was to go to a bar and just strike up a conversation (or let them hear you speaking English and have them strike up a conversation with you).

So here we go—

–Rue de Lappe, Bastille: This is the tiniest of all of the streets I’ve listed, but what it lacks in width it definitely makes up for in number of bars. There are so many packed on this street that every bar is tiny, which is fine because everyone just orders a drink in the bar of their choosing and then goes outside on the cobblestone street to smoke and chat. It’s funny because I’ve walked by this street during the day (it’s right before that Rue du Roquette that I’ve mentioned twice now in this post) and no one’s there and every bar is closed, but this bar really comes alive at night.

–Rue des Lombards, Châtlet: This is a little piéton, or pedestrian-only, street—which is good if you plan on doing some heavy drinking. A lot of the bars on this little street are open later than the Metro, so you have to be mindful of the time if you plan on staying out late here or be prepared to fight for a taxi in the wee hours of the morning. I first heard about this place because of the Hide Out, a great dive-bar with a dungeon-esque dance floor. But all of the bars in this little area are great, cheap, and open late.

–Rue Mouffetard, Quartier Latin: My friend Lilly lived right off of this street, so that was why she always tried to get us to go here for a night out. But we kept going because it’s such a great cobblestone street with a bunch of bars. This is somewhere that’s actually open during the day, too—there are a bunch of specialty foods shops towards the bottom of the street. It’s funny because at the top, it’s mostly bars, but as you keep walking down you see more fromageries and boulangeries and patisseries and butcher shops. So I love this street in the day and in the night—plus, it spawns the streets that Hemingway and Orwell respectively lived on during their stays in Paris.

There’s one bar, The Wall, that’s always bumping. Its’ name comes from the Pink Floyd album, and the font on the sign mimics the font of the album cover. They play great music here—one time it was three Beatles songs in a row—but it can be kind of hard to hear it sometimes because it gets so packed, despite the hoards of French people smoking outside on the sidewalk. Another great bar here is The Fifth Bar, which is where you can go if you miss playing beer pong and are sad because you haven’t seen a plastic red cup in weeks. We went here with a French friend one time and saw how terrible the French are at playing beer pong. It’s 15 euros for a pitcher and you have to ask for extra cups, but if you’re feeling homesick for the shitty college drinking game this is the place to go.

–Rue Oberkampf, Parmentier: Beware, becasuse this is the real Oberkampf “bobo” hipster area, and not the area that’s at the Oberkampf Metro stop. We learned this the hard way one frustrating night. But once you finally arrive on this street, you’re going to want to stay here for a while. It’s bar after bar after bar—and not even that, but it’s theme bar after theme bar after theme bar. Want to go to a pirate bar? Bar Les Pirates is what you’ll want to seek. Want to spend the night drinking piña coladas and listening to the Beach Boys? My Woodie’s is the place to be. Plus, the streets going off of Rue Oberkampf are full of good bars too; it’s where you’ll find La Cantada II, aka the absinthe bar I’m always blogging about.

–Best Macaron: Maison de Collette, 100, rue Montorgueil 75002

This whole street, rue Montorgueil, is five minutes away from my school, but even if it wasn’t within walking distance it’d be worth going to. This is another piéton area, which means that it’s cute and small and has a cobblestone street. Plus, there’s a lot of diversity here, which means one day I can have Thai and the next Indian and the next French and still walk the same five minutes each way. But the best is dessert. The macarons are bigger than your average macarons and also less expensive—less than 3 euros for a macaron the size of the palm of your hand. Plus, there are really interesting macaron flavors too. Like, I’m obsessed with everything cassis, mostly because there isn’t any cassis in America (cassis is like a fruit that’s half blackberry, half red currents). And they have cassis macarons at this place! It’s the only time I’ve seen it. Same with the praline macaron. I’m really into pralines, since it’s not a flavor I have easy access to in the states. There were even little chunks of pralines in the cookie part! Mmmm… There are many different flavors of macarons, and they are all the perfect combination of cake and crème, of crunch and frosting, of price and taste.

–Best cake: Berko, 31 rue Lepic, Quartier Lepic-Abbesses, 75018 Paris

I’ve already waxed poetic about this cheesecake. But now that I’ve tried the regular cheesecake, the white chocolate raspberry cheesecake, the regular cheesecake with fresh fruit, and the Mars bar cheesecake—I’ve gotta tell ya, the regular cheesecake is my favorite.

My friend Lily and I have it nailed down: it’s the crust. It’s not a regular cheesecake crust, but it’s more like a condensed carrot cake of a crust. It’s kind of like a reverse carrot cake, where there’s more cream cheese and less spice cake. And it’s scrumptious, obviously.

–Best chocolate: Leonidas chocolates (locations vary)

I would feel like a smuck for recommending a Belgian chocolatier on my best-of Paris list, but the chocolate is so gobble-worthy I don’t even care.

There’s a backstory to this. Even before my dad moved to Paris and he was just doing a lot of European business trips, one thing he would always do is bring home a big gold box of Leonidas white chocolates. But it had been a while since that happened, and I got ridiculously, childishly excited when I saw the royal-looking Leonidas symbol from two blocks away and dragged my friends to the store.

All of their chocolates are delicious, but the white chocolate ones take the cake, so to speak. I’m a white chocolate kind of girl to begin with, but these white chocolates are converters. A lot of the Leonidas chocolates feature pralines or hazlenuts, but those nuts combined with the white chocolate is a whole other taste experience I have yet to find in the States.

Leonidas chocolates.

Leonidas chocolates.

These are expensive, to be fair. You can get a small box of maybe 15 chocolates for 10 euros. But they’re worth it. Just be sure to ration yourself off of chocolates or you’ll go through a whole box in four days like I did.

And if you’re getting them as a gift, like I did for my mom (the third-biggest size of box) or for my host daughter (smallest box), then make sure you get it wrapped. Or, if you want to treat yourself, you can get it wrapped too.

 …

–Best frites: De Clercq, les Rois de la Frite. 169 rue Montmartre 75002

This is another example of a Belgian takeover, but I think it’s okay in this case because French fries technically are in Belgian. And it’s awfully cocky to have “the kings of the fry” as part of your company name, but De Clercq has earned their crown, in my opinion.

This particular De Clercq is a five-minute walk away from my school, and a cold winter day it’s so pleasing to eat a handful of hot French fries on the way to the center. This is a tiny little pop-up of a restaurant, and it’s so packed during the lunch rush hour that it’s not even worth standing up or sitting down to eat inside, even if there are specially-made counters with holes to put your cornet, or rolled-paper cone, of fries.

Their burgers are pretty good, but you need to come here for the fries. True, you can get a burger, a small drink, and a medium cornet of fries for under 7 euros. But the fries are really the best part. They’re thick and have some potato-ness to them, but the exterior is fried and crispy so that you get the best of both worlds—mushy and crunch—of all things French fries. 

–Best cookies: Scoop Me a Cookie,4 rue du Pas de la Mule

I never thought of myself as a cookie snob before coming to Paris. Yes, I preferred the homemade kind to the store-bought kind, but a cookie is a cookie so even the bad ones are good. Or so I thought.

Scoop Me a Cookie window display

Scoop Me a Cookie window display

You’ll see a lot of cookies in Paris, but you won’t see a lot of thick, fluffy ones. Even the best patisseries with the prettiest little desserts and macarons only have flat, crunchy-looking cookies that aren’t visually appeasing.

This is the exact opposite of Scoop Me a Cookie, which is located inside of a chocolatier shop, Josephine Vannier, by Place des Vosges. I first noticed this shop with my dad because there were a lot of funky creations, like mugs and plates and little shoes, made out of chocolate. But what made us actually go inside the shop were the cookies. Oh, the cookies.

These were the thickest, gooiest cookies I’d ever seen in person. They were the kind of cookies Pillsbury or Toll House wish they could feature in their TV commercials. Somehow, the cookies were huge, the size of a hand, but they still retained height and volume as well as width—they didn’t flatten out during the baking process, and for that I am very thankful. Maybe that’s why it’s called “Scoop Me a Cookie” because they must use an ice cream scoop or something to make the perfectly-sized cookie dough ball.

Scoop Me a Cookie website screenshot. Even their food photography is enticing!

Scoop Me a Cookie website screenshot. Even their food photography is enticing!

The names are just as sweet as the cookies. I ordered a “Moi Tarzan, Toi Jane” cookie with dark chocolate and dried bananas. So where else are you going to get a Tarzan-referencing cookie with bananas? Exactly.

Even when the cookies aren’t straight out of the oven, they’re still really soft, almost a little too soft in the middle. But the best part is the chocolate—whether it’s a cookie with white, milk, or dark chocolate, the pieces of the chocolate are going to be the size of melting chocolate pieces and not chocolate chips.

The cookies are 3,10 euros, but you’ve never had a cookie like this, ever. If you end up getting homesick for regular cookies, this is the place to go to get your fix. Just beware because then you might end up getting homesick for these cookies, which I totally will be.

–Best outdoor market: Marché Bastille, bd Richard Lenoir 75011

I’m spoiled because this is right around where my dad used to live, so it was always a thing on Sundays to go to the Marché Bastille and buy all of our fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and breads. And the first Sunday of my Paris, I told my friends about this place and I was able to give them their first taste of an open-air market, or un marché de plein air.

The Bastille market takes up a whole block, with rows and rows of different vendors. You’ve got your fish vendors, your cheese vendors, your bread vendors, and your produce vendors. But there’s also ethnic tents of Chinese, Lebanese, Créole, and Italian takeout, plus the roasted chicken stands where chickens are roasted on rotating sticks and the juice drips down onto the baked potatoes lying at the bottom of the oven. Suck it, Boston Market—the Bastille market wins hands down, even if there isn’t any cornbread.

This market isn’t just for food either: plastic jewelry, leather wallets and coin purses, hats, scarves, cooking wear, African masks, clothes … there’s even a stand that literally only sells stereotypical striped French shirts.

Everything is very cheap here, because the food is usually so fresh you have to eat it either that day or the next. I struggled with this in the beginning when I would buy my fruit here and open the refrigerator the next day only to see it spoiled.

I think it’s unofficially open from some ridiculously early Sunday morning time to like three p.m., but you want to get here early. Not just to buy the food first, but to beat the crowds. Most of the Parisians in the area flock here for their food and you really do have to fight for space and attention.

The market can be a little intimidating, with the amount of people and the vendors all yelling their prices, trying to entice you to look at them so that when you do they can offer you a slice of pineapple or a tomato or whatever they’re selling. You can get a lot of samples this way, if you try hard enough. Plus, you can buy a baguette and just kind of nibble while you figure out what to get. It’s the best.

For pictures, click the link up top.

–Best crêpe: Crêpe stand at marché Bastille, bd Richard Lenoir 75011

I tried really hard to find the name of this stand, but I just couldn’t. Guess this just means you have to go to the Bastille market then, ehhhh?

There’s only one crêpe stand there, so you’ll know where it is (it’s usually on the right side of the market if you’re standing with your back to the Bastille tower). It usually has the longest line or biggest crowd out of all of the little tents at the market, and the crêpes make it obvious why.

Like most crêpe stands, this offers sweet, or sucre, and savory, or salé. But the offerings are more diverse than what you will normally find.

The sweet crêpes range from your ordinary sugar, jam, Nutella, or fruit-and-Nutella, but it also features crème and caramel. A caramel and banana crêpe!! Can you even imagine? It really puts the sucre into the sucre crêpe.

Likewise, the savory ones have the usual cheese, egg, meat components, but there’s a lot of variation. For starters, you can get crêpes with goat cheese here, which I haven’t seen anywhere else. And the meat is much more varied too thanks to the different types of sausage and fish. You can get a salmon, chive, and goat cheese crepe here, which sounds like a restaurant plate that you can eat in your hands at a food truck price.

I like coming to this stand in the middle of my usual marché Bastille routine because you can sit on a bench and relax and people-watch the poor sods stuck in the lines you were just in. Plus, it’s the perfect breakfast sandwich in a country where the idea of a breakfast sandwich isn’t really all there. I got a egg, cheese, and saucission crêpe one late morning after a late night, and the crêpe guy literally took a whole sausage and cut it into pieces before placing it on the crêpe. It was exactly what I needed and cemented the idea that these crêpes are exactly what I need whenever I go to the marché Bastille.

Aaaand …. that’s it! Let me know if you have any recommendations or categories!

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.

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!

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.

The Champs-Élysées Christmas Market

Since coming to Paris, I’ve kind of had a love-hate relationship with the Champs-Élysées.

I know, I know. How could I? How could I not love “la plus belle avenue du monde,” or “the most beautiful avenue in the world?”

After fighting foot traffic to get a clear shot, I was too tired to even start with the car traffic.

After fighting foot traffic to get a clear shot, I was too tired to even start with the car traffic.

Easy. Because it’s always too crowded with tourists. That’s really my biggest problem with the Champs-Élysées. Unfortunately, the crowds extend past the actual shopping area and down the street all the way to Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries Gardens and then the Louvre. So, understandably, there is going to be a lot of tourists wanting to visit and sometimes I’m one of them and sometimes I’m not.

But the Champs-Élysées Christmas Market made my poor Grinch heart grow three sizes. It is worth the hassle. It’s easy to spot because there are little white tents lining the streets a block away from the start of the Champs-Élysées shopping area.  But it’s really more like a Christmas Carnival.

It’s bizarre (a word I use ALL THE TIME in French because it just means “weird” and I love the juxtaposition between American “bizarre” and French “bizarre”). Mostly because there are weird carnival staples like the “psychedelic” funhouse or those super slides you go down on a potato sack or roller coasters just set up there on the sidewalk.

In case you're too cool to walk down the Champs-Élysées, don't worry.

In case you’re too cool to walk down the Champs-Élysées, don’t worry.

Oh, and there’s an ice-skating rink too, complete with moving robot animals and hilariously inappropriate dance music (it’s like 7 euros to rent skates and it’s absolutely worth it, if only for the chance to be able to photobomb a million tourist shots while on ice skates).

Plus, there are a lot of really interesting food stands serving both the things you can easily find—crepes, waffles, churros (or chi-chi; I’ve seen both)—and maybe can’t easily find—hot beer (bière chaud), hot wine (vin chaud, not as rare as hot beer but definitely better), and foie gras sandwiches.

And there’s shopping. But it’s not just shopping, but shopping with really weird stores. Need to buy a set of Russian dolls, or three, for that special someone? No problem, there are at least two different stands. Need to buy just a regular doll? Well, there are some stands for that too. Chocolate-covered mousse balls? A dozen for 10 euros or one for 1 euro. Scarves. Backpacks. Ornaments. Glass trinkets. Eiffel tower key chains. HERMIT CRABS. You want it, chances are there’s a stand for it.

At night, the market is even more magical.

At night, the market is even more magical.

The shopping, eating, drinking, and ice skating would be fun activities on their own, but they’re made like ten times funner by the fact that you are doing it on the Champs-Élysées. Like, I felt so cool telling my host mom that I went ice skating on the Champs-Élysées … and saying the same thing to my mom, my dad, and a couple of my friends. This Christmas village, while still crowded, definitely contributed to my Champs-Élysées experience.

It’s a fun—and FREE—activity that is a little touristy (or at least in a touristy area) yet really exciting. You can see the Tuileries, the Place de la Concorde (and the seasonal Christmas Tree and Ferris Wheel), the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Élysées, and the Arch de Triomphe all in the span of like five minutes. I highly recommend it if it’s November/December time in Paris and you’re the tourist or you’re having a tourist come visit.

I’ve gone four times now. I hate that I love it so much.