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 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!

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.

Cookie (spread) for breakfast?

I’ve written before that my host family kind of thinks I’m crazy because I don’t put Nutella on my toast for breakfast, but now I wish I had just bowed to peer pressure and started waking up to chocolate and hazelnut for breakfast, because then I would be able to bring my own sweet spread to the breakfast table: Speculoos.

Now, even if you’re familiar with that word and know that I didn’t just press random buttons on my keyboard, you still might be scratching your head about it. Speculoos is almost like a gingerbread/spice shortbread biscuit that is treated like an animal cookie in consistency and also shape, since it can be put out in Christmas or animal shapes.

But wait a second, you say, how does that relate to toast and breakfast?

There is Speculoos spread. Speculoos à tartiner, or Speculoos to spread.

IMG_9972

Hello, beautiful.

This is cookie butter. Cookie butter. That’s what it is.

I’ve never heard of Speculoos before coming here. And even after I had my first Speculoos, I still didn’t find out about it until months later, when we were talking about peanut butter at school and the program assistant, the French manic pixie dreamgirl dream that is Julie, told me there was a Speculoos spread.

So what do I do? Next time I’m in Monoprix, I stroll down the tartiner aisle looking for the Speculoos spread that I’m pretty sure I’m not going to find. It’s not by the Nutella or the Nutella knockoffs. It’s not by the honey. It’s not by the marmalade or jam.

Now I’m starting to think that Julie was just teasing me and I’m the idiot on her hands and knees on the grocery store.

But then, pushed back all the way on the bottom level, there they are: two jars of Speculoos—literally, just Speculoos with pasta à tartiner on the label in smaller letters. One is crunchy, one is not. Both have images of the Speculoos cookies I know and love kind of dripping onto a gingerbread-colored spread on a piece of bread.

I'm talking to you.

I’m talking to you.

Turns out cookie butter actually exists.

I debated between the crunchy and noncrunchy versions of the spread, even at one point picking up both to put in the basket before remembering that I’m just a poor college student. And—more importantly—I should try one to make sure I like it (although, come on, how could I not????) before buying two.

That’s really the deciding factor, embarrassingly enough.

After many moments looking like a fat dummy looking back and forth between the two jars of creamed cookies in her hands, I finally picked the crunchy. I prefer crunchy peanut butter to creamy. And if there were such a thing as crunchy Nutella I would eat that all day every day … but just not for breakfast.

And the way I see it, if there’s a crunchy cookie spread, chances are that the crunchy bits are going to be cookies. And if you’re going to eat a cookie spread, you might as well just go all out.

I bought a bag of brioche buns, because I thought those would pair well with the spread. Brioche is a thick, sweet bread, and I wasn’t sure how a buttery croissant or pain au lait would go with it.

Tah-dah!

Tah-dah!

Honest to God, I almost bought a package of Speculoos cookies too.

I’m glad I didn’t. The spread is BURSTING with Speculoos flavor. It is Speculoos in a spoon or on the side of the knife. Thankfully, it looks like the brains behind the spread had the same “SPECUYOLO” mentality that I had.

I didn’t feel as guilty as I should have just licking some Speculoos spread off of a knife, since it really is a dessert in itself. But, I do feel guilty for eating like a quarter of the jar in one sitting.

What can I say? It really was love at first bite.

Cookie on cookie.

Cookie on cookie.

Now, if only there was some way to eat this on the brioche toast that’s always in the bread box without my host family calling me out for being a hypocrite…

But for now, I’m totally content to keep it hidden in my suitcase cupboard along with the rest of the brioche buns and whatever else I will buy (and I know I will add to my “what can I put Speculoos on” collection). I think I might even buy vanilla ice cream and try melting the Speculoos spread. And then crunching up the Speculoos cookies I will buy and adding those on top.

With a cookie spread, the possibilities are endless.

P.S. HOLY CRAPPING CRAP YOU GUYS CAN YOU IMAGINE IF THERE WAS A COOKIE SPREAD FOR ALL COOKIES?

TRY TO GUESS WHAT AN OREO SPREAD WOULD TASTE LIKE! OR A THIN MINT SPREAD?

WHY AREN’T THESE REAL THINGS???????????

WHY DON’T WE LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE SUGAR COOKIE SPREADS EXIST??????????

WHY DIDN’T I LEARN ABOUT SPECULOOS SPREAD LIKE THREE MONTHS AGO???????

WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?

BRB gonna go cry into my Speculoos jar. I bet it’s even more perfect with a little bit of salt.

Awkward Abroad: Wuthering Heights

My host family has a close family friend, Delphine, who can speak pretty good English. On the second night she came over for dinner, she was very kind and talked to me about French literature because to all French people, I am studying literature since it’s easier to explain than “English.”

Except I couldn’t ask her when she was trying to tell me about this English book she was reading. I’m still not sure whether she meant it was an English book she was reading in French or English. I’m assuming it was in French, based off of what the conversation (in French) went like:

Delphine: It’s called Les Hauts de Hurlevent.

Alissa: It’s called what?

Delphine: Les Hauts de Hurlevent.

Alissa: I’m sorry, but could you repeat that, again?

Delphine: Les Hauts de Hurlevent.

Alissa: Okay. I have no idea what that translates to. “Haut” is “high,” or
up” … right?

[Delphine speaks a little English, so I did ask if it meant “high” or “up” in English. But I also gestured it too].

Delphine: I forget what the English title is …

Alissa: Me too! Haha.

Delphine: But it’s an English novel … written in the Victorian Era, I think? It is a romance novel.

Alissa: I’m really sorry, but there are a lot of those.

Delphine: Don’t worry. It’s no big deal.

Alissa: No, this makes me angry! I need to know! What is the book about? What are the character names?

Delphine: Um … uh … Eat … Eatcliff?

Alissa: WUTHERING HEIGHTS!! OH MY GOD!! YOU ARE READING WUTHERING HEIGHTS!! WITH HEATHCLIFF AND CATHERINE!! THE WRITER IS EMILY BRONTË!! WUTHERING HEIGHTS!!

Delphine: Yes!

Alissa: Whew! I am so happy I know now.

Delphine: Wuthering Heights. So I know where the “haut” comes from. What does “wuthering” mean?

Alissa: I have no idea.  What does “hurlevent” mean?

Delphine: I have no idea.

Alissa: (beat) But don’t you love the book?

Thanksgiving absinthe makes the heart grow fonder

This is my obligatory Thanksgiving-abroad post. Although, I feel like it’s a little different, because I did get a (Frenchified) Thanksgiving dinner thanks to the potluck shindig CIEE threw at the program center.

French Thanksgiving on a plate.

I was surprised, because I hadn’t found any squash or cranberries or sweet potatoes at the markets or grocery stores—but people did, because they brought the traditional Thanksgiving sides and I was super duper excited about that. In fact, I was so pumped about the sweet potatoes that the scoop I scooped was so big and heavy that my flimsy paper plate fell over … so that the sweet potatoes were stuck to the paper tablecloth like SPLAT. Thankfully, no one in the assembly line saw it, but I did have to scoop a smaller ball of sweet potatoes : (

But in addition to those traditional dishes, there was turkey (flown in from an American grocery store, I’ve heard) and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie and lots and lots of French wine. No cornbread or stuffing, but I was so full at the end of the dinner that it wasn’t that big of a deal. Plus, the Nutella banana croissant pudding I made (it’ll be in the next post, for sure) was a huge hit, so all in all it was a good Wednesday night.

This is the best Nutella banana croissant pudding you’ve ever heard of, right???

It wasn’t Thanksgiving though, but like Tofurkey, it went down like a decent substitute. Usually, Thanksgiving break is the one time in the fall quarter I see my mom. Her parents live outside of Philly, so she’ll drive down with my sister and I’ll take the bus to my grandparents and we all eat together.

But this year—for the first year since my parents split up—is the year of Thanksgiving with my dad. Kind of. I’m thankful that he sacrificed his Thanksgiving Thursday to fly over and arrive in Paris Friday morning. That’s better than cornbread. Plus, I never see him during fall term, so it’s a nice change. He and my step-mom will be here for 10 days, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Like I’ve repeated on here multiple times, he lived in Paris for a couple years so most likely he’ll be showing me around. Although—and I take great pride in this—he never went to a Paris Christmas Market so I’ll get to take him to that. We won’t have to go to the tourist traps and I won’t have to babysit him. And, unlike my mom, he’ll be living close enough that he can meet my host family—which I am nervously excited for. It will be like a merging of two parts of my life.

But what did I do on actual Thanksgiving? Nothing really. Went to class, did homework, walked around my neighborhood, took a nap. My host mom has a cold and took a nap upstairs in the loft, so I accidentally woke her up when I went to get dinner and that made me feel like crap. But she laughed when I told her I was going to an absinthe bar on my Thanksgiving night.

Even the bar looks like an absinthe hallucination…

It’s the same one Anthony Bourdain went to in the first episode of No Reservations so you can expect a blog post about that too. The website is pretty punk, and that’s what the “philosophy of the bar” is telling me about too. Apparently it’s supposed to have the opulence of a 19th century absinthe bar in a 21st century rock karaoke bar. So what’s not to like?

Here’s the link to the clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6t9mWBKs9I

And here’s a link to the bar’s website: http://www.cantada.net/

I’m very excited—and thankful—for this opportunity. Not just to go to the absinthe bar, but to be in Paris, to be able to celebrate time in the fall with my dad, and to be able to write about it all and have an audience. I feel kind of sappy because I’m the only one sitting at my table who is saying what I’m thankful for—and it doesn’t even really feel like Thanksgiving anyway because everyone else’s Facebook statuses are about food and family and football and I don’t have either of those with me today.

But maybe I needed to get away from the food and family and football to realize that it’s just about taking time out of your life to look at it from a different angle (or, you know, writing it all out for a blog post).

Awkward Abroad: David Bowie Killed the Radio Star

I could write a whole blog post about awkward pop-culture conversations I’ve had with my French family. Sad, but true. They said I had the best French out of all of the four girls they’ve hosted, but they’ll probably also say that I was the most awkward. Whatever. I totally earned that superlative.

This is the first awkward conversation that I had with my host family. And, I should add, the one that made me the most upset.

I need to preface this by saying that my French family LOVES the radio the way that Americans during FDR’s fireside chats probably loved the radio. Morning, noon, night: doesn’t matter when but it’s always on. ALWAYS.

And it’s not just the old folks. It’s the twenty-three-year-old daughter too. Which floors me the most, since she’s practically my age and I don’t ever listen to the radio when I’m home or even when I’m in the car.

Neither of my host parents work, so they’re always in the house and that means the radio is always on. So I could exaggerate and say that the radio plays 24/7 … but it’d actually be truthful if I said the radio plays 12/7. I’m not even kidding. There’s chat radio on when I eat breakfast at 9 a.m. and there’s the “100 percent Jazz” program playing up until dinner at 8 p.m. and then afterwards.

At first I thought it was because of me. Like, I was so awkward and conversationally-challenged they couldn’t stand the silence. But then once I started coming home and finding the radio already on, I started being less self-absorbed. Now, two months in, I cringe whenever I think about how self-absorbed I used to be.

So yeah, no radio silence ever. Mostly it’s talk show programs. But even when it’s music, it’s French or old American jazz and blues. Never stuff I know. Except for one glorious time that I wanted acknowledged and … it was not. Not at all.

I’ll cherish it forever. It was the first English-language song I heard on the radio in Paris. And, coincidentally, it was the first song I recognized, and … IT WAS DAVID BOWIE!

DAVID BOWIE!!!!!!!!!

I mean, I’ve written about my David Bowie obsession and how I always judge record stores by their David Bowie selections no matter what country I’m in.  He’s always on my “Top Five People You’d Want At Your Dinner Party” list, although the David Bowie that I want always varies (mostly on the other guests and who has a drug problem there that specific Bowie might have encouraged).

I thought it was a sign.

It was in my first week of living there, I think. I  was at the kitchen table, doing homework. My host dad was on his desktop computer, sitting behind me. My host mom was at her desktop computer on the other side of the room. We had all been sitting quietly, doing our own thing but listening to the radio together.

“Oh Mon Dieu! C’est David Bowie!” I announced (“OMG, it’s David Bowie!”) as soon as I recognized that first guitar chord of “Ziggy Stardust.”

The way I said it made it seem like I was walking down the street or something and saw David Bowie coming towards me. I was that excited.

However, my host parents’ reactions were not even close to being that excited. They weren’t even excited that I was excited. My host mom looked out past her computer and smiled encouragingly at me for a second before going back to work. My host dad didn’t even turn around.

So I sat there at the table mouthing the lyrics to myself and grinning down at my homework. For the rest of the song.

Just in case that description didn’t do a good job of capturing the moment, I’m going to write it out like it was taken from a scene of a play:

[“Ziggy Stardust” comes on]

Alissa: Oh Mon Dieu! C’est David Bowie!

Host mom: …

Host dad: …

Alissa: …