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!

Hosting a French House Parrrrr-taaaaaay!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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