Well, it’s true, my study abroad “program” is over. All my amazing friends have unfortunately (or mostly) departed for the states, and all the classes are over. It has given me a box of very mixed feelings.
The first feelings are those of happiness, love and relief. I LOVE my mom and my little sister Emily. We usually get along very well, and they’re two amazing women whom I love very much. Of course I’m relieved because I’m DONE with classes, and while they weren’t “real” classes, they were still work since they were in a foreign language and presented their own types of challenges. I’m also in relief because, as much as I LOVED having all my classes and interactions with French, it can get draining! Now, I have two lovely family members with whom I can speak in English whenever I want!
The second types of feelings are much less obtrusive, but exist nonetheless. Such as frustration and exhaustion! I’ve been studying French as a foreign language for a VERY long time, so while I still make many grammatical errors on a daily basis, I know the culture very well and the signs in French are easy to read - it’s like second nature to me now. So when my mom doesn’t know what “sortie” means in the metro station (exit), or when Emily and I went to pick up my things from my host mom and all she could say was “Bonjour” and smile at all the things my host mom was saying, I was taken aback and shocked. I mean, I knew that my family doesn’t speak French, but this whole semester I’ve been around people who DO, and who didn’t ask me what “boeuf” or “oignons” or “tomates” were on a menu. We went out for dinner last night, and for the first time since I’ve been here, the waiter addressed me in English. WHAT???? I rampantly went through my list of things “not to do” to give yourself away as an English speaker in a restaurant (my grammar teacher and the IES staff basically compiled a list) and I thought, “I didn’t do anything! What? Why?” (Since I look French enough in the way I dress and act here, nothing gives me away!) And then I realized, oh. I’m with my family.
It’s nothing against them, really, and it doesn’t make me love them any less, but it’s just a little frustrating sometimes to have to guide them through everything. I can’t imagine being a tour guide in real life for Americans or other Anglophones! It would drive me nuts!
That being said, the three of us have had a great time so far! On Friday, we went to my friend Alex’s aperitif party with several of my friends from the abroad program who, like me, were staying after its end with their families or traveling somewhere. Saturday, we spent the day walking and shopping around the Champs-Élysées, from the Christmas markets to the actual shops, all the way up to the Arc de Triomphe. For lunch, I introduced them to the deliciousness of warm French crêpes. After dinner at a cute little café near École Militaire, we saw the Eiffel Tower, whose size and beauty made both other parties smile from happiness. :) And today, we went to church at the American Cathedral, checked out a market for grocery shopping, and went to Musée de l’Orangerie, which was nice, as I haven’t done any of that yet! (The stuff we did today at least - all of which needed to happen before I left this beautiful city!)
Needless to say, despite its small pitfalls, I’m very excited to share this experience with my family. They bring so many cool and interesting perspectives to the table that I’m not at all adverse to. Like my mother used to teach Art Appreciation to elementary school kids, and so at the museum today, she could tell me more about art history than I’ve learned most semester, and little sister Emily was a hoot shopping down the Champs-Élysées. We’re having a blast.
I’ll update and post goofy pictures of us soon!
I just finished having dinner with my host mother here in Neuilly. It’s the last dinner we’ll have as just the two of us. (My family is coming and both families are dining together next week, but it’ll be in English, so it won’t be the same.)
I never really thought I’d be sentimental about leaving her. But you know what? I really am! I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about some host families - lists of rules not to violate, mold growing on the ceilings, forgetting to feed their students, super annoying host-sisters and brothers, and other general things that made some people’s study abroad experience less than great. Now, don’t get me wrong, host mom and I have definitely had our ups and downs. For a lot of students, she wouldn’t be the best person. There was that one time she reprimanded me for taking a piece of fruit, and that other time where she said she knew I gained weight, and then of course, there’s the thing that she works from home, so you basically never have any time by yourself. There were challenges for sure, but Madame Saintoin and I are, for the most part, a perfect match as student and hostess.
Let me tell you a little bit about her.
At the moment, she’s a psychoanalyst working from home. But before that, she was a history professor at the Sorbonne, which explains why her library is extensive and antique. In total, she has five degrees. She was born into a bourgeois French family in Lyon. While doing her collegiate studies in Paris, she met Monsieur Saintoin, a wealthy man who grew up here in Neuilly, descendant of 18th century aristocracy on his mother’s side, and new business wealth on his father’s side.
Host Mom’s apartment is THE French apartment. Portraits of nobility related to her and her husband adorn the walls, her furniture is immaculate and antique, from what seems like 19th and 18th century decor, you can see the Eiffel tower from her living room window, her scarf collection takes up two full drawers in her tiny French dresser, her piano has been handed down from generation to generation of Saintoins, her kitchen is never EVER without bread, her refrigerator houses 5 or more different types of cheese at ANY given time during the week, and she makes eclairs from scratch like it’s nothing.
Umm, yeah. I could go on, but that pretty much covers the basics of my host mother.
When we first met, she was kind of cold toward me, which was off-putting at first, but then she later told me the story of her last student, who was out partying every night, refused to eat Madame Saintoin’s food, never spoke to her in French (which is a problem because Madame Saintoin speaks German and French, not English), never gave her a thank you present, disrespected her children, and refused to spend time with her. When she told me this, I was SHOCKED. I mean, okay, she’s a little quirky, very silly after a few glasses of wine, and has a lisp, but what the heck? I was so confused!
Host Mom and I have talked for HOURS about culture, history, and music. As a pianist herself and a lover of music, she has given me concert tickets, sheet music she doesn’t need, and opinions on the music I’ve sung and played.
Her generosity is also more than I deserve - she’s invited me to dinners above and beyond the contract of IES’s housing, allowed me to take fruit (most of the time) during the day, and when she cleaned out her closet in the middle of the semester, she gave me a Chanel make-up bag and a beautiful, thick warm winter scarf, neither of which she “needed” anymore!
To make her even more wonderful, she’s highly complimentary of me. Every time she introduced me to company, she said, “C’est Katherine, l’étudiante américaine la plus charmante et la plus belle!” (This is Katherine, the most charming and beautiful American student!) When I first came to Paris, and she found out I didn’t have a boyfriend, she said, “This, I don’t understand. You’re so pretty and smart and talented! Well, Prince Charming should be coming along any day now!” She even introduced me to a nice family in Neuilly who needed an English baby-sitter so that I could make some money on the side, because “La vie à Paris est trop cher.” (Life in Paris is too expensive.)
Yes, I’m blessed.
At our last dinner tonight, she said that her apartment is open to me any time I’m in Paris again, and as she said, “You MUST return, this city is yours.” She’s given me advice on pretty much everything, and even helped me a little with my French studies. She’s the one who suggested the little hairdresser in Neuilly where I first got my hair cut short, and when I said I knew her, they gave me a discount.
And here’s the thing she said at dinner that really made me think. We started talking about Franco-American relations (a heated, rather complicated topic in any language). Madame Saintoin’s sister lives mostly in the United States and her children are American citizens. Host Mom’s children all speak English and go to the states often for business and finance. She’s been there several times herself, all up and down the eastern seaboard, in Michigan, in California, and Texas. With these experiences as well as the fact that she’s a historian, she understands American culture very well. Here’s what she said (and forgive me, but it’s not a word for word translation, but the best I could do, and from what I remember):
“Americans see French culture as cold only because they don’t understand us. Yes, we’re proud, but we’ve a right to be proud! We’ve done some amazing things with the people we’ve been given and their talents. Yes, we’ve made a lot of mistakes. Yes, we have our problems, and it’s true we aren’t as open to making friendships and meeting new people as Americans are. But we’ve a right to be distrustful. Anyone who studies our history knows that. Of course, there are French people who hate Americans for all the wrong reasons, too, I won’t try to deny that. But our cultures have so much to offer each other, and both are very powerful and important in this world. Instead of fighting and putting each other down, we should appreciate each other for who we are right now instead of picking apart each other’s culture and getting mad at each other for not knowing the language fluently. It’s stupid and it wastes time. There are so many other things in this world we could focus our energy on. I hope you can return to the United States with this in mind: French people are wonderful, but so are Americans. But we can’t respect each other if we don’t get past this miscommunication.”
And that, people, is why I love her the most. She summed up all my frustrations with American culture and Americans’ misunderstand of the beauty of France.
That is all. :)
I’m surprised I haven’t actually talked about this in a different blog post. It’s surprising because my host mother is a traditional French woman who loves cooking, having people over for dinner, and eating. This is true of most French people and emphasizes what is called the “French Paradox”, in which French people eat wonderful amounts of really good food, but don’t get fat. Host mom is about 5.4 and skinny as a rail, as are most of her friends. Her daughters are about my size, with the older one being smaller like her mother, and her sons are not fat by any means. All this said, let’s talk about the food. :)
The typical French dinner, formal or informal, goes a little something like this: (p.s. they eat between 7 and 9 p.m.)
- Entrée or First Course. This can be any number of things, but chez Saintoin (at host mom’s house) it’s usually some kind of thicker soup - squash is her favorite. She also loves avocados and serves them with a delicious olive-oil dressing. At the end of this course, if there’s any sauce or soup left over, you don’t let it go to waste. You get it up with bread. GENIUS, I know. We don’t think about that in the states (or at least, my family doesn’t, since we don’t value tasty food that much).
- Plat Principal or Second Course. This consists of some kind of protein and starch. Simple. Yet the deliciousness is all in the details. My host mom says that it’s all about the kind of food that you buy - if you buy the cheapest stuff out there, it’s not going to taste good, so buying fish that you know is fresh, chicken that comes from a good farm, etc., really makes a difference. She’s very conscious of the way she flavors things and her spice cabinet is FULL of awesomeness! She also almost always keeps fresh chives and thyme around. And usually, the starch has cheese of some kind on it, and/or has lots of butter in the cooking. To quote Julia Childs, “Butter, butter, butter!” is one of the main secrets to French cooking. But it’s not just any butter. This is French butter, which, if I’m being honest, is smoother than American butter, and cooks better. Typically, my host mom has beef once a week. This is actually not common for French people; they LOVE their meat, sometimes a little too much! There’s a fabulous traditional French plat principal called pot au feu which is basically a meat stew with vegetables that’s steamed for a long time with spices. It’s absolutely fantastic.
- Cheese and Fruit. After the main course, my host mother ALWAYS brings out a plate full of different types of cheese, and cuts some more pieces from the baguette we share at dinner. I’m convinced that if you’re not a cheese fan, all you have to do is come to France. It’s just as amazing as they say it is. My host mom actually keeps a giant tupperware container of about 10-15 types of cheeses in the refrigerator. It’s awesome. And they never skip this, either. Fruit is, as my host mother put it, “Cleansing the palate” after you’ve had a rich first 2 courses. Her favorites are clementines.
- Dessert. This part is optional, and usually host mom just serves it when there’s company around, but when she DOES serve it…aaah French desserts are just as amazing as the rest of their food, if not more so! My host mother makes eclairs from scratch (again, not the norm), as well as moelleux chocolat which is a type of cake, and she also loves making coffee cakes, typically with almonds.
- Bread. This isn’t a course… it’s just THERE throughout the meal. French people put their bread on the table - why would you SPOIL good bread by putting it on a plate? Unless it’s super crusty, French bread doesn’t typically leave crumbs, so it just makes more sense to leave it off the plate. It’s a staple of the meal. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten with my host mom, her family, or other French people without bread. This holds true in restaurants as well.
The typical French breakfast consists of:
- Coffee. COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE, the French, like most Europeans, cannot get enough of it. And it’s STRONG. Man, that first week I was here, I used a ton of sugar in my coffee!
- Bread, butter, and jam. This took a little while getting used to, since, like most Americans, I love my cereal. But now I don’t miss it at all. The bread is always soft (or lightly toasted), the butter is always delicious, and the jam - my favorite is wild blueberry - is super noms as well.
- Fruit. As well as fruit juice. Usually a banana and orange juice for me. (Funnily enough, after my host mom found out I was from Florida, she started buying only Tropicana products. Aww, host mom! Cute.)
And lunch, which is not as important, but still a part of the day:
- A sandwich (crudités from the boulangeries are pretty common - it’s a baguette sliced down the middle and filled with lettuce, tomatoes, eggs, a protein, and some kind of light dressing), or, if you’re at home, pasta or rice.
- Vegetables or fruit.
- ESPRESSO. Again it depends on the family, but my host mother doesn’t believe in naps. Every time I get tired in the afternoon she shoves some espresso in my face and tells me to drink up. I’m a pansy, though, I drink it with milk and sugar, so really it’s just excruciatingly strong café crème. The afternoons are when you’ll find the cafés PACKED; the culture of the café here in France is exceptional, and almost everyone goes to get coffee or espresso in the afternoon/early evening.
So, there you have it. The typical French meal. Surprisingly, (it depends on where you go) I don’t find the portions to be that small (and the 5-7 pounds I’ve gained here in Paris just PROVES this theory!), but everything is delicious and it’s a well balanced meal. I’m going to miss it a ton when I leave!! (And then try to recreate it as much as possible in the campus center…)
I’m hopefully doing some fun stuff this weekend, but also mostly studying for exams. I will post another about my adventures, with pictures of Paris at Christmastime!
three-months-in-paris asked: What's this "ask" thing? Umm...when did the jazz night end? I had to leave early.
Lol I’m confused too! Ha. It ended around midnight. It was so great! I loved it!
Well everyone, I’ve just returned from a great little bar here in Paris, the Swan Bar, where I listened to a night of jazz standards and classics from France and the United States sung by one of the staff members at IES abroad, my program. I was among many American students who came, as well as many staff and faculty members from IES, their French friends, Jen (the singer)’s friends and family, and of course the crowd of regular French people who frequent the bar.
To put it simply, I fall more and more in love with Paris each and every day. Tonight was no exception.
While Jen presented and spoke about most of her songs in French, because she’s American and first learned how to sing jazz/musical theater back in the states, many of her favorite songs are American classics, so she sung many beautiful songs from the eras of Judy Garland and Cyd Charisse all the way up to the jazz hits of today. But, as most of the Americans in the bar, she is a Francophile, so she sung several hits from Edith Piaf and Serge Gainsbourg as well as songs from French classic films like Les Parapluies de Cherbourg.
Several times throughout the night, she sung French songs that everyone knows - from La Vie en Rose to J’Attendrai and Les Feuilles Mortes - so many of the French people sung and clapped along. Then, she sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic and New York, New York, to which we Americans sang along. All the while, French people looked at us while we were singing and we looked at them. For a night, there was no judgement between us. As most people there were bilingual speakers of French and English, we understood the lyrics of the songs, we understood humor in both languages, and we appreciated each other’s cultures for what they have been, what they have become, and what they will be in the future.
It was a beautiful, beautiful moment of understanding.
Despite all our differences, and all the challenges we’ve had to face as nations for the past 300 years of our coexistence, we’ve managed to remain friends: politically and socially. We’ve both had our problems. Undoubtedly, France is far more refined and has perfected the art of being, well France, while we in the U.S. are far more rugged and are still working out our culture. Yes, French women would never be caught dead in sweatpants. Yes, Americans are confused as to why French people smoke obscenely even though they know it’s bad. Yes, France values art and high culture far more than the art of war (I’m talking mostly to my father here - Dad, they don’t CARE that they’ve “lost wars” since the 1800s; they’ve retained and added to their culture and that’s all they care about).
French people still love Thomas Jefferson. Americans (shout out to my best friend here) still admire Napoleon. Wisconsin adds to France’s cheese reputation. California’s wine can compete on France’s wine level. And Edith Piaf can be friends with Duke Ellington.
Our cultures are extremely diverse. But what matters in the end is that we can come together, despite ignorance and language barriers, and love the same things: wine, song, and dance. And that, my friends, is why we get along.
This is me, accepting the fact that I’m American. This is me, accepting the fact that I’m a Francophilian American. I’m not alone, and in fact, I’m a very, very lucky girl, to love two cultures as much as I do.
Here are pictures from my wonderful trip to Vienna! Enjoy them, I certainly loved my voyage!
Well, I have returned from my wonderfully extra-long weekend in Vienna, Austria! Despite some faux pas getting to and from airports (you would think that Charles de Gaulle and the Viennese airport would have better labels and means of transportation to get into their cities!), I had a wonderful time and caught up with a good friend of mine from Lawrence, Anna.
Let me preface this with the following statement: I have never felt so useless in all my life! Explanation? I KNEW going into it that they speak GERMAN in Austria, not English or French, so things would be awkward, but let’s be real, I’m so used to traveling in Francophone countries or places where they speak French and all the signs are in French, I’ve not had a problem. La-dee-dah, I’m great at this whole European traveling thing. Right? WRONG. I had to basically use gestures and attempt some “danke”s and “bitte”s to get around. *head desk* Thank goodness I didn’t go alone and met up with Anna, or else there’s no way I would have survived!
While in Vienna, I saw pretty much all the Imperial Palaces from the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s hey-day (and let’s be real, there are A TON!). From the Schonbrunn to the Hofburg and everything in between, it was great to see a style of European castle/palace that was not French, and made for an interesting evaluation of European culture. It’s difficult to describe the differences in style, but Vienna is almost as Eastern European as it is Austrian, so the blend of those two cultures, plus German culture, of course, was very interesting to see and quite evident in the architecture of the city. Unlike Paris, where most buildings are in the 19th century style and all pretty much match, the buildings in Vienna are all different shapes, sorts, colors and sizes. I will definitely post pictures so you can see them!
Anna and I checked out the sights of Vienna with two of her room mates. As it’s the first weekend of Advent, the first thing on our list was the Christmas Markets! As a German tradition that’s now spread throughout Europe, Europeans LOVE Christmas, and everything that goes with it! A Christmas Market is like a regular market, only the stalls are all red or green or look like gingerbread houses, decked out in Christmas frills, and sell wonderful wintery goods for very low prices! The traditional Viennese Christmas drink is “punsch”, consisting of warm rum and fruit juice, mixed with spices. It might not sound good, but oh my heavens was it delicious! It’s perfect for when you’re strolling around the Christmas markets, as you have a nice warm mug in your hand and deliciousness in your stomach. :)
There is a really unique museum in Vienna called “Haus der Musik” (Music House), which is an interactive journey through scientific discoveries and opinions on sound. In it, you could record your own voice and sound waves, virtually conduct the Vienna Philharmonic, compose a waltz, and sit down next to a talking wax figure of Mozart. It was by far one of the coolest things I have ever seen, and definitely on par with the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels!
We saw several Christmas markets on Saturday, as well as Stephansdom, the most famous church in Vienna, where, from the top of the tower, you can see this beautiful city all lit up at night. It was wonderful, despite the 343 winding steps it took to get to the belltower! We also stopped by Karlskirke, the second famous church in Vienna, which is very distinctive thanks to its original architecture (no lie, it looked almost Middle Eastern). (Again, pictures to come!)
Outside of Anna’s apartment, there is this amazing Viennese phenomenon called the Nachtmarkt - a GIANT market with everything from fresh produce and street food to actual shops and restaurants! You can pretty much get anything you could possibly need from this place, and it all smells so wonderfully delicious!
On Sunday, as most things are closed, we went to a concert of the Vienna Philharmonic in the morning. It was my first JUST orchestral concert, and it was MAGNIFICENT. The first piece was modern, i.e. I didn’t like it at all, but they also performed one of Bartok’s symphonies, and it was absolutely breath-taking. And how much were the tickets? Five euros!!! Insane! I love Paris, but there’s no WAY you could go see an orchestra of such perfection for so cheap! After a nice long lunch, we went to the Volksoper and saw Richard Strauss’s Salome for *drum roll please* THREE EUROS! AND we got a really good seat! I couldn’t believe it! Like the orchestra, the opera was just wonderful and exceeded any and all expectations I had for Strauss (I like him better than Wagner, but as most of you know, I don’t like German things or styles in general…).
On Monday, after Anna’s classes, she showed me around Vienna (which was, I must admit, my favorite part - I love seeing cities through the eyes of those who live there!), and we checked out these interesting houses called Hundertwasser Krawinahaus. What makes them unique is EVERYTHING, but more specifically, if you can imagine Dr. Seuss as an architect, that’s exactly what these houses looked like. Four or five stories high, they’re painted bright and crazy colors with sloping roofs, windows, and doors, strange art works dangling off them, and pillars that look like they’re from Whoville. It was really cool, and helped define Viennese modern style: like the Parisians, they respect the past but look forward to and revere the future.
Lastly, for dinner I had a “belegte Brotel”, which was an open sandwich of sausage, mustard and ketchup on a thick wheat, Austria roll. Not exactly the lightness of a crepe or French food that I’m used to, but according to Anna, a specialty they ONLY make in Vienna (outside of Wiener Schnitzel, but that’s really easy and you can do it yourself - pound out some meat, bread it, and fry it, there you go!). The simplicity and heartiness of the food caught me off guard, but it was indeed delicious!
I’ll post pictures soon! It was nice to get out of the French immersion I’ve been experiencing these past few months and experience a culture that is truly France’s inverse in many ways.
I can’t believe my program only has 2 weeks left. It’s insane. I’m so happy my family is coming here for Christmas so I can show them the love of my life and spend some more time with her. :)
I think there is a time in every person’s life when they realize the beauty in this world, in other people, and in themselves. I am happy to report that Paris has given me many amazing things, but chief among them is this: my name is Katie (or Katherine, in French). I know who I am, I know what I love, and I am here on this earth to live to the fullest in the best way I know how.
More specifically, this moment happened last evening, at a traditional French ball. It was one of the most wonderful and life-changing evenings of my life. It took place in a “maison” where French aristocrats once lived and once held soirées of their own. It was a beautiful and formal affair, where I was one of many young people out after a long week, wanting to relax and let loose a little (within societal bounds).
The tradition of French social dance is very much alive today. Here at the ball, French people dance the waltz and a kind of French, upbeat swing dance called “the rock”. Every young man there knew how to dance le rock very well, and about half were decent at the waltz. But I digress.
I was asked to dance by over a dozen attractive, young French men who were excellent leads, chivalrous, kind, and funny. Last night was the first time I realized that I am a relatively attractive, funny and talented young lady with the world at my feet. And what a beautiful feeling it was!
Now, to discuss the rest of my weekend. :)
On Wednesday evening, I went to see a French comedy-musical-can-can-revue called “La Sublime Revanche”. I won this ticket for answering the question, “Who was the original composer of the French can-can?” Easiest. Question. Ever! Jacques Offenbach! Thanks to my musical know-how, the show was the third I’ve been to for free! :D It was great! I suppose in the states, we would call it more of a variety show, as it featured comedians, song and dance in the style of Broadway, the can-can, and a little history about the troupe. All in all it was hilarious and I needed the break in my week!
On Thursday, I saw La Forza del Destino at Opéra Bastille, put on by the Paris Opera (of course!) with my friend Dana. Like the ballet, it was absolute PERFECTION. Everything about the production was flawless, entrancing, and just spectacular. Never have 3.5 hours of my life gone by so fast! When it was over, I wanted more! The orchestra, conductor, singers, stage - it was all breathtakingly beautiful.
As a sidenote, Opéra Bastille is a very interesting place. The complete opposite of Opéra Garnier, it’s on the other side of Paris, right next to the monument to the Bastille from the 18th century. The Opéra is a very interesting looking building - it’s like modern art. While an amazing concert hall with fabulous acoustics, I found the juxtaposition of sharp glass windows and angular construction against the historical significance of the Bastille to be rather shocking! But that’s France for you, I suppose, mixing the traditional with the avant-garde.
And then of course, Friday evening was the ball. :)
On Saturday, after sleeping half the day away (the ball began at 9 p.m. and went until 4:30 a.m…. I stayed the whole time, dancing the night away!), I discovered a cute little quariter in Paris called La Butte aux Cailles for a class assignment (this is why I love study abroad - my homework is exploring Paris. WIN). It’s absolutely adorable! They were putting up Christmas decorations, there was a giant and beautiful fresh produce market, a great boulangerie with amazing almond/coconut croissants, a café with amazing cappuccinos, and a quirky little restaurant, Chez Les Filles, with prices adequate enough for a poor college student and food that was just delicious.
Sunday, my designated homework day, began with a bang! I’ve been meaning to go to the Gregorian Latin Mass at Notre Dame, and finally I made it out! I LOVED IT. It was just extraordinary. I was reading 12th century neumes (from the ORIGINAL NOTRE DAME SCHOOL!!! EEEEK!! okay… musicological geek moment over…) like a pro. :D
So that was my amazing weekend in Paris. It’s the best weekend I’ve had so far, because, unlike all other weekends where I discovered Paris, this weekend Paris helped me discover, well, ME. This city has changed my life in so many positive ways, it’s hard to believe.
À toute à l’heure!