Tuesday, April 17, 2007


The past month has been a whirlwind of vacation, visitors, traveling, and tourism. In 30 days I have taken 14 trains, stayed in 13 different hotels, and seen 21 different cities (in 3 different countries).

It started with Sumner's visit...

We had quite the adventure, traipsing about France! We spent the first weekend in Paris, seeing the sights and attempting to stay warm and dry despite the rain. On Sunday we left for Nantes and a bit of reality – or as much reality as you can call studying abroad in France! I went to class and took two exams while Sumner slept and entertained himself on the tram, in the library, and at our abroad center. He even ventured out and found lunch for us all on his own one afternoon! He got to meet my host family – quite an experience given they spoke no English to him! But he whipped out his 11th grade French and managed just fine. It was fun to finally show someone my life here first hand. On Thursday, we were headed back to Paris. This time for a mini-Cornell reunion. There must have been about eight or so of us at least! It was the most bizarre thing, but so fun and such a welcome taste of home. Sumner and I found time to do it all: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysee, the Concorde, the Bastille (or… what’s left of it!), Jeu de Paume, the Tuilleries Gardens, the Latin Quarter, the Marais, the Notre Dame, the Bateaux Mouches, the Louvre (although we didn’t actually go inside…), the Orsay, the Pompidou (again, not inside… but Sumner did participate – in a hysterical little sidewalk skit out front – as a motorcycle riding, numb-chuck throwing, Japanese lover!), the Sacre Coeur & the Moulin Rouge, Versailles, and Saint-Denis (duh, to see the tombs of all the kings of france, including the box that holds the heart of Louis XIV!). Sumner was a champ with the jet-lag and kept me entertained the whole time with tales of kings and wars and all sorts of fascinating historical tidbits :) Sunday came faster than we could have ever imagined and in the blink of an eye we were at the airport again saying goodbye.

Four days after that (four days of class and re-packing!) I was headed to Paris again, this time to meet up with the Griswold clan. Mom, Dad, and Ben showed up in Paris with a van filled with suitcases (I’ll admit, at least one of them was for me!) and looking like zombies. The next 12 days were filled with adventures and craziness… Paris to Rouen to Honfleur to Caen to Arromanches to Mount St. Michel to St. Malo to Dinan to Nantes to Tours to Villandry to Orleans to Versailles. Phew! There’s so much I could say about those days, but I’ll limit myself to just a few...

The Mallare's Do France – Top Five Griswaldian Moments

#5 – I booked almost every hotel we stayed in… except in Dinan. Dad gets to take all the credit for that one. Our room was at the end of a long narrow alley, surrounded by graffiti covered walls. The room was just large enough for three beds – a full and two twins. The bathroom was hardly big enough for the tub. There was however a lovely vase on top of the 6” TV filled with dusty silk flowers from the dollar store. Oh, and two teeny hanging pictures of ducks. Did I mention the lock-down kitchen? It was in the corner… literally, locked down – almost like a closed vendors stand – with a metal sliding door pulled down over it. Needless to say, if the alley weren’t so sketchy, we would’ve made dad sleep outside in the doghouse.

#4 – We never did quite figure out the toilets. There was the one that spun around after you flushed (mom was very frighted by this) and also the one that sounded like a large barking dog when you flushed (dad said something about flushing upwards…?). But by far the best was the toilet in St. Malo. You had to pay to use it – 30 cents. We tried the first door but it took our money without letting us in. So, we tried the next. Mom and I went in together in an attempt to save money (as if dad’s hotel wasn’t enough…) and just as I went to sit down, the toilet seat went down. Almost as if it were possessed. Honestly, I hadn’t even noticed it was up in the first place! So mom and I finish up but can’t for the life of us figure out how to flush. Whatever, we said. We go to the door and let dad in (that’s 30 more cents saved, you know). And no sooner does the door click shut when we hear the loudest sound of gushing water followed by the sound of Dad screaming. Mom and I frantically tried to open the door, but with no money, we were helpless. Personally, I figured dad had tried to flush the toilet by unscrewing some valve and now the bathroom was flooding! After a few seconds dad comes to the door. His look says it all. As do his soaking wet pant legs. Turns out it was an automatic cleaning bathroom. Dad described it as: water gushing out of the walls.

#3 – The entire driving experience was quite the… adventure. First of all, we couldn’t go anywhere without being noticed because we were sporting a huge diesel minivan that towered over all of the teeny European cars. Secondly, we’re still not quite sure what half of the road signs mean! The day we went to get the car we walked into the rental office only to be told that dad needed to have his passport. I tried my hardest to explain to the man that we could bring it back to him after he gave us the car, but he wasn’t falling for it. So dad and I went on a 90 minute trek – walking to the metro, waiting for the metro, on the metro, switching metros, on the metro again, walking to the hotel, finding the passport… and then back again. When we finally got the car it was filled with dirt and trash and peanut shells (or were they pistachio?). I asked the man if we could vacuum it out but he told me it was too much trouble to get the vacuum out. Just go before we can’t anymore, I told dad. We spent over an hour going the less than 5 miles back to the hotel. Who knows how many times we circled the same roads looking for one that wasn’t one way in the wrong direction! We finally got there, loaded up the car and headed for anywhere but here. Unfortunately, within a few minutes we found ourselves in the middle of a “pieton”: pedestrian only zone. I have no idea how we got in there and am still amazed at how adeptly dad reversed his way all the way out. I could go on, but needless to say, I’m happy to be back to public transportation!

#2 – As soon as we got out of Paris, we had to stop to fill up on gas. Man oh man. Having never been to a French gas station, I wasn’t much help. Dad seemed to handle it just fine, or so we thought. But then, as we’re driving down the road he asks me what the word for diesel is in French. We're still not quite sure what he put in back there… And then, a few miles further down the road, Dad gasps.

Oh no, he says


I never paid.

You never paid?

I never paid for the gas.

You never paid for the gas!?!

No, I never paid for the gas.

While everyone watched out the back window for the cops that we were convinced would be behind us in any minute, I found the number for the gas station of the receipt for my water bottle and called them up. In French, I tried to explain that we were the people who had just gotten gas at pump 3 but forgot to pay. I asked if I could give him a credit card number over the phone. He said no, it was better if I just came back. I said, sorry sir, but there’s no way we can do that… we barely found our way out of there and there’s no way we can get back! He said, ok. I said ok. And then we hung up! Dad, of course, spent the next few days worrying over his transgression and having nightmares about being arrested at customs on his way home. Luckily he made it home just fine and there’s been no word on the stolen diesel (or was it unleaded?!).

#1 – The number one griswaldian moment… Friday morning. We were getting ready to head out of Nantes towards Tours. Over half way through the trip, we all had a lot of dirty laundry. So, we found a little “laverie” where we could wash our clothes. We had no detergent and no change… a situation which took an hour or so and several trips to the Tabac to try and get coins to remedy. We finally got the wash going and then transferred it all into one dryer. We were at this point exhausted and more than a little irritable, so we headed around the corner to grab lunch. We came back 45 minutes later to pack everything up and head out of town. I walked in first. I promptly turned around, and emotionlessly reported, “And, it’s all gone.” That’s right. All of it. Gone. Not there. An entire dryer filled to the brim with all of our clothes - gone. Luckily mom and I hadn’t put anything special in... unfortunately Ben and Dad couldn’t have said the same. Everyone had enough left to get by… although I did lose over half of my underwear and am now waiting on mom to send more from home! We still don’t know what exactly happened, except that while we were gone someone took our laundry. I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for Dad’s jacket or ben’s jeans and button downs or my undies… but I haven’t stumbled upon them yet. I’m not really quite sure what I’d even do if I ever did...

So there you have it… I could go on, of course, about the number of times we ordered food and got something other than what we were expected, about how ben ate steak tartare, about when the bird pooped on me, about ben’s nightly staring contests with the unabashed French women in every restaurant, about sharing one hotel room and one bath (that’s bathtub – as in no shower) with four people for eight nights in a row…

Despite it all, I was happy to have my family in France… even if I’m pretty sure they’ll never come back again!

As they were headed for the airport, I was on my way to the south of France. Honest, there’s not much to say except that it was beautiful and relaxing. I was with two good friends from my program, and all three of us were exhausted from traveling. And so, we spent a fair amount of time just lazing about, sitting in cafes, watching movies, sitting by the beach, reading, journaling, chatting, eating, sleeping in, and going to bed early. We saw almost all of the Riviera – Nice, Eze, Monaco, Menton, Ventemiglia (a small Italian town right on the border!), and Antibes. We spent the last weekend wandering around the streets of Aix-en-Provence and finally on Sunday got on a train for home.

And so, I’m back in Nantes now. Five weeks left until I head home. Five weeks to make up for the month of vacation I just took! All of that sleeping and traveling and relaxing is quickly being replaced with lectures, papers, and exams.

Not that I’m complaining or anything :)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Bonjour Paris!

Last week, during winter break, I visited Paris for the first time. It was quite the experience… five days of sight-seeing and LOTS of walking. I left Nantes at 7am Thursday morning (meaning I woke up before 6 to get ready and get to the train station in time!) and arrived a little after 9. I spent the morning exploring Paris by metro and on foot. My first metro ride was quite the adventure… I realized as soon as we started moving that I was headed in the wrong direction. But at the subsequent stations, nobody got on or off… and I didn’t want to be the only one! (I think the logic was something along the lines of… I don’t know where I am and this might be a bad area?). So three or four stops later, we got to a station that was slightly more crowded and so I dared to get off… just to get back on in the opposite direction :) The metro and I are friends now – albeit I still have to look at the map each time (‘cause there are 14+ lines!). Once I emerged from the underground, I was at the Arc de Triomphe. I spent the morning exploring… le Champs Elysee, le Seine, le Palais des Invalides, le Tour Eiffel. I must’ve walked for 4 hours straight… but there was plenty to see and I didn’t want to waste any time! But by mid-afternoon, I was beat, and so for the first (of many!) time, I found a little café and sat to drink some “chocolat chaud” and read... which often turned into people watching about half way through the page! Later that first day, I met up with my friend Emily (from Cornell… who is in Paris studying for the semester). I stayed with her until Monday night, and we spent the days traipsing about Paris. I don’t think I could possibly explain everything we did, which includes Centre Pompidou, Louvre, Tulleries, Sacre Coeur, Palais de Tokyo, so I’ll suffice with sharing a few fun stories from the trip…

The first night we were there, we met up with some French friends of Emily’s to go out for the night. They ended up taking us to this bar/club/place that was quite the experience: it was in an apartment building, and you never would’ve known it was there from the outside. There was simply a man in a suit at the door and you walked up to him and told him the password and he let you in. You walked up a flight of stairs and into an apartment. It seemed like a small club, you gave your coat at the door, paid admission, and got a ticket. Usually the tickets are for a free drink at the bar… but I went over and handed over mine only to receive a small plate with two potato wedges and a dollop of cream. Um… ok. Turns out the drinks were 14euros. Hah. Anyways, there was one big room, in which there were a handful of tables. Maybe 30 people there, tops. And so, we sat down, and within a few minutes, someone started playing the piano (did I mention there was a grand piano in the room?) and then somebody started singing… well, not just somebody: a black man, with an afro, wearing a black blazer with gigantic yellow and white daisies. And he wasn’t just singing any songs… he was singing American Broadway show tunes. Except, he didn’t really speak English… so he kept mixing up the words! (and way above the chimney stops, that’s where you’ll find me) Again, um… ok. The clientele was an interesting bunch… a lot of well-dressed young adults (but then again, practically everyone is well-dressed in Paris at all times… seriously, don’t even think about going out unless you’ve spent an hour coiffing. Unless you like being glared at!) There was also a man wearing a sheet as a toga. Yeah. It was really quite the experience, this private club... and Emily assured me that this was an exceptionally bizarre night, even for her!

Em & I also got a personal tour of Montmatre (the quartier around the Sacre Coeur) from a French friend of hers… quite the treat! He lives in Montmartre, and so he knew all of the little unknown sites and where to find all of the best views. He took us to the smallest street in Paris. And we saw the witch rock. And the studio that burned down. And the little vineyard right in the middle of town. And the perfect view of the Eiffel tower through two buildings. And the man walking through the wall. And where the other man walked after he got his head cut off. So many things Em & I would’ve never found or even known about on our own!

We ate with Em’s host parents one night… also quite the experience. Her host mom made me laugh – eating hardly nothing and smoking non-stop. Her host dad talked with… err, at… Em & I for about an hour after the meal about politics and globalization and socialism. Oh Parisians :)

So, Paris and I are friends now. I said ‘au revoir’ on Monday afternoon and headed back for Nantes. Never was I happier to be back where I can walk from home to class in 10 minutes, where there are only 3 tram lines – and I almost always can get a seat, where nobody speaks English, and where I have a ‘family’ and friends, and especially where I have my own bed. Paris is fun, but Nantes is home.

I wish I could write more… but these days have becoming more and more jam-packed. This weekend I visited Normandy with IES (I’ll write about this and post pictures later!) and this week starts mid-terms. Ick. I’ve never even written a timed essay in English… and now I have to do it in French! This might be interesting!!

Sumner comes to visit in 10 days.

Ho’mack :)

And my family two weeks after that. And then to the Cote d’Azur for spring break. So… it’s getting crazy, you see! And once everything settles down again, I’ll only have 6 weeks left here. I don’t even know how that’s possible!

Oh, and you should know, as of Thursday, my bathroom/tub/shower was finally in working order again :)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Today, I finally went to see the doctor. I’ve been sick for a week now… and actually, my trip to the doctor’s office today was probably the most pleasant experience I’ve had since last weekend…

I arrived 5 minutes before my 5pm appointment. He (the doctor, that is) met me at the door, shook my hand, introduced himself, and showed me to the waiting room. I sat there, alone, for no more than 5 minutes (aka, until exactly 5:00) when he returned and showed me to his office. He was wearing a suit and tie. His office was clean if not sparse. He had a computer on his desk. We sat down and, in a mixture of French and English, we talked about my symptoms and their progression. He then showed me into an adjoining room where there was an exam table, sink, and not much else. He washed his hands and then proceeded with a typical examination – he did the whole thing himself, checked everything, even took my blood pressure. His diagnosis – you’re sick, but nothing serious. He prescribed me 3 different medicines, thoroughly explaining each one of them to me, washed his hands, and then we returned to his office again. He printed out two copies of my prescription, which was nice, because for once I could actually read the names of the drugs and how often I was to take them! We proceeded to have a lovely conversation about my host family and my time in France and what I would do when I went back home and about where I live and what my favorite US city is and where he’s visited in the US and he even asked me if I had a favorite building in NYC… his is the Trump Tower. He explained to me how a doctor’s visit works in France… you pay at the time of your visit (“21 million euros” he said, and then laughed and said, no, it’s really only 21… which is only about $28) Later, when I’m back in the states, I give my receipt to the insurance company to be reimbursed. If I were a French citizen, I would get 20 euros reimbursed from the government. And that’s it… he doesn’t get paid anything more!! I told him that he should come to the US and be a doctor there because they get a co-payment from each patient, plus more from the insurance companies. He laughed and said he should, and that then he could buy himself the Trump Towers. So, I paid him and he walked me to the door, re-emphasizing that I should call him with any questions or if I wasn’t better in 7 days, and then he sent me on my way. I then walked about 5 minutes to a pharmacy. I waited in line for a minute or two, and then showed my prescription to the pharmacist. While she entered my information into the computer, we chatted about my time in France, how my studies were going, and if I was finding it difficult or not. She then retrieved my medicine and printed my receipt (again, to be reimbursed by insurance later). I paid 13 euros (~$17) for ibuprofen, an antibiotic, and nosespray. And with that, I walked out the door. I glanced at my watch as I headed for home: 5:35pm.

France: 1 ; US: 0.

So, anyways, this week has been one of sniffles and sleeping. Today was the first day in 8 that I made it through without taking a nap! I think I must’ve caught something last weekend…

Friday night we went to a birthday party for one of the IES students. A bunch of us met downtown to head over together… and I, being me, decided that I would delegate myself as navigator for the evening. Hah. After waiting for a tram for 20 minutes, we went one stop, only to realize that we were headed in the wrong direction. We then got off the tram and waited another 10 minutes for the tram heading in the right direction. When we got off the tram, I made sure to check the times for the tram for the rest of the night so that we wouldn’t miss the last one. I even repeated the times to about three other people in order to ensure that nobody would forget. The party was fun, but uneventful. When the time came, I rounded up the girls so that we could walk back to the tram stop in time for the last tram. It was raining outside, and I was the only one with an umbrella (thank you, Cornell… I will never leave home without again), so we ran most of the way. We got there with 5 minutes to spare, but the sign clearly said: Fin de service. As in… no more trams. How could it be!? I double-checked! We all remembered the time!! As I re-played the events from earlier, the light bulb went on: I had looked at the poster as I exited the tram… the poster for the tram that continued out of town, and not the poster for the tram returning downtown. The girls were gracious, although it was obviously my fault. I called a taxi and we stood, huddled under a tram awning, using my umbrella to block the wind, and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. I called back four times… each time to be told (I think… it was in French!) that I needed to wait longer. After over 40 minutes we could stand the cold no longer. I still am not quite sure why we didn’t just give up and go back to the party… I think we were all just exhausted and were holding out hope for a taxi to bring us home. But, no taxi came. So, one of the girls called a French friend who was at the party and begged him to come pick us up. He agreed (although, how could you resist 4 American girls begging you to take them for a ride in your car and offering to pay you handsomely for your services!) and dropped each of us of at our front doors. Needless to say, I was incredibly grateful… and incredibly soaked.

Saturday morning I woke up at 6am to head to Mont-St-Michel and St. Malo for the day with IES. It was a fabulous trip… I posted some of the pictures to the right. Mont-St-Michel was breathtaking… from afar and from within. And St. Malo was like an Ocean City mixed with a little Annapolis and with lots of European charm

However, just as we were walking along the ramparts of St. Malo, a tempest blew in. Using an umbrella was futile, and so, for the second time in 24 hours, I was completely soaked. The storm left almost as quickly as it came, and the sun came out again. It was still fun to walk through the town, squishy shoes and all. There’s a boardwalk-type area, with lots of games and rides… a couple of us girls bought some deep-friend dough sticks covered in powdered sugar and dipped in nutella. Incredible.

So, I arrived home, around 9pm, changed out of my damp clothes, and got into bed. But it was too late… Whatever sickness had found me had already dug in its heels. And so, after a week of sleeping and coughing and sneezing and sniffling and aching, here I sit, armed with my prescription drugs, ready to send this bug packing. I think I’ve had enough naps for one semester :)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

No-Class Thursdays

I love Thursday’s the best because, even though I have one class on Friday, Thursday feels like the beginning of the weekend. Right now it’s Wednesday night and I’m planning on staying up as late as I feel like and not setting an alarm for tomorrow. It’s going to be lovely :) Tomorrow I might go for a run, read a newspaper, watch a movie, eat a chocolate-filled croissant, people-watch, shop, think, be. What I’m not doing is having another Thursday like the last…

It was a fine morning, afternoon, evening really. I did some work and working out and had dinner at a creperie with some friends. It wasn’t until Thursday night that things got a little crazy… it started at Donatien’s apartment. Donatien is a French engineering student who I met last week at conversation club (I can’t remember if I explained conversation club before or not… it’s run by my abroad program and it’s for French students trying to learn English and American students trying to learn French). So anyways, I went to Donatien’s place with some other girls around 10pm on Thursday night. It was a small get-together – less than 10 of us – and we sat around just listening to music and chatting. It was nice actually… both to meet new people and to speak French with real French people :) At about 11:30 we left Donation’s and caught a tram downtown where we walked across the bridge to a club called Quai Ouest (pronounced: Kay West). This is like the mother-of-all dance clubs in Nantes. And apparently it’s also the place to be on Thursday nights... or so I’ve been told! The line to get in was out the door, and once you made it to the door you had to fork over 10 euros (~$13.50). I don’t know how students can afford that every week! Once we were inside, we checked our coats and purses and headed for the dance floor. The music selection in France never ceases to amaze me… from techno, to French rap, to Justin Timberlake, to 80’s music re-mixes. You never know what you’ll hear next! After about 3 hours of dancing – including dancing on several platforms around the dance floor (and being very careful not to fall off or bump someone else off!) – we got ready to leave. The club was still roaring at 3:30am, but one can only handle so much loudmusic-sketchyboys-spilleddrinks-smoky-sweaty-sticky-ness! We headed back towards downtown, back over the bridge, and wound up at a bar called VIP. I have no idea if it’s difficult to get into “VIP”, especially on a Thursday night at 3:30am, but one of the French guys we were with knew the owner so we had no problems. The bar was fun and almost sophisticated – a much older crowd than at Quai Ouest (but of course, when I say older, I mean 25!) You wouldn’t believe it until you see it, but the bars are actually still fairly crowded at that hour… and everyone is drinking and dancing and chatting, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Friday is rapidly approaching! I however, at this point, could think of nothing else. I finally made it home and I distinctly remember standing outside my apartment, searching for my keys, and looking at my phone scream: 5:30 AM. Holy moly. I slept for less than two hours before I woke up and dragged myself to class. 8:15am grammar class on Friday mornings. Whose idea was that!? I was basically a vegetable all of Friday… although, in my defense, I did find enough energy to run (and be elected) as president of our abroad program. But other than that, I barely functioned. I finally made it back home around 4:30 in the afternoon and fell into my bed (and asleep) within seconds. I slept until dinner, woke up just to eat, and promptly returned to my coma. Saturday wasn’t much better… I slept in, went on a walk, stopped by a cafe, and went to bed early. And by the time Sunday rolled around, I started to realize how much my work had piled up! I spent the majority of the next four days at my desk and in the library (which is only open until 7pm… oh if only the French could see the Cornellians asleep at 2am in the stacks, they’d realize what they’re missing!). It really hasn’t been until just now that I’ve been able to sit down and take a deep breath and realize that I’m staring at another Thursday! But like I said before, there’s no way I can handle another one like the last…

On Monday night I watched a debate with Nicolas Sarkozy,the leading French presidential candidate. Actually, it really wasn’t a debate – it was more of him answering questions that the audience (of only 100) posed him. He had no idea of what the questions would be beforehand and he had no notes in front of him. He spoke freely and confidently – not once did he seem flustered, even when the audience challenged him and, at times, even interrupted him. I was shocked at the audacity of those posing questions… they held nothing back and weren’t afraid to call Sarkozy out when he didn’t answer what they had asked. When I asked my host-mom about this, she told me it was a function of the French way – liberty, equality, and fraternity. I don’t know about these French, but I’d never dare talk to someone like that, let alone a politician who might be the president in a few months!! The French never cease to amaze me. Most of the topics of the “debate” were predictable – unemployment, homosexual marriage, social security, discrimination, the economy, relations with the US, etc. One topic that I thought was interesting – whether or not the work week should be lengthened from 35 to 40 hours and whether or not businesses should be allowed to be open on Sundays. Sarkozy’s response? If people want to work, then let them work. It’s their right to decide.

Monday was also my host-brother, Jean’s 16th birthday. Birthdays here (or at least this one!) aren’t nearly as exciting as at home. There was an apple crisp, with candles, and a rendition of “joyeux anniversaire” but no hoopla and no gifts. I gave Jean 2 cds I had burned for him… he gave me a huge hug and a kiss on the cheek. I think he likes me :)

Other things of late…

-The shower drama continues. I still feel the need to ask every time: “Can I please take my shower now, madame?” I just can’t bring myself to go into her room without permission! She says the tub will be fixed by February 13th… but I have my doubts.

-The cash I got at the airport has now run out. Tomorrow I will make my first trip to the atm. I have sworn off all shopping, despite the continuing “soldes” (did I mention that I bought another pair of shoes last week!?)

-My host family has taken to teasing me about being on a diet. I think this evolved somehow from me refusing to take second helpings of food one too many times. But I always eat everything, and often do take seconds, so I have no idea how they could think I’m on a diet!! But then again, I’m not sure the French know what dieting is… and since they think that all Americans are obese, I look all the more skinny to them.

-Today I bought a pen (yes, that’s ONE pen) for 2.90 euros. I then went to the pharmacy and bought a box of advil for 1.85 euros. There is something ridiculously wrong about that.

-My friend, Ruth, and I have taken to café hopping. We’re in the process of trying out all the cafés that are in the surrounding blocks of our abroad center in order to find the very best one :)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my goals for this semester and what I want to get out of this experience. There’s so much pressure in studying abroad, both from others and from myself – the expectation to have fun, to speak, to learn, to travel, to grow, to change, to discover, to mature, to explore, to have “the best semester ever”. Sometimes the stress of these pressures is debilitating. And so, I’ve decided that, for me, I’m going to let this semester be what it is, whatever it is.

I’m going to let it be challenging at times and lazy at others.

I’m going to let it be new friends as much as lonesome and homesick.

I’m going to let it be up and down, high and low, good and bad.

I’m going to let it be everything I imagined and nothing I expected.

I’m just going to let it be.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The honeymoon's over....

I've finished my first week of classes and am well into my second. You know how everyone says that studying abroad is so easy and fun and work-free... yeah, I think they were wrong. Or, maybe, they were talking about programs where you take classes in English? All I know is, I have a MOUNTAIN of reading to do and I read at the rate of 15 minutes per page in French. Also, I cannot listen and write in French at the same time... meaning that taking notes in any of my classes is practically impossible. So... yeah. Good thing these grades don't count for my gpa ;)

That being said, I haven't been so busy as to not have enough time to continue to take advantage of the "soldes" (which last only through next weekend). Or, maybe the soldes have continued to take advantage of me? All I can say is, I'm afraid to look at my bank account. I'm hoping it'll be winter here all semester because I'm not going to be able to afford spring clothes!!

My relationship with my host family has improved dramatically. Not that it was terrible in the first place, that's just to say that we've started to have actual conversations - about school, about politics, about france, about the US, about food, about shopping - where communication occurs in both directions. You don't know how fabulous 2-way communication feels until you go without! However, I still find that I am MUCH better at talking (albeit often in incomplete sentences), than I am at listening. Some things never change, no matter what language :)

Last Tuesday night we had our first "conversation club" - french students at the Nantes university (who are studying English) come to our abroad center - we spend half of the time talking in french and the other half in English. It's good practice, and nice to be, for a few minutes, the one who knows the language rather than the one who's butchering it.

On Friday night, a group of us went out for drinks and then to a discotheque (dance club) called "The Tower". You can hardly tell from the outside that there's anything inside... it's practically soundproof and there's not much fanfare surrounding the entrance. Just a line of people and a very scary looking body guard. I have no idea what he's looking for - he didn't stop me, but he stopped some people in front of me and sent them away. It's free to get in - if you can! There's a cute little window where you can check your coat and purse, and then you're ushered into this huge, two story hall. It's what you'd expect, I suppose - a bar, a stage, a dj, some chairs and tables around the perimeter. It was SO crowded and very smoky (too bad cigarettes won't be banned in clubs until 2008). The music was amusing - a lot of American songs (including a Grease medley, which the French LOVE!). The dancing was... scary at times? The french boys have no shame :) I accidentally made eye contact with some french guy, which to them, is all the invitation they need. His eyes locked onto me like a tractor beam and he pushed his way through the crowds to reach me. Our conversation:

Sketchy french boy: "Qu'est-ce que ca veut dire?" (what does that mean?)

Oblivious american girl: "Rien" (nothing)

sfb: "Rien? Non, vous me regardez. Est-ce que vous voulez dancer?" (Nothing? No, you looked at me. Do you want to dance?)

oag: "Non, merci. J'ai un petit ami." (No, thank you. I have a boyfriend.)

sfb: "Ou? Il n'est pas ici, non? J'ai une petite amie aussi." (Where? He is not here, is he? I have a girlfriend too.)

oag: --blank stare--

sfb: (realizing that I'm having trouble understanding him and desiring to test out his fabulous English speaking skills) "I can dance with you, I can kiss you, but I cannot make love to you."

Oh boy - I promptly reached for the nearest boy from our group of friends, gave him a big hug, and shoved him in the direction of my accoster. I'm not sure what he said... but he ended up with this guy's phone number. Something about a double date maybe?

Anyways, I don't think I got into bed until 3:30 that morning... and thus slept half of Saturday away. But it was worth it :) Saturday afternoon I went shopping a bit and then went out to dinner with some friends to Entrecote. It's a popular restaurant in France (a small chain - one in Paris, Lyon, and Marseilles, I believe) and the line for a table was out the door - I think we waited for an hour to sit down. But, the food was delicious and worth it. You don't really order... they serve only one thing: Salad, steak, and french fries. The steak is drenched in butter and served on a large platter for the whole table and the french fries are all-you-can-eat. And for dessert? Profiteroles :)

Sunday morning I got up early and went to mass with my host parents. Quite an interesting experience for me... I had enough background and vocabulary to follow the hymns and the reading (the verses about love... they're even more beautiful in French). However... the sermon... not so much. I honestly have not the slightest clue what he was talking about. I'm pretty sure I spent most of the time looking at the stained glass windows and at the people sitting around me. But I was glad I went... my host dad lead the hymns and it was fun to see him up front. Plus, Catholicism is a huge aspect of french culture and history, so I figure I should check it out firsthand!!

After church, we stopped by the boulangerie to pick up baguettes for the day. People in Nantes buy baguettes every single day. Every single day. At the boulangerie, there was also a man out front selling mussels (or was it clams?). My host mom said he's there every Sunday :)

Sunday brunch was delicious - especially nice I think because my mom's sister (my host aunt, if you will) was visiting from out of town. We had steak - cooked just on the outside and raw in the middle - and soup and salad and bread, of course. The bread troubles me at times - because it's so delicious and yet so nutritionally empty. My only protection is that in order to get more bread, you have to ask. Which means talking. In French. And sometimes, it's just easier to be quiet :)

A la prochaine semaine,

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sprechen-zie English, anyone!?!

When I was in middle school, my family went to Germany for two weeks on vacation. When we would walk through the cities, my little brother (10 years old at the time) would scream, “Sprechen-zie English, anyone?” I think that just about summarizes how I feel at the moment! This week has been… French-filled. Every day we’ve had orientation, grammar courses, information sessions, and tours… and all in French. Followed by evenings at home with my family, in French. TV in French. Music in French. Movies in French. Not to mention that English is forbidden at our abroad center.

Sprechen-zie English, anyone!?!

I mean, I love French. But sometimes, you just want to understand what people are saying! And you want to be able to express yourself clearly and quickly! I think the worst is at family dinners. There are times when everyone is talking – food in mouths – three conversations going on at once – French music playing in the background – and I just sit there, sometimes attempting to follow the banter, other times just laughing inside at the ridiculousness of the situation. I wish you could be a fly on the wall!! That being said, my inability to understand has humbled me quite a bit. I’m learning to listen. I’m learning to not be the center of attention. I’m learning to appreciate communication. I’m learning to be ok with not being perfect.

My week, although a bit stressful and overwhelming, helped me settle into life in Nantes. But I’m certainly ready to find a bit of normalcy now. Tomorrow I start classes – French grammar, French translation, microeconomics, France & the EU (another econ course), and French Government & Politics since 1958 (what happened in 1958, I don’t know yet!). My schedule is… interesting? I have 2 classes on Monday, 3 on Tuesday, 2 on Wednesday, NONE on Thursday, and only 1 on Friday. But I’m still taking 16 credits? I’m not sure how that works out… but I think* that one hour of class per week is equivalent to one credit?

*note: everything I say about life in France should be taken with a grain of salt – that grain of salt being that these are my interpretations of what has been told to me in French. So… yeah.

The French education system is still quite a mystery to me. For starters, it’s free. Well, not exactly free, something like 190euros each year. So, free. That changes everything really...

  • The campus is not especially attractive… not perfectly groomed for prospective suckers, err students.
  • The professors give lectures, give exams, and give grades… and that’s it. They don’t talk to students. They don’t advise. They don’t interact.
  • There’s no application process… if you pass the baccalaureate (a cumulative exam at the end of high school) then you can go.
  • Undergraduate degrees (called the “license” in French) require only 3 years. At the end of which, you can 1. find a job, 2. get your masters, or 3. apply to a professional program. But all of it’s free! Which is why, I presume, doctor’s aren’t paid as much here… they don’t have years and years of school loans to pay off!
  • The 3 undergraduate years are very specialized… you pick your major, and ALL of your courses are related to it. You can’t, even if you want to, take a variety of courses. If you choose history, all of your courses are history courses… if you choose literature, all of your courses are literature courses.

So yeah… fundamentally different from the U.S.! I’m looking forward to taking a course at the university (microeconomics) and seeing these difference first hand.

Now, for the most recent drama in my French life: the shower. Who would’ve thought it could cause so many problems!? First of all, in general, French showers are different from American showers. The showerhead is attached to a long cord and not to the wall. It took me 5 days to realize that it can be attached to the wall… I just thought that white bar was… decoration? So, needless to say, there were several days where I had the most interesting of shower experiences. You see, the shower isn’t really a shower at all. It’s a bathtub. And there’s not a curtain. The tub is against the wall and on one side there’s a plastic wall that extends half the length of the tub. So, if you try to shower holding the showerhead, and you turn around, forgetting you’re still holding the showerhead, the water goes ALL OVER the bathroom. Um… yeah. At least three times. Did I mention that there’s laundry hanging to dry on the other side of the bathroom? Yeah. Anyways, so one evening last week my host mom mentioned to me that someone was coming to do some work on the tub. Well the next evening, when I got home, the bathtub had been completely removed, the wall was stripped, and there was a hole in the wall with a dehumidifier in it. Apparently the entire wall was water-logged. Yick! So, my host mother said that I could take a shower in her bathroom. Which is upstairs, in her room, and is teeny-tiny. By this I mean… miniscule. Not really even big enough for one person!! And it’s not just the shower that’s teeny, it’s the bathroom itself. So teeny, that you can’t even shut the door. So… you have to take a shower with the door open. Which means, that no one can be in her room. So, taking a shower is now quite an ordeal! It’s tough in the mornings, when everyone else is getting ready to go. And I don’t want to be a bother. And sometimes I just don’t know how to ask!! Can I take a shower now, please? So, yesterday, when I got home from shopping, the house was empty so I grabbed my towel as fast as I possibly could and ran upstairs. I left a sticky note on the stairwell that said (in French, of course!): “Dear Madame Bodet, I hope it’s ok that I take a shower now! Thanks, Erica”. So, I took the quickest shower of my life, fearing that any moment someone would walk through the door. And when I finished, I wrapped my towel around me, ran down the stairs, grabbed the note I left, and just as I was ducking into my room I heard the front door open. Seriously, so much drama for just one shower!! And tonight at dinner, as far as I could understand, it could be weeks before the downstairs bathroom is fixed. WEEKS! I just keep thinking of the advice I was given when I first arrived: You must have a sense of humor about everything! Plus, clean was so last year ;)

Some miscellaneous details of my first weekend in Nantes:

  • Friday night I watched the first hour of this season’s 24. HOLY MOLY! Jack Bauer is the man.
  • SOLDES is my new favorite word. It means “sale” and it’s on EVERY store front. I spent the majority of Saturday wandering the streets of Nantes going into every shop. Sad though, that after these few weeks, there will be no more sales. None.
  • Saturday night I went to the movie theatre and saw Jacqou le Croquant (in French, of course!). I have vague ideas of what happened in the movie. But the main character was a cutie, so it was all good ;)
  • At the movie theatre, they have a screen that lists all of the movies and how many tickets are left for each showing. And they say France is still in the dark ages!
  • Also on Saturday night, I drank my first “aperitif” – a blackberry Kir. Can I say, fabulous? Like Madame Rouchet (our administrative director) told us: “One Kir and everything is, positif!”
  • Sunday morning I slept in until 11:00. It was heavenly J I then woke up and watched France’s version of American Idol. Very amusing.
  • Sunday’s are family day in France. Practically everything is closed – the stores, the restaurants, the supermarket. But the city is still alive! I went for a little stroll through the city and there were lots of other people doing the same thing! Of course, it was the first sunny day I’ve seen since I’ve been here! I took some pictures (see right) of the city. The red door is the apartment building where I live. Rue Deshoulieres is my street – most of the streets are named after famous artists.
  • Sunday afternoon with the family – drinks (I had some sort of sweet wine, I think?) in the living room, then a big lunch (fancy china and all!), then back to the living room for coffee. Lot’s of chatting (about what, I can’t really say!) and time together and lots of relaxing. Too bad American’s are too obsessed with productivity and consumerism to ever take a day like this!
  • Sunday evening dinner was delicious – some sort of vegetable soup, quiche Lorraine, bread and cheese, and a lemon cake.
  • After dinner, my host mother and I sat and chat for a while afterwards – she was quite patient with me and we actually had a real conversation! I learned that I had all of the ages of my host siblings wrong. I think I’ve finally got it straight now:

- Marie-Pauline, girl, 23 years old, studying architecture in Paris;
- Noemie, girl, 21 years old, studying to be an elementary school teacher in Paris;
- Marie-Louis (called Louis), boy, 19 years old, lives at home and goes to the University of Nantes, studying to be a doctor;
- Maria-Laticia (called Marlette), girl, 17 years old, lives at home and is in her first year at the University of Nantes, studying “droit”, which means “right” in English, which I think translates to some form of government or law?;
- Jean-Joseph (called Jean), boy, 14 years old, in his last year of “college”, which is middle school in France. Confusing, no?
- My host dad’s name is Jean-Joseph Bodet – he’s called Jean-Joseph.
- And my host mom… I just realized I have no clue what her first name is!! I just call her “Madame Bodet”. Oh well, 6 out of 7 ain’t bad?

So, here it is, Sunday evening. I think I’ll get my things ready for tomorrow and head to bed. Maybe watch the next hour of 24!

Bonsoir, mes amis :)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Touring Tours :)

This past weekend all of the new “IES-ers” were shipped off to Tours, France (that’s a city… not a verb!). We spent three days visiting les chateaux of the Loire Valley (that’s castles! Amboise, Chenenceau, Bloise, and Chambord). It was an exciting, albeit exhausting weekend. I learned a lot about French history and architecture and religion and culture – and I took lots of great pictures!! And it was a great opportunity to get to know the rest of the abroad students… I already feel as though I have some close friends in this strange city :) Everyone comes from all different universities from all over the U.S. and from all walks of life. But it’s been interesting to watch how the group has already began to “clique-ify”. And as much as I’d like to be above it, I know that’s wishful thinking. Although, I can say I’ve made an effort to sit with new people as much as possible and to learn everyone’s name… I think I know about 75% of the names now!

The first night in Tours we all just crashed – eager to catch up on sleep and fight our jet lag. But the second night, we ventured out into the city. Tours, although not a large city, has a cute downtown area. We found a little bar and staked out a table. I had a couple very interesting conversations with the bartender and some other people at the bar… all in French, of course! It’s still very exciting to me that I can actually converse (although often with much confusion and repetition!) in French and I’m SO glad that most people either don’t know English or choose not to switch to English. When we finally left the bar we attempted to find our way back to the hotel… which turned out to be much more difficult than we expected! We hadn’t planned ahead very well… we had no cellphones, no maps, not even the address of the hotel. Oops!! There was a moment when I honestly thought we might never find our way back. And we were accosted by drunk French men several times (les filles! les filles!! les filles!!!). Haha… oh French men. SO SKETCHY! Anyways, after about an hour of wandering the city we finally found the road with our hotel. As soon as we saw it we literally screamed with joy. And hugged each other in the middle of the road. Although I was exhausted from the walking, it was an experience I’ll never forget and it certainly helped me make friends fast!

The third night one girl and I ventured downtown in search of internet… which turned into quite an adventure. We asked several people: Ou est-ce qu’on peut trouver le wifi? We were sent in different directions and finally we found a bar with a sign that said internet – 1 euro per hour. But, inside it was just a crowded bar with loud music – not very conducive to setting up our laptops!! Then, just as we were about to continue on with our search, one of the bartenders opened the door and asked us if we wanted to come in. We told him we were searching for internet… he then proceeded to ask if we were with a different abroad group because apparently they offer free internet to abroad students from that group… and we explained that we were abroad students, but not from that group… he seemed to think for a minute and then told us to come in… so, after a little hesitation we followed him in… and across the bar… and then behind the bar… where he unlocked a door… and then ascended a very sketchy staircase… and opened another door… (ok, obviously at this point we were completely freaked out and starting to wonder if this wasn’t a really REALLY bad idea)… but then, he opened the door, and there was a computer lab! And a really nice computer lab at that! There were four computers, a couch, bright lights, plenty of outlets, and even a sign about video surveillance. SO weird! But, we were content to have found a place with internet, so we happily set up our laptops and spent almost 2 hours there! Nobody bothered us… we were the only people there (everyone else had other plans for a Saturday night ;) ). It was seriously the most sketchy and ridiculous thing ever… right above a bar… Ruth and I… alone in this room with our laptops. SO weird! When we finished (around midnight) we descended the sketchy staircase, banged on the door as loud as we could (to be heard above the LOUD bar music, which was of course American as in all the French bars, restaurants, airports, and hotels!) and when they let us out we exited the way we came – around the bar, across the room, and out the door! The guy said we could use the internet for free, but we figured we should pay him for being so generous to us. And that was it! We walked home (this time with our map and cellphones) and found our hotel without a problem.

Sunday morning we had 2 hours of placement exams and then we headed back to Nantes. I slept the entire ride home and then my host mom picked me up at the IES center. I returned home to a delicious meal – salad and steak – served really rare… and by that I mean moo-ing rare!! But SO good :) And baguettes too, of course. Always baguettes! After dinner I watched Funny Face (with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire – but dubbed in French!) with my host sister. It’s weird to me how much American pop culture is in France – it’s everywhere!! Music, movies, tv shows – they have it all!

Sunday night, when I climbed into bed, it finally hit me: I’m in France. And for 4 months. I know I AM glad to be here. But adjusting to a new way of living is difficult and takes time. My life here will be much more solitary than ever before. Which is a good thing, I know. I’m looking forward to time to think and reflect and read. I’m looking forward to learning about this city and this culture and this language. I’m looking forward to getting out of my American box and seeing the world from a different perspective.

Au revoir USA...

Bonjour France :)

Phew! I made it!! The past 28 or so hours have been a little intense. Let me recap:


12:00am - Turn 21! This was really tough ;)

1:00pm - Farewell lunch where I ordered my first drink! A cosmo, naturally :)

2:30pm – to Dulles airport. When I got in to the front of the check-in line, I weighed my bag and realized it was 51.5 pounds. The scale was right next to a large sign, which read: $50 for bags over 50 pounds. Yikes! Some quick re-arranging evened things out a bit, although I did end up having to carry-on more than I planed. Oh well. In the end, my two suitcases were 47 and 44 pounds. I swear I didn’t overpack! I really really tried to limit myself. I only brought one purse!!! Although, I guess I could’ve left a couple of the 8 pairs of shoes behind… and mom did say that 18 pairs of underwear was a bit excessive… or maybe over 2 liters of hair products was a little over the top? What can I say? I’m obviously going to have to hold a small garage sale (do they even do those in France – let alone in the middle of a bustling metropolis?!) so that I can make room for all of my new acquisitions!

3:00pm – finally got my boarding pass, dragged my 100 pounds of luggage over to security and headed for the currency exchange. I decided on 280 euros – well, actually I asked for 250, but the lady somehow convinced me to get 280 instead. Something about waived fees… Anyways, 280 euros cost me about $409. That’s a lot of money! A lot of my money – not even from mom and dad! I’m so nervous carrying it around. I suspect everyone around me of eyeing my bag (especially ‘cause it’s a long-johns ;) ) and I try to think as a pickpocket would. I saw one man counting his dough on the tram and then he just shoved it into his pocket. I hoped any pickpocketers would have noticed that as an easy target and would leave me alone!

3:30pm – I made it through security without a problem. Although, dad did get yelled at for trying to take pictures of me while I walked through. Apparently that’s not allowed? I said goodbye to mom and dad and headed for the terminal on my own. I stopped by starbucks and paid an exorbitant amount of money for a bottle of water and got change for a USA Today. I sat and read the paper and did the crossword… secretly watching the people around me and trying to figure out what they were doing on a flight to Paris. I also spent quite some time trying to decipher the French conversation going on behind me. I made out about one in every ten words. My nervousness has now skyrocketed – I have a lot of brushing up to do! I realized that maybe I should be spending my reading my French dictionary instead of blogging. Nah :)

4:30pm – I passed the time by people watching… The girl next to me was going to Paris to study abroad. She talked to her boyfriend at least twice. And just about every other person in her phonebook too! I also tried to figure out which people were American and which were European. Kind of a fun game :)

4:45pm – I watched two little birdies eat some tortilla chips right by my gate – I can’t figure out how they got inside!!

5:00pm – Boarded the plane – a 767. HUGE! Seriously – like they have in the movies – economy class seats are grouped 2 – 5 – 2. SO many people in such a cramped space. I had an inner seat in the middle section. Quite possibly the most uncomfortable 6 hours of my life. The first class is incredible – the seats turn into beds at the touch of a button. Someday I want to try that out. Besides the cramped-ness, the flight was fine. The food was decent – good, even. Oh, and I ordered a screwdriver. I practically shoved my id in the flight attendant’s face, but even then he wouldn’t even look at it! I tried to fall asleep the entire time… and never succeeded. Oh well… sleep is overrated?


7:00am (Paris time, now) – Arrival went smoothly. I actually even stuck up a conversation with the couple beside me – they were going to Paris to visit their daughter. And then, at the last second, just before we de-boarded, the girl on the other side of me asks, “Are you going to IES?” And I say yes. And we both laugh – ‘cause we had been sitting next to each other the entire flight and never said a word. And now it was time to get off!

7:30am – Immigration. Basically a big, unorganized line. You show your passport. And they stamp it. That’s it!

8:00am – Customs. Aka, a hallway. They didn’t check anything. Didn’t require any forms. Didn’t look at my passport. Didn’t look in my bags. At first I thought I must’ve just sneaked out!! But, someone else confirmed that I had left the right way. I’m not sure what that was all about… and why everyone told me I should plan on 2 hours… but I’m just glad I didn’t have to wait forever!

8:30am – I got lost in CDG. I got on the wrong bus. And had 3 very confusing conversations with Parisians in French. I got 3 different answers (as far as I could understand!) and I finally ended up on what seemed to be the right bus. I found the first friendly face and hoped for the best. She was French, but coming back from visiting friends in the US. Perfect! At this point I gave up on finding my way in French… I just wanted to get there! She was quite friendly – filled me in on the ins and outs of CDG airport and chatted about studying abroad in general. Her advice: don’t stick with the other Americans ‘cause you’ll never really experience France nor will you pick up the language as well. I just hope I’ll be brave enough to heed it!
9:00am – I finally found the train station, thanks to ma nouvelle amie francaise. I parked myself in the “salle d’attente” to wait for the train to arrive. Meanwhile, my friend Maddie (a fellow Cornellian) met up with me. A French boy, sitting across from me, struck up a conversation with me. He was friendly, although I have a feeling we didn’t communicate very well. For the majority of the conversation he thought I was traveling to Limognes, which I then interpreted as London, and from there it just got more muddled… but it was still nice to chat a bit with someone!

10:45am – The train ran a little late, about 20 minutes. By the time I finally got my luggage settled and found my seat, I absolutely crashed. I was disappointed in myself, because this was my first opportunity to actually see France (other than the airport!) but I was just way too exhausted to sit and look out the window. As soon as the train started to move, I was sound asleep.

1:45PM - The trip went by quickly. When we pulled into the station, there were a group of “IES-ers” already gathered. We were then guided to the taxi line. Taxis in France are quite different. They’re really nice – we saw 2 bmws! – and they look just like regular cars you’d see on the road, except they have little taxi lights on the top. No yellow cabs in France! What we couldn’t figure out is how come someone who can afford a BMW would be driving a taxi? Anyways, another girl and I took a cab to the IES center where we then attempted to get our luggage to the 4th floor using a teeny-tiny elevator. By that I mean, big enough for two small people – it barely fit me and my 100+ pounds of luggage! At this point they gave us a brief tour of the IES center – it’s two floors and very quaint. There’s several classrooms, a library, a kitchen, a tv room, a computer room, and a few study rooms. There’s also a very very teeny bathroom. And apparently nobody in France uses paper towels. Just dryers. I HATE dryers. I mean, I know they save the environment. So, in that respect, good for France. But they also don’t work! I can honestly say that I’ve never once used a hand dryer and actually ended up with dry hands! Just wet jeans :/

2:30pm – At this point, those of us who had arrived at IES, about 10 of us I’d guess, were absolutely wiped. We all crashed in one of the classrooms, luggage surrounding us, and all whipped out our laptops. It was quite a site, I’ll tell you. There’s wifi at the IES center so all of us were contentedly emailing and facebooking. Apparantly, you can take the girl out of America… but you can’t take the America out of the girl :)

3:30pm – We were all famished, so we ventured out into the city. It was hard to take it all in – so much to see! I’m looking forward to the day when I know Nantes intimately, I really am. We saw La Cigale (the famous café) and a demonstration about homelessness (they had tents set up all over). We were looking for somewhere to grab a bite to eat, and this one shop stood out to us. We walked in (11 of us at this point) and asked for a table. There was no one there, which I found a bit weird. And as the gentleman was seating us, I looked around in search of menus, a kitchen, silverware, napkins – any sign of food! We finally asked le garcon if they served food and he gave us a very confused look… turns out it was just a bar with lots of tables that looked like a restaurant! We felt pretty ridiculous when we had to turn around and walk out… all 11 of us. In fact, we felt ridiculous the entire afternoon – a gaggle of American girls, utterly clueless, traipsing about the city. Anyways, we finally found a little sandwich stand – I ate a baguette with mozzarella and ham and tomato and hard-boiled egg. Yum J Oh, and we also walked down the main shopping avenue – AMAZING! Every single store had some sort of sign saying “SOLDES”, which in French means “sales”. They started today and I’m told they’ll last several weeks. Everything is 30, 40, or even 50 percent off. It’s a bargain shopper’s dream!

4:30pm – We returned to the IES center very full and even more tired then when we left. Back to the laptops while we waited for everyone else to arrive.

5:30pm – The families started arriving and as every minute passed the number of students left at the IES decreased more and more. By about 6:30, I was still waiting there. We all had butterflies in our stomachs… wondering with each host mom that walked through the door if she was there for us. It was nervewracking!

6:45pm – My host mom arrived – Madame Bodet. I was SO nervous. On top of which I had my 100+ pounds of luggage to drag behind me. When I walked up to her she kissed me on both cheeks. And then we left! We took her car the 1km or so to her apartment and chatted the whole way – in French of course! She speaks very little English… so if I couldn’t come up with the words in French, there was nothing to fall back on! But, we seemed to communicate fairly well. She praised my speaking skills too, which of course made me more confident to speak even more.

7:00pm – I finally arrived at my new home. I met the rest of the family, well except for Monsieur Bodet who is in Paris for work. There are three kids – boy (16), girl (18), boy (20). They SO remind me of my own family. It’s actually creepy. Always laughing and joking and having fun with each other. I spent the first hour or so in my room unpacking and arranging my things. It’s a very cute room - and more spacious then I ever would’ve imagined!

8:00pm – My first family dinner :) We sat at the dining room table and dug in – noodles with cheese and ham, baguette, and salad (with some greenery I’d never seen before – a cross between clovers and spinach?). It was all very delicious!! We chatted while we ate and I did my best to understand their banter. I didn’t catch everything, although Madame Bodet was good about filling me in when she knew I wasn’t following. After the main course (if you will), we had cheese and fruit. Dessert, I guess? Either way, it was delicious and healthy and just what I wanted after so much airplane food!

9:00pm – I finished straightening up my room and got ready for bed… which is where I am now as I type this blog. Snuggled under my down comforter and ready to crash.

I’ve been up since 7:30am on Tuesday. It’s currently 10:06pm on Wednesday.

Goodnight, Nantes :)