Bon Weekend en Bourgogne

On the last weekend of September, the program that I am studying abroad through offered to take us to the region of Bourgogne. Bourgogne is a historic and administrative region. It is south east of Paris and is broken into four departments/sections. Our first stop was Vézelay. La village était tres jolie! (The town was very pretty). Vézelay is situated on a hill, what a hike it was just to walk through the tiny place! We took a tour of the famous basilique (basilica) of Sainte Marie Madeleine. From the outside it looked like a regular church but on the inside it was beautifully carved with intricate relic designs, sculptures of the Saints, and just overall, built in a way that is inimaginable (unimaginable).

            After lunch, the bus scurried très rapide (very fast) to our next location, Dijon. Dijon is the capital of Bourgogne. It is also home to la moutarde de Dijon (Dijon mustard). However, it is interesting because even though they produce the mustard here, they still have to have the Dijon seeds sent from Canada to the region. C’est interessant. We walked around the capital and yet again saw another church. This one had une petite chouette (an small owl) carved on one of the pillars. The old myth is that is someone touches the chouette on the right side they will have a good marriage. Pffff, okay people of the Moyen Âge (Middle Ages).

Arc de Dijon (I don’t think that’s the actual name of the Arc but we can pretend haha)

A display of des moutardes

Étonnement (surprisingly), there was a band playing in the middle of the center. They were playing “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd. Only in Europe, no I mean seriously. I can’t go anywhere without hearing English music. It’s a gift and a curse, at least they were singing Pink Floyd and not Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”

We all gathered at the hotel to attend the fanciest dinner’s I’ve had since I’ve been in France. Bourgogne is also known for its gastronomie. Definition of gastronomy: the practice or art of choosing, cooking, and eating good food. I definitely ate very well this weekend, that’s for sure. But…another reason why I ate well this weekend, je mange de la viande maintenant. I am too afraid to translate that in English so bonne chance! (good luck!) I have realized that it is difficult to be a vegetarian in France because none of their traditional dishes really translate into being vegetarian. I find it easier to find vegetarian options in the United States. It’s weird but very true. So feast your eyes on the rich food I sadly, without regret, savored.

Les escargots

le bœuf bourgogne (Beef Burgundy)

la glace avec le fruit d’étoile

le vin rouge

Bourgogne is also known for it’s vin rouge (red wine). The next day we had a wine tasting at a vignoble (vinyard) called Chateau de Marsannay. Even though the red wines were good, and that is what the region is known for, I fell in love with the buttery white wine. I learned how to tell how dry a wine is. If you swish the wine in your glass and the residue that sticks on the side of the glass takes a while to trickle back into the wine puddle, it means that the wine is dry. The longer is takes to fall down the side of the glass (and if the residue lines are very thick) determines that the wine is very dry. Here are some fun pictures of the vineyard and the wine tasting:

The one thing I got out of this weekend, besides great food, breaking my habits, drinking fine wine, being a tourist, and touching stone owls: France consists of old churches. And I find this beautiful in an ironic way. After the French revolution, the idea of separation of church and state was a huge ordeal. The concept that eventually developed from this idea was laïcité. Laïcité is a concept, that corresponds with the French law of separation of church and state, that is mostly used in schools but the definition also applies to public spaces. It is the decree that states no one is allowed to wear a symbol affiliated with any religion. This includes the hijab, cross, etc. However, in public places it is mostly tolerated, in the schools it is not so.

Yet all across France there are many churches and many restorations being done to preserve the churches. I find the laïcité debate interesting because for a country with many religious symbols and manifestations through structures, people are restricted to openly sharing their own belief on the sidewalk, in schools, and other places (for example: women who practice Islam are not allowed to wear the full headscarf if they wanted to). But it’s not the entire country that thinks this should be so, it’s mostly the politicians on the far right. And looking at it from a historical point, it’s more understandable yet in my opinion should be less restricted (kind of the set up the United States has in place). Because the Catholic church was heavily involved in politics and education in France, after the French Revolution the Republique wanted to make sure that religion would not lead the country. In the US, the first immigrants, pilgrims, left Great Britain so they could practice their own belief. Soon after other immigrants crossed the Atlantic and the idea of freedom of speech and being able to profess who you are, if you choose, was excepted. C’est intéressante mais c’est la vie, c’est histoire. Overall, je suis passé un bon weekend!

     Top of Vézelay

Les différences

It’s not only obvious but understandable that there are many cultural differences between countries and cultures. Some differences one can easily adapt to, others can be a frequent issue. The one that I’ve had issues with the most…the metric system. It may not seem like that big of a deal. But in every day life we forget how often we use measurements. When I go grocery shopping, it’s hard to tell if I’m actually getting a good deal on les raisins (grapes) because they’re weighed by kilograms. Trying to determine how many calories are in a candy bar is useless because they measure calories in kJ (kilo jules/calories). In Paris, the latest law they are trying to pass is reducing the speed limit to 70 km/h instead of it staying at 80. Tomorrow forecast indicates that it will be partly cloudy and 18 degrees Celsius. And if you were to ask me how tall I am…je ne sais pas, très petite?

The metric system (and how to convert into degrees Celsius) is something I can learn and eventually understand, pas de problème. But there are other cultural norms I eventually want to learn. Par exemple, what is the proper etiquette at a café to ask for your check (servers here to not wait on you hand and foot like they do in the states). Apparently, it’s very rude to stack your plates at a restaurant or café. Since I used to be a server I do it as a polite gesture. But in the French culture it’s actually a sign that the server is not doing a good job because they weren’t attentive enough. I was on the métro and my friend Emily pointed out something très bizarre, “Look around, no one is fidgeting.” It’s a weird thing to pick up but tellement vrai (soo true). I have yet to see someone play with their hair, twitch their leg, pick at their finger nails… Something that I do all the time especially when I’m not doing anything with my hands or waiting for something. My new goal is to get rid of these habits so I can, not only blend in, but get rid of them all together.

A cultural difference that I can definitely get accustomed to, for the most part, are the cultural aspects. The picture below is a McDonald’s ad for their breakfast special. In America, that ad would never exist! The ad would depict a savory sausage McGriddle smothered in gooey cheese with crispy hash browns and a large to-go cup o joe. Espresso and a petit gateau? (small cookie). C’est incroyable! (it’s unbelievable). And the espresso part is another bizarre thing. I don’t think any McDonald’s in the states has an espresso machine or serves regular shots of espresso. But in France, that’s all you can get. Le café n’y existe pas (coffee does not exist here). You can only get espresso, café au lait (a latte), or some other foo foo drink. To order regular coffee you have to ask for café longue and most of the time it’s just espresso with hot water. Fortunately my host family buys coffee and has a regular coffee maker and I can drink as many cups graduit (free), whew!

So apart from the metric system, seeds in the grapes, super small expensive espresso shots, and random culture norms I’m starting to get acquainted and situated à Paris. I love getting the best peaches at the fruit market, grabbing a warm baguette for dinner, using public transit everyday, walking and reading in public parks and surprisingly, enjoying the cool weather of autumn. C’est bon, n’est-ce pas?

McDonald’s Breakfast Ad in America:

(Funny side note: I found this picture after writing about what I thought a typical American McDonald’s breakfast would look like, I wasn’t too far off!)

McDonald’s Breakfast Ad en France:

La réalité de Paris

What are the first images that one thinks when someone says “Paris” (Pronounced Pear-E en français (note: that is not the phonetics translation)). Bien sûr (of course), one thinks of the Eiffel Tour, observing the vast collections of art, having a picnic by the Seine, taking vast walks through gardens blooming of fleurs (flowers), and kissing a loved one (or stranger pourquoi pas) in the streets.

La réalité: Paris is not as luxurious and plushy as one would think. C’est comme une autre grande ville (it’s like another big city). There’s dirt in the streets: tons of cigarettes litter the sidewalks of cafés from people smoking, the occasional dog poo, and actual dirt one would find on a baseball field from dry vacant lots that covers you when the wind blows. Beaucoup des touristes (Many tourists), which means it’s crowded everywhere. And since I’m not from a big city and a different country, there’s a lot of things I’ve gotten used to (my walking pace is a lot faster here than in the south, haha!)

But that’s the reality, and to be honest, I’m not complaining. I knew a little bit of this (and was definitely warned) before coming here. The reason I chose Paris was to learn about the culture (not only French but Parisien), live in a big city (something I have not done yet until now), and learn about la capitale (some of the background history).

The reason I bring up this reality of Paris is because it’s interesting how people view Paris from a cultural perspective. In class we read an article about how many people feel an extreme sense of culture shock when visiting Paris because it is not how they envisioned the city of lights. This in particular is true for the Japanese culture. Apparently, because there are so many cultural differences between the French and the Japanese, many become extremely depressed during their visit. I believe all cultures go through this when they enter any country but it’s different when you’re from a background that is extremely opposite. I say this because it’s not true, the French (or Parisiens) do not hate Americans. When I meet someone they can easily tell by my accent that I’m from somewhere else and are delighted to hear me say I’m from les États-Unis (that’s when they start practicing their English haha). I have only been given disrespectful looks at a café or touristy spot only because there are many tourists here (and I’m sure the tourists like to assume that everyone in Europe can speak their language or don’t even attempt to speak French).

What do I think of Paris? I’m beginning to understand that it is a melting pot. There are many foreign exchange students, people working for embassies, and many visitors from around the world. I have only been to one museum because I prefer the free galleries of graffiti paint on street corners and vans that decorate les rues et les boulevards. There’s a lot of culture and many exhibitions that cater to everyone, Paris makes sure the youth and students can attend the museums and galleries for free until they are 25. People are cultured in the arts and knowledgeable of their city. Like every city, it is expensive, but until you find those loop holes and local joints, it’s manageable. And unlike most cities in America, they have tons of little parks and green spaces in every arrondisement…with free wifi! The food…can actually be a hit or miss haha. But when it is good, it’s dangerously good.

Do I like it here? YES! (: However, am I drinking champagne by the Eiffel Tour, stuffing myself with delicious crepes, or receiving random roses from flirtatious guys? Well…maybe that’s for another blog post 😉 just kidding! Vivre la vie qui est libre! Faites-la l’espace où tu veux rester!

Aujourd’hui (le vendredi 14/9/12) je suis allée à Giverny

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Today I went to Giverny. Giverny is where Claude Monnet lived, the jardin (garden), which was also his studio, is located in the petit village of Vernon. Vernon is only an hour outside of Paris and one has to take the train to get there. Mes amies, Emily and Annalise, et moi hurried to catch the 10:20 grande ligne. Il fait frais et beau mais il y a beaucoup des orages (The weather was cool and beautiful but there were a lot of clouds). Pas du solieil. But it was still a decent day and I wanted to go see the le jardin des coleurs (colorful garden) before the autumn freeze hit.

Once we arrived, we decided to walk the 5km (1.93 miles) to the garden and take a nice brisk walk through Vernon. Très genial et sympa (brilliant and nice). There is obviously a huge difference between the city and the country side. But it’s even more different when you’re in another country. En France, I have noticed that, for the most part, people live in petite vieille maisons (small old houses) as opposed to bigger more developed homes. It was neat, yet also creepy haha, to take pictures of people’s front doors, gardens, fruit growing in their yard, and the occasional le chien (dog) or le cheval (horse). We pet two horses on our très longue promenade (very long walk). The sign said it would take 1h30 (1 hour and 30 minutes) to walk to Giverny. It took us 2 because we stopped to prendre beaucoup des photos (take many photos).

Après notre déjeuner (after our lunch), we strolled through the jardins de Monet. Even though it was a cloudy, ill spirited day, the flowers were still magnifique! One can clearly see all the colors in his jardin inspired the vibrant splotches of oil on his canvasses. The lovely jardin l’eau (water garden) where his famous water lily and bridge paintings adapted from had a tranquille flow and a spell-bounding trance. I was astounded by the beauty and nature of this immense flourishing garden. Monet and sa famille moved here in 1883, and it’s still here thriving and radiating tantalizing hues of indigos, jade, olive, emerald, lemon, ruby, and victorious blues.

ruby

After taking une promenade (a walk) through the jardin, we toured la maison de Monet (Monet’s house). He lived in a small cottage with walls painted just as strikingly colorful like his paintings. There was a collection of his original work in one of the rooms and in la salle à manger there was a collection of Japanese artwork that Monet collected. He really liked their style of art, c’est bizarre because it is more animated than his impressionist work. An interesting fact: Monet had walked into every room of his house…except for his kitchen! He obviously didn’t think it was a room he needed to be in. I guess sexism translates everywhere in the world unfortunately (with the exception that this was back in the 1800s so it was more prominent). Personally, I think Monet made a huge mistake because sa cuisine (his kitchen) est la meilleur chambre dans la maison (the best room in the house). Check out these stunning shades of virtuous sapphire blue. How could one avoid a kitchen with colors like that!

It was a lovely day at Giverny, but what was even a lovelier sight were the different national backgrounds of the tourists touring the jardin. I’m not a huge fan of tourists (and especially rude loud ones who don’t even attempt to speak the language of the country they’re in). But it reminded me how art is not only a cultural aspect, but it’s a worldly subject. Even though there are different cultural norms, identities, languages, and so on, art speaks every language, and that is the language of emotion. You do not have to be trilingual to understand Monet’s stroke of paint brush genius or the beauty of each petal and lily pad strewn through the jardin. Art speaks for itself in a way that everyone can translate.

Ma nouvelle famille à Paris

After anxiously awaiting my home stay assignment, I moved into my new home, the place I will be staying for four months. I was super nervous to find out who I would be living with, what their name was, where they lived, if they would take me in graciously, if they would try to make me clean a lot, if they were temperamental, or if they would even like me. I know that might sound a bit ridiculous to say, especially since host families volunteer to take someone in (why wouldn’t they embrace me), but living with someone and having a room mate is a different situation. And I can only imagine because I’m an unknown foreign kid staying with someone from a different culture who may have certain rules, customs, and habits. Which I am totally interested in learning and respecting but that’s the thing, I really didn’t know what to expect!

            So after class on Friday we were gathered in a big room and handed a sheet of paper that gave the name, address, phone number, and a brief description about the person. My host’s name is Anne-Christine. The brief description said: Elle est très chaleureuse (warm) et ouverte (open), elle a une fille étudiante de 19 ans qui habite à la maison (she has a daughter who studies and is 19 years old who lives at the house). When I discovered this I was very relieved. However I had to call my hôtesse to let her know when I was coming, which was also another nerve-wracking moment ahhhh.

            I split a cab with my friend, Emily, and je suis arrivée à 19 (dix-neuf) passage Alexandrine in the 11ème (arrondisement). The neighborhood is cute and quant, not bougy (comme bourgeoisie) laquelle je préfére (which I prefer). I took the elevator up two stories and when the doors opened I saw un petit chat blanc et noir (a small black and white cat). A door was open and I was hoping that the open door was my home and I would have un petit ami qui est un animal (a small friend that is a pet). Turns out I was in the right place.

            Anne-Christine welcomed me and gave me a tour around the house. She speaks some English so when I couldn’t quite understand her she would repeat it for me in English. I’m still trying to learn comprehension skills ahhhh. She showed me my room and it is very nice. The bed is much more comfortable than the bed in the traditional dorms and I have tons of space to store clothes even though I did not pack that much ahhh. I have a window and a pleasant view. I also have a little ledge so I might try to grow some les épices (herbs).

            Anne-Christine showed me around the neighborhood. Il y a une boulangerie (There is a bread shop), une patisserie (mmmmm), une petite super marché le métro, etc. We stopped at a boulangerie for bread and the super market to get things for dinner. We picked up cheese, nuts (pour l’apèratif), coke, and de la bière (BEER!). Then we returned and had some beer and nuts while waiting for the pasta to be done. I explained to her that I typically do not eat meat, unfortunately she had meat in the spaghetti sauce and apologized but I told her not to worry! I would eat my noodles with du buerre, du sel, et du poivre. C’était super! I helped mettre la table (set the table) and Anne-Christine, her daughter Adele, and I had our first meal together.

            I learned a little bit about them and I explained how I was truly sorry if I did not understand them because I was trying my best and know I don’t speak French well. They both reassured me and said it was okay and they understand. A huge relief to me, whew! I am happy to be in an accommodating home in a lovely neighborhood. Anne-Christine and Adele are très gentil et très sympa! Je sens confortable ici et je suis heureuse (I feel comfortable and I am happy). Here are some photos of my room. C’est officielielle, j’emmenageais.

À le FIAP

As much as I want to write about the mini adventures I’ve gone on, I’m afraid it would be disappointing without showing the beaucoup des photos (many of photos) I’ve taken. The reason I can’t is due to the incompetence of the FIAP WiFi. The FIAP is a youth hostel/hotel for International students and it has been my home for the past week. I still do not know what FIAP actually stands for, but it is pronounced “fee-app.” Because it would take over an hour to upload pictures, I will give a brief description and break down of the glorious FIAP (au contraire).

The lobby is bleached in white, linoleum floors and thick concrete walls. The sitting area in the lobby consists of oblong plastic chairs with an awkward lily pad shaped desk attached to it. All the other furniture tries too hard to look like l’art de moderne. The rooms are tres typical, splotched in salmon pink and lavender, an 80’s color scheme. The major positives of the room consist of the following: being able to open the windows (however if the room next to you has their window open also you can hear everything they’re doing), you have to turn one light switch on in order to control all the light switches (a plus for conserving energy unless one forgets to turn the major light switch off), and once you start taking a shower, the water only stays on for less than a minute before you have to push the shower lever in again to get another minute long shower (a pain in the ass but awesome way to conserve water and think consciously about using water while taking a shower!)

But the greatest bonding moments at the FIAP have taken place during dinner. All of the CIEE students have been given meal passes to eat at the FIAP cafeteria. Even though I am living in France, one of the greatest food countries in the world, the food at the cafeteria is definitely sub par. Because the FIAP is an International centre, they provide salt and pepper on each table (a rare commodity in France) and it has been the only two seasonings that have been boosting the food ratings. Each night the FIAP serves un fillet de poisson, poulet ou steak frites, pizza, and random legumes (veggies). There’s also a small salad bar that serves random cold sides which can be a hit or miss based on what kind of sauce they use. The desserts are the tastiest, however. Never a disappointment even though you know they were not made in une patisserie (pastry shop).

No matter how flakey and dry the fish fillet is, how bitter the grapes in the fruit salad are, how sour the booger colored artichokes taste, one thing is certain, the FIAP vin de rouge (red wine) saves the entire meal. The thin consistency of the wine itself whispers how cheap it is. One subtly notices this quality because it is definitely better than Franzia (however, slap the bag is a fun game). However, le vin de rouge makes everyone feel a little warm inside and un peu pompette (a little tipsy). The greatest thing about the FIAP wine is that you can accrue refills, if you’re willing to sneak back into the cafeteria without getting caught. It has almost become a game who can get the most glasses of free cheap FIAP wine, but it works! Using it to “pregame” comme les americaines sommes-nous has been useful and cost effective.

No matter how bland, tasteless, tacky, and frigidly uncomfortable the FIAP is, I will always remember the bonding moments I’ve experienced and might even come back for a visit (I also have lots of breakfast passes left over since I stash fruit for breakfast haha). I would not be dissatisfied if we had a CIEE reunion. Until I get better internet to post pictures, ça c’est pour maintenant.

Je suis arrivée à Paris! (le 29 aout 2012)

My first day in Paris was a huge blur. C’est parceque décalage horaire. Translation: It’s because of jet lag. After nervously awaiting my delayed flight to Newark, NJ I finally landed to make my connecting flight at 21h00 (9:00pm) to Paris. After catching up on some unseen episodes of Weeds, I decided to try and get some sleep. Five hours and two cooped up legs later, bright golden rays awoke my dreary eyes. A few minutes later the pilot announced that we were an hour away from notre destination. Ce va être une longue journée. This is going to be a long day, I thought. I hopped off the airplane, grabbed my one and only checked bag (so thankful it did not get lost), and went to find the shuttle bus CIEE arranged to pick us up in. After nervously trying to find the shuttle bus and I met another CIEE student and we eventually found where we were supposed to meet Julie, a coordinator for CIEE. Allons-y!

            After another enduring ride, we finally arrived in Paris at the FIAP hostel for Inernational students in the 14e arrondisement. This was said to be my home for the next neuf jours (nine days). We were each assigned a roommate and given a folder with an itinerary of orientation. To say I was not overwhelmed would be a joke, haha. It felt like freshmen year of college where everyone is getting to know each other and asking 20 questions (D’où venez-vous? Qu’est-ce que vous aimez faire? Que faites-vous étudier?) Everyone is really nice! But we’re still at that awkward, Hi, your name is what? Your name is who? (Okay, really bad Slim Shady joke).

            We went on a walk around the 14e and learned a little bit about the city. My tour guide was Jean-Phillipe, another coordinator at the centre. He only spoke French the entire time! It’s great but since I’m not used to hearing and speaking French très rapide it’s been a little difficult, especially when someone asks you questions en français. I try my best to answer but I also want to be correct and it’s très difficile (difficult).

            Here are some pictures of le parc:

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            The last thing on our agenda was a sit down dîner at a resto (resturant) called <<Le Temps des Cerises.>> Apparently the name comes from a song about the fourth French revolution. The restaurant was very cool because it was mostly a chalkboard menu and the restaurant is a collective, meaning there is no boss or hierarchy, everyone works together. Of course le vin de rouge et blanc was served at the table, providing exquisite flavors for our meals. Here is what I ordered:

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(Le fillet avec des tomates fondue)

 

            C’était très bon! (It was very good). I tried to order la mousse du chocolat (chocolate mousse) but the waiter made a face that clearly defined a bad decision. I asked, qu’est-ce que vous recommendez? (What do you recommend). He said the Tiramisu avec les fraises (with strawberries). I decided to order that instead, voilà:

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            Overall it was a great meal and a pleasant way to end my first day in Paris. I can’t wait to see what else this city has to offer.