It isn’t surprising that “etiquette” is a French word…

It’s been a while, so I think I’ma split this post in deux.

General Update: In the time since I posted last, I have not only visited every museum in Paris, but I’ve managed to master the French language as well as the art of French cuisine. Just kidding … the only thing that makes me any more French than before is my lack of shaving (Hey! It’s freezing cold here, alright? It serves both a cultural and a practical purpose…)  It’s usually about -3 degrees Celsius according to the 14th arrondissement’s La Mairie (town hall) I see every day on my way to school. Oh, you want that in Fahrenheit? Yeah, me too, but to be honest it’s become much easier to say things like, “It’s so cold I just want some wine just to keep warm,” or “Today, I only had to wear two pairs of socks instead of three!”  (These are things that people on my program commonly do say, by the way). Boston is statistically colder on average, but Europe is experiencing a particularly frigid winter, and I stay outside much more frequently here. Plus, my favorite articles of clothing – sweatpants and hoodies – are “not allowed” in Paris. Apparently, the ability to wear comfy, bulky clothing was left out of Le Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen (The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen), and they take this whole republicanism/democracy thing pretty damn seriously here.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen taken at Le Musée Carnavalet. Freedom of speech? Check. Freedom of bulky comfort? Nooo sir.

On a completely different note, I’m learning a lot about the French election process. They’re having as much trouble determining the likely front runner against Sarkozy as the Republicans are for Obama, but the systems, processes, and strategies are all extremely different. For example, religious rhetoric is frowned upon despite France’s deeply Catholic history because they truly see themselves as a secular state. Weirdly enough, America is just the opposite in terms of history and current political circumstance. C’est un peu bizarre. Anywho, I’ll explique more about it some other time, but it’s pretty cool to compare France’s multiparty system to our American two-party one. You’d think because they have more parties they’d have more fun, but honestly how many Bros, Babes, and Baguettes themed frat parties can Sarkozy go to?

Sometimes Sarkozy invites Obama to all these parties as well, where he attempts to properly fist bump other foreign leaders.

More importantly, about a week ago I had ma meilleure amie from London come visit.

Here we are clearly falling in love by The Seine.

She may have made me do a bunch of touristy things, but in return she never once tried to use her (“different”) British accent on me. For this, I thank her.  And this brings me to:

Where I went (and how I/London Rebecca ruined it):

1. L’Institut Catholique:

I’m starting at The Sorbonne when their winter session ends next week, but originally I enrolled in a history course at L’Institut Catholique. Firstly, let me paraphrase the general thought process of any American student on their first day of a French class… with French students… at a French university: “All I want is to not get lost and to not be picked out as the stupid American. Please. Pretty, pretty please.” Frankly, the language barrier makes you feel like your IQ has suddenly dropped Flowers for Algernon-style, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I think we can all guess what happened to me. I studied the map, like I always do before going out. Aaand I went in the exact opposite direction of my university. Fine, the bête Américaine took the wrong metro exit. Merde.

But then, I did not realize that although I was taking a semester course, it was common for a class to stay together for a year. So when I walked in the first day, I get bombarded with, “WHO ARE YOU?? WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” by other students (and by the teacher), to which I awkwardly responded “I’m an American exchange student. I’d like to try out your class.” The teacher rolled his eyes yet somehow remained oddly indifferent, and the entire class of fifty students turned around for a little gawking session. I know what you’re thinking – they were really impressed by my stellar accent and crazy New Joisey good looks, bien sûr. In the end though, it was actually a great experience. The other students were really friendly, and I’m pretty excited to start my next class on Wednesday.

2. The Louvre:

I’ve been to The Louvre several times by now. Unfortunately, the first was the day after my 21st birthday soirée. Let’s just say that while I may have been at an exquisite museum with some of the most famous artwork in the world, the porcelain I wanted to be looking at wasn’t that of ancient Grecian statues…yeah…

On my second and much more successful visit, Rebecca and I became well acquainted with great works of art.

I believe this one is aptly named "Swag"

During that visit and ones since, I learned that one of the defining characteristics of the Neoclassical period is that artists based their paintings on heroic and patriotic themes. Mythology and Greek antiquity were common painting topics as well. Plus, artists had not yet learned how to draw boobs correctly, and a fella coppin’ a feel was also a pretty standard topic of choice.

I think I've seen these two around Tufts before. She clearly didn't go to In the Sack.

I’m so cultured!

3. Le Refuge Des Fondues (thanks to BP for the recommendation):

Go here, this place is fantastique! The meal is service compris, meaning all inclusive. For 21 euros, you get an aperitif, appetizers, unlimited and amazingly buttery cheese fondue, and dessert. Oh, and the most entertaining part? Everyone also receives a baby bottle filled with either red or white wine. I don’t care if it’s gimmicky, I now get to cross “drink wine out of a baby bottle” off of my Paris bucket list. It’s right in between “go bungee jumping off of the Eiffel Tower” and “Find a Nutella eating contest and win said contest.”

The grown up version of Baby Bottle Pops.

I’ve been to pleeenty of other places, but I shall discuss those some other time. I’m attempting to go in order.

Observation of the Post: Basic French Dining Etiquette

There’s quite a bit I can say here, so I’m just going to stick to the very basics.

1. Don’t get handsy.

When I’m having a proper meal here, my brain automatically goes into “Polite Mode,” and before I know it my napkin is on my lap, my posture is completely straight, and my hands are folded under the table. Unfortunately, in France it is impoli to eat with your hands on your lap under the table…yes, the exact opposite of what we were taught growing up in America. Your arms are supposed to rest on the table when they aren’t doing anything. Why? It may be a mere difference in dining culture, but I’m about 95% sure it’s to prevent that dinner scene from Wedding Crashers from occurring. Here’s a refresher of what happens when hands stay under the table:

2.  Hold your fork and knife correctly.  If you’re ambidextrous, then this is the country for you! You’re supposed to keep your fork in your left hand with the prongs faced downwards while your knife remains in your right hand. That’s right – you never switch hands after you’re done cutting your food. While this does seem more practical, it’s very difficult to use a downward-facing fork with your non-dominant hand for a four course meal. Sometimes I play a fun game with myself to see how long I can keep up the French way of eating. Other times I just play The Princess Bride Inigo Montoya and Wesley sword fight scene in my head with new dialogue:

“Then why are you smiling?” “Because I know something you don’t know…I am not left handed.” “You would do very well if you dined in Paris!” “Why thank you.” - The Princess Bride

3.  Finish your meal. This is a big one. It is extremely important to make sure you clean your plate here, otherwise the person who served you will think you don’t like what they gave you. And when I say clean your plate, I mean polish it until you can see your newly-pudgy face in it. I’m talking “eat the fatty parts of the meat and find some way to hide the bones under the couch until you can throw them out later” caliber clean. A helpful tip is to take the bread and sop up all of the extra sauce.

Hey, and if you do a good enough job, you don’t have to put the plate in the dish washer! And if my host mom is reading this, I’m totally kidding!

C’est tout for now. A bientôt!

Paris: The Beginning – I’m just a walking faux pas

Salut! So I’ve finally decided to start my blog in honor of beginning classes today. Hey, how else am I supposed to maintain productive procrastination in lieu (<- That’s French. See what I did there?) of doing my homework?

Upon arriving and tasting some delicious stereotypical French food I decided I would like to play a game with you all (un petit jeu, if I may). It’s called How Much Weight Will Rebecca Gain in Paris?. **Please send me your guesses to the closest half of a pound** (or kilogram. Whatever, Frenchies) and whoever comes the closest will get a prize from Paris, like wine or a ménage à trios. Take into consideration that I walk everywhere but I also eat everything, and that my genes are really good but my jeans may still get pretty tight. But I’m totally serious, I want your guesses.

pastry

This is called a tresse aux pépites de chocolat, and it will be the death of me. It’s basically a chocolate chip cookie dough filled croissant and I’ve had one almost every morning.

And now, je commençerai!

General update: I landed in Paris about 12 days ago to stay with a host family in the “Bobo” part of Paris (It’s a combination of the words “bohemian” and “bourgeois”). The plane ride was nice but Pépé (best pseudo- name ever. Thank you Tufts Aepi) and I almost missed our connecting flight from Heathrow. If he wasn’t there to carry my bags for me (heh) I would have definitely been done for.  Great planning, I know.

Before I left I told everyone I wasn’t very excited to come here because I’m an awful, excessively rational person who claims she cannot be excited for something she has never seen or done before. Thankfully, as soon as I saw Paris, an overwhelming feeling of happiness came over me – the buildings are gorgeous, the language is beautiful (“It’s like wiping your ass with silk”), and the people are dressed incredibly well. Honestly, the pure aesthetics of the place put a smile on my face to a degree that’s hard to articulate. Aaand then the taxi driver gave me a lesson on how to say the name of the very street I’m living on properly and played Adel songs the entire ride. Yeah.

Where I went (and how I ruined it):

1. The Loire Valley

The program that I’m on took us to La Loire during our first weekend here. Of course I forgot to bring the power adapter for my non-European plug that goes to my camera, so I have no pictures. However, I’m sure you can trust me when I say that the two chateaux I saw were spectacular. I had the pleasure of visiting one in Chambord and another in Ambroise with the other 80 people on the trip. It was very educational – I learned that 400 years ago people built castles “just because” and that when they slept with their mistresses a guard had to be in the same room for safety reasons.  So basically all French kings could never attend Tufts because they would violate the whole “no sex while your roommate is in the room” thing.

castle

So this is the Chateaux in Chambord. I know what you’re thinking: it’s no South Hall, but it’ll do.

2. The Eiffel Tower

eiffel tower

Self Explanatory. Very fun.

3. Luxembourg Gardens

It was very cold but everyone’s proverbial wine coats made it better.

4. Champs-Elysée

I didn’t buy anything, but I did get a lovely song stuck in my head the entire time. “The Champs-Elysée is a busy street…”

Also, there was a very notable double story Haagen-Dazs. I was quite impressed. As in I want to live there.

5. L’Arc de Triomphe

A couple of friends and I went to the top, and it was completely worth it despite the hike. You can see an amazing amount of famous Parisian sites, and so it’s simultaneously a peaceful and exciting place to view the city. I would have tried to rent out the top for my birthday, but ya know, I need a fancier venue.

Oh, and this little planking incident happened:

My donk doesn’t even look ridiculous. As I attempted to balance myself I hear, “Ugh, elle fait du planking.” Heh heh.

Observation of the post – Scarves:

I’m not sure if you realize how much the French love scarves. It’s a necessity to wear one here: they wear them when it’s hot; they wear them when it’s cold. They wear them if they’re women; they wear them if they’re men. They wear them if they’re young and chic; they wear them if they’re old and don’t give a shit. I’m honestly surprised French women do not wear scarves with their wedding gowns (Note: I’ve never been to a French wedding and I may be speaking too soon.)

The key is to know how to do all those fancy-shmancy twisty things with it to look like you know what you’re doing. It’s pretty much like that Victoria’s Secret 100 Way Bra but around your neck.  So when I got up for orientation on day one, I looked something like this:

Je suis perplexe.

And this:

Credit: Lefthanded Toons

But after about a week here I took some notes, made some key observations, and put my four scarves to work. And I must say, when a girl on my program asked how I tied my scarf because it looked really cool, it was the singular best moment of my day. Unfortunately, I then sadly realized I did not remember how in fact I had tied my scarf. I was thus forced to keep the scarf on for several days because I feared I would never look that scarf-savvy again.

So…yeah. That’s all I have for now. I started class today and my professor said (all in French, of course): “Do your passion! If you like to play the violin, for example, don’t stop just because you’re in France because then you’ll be miserable here. If you play rugby, do that! Although you are all girls so I don’t know why I’m saying that to you. [My friends give me a look] Oh does someone here play rugby? You? But you’re so…small.”

Not for long buddy, not for long 🙂