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.
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?
More importantly, about a week ago I had ma meilleure amie from London come visit.
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.
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’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.”
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:
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.
C’est tout for now. A bientôt!