Where have I been the last few days? Then again, where have I not been? I will begin by saying that I have been living in one of the busiest and most beautiful cities in the world while also managing an enviable (but also incredibly busy and sometimes downright exhausting schedule.) Sometimes I sleep, but mostly I am walking on a dirty sidewalk avoiding dog poop (no one picks it up; it’s a cultural thing), being wedged into a metal corner of a metro car by tall, stylish people in scarfs, or wandering through cathedrals which are, no joke, colder than your freezer. Try it; go stand in your freezer for an hour and, voila, you’ve experienced cathedral meteorology.
I don’t mean to sound un peu whiny, though I unashamedly admit it is. Have mercy; speaking another language all the time can feel like it takes a toll, especially when all you want to ask is how to do your gosh dang laundry right now because you will be gone for dinner tomorrow because you’re going to the Louvre again with some friends and will be leaving on Sunday morning to go to Normandy for two days (!), without being stared at because you conjugated most of the verb tenses wrong and made up a word and kept using it again and again. Ugh! Communication…..vraiment, c’est une grande problème parfois.
Today was the first morning of our trip were I experienced an acute moment of homesickness. I have legitimately felt like I have wanted to be nowhere else but Paris until this point but today I woke up, still tired, didn’t want to get out of bed, didn’t want to see French people, didn’t want to speak French, didn’t want to look nice for school (aka I didn’t want to dress like a normal Parisian and instead wanted to wear a sweatshirt and track pants– such a faux pas; you’d stand out like you wouldn’t believe in a crowd of slim, chic, straight-faced Frenchies…) Zut alors! I just wanted to be an American. I wanted to eat French toast (have not seen it once here, just sayin’) and sausage links for breakfast instead of a hunk of baguette, a banana and a glass of jus d’orange for breakfast. I was shocked and a little upset with myself. I didn’t think I was “that guy”– the guy would would feel homesick in the heart of Paris (literally, I pass the Arc de Triomphe every morning when I walk to school.) But I was, and I felt a great sense of compassion for all my friends who are international students. I get it now, a little. You’re amazing. Really! It’s not easy and I am proud of you.
But while I was getting into my shower this morning and crouching to fit under the inconveniently low (but temperature controlled!) shower head, I realized I didn’t really feel this way deep down. Really, I was just feeling tired of feeling stupid and foreign. Understandable, and if you’ve lived abroad you know what I’m talking about. For example, yesterday evening was the first time I didn’t get lost on the metro or get lost walking home after getting lost on the metro. I wish I could bottle how awesome it felt to not screw up and give it to you to drink and experience. I felt so proud of how I was learning to get around! But, that feeling comes with a price, and it is the priceless gift of experience. A few days ago, I got off at my station, Porte Maillot, and searched for an hour until dark before finally finding the street of my apartment before realizing that I had the wrong punch code to get in and I couldn’t open the dumb front door. Nooooo! But, luckily I had my new French cell phone with a pay as you go plan. Cha-ching! I called my French mama (who’s name I still don’t know, which seems to be a common theme within our group; French parents don’t introduce themselves or something….or maybe they did and I had no idea what the heck they were saying which was very probable a few days ago when hearing a lot of French at once was still overwhelming); my little bro Augustin picked up the line. I explained my situation and asked for him to clarify the code for me (in French!) and he did– in his cute little kid voice! (One of the cutest things in the world may be little children speaking French. I always think to myself, “Listen to that little high voice making those sophisticated sounds way better than me!”) Then, bien sûr, after squeezing into the bitty elevator that takes me to the fifth floor (cinquième étage), like I said, the key didn’t work…again. Zut! I called Mama de Corn and she answered this time and came out and helped me. I was so grateful! It had been an unexpected adventure after a long day of museum-ing (which should really be an Olympic sport; those benches are there so you literally don’t keel over in front of a David or an Ingres), walking a lot, and learning so much that you continuously find yourself reaching a “saturation point”. And you just get plain old tired of standing sometimes….all the times you’re not walking.
Ok. I have given you a few hardship examples. Not terrible. But enough to get under your skin and curdle like a bad fromage blanc if you’re not proactive. Today vanquished my cares of this morning. Here’s why: Question 1) Who walked, lookin’ real French in black and a scarf and no smile (a big deal for me), straight to school without having to ask directions four times time like the first day? ME. 2) Who ordered lunch for four people yesterday in French, explained to the nice woman behind the counter what we were doing in France in French, and got complemented on his accent by a French boulanger on his accent? ME. 3) Who spoke straight French for four hours everyday for the last three days in his intensive French course? ME. 4) Who explained, when asked by his French father, that his science-teacher mother taught Darwin’s theory of evolution as opposed to creationism in her classes, and that only private schools could structure their own curriculum? ME. (I needed a little help on words like curriculum, etc….) 5) Who totally aced finding his way home across town on the metro after a long day in in northern province of Picardie? ME! And I did it with so much pride and gratitude. I spent the last few days being so nervous about messing up on everything– the metro, my French, the weird French keys that belong to doors that don’t work, and so many more little things….. (I haven’t explained some of the other adventures.) Only a few hours ago, however, I was zippin’ around under Parisian streets thinking things like, “Oh, très facile! I’m at the Gare du Nord station and if I take the 6 to Charle de Gaulle Etoile going towards Port Dauphine and then I switch to the 1 going towards La Défense and get off at Porte Maillot, and then walk to Pereire Bd, then I will be home in about 40 minutes!” Not even a moment longer spent for second guessing myself or rechecking my little pocket metro map (aka my bible of the metro) five times and stopping at every few signs to triple check. And, oh yes, I knew my apartment building punch code by memory and I opened both of the doors to my house, like a pro. What up now, France!???
In conclusion, over the last few days I went from feeling at home, to feeling like such the “other”, to moving through experiences to the mastery on the other side. Such is life, no? A flow chart, if you please: Simplicity (ignorance) –> complication (experience; trials) — > simplicity (mastery and confidence), as a friend once explained to me (shout out to Heather Barron!) My French is literally getting better every time I open my mouth (and I have only been here a week!!!) and I feel very comfortable moving around town above and below ground, interacting with locals, spending long dinners passionately talking about politics and religion with my big, smart Catholic family, and just being young in Paris in the spring.
(I would love to attach photos but I am too tired to dump out my belongings and search for the runaway cord that allows me to download them onto my laptop. Tommorrow, peut-être! Here are a few from the last few days and a metro map)