Jewish mama, kosher chicken, happy camper

It’s unbelievable how quickly three days can go by; how three days can flip your life across the Atlantic, in a context so different, yet in a manner so natural. And while three days has brought such change to my life, it’s all processed so seamlessly, so normally. The fact that Paris, France is my current place of residence has yet to boggle my mind. In fact, the notion that it doesn’t boggle my mind is likely the issue that should be focused on.

In a way, I expected Paris to be different. The images of the Eiffel Tower towering over a city of greens was what I had in mind. You know, the typical American obsessed image of the Eiffel Tower as all things Paris, all things romantic and classic and elegant. But of my three days, I’ve discovered that’s not quite the case. Of course the Eiffel Tower is a part of the Parisian setting, but there’s so much more to the city, to the nooks and crannies of the city streets as the tinge of the setting sun shades the buildings a gentle hue of amber, the distance tinted, come sunset, by a faint, pink smog.

I arrived Tuesday morning. The flight itself had been smooth, despite the horrendous food United served. I’m a fan of  all things food, providing it follows my kosher restrictions (of which, each participant on my program is now up to speed on). But astronaut food disguised as a vegetarian, Indian dish is not one that pleases my tastes. I was pleased I had gorged on a Potbelly’s sandwich prior to leaving.

Sort of funny, considering my first meal upon arrival was a baguette avec camembert (brie) at the boulangerie (bread and pastry shop) opposite the hotel we spent our first night in. Funny, because the sole comparison I can think of between Potbelly’s and the boulangerie is that the two are on absolutely opposite ends of the spectrum.  

French food is extraordinary. There's a delicacy to the taste, a freshness to the flavor and a quality to the touch. 
The crispness of the baguette mixed with the lightness in feel as you carefully bite into it, letting the sensation awaken the taste buds as the flavor melts in your mouth. And oh, the buttery texture of the brie. Words can't even begin to describe. Same went for the crepes a few of us had for dinner that evening and the pear tart I purchased as my dessert following my ratatouille crepe. We were told the French have great respect for food; the French have great respect? I promise, my respect is quadrupled. 

It’s day three, and our time devoted to exploration has been limited given our program orientation and transfer to our home stay took up our Wednesday, in addition to this morning which was devoted to our academic orientation and French placement exam. So insightful observations are a work in progress. But a quick rundown as to what I’ve noticed thus far:

-        Parisians are surprisingly friendly—as long as you make the initial effort to speak French. Which I have, beginning with my Super Shuttle driver and our in depth conversation… about? Absolutely no memory of the conversation three days later, but he obviously liked me well enough given he a) asked if I were married. (As if I look that old.) Then appeared shocked to hear I was 20. And b) proceeded to give me a tour of Paris’s major landmarks by taking a slight (or possibly major, no sense of my whereabouts really) detour. Which marks my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysées.

-        Water fountains are non- existent in Paris. The French, apparently, aren’t a dehydrated folk, so the notion of carrying about a water bottle across the city is seemingly reserved to the few (of which, include me). Thank goodness tap water is drinkable: my go to for a camelback fill up.  

-        The metro: In terms of appearance, I’d say it is a blend of New York City’s metro tiling (gone cleaner) and the London tube’s narrow, circular build. Transfers between track numbers mimic the appearance of parts of an airport in which moving walkways are provided to hurry along the process. And the whole set up of catching a train is marked by unparalleled efficiency; In addition to trains that follow a schedule of a train in under three minutes, signs are posted across the underground transportation, making the prospect of transferring one that can be handled with ease. I took the metro this morning (MY FIRST TIME!) to get from my home stay (located in the 14th arrondisement) to the ACCENT center (coordinator for my abroad study program; the center is located down the street from the Bastille) for an academic orientation. The commute was simple, giving me a comfortable base to refer to upon returning home this evening. Some of the older lines have buttons on the doors which must be pressed should passengers wish depart the metro. It makes me slightly nervous given the amount of people packed into the cars, and what if I can’t squeeze through the crowd in time to click the ticker and breeze past the plastic doors of the metro’s car? Escusez- moi is the key phrase, one I’ve grasped and have successfully incorporated onto my metro trips of the day. But so far, have yet to click that green button. It’s fascinating watching individuals aboard the metro. How well put together everyone looks, yet how normal and mundane of a setting we are all in. Despite the innate air among Parisians—a sort of awareness that this is Paris, and yes Parisian fashion and class absolutely beats yours—Paris is still a city, and it’s residents are still taking public, underground transportation, just like cities all across the world.  

-        Smoking is a thing here. They all do it. Over it.

-  Heating and water and electricity, according to host mama, is incredibly expensive in Paris. The city and its residents, therefore, are all about going green concept. (AU and Paris should definitely coordinate. Although Paris has a thing or two to learn about accommodating the disabled.) Lights in the apartment and school buildings are on timers; heaters in restaurants aren’t existent and the heater in my home stay apartment comes on late evening.

-  You’re permitted to dine in a restaurant. As in, the server doesn’t hassle you to leave. In fact, the server rarely comes. Which is good because it gives you time to socialize with company rather than focusing on the order, scarfing down the meal, dividing the check and leaving. The downside of an open ended meal time, however, is that it’s completely open ended, making it difficult to track down the waiter once you’ve decide you’d like your check. (Example: it, at lunch today, took us 45 minutes from deciding we wanted our check to actually receiving the check.) As in with my experience in Australia, waiters don’t expect a tip, therefore service is less guided by the need to satisfy the customer. It's a really good thing that the food surely makes up for the service.

-        It’s not only the people that hold themselves with such class; the city too imbues an absolute sense of elegance and refinement. Trees, leafless and bare, stand rooted, almost with a sense of pride, lining the perimeters of streets, their branches curling to form a soft edge along les rues (the streets). Buildings too have character; classic architecture laced with a twist of Parisian flare (I shall post pictures at a later point.) It’s all just gorgeous.

As for the host mama situation. Situation? Oh, the situation is beyond perfect.
It boils down to one statement:

Host mama is Jewish and served kosher chicken on the bone for our first meal.

My French is far from good enough for me to have fully expressed precisely how grateful I was for the chicken, let alone the home stay situation.  And I’m sure Madame would have been absolutely perturbed had I smothered her with a hug as a form of body language for THANK YOU FOR THE KOSHER CHICKEN AKA MY FAVORITE MEAL. The Madame possesses a Jewish mother’s tenderness masked by the characteristic French, frank demeanor. I enjoy the blend; not too much of a comfort yet enough where I'm aware she's there as a motherly figure should I need it of her. We conversed quite a bit, playing a small game of Jewish geography, only to discover she did not, in fact, know my grandparents (who used to live in Paris years ago. We were attempting to figure out if they had gone to the same synagogue.). The Madame speaks to me only in French, rarely helping me brainstorm the proper French word at times when I get stuck. She occasionally corrects my grammar, but for the most part, she waits, patiently. She is a teacher at a Jewish elementary school nearby; I sense her profession as a teacher explains her understanding that patience is part of what I need to expand my ability to speak French. She lives alone, although has two grown children; a son, married to a Jewish girl and whom I met this evening. And a daughter, who is dating a non- Jewish boy. But there’s not much Madame can do about that, so she said.

I made the mistake of calling Madame the informal “tu” rather than “vous.” I caught myself, eventually. Although after I did, Madame motioned away, claiming I was like her daughter. “Tu” would be fine.

A German foreign exchange student lives here too (can’t for the life of me remember her name given I was told it mere seconds after settling in. And, at the time, my focus was directed more towards the massive suitcases fitting through the narrow path of the door to my room). She’s a bubbly, excited girl who has taken a gap year prior to entering college in her home of Munich. We eat our dinners together, spending the hour discussing a range of topics in complete French. (Conversation this evening ranged from foods we enjoyed eating [both a fan of Thai and sushi, both dislike raw onions] to Germany’s take on Obama [they’re a fan]). She’s been here for two weeks (with two weeks remaining of her program) and her French is good. She helps me brainstorm the words that are missing from my bank of knowledge; it’s excellent practice—for the two of us. Madame relaxes on the apartment’s couch watching the news while eat—educational background noise amid our conversation.

The apartment is located in Paris; I have yet to fully explore the area given I arrived last night and returned home around 6 pm this evening. The apartment itself is large; the decoration is traditional and homey. Not flashy, although I would assume the Madame is at least comfortable given she lives in an apartment in Paris and about a two-minute walk to the metro stop.

My room is modestly sized, featuring a unisex color scheme of blues and whites. The German student and I, each with our own rooms, live at the end of the hallway of the apartment’s first floor. We share the bathroom—two separate entrances: one with the toilet, the other with the shower and sink. (What type of person separates the sink from the toilet? Just the thought of the germs residing on the handle of the toilet room makes me ill with ease.)

The eight others on my program are spread across Paris, some of whom live near each other. In terms of the other program participants, they are absolutely lovely. They’re all here for the same reason: to immerse themselves into the lifestyle of the French, to improve their understanding of the language and to live and learn a culture so new. We’re all from AU, the majority SIS students. I had expressed my sense of exhaustion in terms of meeting new people to a friend a while back, and prior to my departure for Paris, she had advised that I don’t sugar coat my attempts in developing new relationship. Which is precisely the advice I’ve followed these past three days: I’ve just been myself. I haven’t tried forcing conversation, rather settling for silence if that’s where our conversation hits. It’s all been so natural, so nice, so normal. A group of four of us explored the Pantheon (built as a church but transformed into a national temple shrine) today following a lunch at a quaint restaurant. We spent the afternoon together following our group boat ride on the Seine, concluding with hot chocolate and café at a pricey restaurant along the 1st arrondissemnt (a largely touristy area nearby the Notre Dame and Pont- Neuf).

As for this evening, I met up with a close college friend who is studying in Paris too, although on a separate program. We’re lucky in that we live relatively near each other, making our halfway point less than a ten- minute metro ride away.

And so that’s largely a wrap of the past three days. It’s all been happened so quickly, yet I find I’m not in a rush. There’s four months to get through and, while I’m well aware of how quickly it all goes by, I’m adamant about taking the time to appreciate each moment—from the boat ride along the Seine to our strolls along the nooks and crannies de les rue de Paris. 

Bonne nuit!

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