Napoleon was a hero to France, but just a clumsy suitor to his wife.

Paris provided a space for women to free themselves, if they chose, from the tangled web of romantic and familial relationships. It was where they could be free to be themselves. Free even to reinvent themselves.

True Pleasures: A Memoir of Women in Paris, Lucinda Holdforth

I absolutely love this book I’m reading. Both of the above quotations are from it. The first I find amusing, the second just sums up how I feel these days about Paris. My friend Rachel and I hung out all day today and wandered the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, and we were talking about how we wonder what we’ll be like after a year here. Because Paris is empowering for women, it is emboldening. And there is a freedom you find here that you will find nowhere else. So it is completely legitimate to wonder who we will be, what we will have done, by the time we leave Paris.

I am learning many things about French culture. I’m keeping a list so I remember to write about them, so here we go…

1) The French always sing Happy Birthday in English. Or, at least, my host family and their extended family do. Saturday, the whole extended Foucault family came over for lunch, to celebrate Solène’s birthday, Patricia’s sister’s birthday, and Hubert’s birthday, as well as Solène’s leaving for college. It was seriously one of my favorite experiences ever! These people are so amazingly nice and welcoming and wonderful; I really felt like a part of the family by halfway through the meal. And I was sitting next to the uncle, who’s hilarious and awesome, and apparently speaks great English, but who insisted on speaking French with me, and teasing me in French. Hey, it was fun all around.

But anyway, when they went to sing Happy Birthday, they all started singing in English, with heavy French accents. I was a bit confused, thinking they were doing it just for me. But no, it was explained to me that they always sing in English. Curious.

2) There is this idea in the US that the French drink copious amounts of wine, because they drink it with dinner daily, and often lunch too. I am sure those French exist, but my host family here has drunk wine twice since I got here, and that was on Saturday at lunch when everyone was over, and then the rest of the remaining bottle we finished at dinner last night. And my friends say their families don’t drink wine daily either. So… rumor debunked.

3) French TV is awesome. They don’t have commercials during shows. Or, at least, not during American TV shows. They do during Star Ac’, which is a French cross between American Idol and Real World, and consequently hilarious. But last night during ER, no commercials. And I’m really hoping to watch Grey’s Anatomy tonight… commercial-less!

4) There’s another conception that the French are mean. That’s only partially true, and only sometimes. Part of this belief is that the French don’t smile, ever. Definitely not true. First of all, I’ve decided my family is an exception to all rules, because they are the happiest, friendliest people I’ve ever met. So, my family aside, when I’m out in the real Parisian world, here’s the deal: If they think you’re Parisian, they’ll smile at you. They’ll even talk to you. They’ll like you. It’s when you smile at them first, when you talk loudly, when you’re just generally not Parisian, then they don’t like you so much. That’s why the dudes at our favorite tea house aren’t nice to us. Because we speak English and don’t behave French enough. But when I’m out by myself, like this afternoon, people just talk to me on the métro, or I hold the door for a woman and she smiles at me… The Parisians are nice, they just hide it well. ;-)

On a completely different note, there was a guy next to me on the métro the other day wearing a Georgetown sweatshirt! It looked like it was from the 80’s, but it was a Gtown sweatshirt! I was very excited.

More later. Je vous embrasse très fort!

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