Joyeux Thanksgiving “parisien”

Thanksgiving exists outside the US. Not as a holiday, exactly, but rather as an opportunity to take advantage of Americans abroad, and, consequently, to fascinate non-Americans. And, actually, it’s kind of a strange holiday to explain – we eat turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes/sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie; we hang out with family; we are thankful. It’s a nice holiday, really, and Virginie thinks it’s really cool, but I find it difficult to do jusice to in an explanation.

The one thing I apparently omitted was that this is not a presents holiday. Because my family gave me a Thanksgiving present. These people are seriously the most wonderful people on the planet, and I love them so much. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the Foucaults, and that I’m living with such a wonderful family this year who have welcomed me into their home and hearts.

Quick diversion, and then we’ll return to Thanksgiving: I’ve noticed that the French have no specific word for ‘home.’ There is ‘maison,’ which means ‘house,’ and ‘chez [someone],’ which means ‘[someone’s] (house).’ For example, we’d say, “I’m going to Anne’s,” or “…to Anne’s house,” and the French say, “Je vais chez Anne.” If you say I’m going home, you say, “Je rentre chez moi,” or “Je vais chez moi,” or “Je rentre à ma maison,” or “Je vais à ma maison,” etc. All of which roughly literally translate to, “I’m going (back) to my house.” Or so I thought. I’m beginning to wonder if the concepts of house and home are more connected here. Something to ponder.

Anyway, back to Thanksgiving. Sweet Briar took us to the Eiffel Tower, to the restaurant on the first level. The food was passable, but the view and the company made it all worth it. I’ve decided that I’m just going to have dinner parties for the rest of my life because I love going from group to group and socializing and kind of playing hostess.

I am, truly, very thankful for everything these days. Considering this world today, considering the ‘bad’ things that have happened of late to people variously connected to me, considering that I am spending a year in Paris, considering that I am going home for Christmas (!!)… I am a very lucky person. Thank you to everyone. May I continue to have so much to be thankful for.

And now, for some notes on things I’ve discovered/experienced of late.

Learning to function and converse in French has its ups and downs. I imagine this is the case with learning any language, but, well, my experience is only with French. You go from feeling really good about yourself one second to feeling completely incompetent the next. Case in point: Last week, I had to buy a bunch of baguettes, for my friend’s soirée. I went to a boulangerie near my house, but they were out and only had pain viennoise. I had a conversation with the woman about what I should do/get/etc., and eventually figured it out. I felt really good about it all; I felt good about my accent, I said everything properly, she didn’t ask me to repeat anything, I didn’t ask her to repeat anything, it was great. So then, I went to meet my friend at St-Michel and went to a boulangerie there to get a couple more baguettes. I walk in, feeling really good about myself, tell the guy what I want, he gets them, and goes to the cash register and says, “Two twenty.” What?? I spoke French! I spoke good French! It must have been my accent, and it’s a touristy area so maybe that’s why, but… come on, at least humor me. I left feeling significantly deflated.

So, then, I was waiting at the Place St-Michel for my friend, holding a ton of baguettes, leaning against a lamp-post, chilling. A couple walk up to me – I see them conferencing for a second a few steps away from me, before they approach – and the husband asks me, in French, with a distinctively un-French accent, where Blvd St-Germain is. I’m flustered, because I can’t decide whether I should speak in French or English, but I’m also flattered. I point and try to say something in French, before giving up and speaking in English. We all laugh and finish the conversation in English. A few moments later, a man walks up to me and asks me where some store is, in French. I don’t recognize the name, so I ask him to repeat it. He asks if I don’t speak French. I tell him I speak French and English, but what store is he looking for. He repeats. I still don’t recognize it, and tell him I have no idea. Why was it that after that silly boulanger I couldn’t competently speak French? It’s something that goes up and down without warning.

That experience also demonstrates something else I’ve been thinking about lately: people in Paris have no qualms asking for directions. Maybe it’s because there are so many tourists, maybe it’s because there’s no rhyme or reason to the streets here, but whatever the reason, Parisians and tourists alike, everyone asks for directions. And if you can communicate with the person you ask, they’ll gladly help you. This realization is one that helps anyone living here gain a greater understanding of the culture. Once you figure out that we’re all a little lost, you realize the French don’t have it all together the way they appear to on the outside. And they’re far friendlier than they let on, as I’ve said before. Not to mention that you feel like you’ve finally been given entrance to an exclusive club, which really isn’t all that exclusive; it just pretends to be.

I had two other interesting experiences the other day. First, I experienced a French fire drill, in the midst of my class the other day. We all marched out and waited in the rain until people decided to go back into the building. There was no particular indication that it was time to go back in, as far as I could tell, but people just started going back in, and everyone followed.

Secondly, I had my medical exam for my carte de séjour. Very curious. I’m sure you’ll all be happy to know that I’m healthy and my chest x-ray was not at all abnormal. After being approved, I waited in line for the actual carte. Turns out they have practically no one’s… because the place where they make them was/is on strike. Yes. Amazing. Irritating.

So that, my friends, is what’s been going on with me of late. I had insane amounts of work this week (who said there was studying during study abroad??) and I’m trying, rather unsuccessfully, to catch up sleep. In fact, I think I’ll go nap now.

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