The Holidays: French Edition
Hello Everyone! Happy New Year!
I don’t know about you all, but the start of the new year really felt like a clean fresh start for me–so much has changed since January 2010 and above all time has gone by so quickly…2010 was full of good memories and a number of big things for me- choosing a college, graduating high school, going to France and turning 18 and I feel like the year was done and over before it even started. So, for 2011 I’m excited to build off of everything 2010 brought me and see what the future holds!
December was marked by lots of cold, snow…and occasions to celebrate! There were a number of days where the -school was nearly empty– when it snows, the busses don’t run and people don’t come to school…and it works pretty well as an excuse even for those who don’t take the bus But I went faithfully to class and it was sometimes interesting to have class with only like 5 or 10 students. I did my christmas shopping early to mail gifts off to my family in the US– tried to choose very “french” gifts of course.
I went a few times to Metz to do christmas shopping and walk around in the various little christmas market areas. They make some pretty tempting foods there- waffles, crepes, hot chocolate, donuts etc etc…they also make “vin chaud” or hot wine with spices…the smell is really strong and I was never brave enough to taste it.
The actual day of my birthday was quite memorable- first off, the huge piles of snow that covered the whole town and made car travel and even walking around messy, and of course the nice things my host family and friends did for me. In the morning while getting ready for school someone knocked on my door…
it was my whole host family! with a chocolate cake and candles and a camera, singing happy birthday in French! It was such a nice gesture and made me so happy…even better was getting to eat the chocolate brownie/cake, for breakfast! At school everyone wished me a happy birthday and it was just a nice day. If I remember correctly, we had a history/geography exam from 4-6pm that afternoon…so it was another long day at school but overall very nice. The evening we had a nice little family dinner eating tasty little snack foods and sandwiches…and another chocolate cake. I’m the chocolate lover in the family…they’ll always make sure that if there’s something chocolate in the house that I get to at least taste it.
Thank you so very much to my friends and family who sent birthday cards, mailed presents, left voicemails or even just typed little messages on the internet- I felt “a la fois” very far from you all but still held closely people who care. I’ll always have a good little story to share about my 18th birthday- a town buried under snow and a day shared with people who have come to know and care about me in the last few months. And to think, when I turned 17 I probably didn’t even know how to say “happy birthday” in french…
My host family gave me very nice birthday gifts- a cute little “Paris” coffee mug from my host sister and a sleek and useful purple fountain pen from my host parents. My host mom remembered how I’d admired the pens in the craft store earlier in the year and thought a french-made pen would make a nice gift. I was surprised in the afternoon when someone came to the door with a huge box delivery for me–it was a bouquet of flowers! From my dad and family- how sweet! Thank you guys, it was such a thoughtful gift. And from my mom I got lots of nice winter clothes- very useful round here.
The house was nice and cozy in the days leading up to christmas- the tree, the decorations and I even made some “american” christmas cookies. The period between christmas eve and new years (or really until the start of school Jan 2) is sort of a crazy blur of big dinners and extended family and gifts and smoked salmon and champagne and pastries and snow and oysters (yes, I said oysters!) and cheeses and dresses and guests and photos…whew!
I spent the 24th at home with my host family eating dinner and opening presents around the fire. I gave them a photo album with a bunch of pictures of things we’ve done together since this summer and a framed painting I made of the church and houses hear our home. I gave my host brother a California tshirt and a framed picture of us together. For my host sister I bought some colorful nail-polishes (t’s something we like to do together) and framed a picture of us acting crazy at our “thanksgiving” back in November. They gave me a calligraphy set (awesome!) a book in French and some sweet products from Sephora. My host sister made me some earrings- so thoughtful
This year christmas was hosted here “chez-nous” for the whole family on the side of my host father. It was great having everyone here- I missed my family back in the US but with all the activity over here I was kept busy and happy. We were 18 in the house- from little cousins to grandparents and everyone in between. I’m getting all mixed up now when I try to remember what we ate when that day but basically in total we had a big dish with duck, some smoked salmon, a tray of oysters, a pan of “foie gras” or duck liver, lots of good french bread, a faux tiramisu with red fruits and cinamon cookies, wines, cheeses…and to top it off: a passion fruit-chocolate yule log “buche de noel” handmade by my little host brother.
Eating Oysters like a Pro!
On christmas day I managed to set up a skype session with the crew “chez-moi” in California- it should be noted that the 9hr time difference doesn’t help one bit for such affairs- But we pulled it off! Such a trippy scene- two families, separated by language, culture and 9000km brought together over the internet for 5 or 10 minutes christmas day to just to wave enthusiastically and wish “joyeux noel” and “merry christmas” to the other–it touched my little “expatriate” heart.
In the following days we had guests over in the evenings and afternoons and a family potluck with the side of my host mother. The days passed quickly- lots of late nights and sleeping in late. During the vacation I enjoyed spending some more time with my host sister Marie- shopping trips in town, hot chocolate, movies, etc. Which reminds me- I finally saw the new Harry Potter! I thought it was well-made, despite the whole “chopping it in two to make more money” scheme. I saw it in French with my whole host family and understood it all! Another movie that we fell in love with this year (I think we watched it two or three times) is “Love Actually” it’s cute and good for Christmas time if you haven’t seen it.
As always, going back to school after the vacation was rough. No more waking up at 10am and calling it “early.” I don’t know about you all, but January is always a super difficult month for me. The whole “magic of wintertime” comes down with the christmas lights, gets tossed out to the curb with the tree…and we’re just left with dark cold mornings and cloudy skies. One day I complained to a classmate how I have the impression that I spend my whole life at school- you enter the building in the morning before 8 when it’s still dark out and when you leave at 6, it’s exactly the same outside. He was quick to point out the error in my reasoning: It’s not always the same when you leave…sometimes, its raining!
Hope that made y’all chuckle a bit. Well I’m here writing in February which means I made it through January in one piece. At school they’re toughening up a bit to get everyone in shape for the Baccalaureate exam in June. If you fail the “Bac” you don’t get to leave High School- you gotta do senior year over again and retake the exam- no wonder they’re all so stressed about it! It was nice to see everyone after the holidays and catch up…but of course we quickly shift into anxiously awaiting the next vacation…which is in the end of February/beginning of March (I’m going to Paris and Barcelona on a Rotary-organized trip…yes yes yes!)
The weekend after “la rentree” aka going back to school, my host parents moved my host sister back down to Lyon in the South where she goes to school. I was sad to say a temporary goodbye to her- it’s not the same at home without her lively spirit! I spent the weekend at a classmate’s house whose parents I also know because they are in the Rotary Club here that hosts me. They were very kind and welcoming to me and we spent a good weekend together- they took me to visit Nancy, one of the two main cities in Lorraine- it was so nice out that we could actually eat outside (with a heater and dressed warmly, mind you) but it was still a nice change from being always indoors.
Another weekend I spent shopping with an exchange student friend- she’s from Sweden and very cool- the coolest (yes, and only) Swede I know! In the winter after christmas they have big sales in the stores here so we took advantage of that excuse to add to our wardrobe.
Another weekend we (the exchange students hosted by the Rotary in Lorraine) had a weekend outing all together- a visit to Nancy on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday we visited a museum, did some strollin around town and went to the opera in the evening (saw an eletro-pop Darwinian Rock Opera…strangest.thing.ever. It was in english and I still didn’t understand a thing! The opera builiding is beautiful but I unfortunately fell asleep during the show.) Sunday we visited the Fine Arts Museum. Its always fun to spend a weekend all together–we have another one coming up soon in the Vosges Mountains.
I have lots more to write about- things I’ve been pondering about over here, observations on the whole adaptation/immersion process, questions that I can’t find answers to, my first trip to Paris, thoughts on language and culture and family and friendship…my brain’s quite a mess as of late- full of sometimes quite confusing thoughts, mostly in French.
Side note- It’s actually much easier to think in a foreign language than you’d think- heres why: even if your thoughts are full of grammatical mistakes or the words are “mispronounced,” you’ll still always understand yourself… and that’s what counts, right?
Until next time,
PS. Here’s a preview of what’s to come on zee blog: a little photo from my Paris trip in January