Dealing With Host Family Guilt and Profitez-Bien

Anna Northenscold
December 9, 2021

After finally arriving at my new home for the next four months, my host mother showed me to my new bedroom. With a warm smile, she gestured towards a room with eggshell white walls and pink butterfly curtains hanging by the window. In a kind and soft tone, she said, “Voilà, ta chambre Anna!” (Here’s your bedroom!)

Florence is my host mother and she is one of the sweetest people I’ve met. Whenever there’s food being served, laundry being done, or any other household chore she never hesitates to look at me and say “N’hesitez pas dit-a-moi si tu as besoin quelque chose!” (Don’t hesitate to tell me if you need anything!) She is always making sure that I feel welcomed and at home in the house. Sometimes, when I come home late from my night class she will sit with me and eat dinner. We’ll talk about what we did that day and then move into another conversation about her life or the kids. One thing that has been different for me is living in a house with so many children. I grew up with one older sister who is 15 years older than me so I never really had the experience of living with a sibling...let alone three others. Watching Florence help all of her kids and how much warmth and love she brings in the home is something that I’ve really enjoyed. The family dynamic feels so similar to mine but at the same time unique to them and who they are.

I’ve definitely noticed that the more amount of time you spend with your host family, the more opportunity you have to speak en français but also witness what local french life is like. You see what they eat during a regular workweek, the daily routine (which can be very busy with all four kids in school and both parents working), and how the family dynamics are. One of my favorite memories is when my host brother, Aymeric, had his birthday the first month I arrived. I came home from classes and the whole family immediately started transforming the house into a celebration. There were candy bowls placed out on the kitchen table, pizzas warming in the oven, music blasting on the portable JBL speaker, and lots and lots of dancing. Afterward, we all sat in a circle and individually handed our gifts to the birthday boy. Each family member had a gift but first gave a personalized speech about Aymeric which was so sweet to hear. It was a moment where I felt like I was really getting closer to my host family.  I was so nervous to use my French in the beginning so when it was my turn to hand my gift I said a simple, “You are so nice and I am so glad you’re my host brother.” After, I moved my present forward and watched as Aymeric opened it. His eyes looked over the red wrapping paper and then suddenly opened even wider as he jumped up and started shouting. My gift wasn’t anything too fancy, just a pencil case from a Monoprix but I knew he loved soccer so I made sure to get the one with the French colors and official logo for the French team. Sure I wasn’t saying much and definitely just handed my gift to Aymeric when my turn came but it still felt nice to share space with them. We were all bonding together and celebrating. It’s moments like that where something so small to me suddenly feels so much bigger as I experience things through the eyes of my host siblings. They each bring so much life and joy into their home and I am so happy I’ve been able to be a part of it—even though it’s just for a short period of time. 

At the beginning of the semester, I was home almost every weeknight for meals and family time with my host family like this. My four host siblings keep me entertained and bring so much energy and warmth into our house, every day there’s something happening. My host sister, Margaux, and I play cards together at night or sometimes we just sit on my bed and “hang out” (or rather she would go through all my shoes, bags, and sunglasses to try them on while asking me questions about myself). Her other favorite thing is to take my phone to snap photos or create videos of herself. They are usually a series of blurry images or extremely long segments of her interviewing me and then us laughing while the camera sits on the floor capturing the ceiling. I’ve saved all of these on my phone. The other sister, Victoire, is a ball of endless energy and always on the go. After each meal, we always do our “check” or secret handshake (that isn’t really so secret because she insists on everyone watching us perform it after dinner or before she says goodnight each night). Then it usually turns into some other sort of game or show and tell but ends when my host mom and dad tell her it’s time to actually go to bed. 

Now settled into a routine and nearing the end of the semester, my schedule is filled with so many activities. I have classes of course, but there’s something new and unexpected every day that pops up. I’ll be meeting friends to go study in a new cafe right by la centre ville, headed to a karaoke night at the pub our IES Abroad group has made ours each week or going to an FC Nantes soccer game at the Beaujoire stadium. Each time I have plans that take me away from the daily routine of being with my host family I can’t help but feel this sense of guilt for not being spending quality time with them. It feels like I’m sending them a message that I’ve chosen others over them and I don’t want to hurt their feelings or for them to feel that I’m just there to eat their food and sleep in their guest room. I value time with my host family because I know it’s something I’ll miss once I’m back home. The opportunities to speak French or just sit in the house with my host siblings giggling while playing card games, watching movies with my host mom sipping tea after the kids are all sleeping, and just sitting with them at the dinner table as the fireplace crackles in the background—I’m going to miss it all. It’s been difficult figuring out which plans to make without feeling guilty that it’s taking away from another experience. However, now at the end of the semester, I’ve realized that everything is an opportunity to soak in the culture, the people, and the language while you’re abroad. Everyone who is there with you knows this and at the end of the day is hoping that you will enjoy every moment to the fullest. 

Each time before officially planning something, I’ll ask my host mom if I can go and each time her response is the same. Florence gives me a smile and nods then will say, “Aucun problem Anna!” (No problem, Anna!) Right before I leave to head out for the day or the evening, she always makes sure to peek her head around the corner so that she gets to see me and say goodbye before I leave. She’ll end our exchange with an utterly French phrase, “profitez-bien!” 

There’s no real English translation of this that really encapsulates what this means in my opinion. However, every time I hear it it’s like receiving a warm hug. People say it here as a warm simple phrase. It’s similar to “have a good time” or “enjoy it” but it also is so much more. The phrase functions as a wish from one person to another letting them know that they hope that person sincerely enjoys that moment. This phrase is one that I’ll be taking home with me along with all the sentiments and memories it’s attached to. Now heading into the last few days in Nantes, I’ll be living in each moment absorbing every second I have in this special place. 

Anna Northenscold

<p>Hello Everyone! My name is Anna and I'm a senior at Luther College. I'm studying English and French as a double major. This fall semester, I'm joining the Nantes - French Language Immersion &amp; Area Studies program for three months. I look forward to being able to take you along with me as I set off for this next adventure. I'm hoping to make some good connections, eat lots of food, and learn more about the Nantais while abroad. Some things I like to do in my free time are spending time with family and friends, cooking/baking, finding new places to visit locally or travel to, running and hiking, and having good conversations with new people. I'm a big extrovert so I love doing almost anything as long as it involves other people.</p>

Home university:
Luther College
Hometown:
Minneapolis, MN
Major:
English
French Language
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