Last week the children of one my neighbors invited me over for dinner at their grandmother’s apartment. The daughter picked me up at the apartment and we walked for a little while until we came to an apartment building just across from the Eiffel Tower. We went up a little back stairway and entered through a large blue kitchen into a large, beautifully decorated apartment. Parisian apartment buildings leave little room to spare, utilizing every nook and cranny and featuring narrow, winding staircases that mean furniture sometimes has been lifted by crane through a window. The apartment where I stay with host mom is plenty large for the both of us and I love my room, but walking into their grandmother’s apartment felt like walking into an old movie. There was a long hallway lined with portraits with similar faces and different clothes, the paintings growing older as the hallway lead towards the bedrooms. The parlor might have been from a museum, with the ornate, stiff chairs and long couches with curling feet. There were bureaus took, still gleaming, with vases, and more paintings on the walls, which themselves were a deep patterned red. We stayed chatting in there until the cook had finished our dinner.
As it turned out, I never actually met their grandmother. Apparently she loves having her grand children’s friends over for dinner parties, so my neighbors (Vincent and Chilina) had invited me, two French friends and two Italian friends over for dinner. Conversing quickly became tricky: the French friends spoke only a little English and Vincent’s Italian friend spoke French and some English, but her boyfriend only spoke English and Italian. Vincent and Chilina were the only ones who could speak French, English, and some Italian. So although English was the logical language of choice, the conversation dipped back into French and Italian as often as it stayed in my language.
Dinner was five courses: first, salad, second, a ham and cheese quiche, third, a bacon and cheese quiche, fourth, chocolate cake with ice cream, and last, a cheese plate with bread. Of course, bread was served throughout, as it’s the staple of French cuisine (along with cheese, if that wasn’t already implied). And it’s always fresh. My host mother actually told me that some families will go to a boulangerie three times a day to get fresh bread for each meal. It’s definitely something I’m going to miss when I get back. After dinner, to show around the Italians, we walked past the Eiffel Tower to Place du Trocadero and back across the Seine to Les Invalides, Napoleon’s tomb. It was cold, as always, but still beautiful, and my first time being the one to show people around rather than being led around. I’ve finally conquered the labyrinth of metro tunnels, finally know exactly what to ask for when I go into a boulangerie, and finally am walking around Paris like it’s my home. I’m so very glad to be here.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Helena Archer is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina studying public health, international studies, and creative writing. She loves all three, and is thrilled to be able to develop her interests abroad. During her semester in Paris, she hopes to engage and immerse herself in French and Parisian culture, and also to examine immigrant and francophone presence and relations. Helena loves hearing and telling stories, and can't wait to discover more of them in Paris.</span></p>