Bonjour from France! It's been an incredible two weeks, and still feels vaguely unreal. Last weekend’s trip to Vannes helped that feeling, but I know that the more time I spend in Nantes, the more I'm going to realize that this is actually my place now. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been here for months, but the ripples of culture shock and homesickness prove that’s not true.
My first night in Nantes, I had dinner with my host family (famille d’accueil). They made chicken and rice, and instantly fulfilled my most-anticipated French stereotype by putting one and a half baguettes on the table. My culture lessons began immediately when I put my piece of baguette on the edge of my plate, because that's what I do at home to avoid my mother’s wrath. My host sister spoke up instantly, explaining that in France people put their bread on the table beside their glasses, and never on the plate. Okay, that's easy enough. If I bring that habit back to the U.S. my mother may kill me, but for now it's all good. Towards the end of the meal I noticed that my host brothers’ plates were insanely clean, almost as if no food had ever been on them. I glanced around and noticed that all their plates were like that—all of the food was gone. All of it. Every grain of rice, every vegetable, every piece of lettuce, the last remnants of salad dressing cleaned up with bread and consumed.
I decided to try to imitate this, since I didn't want to accidentally be rude. Here's some background on why this ended up being a struggle for me: 1) I'm a picky eater and always leave stuff on my plate; I never finish anything unless it's made of 90% or more chocolate, 2) I don't eat large meals, instead I snack throughout the day, 3) I eat really slowly, so I have plenty of time to realize how full my stomach is getting, and 4) I took a second helping of the chicken and rice to show how much I liked it, thinking it would be okay to have leftovers. So I sat there, eating my chicken and rice, desperate to finish every last bit. Then my host mom offered me salad. It seemed like a good idea at the time to take some. Then came the never-on-the-plate bread. My plan to eat every last morsel on my plate failed, but I figured okay, now I know. Tomorrow I can do better.
The next night, I went downstairs for dinner after Skyping with my mom. My host sister made goat cheese and spinach lasagna, and by the time I got to the table it had already been cut...into portions as big as my hand. I stared at it for a little while. My host mom asked if it was too much, and I had a moment of patriotic fervor and determination—I come from America, land of large portions, and if I cannot finish this I might as well renounce my citizenship—and said non, pas de tout. I finished the lasagna and a little bit of salad, leaving only a few smears of spinach on the plate. It was still more than anyone else had left over, and I had to refuse the fruit my host mom offered me, but it was improvement. I was weirdly proud of finishing that lasagna, as if doing so proved me worthy of French culture.
My go-to places for lunch are boulangeries around IES Abroad. They’re fast, and the food is easy to order and delicious. On Tuesday I went to one that had macarons as big as my hand on display, so in completely unrelated news I have a new goal on my study abroad bucket list. I just found out that basically everything is closed on Sundays, which I didn't have to worry about last weekend because I was eating crepes on the way back from Vannes, where I bought my first keychain of the semester.
The Vannes trip felt really nice. When we first arrived we spent the afternoon exploring the city, and the following morning went on a cruise to Île aux Moines, where I bicycled around the island and had a picnic on the beach. The following morning we visited the Port de Saint Goustan, where Ben Franklin apparently once arrived on his way into France. It was a really nice break from the hours of travel to get to Nantes, the jetlag, the unpacking, the confusion of settling into an unfamiliar place, and hours of language testing.
I’ve also figured out how to get to IES Abroad from my house. That may sound really simple, but I’m the most directionally-challenged person in the universe (with the possible exception of my mother) and before I got to France I had close to no experience with public transportation. On the flight to Nantes, I wasn’t afraid of the French immersion, my famille d’accueil not liking me, or even getting lost—instead, I was terrified of getting a cab. Much to my surprise, that actually wasn’t hard for me (just scary) and led to my first entirely French conversation with a French person in France! True, it was about four sentences long, but still.
Now I take the tram to school every day and have learned to navigate this section of the city based on landmarks. After a bit of wandering uselessly around, I even managed to locate a store that sold school supplies. I only needed pens, but I decided to look at notebooks, and the paper here is weird. Every single notebook had it: pages and pages divided with a hundred itty-bitty lines and huge margins.
A few days ago I signed up for this Saturday’s excursion to Mont-Saint-Michel, and I’m really excited to see the place my high school French textbooks went on and on about. All I have to do is survive my first week of classes at IES Abroad!
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<p>Hi! My name is Suzan Frierson and I'm a junior at the University of Redlands. I'm a Creative Writing major and French minor, and the language inspired me to study abroad in Nantes. I love traveling, writing, and going on adventures.</p>