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Sept. Blog 2/2 -- Cultural Crash Course

It’s been just about one full month since I arrived in Paris and just about two weeks since I’ve started my real classes. It goes without saying that things are very different here (no duh, it’s a different country). But some of the things that are different surprised me. For the most part in the U.S. you walk on the right. This prevents awkward pedestrian traffic. Here in Paris, you just walk where you can find room and you keep your eyes peeled for possible obstacles (i.e. other people). Another thing is announcing your presence and departure wherever you go. When you walk into a store or restaurant or café or honestly anywhere here in Paris it is polite to say “Bonjour! Ça va?” to no one in particular. It’s a way of letting others know, “I’m here to do what one normally does in a place like this, don’t freak out!” And then once you’ve eaten or had your coffee or have bought something at the store you are expected to say “Merci, au revoir!” This time it’s like announcing “Okay, I’m done here. Don’t panic if you can’t find me anymore!” That was something that took a bit of getting used to. But all in all, it’s not too far out of the realm of normal for an American.

Besides learning the new cultural nuances of Paris, I’m also meeting a colorful cast of characters here (If you haven’t notices the letter C is becoming a very important consonant in this blog). Probably the most curious is a man who lives in the apartment building that the IES Abroad center is attached to. I don’t know his name but he is an American living in Paris. He smokes what are to me the worst smelling cigarettes in the city and he keeps a flightless pigeon as a pet. Every day he goes out into the community garden of the building, and he lets the pigeon hop around with its pigeon friends while he smokes and watches the students bustle here and there. Any other people that I try to compare to him will be overshadowed in comparison.

We also took an excursion with the entirety of our class to Normandy. It shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did to see that there were also quiet little quaint country towns in France. Certain parts of France are known for being in the country and having farms that produce the country’s cheese or vineyards that grow the grapes for the country’s wine. I suppose it’s because I flew directly into Paris and hadn’t left before this trip that I associated France with New York style city vibes. It was educational, heartbreaking (we did a lot of activities that associated with D-Day and WWII), beautiful, stressful, relaxing, and overall a great experience.

Personal update: Things have been very up and down. Homesickness has come and gone and come back again with a vengeance. I’ll have one day that is a triumph and then just before bed there will be a little something that goes wrong that colors the whole day negatively leaving me feeling lost and small. I keep telling myself that it will pass, but in the thick of it it can be hard to believe. Making friends has proved harder than I initially expected. Part of the reason I pushed myself to study abroad at all was to learn to be more independent and self-sufficient. Not having scores of people inviting me to do things together helps with that at least. However, I have companionship before too long. I have however made some friends that have been there for me and are simply wonderful. Overall, I’m feeling much better, far more well-adjusted, and back to my normal level of always tired.

A surprising change was the addition of another girl in the program living with me and my host mom. It’s too soon to tell but I think it will work out just fine.

As always, I’ll keep my eyes and my ears open for anything noteworthy so I can relay the stories onto you all. Allons-y!