By Abigail Lin
Abbie is a junior advertising major at Boston University and former photo editor of the Daily Free Press. She is spending the semester abroad in Paris while participating in the BU Paris internship program. She will be writing a series of weekly posts in which she explains her efforts to understand and adapt to the culture– which may not always be successful, but will undoubtedly be entertaining.
Grasping at the precipice between the cab and Paris, ravenously breathing in the gritty, damp air, one could imagine my excitement at having arrived in a new country to be called home for a whole semester. We passed by multiple people walking with oblong baguettes in tow, script-laden signs of corner cafes and brasseries, a huge open-air market teeming with Parisians and fresh fish in the north of the city.
Imagine my surprise when at the end of my ride, the cab driver turned around and said, “Cent euros, s’il vous plait.” Not sure if I had misheard or if my French knowledge of basic French numbers was even worse than I had anticipated, I asked him to repeat it. “Cent euros, madame,” he stated matter of factly, awaiting my payment. Feeling helpless in a new country, I handed over my 100 euro bill without a protest.
As I buzzed the apartment of my host mom, rapid-fire French was spit out of the intercom, and I somehow was able to manage blabbering out my name. After appearing, and introducing herself, she gauged from my wide-eyed response that I was having trouble and she asked if I understood French. Pleased that I understood, I uttered, “un peu” (a little). And by “un peu” I meant I had studied French on and off for eight years. Smiling sympathetically, she took me up to what was to be my home for the next four months.
Settling in, I ventured out of my bedroom to to go the bathroom. When I got there, I saw a washing machine, a tub with no curtain or mounted shower head, I was bewildered to say the least. Embarrassingly, I asked my host mom where the toilet was. She led to the next door over, and pushed it in for me. A tiny closet, it contained the toilet and nothing else. “Bof,” I thought (Bof= sound of exasperation uttered by French people on the daily).
Adjusting to the cultural norms of this country, not to mention navigating the nuances of the language have been at times frustrating, embarrassing, and downright tiring. Since then, I’ve been working on maneuvering the tricky balance between adjusting to French cultural norms, and coming to terms with my place in this crazy city.
It’s been two and a half months, and among the most notable things I’ve mastered include: looking stoic and/or angry on the metro so as to not attract attention to myself, avoiding the inevitable mounds of dog poop on the sidewalk, and having unnaturally low expectations of my prospect of viewing the sun on any given day.
Things I still haven’t mastered: the art of the French washing machines, as evidenced by the baby green cardigan I’m sporting today, how to get behind working until seven every day (the norm in France), and getting used to men holding Longchamp bags.
Follow me on my volatile relationship with the City of Lights through the end of April, and stay tuned for musings on croissants, full time internships in French, and my personal humiliation.