After my flight from Boston Logan International Airport had a mishap with the cargo apparatus, I finally landed at Charles de Gaulle airport, or Roissy (as the locals call it) two hours later than expected. My program’s staff brought us to our respective housing after giving us a brief information session. When I met Maman Bertrand, my host mother, I could not bring myself to even form a French sentence, although I have taken it since middle school. I was extremely overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of my new home. Slimbach flawlessly describes this phenomenon: “No matter how well prepared, broad minded, or full of good intentions we may be, entering a new culture knocks our cultural props out from under us” (152). It was as if I was a shell, my old identity had left, a new one not yet formed. At five o’clock, we were expected to meet back at my program’s center pour “un goûter Normande,” or a Normandy snack, of crepes. While everyone else had a roommate to return with, I was expected to use the metro, for the first time I may add, by myself. Living outside of Boston, I rarely use public transportation and I drive everywhere instead. With the help of my host mother, I successfully traveled there and back by metro.
My communitas of other study abroad students although important, can be very linguistically restrictive at times. Although I have made many American friends, most are comfortable speaking only English with one other. As we are all new to Parisian life, we cling to one another, thereby limiting our French language acquisition. Overall, however, we all respect the culture and use French with locals as much as possible.
Challenges, although often, are to be expected. I have already encountered trouble with the use of metro tickets and choosing the correct line/direction of which I want to go. I treat each challenge not as an adversary, but as a source of learning. Every time I must ask for directions, I am practicing interacting with a local, which has benefits that far outweigh the disadvantages of the challenge. I have already noticed that my French has remarkably improved, even after only one day here! My host mother is very patient and willing to help fix minor grammatical errors whenever they occur. By taking my time to adjust my understanding of the culture, I have found patience within myself that I did not know existed.
After an exciting first few days, the entire group attended a mandatory cultural adaptation workshop. The CEA director presented an eye-opening phenomenon, with origin in Pascal Baudry’s philosophies: Americans are like peaches while the French are more like coconuts. On the surface, this sounds absolutely ridiculous yet makes complete sense. Americans are culturally expected to act friendly towards everyone and offer a warm disposition that seems inviting, yet hide the most personal details the minute someone provokes a sore subject; they are soft and “fuzzy” on the outside, yet completely solid, like a pit, on the inside. The French, conversely, are already closed off to begin. If you are able to penetrate their seemingly cold and private nature, you will be considered a friend for life, having access to their most personal details. In hopes of assimilating to this culture and meeting locals, I will follow this odd philosophy. Another important aspect of integration and assimilation is the use, or at least the attempted use, of the language. The French consider their language of utmost importance, and even with incorrect pronunciation or misplaced adjectives, they still appreciate your perseverance. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, I have noticed that many of my American friends do not wish to speak French amongst one another, although most of us are here for language improvement. It is disappointing, to say the least.
I have included a picture of myself in front of the Eiffel Tower, smiling away. I chose this particular image because regardless of what hurdle I must jump, I must maintain perspective. I have been looking forward to traveling here for years, and I will not let a trivial problem, such as the metro, get in the way of that.