Nearly every day I trek to the metro station nearest my apartment to hop on line four towards Porte Clignancourt. What better opportunity than at that moment to take in surrounding sights, smells, and sounds of the fourteenth arrondissement? Complete with its own characters, like the man who plays violin daily outside the local middle school, this district has a distinct feel. As soon as I step foot outside my gate, the quiet calmness envelopes me. This is much unlike the din of say, the Latin Quarter that is full of boisterous and eager students. In Paris, I think it may even be French law to have at least one bakery per street, or at least it seems that way! Luckily, I pass by two on my morning strolls, the aroma of fresh baguette and flaky pastry wafting around me and making my mouth water. While everything sounds wonderful, and most is, one sobering lesson was the way in which the French communicate, or lack thereof, on the street. They walk by, emotionless, as they make their commutes. Smiling at strangers or prolonged, unnecessary eye contact is frowned upon and can even be taken as an invitation to flirt. My first day at orientation, we were advised to “use our smiles wisely.” Even more, the French dress code matches that of their attitude: dark and somber. Whether I am walking down the street or sitting on the Métro, I cannot help but notice that the most popular colors are gray, brown and black. Bright colors are rarely worn and could even set one apart from French counterparts if one is not careful. Although my mother always poked fun at my wardrobe of uniquely navy blue and black clothes, I actually have the last laugh. As Slimbach suggests, simply observing the culture while on a walk makes for a great “teacher,” allowing you to analyze the foreign culture, in order to better adapt.
For my travelogue, I have chosen The Sweet Life in Paris by pastry chef, David Lebovitz. He details his move and difficult transition from San Francisco to Paris. Between each monologue, Lebovitz includes personal recipes, some with Parisian influences. As a fellow American and food lover, I cannot think of a better way to explore Francophone life through someone else’s experiences, gastronomic or otherwise. I find myself nodding in validation as Lebovitz explains the idiosyncrasies of French culture. These run the gamut from hanging your laundry to dry all over your apartment (unmentionables included) to never putting down your knife at the table after you have made the decision to use it. (This is most definitely a rule in French etiquette…I watch my host mother use her knife to precariously pile mouthfuls of food on her fork, as opposed to stabbing the piece of food and eating it that way). Not only does your couteau cut meat, it is also essential in actually moving the food from plate to mouth. This rule also applies to pizza…do not even think about picking it up to eat with your hands.
One particular section that I found most inspiring was Lebovitz’s utilization of his communitas. After living in Paris for only a short time, he decided to broaden his horizons (and face his fears) by asking the local fish market if they would employ him. He says, “I believe in taking advantage of my decision to live in a foreign country by making myself open to new adventures whenever the opportunity arises” (96). This quote struck an emotional cord in me; I am only living in this beautiful city for four months and if I do not take advantage of adventures when they arise, I will deeply regret it. Keeping this quote in mind, I have a fresh outlook on my study abroad experience. I will not decline any experience, within the realm of monetary and safety means, of course. To summarize this mindset in a picture, I have included the photograph I took from the top of L’Arc de Triomphe. This monument is located on the Place Charles de Gaulle Étoile, quite appropriately named, as all the streets extend outward like a star. All the streets represent the many opportunities that will present themselves during my study abroad experience, and I am waiting patiently, but excitedly, for that very moment.