Since arriving in France, I've had a lot of firsts. Not to sound arrogant, but it felt fitting to write the title in French since I am in France, I love the language and it's a huge part of my life here. If you didn't already know, it means "firsts"...
Today is my first full day as an au pair and I am already exhausted. I love France so far and everyone I have met has been wonderful but it is very tiring mentally. Even though I have traveled quite a lot on my own and feel quite comfortable with it, living in a different language is difficult. I have felt like an idiot more times than I can count already. Like when I walked into a restaurant in Paris and was greeted by the host in French and I stared blankly back because I knew he had asked a question but he talked so fast I couldn’t understand what it was and under pressure I couldn’t even think of a response. Fortunately he was kind and patient as I struggled my way through being seated, ordering, and paying completely in French and, actually, I walked out of the restaurant feeling pretty good because it was my first interaction in France entirely in French and I had managed to make myself understood and to understand him. The first few days have been incredibly challenging and while understanding and speaking is getting easier, it still requires my complete concentration to carry on a simple conversation.
|My view from the restaurant where I enjoyed|
a delicious meal and the sense of accomplishment
from my first exchange entirely in French
Language is not the only struggle. For some reason, I find it especially difficult to navigate here. Normally, I feel like I am pretty good at finding my way around but here there are so many small winding roads and everything looks the same to me and I feel like I am constantly getting lost. I can usually wander my way around a city and succeed in getting where I want to go but in Paris I could walk for miles in the wrong direction before realizing it. Maybe it’s because it’s such an old city that it doesn’t have a clear plan like most of the cities I’ve visited or maybe because it’s in a foreign language I have to go through an extra step in my head, but whatever it is, I’ve found myself lost more than a few times over the past several days. Fortunately, I have local connections and they have helped me enormously!
|So many winding paths and narrow passageways!|
All that aside, France is great. Paris is hands-down the most beautiful city I have ever seen and I think I could spend days wandering around its lovely streets. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a ton of time there when I arrived since I got in on Thursday morning and took the train to Lorient on Saturday afternoon, but I managed to see the Eiffel Tower (from the bottom), Notre Dame and the Louvre (from the outside), the Palais Royal (Royal Palace), and the jardin des Tuileries (a huge garden near the palace), et les invalides (the old military hospital). I met my penpal, Paul, of about six years for the first time and he took the time to show me the city and help me navigate on my first day in the country. He and his girlfriend kindly let me stay in their apartment outside of Paris and helped me feel at home in a foreign country and made my first few days in France much easier and even more enjoyable!
|On the Seine|
|Le jardin de tuileries|
|Le jardin de tuileries|
|The courtyard of Palais Royal|
I am quickly learning that many of the French stereotypes are true, but not all of them. I have yet to meet a French person – even a Parisian – who struck me as rude or snobby. Maybe it’s because I always try to speak in French and they take pity on me, even if I butcher it or fail to make sense, but everyone has been friendly and helpful and seems genuinely kind. They do, however, like their bread. And, yes, by bread I mean French baguettes (although there are many other varieties of bread and bread-like products to be had). They do buy it fresh from the boulangerie (bakery) and eat it with at least every meal. It really is good but I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much bread in my life. I think 90% of my diet since arriving here has been bread, cheese, and some form of chocolate…. Wine is also a big deal here, which is okay by me. I tried vin chaud for the first time, which I think is originally German and known as Glühwein, and it is delicious. It’s hot red wine with cinnamon and orange and is somewhat similar to mulled cider. I also had raclette for the first time. It’s hard to explain but it’s sort of like and open oven that sits on the table and you put in mini pans with cheese, let the cheese melt and bubble, and then pour it over potatoes, meat, etc. and it’s quite good. They are also lots of baked goods particular to France and each region has its own. Bretagne (the region I’m in) is known for its crêpes (among other things) and they have both salty and sweet. In fact, we will be having the savory ones for supper tonight!
I'm staying in a town called Ploemeur and the family I’m living and working with is great and have made me feel very welcome. We have a lot in common – we both like the outdoors, outdoor sports, and traveling to name a few – and I think I will fit in well here. The house is about a 10 minute walk from the beach and there are some beautiful trails nearby that I can’t wait to explore. The area is beautiful with lots of forests and farms and really old, lovely buildings and stone-paved roads. Although most of the buildings are from the 50s since much of the area was demolished by World War II, there are still a few ancient houses and the area still has an old, rustic feel and an inherent beauty. I guess it’s to be expected since it is January, but the weather is not that great at the moment. It’s warmer than New England this time of year with averages around 50°F but lately it has been excessively windy with frequent heavy rains and occasional hail. Nevertheless, I’m excited to see what the next months hold and to get to know this family, this place, and the locals here!
|The coast a short drive from where I'm living|
|L'église (the church) in the center of Ploemeur|