Un Retour à Paris

Paris. I have experienced it over and over again since my first visit. A study abroad friend personified Paris as a bad boyfriend: it takes you from honeymoon period to love-hate relationship (Paris in the slush? Yuck) and back again. Now, Paris and I have settled into the companionate love of old friends. I know it’s always there; it feels familiar and safe. But every time I come back we have new experiences together, just to keep things spicy.

I’ve been there three times since September. The first time, Caro and I brunched the day away at a Breton buffet and made new friends in the street by night. The second time, I picnicked, then ended up in a hole-in-the-wall bar watching rugby, drinking beers, and reminiscing about college days with a friend from Whitman. This time, I reunited with my mom and aunt for museums, classical music, and shopping. There really is something for everyone 😉

My mom’s visit was long overdue. She and Paris had their own relationship — she studied there for a year during college. Part of my motivation for studying there was her stories about spending days in the Louvre, mornings in Parc Monceau, living in a mansion-flat owned by the sister of François Mitterand whom she exclusively called “Madame.” She was a hitch-hiking adventuress, covering much of Europe by car-hopping, ending up in random bars and houses, and in one case, a barn. Though she advised me not to follow that particular example (it’s okay mom, we have the internet to arrange carpools now), as I chased the ghost of past-mom around Paris for my study abroad semester I wished that she were with me.

And this time, she was!

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To make things more fun, her sister came with her — here we are with my lovely aunt!

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In the spirit of making their dreams come true, I found us a Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons concert in the Eglise de la Madeleine to end our first day. The violin soloist blew my mind. I can’t say I’m a connoisseur of classical music (mostly because I don’t even know where to start), but I deeply admire those who can make it. [This is especially thanks to my elementary school best friend Nellie, whose life is classical music — and she’s brought it into mine. She’s even on Youtube, playing her own arrangement of a very popular song…]

We got to revisit my favorite impressionist sites (Musée MarmottanMusée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie) and visually feast on Sainte Chapelle’s stained glass. I was in the throes of a what-will-my-future-be crisis and bowed out of some of these adventures, but we always reconvened in the apartment at night for some family fun! There was much sitting, laughing, cooking, and bothering Claire with “hilarious” videos (of my mom and I, of course).

I somehow convinced them to take me to Breakfast in America, my favorite American restaurant! What can I say, I desperately needed some pancakes. (Look, they liked it too!)

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I also got to see Cara for a lunch at Les Pates Vivantes, an Asian noodle place formerly frequented by the Paris Crew. It is always a joy to see my former French major inspiration!

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Another highlight was a dinner with my old host family: Marlène, Jeff and Lulu, the cat! Caro (my byootiful study abroad partner in crime) even got to join us for this one; we used to brunch and dine together all the time, so Marlène knew her and I finagled her an invitation. We ate foie gras, drank champagne, and our main course was fondue, homemade by a true savoyarde (the name for the fondue region, where all the best cheeses come from). And my mom and aunt got to pull out their dormant French skillz! In true Reflective Anne fashion, being back in my former Paris home made me think about how many things had changed since the last time I’d been there: I’ve graduated college, for one, and I succeeded in coming back to France. Plus, my French has come a LONG way.

On our last day, we did a trip out to Chartres, a nearby cathedral and town famous for having 12th century stained glass, saved from fires and wars by diligent townspeople for hundreds of years. They also invented a color there: the famous “chartres blue.” The cathedral was amazing, and the town was a charming escape from Paris!

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I was very sad to say goodbye! Seeing family both refreshed and comforted me: I remembered what it was like to be with people who have known me forever, and I remembered that I’m going back home someday…which inspired me to live France life to the fullest, while I still can!

Un Retour à Paris

Study Abroad vs. TAPIF: A Comparison

Many things in these first few months have made me think about this question:

What’s the difference between studying abroad and doing TAPIF?

I think this question is relevant to a lot of people, so I’ll use my experience to answer it for myself, and maybe it will resonate with someone!

First, some important background:

Then: Paris, lived in a homestay, went through a program organized by an American university with 45 other students, stayed for one semester. Studied (12 hours of class + homework). First time abroad.

Now: Valenciennes, live in a tiny room-apartment, went through the TAPIF program (organized by the French Ministry of Education), staying for almost a whole academic year (7 months). Working 12 hours/week.

I’ll make this comparison in list format, because it’s an internet trend but also because it’s organized and pretty

Pre-departure Differences

  1. The application process: This part is actually fairly similar. Both study abroad and TAPIF require everyone to fill out an application with some of the same material listed. One of the major differences is that the TAPIF application requires you to essentially translate your CV into French, by listing all your activities and extracurriculars in French instead of English. TAPIF is also much more competitive these days.
  2. The visa process: This is EASIER for TAPIF than it is for study abroad. They didn’t require nearly as much paperwork, and the French government paid for the visa fee. Unfortunately the trip to San Francisco is still required for people from my neck of the woods.
  3. The packing/panicking process: There’s no “things to bring” lists or advice or people to talk to if you’re in a panic when you do TAPIF. There’s Carolyn Collins, who sends out some e-mails throughout the summer, and the Guide de l’Assistant de Langue en France. I read all the things, and none of them particularly prepared me or helped in moments of panic. In my study abroad program there were lots of helping hands in case we got stuck or panicky, between the study abroad liaison at Whitman and the directors of the Paris program.
  4. Leaping into the unknown: Nobody knows where they’re going or what it will be like before they leave. This was a HUGE difference, because with study abroad programs there are usually past participant testimonies, a general structure to the program that we know ahead of time, and we plan out things to do and everything before arrival. Including housing.

Lifestyle Differences

  1. Speaking French: In my study abroad program, we were required to speak French on school grounds, and also generally had to use French to talk to our host families and the professors and administration at our French schools. All of that goes away with TAPIF, depending on your situation. In my case, I live alone, hang out with English speakers, and most of the people I know at my high school are English teachers, so it takes a lot more effort to speak French. Sometimes it’s possible to find a host family, so if that’s a concern for you, explore your options.
  2. Helping Hands: With TAPIF, you are at the mercy of kind souls in your school who may or may not want to help you get set up, find a bank, find a house, get a phone, etc. There isn’t a conveniently located center for the program with advice and deals and all the answers. If there are no kind souls, you do it yourself! I was fortunate and my teacher contact helped me out a lot with the bank, but for most things I was on my own.
  3. Work vs. School: You are no longer a student when doing TAPIF. You have a job, and having a job means being professional, interacting with colleagues, and setting a good example for the students you teach. Living a student life in Paris, nobody was expecting me to be anywhere or do anything or interact with them professionally in a work capacity. Here, I definitely feel watched at school, and there are many expectations. On the flip side, I’m not actually in school very much, and I live in a different town so I don’t worry about running into students outside of class. And I like having a work life and a home life!
  4. Location: In study abroad, I was in Paris! And now I’m in Val. It’s like going from magical fairy wonderland to the woods. Magical fairy wonderland was a new adventure full of shiny things to see and learn every single day, and the woods are basically the same all the time. But the woods are more natural and teach me survival skills, so I’m happy with it. But: don’t expect the woods to be magical fairy wonderland! Appreciate them for what they are.
  5. The ex-pat community: There is a different community of people awaiting with TAPIF. In my case, my friends are not all American study abroad students…they are European, American, South American, Canadian lecteurs (English teachers at university level), assistants, and students. And even some French students, teachers, and families. It’s great for French sometimes, not so great other times…but in my case, I feel like I’ve found some people that share my passion for cultural exchange, just as I did during study abroad!
  6. Living conditions: In Paris, my friends and I were generally housed in home stays or student foyers. Now, it’s everyone for themselves, and the conditions range from single-room shared-facilities to 3-story house.
  7. Making a salary (!?): Now, I make money! In Paris, I didn’t. That being said, the salary is barely enough to live on, even in a less expensive area!

The most important difference to me personally is that before, I was going back somewhere — Whitman, my home away from home — to do something determined. So, the whole semester had a magical feel to it, my first experiences not at home and in a country that I’d dreamed of visiting for so long. I left feeling like I had unfinished business.

Now, I am officially launched into the world, so this is like my debutante ball. I am living MY life! And I’m trying to decide where it’s going next. Who knows where my business will be finished?

Anne in Paris, 2013!
Anne in Paris, 2013!
Study Abroad vs. TAPIF: A Comparison

Some Americans in Paris

In the middle of Thanksgiving week, my best friend from college came to visit Paris. I’d been looking forward to his visit for months; he found out he’d be coming during summer, and I knew that by November I’d be dying for visitors from home. By chance, last week was my week when I have Tuesday (and Wednesday) free, so after school on Monday I took the train to meet him in Paree.

It was a bit of a shock — in a good way — to be among Americans again, and to be in a family! John’s aunt and uncle and cousins were so welcoming, and I’m so lucky that they invited me to stay with them.

Paris still has a special place in my heart, and it was great to be a tourist there. We went up the Eiffel Tower (which I’d never done before) and splurged on a glass of champagne. 

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We also went on a boat cruise on the Seine, hit up the Musée de l’Orangerie, walked a LOT and ate many, many pastries. 

I had never been in Paris during the holiday season, because I arrived in January last year. It’s just as charming as you might imagine; every street is decorated with its own light display (this one says: “the businesses wish you happy holidays”). We ate dinner on Rue Cler:

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We even saw the president’s motorcade leave the Invalides the next day as we were trying to get across a bridge.

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Every time I go back to Paris, it’s with a different person and is a whole new experience. I think part of its magic IS that everyone experiences it in a different way. But now, when I go back, my favorite thing to do is just to wander. No plans means no expectations, which means no disappointment if things don’t go as planned (which they often don’t).

John and I also had a conversation about “France Anne” versus “American Anne.” When I originally came back from study abroad, the splitting of the Annes was how I dealt with the shock of moving between places and feeling different in each one. But I am forced to rethink that conceptualization of myself as I spend more time here, in a very different capacity. There is just one whole Anne; she is both French and American influenced, because she has “lived” in both places. But this time, I have no idea when I’m going back or what I will be going back to, so “France Anne” is not temporary — I’m being changed by my experiences in a more permanent way, because I’m learning how to live in the world as a non-student, as are many of my recent-graduate peers in the States. I’m growing up separately from old friends now, and that’s incredibly hard to come to terms with when it’s not something you’re used to.

But there was this moment — we were walking along the Seine talking utter nonsense to one another and overcome with laughter — when I thought, with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and luckiness, that my best friends will always be my best friends.

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Some Americans in Paris

Anne Turns 22!

I don’t know ’bout you…but I’m feelin’ 22!

If you don’t know where that’s from, clearly you have not yet turned 22 in America. If you ask me, we really need a new anthem. Too bad I’ll never turn 22 again to enjoy one if it happens…

I LOVE birthdays because I get to say to my friends: “hey, thanks for being BORN!” It’s the most unconditional celebration of a human that I can think of. People didn’t have to do anything to deserve a birthday — they didn’t work for it ; they didn’t have to be pretty, or smart, or exceptional ; they didn’t have to “fit in” or live up to anyone’s expectations — nobody even knew how they would turn out on their day of birth. And we get to throw a party to thank them simply for being in the world. I think we forget that everyone was a baby miracle to someone, at some point, when we get bogged down in the expectations (/insecurities) of Life After Birth.

In foreign countries, birthdays are bittersweet. The ingredients of my perfect birthday in America are as follows: Baskin-Robbins ice cream cake, lots of friends and family love, maybe a present or two, a lot of nice cards, and some celebratory dancing + tunes + friends to dance to them with. I’ve had a lot of fantastic birthdays, thanks to some amazing loved ones.

But when you’re far from home, all expectations must be thrown out the window. Nothing will be as expected. Three weeks ago, I had no idea if I’d even have any friends to celebrate with!

But I do. GREAT ones!!

First, I made some food for them. I love cooking for people, and I’ve discovered that people really like eating. [Left: Tartiflette, Right: Falafel night!]

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I also discovered the loveliest Queen of Cakes there ever was, my friend Natalie. She surprised me with a beautiful strawberry tart in the morning, and a chocolate tart + marzipan penguin at night.

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And candles too. And a traditional birthday song! (You may have heard of it)

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I also got a card + candy and my own DVD copy of Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis! I can FINALLY become hip to the Ch’ti cultural lingo that everyone has said I must learn about. (THANK YOU FRIENDS!)

Then we went bowling! Yes, there is a bowling alley in Val! Complete with American diner. I’m going back for milkshakes someday. The selfie queen made an appearance.

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And tonight, it’s party time!! I am fortunate enough to share a birth month with a lovely British gentleman named Josh (pictured above), and we have joined celebration forces! It’ll be great. The bête de fête from Paris has returned.

To all who sent me bday messages, mail, FB posts, texts, etc…they really, actually mean a lot to me! Thank you!

Love & bisous,

Anne

Anne Turns 22!

How to Make Friends in the Streets of Paris

It was Saturday night. Caro and I took to the streets, having been cozied up in a café for the afternoon. We’d been cozied up because it was raining, but we decided to brave the rain in the evening because who wants to hide in a hostel room when they’re in Paris.

We wandered from the Louvre, in the first arrondissement, to the Panthéon, in the 5th. Our destination was Rue Mouffetard, well known for having a looooong stretch of bars and restaurants — aka awesome nightlife. We spent many a night on Rue Mouffetard as students, and going back seemed necessary.

Unfortunately, the rain was about as fun to walk around in as we’d anticipated…when it didn’t stop, we sought shelter on a little ledge at bum-level on the side of a building. Caro had a bottle of red wine stashed in her purse (obviously — Côtes du Rhône is our favorite blend of cheap and delicious, if you’re looking), so we whipped that out, along with our little pots of yogurt that we’d eaten from and cleaned up to use as drank glasses (picnic kit 101).

We’d been sitting on the ledge for ~20 mins, catching up on life and stuff, when we noticed a guy above us in the window on the opposite side of the street. He was drinking a beer and staring at us. Eventually, a girl showed up at the window too, and we watched them come and go for a while. Finally, they called down to us in barely-intelligible French; we deciphered their invitation upstairs for drinks in their apartment.

After a moment’s consideration, we headed up to join them, enticed by the promise of interaction with French strangers — meaning lots of language practice for us and new friends! Our guts said they were friendly, not creepy; our guts were right. Go guts. We spent an enjoyable hour or two answering questions about America, after the (I guess it was called for) question: what were you doing sitting on the street drinking wine? Apparently (unaware of our navigational badassery, I guess we forgive them) they thought we were lost. They introduced us to their group (Sébastien, Aurore, Paul, Sophie, and…Aurore’s boyfriend, who I didn’t catch the name of), including of course Charlot the cat and a black guinea pig (le pig). Before they knew that we spoke French pretty well, Sophie would ask Paul in French to ask us in English if they could get us anything, or for vocabulary words, and we often answered before he got the chance…eventually I think they caught on.

It reminded me of almost all of my friend-making in Paris. “Wow, this was great, when can we hang out again?” “Oh…I’m leaving.” I’m glad this year I get to stay in one place. We’ll see if my friendships get deeper.

But it also goes to show that when in Paris, things happen that you’d never expect. That is part of its magic.

And the obvious lesson here is: always carry a bottle of wine and some glasses, you never know where street drinking will get you.

And we did eventually make it to Rue Mouffetard, where things were still going on:

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And continued onward to Notre Dame.

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This weekend was a great reminder of the place Paris has in my heart, but Caro and I agreed that we are excited to live somewhere new! It will probably be less expensive, and more predictable. I’m ready for that.

How to Make Friends in the Streets of Paris

Reunions in Paree

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 Salut from Paris!! I’m writing, tired and sticky, from the top floor of Oh mon cake!, which beckoned us in partly for its beautiful cake displays, partly for its cute english attempts (Whoppies?) and partly for the free wifi, a rare find even in Pareee.

 

 

The rest of my travel day went smoothly. If anyone needs to travel to Paris from LA ever (or even from Tahiti, if you’re that lucky), I highly recommend Air Tahiti Nui. Their festive tropical atmosphere really made all my travel dreams come true.

Air Tahiti Nui's festive free pillow and blanket set.
Air Tahiti Nui’s festive free pillow and blanket set.

10 hours and 30 minutes after leaving LA, we landed in Paris. Picture me thusly: three bags totaling about 80 pounds in weight, clothes I’d been wearing for nearly 24 hours, my face a sweaty mess from running around the airport, navigating the Paris metro trying to get to Rue du Louvre. New things I noticed: there aren’t elevators in most stations. There are lots of stairs. There are also crabby people trying to get places who don’t like being blocked by someone clumsily trying to drag their bag up the lots of stairs. Needless to say, I arrived at the hostel really ready for a shower and a hug from my best friend…enter Caro!!

Caro and I met in Paris for study abroad and are regularly confused for sisters so sometimes we pretend we are twins. Even the front desk person at the hostel thought we looked alike…when I arrived, he told me that my sister had just come in and told me to tell him to wait for me there. Turns out she actually told him to tell me to find her in the café next door…oops. But I ended up getting into the room for a much-needed shower and getting a hug from her after!

Night 1 was crêpes at La Crêperie St. Honoré. Oh how I missed cidre and galettes! And this girl.

Best fwend with favorite foods...nothin better
Best fwend with favorite foods…nothin better.

That was about all we had energy for, as I was totally fatigue-drunk (a condition in which one feels all the symptoms of drunkenness due to not sleeping for more than 24 hours). So we met our hostel roommate and turned in.

Day 2 in Paris, and our only full day together, dawned drizzly (familiar…). Breakfast at the hostel was great, and I remembered that they drink coffee from bowls and have awesome bread.

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In typical Caro & Anne fashion, we bought a bottle of champagne and a carton of OJ and some yogurts and picnicked in the Tuileries.

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My logistical and linguistic successes of today were: acquiring my train ticket, young person discount card included, and a phone! Caro and I love the question “what is your address?” which we get asked all the time by people doing official things for us, as neither of us has one. But at least now we have phone numbers! We are real people!

The biggest success of the day, though, was Caro’s perfect (comme d’hab) brunch choice. A buffet of appetizers, a reasonably priced bottle of wine, mussels and duck for the main dish, and another buffet of dessert makes for a three-hour feast of champions.

Moules (mussels)
Moules (mussels)
Entrées, selected from the buffet, and wine!
Entrées, selected from the buffet, and wine!
Canard (duck)
Canard (duck)

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Food culture in France is my favorite. A four-course meal that takes three hours to finish makes conversation and relaxation the focus of mealtime! I am also such a fan of the perfectly sized portions and home-cooked (by a great chef) taste of the food, and service that doesn’t rush you. As these things I love about this place are coming back to me, I’m also realizing that this really does feel like home. It’s nothing like the overwhelming newness that it was when I first arrived over a year ago for my study abroad semester. And I’m so grateful that I get to feel that way about Paris.

I am also excited for my next steps: tomorrow, I take the train to meet two teachers from my school who are kindly fetching me from the station, and I get to settle in to a temporary home as I begin the search for my own accommodations!

But this weekend, I was reunited with my twin and my second home city, in one fell swoop. And I could not be happier that my year in France began this way.

Reunions in Paree