"When good Americans die, they go to Paris." - Oscar Wilde

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ten Things I Learned Living Abroad (My Final Post)

The day I left for France, I stumbled downstairs to where my father was reading the newspaper at the kitchen table. I was sobbing and he stopped what he was doing. He said, "Gabi, I know you're crying now, but you know what? In June, you'll be crying to leave." And as always, he was exactly right.

Last night I prepared to say goodbye to my girls, and we all wept together in Lien's bedroom. It's hard to imagine not seeing each other everyday or having our weekly dinners or going out on Thursday nights...but it all must come to an end. In honor of the past four months I've spent in France, I've written a list of the ten essential things I've learned abroad.

10. The French Aren't Heartless
Before coming to France, everyone warned me that the French were cold, intolerable people. They were wrong. I can't express how much gratitude I have for my host family, who invited me into their lovely home, cooked me wonderful meals, and always encouraged me to participate in their family outings. Further, French locals were always quick to offer help when they saw me fumbling with a map on the sidewalk. Even the Parisians treated me with respect. Just be kind and make an effort to speak the language. Don't be ignorant and write the French off as heartless people, because it's not true.

9. Always Live Like a Local
Sure, it's neat to tour when traveling. Who doesn't want to climb the Eiffel Tower or see the Colosseum? But you can only learn so much from seeing things. Instead, experience the life of a local, not a tourist. In France, I rode my bike to school each day, shopped at the open air market on Saturdays, and wasted time at cafés. By doing this, I felt like I truly experienced French culture and could understand the French people a little better.
8. Baguettes Don't Have Calories
Yes, apparently you can eat as much bread as you want and still be healthier than Americans, who supposedly only eat cheeseburgers and fries. Hmm...

7. You Will Get Homesick
You will get homesick. I promise, you will. It will hit you at the strangest times and it can be crippling. My advice is to stay busy and surround yourself with fun people. You'll make it home eventually, but enjoy every moment abroad. You'll never experience another trip like this.
6. Nobody Parties Harder than Americans
I've visited 10 countries and I've concluded that nobody has more fun than Americans. Locals are always inviting American girls to their parties because we're cute and we know how to have a good time. Of course, if you're not smart, this can turn sour. European men view Americans as we're portrayed through popular media, which isn't accurate. So when going out, be sure you're with people you trust and if the Americans are hosting the party, there will definitely be good music, lots of food, and dirty dancing.

5. Traveling Makes You Appreciate Home
Touring country after country is tiring. And after a long, stressful weekend away from Angers, I realized there was nothing more beautiful than the "Angers St. Laud" train stop quickly approaching.
4. Make Time for the People You Love
This one is difficult. While it's important to keep in connect with the people at home, don't forget to enjoy yourself abroad. Your friends and family will always be there to comfort you when you're homesick or give you encouragement when you're feeling blue. Don't let their love go unnoticed. Send them postcards and call them once a week.

3. Stop
This is one of the most important things I've learned in France. We should all stop to enjoy the moment. In America, we're constantly driven by our ambitions to succeed. In France, everyone takes time to enjoy a coffee and chat with friends. I'm sure their lives are more enjoyable and their friendships are stronger because of it.

2. Knowing a Foreign Language is Indispensable
 Nothing makes you feel more hopeless than not being able to communicate. Learning a foreign language enables you to get around much easier, but it also gives you the opportunity to connect with locals. You'll learn much more about a culture by talking to those who immersed in ti. Also, you're less vulnerable when traveling and, hey, everyone thinks French is sexy.

1. These Are the Best People You Will Ever Meet
Moving to another country is scary. The language is unfamiliar and the smallest tasks, like grocery shopping, seem impossible. You cling to people who are like you, and the relationships that form are unforgettable. You're in this together, you help each other cope, you make each other laugh, and you might even travel to Brussels together. The people I've met on this trip are some of the greatest friends I've had, and it was a joy to meet them all.
Tomorrow morning I board a plan for Charlotte, North Carolina and then I transfer to Tri-Cities, Tennessee, where my family will be waiting for me. It's hard to believe that at dinnertime tomorrow, I'll be at home, eating Mexican food with the people I've missed all semester. Thank you all for reading my blog and showing your support through this awesome journey. To those of you at home, I'll see you soon.

Gros Bisous,


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Starting to Say Goodbye

Last night was our class dinner at Lien's. We gathered two dozen internationals with the promise of food and alcohol. The food was delicious, although I was stuffed after one plate, but the Chinese kids went for sixths and sevenths. How the hell are they so thin? Things changed when Louis, a kid who never shows up for class, rolls in with about five six-packs of beers and starts to distribute them to everyone. One of the Chinese girls gets on her knees and starts chugging a Heineken and the professor tries to keep the peace by passing around an apple tart.

I'm talking to Louis for a good bit of the night. He refuses to speak French, so we talked in broken English about America. Every effing day he asks me if I speak Indian and I always have to explain I'm Italian. Later, I corrected him when he said Italy was the most romantic country in the world. No, no, I said, France is the most romantic. Italy is the sexiest. It's like he was enlightened after that. The rest of the night, he told people I did what I did and looked how I looked because Italians were the sexiest people on earth. Aye.

We had plans to roll into the bars that night with 20 Chinese kids in tow, but they all ditched us while Lien and Adrianne were getting ready. We went to Soft to meet up with some of our friends who are leaving before the weekend. I met some French guy who told me to come to Peru with him next week, and when I told him I had a boyfriend he freaked out and apologized. Nah, nah, he's cool, I said. He told me I was beautiful and he couldn't help myself.

After this, Ashleigh tried to get us to go to Kare, but the music blows. Dancing to Jackson 5 remixes is fun for approximately ten minutes and then you hate yourself. We called a taxi, and that's when we had to bid goodbye to Zach, who was leaving for Oregon the next morning. I hated saying goodbye. With the Americans, there's a small chance we'll see each other again, but the Chinese kids can't even have Facebook. When will I ever see them? The thought is incredibly depressing and I'm dreading saying goodbye to my three girls. It's all good though. Today we're avoiding those thoughts by day-drinking at the park and eating last night's leftovers.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Only Way to be Grateful?

Okay, I apologize for not updating my blog. It's finals week, so I've been studying non-stop (or not studying), but I've done well. I aced my history exam, which covered seven chapters and French history from Napoleon Bonaparte to WWII (150 years). My art history exam was this morning, and I feel like I did well. My language exams were easy, although I fucked up my oral expression. N'est pas grave. Now I'm finished until Saturday morning when I have my phonetics exam. I'm not worried, since I haven't made anything below an 18/20 in that class.

I'll be home in five days, and I'm struggling with a lot of mixed emotions. The days are long, so it seems like I'll never be home. I've had trouble sleeping recently because reality has finally hit me: I'm leaving France. During the day, I daydream about spending time with my boyfriend, Southern summers, weekly dinners at the General Morgan Inn with my family. At night, I cry. I'm going to leave my friends, people who I feel like I've known forever. I'm leaving my host family behind, and who knows when I'll see them again? All of our local spots, our favorite places to have picnics or grab a beer, they'll all be left behind. It's so overwhelming.

And so I think: I miss the comforts of home, my car, my shitty apartment, my cat...but I took them all for granted when I was the U.S. I came here, and I missed them. As excited as I am to be home, I know that after a week or so, I'm going to miss France. Once again, I'm going to take those American comforts for granted and wish I was back in Angers. Isn't this the terrible thing about human nature? We never realize what we have until it's taken away. Maybe we're only grateful when we're missing something we loved.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My French Doctor Told Me I Have Great Boobs

Instead of telling you all the horrible things that happened to me today (getting lost in the French countryside, being run over by a tram, and subsequently breaking my bike), I'll tell you the good things. I went to my medical exam in Nantes today. As I've said before, the French take sadistic pleasure in forcing their immigrants to complete endless amounts of paperwork and interviews (see my first post). In order to validate my visa and receive a carte de séjour, I had to attend a medical exam. I received mine and the French doctor told me I have great boobs - haut! So there.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What Happens in Brussels Stays in Brussels

Unless you own a public blog, of course, and then everything is up for grabs.

This weekend was Ashleigh's "birthday weekend" since we'll be gone by the time her real birthday occurs in June. She, Adrianne, Lien, and I made our last voyage of the semester and headed to Brussels. Though we booked our hostel rooms separately, the four of us ended up in a private four-person suite. The hostel was shitty and told us there was a 1 AM curfew, but we said fuck that and got a night key. Some film students from Amsterdam invited us to a party and we ate Thai food for dinner. Adrianne and Ashleigh were already drunk and Lien and split a bottle of wine. Afterwards, we went to the most highly-rated club in Brussels but the bouncer refused Adrianne and me entrance, saying we were too young. We were pissed because we had paid 22 euros for a taxi here. I cried in the next taxi because I didn't understand. Then we went to Delirium, a famous bar that has 2,000 beers on tap. We drank Stellas until 3 AM and left.

The next morning I felt like shit, but we dragged our asses to Brugge, an adorable nugget of happiness in Belgium. The town is like a fairytale, and we sat outside and café-hopped the entire day. We tried Belgian waffles piled high with fruit and chocolate. We took the evening train back to Brussels and made it to a bar where everyone was dancing on tables. This would have been cool, but the men were dancing on tables too. This is interdit in America. We ordered some beers and joined in the fun for a little while. The music started out alright but got shitty and we left after they played something from a Grease soundtrack.

At the next bar, we met some locals and danced to an American playlist we gave to the DJ. I rapped Kanye's "All Falls Down" and the bartender gave us a round of free shots for Ashleigh's "birthday." We stayed out until 3 AM.

We spent the next day eating Belgian fries (French fries were invented here, not France!) with mayo (questionable, but alright) and more waffles. They were much better in the tourist area by the Manneken Pis. These waffles were piled with bananas and nutella and were hot and gooey. Adrianne and Ashleigh split some strawberries dipped in Godiva chocolate and we sat and had tea in the Grand Place. Then we found a hookah bar and smoked for an hour and drank Moroccan tea. There's nothing to do on Sundays. Finally, we made it back to the train station and Ashleigh's host father brought us home.

I've been sick since I returned from Nice, and now I've lost my voice. It's aggravated after screaming in Belgian bars and smelling cigarette smoke all weekend (smoking is permitted indoors in Brussels). But it's all good. Now it's time to buckle down and study during my last two weeks. Oh, là là.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Dedication

I realize that I've written a lot about what I love about France. I've even written a little about what I miss, but not in detail. Months ago, my brother asked me to mention him in my blog. This one's for you, little bro.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn he even read this. You see, my brother's aloof. He comes and goes from the house. The only evidence of him being empty Zaxby's boxes and the television playing Sportscenter.

At Christmas, our ten-hour drive to Philadelphia is made somewhat bearable by my brother's obsession with Kid Cudi and Lil Wayne. The vulgar lyrics often lead to my dad cursing and wondering aloud, "Who's this Lil Wayne guy and why is he singing about gonorrhea? What is this trash?"

And sometimes my brother makes really stupid mistakes, but who doesn't? He's wrecked his car. He's dropped his laptop in the bathroom (okay, that was stupid.), and he's washed his cellphone in the laundry like three or four times. He's in a fraternity so he can come off as a douche. In fact, it was only right that I bought him a flask engraved DOUCHEBAG for Christmas. I snuck it under the tree and when my dad saw it he asked, "You're gonna put Diet Coke in that right?" Well, we're going to the Bahamas this summer where we're both be 18. Maybe we can split a pack a beer.

Thoughts on a Wednesday

This morning I woke up, sweating, with my headphones tangled around my waist. Iron and Wine was still playing on my iPod. I could tell my fever had broken and I was feeling better than I had yesterday, having spent the entire day in bed.

Yesterday my dad called to tell me they have a new line of Range Rovers available. This is typical of my father and only made me more homesick. I miss him a lot. It's funny. I'm more homesick knowing that I'll be coming back in three weeks. The days are so slow. But I know as soon as I'm at home, bored, I'll reminisce about drinking beers in Southern France, traveling every weekend, and eating baguettes and cheese with my host family.

But the first thing I'm doing when I get home? I'm going to demand my family take me to Lusara's Mexican restaurant for some nachos. Then I'm gonna go home and sleep soundly next to my boyfriend in my purple room with the Eiffel Tower mural. We've both seen it now.

I still can't believe I'm going home so soon. 19 days? It seems incorrect. That can't possibly be right. But the calendar isn't lying. Holy shit. How do I say goodbye?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monaco's So Rich They Use Louis Vuittons for Trash Bags

This weekend I visited Cannes, Nice, Monaco, and Cap d'Ail. I never have faith in my ability to retell these sorts of things. I'm still dizzy from my 13-hour train ride. And I think I might have caught a cold. Damn you, public transportation.

Ashleigh, Lien, and I left Angers Thursday and took an overnight train to Nice. This was horrible and I barely slept. Nonetheless, we were all giddy to be in Southern France during the CANNES FILM FESTIVAL! We got to our hostel and quickly realized that everyone there spoke English because the owners were Australian and Canadian. Literally, no one made the effort to speak French. This made me feel like I was partying in the U.S. again.

We went to Monaco for the day and I have never felt so underprivileged in my life. Monaco, a separate country from France, is inhabited only by the rich. Each passing car was either a Range Rover, an Aston Martin, a Ferrari, or a Maserati. If a Ford drove by it was a tourist. Indeed, when Americans want to feel poor, they visit Monaco.

Of course, you can't visit Monaco without visiting Monte Carlo, the world-famous casino. We gambled on the slot machines and Ashleigh won 100 euros off of a 1 euro bet. We all grabbed each other and screamed in the middle of the casino. After a half-hour, I started getting the gambler's itch so I left with my depressing 5.60 and Ashleigh promised to buy our drinks for the weekend.

That night, we partied at the hostel. My friends and I now tell people we're Canadian so we can party like rockstars without further tainting the U.S.A.'s shiny reputation. You're welcome. Unfortunately everyone at the hostel was from Canada. We didn't want to be found out so Lien Googled Canada facts on her Blackberry at the bar. We learned that their prime minister is Steve Harper and made toasts to him all night (much to the chagrin of the true Canadians).

The next day we attended the Cannes Film Festival. The energy was incredible. Girls dressed to the nines, hoping to receive an extra ticket to a showing. People held up signs saying, "Un billet, s'il vous plaît!" Some lucky by-standers got their tickets. The girls and I lined up for the premiere of Pirates. We pressed our bodies against the gate and leaned over to watch Renaults and Mercedes discard American and French celebrities. Uma Thurman and Jude Law walked three feet in front of us and we all screamed. Lien told Uma she was beautiful and she turned to say, "Thanks." I can't explain the thrill of seeing these people, only reachable on a television screen, walking in front of me. Later, we saw Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, de Niro, and Jane Fonda.

We had planned to stay out partying but we were exhausted and headed back to Nice for the night. The next morning we visited Cap d'Ail, a little-known beach surrounded by wealthy landowners. It was stunning, so we drank Coronas in the sun. But it soon began to rain, so we hauled our asses back to the train station for another sleepless night. We arrived in beautiful Angers this morning and now I feel like shit. I must say that I'm glad my last trip (to Brussels) is this weekend, because all of this traveling is making me weak. But would I do it all over again? Absolutely.

Friday, May 6, 2011

All I Do is Win in Europe

Cinco de Mayo is another foreign holiday the Americans have stolen for an excuse to drink and party. But who's complaining?

Like a good American girl I went out Thursday night to celebrate. I met Ashleigh and Lien at André Leroy, and as I crossed the street they started quickly in my direction.

"What are you-"

"Just go. There's a homeless person following us. This is such bullshit." Lien said.

Dressed in miniskirts and heels, we walked to a parc where we met some of our other friends. We drank Desperado Reds and watched some crazy homeless woman beat her dog. Then we walked to a bowling alley and met up with the Hispanic students and some French kids. They bought us drinks. Some rich guy bought everyone a round of tequila shots (1, 2, 3 shots...okay, I have an exam at 8 AM). Fuck it, Alex knew some French girl and she invited us to her apartment on Bressigny, which was crowded with people.

At the apartment, the Hispanic kids ate kebabs and sang in Spanish. Adrianne and I felt left out so we talked with the French kids in a tiny hallway. We sat, drank wine, and talked to Simon, a new friend. Adrianne and I spoke French the entire night, and it felt so natural. I didn't notice we were doing it until Simon switched to English and I got confused. I felt so accomplished to communicate without difficulty in another language. I even used some French slang to describe an ex-boyfriend.

At 3:15 Simon walked us downstairs and Ashleigh, barefoot, Adrianne, and I split a cab. I took a shower and got to bed at 4 AM, woke up at 6:40 for my exam, which I aced. All I do is win in Europe.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Home Abroad and Home Home

Today I wasted a beautiful day in Angers by taking a four-hour nap riddled with nightmares. It was so nice to sleep though, so I'm not complaining.

I cannot believe I only have a month left. I don't believe it. It seems that there is still so much to see and do before I leave, but I check the calendar and it doesn't lie. Five weeks. It feels like yesterday when I arrived in France and worried about conducting daily activities (like grocery shopping and going to the post office) in French. It all seems so surreal to think about a month from now, I will be back in the mountains of East Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina. Something I dreamed of for so long will be coming to a close. It's been a lot of work up to this point, applying for my visa, buying my tickets, packing, and saying my goodbyes...it's been a journey but it's not over yet.

In other news, I was in Paris this weekend when I heard about the tornadoes in the US. Though I'm so far, it felt incredibly close to home. The tornadoes occurred in my hometown in Greeneville and actually traveled through my neighborhood. Several people were killed, and there was no internet, phone service, or power in the city. Thankfully my family and my house was left untouched (save for no electricity, phone, or internet) but my dad told me he couldn't get to work and that he'd never seen destruction like that. There were phone poles impaling people's homes and the streets were covered in trees. It's times like this when I wish I could be at home to bring comfort to the people I love.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring Break in a Paragraph

I can't tell you about Spring Break. I can't tell you how happy I am to not be riding ill-fated ferries in the Mediterranean or how I loved jumping the turn-styles in the Paris metro with my boyfriend. I can't tell you how friendly the Greeks were, how delicious the food was, but how sick it made me feel. I can't describe how beautiful Santorini was, how every sight sucked the breath from my lungs. I can't express the awe I felt attending late-night mass on Easter in Greece, how the city lit up with candles and dynamite exploded in the street. How comforting it was to sit on a heated porch and drink the most incredible wine and eat roasted lamb, potatoes, salad, and feta until 3 AM. I can't explain the exhilaration of riding on the back of a moped through Athens. But let me say how happy I am to be out of that dirty city, where protesters followed us with spray paint and scrawled FUCK USA on the sides of buildings. I can't tell you how my trip to Paris with Dylan was the best time of my life or how I loved seeing him run toward me in the CDG airport. I can't tell you how much I missed my mother's voice or her enthusiasm. I can't say how I cried on the train from Paris because I missed Dylan so much and I couldn't fathom another month away from him. I can't tell you how much I loved being back in Angers, to ride my bike under blue skies after leaving the Parisian rain. I can't say how excited I was to eat dinner with my host sister, to go to class with the internationals, and to drink coffee with my friends and our favorite café. I can't tell you. Oh, wait...I just did.

Oia in Santorini, Greece

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bon Voyage

I'm too stressed to update my blog, but I'm leaving for Spring Break tomorrow morning and I won't have time to update for TWO WEEKS. It sucks because I know I'm going to have a million stories to share, but I won't have the drive to retell all of them when I return.

Tomorrow, Lien and I are taking a train to Paris to meet up with Ashleigh and PEETLES, my bffl from home. I cannot wait to see his curly head on the train platform. Lien and I are departing Sunday night for Athens, but we have an overnight layover in Rome, which is gonna suck. Red bull, anyone?

We arrive in Athens Monday morning and take a long-ass ferry to Heraklion or Crete. Now, I'm terrified of boats after an unfortunate sailing incident on my thirteenth birthday, so I got some French dramamine to knock me out. Anyways, we'll be in Crete for two days before arriving in SANTORINI for four days. Here, we'll celebrate Easter with the Greek at the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral. Greece decorates their towns in candles during Easter and after mass, they all eat lamb soup. The festivities should be beautiful and phenomenal.

After Santorini, it's on to Athens for two days, and then I fly back to Paris to meet my mom and my boyfriend for five days. :) I can't wait to pop champagne with Dylan beneath the Eiffel Tower on our sixth month anniversary. I cannot fathom how I'm going to react when I see him exiting his terminal in Charles DeGaulle. Aye.

Alright, when I return from Spring Break I will have a month until I come home. It feels like I just arrived, terrified and confused, in the Charles DeGaulle airport. Until then, bon voyage to me!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Sober Experience in Wine Country

I don't know where to begin, so I guess we'll begin at the beginning. Also, if you read this and still think the French are heartless, go eat merde.

Leah, one of my literary friends from Asheville, is studying in London and she visited me this weekend. She got here around midnight Thursday morning. This was her first time in France so my friends and I made sure she experienced the authentic French life. We took her to morning coffee, galettes for lunch (Leah's lactose intolerant, which made French cuisine an obstacle to overcome.), and Thirsty Thursday. We gave her a tour of Angers, the chateau, and she even came to class with us.

On Friday we took a train to Bordeaux, and this is where the fun begins. First of all, the train leaving from Nantes lost some of its cars. It's now half the size, and the train is overbooked. Leah has a seat assignment in a train that doesn't exist and I don't have one at all, so we just take our seats somewhere and ride. Two hours outside of Bordeaux, we get kicked out of our seats and have to stand by the luggage in the back of the car. There are about a dozen other passengers doing the same thing. The whole experience is rather funny, but I feel like a peasant.

In Bordeaux we arrive at the tram station to buy our day passes, and I realize my wallet is missing. I immediately assume it was stolen in the crowded train. Leah reminds me that I took it out to go to the bathroom in the Angers train station (you have to pay.), and I know I've left it there. I call my dad to cancel my credit cards and then call my host family and ask them to go to the train station. My host mother texts me and says that someone returned the wallet with all 110 euros and two credit cards still in tac. I want to weep I'm so relieved. I mean, someone was kind enough to return it. I call my dad, literally seconds before he calls the credit card company, and he's astounded.

"It's because it's a Catholic country. That would never happen in America."

See, Dad, the French are the shit. After this, I felt so grateful, but I was still without money for an entire weekend. Leah lent me some and I started a tab with her.

On the tram, we have trouble composting our tickets and a French-African girl helps us out and asks us where we're going. She shows us where to get off and where to switch tram. She asks what brings us to Bordeaux, and Leah answers, "Pleasure."

"Wow. That's rather forward of you." She says. Lost in translation? She wishes us a swell weekend and leaves.

Leah and I follow Lien's directions to the hotel, but she gave us the wrong tram stop so we wander around for a good 45 minutes. I ask about four French people where the hotel is, and they are all very friendly and give me directions. Several people come up to us while we have our map open and ask where we need to go. This day started off shittily, but the people made it so much better.

We make it to the hotel and decide we need wine and food asap, so we take the tram to the river and find a huge plaza crowded with tables and chairs. We eat Italian food beneath a tree and take a walk by the river. I can't explain how beautiful this city is. It's clean and quiet, but it's large enough to keep us occupied. A garden of tulips, lit by pink and blue street lamps, lines the Quais and couples drink wine and play the drums.

The next day we take a tour of the city and go to a wine tasting. I hate that I have no money, because I can't bring back a bottle of this fantastic white wine. The weather is beautiful, but incredibly hot. We walk around, buy some French bon-bons, and sit in the shade. We explore rue Sainte-Catherine, a cheap commercial area, and Leah buys a French Cosmo that we have fun translating it by a church.

Back at the hotel, we take a "nap" but don't wake up until 10 PM. Fail. Luckily, the French eat late so I figured most places would still be open. Wrong. Restaurants had stopped serving food. Some managers saw us walking the streets in search of dinner and suggested a few places that might be open. One even took us to a restaurant and asked the manager if he would serve us food, but they wouldn't take any new customers. We resorted to eating doner, and I ate a feta and french fry sandwich (?). Interesting.

Next, we split a 20 euro bottle of wine at a bar and talk for hours. By the time we leave, it's 2 AM. We arrive at our tram stop, and it's cold so a man offers us his jacket. After waiting several minutes, he tells us the tram stopped running. My BB is dead, so we have no GPS, and we left our map at home. Also, we have no money because we have yet to find an ATM.

"Zut alors!" I yell, and another French man laughs and asks what's wrong.

He asks if we're English, and we say yes. We ask where we can find an ATM, and he gives us directions in broken English. The French guy who offered us his jacket tells the man that we understand French, and that he doesn't think we speak much English. WTF. Leah and I just laugh, and the man walks us to the street where the ATM is. He tells us we're very beautiful. I don't think he believed we were English because he said not many beautiful women come from England and that wherever we're from, we represent our country well. Then he asked if I was Indian. Comme d'habitude.

We get our money and attempt to wave down several taxis. We get one and he drives us home. Damn. What a weekend. But I've realized that having my American friends visit me has really improved my French. They're usually dependent on me to translate, and I see it as practice for my future career. It forces me to use my French and this weekend I realized how much my oral comprehension has improved. I understand about 90% of what's said to me.

All in all, I've realized a few things this weekend. For one, I hate goodbyes. When friends visit from home, I spend days where I'm never alone. Not for a minute. Leah was with me since late Wednesday and when we said goodbye, I wanted to cry. Lame. I walked to the tram station by myself. It was cold, wet. I hate goodbyes.

Also, the French are so much more friendly than people make them out to be. Tourists go to Paris, which isn't even real France, and assume that's how this entire country is. That's like tourists visiting New York and assuming all Americans are like that. I guess I just wish people would give it a chance.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Thank You, May I Have Another?

My entire body is sore. My arms are scratched, my hands have blisters, my ass is throbbing...and this is why:

Lien suggested Ashley, Adrianne, and I do the Loire à velo, which is a bike path that winds through the Loire Valley. It starts across the bridge in Angers and you circle around. I hadn't ridden a bike in Angers yet since the streets are narrow and the drivers are heinous. But my family offered me theirs when I first arrived. This morning I tested it out and drove to the Saturday open-air market to buy food for breakfast, our picnic lunch, and dinner. Like any other girl, I dressed for the occasion and wore a crop top, skinny jeans, and wedges. All went well. I arrived at my destination sans sweat and without aching feet, though my host father looked at me funny when I mounted the bike with my ambitious shoes.

We ate our picnic at the chateau d'Angers and started to ride. It was absolutely beautiful and I hate that I forgot my camera. We drove through the French countryside and along the river. The sky was cloudy, but it was warm and the treecover kept us cool. Fields of green, sprinkled with daisies and wildflowers, stretched before us on our left, and the French kayaked and fished at the river. It reminded me of my home in Appalachia. I was so happy and so awed. I'm riding a bike through the beautiful French countryside. Who am I?

However, Lien's tire goes flat. A nice elderly man uses his bike pump and fixes it. Or so we thought...two minutes down the road, and her tire is flat again. There's obviously a hole that needs to be patched, but we made a reservation at a nearby winery so we move on. On our way, Lien hits a curve at a diagonal and crashes. Pas de probléme.

We get to the winery and walk around the grounds. Stunning. Everything is green and the manor is stone. There are white iron-cast tables and chairs for picnicing and the surroundings are quiet. After our tour, we have a wine tasting. This region produces the best white wine, so we sampled that and the rosé, which is famous in Anjou. Apparently the winery is owned by a family, and the owner is so passionate about her wine. She speaks about it like poetry. We buy a bottle of rosé to go with our dinner and have a second picnic in the vineyard. We eat baguettes stuffed with brie, gruyère, and salami, fresh fruit, and tiny madeleines. Then we repair Lien's bike...

Multiple men walk by and comment on our attractiveness but don't offer any help (I miss my Southern boyfriend.). We borrow a bike pump from the owner's nephew, but that's it. We sit on the ground for an hour tearing off the wheel, finding the hole, and patching it. Once finished, we scream and congratulate ourselves on our bad-assness. I chant, "Yes, we can!" like the obnoxious American I am, and someone makes Rosy the Riveter references. The men walk by again and I'm tempted to ask, "I've got a spare pair of balls. Would you like them?" I mean, they didn't even offer to help! Rude.

It's fixed, right? Wrong. Lien gets on the bike, and it goes flat. Zut. It starts to rain and we're about an hour's ride from Angers. She powers through and we make it to the same roundabout where Lien crashed earlier. I hit the same curb diagonally and zig-zag before jumping ANOTHER curb and landing straight.

"I did it!" Everyone was impressed until I realized my pedal was stuck in my shoe. Without anyway to support myself, I fall to the ground and landing on my arm in the gravel lot. I lay there, my bike on top of me, for a good minute or so while people take pictures and laugh.

Adrianne asks, "Do you regret those heels yet?"

"Never regret."

We take a different trail home and stumble across a sheep pasture. They must be attracted to Asians because they rush toward Lien and nudge the fence. We feed them apples, but the ram gets excited and starts pounding his head against the fruit like it was a wild animal it needs to dominate. No, fool, you bite it. We get frustrated with their stupidity and leave.

Finally, we see the chateau d'Angers in the distance and cheer. No matter how many times I travel in Europe, I can never wait to return to my home in Angers.

We're totally sore from the bumpy dirt roads. We can't even sit down. But we make our dinner with the ingredients from the market: salad with balsamic vinaigrette, pork and beef kebabs (these bitches were 20 euros for FOUR, but totally worth it.), zucchini bread, and tiramisu and chocolate for dessert. Oh, while the ladies are cooking, Adrienne goes upstairs to retrieve our wine. On her way down, she trips, tries steadying herself against the wall, and shatters the wine bottle in the process. I'm on my way upstairs when I stumble across her laying on the staircase in a puddle of rosé. Would you mind cleaning your dignity off the stairwell, please?

Dinner was delicious, as always, and I return home with my bike. Berry asks how my day went and I told her it was a catastrophe. Dramatic much? Peut-être, but we biked for six hours and I believe the final score is:

Two collisions = 2 pts.
Flat tire = 1 pt.
Aching bodies = 4 pts.
Broken wine bottle = 1 pt.

Loire Valley: 8; American girls: 1 (for "repairing" the bike and looking damn cute while doing it).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Home Makes Me Sick

The world has moved on in my absence. A selfish thought, but I'm hurt nonetheless.

Monday, March 28, 2011

It Only Happens in France

It's been awhile since I've updated, so I'll give you a quick recap on my life.

Thursday night began classy enough. I attended a jazz concert with my host mom at le Grand Théâtre d'Angers, an old, beautiful Italian theatre with balconies and an elaborately decorated dome ceiling. Very unlike concert halls in the US. I was exhausted after listening to such sweet, relaxing music but I forced myself to go out with my girlfriends. We drank wine at Tapas and then headed to a club. This was my first club experience in Angers, and it was...interesting.

While we were awaiting entry, Lien yells at the bouncer, "Us four American girls, right here!" And if there's one thing you should know about studying abroad, it's that you never say you're an American girl. European men categorize American women as fun and easy, because their knowledge of American culture extends from our exported films and MTV. So after this one of the men behind us coos, "Ohh, American shit. You are American shit?" Adrianne and I shake our heads at Lien's mistake.

A large black man dressed in a fur coat (a pimp, peut-être?) asks us, "Ohh, so you're American?"

"No," we answer. "She's wrong. We're from Canada."

He keeps talking to us but we ignore him. We dance for about half hour and then lounge on one of the couches until it's 2 AM. Time to go home.

Fast forward to Saturday: We arrive in Normandy. We walk through a museum in Caen and read about the World Wars. As we advance through the exposition, I can feel tears burning my eyes. I stay close to my American friends and realize how incredible it is to experience Normandy with other Americans. We feel a sorrow the others can't comprehend. Many of us, including myself, have relatives who fought here.

Look at us. We're far from home in this strange country, and yet we don't feel so far from home. For a moment, we're all feeling the same thing: pride. I really can't explain it. It's like we were the same person for an instant. I felt an incredible bond with the other Americans and a patriotism I can't express in words.

On a less melancholy note, I spent Sunday shitting away the time with my friends. We ate greasy McDoner for lunch, stopped at a café for coffee (comme d'habitude), went to Lien's foyer to discuss Spring Break, and then ate dinner at Tapas. We didn't get home 'til midnight and we had been out since 1 PM.

At Tapas, we ordered dinner but stayed there for another four hours talking. In case you haven't noticed, Tapas is our restaurant of choice. We go at least once a week for drinks and...tapas. Before we left, our waiter set a menu on our table, hinting he wanted us to order something. We asked for the bill instead and he said, "Ça marche" and proceeded to go outside for a smoke break. This isn't the first time this has happened. The restaurant has super shitty service. And the waiter stared at us while he smoked.

Finally, Ashleigh got pissed and walked to the register. The waiter came inside to take our money and as we left, notably tiffed, he offered us free vodka shots with kiwi. Eh, what the hell. We took a shot with us even while there were still customers in the restaurant. I swear, this only happens in France.

I called a taxi to take me home since I've felt less than safe the past few weekends. I've been taking them so often that when I call, the woman says, "Mademoiselle Gabriella?" My taxi driver arrived in a Benz, knew my address already, and took me home. I swear, this could happen in America, but it's cooler in France.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

France Has More to Offer than You Think, America

Today I realized I only have two months left in France, and it hurts. I can barely organize my thoughts right now, but I will try. It's so strange to know I'm living a double life. I have so much in the States. There's my family, my boyfriend, my friends, who are all waiting for me. I'm a student. I have this crazy, busy, wonderful life back home, but I've also made another home here. I'm living here for five months. I have a family and a routine: tapas and wine on Sundays, beer on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, sometimes Wednesdays...Coffee daily with Lien.

Abroad, it's so hard to make friends. But when you meet those special people, the bond is unbreakable. I'm still close friends with the people I went to Italy with last summer, and I was only there for three weeks. The people here have become my best friends, and it's only been two months. How can you not become best friends? You're together in a foreign country, trying to adapt to another culture with another language. These four people are all you have. So make a toast on Friday night or snicker over the rims of your coffee cups. These people are gonna be here for you when you don't think you can make it home on the weekends or when your day is hard or when you miss the familiarity of home.

I don't want anyone to take offense to this. Of course I miss everyone at home. But for the first time I feel like I belong somewhere. My entire life I've lived as an outsider, always hating Greeneville where I grew up and wondering where I should really be. The big cities were too unfriendly, too overwhelming. And the States never left me mesmerized like cities in Europe. I came to France and finally feel good. I'm in awe.

I guess I have two months to savor this wonderful culture. Here, it's custom to enjoy life. This is a luxury America has forgotten. We are always multi-tasking and running from one errand to the next. We never sit back and have a real conversation, and it makes the country unfriendly. Here, I'm blessed enough to have a family dinner almost every night. We sit for hours and talk together. No television. No radio. And during the day, I get coffee with my friends and we talk, really talk. How will I come home and adjust to the individualistic American culture?

As for right now, I'm going to take a lesson from the French and enjoy the moment. Cheers.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Things That Make You Think, Pray, and Cry

After the catastrophe in Japan, our Japanese students set up a table in the lobby of Bazin to sell origami and orange cakes for charity. This disaster feels so present here, because the majority of the students are Asian, and I have several Japanese students in my classes. I get chills when I imagine how horrified they must feel being so far from home. Or how relieved.

And there's such a sense of community here. Despite the fact that my school represents 23 countries, I've found that we've all bonded to assist the Japanese. Even the faculty has voiced their condolences and offered words of encouragement. It's so inspiring. I see the Americans, the Chinese, the Koreans, and the French students gather around the Japanese and giving donations; it makes me want to cry. Despite the language barrier, we're family.

In other news, I went to London this weekend and experienced nothing less than culture shock. Everyone spoke English (obviously) and I found it difficult to feel guiltless when saying "thank you" instead of "merci." Sometimes we answered servers in French and they looked at us funny. We ate fish and chips and incredible Indian food and we stocked up on things we missed, like Starbucks and magazines in English. But all the while Lien and I missed France. We missed spending hours in a café and how the servers wouldn't rush you. We missed the baguettes, our own beds, and the language barriers.

We had slept an average of three hours each night since Thursday, so we all passed out on the train home. I fell asleep in my own drool, so that was cute. Once we got to Angers, the skies were blue and the sun was shining. It was warm. A friendly cab driver took me home and I greeted my family before hurrying into the shower and Skyping my boyfriend. Then they called me downstairs so they could talk to me about my weekend. I told them I had tons of fun in London, but I missed Angers.

Traveling away from Angers makes me realize how this little town has become home. And if I experienced culture shock in England, I can't imagine what it will be like when I go back to the States. No macaroons?!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Being Anita Ekberg for a Night

I stayed up until 2:30 this morning watching UNCA play in the NCAA, and we won! While I'm not a die-hard basketball fan, I enjoy a good game when Duke's playing (read: spanking) Chapel Hill, and my boyfriend has made me more interested since he's UNCA's basketball manager. He told me I'd get to see him on national TV if I watched, so I did. I squealed each time he walked by the camera. Silly, but I felt like I was dating a celebrity. :)

When we won the game in overtime, I jumped up and down and tried not to wake my sleeping family. I felt so alone when I saw everyone's FB statuses back home and knew they were all huddled in the Grotto and donning their blue UNCA attire. However, that loneliness subsided when I trekked to class at 8 AM this morning on four hours of sleep. Lien and I received stellar grades on our phonétique exams. We grabbed each other and screamed when we received our tests. The two of us had literally pulled out our notes three minutes before the exam on Wednesday. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?!

During our lunch period we booked our Spring Break flight to Greece and our weekend in Nice in May. The only sucky aspect of our Greece flight is the 8-hour layover in Rome. It's overnight too, so we'll arrive around midnight and trek to the Colosseum. Apparently the Trevi Fountain will be deserted at that time, and maybe we can pull a Dolce Vita and wade through the water. Or maybe not.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Take Your Sweet Time

I KNEW I had an 8 AM this morning. I set my alarm for 7:40, thinking it was 6:40. I got ready, not realizing how late I was until I walked into my class. Coffee in hand, I strode in casually and interrupted someone's oral presentation. The class laughed. I looked at my clock and realized it was 9 AM. Holy shit. C'est pas grave.

Lien came to our art history class because she had nothing better to do and then skipped her actual class so we could eat lunch. Afterwards, we stopped for café au crème and banana chocolate tarts at our favorite cafe. We took our sweet-ass time like the French do and finished our lunch two hours later. I love how relaxed everyone is here. In restaurants, it's rude for the waiter to leave the bill on the table because the establishment doesn't want to rush you. My boyfriend's a waiter and I don't think he understands this un-American custom. ha.

Later, I suffered through two hours of histoire de France, and let me tell you, that class is impossible. I cannot concentrate on two hours of note-taking and lecturing in French. As much as I try to center myself, my mind always wanders to Spring Break, or meeting my boyfriend in Paris, dining beneath the Eiffel Tower...sigh. I'm in Europe, why do I have to be in class?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Everyone's Favorite Enigma

As I've mentioned before, public humiliation is an essential part of French education. Today I received my history exam, and I was just happy I passed because UNCA study abroad credits are pass/fail. Apparently the professor wasn't satisfied though, so she called out several girls (me being one of them) and demanded, "Qu'est-ce qui s'est passé? Vous n'avez pas compris?" She even targeted one girl and told her in front of the entire class, "Tu as une gross problème." In America, professors can't post grades in public areas or target students. Or they can, but they get labeled a dick. It's all just a part of living abroad, I know, but it still sucks.

Later, the same professor called on me to explain what we studied in the last class. No big deal, but I felt like she was asked me because she knew I was baffled. I explained what we studied, but she kept asking me more questions and to explain further. I was like, LEAVE ME ALONE. I literally almost burst into tears. My face was bright red. I wanted to pull a highschool freshman and cry in the bathroom, but I bit my lip and moved on.

In phonétique pratique, I shared a worksheet with another student. I couldn't understand what the professor was saying because this student was yakking to me the entire time and asking me why I didn't look like the other Americans and how long my family had lived in the States. Like, really? In fact, Françoise (my Langue professor) talked about immigration today. Lien's a Vietnamese immigrant and she said some Americans wonder about her origin, but not many. They know she's one of them. Then Françoise turned to me and asked "Et toi, Gabriella?" The class laughed, and I said, "Oh, c'est typique." I really don't mind being exotic. I like it. But I don't understand where everyone's coming from. I'm brown, but so are a million other American girls.

On the bright side, I did really well on my compréhension écrite exam. I got a 18,5/20 which is the equivalent of a high A in America. Yay! Also, I'm Skyping tonight with Leah so we can plan our weekend trip for the beginning of April. She's staying in Angers for a few nights and then we're flying out to Germany? Amsterdam? who knows? The world is ours.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

La Vie Douce

I didn't get in this morning until 3 AM. Then I talked to my Dylan until 6 AM (wtf) and passed out until 1 PM. I ate lunch with my family and it was delicious as always. We had chopped tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper, not unlike a bruschetta-type dish. Mme. said she wasn't impressed with the tomatoes, but I thought it was yummy. Afterwards, we had steak and mashed potatoes; while they didn't compete with my aunt's, which are practically liquid with the amount of cream she uses, they tasted just like American mashed potatoes. After this we had cheese and bread (duh), and for dessert: sweet almond cakes and English cream for dipping. Amazing.

Later, Lien, Beth, and I met up for drinks and dinner at Tapas. Ashleigh and Jamie joined us and we sat there for 3.5 hours talking about sex, boys, St. Patty's Day plans, and other things. We went through several carafes of wine and shared a cheese and bread plate. It was so nice to just sit and laugh with everyone. It really felt like nights spent at home, chatting with my girls until late. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by so many amazing people here. I'm going to miss all of my new girlfriends.

After our drinks, a taxi took me home. And by taxi I mean Mercedes. It was the shit. I was too nervous to walk 35 minutes home by myself. Especially after this weekend. I once felt fine walking home alone, but not so much anymore. Maybe I'll get a personal driver for the weekends.

On another note, Lien and I joke about how we're the worst students ever. French culture is so much more relaxed than the individualism in the U.S. LITERALLY, all I do here is eat, drink, and sleep. I go to class, usually, but my homework is half-assed. Most mornings Lien and I grab a coffee at a café. Then we'll go to class, get lunch together, then I'll head home at the end of the day and relax before dinner. Then it's time for bed. This truly is the sweet life.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Never Underestimate the Power of Knowing Russian

Thank God. I got my computer back this afternoon, so I can attempt to catch up. I refuse to retell my Parisian adventures. There's far too much to share...but let me tell you about my day instead.

In Langue, Ashley told Lien to approach a Korean girl and slam her fist against her palm. Apparently this is very offensive in Korea and signifies sexual desire. Of course Lien did it and all of the surrounding Asians who didn't know what it meant followed suit. The Korean girl gasped and tried to get them to stop, and soon our professor Françoise joined as well. Oh my God, I was dying.

For our lunch break, Adrianne, Bethany, Lien, and I ate Chinese food. I skipped art history (it's impossible to go to that class on Fridays.) and then got a beer with the girls at Matt Murph's.

Later, Lien and I met up with Nikki at Soft, a local bar, and Lien brought her Russian friend Daria. We drank, had fun, and then Daria said she could get me a ride home because the owner of McDoner was her friend. Oh, honey, we're all his friend, I said. But they both speak Russian and he promised us a ride home as soon as he got off at 2 AM. The alcohol hit me while we sat in the restaurant. Ashley and some of her friends were there, so we chilled with them. Then he took us home. My house is far away and since I walk everyday, I wasn't sure what roads were accessible or inaccessible to cars. The road I walk is a one-way street, so he couldn't drive down it. Thus, we wandered around for 30 minutes trying to figure out how to get home.

At one point I told him to forget it and just drop me off at this abandoned tunnel. I'd call a cab. Lien yelled, "What?! That's dangerous!!" and wouldn't let me get out of the car. I felt horrible for making this poor man drive around for a half hour. I'm sure he just wanted to sleep. But eventually I made it home and all was well.

I think I'm finally finding my place in Angers. Every day I laugh until I cry, and that's a good place to be.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Definition of Family

Greetings from my sister's super baffling computer. So Sunday and Monday were a shitfest. After my computer crashed (and waking up early Monday to bring it to the Apple store, only to find it was closed...), I became homesick because I felt disconnected from my home in America. No Facebook. No daily Skypes with Dylan. Just super expensive phonecalls to the U.S. On top of this, I got a less than stellar grade on an expression écrite assignment. I'm definitely going to pass CIDEF but the perfectionist in me is not content with simply passing.

However, today was much better. I brought my computer to the Apple store and the Mac man was super friendly and said he could fix it. After wandering downtown, I found an English store stocked with American goodies like Jif, Reese's Cups, peanut butter M&M's, and Pop-Tarts. I squealed and started spewing English when I found this treasure trove and the Irish woman who owns the store seemed amused, understanding.

Further, my home here is starting to become home. My family has been so accomodating and it's becoming obvious that they volunteered their home because they were genuinely interested in learning about another culture. Since students must pay rent and food, a lot of families use this as an opportunity to earn money, but my family doesn't seem that way. They offer to pick me up when I'm far from home and when it's late. They ask about American culture and home. They invite me out when they go to the cinema, to concerts, or to bars...and when my computer crashed, Berry's boyfriend Léo researched ways to fix it. Today Mme. gave me some of her history books because they parallel what I'm learning in histoire de France.

All in all, I realize how lucky I am. Of course I miss my family in the States, but having both a French family and an Italian family is super bad ass, n'est-ce pas?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

God Evens Out the Playing Field

I'm updating via my BB because my computer crashed this morning. This weekend was very eventful, but I can't write a long post because this tiny keyboard is difficult to maneuver. This whole situation sucks, but my life has been going too well lately so I figure God had to mess it up so people wouldn't get too jealous. I mean, I'm in France with an amazing host family (who tried for hours to fix my computer), a loving boyfriend back home, and I've made a lot of great friends here. So it's all good.

Yesterday we toured three chateaus of the region. I will post pictures as soon as I have a computer again. Afterward, we ate dinner in Angers and went out to the bars. I fell down the staircase and into the arms of a French man. The most embarrassing aspect is that I wasn't drunk; I was simply a klutz who didn't see the last stair. But I'm sure everyone thought I was some drunk American girl. No worries.

After two LARGE beers and some sangria, I made it to McDoner (again) since Nikki wanted food. The man saw me texting my boyfriend and teased me, saying "Aw, I love you!" the rest of the night. So typical. We went home afterwards, but I stayed up 'til 3:30. I need more late nights like that one.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Live and Learn, and Then Get Excited

When I first started communicating with my host family I told them I was exictée to meet them. I said this several times via email and Berry always responded with we are "ravis" to meet you too. I didn't understand why she didn't use excités, but I soon learned from example to not use that word.

Today I learned why. Apparently, you only use exciter to express sexual arousal. So basically I've been going around saying that I'm sexually aroused by France. This may or not be true, but God knows I shouldn't be yelling that.

Ah, well. I guess you live and learn. People make all kinds of stupid mistakes when they move abroad. It's just part of the learning process.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ice Cream and Wine

Tonight at dinner Mme. said she was going to wash my draps tomorrow morning. Then the family started talking about the English word, sheets. Except when François said sheets, he spoke quickly and bounced in his chair, squealing "Shit! Shit!"

Berry and I started rollin', but the rest of the family didn't catch it. Mme. laughed anyway. I probably laughed a little longer than necessary because I had just thrown back a glass of wine and devoured an ice cream cone.

Monday, February 21, 2011

People Who Remind Me of Other People

For lunch I ate at my favorite pasta place. The chef recognizes me now and greeted me with, "Bonjour, ma puce!" Now, I remember ma puce meaning "my dear" from the Pierre days. For those of you who don't know (although I'm pretty sure everyone does) I dated a Frenchman for two months. I think all women should have at least one tragic foreign love affair in their lives. It really is a cultural experience.

In fact, I had a cappuccino with my friend Lien after class. After phonétique practique, I had planned on getting an Orangina (STILL CRAVING) and waiting for the rain to pass before trekking home, but when she invited me out I thought, What the hell. She talked about how her exes from home are telling her they miss her and she hates their bad timing. "I need someone here, a French boy." Then I told her about Pierre.

She was pretty stunned and wanted to know all about it. I mean, everyone seems really impressed when I talk about it. But yeah, yeah it lasted two months and he was a party boy. You don't want to be dating one of those when you're in a transcontinental relationship.

Anyways, I like this chick. When I asked how her weekend in Paris was, she said, "Comment dit-on 'black out'?"

In other news, I'm starting to feel like Marie Antoinette because I'm eating a five-course dinner every night and my boyfriend is slowly starving to death. I feel guilty because it's my fault. He spent a lot of money on his passport and he's saving up to visit me in Paris. It's all very romantic and typical of my life, but I feel like at 20-years-old I shouldn't be pushing men into poverty. But I guess that's what I've been doing to my dad all my life.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Thoughts on a Sunday

I've been thinking today, something I don't usually do on Sundays. I woke up sweating this morning (again). Not sure why, but I've been suffering from night sweats since I got here. Anyways, I checked the time and realized I hadn't slept as late as I had wanted. I was hot, sticky, and felt that familiar achy yearning in my chest. Today is the first time I've felt homesick in awhile, and I'm not sure what triggered it.

I started thinking about home, about what it would be like to walk around Asheville in a few months. What comparisons would I make between there and France? How much would I miss France? How much would I miss my family? I imagined sitting in Karpen Hall, thinking about how far away my French family was, how I might not see them again (international travel always leaves a sense of finality.) and I grew sad. Sad before I realized I was laying in bed only several feet away from Berry's room. Yes, I'm here now.

I remember weeping the day I left the States, and my dad said, "Gabi, I know you're crying now, but you know what? In June, you're gonna be crying to leave." And I can sense the truth in this. When I left Italy last summer, I bawled for hours the night before. It's like leaving a fairy tale. And the more I think about leaving France, the more I think my transition back home is going to be incredibly difficult. I have so much me time here, but I'm going to be thrown into a horrible semester when I return. A senior class double major = two senior dissertations, one in French, one 20-pager in English. How can I deal with my numerous responsibilities on top of being torn away from France, the trip I had dreamt about forever?!

God, I'm getting ahead of myself here. Several months ahead. But thinking like this helps me realize how lucky I am to be here and how I need to enjoy every minute, like the ones I'm about to share with my family when I eat croque-monsieurs with them tonight.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Wish I Had an IV of Queso Dip...Or Cidre

Today we traveled to Bretagne with CIDEF and visited St. Malo and Mont St. Michel. Bretagne is known for their pommes, and more importantly, their cidre. My friends and I ate pastries and sat by a fireplace in a warm pub. We sipped cidre and the barkeeper spoke to us in English.

I nodded off on the drive to Mont St. Michel. Only twenty people live there and I can't decide how they feel. They're either the happiest people on earth (because the île is stunning) or the unhappiest (because of all the tourists). We were rushed around the island since we only had two hours and we spent one of them touring the abbey.

After a long day, the girls and I ended up at McDoner (duh). Now Berry is throwing her friend a birthday party downstairs. I'm honored she invited me because she kicked out the rest of her family. No, really. I have no idea where they are. Everyone was super nice when I greeted them with my windswept hair and bloodshot eyes. I told Berry I was super tired so I was gonna chill in my room. I hate being lame but I don't have the energy to attempt speaking French...and the frîtes are starting to settle.

Anyways, Berry asked if she could borrow the couch in my room since her friends were spending the night. She came upstairs to get it and I found a letter from my boyfriend. He had sent me one for Valentine's Day and had included a poem he wrote in French. Am I the luckiest or what.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

When It's Okay to Take Candy from Strangers

Today was good, real good. I don't know why, nor do I care. It is what it is. All this in spite of the fact that my alarm didn't go off this morning and I was almost late to class. Attendance here is pretty strict, at least for langue (the equivalent of American homeroom). If you miss, you have to notify the secrétariat. I'm not sure how strict the other classes are, but if you miss exams or quizzes you can't make them up, so I'm not willing to test it.

Also, I got cat-called on the way to school. I was baffled because I wasn't wearing any make-up, like whatchu lookin' at? For real, not much, boys. I'm disgusting.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. After my first class, Liana, Amy, and I had a long break so we hit up our favorite pasta place for lunch. They put crème fraiche in everything so it's extra terrible for you (read: extra dank). The little chef is adorable and so friendly. He gave us free candy after we finished and wished us a bonne journée.

Tonight we might be getting drinks. I could really use an overpriced Long Island Iced Tea, but we'll see what happens.

Au revoir.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Poultry Liver (Again) and French Cosmopolitan

Yep. I bought a French Cosmo today at the Monoprix. This should really improve my vocabulary.

In other news, my host family tricked me into eating poultry liver again. WTF. François asked if I liked paté and when I responded with a baffled look (Qu'est-ce que c'est?) he laughed. That should have been the first clue. But M. didn't tell me what it was until I put it in my mouth. "It's leever." He said.

I was so shocked/terrified that I had to endure this again that I said (a little to loud) in English, "LIKE THE GOOSE?"

"Oui." Then he gave me a list of all the birds that had been eviscerated for this paté.

On another note, Leah and I found the Bibliotheque Anglophone today and I now have a free place to rent English books! Unfortunately they did not have any Sedaris books, so I'm going to either a) nag my father to send mine from home or b) order some online. It's all good though, because the bibli had three shelves of Stephen King novels and I've been reading diligently all day. Further, I think France has some obsession with Oscar Wilde because I see his books everywhere. It makes me love the French even more.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

David Sedaris Saved My Life

I'm stressed because I have nine pages left in When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. I brought it over so I'd have something to read on the plane, but the book became a necessity when I was homesick during my first week.

Sedaris is comedic, and it was nice to laugh and read something in English. In addition, I've concluded that he's the gay, male version of me. He's lived abroad in so many different cities (Paris, Tokyo, Normandy) and reading his stories gives me a hilarious outlook on life outside the U.S. As lonely as it can be, it's definitely an incredible experience with many opportunities for screw-ups and good times.

For example, when Sedaris decided to quit smoking, he changed his environment and moved to Tokyo for three months (wtf). He talks about the language barrier and how he wanted to cry after his first Japanese language exam. While French is hard, at least we use the same alphabet. And the food here is dank. Of course I feel displaced at times, but I'm still in the Western Hemisphere.

I'm not sure what else to say here. On the way home I had this great blog prepared for the wonderful Mr. Sedaris and now it's all gone to hell. I can't stay awake.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Less-Than-Romantic Valentine's Day in France

As far as Valentine's Day goes, today has been pretty depressing. I'm in France on the most romantic holiday of the year, but alas, my boyfriend and I are separated by an ocean. Le sigh.

I didn't get out of class until 6 PM, but I was finally placed into the right courses. I'm taking histoire de l'art, phonétique, langue, and histore de France, which has already proved baffling. Today I sat silently begging the professor not to call on me. At which point I would have either projectile vomited or burst into tears.

Oh, well. I actually have homework tonight. Last week's homework was real cute, but this seems a little more legit. We'll see.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

An Uncensored Friday Night Abroad

I debated about whether I'd update about last night because I know a large volume of people read my blog. My philosophy with writing is to always be honest, even if it's offensive or mortifying or scary. So here it is: an uncensored Friday night abroad.

Amy, Liana, Leah, Nikki, and I commenced our night by pre-gaming at the house and eat cheese and bread. We have yet to figure out the good cheeses, and one of them smelled like a toilet seat. After swapping stories, we went out to a few bars.

I saw Berry at her boyfriend at James Joyce and said hello. We took tequila shots and someone spilled beer all over my jacket. We left without a buzz and ended up at the marché again. Amy and Nikki bought some tall, lethal can of beer (7% alcohol) and I drank some Amsterdam beer that was 8.4%.

We walked on Marchel Foch and the girls stopped for a smoke. My feet hurt and I wanted frîtes. By this time we were quite drunk, so we walked down Bressigny for food. An adorable French boy stopped up when he heard we spoke English. He asked if we were from the U.S. and if we knew Eva or something. We said no and asked who she was.

"Oh, she is very beautiful. She is from the States and I am looking for her." That was a little too cute.

We made it to McDoner and the MiddleEastern kebab man argued with me about my race.

"You are Indian girl."

"Non, je suis américaine!"

"No, I am sorry. You are poorly mistaken. But you are Mexican."

"Okay, okay, je suis italienne."

"Oh, okay."

You know, these conversations would be considered offensive in the U.S. Everyone here thinks I'm Hispanic. One Venezualan girl in class asked if I spoke Spanish. I said no because I'm American. She stared at me and said, "But you're brown."

Anyways, back to the story. While eating frîtes, I called my boyfriend. Of course he didn't pick up because he was working. But I thought he might be able to sneak off and talk to me. We left the restaurant and I had to walk the fifteen minutes home so I tried to find someone to call. I called my boyfriend two more times, but to no avail. I called Michelle. Nothing. I called Joy and she picked up and talked to me until I made it home.

At home I received a text from Michelle. She said she was in tears because she thought something was wrong. I told her I was fine and in bed. I left Dylan a voicemail (stupid) that could only have made him nervous. I said I had really needed him tonight and was sad he wasn't there.

I woke up several times in the night. Each time I fell asleep I was greeted with an incredibly bizarre dream. I had a nightmare and woke up at 5:45 AM. My boyfriend had texted me five times, asking if I was okay and if he could call me. That he was so sorry he couldn't pick up. He had taken extra tables tonight so he could pay for his trip to France. Of course I told him I was sorry for the stupid voicemail and that everything was okay.

I fell asleep and woke up at 9:40 AM and received another flood of texts from my boyfriend. He had been drinking and all of his messages said how much he loved me and how he couldn't stop talking about me, how beautiful he thinks I am, etc. They were incredibly sweet so I saved them. I felt jealous that I couldn't be there with him and started feeling homesick again. I tried calling. No answer.

I fell asleep again and woke up around 1 PM. Not too sure what I'm going to do with myself today but it should not involve beer and an international phone.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Breaking American Laws in France

It's 7 AM and my hands are sore from trying to open a Smirnoff Ice in the streets of France. I don't wanna talk about it. Okay, so maybe I do. Here's the story. We went out last night. Berry said the bars were less creepy earlier in the night, so we started walking around at 9 PM. But most of the bars looked empty.

We finally decided to go to an Irish Pub, James Joyce, where we heard they spoke English. It was packed, a good sign, so we went in and ordered a few drinks. Because of my high tolerance I ordered a margarita, which was basically just tequila poured into a martini glass. The other girls got some fruity concoction with marshmallows in it. I was feelin' a buzz when I left the bar but Amy still wanted alcohol so we stopped at a supermarket.

There, they sold wine in huge plastic bottles. Instead of trying this, I bought a Smirnoff Ice since we all decided we'd be French and drink in the streets. While Smirnoff is embarrassing, it's like liquid candy so I'd have no problem drinking it. Amy and Liana bought some beers and we left the store.

My Smirnoff bottle wouldn't twist-off and I soon realized I'd need a bottle opener. The girls wanted me to ask some random so open it for me, but I was too mortified about drinking Smirnoff Ice. We tried banging the bottle on a few window ledges and railings but to no avail. Finally, I found a condom dispenser and attempted to crack the bottle open against that. "You look like a fool," Liana said. At this point, I didn't care. I was disappointed so I shoved the bottle in my coat pocket. The rest of the way home it dangled and threatened to fall.

Starving Myself Will Make the Europeans Think I'm Less of an American

I'm very excited because my boyfriend applied for his passport today. He should be visiting me in April with my mom, and we're going to Paris for the second half of my spring break. Last night I realized he would be here for our six month anniversary! How's that for a celebration!? I haven't had a relationship last more than four months so this will be a big deal...ha.

In another news, M. thinks I'm anorexic. He's always teasing me about how little I eat and how my mother's gonna be displeased about me being so skinny. Lord, I wish he could see all the junk I eat at lunch. But here's the thing: I'm paranoid to eat in front of the French because I'm worried they'll relate my eating habits to my nationality. Ugh. All those Americans eat so much. No wonder she's so fat. When I came to France, I wanted to be as thin as possible so I wouldn't fulfill any stupid stereotypes. I know this is just my insecurities talking and the French really don't care, but it's always in the back of my mind.

Finally, my professor gave me the okay to change my courses. She told me my comprehension was très bien and I could go above the 311-level if I chose. I can't decide which credits will transfer to UNCA so I guess I'll look into that tomorrow. THEN IT'S THE WEEKEND. I hope to go out and party this weekend because staying in has given me cabin fever the past few nights. Oh, the French also enjoy torturing their students by giving them all 8:00 AM classes on Friday, the morning after college night. Pourquoi, France?!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

M. Sarkozy, Please Renew My Visa 'Cause I'm Not Going Home

So the title is a lie. I do miss everyone, but tonight was one of those nights where I thought, Holy shit. I'm in France and I never want to leave. It's kind of like being in love.

After classes (which I still haven't been able to change), I ate paninis with my friends and Leah and I browsed through French lingerie and tried our first macaroons. They were soft, cool, and sweet like ice cream. So fragile and delicious.

Later, I returned home to rest, finish my ten minutes of homework (read: joke), and Skype Dylan. Nikki messaged me and said she wanted to go out so we went for dinner and ate pizza. I had two glasses of wine. I'm not sure if my tolerance has gone down or if it was the previous two glasses of chardonnay I had had earlier, but I was buzzin' when we left. I hope my friends appreciate my tipsy texts sent at 2 PM American Eastern Time.

As I've stated before, I love meeting people but I hate small talk. Tonight was great because the two of us could talk about our lives back home. What we missed, what we didn't miss, who we missed...I had a rather warm feeling as I stumbled home, weaving my way through the dog merde dans les rues.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mon Dieu, Mme., C'est Originale!

In France some things are hilarious simply because they're French. Alors, Mme., Berry, and I were watching Sex and the City: The Movie in French this evening and I forgot how much sex was in it. Luckily the Europeans are quite lenient with sexuality so it wasn't too awkward. Anyways, so we're watching the part where Samantha's boyfriend approaches her with what appears to be a huge boner. However, when Samantha reaches into his pants she realizes it's a jewelry box. Mme. scoffs and says, "Oh, c'est originale." Mon dieu, I wanted to fall out of my seat.

France's Sadistic Enjoyment in Watching International Students Cry

French universities take sadistic pleasure in watching baffled study abroad students scurry around campus. Today was my first day of classes and it was incredibly stressful. The university posts the results of your entrance exam on a wall where everyone can see them. Talk about public humiliation. After this, they herd you into an amphitheater and ramble on in French about the professors and shit. Then you depart for classes. But you don't know where they're located. By each course listing there's a combination of letters and numbers...but no building.

I was scrambling around trying to find my class while some professors held up sheets of paper and led their students to the designated classroom. Of course my professor didn't do that so I'm walking back and forth through the lobby. I'm practically in tears by this point and the lobby is beginning to clear of its international students. Finally, I ask one of the professors where I'm supposed to go and she tells me to walk upstairs. You might assume that Salle 313 is on the third floor, but you're wrong. It's actually on the fifth floor, because apparently that makes a lot more sense.

Anyway, I walk into class and immediately understand everything the professor is saying. I realize this is a terrible sign, because in Prof. Malicote's class at home I'm baffled about 60% of the time. After going to my langue classes I realize I've been placed in intermediate French which is way too easy for me. I mean, I was doing literary analyses last semester and wrote a 6-page dissertation on Camus. I should be in upper-level French. I did not come all way from the States to learn passé composé and imparfait again. Ahh. I'm rather stressed and I'm going to talk to my professor about moving me up several levels. But as stated before, nothing in this country comes easily for internationals so we'll see. C'est la vie.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Eating Goose Liver, Drinking at Two, and Other Things American Students Have to Try in France

Today has been interesting so far. It's Berry's birthday, so the family had a large lunch prepared. I met her boyfriend, Léo, who had studied in America for four months and wanted to practice his English with me. We watched a French game show and he seemed surprised when I could hold my own on the French literature questions. Then he, François, and I played Wii Sports until it was time to eat.

First, we had champagne and salty snacks. I gave Berry her gift and she loved it. I had bought some pretty macaroons from a pâtisserie downtown and Mme. informed me that Berry loved macaroons. I was so relieved, because I was worried she would be one of those strange people who didn't like sweets.

After this, we sat at the table. In front of each of us was a plate with a slice of what appeared to be spam. Mme. said she'd tell me what it was after I ate it. Never a good sign, but....vive la France! I ate it and, not liking it, I washed it down with a sweet white wine. M. told me it was goose liver. It's a French delicacy that's only served on special occasions. You slice it and eat it with baguettes and onion paste. I was the only one who didn't finish, so Mme. asked if I didn't like it. I told her it was new for me because I was a vegetarian in the States, but I was willing to try anything and everything while in France. I mean, when I return to the States I'll be able to say I had goose liver and got drunk with my family. Bad ass, right?

Afterwards, she served a stew with pork, oranges, rice, and mashed celery. Bon! I actually enjoyed the pork and accepted a second and third glass of wine. Léo laughed and asked, "Tu aimes le vin?" Later, Mme. asked about my astrological year and while I meant to say cheval for horse, I said chèvre for goat. For some reason I found this hilarious. By this time the room was tilting so I decided to stop.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dinner for Two

Tonight Monsieur and I ate together because Madame was working, Berry was spending the night with her friends, and François was at a sporting event. M. was the first family member I met in Angers and I think he's about the coolest guy ever. The day I arrived in France, Berry told me her family had to work until 17h00 so I needed to find a ride to their home. Hervé, a French student who studied at UNCA for a semester, offered to show me around until they got off work. However, Berry quickly emailed me back and said her dad would be able to pick me up at the train station, regardless of work. When I first arrived, I realized the adapter for my laptop didn't work because I have a Macbook. I became quite anxious, but M. immediately took the laptop charger to the nearest electronic store and bought me a new adapter within the hour.

Tonight he cooked stew with chicken and couscous. During dinner he asked how old I was. He seemed surprised when I told him I was twenty. He then asked if I had ever been so far away from home for a long period of time. I had lived in Italy for a month last summer, but that was different. I was with American students the entire time. I became rather emotional as he asked how I was adapting. I told him I loved Angers but it was difficult to be so loin de my family. I almost started crying but realized how mortifying that would be and immediately stopped myself. M. recognized that I was feeling a little spleen (blue) and told me he would cook any one of my favorite meals. All I had to do was ask. He also gave me free reign over the television and his office, which is full of French books and comics. It sounds cheesy, but M.'s efforts to accommodate me have shown me how much I'm starting to love this little French family.

In my room I Skyped my boyfriend and started crying. However, I wasn't sad. I love it here and am starting to adapt. Everyday is an adventure, but I do miss my family and friends at times. Talking about it at dinner just reminded me how far I am from my comfort zone. But I really am okay. It was difficult to explain this to Dylan. All he could see was me crying, but I tried to tell him that I was happy. So many people dream of living abroad. Here I am, only twenty years old, and I get to live in France for four months! I'm so blessed and I realize that every day.

Bonjour from Everyone's Favorite French Invalid

I really don't know what to do with myself. I woke up super late again. I would love to go out today because a) I need food and b) I need to by a gift for my French sister's birthday. Speaking of food, I really am punching myself in the face for buying a bunch of crap yesterday at the grocery store. Who does that? I guess eating junk is comforting when you're an American girl in France, but I need to buy more substantial food. I really want to buy some brie but I'm not sure if I'm allowed to use the refrigerator. My family is super chill, but I just want to be sure.

I used my French hair straightener this morning. The temperature is in celsius, which is a little baffling, but it's pink so it's okay. Also, it cost an arm and a leg. I feel like that's a fair trade since I'm considering cutting off my limbs later. They hurt so bad. It's difficult to walk to the bathroom, let alone the thirty minutes into town, mais je ne sais pas.

Another thing: the French are so adorable. If you say you're from the southern United States they all think you're from Florida. Non, non, la Floride est très sud! Madame brought out an atlas of the U.S. last night and was asking where I lived. Earlier, my father asked what the capital of North Carolina was. I told him Raleigh and when he saw it written on the map he said, "Ohhhh! Ralèg!" hahaha their pronunciation is so different.

On another note, last night was the first night since I've been here that I haven't cried. It's kind of embarrassing to admit this on a public forum, but it's true. I become very homesick late at night when I want to sleep and I know my friends in America are still awake. However, last night was okay. I stayed up until 2 AM but fell asleep easily enough. I'm starting to become better friends with the American girls here and it's a relief because I hate the typical ca va? tu es de? conversations upon first meeting people. That was one thing I hated about coming to college as well. Can't we skip the light chats and move on to the more meaningful conversations where people really connect?

I hear people downstairs; maybe it's François, the 15-year-old pastry chef. I'm not sure if it's appropriate to go down there in my boyfriend's shorts and a t-shirt.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I'm Going to Have the Best Legs in Europe

Today I ate ham. That's how much I love this country (I'm a vegetarian.). My family made a ham and cheese quiche and I didn't want to be rude. I also didn't turn down an offering of wine. They haven't charged me for any meals yet, so I'm definitely thankful for that. One thing I'm noticing about the French though is that they eat très vite. At least my family does. I'll be halfway done with my meal and they'll have cleaned their plates. I find it humorous because back home I was always the quick eater. Now I can't keep up.

Also, I've been walking. A LOT. I don't mean to boast or complain but I'm just not used to walking this much. Yesterday I walked for five hours around town and today I averaged about seven. On my way home I could barely walk in a straight line. My legs hurt so bad I thought they'd buckle. Oh, well. Hopefully I'll be very mince when I return to the States! But then again Nutella is part of the French food pyramid so maybe not...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In France, It's Socially Acceptable to Drink at Noon

This morning was my French placement exam. I got there early, courtesy of my French mother, wandered aimlessly through le bâtiment Bazin and felt hopelessly American. Everyone was speaking in French (obviously) but I mustered up the courage to ask a petite Japanese girl where the test was held. We talked for awhile and eventually met up with a Bulgarian girl who spoke very little French, though she was fluent in English. She was rather crass and told me all about the great bars and parties and how she has God's eyeball tattooed on her back.

Later, I met up with some American students and we ate at a petit crêperie for lunch. It was served with fermented cidre that reminded me of Italian moscato: dangerously sweet and delicious. Afterwards, we wandered around Angers and poked our heads into a few shops, though I neglected to buy anything.

Tonight I'm meeting up with my American friends again and Leah is cooking. I'm happy to be so busy because it takes my mind off of being away from home. This is my first full day in Angers and I am quite happy. I just have to avoid being alone for long periods. This shouldn't be a problem tonight.

However, I am très jet-lagged and would love to take a nap before dinner, but I'm not sure if I'd be able to wake up again. C'est ca!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

An Uneventful Trip to Paris...Or Not

I prayed for an uneventful trip to France, but of course that's not what I received. Dylan called me when my plane landed at the Charlotte airport. I asked him what he was doing and he sheepishly replied, "Nothing."

"Are you at your apartment?"

"No...I'm not at my apartment."

"Then where are you? You're being sketchy."

After I prodded for several moments, he finally answered, "I'm in the Charlotte airport."

I stopped, not believing what I had heard. I asked where he was, knowing he couldn't get past security. Had he really driven this far to be denied by the airport officials? After several failed attempts to find him, I turned to my right and spotted my boyfriend outside security. My flight boarded in forty minutes. If I left the gates, I'd have to go through security again. But how could I deny him after he'd driven so far?

I left and gave him a hug. But it didn't feel real. For a second, I was disappointed. I had finally accepted that I was leaving and then Dylan had to do something amazing like this. The scent of his cologne, the feel of his t-shirt beneath my fingers, it was all too much. He bore a gift: a video he had made for me. We only had fifteen minutes together because the line to security was filling up. I left him, but he stayed until he saw me pass through the gates.

I just watched the video, secretly knowing I shouldn't have. Now I miss him more than ever.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Cure-All Remedy for Homesickness?

I leave in three days and my anxiety has transformed into excitement. I only dread the initial homesickness. I've never been away for this long. The only comparison is when I left for college, but even then I had the opportunity to come home if I felt too overwhelmed. In France this is not an option. So I've devised a plan to fend off my homesickness.

David Sedaris. My cousin introduced him to me, so he reminds me of Christmases spent with my Italian family in Philadelphia, where we ate creamed potatoes and homemade cheesecake until we cringed.
My boyfriend's hoodie. So I never have to sleep alone. It smells like the French cologne he wears and reminds me of one of our first dates, where I pressed my nose to his neck and inhaled the intoxicating scent.
Music. I'll depend on the mellow guitar riffs of John Mayer to soothe me to sleep on restless nights abroad.
Photos. There are several pictures I'll snag from the walls of my bedroom, leaving empty spaces in their wake. They'll bring me comfort in an unfamiliar place.

I wish I could fast forward through the goodbyes and set my feet on French soil.