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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Little Fish in the Developed Country Pool

This weekend I was invited to an engagement party in Lille. Or rather, Gui Gui was invited to the engagement party, and as we apparently come as a unit, I was invited as well. Lille is in the North East of France and is well know for crappy weather, a strange dialect (ie Bienvenue Chez Chi'times), and a particularly potent kind of cheese.

After being invited, we decided to profit from being that far north by going to the actual city of Lille. (The party was just outside of the city). So instead of leaving at 5 or 6 pm, we left at 2pm. Gui Gui's brother Adrien, was in town so he rode in the car with us, and we had to pick up two other friends as well. We picked up Patrick in Saint G, and drove onward to pick up Paul in the North of Paris which was "only four kilometers out of the way." Except there was traffic. And a bridge closed. And more traffic. Two hours later, we navigated out of Paris and got to Lille around 6:30. So much for our tourism. Instead I had to get a pair of tights, so we swung over to the mall and I ran around for fifteen minutes looking for what I needed. It was a real shame that we couldn't actually see anything, because it looked like a nice city. It had tons of old cobble stone roads, the kind that ruin your suspension, and lots of interesting architecture.

We ended up making it to the party and were pleased to find an awesome spread of mini challah breads and smoked salmon (they're Jewish). Cue in a keg, buckets of spiked punch, and people being lifted up in chairs. All and all, it was a pretty class act.

The next day we they served us brunch, and the guys graciously killed off the rest of the beer. The weather was glorious, and we sat outside eating cheese and enjoying the sunshine.

There was, of course, a glitch in the weekend. Somehow, someone had broken into Gui Gui's car and stolen a whopping eight euros from his wallet, and his mom's digital camera. Considering what was in the car, we had to assume it was either kids, or crack addicts twisted off their heads. Anyway, so I was telling Gui Gui we could get his mom a new camera in the US, as it's sure to be cheaper, when it dawned on me.

That's like the twentieth time I've said that in the last month. I'm saving up my euros, because of how much they are worth in dollars. I get my mom to send me contact solution, because its an eighth of the price. And you know what? I'm not sure how happy I am to be the one coming from the poor impoverished country.

Stupid euro.

Monday, October 3, 2011


I won't say that Paris has let me down (although it has been a backdrop as I let down myself,) but I will say I had some pretty high expectations for the city (blame Hemmingway). However, it's hard not to lower these expectations when I can smell Chatelet on the RER five minutes before the train arrives, or when I see bums covered in urine, gypsies stealing on the Champs de Mars, and paying six euros for a cup of coffee that has an overhead cost of .45 centimes.

So when I had one of those awesome Parisian moments last Saturday, I thought, "I'll take this as a win."

I woke up at a friends house by Gare de Lyon, after going to a party with three of my girlfriends. It was pretty good time, and I intelligently made my move closer to three am, instead of six, like my other, more courageous, friends. Anyway, around noon, I left my friends house and wandered down the street looking for some caffeine and food. I passed about fifteen restaurants, that were way too expensive. I passed a boulangerie, but they had slim pickings after the lunch rush. I wandered for another half hour, not really minding, because it was about 75, sunny, and absolutely perfect outside. I walked on, and looked up to see a line of paninis resting in the window. "Score!" I thought and walked inside and said hello to the bandana clad worker. After a few minutes of speaking in French, I was pretty sure that he was an anglophone. The accent and correct pronunciation of "cheddar" was a dead giveaway. There was a pause in the exchange, and we looked at eachother, and he asked me "English or American?" Turns out he was American so he made my coffee and we had a little chat. Because Ali was dragging her heals for an hour, I ended up sitting there, eating my lunch, and alternating between reading my book and talking with the guy.

There was no competition, there was no dumbass comments or smirking, there was just two strangers talking about the city they lived in, and the country they came from.

When I finally found Ali, I turned to Lee and said "Nice to meet you," and walked outside into the sunshine.

Du Pain?

I am occasionally awkard. I am occasionally even more awkward in French. I hate making small talk, because I feel vulnerable, and I suspect that I'm commiting a series of cultural faux pas(uh, 's). I don't know the French way to BS with someone when you don't know them, and well, I'm awkward. So although I like going with Gui Gui's friends, I occasionally have the "oh God, not French again," moment.

That being said, I can usually role with an evening out, because now I know most of his friends pretty well, and they serve me wine, which makes me less self-conscious. So, I was a little put out last weekend when we ended up going to Paris to have a birthday dinner with a friend I've never met before, and his friends, who Gui Gui has never met before. Things were kind of awkward when we got to the guy's house and we all sat around staring at eachother. I had to discreetly ask Gui Gui to explain things to me, as new people mean new accents, and are occasionally hard to understand (they were also talking about playing pool, which sounds really similar to the word beer, so that brought a whole new level of confusion). Anyway, we went to dinner, the apero and the wine came out, and that galvinized the conversation.

But, as I was eating my poulet au sauce moutarde, I looked down the table at the bowl of French bread. What a perfect example of why I'm so damn awkward at dinner parties.

One thing I've learned about how to not make an ass of yourself, is always watch what everyone else is doing, and never make assumptions. (One time, Gui Gui's mom put a bowl of water in front of me and said something about seeds in the grapes I was eating. I thought the bowl was for seeds, it was infact, I realized after watching his Dad wash his grapes in the seed filled water, for cleaning, oops). So the whole bread thing really gets to me. If you pay attention to your French dinner companions, you will see that the bread does not go on the plate, it goes on the table to the side. It is then used to aid in the sopping up of sauces left over. If, by chance, you are eating it with the starter, you must rip off tiny pieces and eat discreetly.

Before that, Gui Gui and I had been talking, and he asked me again, "So do you feel like things are that different here?" "I don't even know anymore, but as I've said before, it's always the differences in the little things that throw you off balance." Because that Saturday night, I was drinking the same wine, eating the same food, and speaking the same language, with my bread on my plate, because I'll be dammed if I forget 24 years of my parents telling me to keep my food on my plate.