Monday, September 28, 2015

the first 48 hours

Well, it’s finally my first new post on French soil. It’s been just under 48 hours since I arrived in Paris, and it’s been quite a whirlwind. I’m currently sitting in La Défense, in clear view of the Grande Arche, at 1 of 3 Chipotle’s in all of Paris. I know, right? Could I be more American? Give me a break. I wanted a little taste of home as I wrote about my first 2 days à Paris. And for the record, the Chipotle here tastes slightly different, but for the most part it’s exactly the same. Except for the fact the only bottled water they have is sparkling. Guess I’m going to have to get used to that. But this is good news for me. I will likely be a frequent visitor.

And I kid you not, some little girl is at this very moment standing right in front of me, staring at me through the glass, and tapping at a cup. When she can’t catch my eye, she moves on to the Chinese ladies sitting on the other side of the building. Disaster averted. And now there are 3 military guys holding very large weapons casually meandering by like they don’t have a care in the world. Where the heck am I?

Thoughts on La Défense so far. It’s basically the New York City-esque area of Paris. Tall skyscrapers and lots of businessmen and women, but the buildings are far more interesting to look at than your average urban downtown area. My current location seems to be the city center. It’s a large rectangular open space so you can clearly see the Grande Arche on one side, then you turn 180 degrees and you can see the Arc de Triomphe in the distance. 

Side bar: when I first got to Chipotle, I was the only one in here. And I’m thinking “of course, they know I’m American now.” But since I’ve been sitting here, it has gotten pretty busy. To the point where a police car drives across the square…which is not at all a road, but rather a pedestrian area with large pavers everywhere…parks in front of Chipotle and 3 cops walk in. Perhaps I’m don’t stick out as much as I thought I did…

I left Chipotle and started walking toward the direction of the Arc de Triomphe. I found the Areva headquarters, which is also based in Lynchburg, VA, and I found a sweet little carousel, which looks oddly out of place in such an urban part of the city. The architecture here though is incredible in its own modern way.

Allow me to back up to 47 hours ago, when I had finally landed in Paris, hauled my extremely heavy luggage onto a luggage cart, and walked out of the Charles De Gaulle airport to meet my host family. They were immediately welcoming, although Gaspard was a bit shy at first. But oh my word, is that kid adorable. When we got to their house, it was a surreal moment to walk in the door since I had seen it so many times on Google maps. Now I was here. It was a weird moment, almost like I wasn’t a stranger. I unpacked, had lunch with the family, and then passed out for several hours. During my nap, Gaspard brought 2 of his friends at various times so I could meet them. It was at this point, I gave him my presents I brought for him. A Steelers football and jersey. The kid likes sports, so if I’m going to introduce him to American customs, it will include American football and the best team in the NFL. Just sayin.

The rest of Saturday was a blur. I didn’t get to go to church on Sunday, mostly because the family hadn’t had time to take me to get Metro passes. I also don’t think I’d have been awake since I was still jet lagged. But Sunday was much more interesting. First, I helped my host mom cook lunch. She had friends coming over, and was making duck, which I have never had. But I actually enjoyed it. After 3 meals with the family, I’ve noticed that they eat a LOT of food. Tiny portions my butt. They keep piling food on their plates, and asking me if I want more. Then after they eat, they go to the fridge and grab a few snacks, mostly yogurt as a dessert (interesting). Carmel, my host mom, actually told me that the other au pairs they’ve had have gained weight. Hah….duly noted. We’ll make sure that does not happen to me.  

After lunch, Gaspard and the older son Hugo walked me to the RER/Metro station and bought me day passes until they can get me a new monthly pass at the start of October. Then they showed me how to use the RER, wished me the best of luck, and told me to call if I needed help (the family gave me a phone to use). Not surprisingly, it didn’t take me very long to get a hang of the RER. I’m so used to the DC Metro, and it works the same way. So I climbed aboard, sat down, heart pounding a bit and hoping I don’t look like too much of a noob, and then I was off. It was only 3 stops to the Arc de Triomphe, which is at the end of the Champs-Élysées. Paris was having a no-driving day down the Champs, so you were able to walk down the middle without it being super crowded on the sidewalks. I walked all the way down to the Place de la Concorde, hung a right and eventually crossed the Seine on the Pont Alexandre III bridge. I kept walking along the south bank (aka the Left Bank), and eventually came to the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t even attempt to go near it because I could see how crowded it was. Normal for weekends. But I did walk around it a bit, then walked toward the bridge directly across from the tower.

It was at this point that some random French guy turned around and saw me, then became particularly interested in the fact I was an American and was staying for a year. Although he was friendly, I wasn’t really having it. When he asked if I was working here, and I said yes, and the conversation got to the “are you here with your husband?” point (I know you don’t see a ring on my finger dude) and the “so what part outside of the city do you live?” “I can’t remember.” (of course I remember, how do you expect me to find my way home?), finally we reach the bridge across from the tower. “I’m going that way for a walk along the Seine if you want to join.” he says. “I’m going this way.” “Ok, nice to meet you.” “You too, have a nice day.” 26 hours in at that point and already hit on.

Anyway, I crossed the bridge, and at this point I pull out my map for the first time to make sure I find the right street that will take me back to the Champs. I’ve walked about 4 miles at this point, and didn’t need a map. I pride myself on my sense of direction, and I poured over maps of Paris before I came to get well acquainted with the lay of the land. Finally, I reach the Champs, and since I have no where I need to be, I decide to go stand in line at Ladurée Paris, makers of the best French macarons money can buy. I was only in line about 20 minutes, and although they were a little pricey, they were completely worth the experience. And oh man were they delicious. After I got my 6 macarons in a souvenir box (€18 later), I made my way back to the RER and headed home.

Gaspard came to my room last night to hang out a bit, and was fascinated by my clothes and hats and shoes. He brought in a sign his parents had made him of common English phrases so he could communicate with me a little when I arrived. He’s super cute. Which brings me to today. I helped make sure Gaspard was ready for school, and Carmel walked with me the first time to make sure I knew where to go. I am free until 6, when Hugo, the older son who’s 20, will go with me to pick him up. I guess I have to take my passport the first time so they know who I am before they will let me take Gaspard on my own. Apparently he stays until 6 PM every night for activities and to work on homework with other kids.

I’m not going to lie. The minute I left the school after dropping off Gaspard, I started singing “Little Town” from Beauty and the Beast as I made the trek back home. It’s about a 10 minute walk, but it’s in a cute little town on the outskirts of Paris. Very quiet and safe, and the houses are so French. I know it’s only been 2 days, but I feel like I’ve been here a week. I feel like I can get from place to place without help, and I feel pretty safe during the day being out in the city alone.

The family is super friendly and hanging out with them over meals is really fun. Yesterday, they had some friends over, one of which has been studying English for 2 years and wants someone to be able to talk with to practice. Umm yes, you can talk to me, and while you’re at it, help translate to the family for me. She was really fun though. Overall, people in France are pretty much the same as people in America, except I can’t understand what they are saying. Hopefully, I’ll learn soon enough. There was a bit of an issue with my language school, but I’m hoping Carmel can work it out today.

Alright, that’s all I’ve got for now. À bientôt