Hello my friends. This morning I write to you from Starbucks right next to the Louvre Museum (or Musée du Louvre if you want to sound French). Why on earth am I at Starbucks when there are a thousand very Parisian sidewalk cafes everywhere you turn? For 3 reasons: 1) I have yet to get used to black coffee, which is all my host family drinks, and even with a little sugar I find myself willing to do anything for a good cup of coffee I know I can get quickly. 2) I know it has free WiFi and I don’t have to pay to use the bathroom and 3) I know that I can walk through the door, speak a few English words after asking Parlez-vous anglais? and know that I'm not sounding like a fool and I'm getting exactly what I want. The only downside is they don't seem to have my beloved cinnamon dolce latte or some of the other drinks I'm used to seeing, so I have to resort to the oh-so-basic-American pumpkin spice latte. Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to a good PSL, but they do get old.
I'm also at Starbucks because I've found that I've become very shy about trying to speak in French. I guess this is a normal thing, but I wish I'd just get over it. But when push comes to shove and I have to say something en français, this bashfulness washes over me and I’m afraid I won’t say it correctly and won’t be understood. I mean, I’m gonna be honest. I don’t know a lot yet. I’m not great at French. I’ve been really fortunate though, because until yesterday, there have been enough people around that speak broken English that I can communicate to Gaspard (the boy I care for). His older brother Hugo, who is 20, knows quite a bit of English, and since he goes to college very close to their home, he is back and forth quite a bit. Lucky for me so I can ask him to ask G things. On the way to school in the mornings, G’s friend and his mother who live across the street walk to school with us. G will chat with his friend, and I’ve gotten to speak to Charlotte who knows a lot of English as well. Another mother of another friend even asked if I would give her and her husband English lessons, so that might be a way to make a little extra cash…although I’ve never done that before so I’m going to have to figure out the best way to conduct lessons.
Yesterday was probably my most challenging day so far. Here, the kids stay in school late for activities and to work on their homework. I guess they do that so the parents can pick them up after their work times. So each day except Wednesday, I pick up G at 6 PM. Tuesdays he has soccer, so there’s not much time for us to really spend time together. But I’ve found that Wednesday is going to be a hard day of the week. Wednesdays are half days at school, so I pick up G at 11:30 AM. I have to make him lunch and dinner, make sure his homework is done, and then find ways to entertain him. Have I mentioned that he and I can’t communicate without someone translating? Yesterday’s walk back to the house was a quiet one. Although I did pull out a few French phrases I came prepared with to ask how school was, if he was hungry, and what he wanted to do. Problem is if he responds with more than a few words, I can’t understand him anyway.
When we got back to the house and I fed him lunch, it was pretty quiet for a while. Eventually, he asked if he could see if his friend next door, I’ll call him B because I have no clue how to spell his name even if I can at least say it. We went next door, and B’s mom answered. Another English speaker (yes!) even though not as much as others I’ve met. We both ended up staying because as it turns out, the kids want to watch Harry Potter in French. Umm yes I will absolutely stay. After all, I have those movies basically memorized, so hearing the dialog and seeing the subtitles in French could be helpful. The boys were bored 30 min later, so they went to play in B’s room, which meant I could go back to the house while his mom watched them both. A few hours to myself. When G came back, I made him dinner and asked if he had homework. He didn’t eat much again, and at this point I’m thinking great, how do I get him to eat? He snacks a lot though, so at least the kid isn’t starving.
I noticed that things are a little tense between us when it’s just he and I. How can it be tense with an 8 year old? Well, when the 8 year old seems frustrated and unresponsive, and when the first thing he says to his mom when she comes home is that I’m not speaking enough French, it’s tense. She obviously tells him that it is fine that I’m speaking English. In fact, she specifically asked that as I learn more French, I still speak to G in English only at least 1 hour per week. The one thing G and I do together (that I typically initiate) and I can feel us bonding is when we play soccer outside in his yard. He smiles, uses the English he knows with me, and he has fun. He loves soccer, and is actually incredibly good for an 8 year old. The dad even said his son is the best. I’m thinking he’s probably going to be a famous pro player one day.
G is very affectionate sometimes too. He thinks it’s funny to tickle me (me…not so much), and sometimes he’ll come in my room and play with my Rubik’s cube and make me solve it. He also pointed out my Harry Potter 3 book in French that I brought with me. The next day when I was making his bed, I noticed he had his own Rubik’s cube and own copy of HP 3 in his bed that he must have been reading before he fell asleep one night. That made me smile.
But back to yesterday. When the parents got home, they asked that I watch him a little while longer while they went to their swimming lessons (yes, the mom and dad are taking swimming lessons). G and I had about an hour together again, just the two of us, and I’m racking my brain trying to think of things to say or things for us to do. Finally, I used my Google translate app to write him something. Thank God the kid is old enough to read. I could tell that this immediately had the affect I had hoped. When I asked him something else, he acted like he was typing on the phone as if to tell me write it and then he read it and responded well. At last I typed I’m going to learn more French so you and I can talk more. Bingo. He smiled and said Ok and then I asked if he wanted some chocolate I picked up in Iceland. We sat there and ate and watched Nickelodeon shows dubbed in French (more entertaining, but still dull). When he went to bed, I got a shouted good night Chelsea to which I responded bonne nuit G.
Today I just had to take G to school, and the dad is going to pick him up and take him tomorrow. So I’m free, but I will be watching him Saturday night so the couple can go to dinner in Paris. Lots of time for me to explore, but it’s still quite lonely without any friends yet. Sunday, I will be going to the church I found, which is an English-speaking church (thank you Lord). And I have already been in touch with 1 girl who works there. This morning, I was on their website checking out their life groups, and turns out, there was one this morning, and a phone number to another girl who works at the church. I texted her and she gave me some info about the group (which isn’t starting till next week), but she and I are meeting for coffee today at 2:30 PM. Finally making friends. It’s only been a few days, but I can feel my need for a social life more than I ever did back in Virginia.
And that’s another thing I just want to marvel at for a moment. I appreciate the Christian community so much because we literally are one big family that spans the entire globe. No matter where you go, you have the most important thing in common, so you can literally feel welcomed like you are part of the family…because, well, you are part of the family. I haven’t met these 2 girls yet, but I can already tell you that I’ve felt welcomed, accepted, and have been invited to some outings with them before I’ve even set foot in the church doors for the first time. I’m so thankful for that. I’m thankful for people that share my values, and of course, speak English, in a place where I feel like a fish out of water.
I will likely write more later because this day is just getting started, and I have lots of pictures to share from today and Tuesday when I went to Luxembourg Gardens, so keep an eye out.