This was the first time I celebrated my birthday in France, but definitely not the last! Valérie, my host mom, spent her Friday afternoon making this cheesecake for me and it was the best one I’ve ever had in my 17 years (exactly, as of today) of life. One of my friends from school came over for dinner and we had jambon de Bayonne, which was a first for me, and a version of caprese salad before the cheesecake.
My host mom is one of the most kind people I’ve ever met. My best memories in France were all with her and I’m probably going to miss her more than anyone else. She made the most delicious dinners and wasn’t even mad when I told her that I lost one of her spoons in the park. In the morning she would always ask if I slept well, wanted to know about my day when we came back from school, and drove Hannes and I to get ice cream and to watch the sun set (which was my favorite memory from this trip). Like I mentioned in my previous blog, she also asked what I wanted for lunch everyday.
For two weeks straight, I wanted the same lunch: a salami, cheese, and arugula sandwich. Valérie said that she gets her salami from a local butchery and they make all their products there, which is probably why it is SO GOOD. Their cheese is also to die for, and arugula just happens to be my second favorite leafy green.
My host family is friends with an oyster farmer who owns a small restaurant right on the bay. We went there on Thursday night and I finally got to try French oysters!
Valérie taught Hannes and I how to properly eat oysters, which I thought was fascinating. First, you pick up the oyster with one hand and get a knife in the other to separate the body from the shell. Then you squeeze a lemon into it and drink the oyster’s bodily liquids mixed with the lemon juice. Lastly, you take a fork, stab the thing, and eat it. Easy, right? Not for me. I think I butchered the French oyster consuming routine because I nearly scrambled the poor animal in its own shell and most of the liquid spilled out in the process. They were not my favorite, but I had two anyway. It was a beautiful night and it was a great way to spend one of my last nights in France.
The one day it rained was the day we went to Bordeaux. One of the great things about the program is that we get to experience French school, Arcachonian activities, touristy shenanigans, and also spend time with a French family every day. It’s a really nicely balanced schedule in my opinion. Sometimes the activities in the afternoon are playing volleyball at the beach or badminton in the park, and sometimes they’re more fun and exciting like going to Aqualand (a dihydrogen monoxide park) or Bordeaux, or canoeing 10 kilometers up and downstream.
Bordeaux was by far my favorite afternoon activity. Some of my friends were disappointed that it rained, but I happen to love the rain a good bit, as I don’t get to experience it very often (thanks a lot, California drought). Bordeaux is a beautiful city, rich with history, and the architecture is incredible. I’m glad I got to see the city aside from just the airport, but one day I would like to visit the outer parts of Bordeaux. I was told that there are old houses and other neighborhoods outside the square that are worth visiting.
La Dune du Pilat, or Pyla is supposedly the biggest sand dune in Europe! This was one of our afternoon activities and it surely was an arduous walk up to the top! Although I only counted 135 steps, they felt incessant. I was so exhausted when I finally got to the end, but the view was well worth it.
It was hot that day, but there was a fair amount of wind at the dune. One of my friends told me it was 32 degrees which I was really confused about until I realized that the rest of the world uses the metric system. This past week, I was the only American at school and it was very interesting. We had another debate in class, this one on “le peine du mort”, the death penalty, and a lot of students were surprised that the United States still practices it. I’ve had friends ask me about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and some that have asked me to help them speak English with an American accent. Fatima, one of the students in the avancé class with me studies in Paris at an American school. I originally thought she was from the U.S. because she speaks with a Californian accent and even said “hella” a few times.
During my first week, I met so many amazing people and felt blue the minute they left. Luckily, everyone at the school is friendly, and it wasn’t hard to make new friends. Pictured below from left to right is: Mar from Spain, Swantje from Germany, me, Alaitz from Basque Country, and Paula from Spain. I miss them already. It’s crazy how close you can get to some you’ve only known for a week or two.
Mar and Alaitz made a song about the most common phrases they heard in France at school from the teachers and monitors, and they taught me the dance that goes along with it. The lyrics are, “Allez, allez, on y va, dépêchez-vous, nous sommes en retard”, which essentially means come on, let’s go, hurry up, we’re late! I found it really funny and laughed for probably 3 days because of it.
I do wish I had purchased a French SIM card or paid for international service with my carrier prior to coming to France. Don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful time without it, and I survived two weeks without service (crazy, right?!), but convenience wise, I think it’s a good idea to have it.
I tried to buy a SIM card during my first week in France, but you legally have to be 18 to get it yourself! Luckily, my host brother had service, but we didn’t spend every waking moment together and sometimes it was hard to coordinate plans that worked for both of our schedules.
Despite the minor inconvenience of not having a working phone, my couple of weeks in France were probably the most memorable and best 14 days I’ve experienced. Things started to become easier for me the second week and everything felt more comfortable. The language became more and more familiar and I fell in love with the culture.
Autumn Lee is 16 years old and lives in Alameda, California. Her goal during her language program in France is to “improve my French vocabulary and understand in more depth the French culture and people.” Follow Autumn’s adventures in France on her weekly blog post updates.