Week 1 Eiffel Tower and the Seine River 7-1-14
Along the Seine River with the Eiffel Tower in the distance. (July 2014)

Bonjour!

If you’ve ever studied abroad in a foreign country before, then you may or may not have opted to live with a host family. Host families can be a good way to meet locals, practice your targeted language with, and overall learn more about the day-to-day life and culture of the country you’re in.

While living with a host family definitely has a lot of benefits, it can also have some of its neutral, if not-so-great moments. After all, we’re all different people, with different interests, tastes, and of course, differences when it comes to how we go about our daily lives.

Face it: we don’t live the same way as other people do, whether it’s a matter of when we wake up and go to bed, eat meat or are vegetarian, how we groom ourselves, etc. And especially if you live with other people, you’ll also have to slightly adjust to make things operate smoothly, whether you like it or not.

When I studied abroad in Paris during college, the program in which I participated already had the host-family experience included in the package. There were a total of about sixty students and we were paired off to live with one host family for the next five weeks of our program. The host families were spread out all over the city of Paris, some living right in the center while others in the banlieues, or “suburbs.”

As I had briefly discussed in a previous post on my Paris study abroad experience, I didn’t have a host family, but rather a host mother. She was a woman in her late fifties/early sixties who lived on her own in an apartment just a bit outside of the city center, very close to the last stop on the 3rd line of the metro. She housed me, along with another fellow student, for the whole stay and overall, I would have to say that it was a pretty smooth experience.

However, I also did mention that she had some, erm, particularities whether it came to personality, living conditions, or just cultural differences. There were some moments I encountered that did test me a bit, but looking back they were rather funny.

Any case, I would like to share with you some of the interesting stories from my host family/mother experience, for memory’s sake (’cause why not?). From hilarious to frustrating to downright bizarre, here are some of the memorable tales from living with my host mother while studying abroad in Paris.

Allons-y!

Story #1: The Cat-Allergic Russian Roommate

This instance happened in the very beginning of the program; I had just gotten to my host mother’s apartment and met her, along with a Russian girl who was doing a home-stay chez elle. My host mother was nice, showing me to my room and giving me a tour of her apartment.

When we went into the kitchen as part of the apartment tour, I was surprised to see a white, fluffy cat (forgot his name) come out from underneath the dining table. My host mother told me that the Russian roommate is allergic to cats, so the cat has to be put in the kitchen when she’s in the flat; when she goes out, the cat can roam freely about.

I didn’t talk to the Russian roommate much, because she was about to leave Paris the following day as I was coming in; we only exchanged a couple of words and that was about it. Again, my host mother said it was important that the cat remained isolated when the Russian was inside, so she told me not to forget to close the door to the kitchen after breakfast (separating the rest of the flat) the following morning after she left for work and while I was still in the apartment.

However, I totally forgot to since I was preoccupied with orientation stuff for my study abroad program that day. I left the kitchen door open after having breakfast, got ready, and headed out the door. It wasn’t until I returned later in the evening (when my host mother was already home from work) that I found out the cat had gotten out into the rest of the apartment when the Russian was still there, rubbed its face against her sleeping body, and caused her to develop puffy eyes and a sniffling nose. That is what I call a full-blown allergy, folks.

Of course, I felt so bad that I had forgotten, but it was too late to apology to the Russian who had already left the home-stay. It must’ve horrible for her, especially on her last day in Paris- definitely not the best thing to have when traveling back home (or to another destination, anyway)! My host mother was laughing as she told me what had happened, and I admit looking back, it is kind of funny. I’m sure that all has been forgiven!

Story #2: The Towel of Terror (Bastille Day)

During my stay in Paris, my host mother gave me a bath towel to use since I didn’t bring my own from home. I remember it clearly being a deep shade of magenta and made sure to let it hang well after taking a shower since it wasn’t my own towel.

I was using the towel for about a week or two when the drama happen: I came back to the apartment after celebrating Bastille Day (the national holiday in France) by watching the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower.  Tired as I walked through the door, I was surprised to see my host mother waiting for me in the living room. After greeting her with a “bonsoir” and her asking if I had a good time celebrating le 14 juillet, she cut right down to the chase and held up the bath towel I was using.

“Qu’est-ce qui s’est passé?” (“What happened?”), she asked. She pointed to a couple of discolored, bleached-out spots on the towel. “These weren’t there before you started using it.”

I was surprised at the discoloration, but I had no idea how they got there. I kept telling her, “je ne sais pas, je ne sais pas…” (“I don’t know, I don’t know”), but she wouldn’t let me have it. Our conversation (rather, *interrogation*) continued for at least half an hour, to which I continued to tell her, “I don’t know” and her continuing to ask, “What happened?”

Mind you, it was nearing 1 am: I was tired, frustrated, and wished to go to sleep. In the end, we compromised: I would keep the “now-soiled” towel but would have to buy a new one for her to replace it. Fair enough. Looking back, it was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I had with my host mother. She wasn’t angry at me, but rather upset: I felt bad that I messed up her towel (even if accidentally) and while I wish that she could’ve been more considerate about the whole situation, I didn’t want to seem like a bad guest, so I just forked over money to replace it.

Funny enough, my roommate from the program also got called out for discoloring the bed sheets; again, she didn’t really know exactly how it happened, but her guess that it was due to the acne cream that she put on herself and the chemicals somehow stained into the sheets. My guess was that my facial soap that I used bled into the towel, which stained it. We ended up buying our respective items to prevent what could’ve been more judgment from our host mother. Crisis averted!

Story #3: I “Swept” les Champs Élysées

Finally, to end on a *funnier* note, I’ve also had my issues with language barriers while studying in France. My host mother didn’t speak English at all, so my roommate and I always had to speak French with her. Definitely forced us to practice using it, so that was a plus.

Unfortunately, there were also downsides: if we didn’t know a certain word or how to phrase an otherwise-important question, things got a bit tricky. Also, our host mother wasn’t necessarily the most patient and understanding person, so if she didn’t comprehend what we said or if we badly pronounced something, she would laugh at us. Not in a mean-spirited way, but rather the “oh, these Americans trying to speak French- how cute!” kind of attitude. I found it a bit irritating, just because we were trying to improve our French and instead of being patient and correcting us, laughing at us wasn’t going to help us at all.

In any case, I came back to the apartment after exploring Paris one afternoon. My host mother was already home, so we struck up a small conversation. She asked me how my day was and what did I do, and I answered that I had a good time strolling les Champs Élysées. Her reaction was priceless: she looked at me quizzically and asked me to repeat myself because she didn’t quite catch it the first time. I repeated exactly what I just said, confused as well. She looked even more puzzled, and I had no idea why; I thought I had made it clear to her that I had, indeed, strolled les Champs Élysées.

…but then it hit me: I had thought that I had said, “Je me suis baladée aux Champs Élysées,” but instead, I used the wrong verb! I actually said, “J’ai balayé les Champs Élysées,” which translates to “I swept the Champs Élysées.” I had gotten the verbs “se balader” and “balayer” horribly mixed up, which is not uncommon for someone still learning French. Of course, I corrected myself immediately, but by then, the damage was already done: my host mother was laughing in the “oh, how cute” way. She meant no harm, but I was definitely embarrassed. Never making the same mistake again!

…I have many more stories from my Paris host family/mother experiences, but then this post would be too long. I’ll be making a Part 2 to this soon, so look for that!

If you have any crazy/frustrating/funny stories of your host family experience while abroad, feel free to share! I would be happy to read them. À plus tard!

 

— Rebecca

 

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