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

Bonjour, tout le monde!

Crazy to believe the it has been almost a year since I wrote Part 1 to this study abroad/host family experience. It’s also incredible to realize that it’s been over three years since my study abroad experience, which I believe really shaped my passion for living in France.

From the last post, I wrote that I lived not with a host family per se, but rather a host mother, in the Parisian banlieues not too far from the last stop on the metro. During the summer I studied abroad for college, I lived there with another roommate in my program, and overall, I found it to be a wonderful experience.

Granted, however, there were some moments that were, admittedly, peculiar. Although I liked my host mother, she had some “particularities” when it came to living under her roof. Now, I understood that I was to be courteous as a guest, and did my best to respect her place. But still, there were times when she would make it a bit difficult to remain patient with her…In the end, though, they were minor things that didn’t greatly detract from the excellent time I had in Paris, and I left with nothing but good memories.

Continuing with the previous part, I will share some of the interesting/frustrating/funny stories during my host-mother experience while studying abroad. Hope you enjoy!

Story #3: Je suis “bonne.”

After an almost eleven-hour flight, I finally landed in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport to start my study abroad program. I admit, I wasn’t in the best shape once I stepped off the airplane: I was feeling rather nauseated, had a headache, and utterly exhausted (normally, I don’t bode well on flights, although I’ve gotten better over time). Some people from the program received us at the airport, and they shuttled us into taxis (already paid for) to take us to our respective host families’ homes.

I arrived in front of my host mother’s apartment, and hit the buzzer to be let in. I entered the building, and I tried accessing the elevators, since my host mother lived on the 4th floor, but upon pressing the “Up” button (and several more times), the door wouldn’t open! I thought that maybe there was another way so I ran around the first floor trying to find another way. Eventually, someone in the building came in, and I ended up taking the elevator with him– turned out, you needed a key to activate the elevator, which of course I didn’t have…

The door was ajar when I arrived at my host mother’s apartment. My host mother was sort of surprised when she greeted me, since she probably didn’t expect me to arrive so early. She also noticed that I didn’t look so well, and asked if I wanted to eat something. I obliged, and she made some spaghetti as a late lunch. Although I was still nauseated, I didn’t expect the spaghetti to actually help, but it did– I guess I’d been off food for so long that having it again was the solution. After finishing, she asked how I was feeling: my French wasn’t good at the time, but all the same, I smiled and said, “je suis bonne.”

The look on my host mother’s face was priceless. Within seconds, she recomposed herself and chuckled, saying that one doesn’t say that in French– later, I found out that “je suis bonne” (a literal translation of “I am good”) implies that you are good…in bed! Now, I know that a better way would’ve been to say something like, “je me sens mieux” or “ça va,” so lesson learned. Certainly a funny first impression on the first day of studying abroad!

Story #4: Door-‘nt You Dare!

My host mother was a woman in her late fifties/early sixties who lived in a white-carpeted, antique apartment. Pretty, to say the least, but it was also old. To keep it in good condition, then, my host mother had certain rules about doing things in the flat, which my roommate and I understood and tried to respect.

However, sometimes it could get overbearing, because my host mother wanted us to do them exactly how she did them, which was close to impossible. For example, she told us not to slam doors, not only because they were old, but also she was a light sleeper and would easily jolt awake upon slight noises.

Okay, fair enough…the thing was, my roommate and I could never do it “right.” We would close the door to the bedroom/bathroom/kitchen gently, but even then, it would still make a small noise (as doors normally do). Within seconds, my host mother would appear and say something like, “no, no. You’re not doing it gently enough. This is how you do it *demonstrates.* Doucement, s’il te plaît, doucement…” This incident went on for at least three times, which quickly got annoying, not to forget frustrating. To this day, I make an almost-unconscious effort to close doors gently, even in my own home in Los Angeles (and my family doesn’t care, anyway)! Talk about being traumatized, am I right?

Story #5: Where are You “Really” From?

Sometime during my second week of study abroad, my host mother’s son came over for dinner. He was in his early thirties and, I admit, quite handsome…funny enough, I was staying in his old childhood bedroom, for he had long moved out of the house.

It was the four of us (host mother, her son, my roommate, and I) having dinner that night. We made pleasant conversation, with my roommate and I practicing our French (since neither my host mother nor her son spoke much English) and things were going well. My host mother’s son lit up a cigarette, which was a *slight* turn-off, but hey, he’s French…what can I say?

Eventually, we somehow got on the conversation of our nationalities: my roommate and I are Americans and my host mother gets a lot of guests from all over the world. Suddenly, her son turned to me, and asked, “Qu’est-ce que ton origine?,” which literally means, “What are your origins?” In other words, he was asking me where I was “from,” i.e. ancestral-wise. At first, I was taken back, just because I wasn’t used to addressing my Taiwanese-American heritage, but all the same, I told him that was born in the United States, but my parents came from Taiwan. It would’ve been fine if my host mother hadn’t butted in afterwards, interjecting with “mais regarde, les yeux…” which translates to, “but look at her eyes…[clearly she’s not white].”

While the incident could be perceived as being racist, I believe it’s more about the fact that the subject of race and ethnicity is discussed differently in France than in the United States. Whereas Americans do their best to remain politically correct, even avoid discussing it to avoid offending others, the French don’t do that. I guess my host mother’s son was just curious as to “my origins,” since I guess he doesn’t meet a lot of Asians in his environment, and I suppose my host mother’s reaction did come off as brash, but not intentionally bad. Definitely felt awkward for a little bit afterwards, though.

 

…and that’s about all I have for this post! While it’s true that there are more quirky stories from my study abroad, I think these few are the highlights. Perhaps I’ll decide to write more later, but otherwise, it’s been pleasant reliving some of the notable memories from that summer.

Let me know if you’ve studied abroad (or have lived abroad) and have interesting stories to share!

 

— Rebecca

13 thoughts on “Paris: My Host Family Experience (Part 2)

  1. #3 had me in hysterics! It reminded me of a similar nuance which my A-Level teacher once pointed out to me between “j’ai chaud” and “je suis chaud(e)” (the latter carrying the same meaning as your “je suis bonne”!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. These are such funny stories- thank you for sharing. That door slamming fiasco would have driven me absolutely bonkers– I remembered why I now refuse to do family stays. Also, the “les yeux” comments had me absolutely cringing. I still have a hard time really grasping the differences in regards to what is socially acceptable when discussing race.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading! Yes, certain people can be very particular about how things go in their household, but also I feel like they should also try to be understanding that others (complete strangers, mind you) won’t be perfect in what they do. Agree that the race incident is cringe-worthy, and it’s difficult to comprehend how a different culture, e.g. French, regards the topic of race.

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  3. Oh that door thing would have driven me insane!! I don’t know how you put up with it. I admit that I encountered some attitudes towards Asians or people of Asian descent in France that really bothered me. Some people seemed to have a hard time grasping that someone could be French or American and also look Asian. People have also asked me about my origins (mostly white) but no one ever made an uncomfortable comment about my eyes.

    PS “Je suis bonne” is priceless!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the door incident just about made me lose my mind: you wouldn’t believe just how relieved I was returning home after studying abroad and closing doors “normally” at home! Agree with the Asian statement: I think it’s due to the fact that France, despite having a substantial immigrant population, is still relatively homogeneously white, so POC can be a surprise to them. Usually, the comments are harmless, but they really show just how the French perceive race in their country.

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      1. Yes, I think so too. I had hundreds of students over the years I was in France and I think I had fewer than 10 Asian students. I always took offense to jokes about “les chinois” but was told I just didn’t understand French humor. Luckily not everyone has that mentality…

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