Halley Knigge (Griffin)

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Two days into December, and this city is ready for the holidays. The air is crisp, the Christmas markets have sprung up in streets all over Paris. The vin chaude is hot and delicious in the jardin des Tuileries, and since the first of the month, Christmas lights have been lit up all over the city.

The department store windows are full of stuffed bears and toy trains and Christmas stockings and presents, and the patinoire (ice skating rink) is busily freezing in front of Hôtel de Ville (open for business beginning on Tuesday).

Windows of boulangeries are filled with bûches de Noël, and the entirety of rue de la Paix is lined with fake white Christmas trees on pedestals.

Oh yes, Paris is ready for Christmas. So am I.

Last night R and I went to a really fun bar in the 11ème arondissement, before meeting a group of friends at a jazz club near her apartment. We were tipped off by her brother, who spent the year before last living in Paris, that there exists a bar near metro Ménilmontant where the purchase of a drink guarantees you a table and a free dinner.

Feeling a little skeptical, we decided to check it out. The bar (Tais) is a laid-back and funky café, filled with twenty-somethings eating and drinking to a soundtrack of Toots and the Maytals. We found ourselves a piece of bar to lean on and drink our bières blanches while we waited for a table to open up. After maybe ten minutes of sipping, we were directed to our table where we continued to sip our beers and wonder if R’s brother had been pulling our legs.

To our delight and surprise though, after maybe twenty minutes of chilling at our table, we were given plates, knives and napkins, without having seen a menu or ordering anything. The guy who brought our plates disappeared into the back and returned with a steaming platter of couscous, a meat dish to eat with it and a bowl of stew to pour over the entire meal. Not only was the food delicious, but our bill was only 6 euro – the cost of the two girl beers.

We left Tais feeling satisfied and thrilled with our new favorite bar, but somewhat confused. What kind of business can survive giving everyone free dinner every night? I guess some parts of Paris will always be kind of mysterious and magical. Don’t question it – just enjoy the couscous.

These are going to be an odd few weeks in Europe as my apartment becomes home base for everyone whose program is ending. Anyone who’s not staying the entire year is getting ready to go home sometime in the next two weeks. The UW’s Comparative Literature Paris program ended yesterday and Amelia’s host mother couldn’t keep her for the few extra days until she flies home, so she’ll be bunking with me for a few days, with the possible addition of her cousin for one or two of them.

Next week I’ll host Christina for a night before she heads off to Switzerland, and I’m keeping her luggage for the week until she returns to Paris to fly home out of Charles de Gaulle. People I know in London are packing and getting ready for regular life again, and even my friends back in Seattle are hustling to finish their work before the quarter ends.

I feel like I’m some kind of rock in the middle of all the chaos. Things are changing and ending all around me, and I’m just here. I’m turning 21 in a week, but it’s not of any consequence in Europe – besides, I’ll have such a ridiculous amount of work that I probably won’t even bother celebrating. Two of my best friends are heading back to their normal lives this month, with me as their jumping off point, but nothing’s changing for me. Work as usual – my semester isn’t even over until Valentine’s Day. And it’s about to be 2007, for Pete’s sake. Funny how my home base for all of this has shifted to somewhere in the deuxième arondissement of Paris.

So much chaos, and none of it is mine. I think I’ll just keep living on, listening to my Christmas music, enjoying the lights that decorate the city and eating my free couscous.

Happy December!

•• Amelia and I are going to Swan Lake at the Mogador tomorrow afternoon! I can’t wait – my mission for the day is find someone to borrow binoculars from…our seats are in row “XX,” no joke.

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Paris, sometimes you scare me a little.

There isn’t a lot to update – since I’ve been sick, I wake up, go to class, do my homework and go to sleep. Today though, I happened to walk home a different way and found something a little disturbing.

Yes, those are actual stuffed rats. Hanging from traps. In the window of a business on rue des Halles. Right next to a popular boulangerie.

The rats kind of make sense, because it’s the office of an exterminator/pest control business…but still. The sign translates to: Destruction of Harmful Animals

Here’s a closer view of the dead rats. The sign in the middle explains that these were all sewer rats that were actually trapped and killed by this business around the Forum des Halles in and around the year 1929. Apparently they had them stuffed…and kept them.


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Of the three months and three days that I’ve been living in Paris, I’ve been without my camera for more than half of it. Today, seven and a half weeks after I dropped it off, I finally got to pick up my fixed camera from the Vilma Canon specialists in the 20ème arondissement.

No matter that the projected time in which it would be repaired was only three weeks. The fact that I actually expected it to be ready by the estimated date is a testament to the fact that I really haven’t been living here that long – I should have known better.

This is France, after all. I suppose I’ve only lived in five cities in my life, but out of the five, Paris is by far the most filled with red tape. My experience trying to have a simple repair done on my little camera is an apt example of how ridiculously difficult it is to get anything done in this country.

Even if it’s annoying…Paris is pretty for Christmas:

The saga began in October – on the fourth of the month, I dropped my Canon. I’ve dropped it before, but I either dropped it from higher than ever before or it had simply had enough abuse. As soon as I picked it up from the floor, I knew something was wrong.

When I pressed the power button, the lens sputtered, zoomed halfway out, then a quarter of the way back in and the error message “E18” flashed in white on the black screen of the camera. At this point I’d only been living in my new apartment for a few days, and I didn’t have Internet access yet.

To try and figure out what was wrong with my camera, I wandered around my neighborhood with my laptop open, trying to pick up an unsecured wireless network. I finally found one in a small park a few blocks away from my building, and settled down on a bench to peruse the Canon website.

From their site I learned that the E18 message meant that something was blocking the zoom lens (and from Wikipedia, I learned that maybe I got off easy with my free repair). And that there happened to be one authorized Canon repair shop in the entire Île de France region.

I wasted no time in bringing my camera to Vilma, which I remained quite optimistic about, even throughout the 40 minute, three metro transfer trip it took me to get out to their office in the 20ème.

I had a really interesting time trying to communicate to the woman checking the repairs in what exactly was wrong with my camera – the vocabulary to describe the functions of a zoom lens wasn’t covered in any of my French books in school. Finally I gave up and resorted to gesturing at the camera saying “E18, E18.”

The Vilma employee understood immediately, and checked the camera in – I didn’t have my warranty with me, but she assured me that they’d begin work on my camera and I just needed to drop off my garantie as soon as I could locate it. I explained to her that it would half to be mailed to me from the States, but that was fine, she said. The work on the camera would take three to four weeks to complete.

I was a little surprised at how long she thought it would take, but figured they’d overestimate the time a little and I could expect my camera back before the end of October. No such luck.

My mom dug the warranty out of my bedroom at home and mailed it to me the very next day. When I brought it to Vilma about a week after I’d dropped off my camera, a different employee was working the desk. This one spoke English and he explained to me that they had not been able to commence work on the camera without the garantie. They’d need three to four more weeks to work on my Canon, and would email me when it was ready. At this point I was really frustrated – especially since Christina and I had been planning our trip to Barcelona and I was no longer sure I’d have my camera back in my possession by then (as it turned out, I didn’t).

A few days after dropping off the warranty, I received an electronic bill, estimating the work on the camera at around 200 euro and asking if I was in accord with paying it. Knowing my camera was under international warranty, I ignored the email, figuring it was a mistake.

Maybe a month later (a week or so into November) I received the same electronic bill, this time with a note demanding a “oui” or “non” if I was going to comply with the work agreement. This time I responded to the email, saying that my camera was under warranty and was not supposed to cost me money.

The email I got back told me not to worry about it, they had my warranty and I wouldn’t be charged anything. Reassured, but still agitated without my camera, I continued on with my day-to-day business.

This brings us up to last week. At the beginning of the week, I received the bill yet again. I responded this time saying that I agreed to the work, but not to paying, since my camera was under warranty. This time I received my reply via telephone.

The woman who called informed me that I still needed to drop off my garantie at Vilma. This time I was really confused. I explained to her that I’d already given them a copy of my warranty, that the guy I’d given it to had assured me that the repair would cost nothing and that I’d been waiting for my camera for well over a month. The employee told me she’d speak with her coworker and hung up abruptly.

About ten minutes later I received another email that said nothing but “votre appareil sera reparer” (your camera will be repairing – yeah, it’s not even sensical French). This was really driving me nuts, so I sent them an email back saying something along the lines of “Okay, it will be repaired, but when? I’ve been waiting for more than a month.” No response.

Friday night I spent a good portion of R and my Beaujolais walk griping about the incredibly frustrating game I was playing with the employees of Vilma. We came to the mutual conclusion that the most productive thing I could do would be to show up there on Monday (today) in person and ask them what on earth was going on.

This was my plan until I checked my mail Saturday, and found a letter telling me that my camera was finally ready. I was thrilled, but still annoyed. For one thing, the letter was postmarked November 22nd – a day before I’d received the phone call and emails from Vilma. For another, they’d told me I’d receive notification by email – if they had emailed me when it was ready, I’d have had my camera four days ago.

These are my feelings on the whole annoying ordeal:

I was so sick of dealing with this place and so excited to have my camera back that I skipped my vie politique lecture this afternoon to pick it up. I feel like I’m put back together again – it felt like a piece of my arm was missing, to not be able to document everything funny, interesting, bizarre that I saw throughout my days. I feel like I lost two months – two months in which I saw a lot of people wearing red pants and white shirts.

It doesn’t matter anymore though – I have my Canon back in my own hands, and I have another life lesson about the joys of dealing with anything in France under my belt. Vive la bureaucratie!

* Those jerks also changed my camera language into French. Good thing I can already speak it.


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Sometimes the nights when nothing goes according to plan end up being the best nights out. Sometimes they end up stinking, like the night we couldn’t get into Le Queen because of the shoes Rachael was wearing (who knew the bouncers would have such hatred for orange flats?).

Sometimes though, you come home at the end of the night knowing that the adventure you had was way more fun than whatever you’d originally intended to do.

Last night, for example. R and I had both had long, obnoxious weeks and both ended up having had too much homework to do anything for Thanksgiving, so we were looking forward to doing something fun Friday night.

I headed over to her apartment around 22h with a bottle of the Beaujolais Nouveau where the plan was to make dinner then head out to a bar or club to unwind with a lot of dancing.

When I got to her building, however, R didn’t answer her doorbell. When I got through to her cell phone, I found out that she was indeed inside the building, but was locked out of her apartment. This is bizarre because she had a key – it just wouldn’t work in the lock.

I should probably mention that this was a replacement key. I’m not sure how she managed this, but a few weeks ago, R somehow flushed her apartment and building keys down the toilet. She was too embarrassed to confess what really happened to her landlord and when she told him they were lost, was informed that a replacement set costs 200 euro. This seemed like a ridiculous price, but having keys to your apartment are kind of a necessity, so she paid for new ones. Without a key she was having to leave her door unlocked when she left for the day, and when she got home used a chair to barricade it (many French doors can only be locked from the inside with a key).

In the week that she’s had the replacement keys, R managed never to actually have to use them (i.e., her roommate was always home too) until last night. Apparently the landlord copied the wrong set.

So there we were, in the hallway of R’s building, with a bottle of wine, a giant Nine West bag (mine) and a bulging backpack (hers), and nowhere to go. We left a message for her roommate, for another guy in the same building and for a guy from the Sorbonne who’d invited us to a party.

This is a pretty typical evening – note the crêpe and the bottle of wine.

With nothing to do but wait, we went to a kebab restaurant around the corner from R’s apartment. Our food was delicious (the owner made fresh frites for us), and we stalled for as long as we could, since we hadn’t had any phone calls yet, but eventually we had to stand up and pay.

By that time, we were the only customers left in the restaurant. Besides us, it was the owner and two of his friends – three dad-aged men. One was Turkish, but I’m not sure about the other two.

As we were paying, we chatted casually with the men, who were nice (if difficult to understand), and they ended up inviting us to stay and let them buy us glasses of wine. We didn’t have anywhere else to go, and they didn’t seem to be hitting on us, so we said okay and sat back down.

One of the friends bought the first round, but after that the owner got excited about playing the host and brought us plates of appetizers and wine refills for the hour we lingered. As random as it was, it ended up being really fun – we spent the entire time talking about politics: The immigration issues in France, the image of the United States abroad and how none of us felt the Monica Lewinsky incident was at all relevant to Bill Clinton’s ability as a leader.

At midnight we decided it was time to check if Vita had returned, so we thanked the men and were invited back anytime for free kebabs or drinks.

Vita hadn’t returned (or called) yet, so we borrowed a bottle opener from one of Rachael’s neighbors and settled down with the Beaujolais in a corner of the hallway to watch a few episodes of the Girls Next Door.

At 12:40 (ten minutes after the final metro) we finally got a call from Vita – who informed us that she wasn’t actually planning on coming home at all. She had multiple parties to attend and it was easier for her to crash at a friend’s apartment. Our only real option was to head back to my apartment – else R would have nowhere to sleep. There’s a noctilien bus that leaves Bastille at 10 past every hour and runs along Rivoli, so we decided to just pack it up and hoof it with our bottle of wine.

Well we ended up deciding not to take the bus. Instead we stopped at a little epicerie for some snacks (chocolate cookies and two chocolate bars, ha!) and had a great time wandering through Paris with our wine and chocolate. We stopped at Bastille for a while to watch the breakdancing guys who bring a boombox out every weekend and dance all night for donations.

Holllllla for 2am crêpes!

These guys have the potential to be a lot more than street performers – they are really really good. I love watching people dance who really know how to move – it kind of inspires me. Watching the guys last night I had a hard time keeping myself from running up and busting a move along with them. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t, because though I probably could have pulled out some hip-hop moves, I would kill myself trying to do crazy poses on wet ground while supporting myself with one hand.

The whole walk was just really fun – drinking Beaujolais and checking out the tacky (and some not so tacky) Christmas decorations that have sprung up all over Paris. (To balance out the Christmas, R sung me some Hanukkah carols and I did my interpretation of a Hanukkah carol dance along the sidewalk beside her). I’m really going to miss living in a country where you can drink wine straight from the bottle walking down the street and not get arrested. We eventually did make it back to my apartment and to bed, but with fond memories of the evening and plans to eat free kebabs at our next possible convenience.

•• Apparently French kids have their own shortcut online language. Instead of “I’m hungry 4 a hamburger,” they’ll say “Je n’aime pas 7 chose.” The number 4 for “for” in English, the number 7 for “cette” (this) in French. I thought it was funny – Ella taught me.

••• Aussi, I’m finally sick for the first time since I arrived in Paris. Cassie warned me that I’d probably get really sick this year because I don’t have the right antibodies to fight French germs…and I rightfully should have gotten sick since I was living with Rachael the walking disease for a month and a half, but I never did. Until now. Why could my body fight off the germs radiating at me from sleeping in the same bed as Rachael for a month and not the germs from little Georges? Actually, the cause is probably the fact that Rachael was never so proud of her boogers that she felt she needed to gift me with them. Georges, on the other hand…


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So not only is it Thanksgiving, but it’s the three-month mark of when I left Tacoma. It’s surprisingly anticlimactic so far.

When I walked out of my building to run a few errands this morning, I could have sworn I smelled a turkey roasting – but it couldn’t have been. Today is just a regular day in Paris – plus they don’t really eat turkey here. It’s all about the ham on this side of the Atlantic.

I thought I’d feel sadder, but I’m not really. I’m far enough away that it’s not bothering me so much. The more pressing thought on my mind is concerned with the exposé I have to present on Monday. When my group was assigned to the topic “Pourquoi peut-on dire que l’Union européenne est ‘un objet politique non identifié?” (Why could you say that the European Union is an unidentified political object?) Our professor started chuckling and told us we’d need her help for this one.

An OVNI is a French UFO, so the question refers to a play-on-words made by former president of the European Commission Jacques Delors – we’ve figured out that much, but this subject is still a doozy. I’m meeting with Alex from Germany at 14h to get some more work done.

Since my mind is completely stuffed with the Council of Ministers, federalism, OVNIs, the three pillars of the EU and other really confusing facts (to a girl who didn’t grow up as a citizen of the European Union), I haven’t had much time to think about Thanksgiving, or the fact that I’ve been living in France for a quarter of a year.

I guess that means it’s time for my three-month check-up. I’ve got to admit though, I don’t have a lot to report. September was pretty busy, what with arriving in France, apartment hunting, beginning orientation at UW, going to Munich, finding an apartment to sublet for the month and interviewing to become an au pair. October was pretty crazy too, with moving into my new apartment, Rachael finally finding a Russian roommate and a new apartment, beginning real classes at Sciences Po, making more friends and experiencing French Halloween.

This picture is a pretty accurate representation of Thanksgiving with my family. Actually, every holiday.

November though, where did it go? I feel like I was reflecting on my first two months just a few days ago. I guess it started off in Barcelona, then after a weeklong vacation from classes and a few horribly awkward boy situations all my real work started – and now a month has gone by without me realizing it.

You’d think the time would slow down once I got into a steady routine – classes, nannying, running, hip-hop, homework, grocery shopping and taking care of an apartment – but instead it seems to zip by even faster. I don’t mind though – fast or slow, I’ll take the routine.

I love traveling around and having crazy European things happen to me, collecting wild stories to tell – but I’m also loving the day-to-day Parisian life. Now it’ll be December in a week and all I have to report are boring everyday life things. I need a haircut and I’d really like some chocolate right now. I’m almost done with my Christmas shopping (don’t bother being impressed – you’d do it early too if you had to deal with international shipping). I’m finally going to see James Bond this weekend and I’m almost out of milk. Just life – not really grandes choses.

Later today, after I work on homework for a while, grimace at my scraggly hair, buy some milk and locate some chocolate, I’ll eat some pumpkin pie with the nanny kids. There are a few things going on for Americans in Paris today, but I’m not sure I want to bother with them. A student potluck could be fun…but it’s not my Thanksgiving. Instead I think it’ll end up being Rachael and I with a bottle of wine and a corny movie. Maybe we’ll get around to talking about what we’re thankful for, if we feel like it.

In case we don’t get around to it tonight, here are mine: I’m thankful for Paris – thankful that I decided to really do this for a year, and thankful for the way it’s all worked out. I’m most thankful for the family I’ve found here – I’m still technically the hired help, but I’m starting to feel more like the fun American cousin. I’m thankful for my apartment (and the fact that I don’t pay the bills so I can turn up the heat as high as I want!! R’s thankful for that too, because she and Vita try to avoid high heating bills by keeping theirs turned down low).

I’m thankful for everyone I’ve met in France and for the fact that Christina and Amelia are living in the same country as me for a few more weeks. I’m thankful that my aunt is coming to Paris in three weeks and that she’ll be staying in a hotel about five walking minutes from my apartment.

Mostly though, I’m just thankful for my friends and family. Isn’t that what everyone’s thankful for on Thanksgiving? It’s really a holiday to appreciate the people you love – although they deserve to be appreciated every day of the year. If you’re thankful for your family and friends, show them – don’t wait to appreciate them on holidays or whenever it’s particularly convenient for you. If I had a way to see everyone I loved right now, I’d do it in a second.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Family:

••• I’m also thankful for nutella banana crêpes. That is all.


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Every so often I find myself missing the most random parts of the Northwest. I miss running in at Point Defiance when I need to work out, I miss cheap ethnic food when I need to satisfy a craving, I miss affordable Starbucks coffee when I’m feeling stingy but needing a caffeine buzz, and I miss my family and friends whenever I think about them. Those things aren’t random though, and they certainly weren’t unexpected.

You can bet that Americanos don’t cost three whole euro at this Starbucks…

No, the weird moments are when I catch myself daydreaming in class and stop to consider the bizarre subject of the fantasy. I’m not ignoring my teacher to fantasize hot dates with sexy French men – I’m picturing myself driving up South 38th Street (T-Town).

I actually have a lot of these daydreams, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that I took the time to think and figure out why. Of course I miss Proctor (T), but Paris is filled with cute streets with coffee shops, Italian restaurants and toy stores. I miss the U District (Sea-Town) too, but there are college students and homeless people all over Paris. I miss Ruston Way (T), but the quais of the Seine are perfectly acceptable substitutes.

T-Town

What I really miss (and really never expected to) are the things that are impossible to find substitutes for in Paris. South 38th Street, for example. It’s ugly, it’s trafficky, it’s strip mall-y – and there’s nothing like it in all of Europe.

One of the first things you start to learn living in Paris (and never really stop learning) is where and how to satisfy your material needs. One-stop shopping doesn’t really exist here (the closest exception being the Monoprix), and different districts have sprung up around the city as different types of businesses cluster near each other to rob each other of as much business as possible.

Rue Saint-Honoré is great if I need to stock up on expensive labels and do come celebrity stalking. The Champs Elysées is perfect if it’s a Sunday and it’s one of the three sole areas open for business in Paris. Any street is good for a boulangerie (bakery), boucherie (butcher shop), fromagerie (cheese shop) or cave aux vins (wine shop). Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière is where to buy furs of any kind, rue des Rosiers is falafel central, and rue Condorcet is where to get hooked up with a professional camera (or corresponding equipment).

Any street in Paris can be useful depending on what I’m looking for – unless what I happen to be looking for is a place to drive through a car wash, donate some clothes to Goodwill, eat lunch at Arby’s, stock up on discount sporting equipment (Big 5), get a tattoo (Tsunami Tattoo) and buy oversized boxes of Cheerios and a year’s supply of paper towels (Costco) in one fell swoop.

I know this isn’t S. 38th, but I didn’t happen to have a picture of the ugliness.

I mean, I don’t generally ever have a need to do all of those things at once – even when I’m in Tacoma with a car and access to them, but it’s nice to know that I could if I wanted to.

And what if I need to get my nails done, overeat at a pizza buffet, trespass in Tacoma’s speculated mafia hang-out (El Toro, you know it), get my tires changed and buy really scary Chinese food for one dollar? What will I do? There’s no equivalent of Pearl Street (T) – and definitely nothing here that scares me quite as much as the “Wok on in” sign at Sars Marketplace.

I also realize that this isn’t Pearl…but I have limited access to pictures of Tacoma over here!

Plus, sometimes a girl just really needs to see those weird light-up blue plastic sculptures on the Glass Bridge (T) to feel properly at home. Sure I can gaze at the glass pyramides of the Louvre – but sometimes the only pointed structure I want to see is the hideous metal (yet somehow quilted-looking) hot shop of the Glass Museum (T).

If I had made a list of things I was positive I wouldn’t miss before I left home – most of the ones I miss the most now would have been on it. I’m sure it’ll be the same for Paris when I leave – everything I hate now but that makes Paris what it is: The horribly-planned streets and resulting horrible traffic, the ridiculous amount of red tape required to accomplish anything, the irresistible and always regrettable temptation to buy (absolutely disgusting) euro-a-bottle wine.

There are only two things that I can say with certainty that I won’t miss about this city: The pee smell that pervades every sidewalk of the city and the dog poop that coats them. Although, I never expected to miss the Tacoma Aroma before they cleaned up the tideflats either. It’s not that I really miss smelling it, of course – it’s just…Tacoma).

I think Tacoma is beautiful.

•• P.S. I really miss driving a CAARRRRRR!!!

••• I love hearing authentic French-speakers pronounce rue Sainte Anne. It’s one street over from my building and it sounds like poetry. Ohh I can’t get over how much I love it! It sounds like no two other words could ever go together as well as these two. When I was here in high school my host mother Bernadette told me of a previous exchange student they’d met who had loved the word for stars. Les étoiles. It’s my Sainte Anne.


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Whenever I pause to think about it, I’m always surprised at how easy it is to switch back and forth between French and English. Before living here, I’d expected it to be a lot more difficult keeping my languages straight. When I stayed with a French family in Royan during a summer in high school I spoke French the entire time. I remember speaking to my parents on the phone and answering them with “ouais, ouais” without realizing what I was saying.

It’s a little bit funny to me that living alone in Paris I end up speaking as much English as I speak French. It’s always English with my au pair kids, although I switch to French sometimes with Georges because he gets confused about which language he’s supposed to be speaking, and I speak French with Irma the housekeeper.

It’s always French at Sciences Po, except for certain times working in groups with other international students. For the most part students from other parts of the world learned English before they learned French, and we accomplish a lot more work speaking in English.

In stores, restaurants and museums it’s always French – when I first got here I felt like I was really obviously an American, and people would answer me in English when I tried to speak to them in French. Since August though, I’ve become much more comfortable speaking casually and familiarly (rather than with the perfect grammar and high tenses we practice in school), and I think I’ve started to blend in enough that while people know I’m foreign, they can’t immediately place me. I mostly get mistaken for being Spanish or Italian (i.e., the Franprix guy from yesterday) – though once someone assumed me for Irish.

With friends, it just depends. I always speak French with Sonia (French) from my hip-hop class, but with Ana (Portugese) it’s always English. I speak French with Alex (German) and Anna (Polish), my partners in my European Union class, but I always speak English with Rubens (French). There was no specific decision involved in any of these cases, it’s just whichever language we happened to start speaking the first time we met, I guess.

A French-Moroccan, a French-Algerian and an American:

My art history class is taught in English and my professor is from NYU, so we speak to her in English and do anything official for class in English. Because the majority of the class is French though, we speak in French to each other (even during class), and any emails to the class mailing list are always in French.

I obviously speak to Rachael in English, except when we’re hanging out with her roommate Vita – Vita is Russian and doesn’t speak any English, so it’s French only when she’s around. Last night Rachael and Vita had a party (kind of a late housewarming) and all night conversations were switching between Russian, English, French and Spanish. There were people who spoke French and English only, people who spoke Russian and English only, people who spoke Russian and French only, and an infinite number of other combinations, so you had to feel out every new person who joined a conversation.

But disco dancing is the universal language (moves provided by my dad):

I walked home with a boy who is Franco-Español, but who speaks excellent English. During the forty-minute walk we spoke the whole time in French-English-French-English, and the conversation was surprisingly fluid. As long as you’re comfortable in both the languages you’re speaking in, it’s pretty easy to get by like that. For the most part, the party was an odd mélange of French and English, French being a common language because we’re all living in France, and English because it’s a language that everyone educated over here feels that they have to learn.

An incredibly unattractive picture of an American girl and a Franco-Español boy:

If you are European and you’re interested in politics, business, teaching, anything that involves speaking to people, you have to be able to speak English to secure a good job. It’s one of the first things you’ll be asked in a job interview, and you have a very slim chance of going far in the business world if you can’t speak at least some English.

It’s fun hanging out at Rachael and Vita’s apartment because Vita lived here all last year, and she has a big group of Franco-Russian friends. Rachael has been kind of passively tapped into the Russians-in-Paris community, and goes with Vita to Russian film festivals, to hear Russian music and to hang out with other Russians living here.

Two Brits, two Frenchies and a boy from Lebanon:

I, on the other hand, have been tapped into the mixed (Franco-American) family community. My au pair family has a social circle of half-and-half families, many of whom employ American nannies, and I’ve been rotating through the American-nannies-in-Paris circuit. Ella takes dance classes at l’Académie Américaine de Danse de Paris, and as I do homework in the lobby every Monday evening while she’s dancing, I’ve been getting to know even more Franco-American nannies, moms and dance teachers. At the Académie, I speak French with half the nannies/parents I meet, and English with the other half.

I answer my phone with “Oui, hello?” because I never know who might be calling me. Even with all the switching back and forth between languages, I haven’t found myself getting confused. I think it makes it easier on my mind that I always know where I’ll be speaking English and where I’ll be speaking French. My au pair kids have the same system. Growing up in a bilingual family is confusing, so to make it as simple as possible, they always know exactly with who and where they’ll be speaking each language. They speak English at home except to their father and Irma. It’s French at school, and for Paul and Zoë it’s French with their piano and guitar teachers. Ella speaks English with her flute teacher and at the Académie, but her dance teacher speaks a crazy mix of French and English to accommodate the different students.

“One two, trois quatre, cinq six, seven eight!”

I really do love speaking in French. It really is fun to speak in a language that’s not your own – I feel like I’m figuring out a puzzle everytime I have a conversation with someone.

••• The third Thursday of November is a special night every year in France, because it’s the official release of the Beaujolais Nouveau for the year. There were parties in the street all night with people drinking the new wine. Every year there’s a different taste to it, and this year it’s supposed to be “gout de banane.” Yeah, banana-wine. We had a bottle last night to try it out and it was actually really good – and actually kind of banana-y.