By Abigail Lin
At the close of my time in Paris, it’s jarring to think about the difference between the Paris I imagined and the Paris whose streets I traverse every morning on my way to work. Just like I have struggled with washing machines, irons, and electricity, I have had difficulty finding the unconditional love for this city I was sure would come so easily.
The first day I left my apartment to head to the BU Paris campus, the sky was a muddled dim grey, peeling back the layers of black in the sleepy morning. It was 8:30 AM.
Shockingly enough, Paris rested under (a lighter) gray sky for the rest of the day – and then for another 3 months.
For every error in judgment regarding the French language, crisis in the home of my host mom, and flash rain storm whilst I’m out walking, there’s also been tulips in bloom in Tuileries Garden after a long winter, falafel tasting on the Rue de Roisiers in the Marais, and the reassuring searchlight of the Eiffel Tower after a weekend spent far from home.
But Paris isn’t just the Eiffel Tower. It isn’t the Champs Elysee, the Louvre, the Notre Dame. It’s the violent dark blue glow of the pre-dusk sky reflected in the glass café windows in Montmartre, distorted reflections of the corner bistro cursive on the sodden sidewalks of the Latin Quarter, crackling neon lights advertising peep shows behind lush drawn curtains in Pigalle.
After exploring arrondissement by arrondissement, pockets of Paris far from the Seine, and hidden passageways in between corridors of alleyways – I’ve found myself incongruously falling in love and will be leaving justifiably enamored.
It wasn’t long ago that I was a senior in high school, sitting in what I was to be sure to be my last French course ’till the end of time. I happened to glance over at the door and through the glass window, to see my friend Jason knocking discreetly. With the confirmation of my eye contact, he grinned sheepishly, and pulled up a poster for me to view through the glass that read: ABBIE LIN – MOI ET TOI – PROM?
Well – suffice to say, that wasn’t my last run in with French.
And like how my supposed last French class was never to be, I am sure that before long, Paris’ contradicting charisma will pull me back for more.
By Abigail Lin
So far, one of the most palpable disparities between Europe and the United States that I’ve noticed is in its’ citizens environmental consciousness. How many bags did you last use in your trip to Shaws, 10? While they have plastic bags for purchase in Paris, each one costs the equivalent of four cents. While it seems like chump change, obviously it adds up. Personally, to avoid the charges, I’ve been seen juggling a jug of milk, a block of cheese, cookies, and oranges back to my apartment from the supermarket. I’ve gotten the infamous Parisian snobbish stink-eye multiple times, but as long as I get back to the apartment with all my goods, it’s worth it.
I didn’t notice the types of bags offered to carry purchases from clothing stores at first, but my host mom pointed out that Gap— an American company— uses plastic bags rather than the customary paper bags provided by most other fashion companies. The French don’t see themselves as being especially “green,” rather, the cognizance of conservation is engrained in their culture. This is speculation on my part— but the French take short showers since water is especially expensive, so perhaps that’s why there’s a stereotype that they smell? (Read: a joke).
In my apartment building and in most other buildings in Paris, all the lights are off for most of the day, by default. They aren’t motion-detection sensored, and require the good ol’ use of effort to manually turn them on. They stay on for a pre-determined fraction of time, before they shut off again.
One night, as I closed the door, I pressed the button for the light in my corridor’s hallway. I took an unusually long time to lock the door, and as I stepped four steps down the marble spiral staircase, I was met with debilitating darkness as the lights clicked off. I grappled my way over to the stair rail, fending for myself in a cold, dark world; I imagined slipping and faceplanting mere yards away from my front door. Surely the embarrassment alone would kill me. As I navigated my way blindly down each successive step, I finally hit the third floor. As I shuffled over, one cautious foot in front of the other, I got to the light switch, and began my carefree descent. Another small victory in ma vie quotidienne Parisien.
By Abigail Lin
The French are infamous for being more closed off and reserved than Americans, and it is true. I have noticed that they are less willing to accept someone, even as a friend, and are more distant in their novel relationships as a result of their seemingly inherent cultural coldness.
That being said, there is a unique fear attached to living in a stranger’s house for a semester – and even more so in a French household. When I first arrived in Paris, my host mom left me to my own devices without giving me a tour, or any rules I had to abide by.
Although I’ve been living in the apartment for three months now, I still tiptoe whenever I know she’s in the next room over. A slight trepidation still plagues me even making meals, taking showers and coming home at night, mostly because of my fear of impeding on my host mom’s home.
The first time I broke a bowl in my host’s ceramic sink, I stared at it dumbfounded. I hadn’t broken a bowl in my own home for years, and was literally confused at how it could’ve happened. I texted her frantically, in ratchet broken French, about how sorry I was for breaking something and luckily, she texted me back assuring me that it wasn’t serious. The second time, she didn’t text back at all. I avoided her for three days.
The first time my host mom showed me how to use washing machine it looked easy enough. Three hours later, I was sitting on the bathroom floor downloading an English copy of a manual of the French washer/dryer combo sitting in front of my face. I tried every setting on the contraption for a few seconds, and still ended up putting my clothes through three wash cycles and no dry cycles.
This past week, I attempted to use the iron in the bathroom. It was late, so I didn’t want to wake her to ask permission– and besides, iron use is in our housing contracts so I figured all would be fine. Skillfully, I turned on the iron. As I pressed it to my jumpsuit, it seemed to steam a bit. I waited a few seconds, and went down the other leg. An iron hole shape suddenly appeared– with crisp thin edges to round out the hole. As I looked frenetically at the iron, I noticed the black fabric had quickly turned to what looked like tar on the shiny plates. Beside myself with self-loathing, I was frantic over the thought of my host mom catching me with an obviously burnt and blackened iron. Always my friend, the internet suggested a few remedies.
And that is how at 1:39 a.m. Paris time, I sat on the bathroom floor with a wooden spoon, sponge, paper towel, and salt with an iron in my lap and black flakes all over my hair and body, scraping the life out of this poor iron. Who said study abroad was glamorous?
By Abigail Lin
When I exit my 18th arrondissement apartment, I can walk three minutes in any direction and find: a fish market, an artisan butcher, a bakery whose line snakes out the door on Sundays, a wine cave, a tantalizing cheese monger, an exclusively frozen prepared-foods supermarket (!), various fruit and vegetable stands and my choice of a few big-brand traditional supermarkets.
When I first was surprised by the lack of fresh options at the supermarket, I asked my host mom where to find the best fruit. She practically scoffed as she responded that “No, I would never go to Marche Franprix (the big-brand supermarket).” Instead she directed me towards the fruit stand directly across from the apartment, citing their excellent, but expensive fruit.
The movement towards local food currently in the United States takes on a completely different meaning in France – the French skip big-brand supermarkets for the most part, and instead frequent specialized locally run stores to obtain the best product. An important part of each community and neighborhood, the venders who run these small stores are depended on to provide expertise in their field of food. Food shopping is a multi-stop excursion, rather than a single trip.
The unfortunate part of this, for me, is that there are infinitely more people I need to speak to, in French, while trying to forage supplies for dinner.
The fromagerie (cheese store) was the first place I dared to enter. Despite my fear of being laughed at, I couldn’t stay away from the tempting mounds of yellowed cheeses stacked upon each other in the window. I left the fromagerie triumphantly, with my block of compte in its delicate white wrapping, and cradled it all the way home.
On my second trip to the fromagerie, I inquired about whether or not they took credit cards – and was met with a concrete “Yes, but only above 15 dollars.” On to the butcher I went. It being my first trip, I stared dumbfounded at all the different cuts of meats without any labels, but thankfully I knew the word for chicken breast. As I repeated the same question I asked the fromager, I was met with a quizzically cocked head. Slower, I repeated, “Prenez-vous des cartes de credit?” The butcher waved over one of his comrades, who gazed confusedly at me as I stated the same question, this time holding up my credit card.
As he gazed confusedly at me, I finally reverted to English, and stated even louder “Credit cards?” And the butcher vigorously nodded, increasing the volume as well, surely responded, “MUTTON CHOPS?” In horror, I made a frantic motion with my hands, while saying “Non, non!” Finally, the lady next to me repeated the exact question I had originally asked, and they burst into laughter – “Oh! Oh! No I can’t sell you credit cards,” they shouted while bursting into boisterous laughter. “Yes, we take credit cards for purchases over 15 dollars, they cried, while still laughing. As I mumbled a “merci,” I heard their laughter linger on my way home.
It took me two whole weeks to go back, but with a wad full of cash, it went off without a hitch.
By Abigail Lin
Abbie is a junior advertising major at Boston University and former photo editor of the Daily Free Press. She is spending the semester abroad in Paris while participating in the BU Paris internship program. She will be writing a series of weekly posts in which she explains her efforts to understand and adapt to the culture– which may not always be successful, but will undoubtedly be entertaining.
Grasping at the precipice between the cab and Paris, ravenously breathing in the gritty, damp air, one could imagine my excitement at having arrived in a new country to be called home for a whole semester. We passed by multiple people walking with oblong baguettes in tow, script-laden signs of corner cafes and brasseries, a huge open-air market teeming with Parisians and fresh fish in the north of the city.
Imagine my surprise when at the end of my ride, the cab driver turned around and said, “Cent euros, s’il vous plait.” Not sure if I had misheard or if my French knowledge of basic French numbers was even worse than I had anticipated, I asked him to repeat it. “Cent euros, madame,” he stated matter of factly, awaiting my payment. Feeling helpless in a new country, I handed over my 100 euro bill without a protest.
As I buzzed the apartment of my host mom, rapid-fire French was spit out of the intercom, and I somehow was able to manage blabbering out my name. After appearing, and introducing herself, she gauged from my wide-eyed response that I was having trouble and she asked if I understood French. Pleased that I understood, I uttered, “un peu” (a little). And by “un peu” I meant I had studied French on and off for eight years. Smiling sympathetically, she took me up to what was to be my home for the next four months.
Settling in, I ventured out of my bedroom to to go the bathroom. When I got there, I saw a washing machine, a tub with no curtain or mounted shower head, I was bewildered to say the least. Embarrassingly, I asked my host mom where the toilet was. She led to the next door over, and pushed it in for me. A tiny closet, it contained the toilet and nothing else. “Bof,” I thought (Bof= sound of exasperation uttered by French people on the daily).
Adjusting to the cultural norms of this country, not to mention navigating the nuances of the language have been at times frustrating, embarrassing, and downright tiring. Since then, I’ve been working on maneuvering the tricky balance between adjusting to French cultural norms, and coming to terms with my place in this crazy city.
It’s been two and a half months, and among the most notable things I’ve mastered include: looking stoic and/or angry on the metro so as to not attract attention to myself, avoiding the inevitable mounds of dog poop on the sidewalk, and having unnaturally low expectations of my prospect of viewing the sun on any given day.
Things I still haven’t mastered: the art of the French washing machines, as evidenced by the baby green cardigan I’m sporting today, how to get behind working until seven every day (the norm in France), and getting used to men holding Longchamp bags.
Follow me on my volatile relationship with the City of Lights through the end of April, and stay tuned for musings on croissants, full time internships in French, and my personal humiliation.
By Marie Goldstein, Staff Writer
Unlike most of the Boston University student population, I have only been out of the United States once in my life. This was on my senior trip of high school to the Dutch island of St. Maarten. My four closest friends and I stayed a week in a villa at the Royal Palm Resort over looking Simpson Bay. This being the first time we were out of the United States and the first time we were away from our parents the trip twisted and turned with unexpected surprises. Nevertheless, this week was full with memories that will last me a lifetime. If you are ever visiting the Dutch side of St. Maarten, here are some of the must-sees.
The Town of Phillipsburg
There are few things I have seen that are more beautiful than the beach of Phillipsburg. Not only are there crystal clear waves crashing on the white powder beach, there’s also a huge town full of shops. The shops vary from marketplace-esque to high-end names. In the marketplace you can get authentic Caribbean jewelry. I bought bracelets made out of coconuts that I am in love with! The high-end brand names back home don’t have tax, so they are way cheaper. I bought a Longchamp bag, and my best friend snagged a Michele watch for cheap.
The Royal Palm Resort Lagoon
This private lagoon only for the Royal Palm guests was definitely a private paradise. It was the perfect place to go for a senior trip because it was quite, and there weren’t many little kids around. There were lounge chairs set on the beach that you could move in the water if you wanted to. The water was the perfect temperature for the crazy heat we braved on the trip. Aloe vera massage, anyone?
Lady Sea is a bar that is on a sailboat! This is seriously one of the coolest things I have ever seen. A huge sailboat travels from island to island bringing a unique bar atmosphere to visiting tourists! The sailboat has a bar, tables, a stage and a place to dance if you’re not to scared of falling overboard. This is a must-see on your trip, and there is no doubt that you will make your best memories at Lady Sea! Last I heard Lady Sea is still in the same location across the street from the Royal Palm Resort, but I hear that it may be traveling to a new island in the near future!
By Amira Francis (@Mircatfrancis), Staff Writer
We hear horror stories each year about students studying abroad. Whether you’re leaving home sweet home to pursue studies or just to get a taste of the world, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind when learning how to survive in an unfamiliar place.
As someone who backpacked alone around Ireland for three weeks this past summer, I can say with confidence that it is better to be safe than sorry. Always—especially in those foreign bars and clubs you know you’ll be at—stay on your guard. Here are a few major things you should keep your eye out for when exploring the land beyond America. Hopefully these tips will help you have a safe, fulfilling time abroad.
1. Keep a lookout for shady characters
Okay, okay, this one seems like a given. Of course you’re not going to walk past that large, muscular man with his hood up, stumbling through the streets at one in the morning. Common sense, right? And you should follow your common sense. If someone doesn’t look quite right to you, by all means, stay away. Sometimes, though, these shady characters can be a lot subtler. It could be the well-groomed, smooth-talking Italian man who turns out not to be the white knight you think he is. Or it could be the seemingly trustworthy Spanish saleswoman who you thought was kindly chatting you up to help a foreigner out. Hours later you can’t find your wallet, which leads to my second and third point.
2. Never put yourself in a situation where you are alone with a stranger
A stranger could be someone that you met a day ago, a week ago or even a month ago. For the purpose of playing it safe, it’s better to stay in the public eye. If you want to go on a date with the dashing English guy you just met, stick to restaurants to start with. (And watch your drink!) If that beautiful girl wants to show you some place that all the other tourists haven’t seen yet, politely suggest somewhere a little more familiar. If you do choose to go somewhere alone with a person you have just met, which could happen in a spur-of-the-moment surge of adventure, at the very least let a friend know where you’re going and who you’re going with.
3. Keep your money and your passport close
A study abroad nightmare is a lost passport. Keep it in the most secure place you can think of, like in that safe pocket on the inside of your purse. I met an Australian man who even kept a padlock on the zipper of his backpack. The same kind of thing goes for money. Keep an eye on your wallet. It’s tough enough recovering a lost wallet in Boston. I can’t imagine doing the same successfully in a foreign land.
4. Follow your gut
If you have a bad feeling about something, don’t do it. If your gut is telling you not to trust someone, don’t trust him or her. Your intuition is wise, so make sure you learn to listen to it while traveling abroad. Err on the safe side and, by the end of your trip, you won’t regret it.
By Annie Maroon, Staff Writer
This weekend I bought a painting. I hadn’t gone out intending to do so, but in the middle of Parque Kennedy, where local artists set up their displays every weekend, I found myself talked into an impulse buy in the most pleasant way possibe.
The painter, Hermán, was a round-faced man in his twenties or thirties who was already talking to two of the other girls on the BU program when a friend and I showed up in the park. His paintings sat on a wooden frame, some protected by a plastic sheet from the rain that had been falling all day (this was Lima’s version of a punishing downpour, meaning that after walking around outside for half an hour, my hair was slightly damp).
One after another, the other girls selected paintings, none of which cost more than 20 soles – $7.63 in U.S. dollars. All the while, Hermán was telling us about Peruvian foods we should try (the one I made sure to remember was the picaron, a sort of donut made from squash and sweet potatoes) and asking us where we were going after we left Lima. Rather than harassing us to buy something or pushing us toward one painting or another, he told us about the towns we’d be visiting and asked us how we were finding the capital so far.
The weather here – at times simultaneously chilly and humid, with gray skies from sunup to sundown – can take a toll on morale. So can the fact that rapid-fire Spanish, in conversation with native speakers, is still far from natural for me. It’s fortunate, then, that nearly everyone I’ve met in Lima has been exceedingly friendly. Our group of “amigos,” the university students who volunteered to show us around the city, have done everything from finding us soccer tickets to getting us “on the list” at various bars and discotecas around town (if you’ve never been “on the list,” I recommend it – no matter where you are, it makes you feel sort of like Beyonce). I’ve had a few random strangers approach me for conversations that wound up being much longer than I expected (don’t worry, these were in a well-lit, populated areas).
So when I was the last one left without a purchase, I went ahead and pointed to the one I’d been eyeing, an oil painting of two small Peruvian houses covered in colorful flowers. There may have been bigger, more impressive paintings in the tourist-geared “Inka Markets” that line a number of nearby Miraflores streets, but this one came from the person who told us about picarones and somehow stayed cheerful while standing in the rain all day with his work.
By Annie Maroon, Staff Writer
Annie is currently studying abroad in Peru and will be sharing details of her experiences and travels over the next couple of weeks.
Crossing the street in Lima is an extreme sport. Part of what makes it so fun (and by “fun,” I mean “life-threatening”) are the microbuses: buses that barrel down the streets with people hanging out the doors, calling out prices and destinations. And on the side of each multicolored vehicle is a partial list of destinations: BRASIL. VENEZUELA. CUBA. MEXICO.
Of course, they’re only street names. If these were submersible buses that could actually take us to Cuba, crossing the street might be a sci-fi movie, rather than just a terrifying South American experience. But I’m pretty pleased with the idea that I could hop a city bus in central Lima and, eventually, find myself in Venezuela.
In fact, during an excursion over the weekend, we passed by the Pan-American Highway, which I’d forgotten passes through Lima. I’ve been smitten with the idea of the Pan-American for the last couple years: essentially, it runs from Alaska down to the southern tip of South America, but you can’t actually drive the length of it, because there’s a 54-mile patch of Colombian jungle where there is no road and you have to ship your car around it by ferry to continue. Part of me is disappointed by this; the other is a little relieved to hear of a patch of the Americas that hasn’t been paved.
The point is that I’m on the other side of that gap in the road. Ecuador and Chile are my neighbors right now. But I’m in no hurry to head out of Lima, seeing as I only have two more weeks to learn my way around a city that sprawls over 310 square miles along the Pacific coast.
So far I’ve seen the area around the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Peru, a neighborhood that seems to be under a great deal of construction; Miraflores, the residential district where I live with my host family; the city center, which is full of brightly colored Spanish buildings and tiny shops selling llama-related paraphernalia; and Pachacamac, the ruins of an ancient city on the outskirts of town. It’s all part of greater Lima, but I feel like I’ve been in several different regions – the only unifying factor is the fog.
The fog, for which the local name is “garua,” is here to stay. During the entire Peruvian winter, it hangs over the ocean and the city on the cliffs up above, blocking out any hope of sunlight. I am serious when I say that I saw ten times as much sunlight in a week in Ireland (where I studied last fall) than I have in my first week in Peru. But even in the dead of winter (you know, jeans and sweatshirt weather), wandering around Lima for the next two weeks suits me fine.
By Saba Hamedy, Daily Free Press Editor-in-Chief Fall ‘11
A lot of my peers ended up going to Italy and Spain for spring break, but something made me and two of my friends want to try somewhere different. Somewhere historic. Somewhere unique.
Somewhere like Berlin and Prague.