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 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.