Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cultural Differences...

At the moment, there are two cultural differences that are striking me: one inconvenient and one AMAZING. First, the inconvenient:

I wanted to do laundry today, so my host mom very kindly came into the bathroom (that's where the washer and dryer are) and helped me out the first time. The first load was nothing special, so I just did the regular cycle of 40ºC (104ºF). I asked if it could go any colder, and my mom replied, looking at me a little strangely, "Yes, just press this button to lower the temperature." "Merci beaucoup!" I replied, and went merrily away while my first load got squeaky clean. Come time for my second load, which had red and pink and suchlike things in it, I wanted a cold wash. So, I loaded the clothes in, added detergent, pressed various buttons, then went for the lower-the-temperature button. Pushed it once: 30º. Okay, great. Pushed it again. Nothing. Pushed it harder. Still nothing. My friends, French washing machines simply do not go below 30ºC (86ºF). Do the French makers of washing machines only own sturdy white cotton clothing? My clothes didn't fade, or anything, but I'm not such a fan of the obligatory hot wash. Also, I was advised to not use the dryer for clothing, since it gets too hot, so my undies are now festooning the drying rack in the bathroom, scarring my host brother for life. Ah well, he's French. It'll be good for him.

Now, the AMAZING:
Kelloggs, the breakfast cereal company, exists in France, too. However, they seem to show a slightly more indulgent side in Europe, as shown by the nondescriptively-named "Extra" cereal. It's got little oatsy clusters, flakes of something unidentifiable but delicious, toasted hazelnut pieces, and BITS OF CHOCOLATE. Real dark chocolate. And hazelnuts. In a breakfast cereal. Put this together with the fact that my family does not buy skim milk, but instead something somewhat fattier than 2%, and you have the heart attack in a bowl that shocks my system into waking up. Luckily, with 4 kids in the house, the cereal doesn't stay around for more than a day, so maybe I'll escape atherosclerosis. Maybe.

Some Tufts people and I went to Montmartre last night - we walked up those famous steps that you have all seen in pictures, I'm sure - those really steep ones with streetlights? The view at the top was amazing: Paris at night, with the Eiffel Tower lighting up the sky in the background. Then we walked past Sacré-Coeur, but couldn't get in as it was 11 pm. Finally, we had hot chocolate in a little café with a proprietor who made all the snubs I've received from waiters here simply melt away... He was from Madagascar, and had the funniest laugh, and was more than happy to speak to us in French, bring us extra orange juice, and discuss Madagascar with us. It was a great way to spend an evening, even if my thighs were hating me today.

Finally, a little vignette to portray what it's like living with my host family: Mom and the four kids and I are sitting at the kitchen island eating dinner. Dad arrives home. One of the kids shouts "Papa? C'est toi?" and he says "Oui, c'est moi." Someone else stage-whispers "On se cache tous!" (Everybody hide!) Cue scraping back of stools and mad rush to crouch behind the island so that it's between us and the door to the kitchen. I squeeze in next to my oldest host sister and we all crouch there, giggling, as my host father walks around. His footsteps approach the kitchen door; my host mother starts to shush us but bursts out giggling herself. The kitchen door opens; a split second of anticipatory silence and my host father says "Bonsoir, tout le monde!" We jump up, giggling and red-faced, and return to the table still laughing. Someone says "Lisa's going to think Tufts put her with a family of crazy people" and I hasten to explain that my brother and I do things like that all the time. As my host father said later, it's like living in a theater. There's always some spectacle going on - no need for TV here. Everyone in the family, except maybe my host mom, is a bit of a ham. Someone's always fake-pouting, someone else is always calling someone else stupide or con or moche (stupid, idiot, ugly), and all in all it's really really fun.

Okay - some pics of my room and of the living room. The apartment is long and narrow: you walk in and there's a table for keys and such, and a hallway going to the left and right. To the left is the kitchen and the master bedroom/bathroom; straight ahead is the dining room and living room; to the right are the kids' bedrooms, including mine, the kids' bathroom, and the computer room. All these rooms open off of the narrow hallway.

My room seen from the door (note the lovely comforter cover; yes, they follow the European tradition of just a fitted sheet and comforter cover. I don't mind - I'm not the one washing my sheets...)

From the door again, but this time displaying the incredible height of the ceiling. It's kind of like living in a museum. Also, just for a laugh, how many times over could my room from last semester fit into this room? Five? Six?

The view into the courtyard from my window.

The view across the courtyard from me, where the sketchy guy mentioned in my first post probably lives.

The living room. Seriously, it's like a museum. Until you see the five of us kids lounging on the white cotton-covered sofas watching bad American TV and calling things "moche". Then it loses some of its dignity.


  1. Love the homelife details and photos of the apartment. Carry on.
    Tante Martha

  2. The TV just looks so out of place in that room. Bizarre. I was going to make a comment about your French host brother and your underwear, but I decided it might be inappropriate; and with my past with younger men, I feel like any comments might come back to bite me in the ass. Hee hee!

    Missss you!

  3. "Un Type de Cheese"? And you didn't even cite your source? Didn't you learn anything in four years with me? (Il sourit d'une façon menaçante...)

    Je suis bien content que tu aies enfin réussi à te traîner à Paris. Bon courage!