And The Prom Queen Is…

I’ve been 23 for three whole weeks and have yet to talk about what a great birthday it was!

My first birthday present was an official contract for my summer job as an assistante d’education at the same high school where I’ve been working all year. Basically it’s a glorified resident advisor/gopher/receptionist job for the school during the end-of-the-year rush and the summer planning for the following year. Not too exciting, but I get to work with a great team and stay in France for the summer, and that’s what counts for me.

Back to the birthday.

Kids came in to sing poorly-rehearsed, adorable versions of Happy Birthday in English all day, and some of my favorite students presented me with TAGADA fraises (my favorite French candy), a stuffed frog (significant because of my well-known inability to pronounce the word “frog” in French: grenouille), and, most touching of all, a birthday card signed by the whole senior class. I had to suck in a few deep breaths when I first saw all the signatures. I was just totally blown away to see the clear visual representation of all the people who took a moment out of their day to write me a kind word. I love those students.

That evening, the entire school threw a huge dance party for me! Actually, it just happened to be Prom Night. I fell right back to my Student Government roots of blowing up balloons and taking tickets, and I was tickled to see all the seniors in their fancy outfits. The students strutted into the gym, mostly in groups of three or four rather than couples. They took unsmiling (too cool for school) photos with each other, head bobbed to the DJ, and sauntered around outside smoking. I’m sure they all had a fabulous time.

Our super romantic prom photo

Our super romantic prom photo

As the kids loitered the night away, the rest of the assistants presented me with my own bouquet of beautiful flowers and a packet of delicious black tea big enough for me to possibly never finish. We even popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate.  If there’s one thing that I love the most about working here, it’s that my colleagues never let a possible holiday, birthday, or anniversary go by without toasting it.

Gotta love bright flowers

Gotta love bright flowers

After I announced the prom king and queen (whoever decided it was a good idea to give me a microphone and a captive audience of high schoolers clearly doesn’t know me very well) I decided it was time to take my leave. Claiming “Birthday Girl” status, I left the after-prom cleanup to the others and drifted across campus to my apartment. Snuggly in bed with my new stuffed grenouille, I decided that my 23rd was one of the best birthdays yet.

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The #1 Way to Ensure Eternal Damnation

So, I may not have told you everything that happened during my trip to Paris last week. I left out a crucial part of my time in Sacré Coeur, and now I realize this story just can’t not be told.

Basically, I’m going to hell.

I lied to a nun, and I’m pretty sure that grants me a fastpass through the line to eternal flame.

Sister Jeanne Marie was so kind and welcoming when I first arrived at the basilica. She took down my name and showed me to my room, and as she glided along the hallway she asked my reasons for coming to the night of adoration. I told her that it seemed like a beautiful opportunity for meditation, and as I started to say more she stopped me.

“But, you’re catholic, yes? You believe in la présence réelle?”

I panicked.

She was asking me if I believed in transubstantiation, the catholic doctrine whereby the bread and wine of the Eucharist literally transform into the body and blood of Christ. Well, no. I’m not, and I don’t.

Images of being escorted out by armed monks filled my mind. Sleeping on a bench under a Parisian bridge was not what I had expected for the night, especially since I’d already paid 4 euros for the pre-mass breakfast. So, with imaginary sirens of Vatican police cars whirring in my ears, I did what I had to do.

I lied to Sister Jeanne Marie.

“Well, I was raised protestant, but I’m thinking of converting.”

A giant walkie talkie appeared out of nowhere, and the next thing I know this nun is calling a priest on what I can only assume was a Code Blue: Imminent Conversion case. Grasping my hand in both of hers, she urged me to spend the evening in prayer, and then scurried off to organize the troops for my initiation.

The next morning, Sister Jeanne Marie met me downstairs for a long discussion about my “conversion”. She was so sweet and excited I could hardly stand it. I tried to do what I could to soften my earlier statement and to say that I was “questioning”, but it was useless. I felt terrible (even protestant-raised agnostics generally try not to lie to nuns), but at this point it was impossible to stop.

It was going to take every bit of my 10th grade AP European History knowledge to get me through this one. Dates and names started flying out of my mouth as we discussed the schism, bible translations, and the traditions of the catholic church. She asked me if I had begun to pray the rosary, if I had been to confession, if I prayed with the saints. Trying to translate what mediocre knowledge I have into French and making it sound like I had actually been personally researching the topic was terrifying. I was winging the interview of my life, and it was very nearly disastrous.

I was super pumped when she asked me what I thought of the Virgin Mary, but apparently saying “I love her! What a fascinating icon of women’s strength and the inner goddess within a patriarchal society!” was not the proper response. Naming Joan of Arc, who is basically the definition of aggressive feminism, as an on-the-spot potential confirmation saint, didn’t seem to win me any points, either, but I was in survival mode and literally naming any saints I could think of by then. I vaguely recall quoting Latin excerpts from choral pieces at one point. The B.S. got that real.

Rising from her seat with a smile from one edge of her habit to the other, Sister Jeanne Marie gave me the phone number for her direct line and urged me to call her the next time I was in Paris. We walked together through the church, and she gleefully told me that the next step would be for me to discuss all of these things again with a priest. She escorted me right up to the confessional booth, where I paused just long enough to see her turn the corner before I hightailed it out of there so fast I bet not even Jesus saw me moving.

So there’s my story, the new #1 most awkward conversation of my life. Hopefully, publishing this post and doing good deeds for the rest of my life will keep me from eternal damnation, but if anyone else has a good idea of what I should do, I’m certainly taking suggestions. Clearly, I need all the help I can get.

Reflection

As someone smarter than me once said, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” It’s been exactly two weeks since my return to the United States, and I’m beginning to adjust back to American life.
I’m proud to say I fully unpacked and organized my bags within just a few days of arriving home, but unloading all of my thoughts and ideas from the past six months will take a little more time. For now, I can simply say that my study abroad experience was one of the most exciting and educational times of my life thus far, and I can’t wait to return to France to see my family and friends as soon as I possibly can! I will spend the rest of the summer reflecting on some memories from my time in France and writing about them as I see fit.

After classes begin in the Fall, I will continue writing this blog, but my posts will likely be much fewer and farther between than my European updates were. The plan (for now) is to continue with a travel/world cultures theme, but you can bet that irrelevant ramblings will happen from time to time.

I’ll end this post in the same way I ended my time abroad-not by saying “goodbye”, but by saying “until next time”.
À la prochaine!

A Thousand Words

I hope you’ll bear with me as I try to catch up on sleep from the past few days in Paris. Please accept these photos as a little appetizer before the main course of the blog is posted tomorrow!

Approaching the Arc du Triomphe from the Champs Elysées.

One of the many vintage metro signs all over the city. Classic Paris.

Crossing the Seine to the Notre Dame.

Entering the Church of the Madeleine.

Sacre Coeur, one of my favorite places in Paris (when it’s not crowded and hot).

All gussied up for the opera! Photo taken by another attendee.

Egg [Wo]Man

How do you know that you’ve eaten too much Easter candy? When it’s the first time in your memory that you would gladly refuse a piece of chocolate.

Last week, Martine announced that we would be spending Pâques with Laurent’s mother.  As the boys groaned, I geeked out with excitement over the idea of an entire day spent documenting new cultural experiences. [Why yes, I am a human sciences major. How’d you guess?]

The day did not disappoint. We arrived at Mami’s Parisian apartment at 12:30, and were immediately ushered into the formal parlor. I sat with her yorkshire terrier on my lap (dogs can always find the weak one in the group) as we sipped champagne and nibbled on olives, caviar, and paté. After several toasts, we moved to the dining room to begin one of the more ridiculous culinary experiences of my life. From the entrée (appetizer) of an entire filet of smoked salmon on a spinach salad to the plat (main course) of bacon-wrapped lamb, to the roasted potatoes, green beans, yogurt, cheese, fruit, cake, and truffles, everything was far too much, far too fattening, and far too delicious. Need I mention that each course included its own wine and sorbet to cleanse the palate?

In a futile attempt to work off a few of the calories we had just consumed, the family went on a walk around the nearby lake. I tried to engage Mami in some culturally relevant conversation, but she mainly just wanted to talk about her dog and how handsome the boys are turning out. Apparently, the classic grandparent traits of doting on your grandkids and animals are universal.

The whole family attempting to assist (or perhaps sabotage) Mathieu in his climbing efforts during our walk.

You didn’t think the food discussion was over, did you? Oh, no. Dinner was still to come. I won’t torture you with the details, but suffice it to say that we had an equally hefty meal for the evening, complete with more fish, more cheese, and, of course, more butter. That woman sure knows how to force her house guests into diabetic comas cook.

A few of the spoils from our family "Egg" Hunt. Rather than just the usual bunnies, chicks, and the occasional baby lamb that are common for American Easter, the French enjoy eating chocolate in a multitude of animal shapes, from fish to frogs.

Once the family finally got home, we all crawled into bed rubbing our bellies and thanking the Lord on behalf of our waistbands that holidays with familial commitments only come a few times a year.

I can’t say that my Monday feast was nearly as haute-cuisine, but the group of international students made a pretty solid North American brunch for ourselves this afternoon. We gorged ourselves on scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, pancakes (NOT crêpes) chocolate eggs, and the package of Peeps that my mom sent over from the States! Of course, we had to indulge in the traditional dyeing of Easter Eggs and Hunt, both of which were marvelous successes and made all of the French students in the dorm think we were insane. I guess you’d be weirded out, too, if you saw a dozen twenty-somethings running through the halls yelling about chocolate being hidden in the air vents.

Working with brown eggs: a completely new obstacle for most of us veteran egg-dyers.


My egg experiments never turn out as beautifully as they look while in the dye.

What a lovely weekend. I’ve consumed all of my caloric allowance for the next three days, but it was completely worth it to experience a great family holiday and spend time with friends. For all its laughs and groans, it was definitely a weekend to remember.

A Blessing And A Curse

A college student’s diet often consists of less-than-healthy packaged meals eaten on the run from one class to another, but an abroad student leads a different sort of life. My diet in France largely consists of pastries, cheese, and bread eaten on the run from one class to another.

First, you wake up and have a larger piece of baguette than usual because dinner was pretty early last night (only about 8:30 PM), and by now you’re really hungry. Pile on that homemade jelly and enjoy your hot tea.
You munch on an apple while running from one school building to another, and chug down a bottle of pepillant (sparkling) water when your stomach starts to growl during the three hour lecture.
You have a little extra time between your second and third classes of the day, so you decide to finally try out the bagel place you’ve been wanting to go to, but you’re still hungry after a cheese and pepper bagel with smoked salmon and spinach, so a caramel gelato cone tops off your lunch.
Your host brother comes home with fresh bread from the bakery, still hot in its paper sack, so of course, you have to have a little bite! And what would a fresh baguette be without a spoonful of Nutella on top?
Thursday nights always mean pizza for dinner since your host dad comes home late from work, so you work your way through a slice of mushroom and pineapple before starting on the tomato and mozzarella salad. The yogurt and cheese course is followed by an orange and a square of rich dark chocolate.

You manage to hoist yourself upstairs, swearing to never eat that much food in one day ever again…
and do it all again the next morning.
Hey, at least I walk a lot.

Class

Whew. Deeps breaths in, Deep breaths out.
I’ve just been through the single most stress-inducing activity any large state university student can do: online class registration. As the digital clock binged eight o’clock, roughly five thousand of my closest friends and I with more than ninety credit hours but less than one hundred twenty clicked on the exact same button and began the process of signing up for next Fall’s classes. Needless to say, this nearly always results in the school’s website crashing and no one ever getting the classes they want.
This year, I’m happy to say that it didn’t happen. I got [most of] the classes I needed and even a few that I’m pretty excited about. Much relieved.

The rest of my day wasn’t nearly as stressful-it was actually really pleasant. I passed my latest translation exam with flying colors, got free cookies from the communist students’ bake non-sale, and set a new record in my British Civilization class.

Brit Civ is taught in English by a Frenchman, but this particular Frenchman does not, in fact, speak English. I feel pretty bad for the poor fellow; it’s clear that he’s just printed off all of his notes from the internet and he’s not really confident in the subject matter to begin with-just a bad situation all around. While I love hate to laugh at another person’s faults, he has one tick that I can’t help but smile about-he uses the word “actually” at least once in every sentence. I think he thinks it makes him sound smarter.
I’ve taken to tallying up the “actuallys” while I listen in class (it helps me pay attention, I promise), and today was a record! One hundred four actuallys in sixty-five minutes. Now that’s what I call dedication, and a good laugh.