9/3/08

Je suis arrivée

I arrived in Paris yesterday morning after a surprisingly hassle-free flying experience - Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth were both practically empty, no lines in security, no delays, pleasant seat-mates. I found Lauren in the airport with no trouble, and our train was on time (unlike all the trains going to Lille-France, wherever that is). I had a brief moment of panic when I got off the train in Poitiers and didn't know where to go exactly, not being used to train stations, but I mustered up my rusty French to talk to someone official-looking who pointed me in the right direction, where I found my host mother. 

I basically broke the language pledge from minute one, as she started speaking English to me and I was too tired to want to argue, though everybody else at home speaks French - at dinner last night I understood maybe one word in five, and not usually strung together, so I just enjoyed the food and looked politely confused. French classes at Midd have given me the mistaken impression that I understand spoken French to a high degree - actually, our professors just talk slowly and clearly, and I can't follow a real conversation with people all talking at the same time and at normal speeds. However, everyone was very friendly and slowed things down when they asked me questions.

My host parents are Brenda and Bruno, the former a divorcée and the latter a widow, so they have quite a few children between them. Brenda's son is going to college in the U.S. and her daughter, Christelle, who is my age, will be living at home and going to the university here (she's away for the week, so I haven't met her yet). Bruno's youngest son, Tom, who's 14 and just started high school, lives at home; his two unspecified older children have apartments. The son of a friend of Brenda's is also living here: Nico, who's 15 and speaks French, English and Chinese fluently. It's a bit intimidating. In addition, a couple who are friends of theirs (both teachers, I think) have been staying here for the past week, so dinner last night was quite boisterous. I haven't quite mastered the cheek-kissing thing yet.

My room is nice and quite bright and cheerful, which is good since I didn't bring much stuff of my own. My favorite part is definitely the heavy wooden shutters that open outside the window; they're the sort you can throw open dramatically in the morning, take a deep breath, and quite possibly break into song. The neighborhood seemed pretty when we drove through it yesterday, but it's raining today (and most of this week, if the forecast is to be believed) so I haven't gone out exploring yet. There's a little staircase that opens to the outside and leads right up to the hall with my room on it, so I don't have to go traipsing all through the house if I develop a habit of coming home late (ha, ha). And I have internet (obviously), which is excellent. My phone didn't work as promised when I got over here (Verizon, you lie), and I was feeling horribly cut off. I don't know how people traveled like this before the advent of wireless communication. The internet feels like a big safety net, letting me keep track of/in touch with people. Don't get me wrong, I love letters (and had one waiting for me when I got here!), but I don't want to wait a week to hear from someone out of necessity.

In about 10 minutes Brenda is taking me to the bank to cash my traveler's checks and to wherever one gets a bus pass to do that. Then I will start religiously memorizing bus routes. Orientation starts tomorrow with general meetings and such. Lauren and I have a meeting all to ourselves with someone in the math department. I'm thinking of taking the same class she wants to do (something along the lines of probability), since I've never done something like that, I don't really need the credit, and I'd feel more secure in a class with somebody I already know. That's probably cheating, but not really caring...

A few pictures of my room are on my Flickr page, and more interesting things will come soon, weather and/or fatigue permitting. I don't feel awful, I just have no sense of what time of day it is. It's weird and disorienting, so I hope it passes quickly. And now I'm off for some errands. À bientôt!