Thursday, December 7, 2017

10 years ago Part 2

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My apologizes for the delay in part two... Life, specifically germs and small children, has made this a bigger pause in the story than I anticipated! If it's been so long that you've completely forgotten what I wrote in part one, you can do that here.

But in a nutshell, after a rather long cross Atlantic flight and then an additional stay in London, I finally arrived in Paris. My job for the next school year would be working as an English assistant in a city called Rouen, which is part of Normandy. It came recommended to me to choose for the program since it wasn't too far from Paris but wasn't actually Paris (only the lucky few who promise their first-born children actually get Paris) and probably because it's beautiful in it's own right. Of course you have to like rain and cows but seeing as how I'm from Oregon, I figured I could handle it.

I'd like to be able to tell you my first impressions at the train station, what brilliant thoughts I was thinking; but truth be told, I had only one thing on my mind: finally meeting my crush. The second I managed to finally drag that beast of a suitcase down those trains steps, I turned into a complete girl (my apologies  to any feminists reading this entry). Our story is a story for another day but the short version is that I had been in contact with a French American seminary student living in Paris at the time. Seeing as how we'd sort of 'hit it off' via email for the past few months, when he offered to organize a weekend for me in Paris before heading out to Rouen I quickly said yes. Of course everything was all very proper, mind you, so get your heads out of the gutter. :)

But back to the station... All I can remember is seeing each other pretty quickly and doing some sort of semi-awkward hug (can it be any other way when it's someone you've never met before?). His voice was higher than I'd imagined and I think we walked in circles in that train station (him trying to multitask and me cluelessly having no idea where I was going) before we finally found the metro entrance. He insisted on doing the gallant thing and taking the beast off of my hands. Seeing him struggle with that thing up and down flights of metro stairs I knew that only one of the two would survive this trip: our new, not-even started relationship or my suitcase.

Somewhere in the midst of small-talking, Matt let it slip that he had accidentally double-booked himself with a bible study at his church that evening and would I mind attending? I said yes because I liked the guy, I like bible studies in general, and he knew how to get me to the place where I was staying for the night so I really didn't have much of a choice. So we grabbed a sandwich at a stand and headed over to his church. Once there I learned two very important lessons: 1) by 'bible study', I had assumed he meant a group of 5-10 people all sitting around looking at different parts of the bible but in French evangelical circles the definition can be a little looser and in this case it was about 40 people looser and 2) as a member of the opposite sex, you should not show up with the pastoral intern--soon to be assistant pastor--if you don't want to cause a bit of a stir. I instantly had the eyes on me of just about every woman over 60 (and I'm guessing the ones under 60 too; they were just a little more discreet).

I caught all of two words the whole evening: Abraham and mountain. For the first time it really struck me; the rest of the world functions perfectly fine without speaking English. Sure, I knew that other people in other countries spoke different languages. But it sounded like gibberish. What I don't think I fully got until moving to a foreign country was that their words and their conversations could have just as much meaning as my own. Their jokes could be just as funny (unless you're German--haha just kidding that's totally a joke!), their conversations just as meaningful, and their bible studies just as deep.  At least at the time I was assuming it was deep because everyone looked very thoughtful and nodded every now and then. I tried not to look like the excluded idiot I felt like and nod too but it quickly got old and I think that eventually I pulled out my own bible and just read that for the rest of the session.

I figured out the session was over because everyone around me started standing up. I wasn't really sure of what to do so I stood too. I guess the lady in front of me took that as a sign because before I knew what was happening she started planting one on me. Yep, she started kissing my cheeks. And that, my friends, is how this small town girl awkwardly discovered the 'bises', aka the cheek kissing. Yes, they really do that here. And I really did want to slap her until I saw everyone else doing it to. Strangely enough, I would learn later that the French consider a hug much more intimate than a little ol' cheek smooching. I personally didn't want to do either with her but I mentally weighed my options and decided not to make everyone hate me on my first night in France.

As people were all filing out I was blown away at the number that spoke English with me, some even with no accent at all.  (I had yet to learn that Paris is quite the melting pot and there are several bilingual people of multiple nationalities that live here) One person told me a very hearty 'bon courage' and when I looked at him as cluelessly as I felt he explained that it basically meant 'take courage' or 'take heart' (it's used frequently as 'good luck' too). It felt very Saving Private Ryan-esque and I realized that I still had a lot to learn about this culture that I had just thrown myself into.

Matt, who hates to impose on anyone decided to ask his boss, the senior pastor of the church, for a ride to the location I would be staying for the night, such was his by now obvious dislike for my horridly huge suitcase. Already the wheels had begun to wear completely off under the impressive weight of all those books and he was half dragging it everywhere. Thankfully for the future of our relationship, the pastor graciously agreed. It felt strange to combine two completely opposing activities: driving, which felt so familiar and comfortable; and Paris, a city where mopeds find red lights more of a suggestion than a rule and the streets can at times only comfortably fit a barbie jeep. I had previously only taken public transportation in Paris and this was a very different feeling. To be honest, riding in Paris was a bit of an adrenaline rush; it felt like an obstacle course where at any minute something new could pop out from behind even your most innocent looking Boulangerie.

And that is where I'm going to leave it for now friends. Try as I might, I'm just too dang wordy! I promise that next time's part three will be the end of this little saga (the best things come in trilogies, right?).  Until then!

2 comments:

Agnès SANDERS said...

Some funny details I didn't know, of course, as a future mother in law! Thank you and please go on, you have a gift for story telling!

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