Tag Archives: travel

A “gouter” of Paris

28 Jan

This winter, rather than staying home for my 7 week (!) break from school, I took the opportunity to stay with my uncle, a producer at the French bureau of the Associated Press. Tracking down Americans outside the Gallerie Lafayette to interview, watching the Europe edition of BBC and Al Jareeza on TV, and speaking (basic) French with shop owners, I was a bit of a local. Visiting museums daily, taking pictures and stopping for a crepe every chance I got, I was a tourist.

My second day staying at my aunt and uncle’s was a Sunday. I woke up at about 10:30, had some breakfast (an almond croissant, see the picture!), and my aunt told me people were coming over at around 3. Why? I thought, is that a late brunch? An early dinner? The guests brought macaroons, delicious, delicate sandwich cookies; cakes and tarts. We served more cake and tea. Later I learned this strange mid-afternoon rendez-vous was “gouter” which means to taste. In this case, gouter means tea time.

The next time I encountered this gouter concept was when I picked my cousin up from school. Every child gets a greeting from their parent or nanny, then promptly receives a snack, which according to my cousin, has to have chocolate. Walking him back, every kid rolling by on their razor scooter, skipping ahead of the adult behind them or wheeling in a stroller, is holding a snack. And this snack is also called a gouter.

So this word represented my trip, because I got my own taste of Paris and because, of course, I ate a lot of gouters. Here is a list of my top Paris tastes.

Best discovery: brioche bread – challah like bread that’s sweet and makes delicious French toast.

Best street food: crepe au nutella – soft thin dough with warm, creamy chocolate, this snack melts in your mouth and is one of the cheapest things you can buy in Paris!

Best breakfast: almond croissant with cafe au creme – the croissant is as sweet as you can handle in the morning, and coffee is a French staple.

Most important word to know: Bonjour – every time you walk in to a store or restaurant, or need to approach anyone for any reason, it’s necessary to say hello to be polite. Then ask what you need to ask. Saying goodbye (au revoir) is nice too, but not as important since by that time, you’ve probably found out what you needed to know.

Must-sees:

  • Eiffel Tower at night, the view is amazing. However, what you don’t see until you get there is the huge line and the wait for the elevator. Definitely book ahead.
  • Notre Dame – one of the oldest churches, beautifully built and free! Try to go when the sun is out, it shines through the stained glass and brings the dark church to life.
  • Seine River tour – a good introduction to the city that requires no walking!
  • The Louvre – this museum is amazing. You can’t see it all in one day, so get a map and try to see the most famous exhibits like the Mona Lisa, Venus di Milo and the Spynx. The architecture of the building alone is spectacular, the art is like you’re getting spoiled.

Hang out in the

  • Luxembourg garden
  • Carousel de Louvre, a shopping center/nice cafe under the Louvre
  • McDonalds (or as the French say, McDo), they’re classy in France
  • Tuileries garden outside the Louvre
  • Saint Sulpice square – an area with a beautiful church and large fountain, plenty of benches. It’s not too touristy and there are plenty of nice shops and cafes around. Plus the streets are cobble stone! A great place to get lost (I did, but not on purpose…)

More underrated spots

  • The Pompidou museum and the surrounding area, a great mix of old Paris and modern art, and the view from the top is amazing
  • Rodin sculpture garden
  • Les invalides – home of the army museum and where Napoleon Bonaparte was buried, you can walk around the exterior and go into the church for free
  • The Catacombs
  • Les arts decoratifs – museum next to the Louvre with new exhibits every few months
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There’s No “US” in France – A Summer Homestay Abroad

20 Jan

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Last summer I boarded AirFrance, feeling confident and prepared for my homestay in Nice, with three years of French under my belt and twenty other kids on my Abbey Road program. When fast-paced, unforgiving French boomed from the loudspeaker to my unsuspecting American ears, I realized spending a month in France would not be easy.  This was not French class anymore, this was the real thing. After spending a month in Nice, the different French culture made me cherish America.

Once I got past my initial infatuation with the beauty of France, I became aware of the culture. The first thing that hit me (almost!) was a motocyclette, a little motorcycle used for transportation. There are no restrictions – people ride them on the sidewalk and zip by, or into, you. As if trying to dodge little motocyclettes wasn’t enough, we also had to dodge dog poop which lined the sidewalks.

Apparently, there aren’t any laws about that either. I had not expected that behavior from the classy French.

Another part of the French culture that was hard to adjust to were the notorious French eating habits. Being an American, I like to be able to snack and have access to food whenever I want. The French see it differently. Our host-parents barely had anything in their refrigerator. Breakfast was a fresh baguette, and if I was lucky, fruit on the side. Many say a fresh baguette is delicious, but so are frozen waffles and they actually fill me up! Lunch was France’s saving grace. It is the only meal where it is acceptable to eat a lot. My host family would make my roommates and me a delicious lunch every day. Sometimes a sandwich, other times couscous mixed with vegetables and pork. But, when we were hungry from walking around all day, at night we would pig out on Nutella (France’s finest spread) and ice pops. We always did this before our host-parents got home for fear for they’d see us for who we really were, snack-loving American teenagers.

Scenery shot in Nice, France

Some say that the food in France beats American food, but in service, France loses. French restaurants make the best part about France – the food – difficult to attain. When you think about most restaurants in America, you think unlimited water and napkins, comfortable seating, big portions requiring “doggy bags”, and sometimes even a complimentary basket of bread. In France, the tables are small. A group of six was hard to accommodate. The food took forever to come and we would be starving while waiting. Sometimes we did get a few pieces of bread, but it came at the same time as our food. What was the point? For my friend Kate, it was a snack for later stuffed in her purse. It was also difficult to get a carafe of water:  vases with about 16 ounces of water.  Getting a second one was nearly impossible. My friends and I once went around the table stating why we deserved the remaining water. If I was really thirsty, and didn’t win, I would have to spend about four euros (like five dollars) on a drink. That would come right away. To top it off, the portions were small. The best service I experienced was at ice cream stands like Pinocchio because they were huge tourist attractions. They would let me essayer (try) all the flavors I wanted.

What I can conclude from my trip is that the French will never change and neither will Americans. As they say in France, “C’est la vie!” and I have plenty more cultures to see.