Thursday, April 3, 2014

Nice is so nice

Marina in Nice

BEAUTIFUL Russian Church.

My studs for the weekend Fabio (left) and Florian (right).
The Beach! At last!

There really is nothing better than a cozy restaurant with classic French cuisine, which is exactly the situation I found myself in on a weekend visit to Nice a few weeks back. From the outside, the restaurant didn't look like much and resembled a hole in the wall type of place. But once we entered and went downstairs, we found ourselves in an old wine cellar with around 15 tables cozily surrounded by racks of different types of wine from which our waiter plucked a bottle for our table. The exposed brick and coolness radiating from the walls had me wondering how old this little place was. The menu consisted of many French plates and a lot that were specialties from the region. (One thing I love about France is that each region has a few specific dishes that are the specialty of that area. So fun to try them all!) I ended up ordering the Camembert, which is a specific type of cheese that is round, and they melt it leaving you with your own little personal fondue. With it I had a salad and an assortment of potatoes and an apple/onion sauce to dip in it. YUM. I felt a warm comfort spread over me as the aftermath of cheese, three glasses of wine, and conversations in French rested with me at the table. Again the lingering feeling of wanting to stay here crept into my thoughts.

I think I mentioned him in another post but one of my best French friends and one of my favorite people in the whole world (also my future green card husband), Mr. Florian, has moved from France to Miami. Florian is from Nice and since our other mutual friend (Fabio) from the U of A was coming into town I decided to meet them in Nice as well for a final France visit before Flo moved. This break, in the midst of two weeks of watching the boys who were on break, was just what I needed. I left the coldness from the nearby alps in my town to the warmth of Nice where I was rocking sunglasses and short sleeves! Nice is an absolutely beautiful beach town in the south of France that gives off a Venice Beach vibe but European style. In comparison to Paris, the people and the fashion seemed much more laid back and I was instantly in love. Although I was only there for 24 hours, I got a good taste of the town and it was so great to catch up with Flo and Fabio. One of the highlights (besides the restaurant visit mentioned above) was this amazing ice cream place that Flo took us to. (Obviously food plays an important role in my traveling experience.) For those of you that didn't know, Nice has a huge Italian influence, so they have a lot of these gelato places all over. (Cause who doesn't love a scoop of gelato after the beach?) This ice cream place was in the middle of a small square facing an old catholic church, and I kid you not: this place had somewhere around 50 different flavors! They ranged from sorbets to weird flavors, like beer flavor, but I regarded none of these as I got stuck in the chocolate section. We also saw a wonderful old Russian church that was quite breathtaking. All in all, it was a great weekend and a good preview as I am meeting my Mom and sister for a week in Nice this May.

À Bientôt!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Waiting for baby

Me and Mirjam with our beautiful mustaches.
(Wouldn't be France without a mustache party. Duh.)
Zanzibar night a.k.a. wtf happened night.
(My girls Barbora and Hannah.)
Nothing like white wine to bring out the giggles.

Of course I remember my first day in France in vivid detail, and one of these details included my initial shock after finding out that my host mom was pregnant. It is now 9 months later and we now have an adorable pink-faced baby girl in the house. Overall from my perspective, the whole arrival of the baby went over smoothly (although I did have to sleep in the parents' bed with the 3 year old over night).

As we were waiting for the baby to arrive, I was able to spend a lot more time in my area and meet more people (including two other lovely au pairs who live in my town!). All the people I meet here have come from so many different places. Slovenia, Switzerland, Italy, Tunisia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany...(I could go on, but you get it.) After meeting these people from all over, it has made me realize a quality about the United States that I really don't like. (Let me say that this is MY opinion and I am aware that not every single person in the U.S. is like this but a lot of us are. Including myself!) I don't think that the vast majority of Americans truly understand what it is like to be a foreigner in a completely different environment. I think there are a few things that contribute to this. One is geography. The U.S. is a giant country and even though you travel to different states you are still in the same country with the same language and culture. Whereas in Europe you can drive for two hours and be in a different country that speaks a different language and has a completely different way of life. (For example I can get to Switzerland in 2 hours from where I am.) I think another factor that contributes to this is that English is an international language. So when you go to a foreign county you aren't necessarily forced to speak a different language. Whereas if you think of a French person coming to study in let's say Arkansas, there really aren't that many people that can speak French fluently. (Learning a new language is EXHAUSTING and it is essential to have someone to speak to in your own language sometimes.) I don't exactly know where I am going with this post, but I just remember times when I have encountered foreigners in America and really thought I understood their situation when I definitely didn't. I also knew a person who told me he just didn't want to talk to this one guy because he didn't speak well in English and it was just too much effort. That statement infuriated me.

I think without this experience I really wouldn't understand what it feels like to be immersed in a different culture, and I now have so much more respect for all of my friends that have come to live and study in America. Because we really are a unique country that is very proud and not necessarily always the most welcoming. Because of this, I think that if you have the opportunity you should definitely travel and make yourself vulnerable to a different culture. If you don't have these opportunities, try to be mindful of the fact that it really is hard to leave everything you know behind and be open to everything new around you.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

European Utopia

Seville on a beautiful Sunday.
Part of the gardens in the Alcázar palace.
Me and Miss Jaclyn.
Was a little obsessed with this street. (Look at the fruit trees!)
A little alleyway taste of Arcos!

It's one o'clock in the morning on a Wednesday and I am sitting amongst cushions in the upstairs part of a cozy little bar in Seville, Spain. It is packed with people - some on chairs, some cross-legged on the floor, and the room is dimly lit with old mirrors leaning up against the wall, oriental rugs spread across the floor, and an old door with legs underneath serving as a table. The sweet smell of weed creeps into my nostrils from two tables down as I regard two girls in a passionate discussion next to me. (Although they are speaking in Spanish, I can immediately identify the situation as a boy problem.) My mind is flooded with images from the Audrey Hepburn movie Funny Face where she is dressed in all black and talking to people in a swanky little bar (that scene was in Paris, but it gives you an idea of the mood). Downstairs you can hear drunken slurs, the clinking of wine glasses, and a Beatles song muffled behind the noise. I take a sip from my own wine glass as my newly made French friend looks over at me and asks me in French, "How are you?" A big smile stretches across my face and I respond, “Perfect."

Last week, I got the wonderful opportunity to visit my friend Jaclyn in Spain for four days. Even though everything wasn't exactly as I expected, I still had a great trip and got to catch up with my friend and make some more new friends. The first night I flew into Seville (after a torturous 8 hour layover in Barcelona) and after eating some tapas, Jaclyn and I met up with a group of her friends. We ended up in a small, little apartment that was owned by a lovely British girl. You know how some people just have a certain aura about them? Well this girl was one of them. She was gorgeous with a head full of curly brown hair, olive skin, a smooth British accent, and she was playing the role of the perfect hostess. Also in the group was a tall Spanish guy that had a guitar in hand almost all night, a stylish looking French guy (which I immediately became friends with), and a fellow American from San Diego sporting a mustache and a flannel shirt like a true hipster. (Not going to lie, it made me a little homesick.) We spent well into the wee hours of the morning talking, drinking, drawing, and listening to music. The next day Jaclyn showed me around Seville, which I must say is an amazing city. It is sunny and lined with fruit trees on almost every street and Spanish architecture is just to die for. We went to this one old palace that seemed to have an Arabian theme to it, and it was absolutely breathtaking. I must say the gardens were my favorite part. After being in cloudy, cold weather it was quite literally a breath of fresh air to be among palm trees and the sun. As Jaclyn put it, this place felt like Disneyland for adults. After a day in Seville, we took a two hour bus ride to Jaclyn's town Arcos de La Frontera. It is a cute little city where all the buildings are painted white because, as I was told, it gets unbearably hot in the summer so the buildings must reflect the sun. I spent three days relaxing, catching up with Jaclyn, meeting her three amazing American friends (shout out to the three of you! Y'all are precious and the best.) and even taking a spin class! It definitely didn't hurt that our instructor was a handsome, muscular Spanish man with a great smile.

Sometimes I have these 'ah-ha' moments where I can really see myself living in France or somewhere else in Europe. The lifestyle here is much more laid back and there are so many other young people that share a passion for traveling and discovering new places. When I see people my age like this I think, why couldn't I do the same? I often have these thoughts, but at the same time I have days when I really miss the United States and I really miss my friends. I am also anxious/excited to get the next part of my life started back in the U.S. It's a difficult decision that I am often pondering. But I think in the end, only time and most likely a little return trip home will help me reach my final decision. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Into the Unknown

Me at the Heineken brewery.

Amsterdam being all cute and Dutch

Rooftop view of Paris.

Florian,Fabio and my new friends in Paris!

View of Mount Blanc in Chamonix.

For the first time in a long time I find myself puzzled as to why I am choking back tears when I watch my Dad walk away from the closing doors of my train in Geneva. I have never felt like this when we have parted ways in the past. I get on the train and start to settle my baggage, trying look as nonchalant as possible, while tears stream down my face and a Taiwanese women looks at me with understanding eyes. A piece of home has been with me for a week and now I feel the weight of him leaving and the feeling of not knowing what lies ahead.

So I don’t like to brag, but I had a pretty amazing Christmas/New Years Break. For the first leg of my trip, I spent five days in Amsterdam with my dear friend Raquel. She is also an au pair and came here from Mexico. (Our friendship nickname is Tex-Mex. 'Cause I mean we had to, right?) Amsterdam at Christmastime is absolutely charming. To me, it felt like a city you could walk around (or bike around) in forever and never get bored. All the canals, tiny houses smushed together, and the cute Dutch people with their bikes, carrying flowers in their baskets. That is one thing I noticed right away is that EVERYBODY has a bike. It seemed like a more popular mode of transportation than a car. Another thing we noticed right away is just how odd the language is. I mean it's like nothing you have heard before. It sounds very close to German and extremely similar to Klingon. (Live long and prosper.) One of our best experiences was at the Heineken brewery! I LOVE going to breweries. I have only been to one other (Guinness factory in Dublin Ireland), so I don’t have much to compare it to, but I was really impressed by the whole tour. And the coolest part was this cute guy that worked at the bar who decided we needed 8 free beers each instead of 3. Needless to say, the walk back to the hostel was a little bit of a blur. The other touristy thing we did was go to the Van Gogh museum. Totally worth it and totally amazing. (And I got to walk around with my big Canon camera and an audio headset. Super nerd tourist status. Love it.) Seeing an original Van Gogh painting in real life is just beyond description. A few of them I could have stood in front of forever. The rest of our trip was pretty much filled with partying and meeting friendly people from all around the globe! That's another thing I absolutely love about this whole experience is the amazing people you meet. You know they would let you crash on their couch and feed you in a heartbeat, and if they showed up in Texas one day you would do the same for them. I absolutely love this mentality. It renews my faith in the human spirit.

For the second leg of my trip, I met up with my pops and his girlfriend in Paris. I have never in my life been so ecstatic to see my father. During the whole experience of living abroad you make new friends who know you but it hasn't been for very long, and they don’t even know the you that lives in the United States, so it's really just a breath of fresh air to be able to spend time with the person who knows you best. Paris was mostly filled with shopping, and I got to meet up with my friends Florian and Fabio for a night out and for New Years eve. I made some new girlfriends and once again found myself in awe of Paris. I also had one of the most “wow I’m really in France” moments when I took an epic journey by myself on the metro at 12:30 am on New Year's Eve. Needless to say, lots of drunks and lots of shouting “Bonne Anee!” which means “Happy New Year” in French. The next day we headed to Geneva and took a shuttle from there to a famous ski spot called Chamonix. There are very few moments in my life where I can say that my breath was taken away, but this was definitely one of them. The whole place is covered in snow and surrounded by the gorgeous alps. There is one point where a mountain touches Italy, Switzerland, and France! The little town was beyond adorable and was just what you would think a European ski town should look like. (This is coming from someone that has never skied in her life.) My Dad's girlfriend had also never skied before, so we had to take some lessons. Overall I like skiing, but I don’t think it's going to be my new favorite sport or anything. You have to think and do so many things at the same time, and the ski instructor talked to me in French, so it was quite a challenge. 

The New Year almost marks my halfway point of this French adventure, which also means I need to start thinking about my future and what my life will look like when I return to the U.S. So I'm finally being confronted with the problematic question that all 20-something postgraduates have to face: “What do I do now?” For those of you who don’t know me, I went to school in Arkansas for five years, left last summer, came back to Dallas for 10 days, and moved to France. So when I go back I am going back to a completely new life and most likely a new place. Thinking about this can be really scary. But I have to remember to take it one step at a time and not let my worries about my future ruin my experience here. After all, this is life and we only get one so we have to soak up every opportunity we have while we can.

"It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see.”

Winston Churchill

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Art of Au Pairing

Line up! Yep everyone is here.
Somewhere deep down he loves me.
Little Picasso over here.

The art of au pairing isn’t hard to master...(Sorry I couldn’t resist. That's for all you poetry lovers out there.) I decided it would be appropriate to dedicate a post to my biggest priority here in France: taking care of children. I have to admit that I really had NO idea what I was getting myself into when I signed up to be an au pair. I have babysat a handful of times, but that was a long time ago, and this is completely different. When you're a part-time babysitter, you watch kids for 2 to 4 hours tops, and then you’re on your way. But with this gig, you are living with the family. You’re there for every tantrum, screaming fest, adorable moment, fight between the parents, and even the news that your host mom is pregnant. Before I start I have to say that deep down I absolutely adore both of the little boys I take care of, and I would do anything for them. That being said, they can be pretty terrible sometimes. I think the biggest challenge at first was the language barrier. For example, I remember one of my first weeks, the youngest boy (he’s three) had just woken up from a nap and wouldn’t stop crying and screaming. I am talking face red, screaming at the top of his lungs, kicking the wall by his bed so hard that his bed moved a foot type of crying. Every time I came up to him to try to calm him down, he started hitting me. He started screaming a phrase in French that I couldn’t understand and just kept repeating it. 15 minutes later, we make it downstairs, I wrestle (literally wrestle) with him to get his clothes on, and we are standing outside and invested in a screaming match where I'm trying desperately to convince him to come with me to pick up his older brother (who gets out of school in 5 minutes). At this moment, through his screaming, I can see the sheer frustration in his little tear-filled face and that he is so badly wanting to be understood as I am also on the verge of tears myself and wondering why I just completed five years of college to be fighting with a three year old. All of the sudden, I recognize the word “verre” which means glass. I stop everything to turn to him and say (in French), “You want a glass of water?” He immediately stops crying and sheepishly nods his head wiping the tears off his little, red cheeks. My life is now filled with ironically frustrating moments similar to this.

Things have vastly improved since my first weeks, including my French. The one thing I repeatedly have to make myself do when I get really frustrated with the boys is to take a deep breath, step back, and remember that I am talking with a child. It really is hard when you are not used to being with children, because they look at life in a completely different way than adults do. Things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things can be a matter of life and death in their eyes. Another thing I had to get used to was not taking what they say personally. One minute they say they hate you and you are the worst person in the world and literally 5 minutes later, they are in love with you. I think the most important lesson that I've learned (which has made me deeply appreciate my parents) is the fact that children really have no concept of how much you do for them. When I am with the boys and responsible for their lives, I think about myself the very last. Every little thing you do is for them. Whether it be washing their piece of kiwi because you accidentally got a SPECK of chocolate powder on it (in the midst of breakfast table madness), making sure not to wash one of their hands during bath time so their star stamp doesn’t come off, or walking all the way downstairs again to get the correct stuffed animal after struggling for thirty minutes just to get them into bed. After all these things, there is never a thank you. Kids simply don’t understand all that you do for them. I think this has been really important for me to go through, because it's made me realize and appreciate the different things that different people have done for me throughout my life.

When it is all said and done, there really is no art in raising or taking care of a child. I think the only thing you really can do is give them unconditional love and make them feel safe. Even though I have only been here for four and a half months, I already love these two boys as if they were my little brothers. I can’t imagine what it will be like after one year.

À bientôt!

(At the request of my host family I decided not to include any pictures of the boys.)

Monday, December 2, 2013


The gang's ALL here.

Cutting the turkey. (My host Mom in black.)

Our spread. (French style.)

Me and Pascal. (She's one of the Moms and a total doll.)

I am standing in the kitchen struggling to mix together sugar and butter (that I forgot to soften) with a spatula, as my host Mom is scientifically measuring out the perfect amount of ingredients for her macarons. I look up in time to see her throw her head back in laughter and say, “Megan if you wash your hands, you can use your hands.” After feeling stupid for a moment I look down at the bowl and dig my hands into the mixture.

This past weekend, I made Thanksgiving dinner for my family and some of their friends (26 friends to be exact). I did a lot of prep work and prepared some easier recipes ahead of time, like good ole green been casserole, hoping it wouldn’t be too fattening and simple for my French guests. One thing I really love about France is their cuisine. It did take me some time to get adjusted to it, but now I really enjoy it. (Let me remind you that this is my experience with my family, and other people in France may be different.) In general, French people like everything to be fresh and made from scratch. They also enjoy the natural flavors of food (instead of drowning them in sauce) which really shows in their meals. One day I saw my host Mom make a chicken with potatoes and all she put on it was olive oil and salt and pepper, and it was amazing! I think this is definitely a cleanse for my taste palette that I am hoping will have a lasting impression. They do have grocery stores like we do, but they also have separate stores: one just for cheese (omg the cheese; I could do an entire post just about the cheese), one just for meat, one just for fruits and vegetables, and one for bread of course. Also, the French people rarely eat out so they go to these markets very often. The things I like about this system are for for one, that you’re eating healthier, you’re save money, you’re supporting local business, and you are able to have a personal relationship with the people that work there. (Also you can literally say “I have a cheese guy.” or “No man, MY cheese guy has the best cheese.”) It pays off to have these kind of relationships. For example, my host Mom called her butcher to ask for a turkey (getting a turkey at the end of November here is unheard of apparently because the Turkeys aren’t ready to kill yet),  and instead of telling her he didn’t have one he called to a bunch of different places and found her one. I love everything about that. 

Often times throughout this experience I feel like I care too much about what my host family and other people think of me. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I am in a completely different country and culture, which is obviously going to make me stand out among other people living in a small French town. But recently I feel like (although easier said than done) I need to dig into this experience and not be afraid to get “my hands dirty” and quit holding back so much. I leave you with a JFK quote as it was recently the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

John F. Kennedy

À Bientôt!

Friday, November 15, 2013

La Vie en Rose

Weekend trip to Paris

Valence (Where I really hang out.)

Bourg de Péage and Monster #1 (Where I live.)
My French cat friend. (Obviously.)

Well it’s been almost one year to the day since my last post. Sorry for this, but I got caught up in a whirlwind of wonderful literature in order to finish my degree. Somewhere in between Jane Austen and drunkenly gazing at a meteor shower under the Arkansas sky, I decided to move to France. Right now I find myself working as an au pair in a small town in southern France, slowly improving my French and trying to enjoy each moment before I have to start thinking about what I want to do next. After being here for two months I would love to say that the transition has been easy and perfect, but that is not the case. I take care of two boys ages 3 and 7 who don’t speak any English (also whom I respectfully call my little French monsters). Contrary to popular belief, French children are not better behaved than American children. Kids are kids; they are the same everywhere. Although the first couple of weeks were pretty tough, I am getting along much better with the children, my French has improved immensely, and I have made friends with other au pairs and some native inhabitants of France.

I think the most interesting thing about visiting or moving to a different country is the array of little cultural differences that sometimes take you by surprise. Although France is very much a westernized country, it does have its own way of doing things, and I find that I quite enjoy their way of life. The very first thing that I had to master was the “double kiss on the cheek” greeting. (Yes, that is a real things here. Handshakes are met with a confused stare and 5 seconds of awkward silence.) Also, depending on where you are located in France, there are a different number of kisses. In my region there are three, most places there are two, and in Bretagne and some others, it can be four! At first I wasn’t sure if you just greet your good friends like this, but I quickly learned that you must greet everyone in this way. There is also the problem of wearing glasses and having them hit the other person's face, or worse when both people have the end, you're just glad your glasses are still intact. On behalf of the French people, I have to say the rumor about them being rude is completely false. Everyone has been extremely nice to me - even the rudest of the rude, Parisians. From my experience, I think they get this bad rap because they are so straight-forward. I personally tend to get my feelings hurt when people are direct with me, but I am learning to get past it. French people say what they feel, even if it may come off a bit harsh, and then it's done and they move on. They will never 'beat around the bush' like we people of the states do. It’s definitely a challenge, but I also find it very refreshing.

Since my visit to Paris, I have had a famous French song stuck in my head called “La Vie en Rose” which literally translates to “the life in pink.” It is a very romantic song, and although I am not in love, yet (cross your fingers for a handsome 30-something French business man with a vacation house in Italy), I feel that I am seeing my life through a pink lens here. For the first time in a long time, I am enjoying each beautiful moment and not worrying about what is coming next. I hope this post finds you all in a good state of mind.

“Quand il me prend dans ses bras il me parle tout bas je vois le vie en rose.”

Edith Pilaf

À bientôt!