Paris is always a good idea

Paris is always a good idea.” – Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina (1954)

Before coming to France, I wondered if Paris is actually as incredible as Americans claim it is or if we’re just romanticizing it. Now, after spending a weekend and another week there, I understand the hype: Paris is absolutely beautiful, and there’s always something to do.

I’m a big list-maker, so I looked at these two trips as opportunities to check monuments off of “must-see” lists. Among the list items were typical tourist attractions (the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower at night, Versailles, Notre Dame) and slightly less well-known or less popular tourist attractions (the Catacombs, the towers of Notre Dame, Pont Neuf). I took a 9-hour tour of Versailles and the other two houses on its grounds, the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, as well as the miniature village built for Marie Antoinette (the Queen’s Hamlet). I wandered around the inside of Notre Dame and went up in its towers, which is a great way to get gorgeous views of the city (and the Eiffel Tower). I went underground to see the stacks of bones that are the Catacombs. I watched a friend add a lock to Pont Neuf, AKA the bridge with the love locks.

In the process of checking these things off my list, though, I found that getting lost and discovering something new can be incredible. What I found while exploring – or while lost – included Point Zéro, Shakespeare and Company, and various food stands and cafés serving delicious food. Point Zéro is a spot outside of Notre Dame that is the official (though certainly not geographical) center of Paris. Legend says that if you step on it, you’re bound to return to Paris. (Naturally, I made sure to step on it.) At Shakespeare and Company, I was in book-lover paradise…until I remembered that airlines have weight limits and buying every book I wanted wasn’t a good plan. Additionally, I found souvenir shops and great little cafés that were surprisingly inexpensive.

I discovered that waiting in lines can be totally worth it and that cemeteries on sunny days are basically parks with weird statues.

As much as I’ve enjoyed my visits to Paris, I think the desire to be there might be out of my system for now. I’m ready to explore some new places and find out what other cities might always be good ideas.

Until next time,


Settling In & Château #1

What a busy week and a half it’s been! I’ve lost a suitcase, gotten a French cell phone, learned to navigate the tram system in a new city, found a few favorite cafés… All summed up, it might not sound like much, but to me, it feels as though I’ve been here for a month. I still can’t quite believe that I moved in with my host family just over a week ago. Then again, I didn’t quite believe I had arrived in France until I saw Maria at the bus station, so maybe I’m not the best judge of time.

This past week and a half really have been packed full of activities, though. We arrived on January 3, and the next day, we went up to the Bastille in the little red gondolas. They day after that, I got my cell phone, and our program director (not Maria from SU, but Marie from API) took us on a tour of Grenoble and pointed out lots of good places to eat – though I’m not convinced there are bad places to eat here – and we went home with our host families that night. Since then, we’ve had class every weekday, and most of us usually spend our lunch break downtown, shopping or going to cafés, and after our afternoon class, we tend to do the same. I’ve already been to the mall twice (they have an H&M), Monoprix multiple times (it’s like a French Target), and a few good cafés multiple times as well. I’m only just starting to limit my budget: this isn’t a vacation!


One thing that does make it feel like a vacation is how absolutely beautiful it is here, both in Grenoble as well as in France in general. Last weekend, Maria took us to the Château Vizille, and it was breathtaking (though that tends to be my reaction to all châteaux). It was a beautiful day, and the light was gorgeous. We took a walk around the grounds, and I couldn’t stop taking pictures. We saw swans, heard ponies, and scouted out some spots for future picnics. We also went inside because the château houses the Musée de la Révolution Française, which had a lot of gorgeous art in it. It was incredible to be walking around in a building so full of history. I definitely think I’ll be returning there, because it’s so beautiful, and it’s also relatively close to Grenoble. (It was only about 30 minutes away by bus.)

À bientôt!


A Brief Bonjour & Woes of an Overpacker

Bonjour! My name is Maura, and I am a junior majoring in French and Interdisciplinary Arts. I will be spending the next 5 months in Grenoble, France, and two weeks in Morocco as part of the French in France program, which is an SU-sponsored program for French majors/minors.
I’ve been studying French for as long as I can remember, so to be able to study it in France is a dream come true. Even so, I am super nervous about it. All of my classes will be in French, I’ll have to speak French with my host family…talk about immersion. It’s a little intimidating, but I know it will be worth it.
As I haven’t actually left yet, I can’t speak to what Grenoble is like or about traveling or anything, but I have a lot to say about the preparation process, especially in regards to packing.
Packing is incredibly stressful. I have to fit everything I need for six months into 2 suitcases (it’s possible to bring more, but it’s really expensive), a carry-on, and a personal item. To give some perspective on how hard that is for me: I filled the bed of a truck with everything I “needed” for fall quarter. Three months, one truck vs. six months, a few bags. Needless to say, it has been quite a challenge. I got a lot of advice about how much I should bring – “pack the bare minimum you think you can live with and cut it in half”, “pack light and buy stuff there”, etc. My problem with this advice is that if I think I packed the bare minimum, how am I supposed to cut that in half? And why would I buy stuff there when I already have it here? I probably still packed too much, but I did try to follow this advice, so I packed a lot less than I started with. Also, I packed a smaller suitcase inside of one of my checked bags, so I’ll have more space on the way home. We’ll see if that pays off.
Until next time, au revoir!


France is as American as the Kennedy’s! (Apparently)

Can you name the First Lady of the United States who both was renowned for her fashion sense and studied at the University of Grenoble? Read on to find out.

The Musee de Grenoble recently celebrated its 20th birthday, and my host mom and I went to celebrate. As we were meandering through the modern art collection, swerving the masses of elated cultured French people, we happened on the Andy Warhol portrait of Jackie O. My host mom stopped in front of it and asked me if I knew who it was. Being American and having been a fashion obsessed 16-year-old girl once upon a time, I said yes. “She lived on our street!” she told me. I have to admit… I was starstruck.

Andy Warhol’s portrait of Jackie O housed at the Musee de Grenoble

So, I did a little research.

Turns out, not only did Jackie O live on my street (near the Musee de la Resistance et de la deportation – the French Resistance museum, a block from my apartment building), she also took a 6-week intensive French language program at the University of Grenoble. The similarities were incredible. I too was doing an intensive French-language program at the University of Genoble!

More than just being outright cool though, the story was comforting. I have to admit I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic, and without my even knowing, a little part of the United States history was situated comfortably on my street. C’est vachement cool!


A brief lesson in French history


This the Château de Bouquéron. I can see it from my front door and cannot help but stare at it every time I walk to my bus stop, morning and evening. I find it fascinating and I am compelled to get as close to it as I can. I’m not superstitious, but I am certain that this place has a certain character of its own, and it has certainly seen a lot in its time. Legend has it that it was built in the 770s, commissioned by Charlemagne’s nephew Roland, but the first mention of it did not appear until 1100. A house as old as this is bound to house some grand stories within its walls, and another local legend claims that in the late 13th century it was bore witness to a murder most foul, involving two men and their struggle to obtain the rights to the property. The daughter of the proprietor, Elmengarde, was forced by her father to marry the tyrannical Bertrand de Theys, also known as the black night while her brother was away fighting in the crusades. When he came back and demanded that Bouquéron be handed over to him, Bertrand brutally murdered him by stabbing him in the back with a dagger, thus becoming the new owner of the place. Supposedly Elmengarde’s brother brought back with him a treasure of the knight’s templar, but even when confronted with death she refused to tell her husband where it was hidden.

The manor also served as a hiding place for the Dauphin Louis II (who eventually became King Louis XI) when his father, Charles VII, sent a troop of men to try and kill him in 1456. At that time the proprietor was an textile merchant named Claude Coct. Louis appeared at his door in the middle of the night seeking refuge, and seeing as he was the son of the king Claude could not exactly refuse him. So he let him in and when the archers eventually came to the door, Monsieur Coct managed to save the Dauphin’s life by exclaiming that the room in which he was hiding was “la chambre du diable (the devil’s room).” Being the God-fearing Catholics that they were, these men quickly hurried away and Claude thus saved the future king of France’s life. Of course, he was rewarded amply once Louis ascended to the throne. He was allowed to make use of the nearby forges at the foot of the Belledonne mountains for the next 15 years, which he gladly accepted and used to restore the château.

The next big chapter for the Bouquéron was during the Belle Époque when it was converted into a bathhouse by the mayor, who happened to be a doctor and believe in the healing powers of the Isère region’s heavily mineralized water. However, the project fell through once he died and the house closed its doors to the public in 1905. In 1908 was purchased by a Parisian named Giraud and since then I imagine it has remained within his family. The building is not what you would call “homey”, and to my knowledge there is no longer anyone living within its walls. Just secrets, memories, and maybe the holy grail.


Listening More, Talking a Little Less

Grenoble is undoubtedly the most beautiful place I have ever lived at this point. It’s surrounded on three sides by some of France’s most well-known and most-skied mountains: the Belledonne’s to the east (bordering Italy), the Vercours to the West, and Chartreuse (like the monks and the liquor) to the north. It’s actually fairly impossible to get lost in Grenoble, even though I’ve done it now 4 times, because the mountains are all very distinct, and anywhere you are you can still see them. But they’re also a constant reminder of something much more literally foreign: my global placement.

(Grenoble from the Bastille)

I’ve been becoming increasingly aware of my place in the world, and when your window looks out onto the most French-looking street this side of the Champs-Elysees, it’s rather inevitable. But aesthetics aside, the other non-ignorable constant is the culture shock I’ve been going through for the last two weeks since I was woken up from a nap on an airplane and realized I’d landed in this country.  Since then I’ve been hit over and over again with strange differences that I thought I’d be perfectly able to adapt to: no one smiling on the tram, kissing everyone’s cheeks, a constant stream of “bonjour,” “merci,” “bon journee,” and “au revoir” so the French don’t still not smile at you. And luckily, through all of that, I manage to clam up and squeak out a few “mercis’”.


(The view from my French room)

It sounds a little stressful, but it’s not! It’s the most wonderful, cultural experience I’ve ever had. I’d been trying to put my finger on the exact language barrier when, in VERY RAPID French, my new grammar teacher put it perfectly. English allows you to say a lot of things in very few words, and even basic French requires a high level of sentence intricacy, the kind that I’m learning it takes years to master. But then I focused in on the coolest part of her having said that: I understood it all perfectly. Every single word. And maybe I couldn’t quite form the same sentiment in a perfectly grammatically correct way, but I understood it. Which honestly made me less embarrassed that I couldn’t quite say it yet. So I decided: I’ve only been here for two weeks, and I figure if I listen more and talk a little less, I could probably learn a thing or two. Au revoir! 


Je m’habitue

Today marks the end of my first week in France. I have partaken in much awkward French small talk with my host family and spent around 35 hours studying the nuances of French grammar and I am greatly appreciating that I have a weekend off to rest. My host parents, Dominique and Oliver, have a fairly busy social schedule so they are gone not only this weekend but also the next several. They are very kind and accommodating but I am nevertheless enjoying having some time to myself and my little kitty companion Schoumi.

My placement test is in a couple days and I’m trying not to sweat it but I will be very disappointed if I don’t make it into the high B2 level. I feel like I have learned just about as much as I can in terms of French grammar after studying the language for so long (7 years now!) and I’m anxious to improve my ability to articulate myself and understand the French language on a deeper level—I want to read more contemporary French literature and philosophy rather than grammar exercises about what Marc and Pierre did and did not buy at the store. (I don’t care about your groceries, Marc and Pierre.)

I’m a decent speaker at this point but it’s a very frustrating feeling to not be able to describe something or engage in conversation with someone the way that I can in English without thinking twice about how I construct my sentences and place my pronouns. But again, it’s only been a week and considering that I am doing pretty well for myself. It will get easier. I will (hopefully) stop getting butterflies before ordering a drink at a restaurant for fear of making a mistake.

I’ve come to accept that I’m always going to look somewhat foreign here and that people are going to look at me strangely as I struggle through my everyday tasks of taking the bus, walking to class, etc., but I know that things will get easier and will pretty soon become second nature to me. I also have come to the realization that even if I do get judgy stares from old ladies on the bus and even if my dancing at the discothèque is a bit too crazy for some it’s okay—of course I want to adjust to life here as much as I can but there’s no reason that I should feel self conscious about not yet having reached that point. I want to be sensitive to the cultural differences but even though I would love to have been born in France, sadly I was not and I am an American. If anything, I would like my actions to challenge the general stereotype of Americans and help people realize that yes, despite what reality television and rampant consumerism suggest, my country does have its own unique culture (actually quite a few that are very diverse) and not everyone who comes from it can be reduced into one hyperbolic stereotype, just like not all French people are baguette-wielding beret wearing snobs. So ends my rant (don’t worry, there will be plenty more to come). But until then, à bientôt!