Study Abroad Part 2 – Lyon

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Lyon is where the real journey began. The car ride from the train station to the house with my host dad was quite the experience, especially since I am just a beginner with the French language. There were a lot of nods like I knew what he was saying, but in truth I had no idea… and then when he did attempt to explain something in English I just got even more lost. Therefore, I was a little worried as to how I was going to manage to survive these next few weeks.

So the night began, as soon as we arrived I got a tour of my families beautiful French house. French houses are a lot different than American houses because here the shower has its own room, the toilet has its own room, and the sinks have their own room. I do however love how green everything is here; it’s so very picturesque.

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With in the first few minutes of my arrival my French father offered me was a glass of wine and it was this moment I knew I was going to like it here. At this time, no one was home except for me and the dad. We sat together on the terrace, and he showed me lots of pictures from his IPhone, ones of his children, his house on the Mediterranean, his house in Portugal, and his boat etc., something my own father would have done as well.

As we talked he kept talking about ‘la vag’… ok so what is a ‘la vag’ you ask… I had no idea either and for the longest time I could not figure it out.. Finally, after lots of confusion, I put the pieces together and viola! La vag = the wave … after this an English/French dictionary became a necessity in the house.

I also learned that my French father is Portuguese, explaining why they have a house located there. The night continued on and I finally got to meet my French sister, who I had been in contact with months before my trip. Unfortunately the first week and a half I would be in Lyon she would be studying for her final exams, but she still managed to make me feel very welcomed here. Later that night I finally met my French mom, a very small lady, but someone with a very big heart, something that is very common among this family. I will never forget when she told me that “I brought the sunshine” which I found very sweet because apparently it had been raining straight for the past three months.

French dinners are quite extravagant. They usually start out with an aperitif (before dinner drink) and a snack such as nuts , olives, cherry tomatoes etc. We drink lots of wine, but occasionally we have other drinks such as pina coladas. However, on Sunday nights they drink beer (I’m not a big fan even though it taste a lot different than American beer). With the wine my French dad usually adds different flavored syrups… one of my favorites is grapefruit and rose wine. After the aperitif we usually have some type of salad. One of my favorites is a cucumber and tomato mix with some type of dressing. One time for this part of the meal we had a enormous plate of asparagus and one.. yes one.. boiled egg. Another salad we had consisted of cheese, tomatoes, red peppers, anchovies, real black olives, and onions. It was different, but nothing I have had here has been bad.. well except for one drink my French sisters friend had me try.. which tasted like straight up black licorice.  But that’s beside the point. After this we have the main meal and I have had everything from baby cow, salmon, rabbit (which I thought was just tough chicken, until after I finished eating……and knowing I just ate a rabbit was a little unappetizing), and then lamb. Then we have dessert, which is not what you would think of as a typical American dessert. It usually consisted of a big plate of fromage (cheese) and bread (which is always on the table). So far I have not been a huge fan of French cheese. Their flavors are quite strong and I feel like it is an acquired taste. Often my family eats yogurt with sugar for dessert or sometimes, my favorite, a big bowl of strawberries. One night we did have a tarte du praline for dessert, which is a specialty of Lyon. It is a very thin, kind of like graham cracker crust, with a gel like strawberry-ish topping with nuts. Sometimes we have sweet ice cream for dessert such as raspberry or lemon sorbet. Finally after dessert, we end the meal with a café.

One thing I miss about home is having big fattening desserts such as chocolate cake. They do however have pain du chocolate which aren’t bad… it’s a croissant with a little chocolate, eaten typically for breakfast.

On a side note they have bread here called Bioche, IT’S SO GOOD. It’s just a sweat piece of bread and I can’t stay out of it. When I first went for a piece of it one morning, I opened the loaf expecting to take out a slice not realizing it was a whole loaf and you had to cut your own slices. All in all, I love the food here because everything is so fresh.

However, I did witness one of the strangest things, after dinner one night my French mom made herself a bowl of bread and milk.. not cereal and milk.. but bread and milk. I told my real mom, and she responded that my grandma used to do that with popcorn instead of bread… I didn’t know that was a thing, but I do now and I have no desire to try it.

On Sunday nights we ‘picnic,’ usually with a variety of sausages, both Portuguese and French, raw jambon (ham), smoke salmon (my favorite), etc., and like I said beer and usually they drink it out of a wine glass. Different for sure…

Somehow the subject of French toast came up and my French family had no idea what French toast was because it doesn’t exist here, which is very ironic because its called French toast. Same with French fries…. They are called frites here and I don’t think are French.

One thing I found interesting about the culture here, is that at least in my family back home, we sit around and drink after the meal, but here it is something that is done before.  They also place their glasses in the freezer right before serving their drinks to chill the glass, which is something I may start doing when I return home.

As a gift to my family I brought some Kansas City BBQ sauce, peanut butter and a handmade trivet made of wine corks for my French mom that now sits as a center piece on the dinner table. Before coming here I didn’t know my French dad was a retired chef, but I made a good choice because he loved the BBQ sauce.. phew! And here in France they don’t have peanut butter and I will always remember the size of my French sister’s eyes when she saw the jar because she had some the last time she was in the states and fell in love with it.

Everything here is a lot smaller.. here is a picture of a normal sized drinking glass next to a regular sized jar of peanut butter.

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The utensils are also a lot smaller along with the fruit. An apple here is half the size of a normal sized apple in America. However, even though their coffee here is a single espresso shot, my French dad makes me an American sized black coffee for breakfast every morning, another example of why this family is a perfect match for me.

Another stereotype I found to be true here is that one morning while I was eating breakfast my French dad was outside in his morning robe trimming bushes, it was priceless and was a great start to my day.

My French dad is awesome to say the least. One evening, around 11pm, my father offered me some Cointreau, or better known as orange liqueur, and so we each had a glass before bed. He treats me just like his own daughter. I truly was blessed with such a great host family.

Another thing I always found interesting is that you have to order water at restaurants and they don’t refill your glasses for you. You also have to ask for the bill at the end of the meal because French people don’t like to rush you a long, which is a nice change from the fast paced America.

Here is a picture of a French Pizza that was really good. Most of the time when I order food here, I have no idea what the ingredients are, so I usually just randomly pick something and hope I like it. I never thought a zucchini pizza would be good, but it was!

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I have learned a lot about the language also. One of my favorite words in French is the word for bird which is ‘oiseau.’ Try pronouncing that… I guarantee you didn’t get it right unless you said wazzo.. because ‘oi’ in French makes the ‘wha’ as in ‘what’ sound.. weird, right?

One night me and my French sister, who is very fluent in English (I don’t know what I am going to do without her, because coming home from school after listing to French for four straight hours, it’s kind of nice being able to have a conversation that doesn’t kill my brain).. anyways we sat around and talked about all the little words that make up a language, but yet are so different for example: when we say ouch! .. they say aie! They also say ‘oh la la’  in response to things… and instead of say ‘oh ya’ they say ‘ahh oioas’ sounds like ‘ah way’.  They also say ‘Dac’ and ‘Up’ for things such as organizing or while completing a task. Also when someone has to go to the bathroom saying that you have to go Pee Pee is the polite way to say it. To me the less polite way sounds more formal to me than Pee Pee.

French is a very hard language to learn because it seems like most of the time they don’t pronounce half the letters in their words, so it sounds like they never finish what they are saying. A lot of their words also run together, so it’s hard to make out the different words. Another challenge is when I try to say something in French, I know what I am trying to say but my pronunciation is so off they have no idea what I am trying to get across.

French people also don’t pronounce their “H’s.” For example, Haley in French is Aley.. and for the longest time I didn’t realize my French dad was trying to get my attention.. embarrassing, right? And they thought Hughes was pronounced like Hewg. It’s also funny when they try to explain something in English, for example, try getting hole from.. ole… I thought we were talking about an owl.  The ‘Ch,’ and ‘th’ sound also don’t exist in French.

One of my favorite experiences thus far is getting to train with my host sister’s arrhythmic gymnastics team. Me, being a retired gymnast, found it really cool to see something very similar to what I grew up doing and it was from these girls that I learned that the English expression ‘it’s a piece of cake,’ in French, is ‘un doigt dans le nez,’ which translates directly as ‘a finger in the nose.’ This gave me a good laugh.

I also got to attend the end of the year show and every year they do a themed routine.. and this years theme.. drum roll please… Mama Mia – so American. We also had to eat dinner there because we thought it would get done earlier, so I just got what I thought was just a plain ham sandwich on a baguette then I realized it had some sauce on it.. well after I finished it, I was told I had a ham sandwich loaded with butter.. no wonder it was so good.. Their hot dogs are also served in baguettes… but yellow mustard is not available here.. I’m kind of lost without it because I’m not a fan of their specialty, which is Dijon Mustard.

Transportation is always an experience here. Where I live, in Ecully, which is located kind of in the country.. which in America you think the middle of nowhere but that is not the case here.. country is still very civilized, there is just more space not occupied by large buildings. To get to school, I have to take a 20 minute bus ride, sometimes more depending on traffic, and about a 10-15 minute ride on the metro. Let me tell you getting on a bus without having any understanding where you are the first couple of days was quite scary, I just crossed my fingers and hoped I got where I needed to be.. I did however almost miss my bus stop on the way home…

The very first day of class my sister walked me to the end of the drive and we we’re talking as the bus came, little did I know I had about a 100 meter dash between me and the actual stop.. and as the bus drove up she looked at me and said “you should run” .. so my first experience catching the bus in France I was ‘that girl’ running after my bus… After that I made sure I was always a few minutes early to the stop.

Well except one day when I accidently overslept… I am please to say I got ready in less than 10 minutes and still managed to get to class on time.. however, I was starved so for breakfast I had a chocolate covered waffle.. yes they serve these in the vending machines here.. however it wasn’t as good at it sounded or looked.

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Apparently the French boys, who also go to school at the same place as us, told our French professor that us American girls are cute.. I just can’t get over the fact they told our professor.

Another fun thing about looking American though is that when people come up to speak to you, most of the time they just start speaking to you in English.. it happens to us a lot. Once it happened on the elevator, but this guy was British and we hadn’t said anything, but he just knew we were American.. I’m not sure why, but I guess we just have a distinctive look…. but apparently, according to the French boys, it’s not a bad thing.

One bad thing, besides sitting in class for four hours, is that there is no air conditioning in France, and on those days it was really hot out, it is REALLY difficult to focus in class.

I still haven’t adjusted to the whole French greeting.. French kisses on the cheek thing. It is a very genuine gesture because it somehow makes a very warm welcoming, even when you barely know someone. I always found it very cool that even when there is 10 people sitting at a table and a new guest arrives, a kiss on each cheek is always given to every person upon arrival and before departure.. a simple goodbye is nonexistent here.

I was very surprised at how Westernized it feels here.. for the most part French people listen to American music in English.. but I’m pretty sure, at least for the most part, I don’t think the French understand the lyrics. They also listen to a lot of techno music without lyrics. I got a little taste of this at my first French club with Eulalie. After she finished her exams, she invited me to go out to dinner with her school friends and get drinks afterwards. It was a very neat experience. After dinner, we went to the riverside and hung out. Many French people are obsessed with Americans, which made me feel very welcomed because when we arrived they were like “we’re only speaking English tonight,” one because they wanted to practice and had a reason to speak it, and two, because they felt bad I didn’t understand anything they were saying.

Later that evening we went to the boat on the Rhône river to go dancing. French clubs are a lot different here because everyone has their own little bubble.. when you walk into an American club people are usually dancing on someone, but here that just wasn’t the case instead everyone just lets loose and has fun dancing like nobody was watching.

Now on to my travels… Along with the program I am on, I had the opportunity to spend an entire day in Perrouge, a medieval city in France. People walked around here in medieval costumes like it was normal. We were told they are only 80 inhabitants of the city right now and if flowers were placed outside the window that meant the house/apartment was occupied. Here I got to try some hard cider, which was delicious by the way, along with the famous Sugar Pie, a pizza with sugar topping… not the best in my opinion.

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I also ate lunch while watching young kids sword fight.. its crazy to think people actually grew up in places like these. Below are also some pictures of a few of the students on the trip also atop one of the medieval buildings.

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We also got to visit Vieux (Old) Lyon and here is where the Roman ruins are and the amphitheater. Lyon was the capital of France before it became Paris and here is the very original Eiffel Tower which models the now famous one located in Paris. It sets above the city by the Basilica, which overlooks the city.

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Lyon is also known for cinema because it is where the inventor of cinema lived. It was really cool visiting the very house they lived, now called Institut Lumiere. Here I also got to stand in the very spot the very first film was ever made. I learned that what we know as a 3D movie is pronounced rolief in French, I’m not exactly sure how it’s spelled probably something very different. Anyways, from now on I see rolief movies, not 3D movies.. it only seems right since it was invented in France. I also learned that when we watch films, half of what we see is pure darkness.. so a four hour Star Wars movies is probably 1 hour and 45 minutes of darkness.. because in reality we’re just watching strip of pictures with a black space in between, it makes since I just never thought of it like that

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Orignal camera used for filming – Image

This passed weekend my French family had a wedding to attend in Paris, so they asked if I could find somewhere to stay for the weekend. I had always dreamed of going to London, so my French sister tried to see if one of her friends would want to go with me, but it started to look unpromising. Not long after the disappointment, one of my sorority sisters posted on our group wall and said she would love if a Sigma Kappa could come visit her in England, and like I said before, everything happens for a reason. So I booked my flight the next day and got to see yet another incredible city. That post will be coming soon. 🙂

But in the time being I had to say my final goodbye to my French sister and got to enjoy a nice dinner last night with the family I could easily call my own.

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