Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Room

So one of the great things about my living space is that I have my own washer & dryer -- and when I say washer & dryer, I mean just that, because it's one machine that does both. You would think that we would have them in the States because they save so much space, but no.

This would be great for pretty much anyone except me, because I don't like to dry 90% of my clothes, and it's been interesting figuring out the correct settings so that I get what I want. First I tried one setting (with the dryer dial turned to a picture of a hanger, which I assumed meant that it knew that I wanted to hang dry my stuff), but no such luck. Also, the stuff was in the machine for literally 2 and a half hours before it finished, and the entire time it was making a loud mashing noise (maybe they mash their clothes clean in France?). Then, the next time (still experimenting with clothes that can be dried if necessary by accident), I followed the instructions book to personalize what I wanted, but my clothes still came out dry. And now I just set it to the "30 minutes max" session (for clothes that aren't that dirty and for when you're in a hurry), but it the machine has definitely been going for more than 30 minutes, and will probably continue for quite a long time. Anne said she doesn't know either and that she can help if I want, but I think I'm just going to try every combination by process of elimination to see what my options are (also, the machine offers one setting that takes 290 minutes. Who needs their clothes to be washed and dried for that long??!).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Week Two

It's a nice feeling to be able to walk into a pharmacy in a foreign country and ask for medicine in that country's language, but it's an especially satisfying feeling to know what brand you want. I'm currently taking Dolirhume for my cold - French cold medicine works way faster than American medicine does, in my experience! I'm not going to lie, I was just waiting to have a cold again so that I could get my hands on this precious, preciousssss box. It's definitely one of the bonuses about being in France (and it's cheap too!).

Today I met up with Lewis, and we had lunch near Place de Clichy, and then we went to Berthillon on Ile Saint Louis, which is pretty much regarded as the best ice cream in Paris (there was a very long line out the door). At first the mint tasted strange, but then I realized that there were real pieces of mint floating around, and then it tasted good. I also had the "cacao extra bitter", which was pretty amazing. Sorry, no pictures, I couldn't fit my camera in my purse. I'll just have to go back!

Also, I should say that Ile St. Louis was super cute and I was very happy to be there. The first time I was in Paris (before I went to Bordeaux), I was doing one of Rick Steve's walking tours around Notre Dame, and I guess because my sense of direction is bad, I never ever found Ile St. Louis and after a lot of frustration just skipped that section in the guidebook entirely. It's weird because it's literally right next to Notre Dame, so I don't know how I missed it last time, it's kind of a mystery to me how I managed to not realize that a whole island full of buildings was right in front of me. Shrug. Well, at least I know it really exists now.

The kids have a lot of board games, including Sequence, but they didn't know how to play so I taught them last night and now it's all Juliette wants to do.

First day of French classes tomorrow!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Productive Saturday

I've been here a week! Time flies. But, on the other hand, I feel like I've been here for a long time because of how comfortable and at home I feel with the family, so it's kind of the best of both worlds.

Their old au pair, Lindsay, told me about a cafe called Sugarplum that has unlimited refills of filtered coffee, so of course I had to check it out. I'm reading Les Miz and it's really picking up (Valjean just turned himself in during what would be the "Who Am I?" section), and I've plowed through over two hundred pages in 3 days, so I welcomed a break from the house to really focus on reading more.

First of all, going anywhere in Paris is more satisfying than anywhere else I've lived because it takes more effort to get there. The Transilian & Metro are easy and convenient, but there's nothing like arriving at your destination after having been underground for so long. Sugarplum was everything I wanted it to be! It's run by two Americans and a Canadian, and the coffee was gooood and very reasonable. ALSO, they're primarily a bakery, which means that they have delicious American-style pastries (while I lovvve my tartelettes des fraimboises, anyone who really knows me knows that cake holds a special place in my heart). I expected the slices to be around 8 euros each since Sugarplum is kind of a novelty, so I was pleasantly surprises that my AMAZING slice of chocolate pumpkin cake only cost 4 euros. Plus they gave me milk for my coffee at no extra charge (unusual in France), and one of the owners was so friendly than when I asked for directions to the next place on my list, she even walked me outside so that she could specifically show me exactly where to go. I loved the atmosphere, and I'll definitely be back.

My next plan was to find H&M because 1) duh, I actually have kind of an income now, and 2) it was going to be a good 20 minutes away, which meant that I was bound to run into something interesting during my trek! It turns out that Sugarplum is very close to the Pantheon, which was a pleasant surprise (though, I should add, that I haven't been in yet and I refuse to go into anything cultural until I've figured out how to prove that I'm a student so that I can save myself the admissions fees). And I had never even seen St. Genevieve's, which is right next to the Pantheon, and had an amazing front that I couldn't photograph accurately. Apparently, St. Genevieve's (patron St. of Paris) remains from the 500s used to rest there, until the Revolution when they were destroyed, ugh. But the church was nice.

I successfully made it to Rue de Rennes, where I had passed H&M a few days ago. I knew it was on this street, but I couldn't remember where exactly, so I chose a direction and walked for evvver, only to realize that I had obviously chosen the wrong direction, but again, walking is the best way to learn what's around me, so it wasn't the end of the world. I found the store, but I didn't stay long because it was so crowded -- because most businesses aren't open on Sundays, eveeeryyyone does their shopping on Saturdays, making for stores as busy as Christmas season would be in the US. It's kind of ridiculous. I'm totally going back on Monday though, after my first day of classes  (don't worry, Mom & Dad, this trip is purely for window shopping!).

Tonight there is a full house of kids because all three of mine are here, plus some friends of the family might have having a baby tonight, so their two kids are sleeping over, plus Juliet's friend is also spending the night. It's going to be a big party. I asked the youngest one (maybe 2 or 3?) how old she was, and she told me she didn't know (and then she refused to talk to me more, but at least I tried, right?). Eric took orders for McDonald's, so now while I was suspicious before, I now have no doubt that I'm actually living on American soil.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

First Full Day

So, it finally happened: Lise told me she wanted her old au pair back. I'm not taking it personally, and she's back to wanting to play with me 24/7, but I knew it was bound to happen at some point!

Basically, she doesn't have school on Wednesdays, so yesterday was our first full day together. The morning was good (drawing, watching music videos, High School Musical 2 and 3), but as soon as she was supposed to get ready for her first swimming lesson, she told me she didn't want to go, came downstairs to my room, and wrapped herself in a blanket while curling up into a ball (literally, a ball).

I didn't do anything except insist that she should really go so that she didn't waste her parents' money, to which she grabbed the phone and walked outside to the trampoline, where she had a very long conversation with her mom (she told me afterwards her mom said she didn't have to go, but obviously the phone conversation would have been much shorter if that were true). Anne sent me a text saying not to worry about it, and that Annick, Lise's grandmother who lives nearby would be coming over to talk to Lise. Then Annick and Lise exchanged some angry words, which didn't have any effect on Lise, and then Lise and Juliet yelled at each other for a while in French, until something finally clicked and Lise willingly changed inter her swimsuit really quickly and was ready to go. Lise, Juliet, Juliet's friend and I ran/scootered over the pool really fast because the lesson was already starting.

So that was good, as if there had been no argument in the first place. Except that when we got back, Lise wanted to look at pictures of animals on my computer (something we had talked about doing earlier in the day), but Lise had already been kind of bratty about the snacks, so I told her that we couldn't use my computer because it was rude of her to act out and make her grandma come all the way over to the house for the second time that day. So then she yelled that she didn't want me and that she wanted Lindsay back and went inside. And then within 20 minutes it was totally fine, and we were playing nicely again. So yay, I guess. It was a long day though.

Today, since she does have full days of school on Thursdays, I met up with Lewis (Lise's love interest Lucas' jeune homme au pair, who's English) and we got macarons at Pierre Hermé, which is supposedly considered the best macaron place in Paris by Parisians. I got an olive oil and vanilla one, and it was excellent.

Then we went to a specialty foods store (I found my filtered coffee!) and then to a cafe he likes, where we ordered a drink (I don't remember what their name for it was), but it was served cold and it was special because they let it drip for 24 hours before they serve it. So that was interesting.

Lise's teacher is sick so apparently tomorrow she doesn't have to go (I guess they couldn't get a substitute?), so she has another day off, but her friends will be here all day so that's good.

I'm having a great time -- today was good because I got to sample some of Paris, but I've been too exhausted to really explore so far, so I'm looking forward to more days like these. HOWEVER, more than anything I wish I could be home today because my chapter of the sorority is having formal recruitment (when I was deciding whether to be an au pair or not, missing helping out with formal recruitment was one of the biggest cons on my list, I'm kind of an AEPhi nerd), and I love my sisters and recruitment so much that it's kind of killing me to be so far away from them. But they'll do fine, and I guess I'd rather be in Paris than stuck somewhere else away from them, so c'est la vie :)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Conversations with Lise

Me: I don't understand. If your friend Lucas buys you secret presents all the time and he's so nice to you, why don't you love him as much as the other boys?


Lise: Well, that's the life.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

First Parisian Adventure

Yesterday was the first day that I was actually responsible for things, and it went surprisingly well (to be fair, I didn't really have to do anything that hard).

I was supposed to make sure Lise was awake by 8:10, and at the precise time that I was about to get out of bed to go upstairs to her room, guess who creeps into my room holding Snowball? So that was taken care of. It's easy getting a seven-year-old ready for school because she doesn't take an hour like I do. We ate breakfast (cereal and juice), and she knows what she likes to wear, so that's easy. I don't even have to walk her to school because four of the five days, she walks to school with the little boy who lives across the street, so she and I just played with Snowball more until 8:50, and then she was off.

About a half hour later, I left for my first solo day in the city. It took me little longer than it should have to get to the language school (L'ecole L'Etoile in St. Germain des Pres) because I wasn't paying attention on the Metro, so I accidentally stayed on for one stop too long, which mean I had to walk a little farther, but I'm really okay with that because it's the only way to figure out what exists nearby (I'm trying to walk around as much as possible, because the Metro stops aren't that far apart anyway). I took my language placement test to determine what class I'll be in, and while there were some things that I've always managed to avoid learning, I am happy to say that this was the easiest French language placement test I've ever taken (thank you, four and half months in Bordeaux!). This was about a million times better than the placement test I took in Bordeaux, which I took one look at and knew that there was really no point in me taking it because I couldn't understand most of the questions. So the test at L'ecole L'Etoile was the start to a good day :)

I had googled places to get a "mobicarte sans engagement" (a pre-paid sim card without a plan) for my phone, but first I decided to stop by St. Sulpice. I'm so glad I's HUGE (the size of a cathedral), and really interesting on the outside. And it smelled like wax from all the candles, which is another smell that I had forgotten I associate with France and its many churches. Some churches aren't that satisfying to visit, but this one was, and it helped that it has some paintings commissioned by Delacroix as soon as you walk in.

I couldn't find the St. Sulpice Metro station (later I saw it a couple of blocks away), but I wasn't in a hurry, so I just started walking in what I hoped was the right direction, and I eventually ended up on Rue de Rennes, the street of the phone store, so that was nice! And on my way, I accidentally found H&M, so yay. I was super proud of myself for being able to ask for the specific thing I needed for my phone, and I got it (much cheaper than I thought it would be!). But what was even cooler was that while I was waiting, another girl who was American walked in and started asking people for help, and while the other French customers couldn't help her, I could, and it felt pretty awesome to be able to give advice on what she needed to do in her situation at the store of a French phone company. She and her friend are studying at the Catholic University program (or something like that), so we have plans to hang out soon.

Then I walked back to Montparnasse, which was a long walk but I like walking so it's okay. Montparnasse is easy to find because it's by a very very tall tower that you can see from very far away, which makes life easy. I was also proud of myself because I found my way back to the Transilien trains, even though there weren't any specific signs directing me to them, and I had to guess what the other signs were referring to. Also, the best thing about all of this is that I have a Navigo card, which Anne loads money on for me. (I think) it's unlimited for the amount of time she buys on it, for the metro, buses, Transilian, etc, and it's the greatest thing ever because I feel like more of a local, and because I don't have to fumble with all of my many metro tickets, which look like RER tickets, which look like Transilian tickets, and I don't have to constantly keep track of which ones are used or hold on to them on the train since you need the same tickets to exit that you used to enter. Just having my one permanent card is so great! It definitely makes everything less stressful.

I got home around one something, took a nap, and then hung out with Juliette and her friend for a little bit when they got home at 4, where we had this exchange:

Juliette: Amelia, what language did you speak in Bordeaux?

Me: French everyday, because that's what they spoke.

Juliette: Yeah, but you don't speak French.

Me: Well, I speak some French.

Juliette: Then why do you speak English with us all the time?

Me: Because I like speaking English. (Anne has asked me to not let on that I can actually speak a good amount of French so that her kids will have to use their English).

Juliette: Yeah, but we really can't help you improve your English anymore.

So that was funny. Then I walked to school to pick up Lise at 4:30, and obviously she was the absolute last kid out, just to make me worry that I was never going to find her I guess.

The rest of the night was easy. I made her practice her multiplication tables before we watched The Aristocrats (they have almost every movie about animals ever made), and then Anne made really good tomatoes stuffed with beef for dinner, and then Lise and Juliette and I (and Snowball for a little bit) watched High School Musical, and they sang along to every song.

So it was a good first day of "work"! Today I'm lounging around because I don't feel like doing anything, but I'm going to get up soon and explore Clamart, which has a cute downtown.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Quotes of the Week

Some of my favorites:

Anne: We really should we using the crosswalk right now, but you know, we are French.

Eric: I love to travel, but when I come home my favorite thing to do is to go and have a cafe and read ze paper.

Juliette, age 11: You can probably tell that we swear a lot. It's because we're French.

Lise, age 7 (completely deadpan): It's so perfect about your favorite animals, Amelia, because we have two cats, and a pig, my brother.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Salut from Clamart!

I was going to blog last night but I was way too tired from jetlag. Everything is really wonderful though, and I'm really happy to be here.

Eric met me at the airport right away and brought me to their house, where I was offered espresso and a croissant before I could even sit down (I totally chose the right family), and Eric was very proud to tell me that they drink a lot of coffee. So that was good. The kids are really really nice. Juliette is 11 and plays on  basketball team, so that's what she spends most of her time doing. Thomas is 14 and he's really nice, but I literally haven't had one full conversation with him in the 24 hours I've been here because, as Eric says, "Thomas has a computer addiction. He's a junkie and he needs help.  Lise is 7, and I've spent the majority of my non-sleeping hours with her because she really likes to hang out with me, so I don't really have a choice, but 'm glad she likes me. She's apparently ranked number 1 in their region (whatever that means in this case) in gymnastics for her age group. Anyway, the girls are really entertaining and I'm definitely happy that I ended up au pairing for a family with such great kids.

The whole family speaks fluent English, even though Anne and Eric have really heavy French accents (the kids don't, and they're better at it in reverse order from how old they are). Even though Eric speaks really really good English, he can't open his mouth without the kids rolling their eyes and correcting him, which is really entertaining. I actually forgot that I was in France for a few hours yesterday because the kids speak such perfect English, and all of their toys and books are ones that exist in America, and their room is decked out in stuff from Ikea.
(Lise and Snowball in my kitchen).

(Snowball helping me figure out a game plan for Paris). 

(Lise's favorite thing to do is wear my purse and pretend she's putting on my make up).

(Lise practicing gymnastics on the train).

(Lise, Juliette and me on our mini tour of Paris today). 

They have two cats (one of whom is named Snowball even though he's half orange), and Lise has been following me into my apartment every chance she gets with one of the cats so that we can all play together (whether the cat wants to or not). The fact that I have my own "apartment" is really great too. It's downstairs, and I have a bedroom, bathroom with a shower, and a half-kitchen (refridgerator, sink, washing machine, table!). It's like a studio apartment, and it's a little less homey than my space in Bordeaux, but I was shocked that I actually have a partial kitchen, and the space is extremely generous, so that's good. I plan on making it a littler homier when I'm less exhausted.

Today, Anne, Lise and Juliette took me on a Metro test run to my language school, which is in St. Germain des Pres. I've used the Metro before, but I will always accept geography help, so that was really nice of them. Clamart is really close to Paris. It's a 10-15 minute walk to the train (it's not the RER, it's the Transilian, which I think is another train that goes from the outskirts into the city), and only a 7-minute ride to Gare Montparnasse, which is really awesome. And the Metro stop for my school, Sevres-Babylon, is really close to that, so it's pretty perfect. And the family is providing my transportation card (Metro, Transilian, buses, etc), so how cool is that?

I'm so happy to be back here even though I haven't really done anything French except drink espresso. But when we went on a walk around their neighborhood day, I remembered something that I had totally forgotten about -- that France smells like the perfect combination of pastries and cigarettes, and since I like the smell of both of these things, it was a nice reminder that I'm living somewhere really cool.

More soon! :)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wow, This Feels Familiar

It's strange to be starting a new blog of ma vie francaise, because it's one thing to be able to live in Europe one time in your life, but it's an entirely different thing to be moving back for the second time (only about a year and a third after returning from the first trip!). I obviously feel incredibly lucky to be a very recent college graduate who is spending her first post-college year working in Paris :)

This trip will be different because it will be for longer (10 months instead of 4.5 months), and I won't be freezing/freaking out in my courses at the University of Bordeaux (thank GOD). Of course, I will re responsible for the welfare of a 7, 11 and 14-year-old, but I'm really looking forward to being an au pair. And because I've already experienced the difficulties of the French language, French weather, and French culture, I don't feel nervous at all, even though by 9:30am tomorrow I'll be separated from everything I've been used to my whole life for almost an entire year. We'll see how it goes!

Stay tuned, I'll update as soon as I arrive in Clamart :)