Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ce que j'ai appris en France!

Please note: All amazing photos in this post belong to my friend Danica Chang, except for those in the very last section!
Lessons learned in Burgundy, France:
  • There is no such thing as a free plate of cheese or a plastic box of plain cheese sticks. Even if the waitress puts it on your table, and it seems to be simply a friendly "free" side-dish, you will still be forced to pay for it if you eat it in your touristy ignorance. ("You ate it, you pay for it," said the mean lady at the counter. "Well, you put it in front of us! What else are we supposed to do? Stare at it?!" thought I.)
  • One thing that is free is gift wrap for practically anything you buy in the souvenir store, even if you weren't asking for it.
  • If you want to speak French fluently in one year, move to France and get a French boyfriend who understands NO ENGLISH, or any other language you speak.
  • You don't need to get an official tour guide to enjoy the French countryside -- go solo and you might even bump into him and get free wine tasting on the way. No matter if it is actually crashing a bachelor party.
  • Wi-fi is such a luxury, and if a hotel has it, is a five star for you.
  • When a street you think your destination is on seems something out of a really chilling horror film, Google maps GPS probably got your hotel address wrong.
  • Trains are the best for the best conversations!
  • Don't be fooled by expensive English-speaking websites when you look for tickets to travel around France: get on the French one and buy a cheap ride first class! :)
  • No matter how good you think your French is, there will be a point where your cover will be blown, and you have to accept once and for all that you are not actually a local. You are just good at masquerading as one when it comes to museum admission or basically any other tasks.
  • Escargots do not taste like chicken, contrary to frogs. They taste like snails, like the ones you have admired crawling and alive many times in your favorite lake.
  • Having a five course, two and a half hour meal for dinner will last you until lunch the next day.
  • Tasting wines is fun, but after a while you realize that you might just be making up your impressions about each taste, just like the wine descriptions themselves (and if you are trying to give people an idea of what different wines taste like, stop describing every single one as "fruity").
  • In fact, when in doubt and you have to guess the taste of the wine, it is "fruity", no matter what it is.
  • The most expensive wines may smell like opening a box, or even taste like one!
  • If you have done a lot of really embarrassing tourist things like talking really loud (in English) on the train and getting shushed by some French lady, il n'y a pas de soucis. Do not worry. You can still redeem yourself.
  • The French people may be so slim for two reasons: (1) Their meals have more of an artistic than filling purpose, especially in the good restaurants. (2) They probably bike up hills a lot, which has proven to be the biggest workout I have so far had this summer.
  • After biking through the countryside and through four different small towns, you can be finally say, "Oh, you are going biking 11 kilometers to that place? Oh, I know 11 kilometers. That's nothing." OH WAIT. MILES. UGH, MILES. Seriously, who uses miles?! Only the US and UK (shame on them), effectively the UH, the United Hipsters of the world. Seriously, why use a unit that has no physical meaning whatsoever, and is literally the most useless in conversion? Beats me.
  • If you want to take the bikes overnight and pay for one day, you might do the right thing but try a little to hard if you bike to the rental shop through a pounding rain storm, to arrive just a minute before it opens. Success!
Biking through Burgundy vineyards? :) 

Me, content in the countryside!
Near the amazing Hospice de Beaune, an medieval hospital
Riding out of Beaune to Pommard! 
Tasting escargots for the first time
 with weird instruments!
Local cuisine: Bouef Bourguignon! Yum!
a.k.a. why the French are so thin!

Lessons learned in Paris
  • The 9:15 bus to work can get so obscenely crowded that middle-aged people start taking pictures of the crowds and posting them to Facebook. Have some shame, or something?
  • Huuuge supermarkets like Auchun are the best for your gourmet needs on the weekdays when you come home late, but it is really exploring the markets on the weekends where things get interesting.
  • People may come to Paris to shop and go to museums and restaurants, but biking through the two huge parks and having yummy picnics is really what it's all about. :)
  • To make people think you are not a tourist, just work on pronouncing that "r". A properly pronounced r in every single word can hide, for a short time, a limited vocabulary.
  • If you speak multiple languages, feel free to confuse the museum workers by asking for an audio guide in one language while speaking to a sibling the second (while making the request in the third, French). It will make them thoroughly puzzled.
  • Speaking with British accents at the Fireman's Ball makes you appear more drunk than anyone else there, even though you are pretty certain you are the most sober. (Reader, you are maybe asking "WHAT? What fireman's ball?" Let me just say one thing; one of the quirks that makes me love this country!)
  • If a very orange, usually several year old cheese is banned in the US, it is probably for good reason, like the fact it has cheese mites. Yum.
  • Cheese tasting evening parties go the best with fresh baguettes and good company!
  • Eating cakes on the edge of Ile St. Louis in the sunset has never been better.
  • There is no need to pay money to go up to tourist things like Tour Montparnasse or Arc de Triomphe to see the views. You'll get equally good views from the cheek Centre Pompidou elevator or the little-known-to-tourists cliff in Parc des Buttes-Charmont.
  • If you spend too much time in the half hour line for the public self-cleaning bathroom, you will probably be late to enter the Champs de Mars for the 14th of July fireworks, and be greeted by a bunch of police cars who have closed off the entrance.
  • In a similar manner, be careful of events like the famous Tour de France. You might get barricaded in the Tuileries Garden and the Louvre Palace with no way out, if you don't exit to one of the other sides in time!
  • If you find yourself to be the whitest person dancing salsa on the dancefloor in front of the Seine, there is not reason to worry - it can only be an excuse for your awkward dancing moves.
One of the reasons I will miss
Paris: fantastic cheese fondue! 
Funny beer-drinking Norwegian vikings
at Tour de France finish lines!
Last lesson: if you never were or planned to become a "foodie", Paris will do its best to make you into one! 

Lessons learned in Giverny, France

  • It is never too late to learn to bargan in French, especially if it's in a small market in Vernon with a seller who is eager to tell you about his kids' lives in Australia.
  • Monet was one cool guy. It is even more evident once you visit his very own garden in Givenry, and walk through the water lily garden you may think you just know from seeing it so often.
  • BIKING IN FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE. If anything is really pure bliss, this is probably it. You see castles, vineyards, cute houses, cute cows, abandoned medieval mills, sailing ports by the river... Need to say more? Thought not!
  • There is nothing wrong with eating oily cheese and a baguette in a beautiful grassy field that says "no picnics", since that is clearly just a snack! (Even if it is really just your lunch).
Enjoying Monet's lily garden :) 
Riding through medieval Vernon!
Looking down from

Lessons learned in France in general
  • You know you've been in Europe for too long when you get confused at the thought of having once used dollars to pay for something. This strange Yankee currency now puzzles you, since you cannot imagine things being not expensive.
  • You know you've been in France for too long when...
  • You realize that you will miss taking your bus and your favorite tram to work, even if it involves unpleasant mobs. You will also miss the ability to get ANYWHERE on public transport with your almighty, now extended to all zones, Navigo card.
  • You are afraid that you will start using terms like RER and metro and "valider votre titre de transport!" and and "La porte, s'il vous plait!" in the T back in Boston...wait, what the heck is the T? RATP Transport is sooo much cooler. I love the little lizards on the posters inside the buses and trams that tell you how to travel smart in public transport.
  • You are also worried you forgot how to say "Excuse me" and will be stuck with saying "pardon" for the rest of your life.
  • You are terrified that when you come back home you will be searching for Boulangers and Patisseries on every corner to buy fresh baguettes, but will see 100 McDonaldses before you spot a single baguette.
  • You will miss the easy and cheap access to 400 types of French cheeses, and worry that you will have no one to share your newfound enthusiasm about cheese with when you return. You'll want Comte, Camembert, and Essoisse -- and all you'll get is Mozarella. =(
  • You know you will miss the ability to hear the beautiful French language spoken everywhere...
  • You just don't want to go home, thinking about how much you will miss everything you've gotten so used to, and how strange your previous lifestyle will now seem to you!

Me & the bro!
Guess where this is! One of my favorite places! Why?
Because of this...
And this!
C'est tout!


  1. Ha, Alan and I went to the Parc des Buttes-Charmont. Did he recommend that or did you find it independently?

    Also... biking was a good idea in Vernon. I drove a car there back in '11. Scariest place I've ever driven. Tiny roads.

    1. Yep, Parc des B-C was an independent and quite pleasant discovery! :) I still need to go to Parc Monceau, have you been there? Apparently it's really tiny though.

      Woah, what brought you to Vernon on car? I assume visiting Giverny as well?

  2. Sasha! J'ai juste re-decouvert cet poste! C'etait toujours clair que tu t'emmeneras encore a Paris :) J'espere que nous pouvons partager du pain et fromage pour des pique-nique en Boston cet automne!