April in Paris

(my view every morning on the bus...)

So, it was almost a month ago when I last updated....at one point, this blog was DAILY!

Over the last month, I started and stopped my updates, I think mostly because I just didn't know what to talk about or I thought whatever I wrote sounded dumb. That's my problem, I have what I think are interesting thoughts/ideas but as soon as I write them down on paper (or in this case, online), they seem cliche and childish. We are our worst critics, after all.

I cannot hold out any longer, however. So here you go...a summary of my month:

- I celebrated the Iranian and Baha'i new year at the Baha'i Center in Paris
- My best friend, Dana, came to visit!
- I survived two oral presentations that I had to give for two of my classes....
- My good friend Tiffany who was also studying abroad in Paris left....and I felt strange lonliness
- My mom came to visit for a week!
- My aunt, uncle, and cousins came to visit on their way home from The Gambia, West Africa!
- I met a distant cousin who lives in Paris and whom I had never met before...her name is Nahal also! And now I have a family contact here
- I had an in-class midterm essay for my political philosophy class which...was interesting...they are SO specific about the format of their essays that I choked and just wrote an American version of an essay with as many facts that I could remember and spit out
- Spring Break! (April 7-22)
- Visited friends in Brussels, Belgium---> only a 3 hour bus-ride from paris!
- Visited Toulouse (south west of France) with some friends
- Visited Montpellier (south of France) and stayed with a french friend there (we swam in the mediterranean ocean!)

(view from my apartment....amazing)

Now I have one more week of spring break but I have a TON of work to do for my classes....so I find myself in the library all of this week working....

This Sunday (the 22nd) is the PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS! It is their "first round" which narrows down the candidates from, gosh, I don't even know exactly how many....maybe around 15(?) to two people. The final vote will occur in May and will choose the President.

(I'll spare you all the translation of this.... hehe)

The weather AND the politics here are heating up.....more on that later!



Café Culture

"...in Paris, life's a café."
("Paris, Paris: Journey Into the City of Light" by David Downie)

In the two and a half months that I have been here, I have come to discover that all of Paris is set up as one big stage, where all the inhabitants (and tourists) are both the actors and the audience. Bars, restaurants, and cafes are all set up with chairs facing the large windows leading onto the street. When you walk down the street, you can feel the stares--people looking at your outfit, what you're doing, how you're doing it, etc.

Oftentimes, people silently stare and will not bother you or even show the least bit of personal recognition; however, in regards to certain things, people have absolutely no boundaries when it comes to giving advice/sharing their opinion with you. This creates an interesting cultural misunderstanding between Americans and the French because of a completely different idea of what is considered public and private life. Whereas sharing one's name with a stranger is considered private life to a Frenchman, having someone share their strong opinion about what you are doing and how you are doing it is completely normal and not seen as interfering.

In Paris, there is a "cafe culture." You enter, say bonjour (a necessary action never to be skipped), and seat yourself....preferably right in front of the large windows with a perfect view of the street traffic. Once you order a drink, you are free to sit there for as long as you desire...all day if you like! There's something about sitting and people-watching that gets ideas flowing. For this reason, I always keep a small notebook and pen in my purse to jot down random thoughts. It's no wonder why so many great thinkers/philosophers/writers came to Paris to write.

That's why lately I have been so bad at writing regularly on this blog....I'm never at home in front of my computer!



"Lost Without Translation"

That was the title of a really interesting commentary piece that I read in last Wednesday's International Herald Tribune. Here are the main points:

"Judging by bestseller lists, Americans like to read mysteries, books recommended by Oprah Winfrey and books about success and weight loss. Unfortunately, this leaves out a whole world of books: those published in other languages in other countries....Another challenge is getting foreign books noticed in a world of IM-ing, Web-surfing, television-watching Americans....All the world is a book group--or it could be if more Americans knew what people across the oceans are reading."

This really struck a cord with me because, lately, I have been spending an incredibly amount of my precious euros on exactly that: BOOKS! Bookstores, called "Libraries" here (don't be fooled by the name.....an actual library is called a "Biblioteque"), are one of my favorite places to kill time. I love perusing the titles, as each one is designed to jump out at you with their worldly, philosophical titles.

Whereas books in the U.S. are slowly being replaced with TV, television, and magazines, small "mom and pop" bookstores here are thriving! Each one has its own personality and sometimes, they specialize in a certain genre of books....some bookstores are only literature books, or only philosophy books, or only comic books!

So, before I know it, my hands are filled with books about immigration in France, the latest comic novel, and a history book (on France in the early 20th century...for my history class) and I am forced to make serious decisions. Books here are EXPENSIVE. They range usually from 10-20 euros (roughly 12-25 dollars!) And I'm a student....I'm on a budget.....

I go to the cash register and buy my history book (it's for class, afterall!) and slowly make my way out....glancing at every book before I leave. I wish I had the time to read them all! And I wish that more of these books made it to the U.S. for there certainly is an abundance of American books translated into English....




....it takes a foreigner's eyes (and view through a camera lens) to get you (re)-excited about where you're living....

I had two friends from Scotland visit me last weekend and I had such a good time. As soon as they arrived, they were making lists of all the touristy spots they wanted to go and taking pictures of everything french! At first, it threw me off guard because I was not used to being a tourist...I had finally settled into my routine and enjoyed being an inconspicuous parisienne....but then the feelings that I first had when I arrived here came back and it really made me appreciate living here in a new way.

Many, many, MANY photographs, trips to monuments, and memorable moments later, they left and I was once again alone in my apartment thinking about which cafe to go to get some work done.

Once again, it was me and this big city....and I felt a new sense of familiarity and appreciation.



Just some thoughts....

Today after class, I stumbled upon one of the many Starbucks that dot the city...on any other day, I would make a face and hurry to cross the street and nestle into a french cafe; however, on this particular day, whether it was the subconscious desire for familiarity or the comfy available chairs, I decided to try it out. I ordered my "usual" (a vanilla skim latte) and sat down by a large window by the street.

All of a sudden, I got the urge to write and I did for a good 20 minutes straight...one of the main things that struck me was that the "I can't believe that I'm here in PARIS" feeling has worn off and replaced itself with a comfortable feeling. Of course, I still am a foreigner and am learning new things every day, but that unearthly awe that I used to feel has morphed into something else. Don't get me wrong, I still stop walking all together to just gaze at the beautiful architecture and think how amazing it is to be here....I don't think that I will ever lose that feeling. At the same time, the sights and sounds have become a part of my everyday life and I now have a comfortable mastery of the city's geography.

This past weekend, the weather was in the 60's (farenheit) and there were blue skies! All the Parisians went crazy (myself included) and flocked to the parks. Everybody was in higher spirits and more obliging...it's interesting how much of an impact weather has on people. The photo above was taken on my walk down by the Louvre museum...I like it because the structure on the left (forgot the name) looks like a miniature version of the Washington Monument and the structure on the right of course is the Eiffel Tower...so this picture represents my old and new life :-) And just for your information, if you double click on the photos in this blog, they will pop up much larger.

I just wanted to say thanks for everyone who reads my blog regularly and has commented! I like hearing from you all and your thoughts, even if you don't have a blog account you can leave a comment :-)

Have a good week!



The Post About Nothing.

I want to apologize to my "regular readers" for neglecting to post in the past few days...every night that I sit down to do it, nothing in particular stands out as worthy of dedicating a post.

If you really must know, the past few days for me have been dedicated to.....SHOPPING! "Les Soldes" (the sales) in France are highly regulated. In fact, stores are only allowed to have sales TWICE A YEAR....once in winter (Jan-mid Feb.) and once in summer (early June). That's it. This is the last weekend of the sales, so stores that want to get rid of their old inventory put everything on sale for 50% or more! After many purchases and apologies to my parents, I am done with shopping for a while.


Well, I finished my first week of classes. I could write posts upon posts of stories explaining how I got lost in buildings, having the class room AND time change 30 minutes before our first class, as well as other amusing anecdotes; however, I won't bore you. Long story short, it was tiring but exciting. I am eager to get into the swing of things and establish a routine....I function best when I have a routine.

I think that's it for this time...a la prochaine! (until next time!)



La Fete de Saint Valentine

Happy Valentine's Day!

This year has been different from previous years for me (I know what you're thinking...nope, I'm STILL single) ...on the one hand, Paris is (I assert) the most romantic city in the world, but on the other hand, they don't commercialize Valentine's Day like we do in the U.S. so it doesn't feel as superficial and suffocating. For them, every day of the year is Valentine's Day!

I took the above photo today in the 17th arrondissement near one of my university campus'. The city invited couples to write notes to each other on a website and they flashed on the information/newsflash screens throughout the city, changing every minute or so. It was very cute. The above photo is just one of the gushy love notes that people left for one another. Also, the only other sign that it is Valentine's Day is flowers. Men have flocked to the local flower stands and women are seen everywhere carrying a simple rose or a bouquet. Again, very cute and understated, which I like. Tasteful.

I am in the city of love on Valentine's Day, and while everyone else is probably going to a nice romantic dinner, I went grocery shopping after a long day of classes and cooked myself a feast.....oh, and I splurged and bought myself a bar of Lindt dark chocolate.....

I send a big FRENCH kiss to all my friends and family at home! :-D



First Day of Class!

Today marked the first day of spring semester classes at the Sorbonne. The photo above is of the main historic building where upper level classes are still held; however, first and second year classes are mainly at the two Sorbonne centers located at Malesherbes in the 17th arrondissement and Porte de Clignancourt in the 18th arrondissement [there are 20 total arrondissements, "quartiers," and they span out from the center like a seashell with the higher numbers being more on the outskirts].

It was interesting to be navigating the system with the French and nobody knew that I was a foreigner until I opened my mouth to speak. I, however, had to wait for a half hour in a line with students who wanted to sign up or change courses...of course there was ONE lady doing it all and her office hours were bizarre so everyone needed to see her. One quick form filled out and I was officially enrolled....at least I think and hope I am.

I am nervous and excited to start classes...I just hope that my final grade isn't posted on a bulletin board like EVERYONE ELSE'S is with their names!!!!



Lazy Sunday and Cultural Observations

Paris essentially closes down on Sundays...and everyone flocks to the movie theaters! France is known for its film industry and there is always a huge selection of main-stream and foreign/independent movies....as well as dubbed American films. Right now, for example, Blood Diamond starring Leonardo Dicaprio is HUGE...there were lines wrapping around the block.

My friend and I, however, opted out and decided to see a French film called Odette Toulemonde [see photo above]. It was very cute and we laughed a lot....it was also very culturally revealing. Now, I realize that I am making generalizations, but it is true that watching films are very revealing about cultural norms.

In this film, as well as another that I saw not long ago, there was a married man with a child who had an affair with a younger woman. Now, we all know the stereotype of the French having many extra-marital affairs. I will not make that generalization; however, it was interesting to see that in both films it was merely a side-plot. I find that if there is adultry in American films, it tends to be a part of the MAIN PLOT and usually ends in the person cheating realizing their horrible mistake and begging for forgiveness from their spouse (and the audience who is automatically not on his/her side).

After the film, we discussed in length the different views of sexuality and relationships and how we (Americans) tend to look at adultry as black and white whereas the French tend to view it as something that happens because of a more serious problem with the relationship/marriage. If anybody has any thoughts on this, I would be curious to hear them so please feel free to comment!

In any case, it was a nice lazy Sunday filled with cultural observations.



Overview of Paris...Panoramic

Today I ventured to the top floor of Tour Montparnasse, the only skyscraper in Paris. The top floor offers a panoramic view of Paris along with an overpriced cafe and gift shop. It's definitely worth a visit! The view is absolutely breathtaking....I spent a total of 2 hours "hanging out" up there and taking pictures [see above].

Every day living here teaches me something new and I become more familiar with the way things are done...je suis finalement a l'aise (translation: I am finally comfortable). I have discovered some neat places to hang out and become a regular--which is valued here. Also, I have almost mastered the layout of the city, even though I've only been here a month! I attribute this to taking the bus, which allows me to see how things are connected, which roads lead to which areas etc. I'm a big fan of the bus system.

Well, it is VERY late (or rather early in the morning) here so I will call it a night and post again soon!

Bonne nuit a tout le monde! (goodnight to all!)



La paperasserie....red tape

...the girl used her entire body weight to try and open the massive wooden doors that mark the entrance to one of the Sorbonne's many campuses around the city. It wouldn't budge. She turned to us and shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly as she said: "heuh...peut-être qu'ils sont en grève" (translation: hmm, maybe they're on strike) and walked away.

This was my first experience with the bureaucracy of the French university system.

I wanted to share this anecdote because strikes in France are as common as rainfall in the springtime...okay, bad analogy, but you get it. My friend and I laughed after that experience partly out of frustration because we had traveled a long way on the metro and partly because, well, c'est la vie!

Today my friend and I decided that mayyyyybe we should go to the various campuses and figure out our class schedule before classes start on Monday (a little sarcasm, sorry). The way that it works here is that you have to physically go to the various departments to find the class schedule posted on an unmarked bulletin board and then go to the secretary in the office to officially sign up. There is nothing posted online and things are subject to sudden change without warning--definitely a big change from our cushy, highly organized and technologically advanced university system in the States. I am learning a lot, however, and please don't take this post to be me complaining...i'm simply sharing the gross differences.

So far I am enrolled in a class called "Philosophie Politique" (political philosophy) where I think we'll discuss totalitarianism and its many forms....I also want to take a history class called "La vie politique et societe francaise au premier XXe siecle" (political life and french society in the beginning of the 20th century)...and then a literature course.

So there's my update....this entire month I have been on vacation and now classes will begin....ca commence (it all starts...)



Cultural Ambiguity

For some reason or another, i am considered more exotic here than in the States. not a day goes by when i come across people who try to guess (unsuccessfully) my ethnicity. i love it.

...brazilian? ...spanish? ...egyptian? ...greek? ...oh i know...ITALIAN! this goes on for about 5 minutes as i grin and shake my head in response.

i embrace my cultural ambiguity--it's a conversation starter, it makes me feel mysterious, but most of all it amuses me. i love that i can pass for italian but also for algerian...i get everything except east asian or scandanavian.

in the U.S. people assume that i am indian...i suppose because of the large population and it's a very "mainstream ethnicity," if you will. Paris is such a diverse city and diversity is seen as attractive (to certain crowds of course...)

.....BUT what if i were French, born and raised? I'm sure i would feel differently about this unwanted attention and would want to be seen as French. in the U.S., even if people assume that i'm indian, i am undoubtably an American citizen above all...i like that. France has a problem with integration that runs deep in past and permeates the present social/political culture. At some point in the near future, this issue needs to be seriously analyzed and dealt with by the government...perhaps when the new French president is elected this April.

But for now, i will keep people guessing.....

Back on my feet and runn..dancing!

Last night I decided to get out of my apartment and meet a good friend for coffee in Saint Germain area before she met up with a couple of her friends to go to this cool salsa club called La Pena. I walked her to the door...walked into the entrance...heard the music downstairs...saw that the room wasn't filled with cigarette smoke...and checked my jacket!

It felt so good to be out with other people and salsa dancing is one of my favorite things to do. The dance moves themselves are so much fun to do and the feeling of dancing with a skilled partner that you are in sync with is indescribable. What I also like is that it is not sexualized, like most other dances--it is purely about having fun and doing the moves. I danced with this columbian man who is actually a salsa teacher. He did such a great job of leading me that I was doing everything flawlessly...definitely the sign of a perfect dance partner.

Me and a few of my friends agreed that we would take salsa lessons and would be masters by the time we left Paris.

Afterwards, we took the "night bus" or the "noctilien" (the bus system that runs when the metro closes from 12:30am-5:30am) to the Bastille area and went to a cafe that is open 24/7. We got chocolate crepes and hot chocolate which ended up being PURE melted chocolate....it was so rich!

I had such a great time and it felt good to be out and enjoying this city again....looks like i'm back on my feet!



a new way to enjoy life.......

......get sick for a week and then go out for the first time!

It's an amazing feeling....today, I felt a lot better, and after an entire week of being imprisoned in my studio apartment, I put on some cute clothes, did my hair and makeup (covering the massive bags under my eyes...but not getting rid of the exhausted look) and bundled up.

As soon as I stepped out my front door, I felt better...I saw LIFE! Children and parents passed me, cars whizzed by, someone called to someone else from afar.....human interaction! I went grocery shopping (much needed, as I had eaten literally everything in my apartment), went to the pharmacy and bought strong french cold medicine, went to the post office, and then went to my corner bakery (called a Boulangerie) for some fresh baguettes and treated myself to a "millefeuille," or Napoleon as we call it in the U.S.

I felt very French as I walked back to my apartment carrying two baguettes in my right arm and my groceries in my left....CLEARLY didn't look like a foreigner :-)

My little outing only lasted maybe 40 minutes, but it was a thrill and reminded me what a great city I am living in. Now if only I could completely recover and be able to fully enjoy it again!

My friend Tiffany invited me out tonight for salsa dancing at this really cute local place in St. Germain area....I had to turn her down.....the smoke in there would be enough to put me in bed again for another week....and I cannot have that.



I'm Lovin' It!

Tonight I had probably the best meal that I have had since my arrival in Paris......what delicacy, you might be wondering?? what sort of insanely expensive, beautifully put-together, hard-to-pronounce dish? I believe you all are familiar with this one...


Yup, I caved and did what I swore I wouldn't do ever since I saw the ugly yellow arches on the corner near my apartment building. HOWEVER, it truly was the best meal I have had since I've been here and this is why......

For the past week, I have been bedridden due to a nasty virus going around that attacked my throat and lungs...like the flu but not stomach, thank goodness. I lost my voice completely four days ago and have yet to get it back! So, for the past four days I have eaten nothing but "Poule au Pot" soup (chicken noodle) that a fellow program student was kind enough to go out and buy for me...I would average three or so bowls a day of the thin, but yummy soup. Then, last night, I got a massive craving for something hearty...for a hamburger. That same nice student said that she would run out to McDonald's at 10:30pm to get me what I desired the most.

As I bit into that juicy hamburger, it did more than satisfy my appetite...it was strangely comforting. The true test of globalization: anywhere in the world that you go and buy a McDonald's hamburger, it TASTES THE SAME. It was refreshing to have plain Kraft's chedder cheese on it....here, they don't know what chedder is and it is frowned upon...it's not REAL cheese. The burger was cooked to perfection and I relished every bite...not to mention every single french fry.....it was my first real, hot meal in a week and it was glorious. McDonald's and episodes of Seinfeld were the best combination.

Needless to say, I went to bed a satisfied woman last night.



Smoke-Ban Gets Some Parisians Fuming....literally.

Big news: starting today, smoking is "en principe" (in principle) banned from all public places....HOWEVER, this excludes bars, restaurants and nightclubs.....and even though you're not supposed to smoke in the metro, airport, hospital etc, people do it anyways.

So basically nothing will change until next year, when they actually start enforcing the law and when cigarette smoke will be banned from restaurants and bars and clubs also.

Smoking here has a completely different meaning than in the States. In my opinion, smoking is a dirty habit that smells and is unattractive....here, however, I think it looks "cool...." and I can't even believe I'm saying that. People have a cigarette here as if it's an accessory to their outfit. Despite the smell that permeates everything and stays for days, I find myself almost...ALMOST...wishing that I smoked. Interestingly enough, on every package of cigarettes, a HUGE label says "SMOKING KILLS" in French. Could you imagine the cigarette lobby in the U.S. allowing that bold statement? We have a rather subtle "health warning..."

My friend who is also studying abroad here told me the other day that a woman who was asked to put our her cigarette in a non-smoking restaurant went off at the waitress saying that France was becoming totalitarian and that it was her RIGHT to be able to smoke.....to which I would have replied if I were there......your RIGHT is killing me also! Second-hand smoke is WORSE than smoking a cigarette yourself.

Other news: I am sick. I was very lucky to get an appointment for tomorrow with an english-speaking doctor who has a special relationship with my program....It's strange not having mom or grandma nearby and able to bring me home-made soup...I spent today in bed watching Pride and Prejudice on my laptop and drinking an unmentionable amount of hot tea.

More updates later!


Bus 86

Every morning I look forward to my commute to class....

My bus circles around the Bastille [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bastille] and passes a park with children playing against the backdrop of the river Seine before going down to St. Germain des Pres [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boulevard_Saint-Germain], one of the most well-known areas in Paris.

Every day while driving over that bridge with the view of the Notre Dame cathedral in the distance, I am in silent awe. I of course show no outwardly reaction to this "commonplace" sight so as to keep up my parisian appearance ;-P but inside, I am bursting with excitement to be living in this city....

I am certain of one thing that will not change during my 6 months: no matter how many times I walk this city, explore its cobblestone treasures, become familiar with its customs, or see the Eiffel Tower lighting up the night sky, it will never lose its novelty.

Paris, toujours Paris....



C'est ca, la vie Parisienne....

Every day I encounter a myriad of things that strike me in some way and which I try to take a mental picture, but often forget....I wish I could share it all with you.

Today I started off my day at the local cafe two seconds from my front door...it is not marked and from the outside looks like a "members only" type place because everyone knows each other. It has a lot of personality from the furniture to the people who frequent it. I ordered tea which was brewed from real leaves stored in big bins (not a tea bag) and chatted with the server about the neighborhood and what I was doing in Paris etc. Then an older gentleman came in, shook hands with the server, and joined our conversation. His name was Pierre (hehe I know what you're thinking) and he had lived in the "quartier" (pronounced car-tee-ay) for a very long time. We talked about the differences between American and French culture and of course...politics. It was nice to meet two more people in my neighborhood and I know that I will hang out in that cafe again soon....

What I like about Parisian life is the preservation of a community/neighborhood feel that I believe dates back to the medieval times. "Mom 'n Pop" shops line the streets, each one specializing in something and has its own charm. For example, every day going to my class on the bus, I pass a shop that ONLY sells mirrors....bathroom mirror, full-length mirrors, decorative mirrors, vanity mirrors...you name it. That's all it sells. Another store nearby only sells rods for curtains etc. My neighborhood was traditionally the furniture district so there are many artisans and high-end modern boutiques. The result of this preserved aspect of the past is the importance of the customer/vendor relationship. Relationships in France are very different than the U.S. They are not superficial (as in "Hello and welcome to McDonalds, How may i help you?!!! *biiig smile* type way) but are based on consistent patronage which results in a personal relationship with the vendor. Visitors complain that there is no customer service concept in France....which is true in many ways, however, in the small shops you find in a neighborhood, it exists but in a different way. When you get to know the people you see on a daily basis, they know you and are willing to help you out, even go very out of their way to do so. Stores suddenly become very personal to the owner....demanding a refund and expecting that the "customer is always right" is an insult to their craft.

A good example that made me happy today: every day during break in class, we (students) go to this little sandwich/pastry shop nearby to eat. The first couple of times we went, the woman behind the counter (the owner) would ask us what we wanted with a straight face and that was that. Little by little, she started to recognize us and come to expect our patronage during lunchtime. Today, she smiled when we ordered and when my friend asked her where she could buy chocolate chips (because she couldn't find them in the grocery store), the woman answered and then gave her a cookie for free! At the end of the day, I was leaving class and saw the woman outside cleaning up...I said "au revoir, madame" and waved and she said smiled and did the same.

If there was a "theme" for today, I would say that it was breaking through the Parisian hard outter shells and getting to know more people in my neighborhood and figuring out the way to LIVE in Paris rather than be a tourist. The transition took me three weeks but I think I finally have it.....



I arrived! .....3 weeks ago....

First rule to being a successful blogger.....update as often as you can. I arrived in Paris almost three weeks ago and just now have I sat down to write a post. This then, I suppose, is my formal introduction and where I state my purpose for writing this blog....if not for the sake of you, my dear readers (mostly family and friends), then for myself so that I can look back and see how things evolved over time.

I came to France with three notebooks (of all sizes and types) and a formal diary as well as an intention to write a blog for family and friends. This will not do....I am just too lazy. Therefore, I have made the decision that I will use this blog so that I can write my intimate thoughts and observations down in addition to sharing them with others...thus saving myself a lot of time and energy.

Let me finish this post (I'm starting to get sleepy...) with a list. Before I left the U.S., when I would tell people where I was studying abroad, their reaction was often something to the effect of "Ohhh, Parisss...not too shabby, eh? you're really roughing it!" And I would smile and nod....HOWEVER, I have had to deal with some things that I never anticipated from a Western European country.....Here is a list of just some of the things that I have been working on getting used to:

--> Personal Space : having space is the ultimate luxury here...even as simple as seats, room on a bus, or sidewalks...I could go on

--> Smoke : I don't smoke so this has been a challenge...I hate the smell and it burns my eyes...there is no escaping it so I've had to try my best to ignore it. It gets to a point where you just want to give in and join everyone else in the national race for lung cancer...I figure I've got good chances, what with all the second-hand smoke I've had in just these three weeks! (sorry for the sarcasm...the smoke really is horrible though)

--> Parisians : I could write a book on this topic, however, there are already a lot of them out there...understanding the Parisians really is an art that is honed in time. One needs to study the language and history of France...also, one must step outside of one's upbringing to truly understand that they do things very differently here--not necessarily worse or better than how we do it--just different. If you has this attitude, it becomes a great deal easier and you don't get angry at people. Of course, there are always rude people anywhere you go. The thing that I have had to deal with, however, is not rudeness.....actually, people are quite friendly when you need help etc. Parisians are just indifferent. Something like a shrug of a shoulder, staring and looking away unapologetically, or answering curtly when you try your very best to communicate and smile is what gets to you over time. I think it is very similar to city life in New York City except that people are more indifferent than in NYC. I will write more about this later.

--> Hygiene : I never realized how sterile we are in the U.S. We take for granted the fact that we have hundreds of variations of cleaning and disinfectant products, all with heavy-duty antibacterial chemicals....here, I had to comb the stores and pharmacies for a "Purell" alternative....I use public transportation every day afterall! Also, there aren't the same health laws that we have in the states for restaurants and food stands, but what I figure doesn't kill me will make my immune system and intestines stronger! ...I've also been in bathrooms that have run out of soap and people don't wash their hands after! I try not to think about it. So yes, me and my fellow Americans agree that yes we are wasteful in the U.S. with our endless supply of Lysol antibacterial wipes but it is with our health at heart! (note: talking about dog poop on sidewalks will be discussed in length later).

--> Size Does Matter : Everything here is a lot smaller...even the plastic bags they give you at the grocery store...WHICH, by the way, you have to PAY for.... They are very environmentally/energy conscious here and I like it, it just takes adjusting because we are very wasteful in the U.S. Everything is based on comfort whereas here things are based on utility.

--> The Law Prevails (?) : The question mark is key. This is a cultural issue which I will address more in another post but one of the biggest differences I've noticed is that in the U.S. we are very law-abiding in the sense that even if there is nobody visably around, we will follow the laws. Crosswalks, for example versus jaywalking. Laws in France are only followed if there are concrete consequences, from what I've observed. It's just a different way of doing things. The french phrase "C'est pas possible" (it's not possible) is actually code for "Technically it's not possible but if you are polite to me and demand one more time, I will do it for you." Basically, there is an exception to every rule, you just have to be bold enough to make a fuss about it.

--> Walking : You have no idea. I am used to big city living and public transportation, often walking a great distance to get to a bus stop etc. In Paris, however, the U.S. idea of distance can be thrown out the window. It's great! I'm walking around literally all day and climbing up and down steps...if I am not in excellent shape by the end of this 6 months and 20 pounds lighter, I will be very surprised. So this is the secret to why French women are so thin....this and smoking. After the first week of intense all-day walking, my body started to feel the effects....the soles of my feet, even though I would wear flats and puma sneakers, would hurt badly along with my leg muscles and lower back. On the other hand, it makes me feel less guilty when I eat the delicious french food cooked with lots of cream and butter.

Well, I think I've written enough for my first post...don't you think? I've touched on many things that I will talk about more in detail later. I love my life here more and more every day...I am adjusting to the differences and learning a great deal about myself and American culture at the same time. Now THAT'S not too shabby, eh?

Bonne nuit et a bientot! (good night and until the next time!)