Bonjour à tous!

My first week in Tours, France has been as hectic as can be. From being lost in the city more times than I would choose to admit, to moving from one welcoming host family to another, and trying to take in every possible word of French, I can honestly say that my mind and my body have never been this tired. In France, there have been numerous things that have been different for me- such as having to sit down in the shower holding the head above me, eating dinner at 8:30pm (opposed to my strict 5pm eating time at school), saying désolé (sorry) so many times when I can’t understand that I have come to be known as la désolée fille (the sorry girl) in my class, and having to constantly focus on each phrase being spoken to me and each phrase I speak back.   However, there are many things that have felt very natural to me since I have been here. I have realized that a smile, a bonjour, and an invitation to have coffee to people at the Instiut de Touraine (the school I am studying at) is a sure way to make friends; sitting at a boulangerie or a patesserie for countless hours just talking is seen as a normal leisure activity, and reading a physical newspaper in the middle of the day (instead of reading an article on a phone app while hurrying to class) is seen as not being an ancient past-time but a normality.

My first interaction with Tours was being swarmed into a car by my french host mother, a woman who, after twelve hours of traveling, I could barely understand as she spoke quickly and relentlessly in French. After being completely unsure of what was happening, I soon realized that she was telling me we were going to their country home near Chinon for the remainder of the weekend. For La Fête des Mères (Mother’s Day) we ate a hearty meal in their garden that consisted of chièvre de frommage (a goat cheese that is a speciality in the region and has been served at every meal thus far), foie gras (a French speciality served on special occasions), and a gâteaux de macaron avec la crème frais (macaroon cake with fresh cream).  After this meal, my host mother and I went and picked cherries from their cherry trees so we could also prepare un gâteaux de cerises (cherry cake).   My meals since this first evening have not been a disappointment and I quickly have realized how important meals are for understanding the family I am with. We discuss everything over meals – the parties my host mother is throwing that weekend, excursions I should take whilst here, American politics and their perceptions in France, French grievances over things such as les grèves (strikes) from the SNCF workers, and gaining a better understanding of the way French is actually spoken amongst friends- just to name a few.  Since the weekend at the country house, I been introduced to another speciality of the Touraine region called Nougat de Tours. This is a cake that looks like a small pie and, when cut into, has a layer of different fruits such as prunes and apricots. Getting to know the local foods has been particularly interesting, especially getting to talk with my host mother about how other regions as well have the particular food items that they are known for. This idea of communities being recognized by their food is a French ideal that is comforting to me and reminds me just one more way people seek to find their identity in the foods that they eat.

When I am not eating, enjoying an espresso at a local café, reading a book at La Guingette (a local bar on the river that everyone goes to) or attending class (of course!), I have enjoyed exploring the numerous things to do in the city and its beautiful surrounding area. During the short time I have been here, I have visited La Musée des Beaux Arts, the Église (church) de St. Martin, and have taken a 20km bike ride to the Chatêaux de Villandry with my Swiss friend, Lara. There, we spent the afternoon exploring the surrounding French country side, strolling through the marvelously landscaped castle grounds, and enjoying a typical French lunch of a baguette, meats, and various cheeses.

The city of Tours is beautiful, charming, and has seemed to make a personal connection with me where each morning I walk along the sun soaked, tree lined, Grand Boulevard that makes me seem moreso like I am at home than just visiting. Further, I have begun to adapt to the little English that I hear whilst strolling through the city and am starting to be able to pick up French conversations when I am walking. It is crazy how much easier it is to understand and speak a language when everyone around you speaks it.  My teachers at the Institut are some of the most exciting people I have ever met, especially my teacher Paula.  Paula encourages mistakes and allows her students to form a personal connection with her and the other kids in the class. It is because of her that I have met people from all over the world, united by a common interest in learning French.

While writing this, I am sitting at a local café on the river taking a break from reading a book that is way above my level and I am realizing that things are not as clearly or eloquently put as I wish I could describe them.  Yet, in a way, that has been the way I have spent my first week here. It has not been without error or like a scene out of a movie. In fact, there have been struggles with having to explain myself in a language that is not my native tongue and moments of frustration when I feel that I am not being understood correctly. But, to me, that is what I have found is the beauty of this experience – being okay with being uncomfortable. Instead of going to a café and asking if they speak english, I try to place all of my orders in French and, when out with my friends, we attempt to speak French with each other, even when all of us understand English. This experience has been about placing myself in a culture that is unlike my own and learning to embrace all of the hours I have spent lost in the city, the conversations I wish had gone differently, and adapting to doing things that are different than have always been done.

Bien à tous!