Semester 1 : A lesson in Franglais etc.

by Zoe Hamilton

As my first semester draws to a close I feel a mix of emotions. I feel sad because almost all of my close American friends are leaving for the states without returning. I feel proud that I survived and learned the streets of this city a little. And I feel a combination of excitement and anxiousness about the coming semester. Though I know that staying another semester is the right thing for me personally and academically it is hard seeing many of my friends getting excited to return to Middlebury together to swap abroad stories and live together in a house (I’m being generous here, it’s really more of a trailer but it’s cuter to think of them cozy in a house so let’s keep that image). This semester was not at all easy. I had super frustrating moments and some lonely times being in a foreign country by myself for the first time. But I think above all I learned a lot about myself this semester as cheesy as it sounds. It was the closest I’ve ever been to living in the real world (not a high school where most people come from similar backgrounds to myself or a college I chose because it fit me so well in terms of values and interests). For the first time I lived in a city where seeing my friends took effort and where finding those friends was a very different experience for me because everyone around me was so radically unlike than anyone I had ever met before. So many different kinds of people love Paris that it attracts a much wider range of people than somewhere like Middlebury, Vermont would attract.

So for the last blog post I thought I would review some of my accomplishments and lessons from this semester as well as what I hope to achieve next semester and some general observations I have made about France so far. Get ready for a long post.

Accomplishments :

2 French friends:

Making French friends proved harder than I anticipated. As stupid as it sounds I thought I would mostly be hanging out with French people and didn’t really think about the temptation of the really fun American, British, Canadian and Australian people that I have met here. I came to accept the fact that most French students stayed separate from the international students and that it is important for me to be able to have friends who want to travel, go get American food and even speak English every once in a while. But I am proud to say that I made not one but two close French friends this semester. Both have been mentioned in this blog: Marie (from Reunion, introduced me to the best crepes in Paris) and Alice (celebrated a very symbolic thanksgiving with me). Both are amazing people who I feel I can actually talk to when I have a bad day and whom I look forward to hanging out with more next semester.

Knowing the names of all the cats:

The first day in the house Stéphane introduced me to all four of her cats that reside in our apartment. I think they are the cherry on top that makes how I describe our apartment perfect. Usually when people ask I say “I live with an older artist in the 14th, her husband’s studio is connected to it and her boyfriend lives with us on the weekends. OH and we have 4 cats.” Now at first I only knew “Mr. Gris” as he is the most sociable who sits in my lap the most often. He has a huge personality and is always in the kitchen where I hang out so we get on quite well. He is a popular favorite with my friends as well. I immediately forgot the names of the other three but slowly but surely have mastered them all through the course of this semester. Katsu is the moody one that lives exclusively in Stéphane’s painting studio, Sondre is the surprising sweet one and Moishia Pi-Pik is the one with the Hitler mustache who always steals my chair at the table. Done! Yes!


I am not fluent in French. Not even close. But I do believe I made progress this semester. I spoke French every single day and learned a fair bit of vocabulary. My friends basically all speak in franglais now. When it is easier to explain a concept or quote in French, we do. I think it’s kind of cool. Sometimes a different language captures what you want to say better and it is awesome to be able to switch between the two with a group that understands perfectly what you mean. So I am definitely fluent in franglais!

Other notable accomplishments:

– I can lock and unlock my front door every time!

– I submitted my first ever paper for publication! (chances are slim to none it will get published, I was just pleased to have the opportunity)

– I bought (and very much enjoyed) laudurée macarons !

– I fed myself all semester! My diet consisted pretty much exclusively of crepes, quiches, salads, soups and sandwiches… I will need to get myself a few new recipes next semester…

– I traveled to some amazing places with some amazing people and laughed until my sides hurt

– I got to know my French family over here a lot better!

Lessons Learned for Next Semester:

1. Avoid French bureaucracy wherever possible. It doesn’t make sense and it will ALWAYS take longer than it’s worth.

2. Don’t take classes from 7-9pm (I had 3 per week this semester). It is both hard to stay awake and prime dinner time.

3. Don’t take your first ever law class in another language about another system of law. What was I thinking?

4. Be more outgoing with French people, if your accent is half decent they will forgive grammar mistakes as cute. Half the time they don’t know the rule either. I have witnessed more than one grammar debate between French people based on a mistake I made.

5. It’s all about portion control. French people seem to eat whatever they want but the quantity is always small. So it is, in fact, both quality and quantity, the quantity just happens to be small.

To Do’s for Next Semester:

1. Spend more time exploring Paris. Because I knew I was here next semester I did not take advantage of all Paris has to offer this semester. I need to spend a fair amount of time exploring the Louvre next semester along with the catacombs, Musée d’Orsay and the Sunday market on Boulevard Raspail.

2. See a new continent: I’m heading to Morocco in January!

3. Focus more on my French. Though I have reached fluency in franglais I would like to be able to leave France feeling good about my French as well. I am going to read Le Monde, watch more French movies and hang out with my French friends more.

10 Observations/ Things French People Like:

1. Presentation. Even if food doesn’t taste good (which it usually does) it will ALWAYS look good. The same applies to people. Even if they are not very nice they will always look nice. I have not once this year worn sweats outside of the house. Even to run to the franprix down the block. When I see sweatpants on the street (maybe 4 or 5 times since August) I actually cringe a little.

a. Say: “Ooo c’est class”

b. Meaning: “Ooo, that’s classy” Always strive for this comment. I have only received it once speaking about how my grandmother was French.

2. Giving questionable rules that one must follow. For example, specifically in the kitchen, I have learned that you can under no circumstance use just butter in a frying pan, it must always be mixed with oil otherwise it will burn. (Pretty sure this is not true). When stressed one can never eat a cold meal. It will stress you out more. This is also true of pasta. You can never eat pasta cold because it is bad for your stomach. Pasta also needs to be cooked in excessive amounts of water and after straining some water should be left in.

3. Gasps. French people gasp dramatically when talking about something that was “[sharp breath in then slower breath out while shaking your hand as if you burned your fingers] vraiment incroyable.”

4. Not citing things in papers. It’s pretty much a free for all until it is something you are actually going to publish, in which case you may lay off Wikipedia a little bit.

5. Grèves: French people love striking. The metro or the trains are frequently striking, meaning irregular and unreliable service.

6. Acting aloof in the service industry. People must be convinced to help you in stores unless you walk in with confidence and pick up the most expensive item (in which case they are more likely to take an interest in you).

7. Never saying thank you when receiving a compliment. It means you agree. You must fervently deny whatever nicety was paid to any feature whether it be a new item of clothing or your teeth. Deny deny deny.

8. Art and philosophy. Stéphane has explained to me that when she was young in France the liberal arts were valued in France. People who studied art, history and philosophy were praised while those who studied the hard sciences were looked down upon. It explains a lot about the current state of France, she says: everything is beautiful but nothing works.

9. Fashion. Clothes are hard not to envy here. Elbow pads, artsy glasses and buckles on coats are just a few of the trends that I’ve been drooling over recently.

10. Being in a relationship. All of everyone is in a relationship here. Hell my host mom is in two and she is close to 65 years old! When I tell French people that I am not currently in a relationship I get looks of worry immediately followed by a list of potential bachelors who I might be interested in.

So that is it. I head back to Seattle on Tuesday laden with gifts from this crazy city. I look forward to almost two weeks of seeing my family and friends, turning 21 in a place where that matters and eating a dicks deluxe. Bisous et joyeux noel tout le monde!