I thought it might be a good idea to board a plane and head to France the summer before Senior Year of high school. While I would like to say that I left my hair straightener in the States and spent five weeks hiking from hostel to hostel, braving run-ins with the other kind of hostiles, I must maintain some level of honesty. There were no vagrants, and my hair’s natural waves were never exposed. This is because I traveled to France on an academic program that combined classes, in-country traveling, and language immersion with host families.
The day we met our host families was kind of like the day my family went to the breeder and chose our golden retriever out of the gaggle of energetic puppies. In the French scenario, I was one of the puppies, although slightly not as cute as a newborn golden. Young, golden retrievers are like babies, but better. Because they’re so adorable and you can’t help but smile. And even if they bite you, they’re still dogs, not babies, and I don’t like babies. But you already knew that.
My host family was the last to arrive the day we waited behind the gate, hoping to score a family with a nice car, big TV, or cute son. Actually rewind. I should say that my “host mother” was the last to arrive, because she was in fact the only member of my host family who decided to come. The rest were “busy.”
Some fun facts about my host family: The mother had purple hair, which reminded me of Sylvie in her glory days, although the mother was about 40 years her senior, so it was more of a fashion “don’t”… but still comforting. The father was really intent on proving right the claim that French people don’t wear clean clothes. He really succeeded. I stayed at their house in St. Grégoire for three weeks, and in those three weeks he wore just two outfits, each for 7 days at a time. We didn’t get very close. Literally. The girl was about fifteen and enjoyed acid wash jeans, chocolate ice cream bars, and screaming. Her brother was two years younger, and enjoyed wind pants, Lacoste Fanny Packs, and sitting across from me at the dinner table, shirtless. Everything about him was ok.
Note-I omit their names not out of respect for their privacy, but rather because I forget them. I’m blaming the tranquilizers.
During our stays with the host families, we were given two free weekends. Most host families took their American students to the movies, the pool, the beach, or the mall. My host family liked to use the free weekends to load up the Twingo and travel the twisty roads to the country, eventually parking at the house of the really, really old grandmother. She didn’t like me, and they confirmed that suspicion.
On one slow Sunday, after our typical four-hour lunch of bread and edamame, my host parents hustled us into the car, promising an exciting adventure. Oh how right they were! Twenty minutes later we pulled up to a tiny house. But it wasn’t a house, because it had a parking lot, an empty one. First clue. Suddenly every member of the family was using the word “poisson.” Second clue. As I nervously pushed open the door to the building, I was overcome by one particular image: the fish. It was everywhere. A fish documentary played on a television in the corner, a large map marked out the locations of various types, a detailed chart described their mating patterns. …What? Luckily my confusion was answered quickly, as my suddenly super-excited host mother turned to me and said (in French) “We wanted to take you to this Fish Museum because you said how much you love fish!!!” Um, I did say this. The first night there, when they asked me about my eating habits. I like fish. I like TO EAT fish. But because I felt bad, and my French language skills weren’t too advanced, I smiled and sat down to watch a video on appropriate dissection methods.
I think I would have preferred the beach.