Having studied French since middle school for eight years, I had many expectations, most of them pretty stereotypical, about the beret-wearing, cheese-eating nation of France.
I was drawn to the French language ever since I learned the names for colors in my first seventh grade French lesson. The sound of each syllable was fresh, exciting, and like a new genre of music to my ears. As I took more and more French classes, the complexity never ceased to amaze me; learning French grammar was a giant puzzle piece waiting to be solved, always easiest when you start with the simple, corner pieces and the border before moving on to the harder parts, like the subjunctive verb form.
Not only did the language amaze me, but the chic French style I eyed in the supermarket checkout line only perpetuated my obsession with the oh-so sophisticated nation—plus, I’ve always been a sucker for a fresh croissant.
This summer, I had the opportunity to put to rest all of my preconceived, stereotypical notions about France and experience living there firsthand. I lived in the historic southern town Avignon, where I stayed with a family and took French history and theatre classes during the day. For two months, I lived, what I like to think was a very French life—fresh baguette with raspberry jam every morning and long-winded dinners with my host family every evening, complete with plenty of French wine and cheese.
Each morning I left our simple, provincial style home, which was decorated with warm red and yellow colors, and cozy quilts and tablecloths. I trekked up a hill, made and left, and crossed the severe bridge of the Pont Neuf. As I walked on this bridge each day at dawn, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of gratitude and awe towards the magnificent, postcard worthy view that greeted me. To my left stood the ancient medieval bridge, the Pont d’Avignon, majestic and proud, even at 7:30 in the morning. Beneath me flowed the calm waters of the Rhône. In front of me—the stone ramparts surrounding the perimeter of Avignon.
This idyllic view of France was never ceased to amaze me. Sometimes, especially if I had missed my cup of morning café, I would blink twice or pinch my arm to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Although it seems like a fairly simple, repetitive action, my 10 minute walk into town is one of the things I miss the most about France. Sharing a quick “Bonjour” with the owner of the fruit stand, noticing the new window displays in the boutiques, and hearing the early morning stir of Avignon are all little moments that I miss terribly since I have been back in Ohio.
Here, my morning routine is quite different. I am lucky if I have the time to grab a granola bar on my way out of my dorm room, let alone sit and enjoy a fresh baguette.
My walk to class is not as picturesque. There are no bodies of water nearby, and certainly no ancient walled cities. I don’t get to listen to the musical hum of the French language 24 hours a day.
Instead, I daydream on my walk to class, pretending as if I am back in Avignon taking my first steps onto the Pont Neuf. The image is so vivid; it stays in my head until I step into my French literature class, where I am able to read, hear, and appreciate the language and culture again.
For my first time in Europe, I was not disappointed. France was everything my idealistic self had dreamed of, and more. I know I will back–if not next summer, then in one hour, as I walk back to my dorm after class.
Can’t wait to eat bread and cheese in France again. Of course I gained 8 lbs in 10 days, but it was worth it for every delicious bite!
Great article! Actually, she gained 10 lbs. in 8 days. I was there….