In a coffee shop (Au café)

On the plane ride over, I could practically feel the minutes ticking away until my life was going to be completely different. So I knew it was coming. But when my French host mom picked me up at the airport in Marseille today, I was still sort of in shock, especially because the last few minutes of non-French Emily disappeared so quickly. I was expecting to have to go through tedious customs and then transported to Aix in a bus full of other nervous students. Instead, I walked straight out of baggage claim into the waiting area, where my host mom was waiting.

I couldn’t even get my thoughts in French quickly enough to remember how to say “nice to meet you” — for future reference, it’s enchantée, DUH — but I did get the French cheek kiss right on the first try (left cheek, right cheek). She asked me if I spoke French, to which I replied dazedly: “Oui, un peu. Mais pas maintenant.” (Yes, a little, but not now.) I think that sounds much ruder than I intended. Hopefully the French judge people on their second impressions as well as their first.

We walked outside to her little red car. (I decided she has to be a good person if she has a red car).  Anyway, on the car ride back to Aix, there were already a few evident cultural differences:

  1. As we passed under “la gare,” the train station, it looked like cars were stopped in traffic on the highway exit — but they were actually just parked on the side of the highway exit.
  2. Drivers don’t seem to use turn signals unless they’re actually turning. Otherwise, they just sort of weave between lanes. But the cars are so little that it’s almost cute when they do that. Teensy weaving car!
  3. We passed a large group of serious bikers on the side of the road, which was a little odd at first but of course makes sense. These people don’t just bike the Tour de France out of nowhere.

Although I was pretty self-conscious about my French, I asked her some small talk questions — where does she work (Air France), does she have kids (yes, two, both grown), how many years has she lived in Aix (I didn’t quite understand the answer to this). She speaks some English, so I was able to ask her about certain words…although I generally just stuck to basic vocab and grammar. Maybe in a day or two I’ll get fancy with the subjunctive or something.

When we got back to her cute little house, she gave me some espresso, bread, Nutella, and a clementine. She asked if I would like this for my breakfasts. With some cheese, she added. Fresh coffee, fresh bread, fresh fruit, fresh cheese, and a honking huge jar of Nutella? Let’s be real — this is all I have ever wanted to eat.


2 thoughts on “In a coffee shop (Au café)”

  1. Hey Emily! I was studying/interning in Paris last summer for a few months and one thing I wish someone had told me is to try your best not to get frustrated with yourself when the language trips you up. I would get down on myself all the time for not being able to come up with the perfect word, or beat myself up for the little mistakes I’d make in grammar or verb tense, but in reality French people don’t care about the mistakes you make. I didn’t believe this until I heard it from my host family, my professor, my co-workers, and my boss, but it’s true! My biggest challenge was learning to speak fluently despite my mistakes. I knew they were there, the people I spoke to knew they were there, but I never stopped to correct myself, and by the end I was making much fewer mistakes than at the beginning! So don’t worry – in a few days you’ll feel like you’re on more solid ground in terms of the language, and at that point things will just start coming naturally. Anyway, I’m so excited for you and I hope you love your time in Aix!

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