Orange leaves, crisp air, football and Halloween– October in Atlanta resembles a quintessential American autumn, only slightly warmer. Spending this season in France is a whole new ball game: perfectly-put together Europeans in knit sweaters, jean jackets and scarves (no matter what the temperature, there is no dressing for comfort here), sipping hot tea in an outdoor café with an astonishing lack of pumpkin in anything edible. (My host sister actually didn’t believe me when I said pumpkins flavored things were huge in the US; here it’s used in a soup, at best…)
Rennes’s fall weather, when it is not raining down like the tears of a broken-hearted lover in a Nicholas Spark’s novel, is like a dream. Unfortunately, I can no longer say that I wholeheartedly love rain, having been slowly but steadily drenched the first half of this week. This perpetual drizzle has led to my discovery that nothing cures rainy day blues better than a big bowl of hot tea, a pain au chocolat, yoga, and/or a good book.
My foray into the French fall this week was accompanied by new insights into being an American in France. For example, taking a standardized test in Europe does not make it any less tedious or long. Additionally, French students only have school for the first two weeks in October, followed by the heavenly two week Toussaint Break. As a result of this break, I had the interesting opportunity to participate in an early Rennes Halloween at the Franco-American Institute. In order to optimize the full experience, the registered attendees participated in an age-appropriate story-time, face painting, a costume contest, afternoon trick-or-treating, and orange squash carving. Interestingly, the French are such foodies that they take this holiday normally fueled by junk candy and load the snack table with delicious homemade chocolate desserts. I think that’s a tradition we should bring back home to the US…
Celebrating Halloween with 20-odd little French children and their mostly English speaking parents afforded me the opportunity to meet other displaced Americans, living here as parents, teachers, students and wanderers. It really made me think of the “culture straddling” my SYA classmates and I are currently attempting. I find myself realizing, not for the first time, that life is a balancing act. Back home, the struggle is mostly between school and extracurriculars. Here, it’s letting in just enough Americana to remain sane amidst the sea of flawless French. My daylight Halloween fête with squash jack o lanterns, gourmet treats, French children and American teens sweetly epitomizes this tricky balance.
As the seasons shift and we at SYA start to settle comfortably into our new roles (to the point that we laugh at our clueless awkwardness from the first week), I remind myself to continue striving for balance, even if that requires some baked goods in one hand to equal out the stress pressing down on the other side. After all, this is France, and if my first glimpses of fall here have taught me anything, it’s that a cozy balance is not achieved without some conscious adaptation. When in France, do as the French do– alors, tea and scarves for everyone!