In elementary school, when we reached the 100th day of school, we would be asked to bring in 100 of something. Back then, I opted for small, everyday objects like candy and paperclips. If I had to gather up 100 somethings now, I would share the 100 days of memories I have of my first semester abroad in France. As a high school student, it was hard for me to leave my family, the friends I’ve had for years and the school I’ve attended since I was in kindergarten, but looking back on these 100 days and countless memories confirms again and again that it was all worth it.
High up on my list of memories is most certainly the immense cultural education I have received since I landed. In fact, my friend N.B and I freaked out a little about how cultured we felt visiting the Musée de Beaux Arts after school one day this week. We enthusiastically examined ancient Egyptain artifacts, puzzled over some avant-garde modern art, admired our Art-History teacher’s piece that was displayed ever so casually right next to a Picasso, and found what claimed to be La Joconde (the Mona Lisa)… My cultural journey of the week continued when my friends and I hit up Rennes’s luxurious Gaumont movie theater to see Catching Fire (not in French but shhh), in what was my first visit to a movie theater in France without my host family. The French, or at least the Rennais, know how to do movies right: seats are large and plush (like a velveteen hug), the previews last half an hour with interspersed hard-hitting PSAs and there is a miraculous lack of popcorn on the floor.
One of the best parts of this experience has been the amazing people I have met so far! Aside from the great friends I’ve made, both French and American, there are certain encounters that have just brightened my day. For example, this week at the retirement home, I got to talk with men and women who remembered the Americans liberating them during World War 2. We shared stories of our Christmas traditions, and sang carols in English and French. It was so nice to share in their winter celebrations and we even joined them for the traditional 4 o’clock gouter (snack/tea time).
Of course, given that I swear the majority of my free time and money is spent embracing the gastronomical culture of France, food features highly in my fondest memories of my year so far. I was remarking with some friends this week about how amazing simply the baguettes are, making even a basic meal of bread and butter like a gourmet experience. That aside, I love the fact that I have 10 or so delicious, cheap cafés within walking distance of my school and my house. A pain-au-chocolat is just a hop, skip and jump away! This past weekend, a couple of friends and I also decided to check out La Fête Foraine (the Rennes winter carnival), where we spent most of our time eating candied apples, beignets, cotton candy and admiring the stacks of crêpes and the overflowing cones of churros.
The carnival is one of Rennes’s many Christmas traditions that I have happily and easily accepted as my own. Others include the marvelous citywide lights that have been waiting patiently to be lit on December 1st and have been lighting up the freezing nights since. The city’s enthusiastic spirit is imbued by its inhabitants as well. My family promptly put up their nativity scene, Christmas garlands, Advent calendar and the real Christmas tree as soon as it was delivered. Seeing the flashing red lights puts me in the Christmas spirit every time.
Speaking of Christmas spirit, for me, Christmas is all about family. Thanks to this experience I now have a second family with whom I have been making new memories daily. Just this week, we bonded over a common dislike of studying Ionesco’s plays (sorry, I’m not a huge théâtre de l’absurd fan…) and I partook in one of their winter traditions as I ate fresh/whole walnuts for the first time (suffice to say, I now know how to properly wield a handheld nutcracker, nuts everywhere beware).
As much as I enjoy and appreciate my French family, I am excited to see my family in America soon (ONE MORE WEEK *squeals and runs around like a lunatic*). ‘Til then, baguette in hand and a French play tucked under my arm, I will cherish the memories I have made over these past 100 days and look forward to the more that will come.