A Study in Bread: My First Weeks in Paris

A few days ago, I was eating lunch in the local boulangerie when a man came in and yelled, “Five baguettes, s’il vous plait!” Needless to say, we were all impressed. At that moment, I decided to dedicate my second blog post to my first impressions of France, using my handy-dandy baguette experience scale. One baguette: This could totally be America. Five baguettes: Vive la France! You’ll see what I mean in a second.

Arrival: The outskirts of Paris

Everything went exactly as planned. (I know, I never thought I’d get the chance to write that.) Upon arrival in Neuilly-sur-Seine, an upscale Paris suburb, my host parents welcomed me to the chambre de bonne (servants’ quarters) where I’ll be living for the next four months. It’s tiny, private, and the view… well…

View over Paris
Fly, Cecil!

I quickly discovered that the metro is incredibly easy to use, and my experience rocketing beneath Paris hasn’t been far off from that of New York or Boston. However, I’ll give the Paris metro two baguettes for the cute ads and fashionable commuters. To get anywhere in the city, you can use not only the metro, but a grid of bus lines, shuttles, and bike paths that makes Paris small and accessible. There’s a great reason to study abroad: escape the LA gridlock and really experience public transportation at its finest.

Orientation: How not to look like an American tourist

This week’s feature: Endless slideshows. Not much unlike first-year orientation at Pomona, the amount of information seemed overwhelming and the jet lag didn’t help. We quickly became acquainted with the IES Center, our grammar review course, and the opportunities available to us as international students. I sensed a theme: Parisians don’t particularly like American tourists, so it’s in our best interest to blend in and go with the flow. Despite feeling exhausted, one thing did help get me through orientation: Fatima, the woman who runs our local boulangerie in the 14th arrondissement (southern Paris). The moment I walked in the door, my college student mindset kicked into full swing: An entire baguette for €1.10? Yes, please! I ended up ordering the classic French sandwich (baguette, ham, butter, cheese) and it’s safe to say I’ve found my go-to bakery for the next four months. This definitely gets three baguettes, a solid rating.

I’ve also had the chance this week to dine several times with my host family. My first night, I came down from my apartment at around 5:30 p.m. to make sure I was there when dinner was ready. I was early… by about three hours. Then again, the wait was definitely worth it. Dinner is three courses: A main dish, followed by a cheese course, with fruit and dessert to finish. Four baguettes. I could get used to this.

English Bookstores and Free Museums

If one of your goals for study abroad is to experience museums and historic sites, I can’t recommend Paris highly enough. Every street and square has a depth of history that is difficult to fathom. This weekend, as I was walking through Paris’s 6th arrondissement, I stumbled upon a covered passage and a restaurant that has been operational since 1686 (Le Procope). Shakespeare and Co., an English bookstore on the Seine that has been welcoming writers and bibliophiles since the 1920s, has an upstairs reading room with a view of Notre Dame. Rating: One baguette (it’s English after all, but still a must-see).

300-year-old covered passage feat. Andrea!
300-year-old passages feat. Andrea!

Another great thing about studying abroad in a big city: student discounts! The first Sunday of every month is free for museums throughout Paris, and you can easily save 1-3 euros on normal days just by being under 25. For our first Sunday, we explored the Rodin Museum in the morning (for free, of course). Then I had the chance to fall in love with my local market, complete with bread stands, charcuterie cases, and cheese displays. Four baguettes!

Goodbye hard-earned summer savings...
O.M.D. (Oh Mon Dieu)!

Normandy: Getting people drunk on apples for over 500 years

The Paris IES Program finished our orientation program with an overnight trip to Normandy in northwest France. A region known for many things, including cider, crepes, and the D-Day landing, Normandy is truly an incredible place. We visited the World War II memorial in Caen, saw the full length Bayeux tapestry in Bayeux, and visited the American cemetery near Omaha beach. The visits get two baguettes (at least the brochures were in French).

Now for the best part: Cider tasting. Normandy farmers are renowned for working magic with apples to produce the world’s finest ciders. We sampled all different strengths and blends, including a light cider that smelled like farm animals and a digestif that can really knock your socks off. (I think I’ll stick with apple juice.) Five baguettes: I can still taste the farm.

Point du Hoc, Normandy
Point du Hoc, Normandy

Classes start soon, so until my next post, à bientôt!