To Normandy and Back Again

I'm currently writing this update from the Starbucks terrace on my street. I know, an American at Starbucks. How typical. But seriously, this is the only place I've found with stable Wi-Fi. I'm tired of pirating my internet from "Casa Fernandez" and "BERTRAND" at the apartment.

Anyway, I returned last night from our orientation trip to Normandy. It was a nice trip, and I was glad to meet and get to know everyone in our group. The first day required us to meet at the Opera Garnier at 7 AM, and after that we were swept away to Normandy, birthplace of impressionism and very good apple juice. Our first stop was the World War II memorial and museum in Caen, and after that we were herded by bus around to an endless parade of different war memorials, cemeteries, and D-Day beaches. It was a somber day overall, mostly devoted to the American and German cemeteries, death, war and destruction. The countryside was beautiful, on a brighter note. It was a bummer to have to spend a whole day focused on negative things like casualties and battles, even though they are admittedly an important part of American history.

After our grand tour, we found our hotel in Caen, a city that was rebuilt after being destroyed during the war. Unfortunately, it still was extremely sad. I think one of my classmates described it as something out of the Eastern Bloc. She was absolutely right. Depressed neighborhoods, Concrete buildings, prostitutes everywhere. After throwing our bags in our rooms, we hit the town in search of dinner. At a small restaurant right next to our hotel were two young men who harassed every woman who walked by, shouting "Mamma Mia, do you speak English?" or "OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD". Usually French men restrain themselves to a silent check-out or a double-take, but these two were notable exceptions.

After escaping our harassers, a small group of us wandered through Caen's near-empty streets (on a Friday night) and found a tiny Iranian restaurant. I had the Moussaka (I have no idea if this is what it's actually called in Persian, but it tastes similar to the Greek dish) and some rose wine. (we don't know the people at the back table in the photo, by the way. But don't they look friendly?)

The next day was much more my speed. We got up and left Caen around 9 to visit two resort towns near the sea, Honfleur and Deauville. Honfleur is a busy little town, with hilly and narrow streets lined with old buildings, and lots of seafood restaurants boasting mussels and a great view. The Saturday morning market was in progress, so instead of getting lunch at a pricey cafe, some of us bought chicken, cheese, fruit, and bread from street vendors and had a picnic by the marina. We had a lot of time to spend in town, and were left to do our own thing, which I appreciated.

Our next stop was Deauville, site of the Deauville American Film Festival, and Coco Chanel's original boutique. No Meryl Streep sighting this year, I'm sorry to report. The town itself was quite impressive with beautiful villas, expensive shops and chocolate shops, and the largest beach I have ever seen, filled with unimpressive men in impressively small speedos.

Now I'm back in Paris, about to start the school year tomorrow morning. I can't wait to be on a schedule so my Parisian life can get going! I'm sort of worried about my French oral skills. Sometimes French people tell me that my French is good, and other times I'm stumbling over my words and feeling totally inadequate. I don't think I did very well on my French class oral placement test either... I froze up when the examiner was asking me questions. In my defense, they were pretty strange, for example: "What did you do when you were little?" and "How do you feel about Facebook?". My answers: "Uh....I went to school???" and "Uh...it's good??? " I guess I've only been speaking for about a week after a LONG period of inactivity, but still, not good. I suppose if my French class is too easy I can switch out, but I should have known to elaborate a bit...

In addition, I'm experiencing a bout of culture shock. While I was wandering around my neighborhood, looking for cafes, the post office, and the supermarket, I noticed that being in Paris doesn't feel like a vacation anymore. I realize now that I'm not going home for a very long time, and it's me up against the French world, which is making me feel sort of hesitant and scared. This is strange because in normal circumstances, not much intimidates me. I want to live like a normal French person/student, so hopefully I'll snap out of it soon!

My photo album of the trip can be found in the post below this one, so check that out!

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