jeudi le 18th octobre, 2012
It has been two weeks since I landed on French soil for the first time in over a decade. But this time was different. I am back here with a new pair of eyes, a wiser mind and definitely more curiosity.
And this time, I am back with a real sense of purpose. You see, a little while back, I discovered a wonderful organization called Greenheart Travel. As I followed the bread crumbs left on their website, it lead me to a unique opportunity – to experience real French culture by participating in a language exchange homestay. Am I pinching myself? You bet! So after dotting all my I’s and crossing my t’s during my stopover in Canada, I boarded a jet plane to London Gatwick, en route to Lyon France where my French host family awaited me.
I made my first local friend while sitting next to a young woman by the name of Virginie on my Easyjet flight. We exchanged contacts and I am so happy to know someone already. As soon as I landed, collected my rucksack, and got that coveted stamp on my passport.
I was greeted by my host mum Sylvie and one of her two daughters, Juliette. The traditional greeting of a kiss on each cheek would soon become endless amounts of kisses everyday. My first cultural experience and I hadn’t even left the airport! Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve greeted and been greeted by the ‘Cheek Kiss’ (I had a Greek boyfriend for years) but this was happening in France! Oh my!
A short while later, we arrived at my new home for the next three months. Situated just 15km southwest of Lyon, Vourles is a quaint little village of the storybook kind. Pinching myself again? Oh yes.
Even the sky knows I’m in love with France (and a certain young man, but that’s another story). I couldn’t have been placed with a more wonderful host family. Immediately, I was made to feel at home. My bedroom was thoughtfully put together with the minute details of a culturally sophisticated Frenchwoman, merci Sylvie! I haven’t slept this peacefully in months!
After battling jet lag for the first few days, I eased into the daily life of my host family. There is mum – Sylvie, dad – Marc, and the two sweetest girls ever, 15yr old Juliette and 7yr old Alice. My two nephews back home have some competition! Luckily, they’re too young to care about this blog post. Anyway, I feel like I’ve been with this family my whole life! They are a fine example of the type of family homestay programs are made of – open minded, friendly and genuinely interested in a cultural exchange. Now, it has been years since I’ve lived in an actual family setting; you know the lunch-together-dinner-together-board games-together kind of setting. What a nice feeling. And being surrounded by the French language I’m practically learning through osmosis.
And I’m learning what it means to really eat. And when we eat, it’s not about gorging ourselves to the point of exhaustion. Instead, I am enjoying what the French like to call ‘joie de vivre’ – the joy of living; or in this case, the joy of eating. Joie de manger? D’accord! Lunch and dinners are mindfully prepared and always enjoyed together. Sylvie and Marc are naturals in the kitchen and no meal is complete without a healthy amount of chèvre and baguette.
When the children are at school, sometimes I wander into the ‘downtown’ part of the village. It really feels like I’m in a storybook. The streets are clean and the colorfully painted window shutters remind me of decades past, as if I’m on a movie set being transported back in time.
As I immerse myself in the language and culture of this land of baguettes, fromage and endless amounts of kisses, I find myself feeling a little more French each day. For example, while in Lyon today, I decided on making my own sandwich for lunch. It was such a delight to walk into a supermarché and pick out a fresh baguette and some cheese. Then, proceed down the street to buy a local tomato, walk down to the river Rhône and make myself a tasty lunch while people watching and admiring the historic Hôtel Dieu across the river.
My day ended on a lovely note as I made my way into the Lyon Métro to Sylvie’s office, I ran into Virginie going in the same direction. Cheek kisses ensued at the delight of seeing each other again, making me feel that much more French. We have tentative plans for next week! I love living this culture and can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.