On December 29, my plane landed in Paris and I started settling in to life with my host family in Nogent-sur-Marne.
Nogent is an affluent suburb just east of Paris (it takes me 30-45 minutes to get into the city, depending on my destination). My family lives at the edge of the Bois de Vincennes on a street filled with nineteenth-century mini mansions (that the Parisians of olden times built for trysts with their extramarital lovers) and classy apartment buildings. Their three-story house is of the mini mansion variety with gated front and back gardens and a refinished basement space otherwise known as “chez Cara.”
The house may be old, but over the years it has been extensively remodeled. The interior is very modern and everything is extremely up-to-date: the kitchen, the bathrooms, the entertainment center, the washer and DRYER (this is a big deal in Europe where most everyone line dries their clothes because energy is so expensive), and the wireless network that allows you to access the extensive music library from almost any room in the house.
The family spaces are on the rez-de-chaussée; the parents’ space, a home office, and a guest room are one floor up à l’étage; and the kids’ rooms are above that on the 2e étage with a playroom attic space or mezzanine. Chez Cara connects to the living room via staircase and also has its own private entrance from the front garden. I have my own bedroom, bathroom, and living area (the last of which is still under construction and should be finished in February, which means it’ll actually probably be closer to March because this is France).
I’m joining a bustling family of six: François and Florence; their three daughters, Bénédicte (10), Marie (8), and Constance (5); and Lula, the cat. Florence’s parents, M. and Mme. R, live a quick car ride away in nearby Vincennes, and François’ mother, Mme. N, lives even closer on the other side of Nogent. (They all came over to meet me and have tea on New Year’s Day.)
My first week chez les Nogentais* was both relaxed and chaotic. Everyone was on vacation—the parents from work, the girls from school—and as such there was no real routine.
Among other things, this week was filled with:
- Jetlag. Ugh.
- Unpacking my stuff and storing it in the wall of cupboards in my room—see photo above. (Those of you who have lived with me know that I’m notorious for leaving cupboard doors open. Maybe this will finally break me of the habit? Or make it worse? Time will tell.)
- Pastries, pastries, and more pastries. Whenever he isn’t working, François goes to the boulangerie in the morning for croissants and pain.
- Battling French bureaucracy to get my Navigo pass.
- Long walks. Around Nogent, in the Bois de Vincennes, to the Château de Vincennes, and on a mission to Monoprix for toiletries.
- A very French New Year’s Eve starring a family of invités; foie gras made by one of François’ aunts; camembert au calvados, a new favorite cheese; 5.5 bottles of wine and champagne consumed by five adults over eight hours; and four girls with “bonne année 2015″ scrawled on their faces in black eyeliner howling as the clock struck 12.
- Some initial bonding with Lula. She likes to curl up on a cushion by the fire, and also comes to visit me chez Cara to smell my shoes and get some pets.
- Getting to know the girls, who seem to go from talk-your-ear-off to affectionate to cuddly to too cuddly to moody to temper-tantrum-throwing and back to cuddly all within the span of half an hour or so.
- A delicious all-you-can-eat (mostly) Chinese food buffet at Nogent’s “Asian” restaurant (Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai according to the sign out front).
- Learning French table manners: Both arms must be on the table at all times. Licking knives is strictly prohibited, even if they’re covered in Nutella, camembert au calvados, or foie gras.
- François going through the DVD collection and presenting me with a stack of must-watch movies to fill the apparent gaping hole in my French film repertoire, which currently consists of popular/commercial films like Amélie and the more artsy/intellectual films of the 1950s Nouvelle Vague.
- My first stick-shift lessons in the Mini Cooper.
- Climbing the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday after scoping out the location of one of my classes.
It was nice to have a transition week, but the constant family time and lack of routine started to wear on me before the week was up.
This week, the parents were back to work, the girls were back to school, and I started my language classes and au pair duties. Little by little, I’m settling in.
*Nogentais is to Nogent-sur-Marne as Parisian is to Paris.