The French Aren’t an Alien Species, and Other Things I’ve Learned in France


I have survived my first international flight.

It was very late when I arrived in Paris, and I took a taxi to the hotel from the train station Gare de l’Est. I attempted conversation with my stalwart taxi driver, but he was focused on the road, where there are no traffic lanes and everyone’s in a hurry. The hotel was right next to the Louvre, and the front desk attendant seemed very surprised when an American walked in and started speaking in somewhat discernible French. Her eyes widened and she said, “Newl! Meestarh Newl?” (My last name is Newell.) Evidently, my dad had become concerned with my prolonged absence and radio silence, so he alerted the hotel staff that his American son might be coming in later than expected.

We had breakfast in the hotel the next morning (more croissants and cheese varieties than I knew what to do with), and I decided to walk to the Eiffel Tower before finding my way to the train station to get to Nancy. Walking through Paris was a little surreal. I originally thought of it as this sparkling, fairytale city where everyone’s in love and full of passion, but in reality, it’s just a city with a reputation. The Eiffel Tower peaks over all the centuries-old, ornate rooftops, but no one’s looking except one fascinated American. For Parisians, Paris is home. And home isn’t really that extraordinary, is it? At least until you’re no longer there and you miss all the little, un-extraordinary things about it.

When I got to the Eiffel Tower, I just sat and looked at it for a full half-hour. There must have been some type of festivity the night before, because there were dozens of workers dismantling a stage and picking up garbage. I can’t tell you how many empty bottles of champagne I saw.

Eiffel-Tower in France

Before long, I made my way back to the hotel, showered, took a taxi to Gare de L’Est, and after several failed attempts, I managed to buy a ticket to Nancy to meet my new host family for my teach in a homestay program. As the train took me further and further from civilization, I began to wonder, “what have I gotten myself into?” I figured that in a larger city, there would be distractions; conversation-starters. In a small town, I felt like my inept French skills would be front and center and things could get awkward really fast.

Meeting My French Host Family

My host mother and little brother were waiting for me, and we spent some time walking around Nancy before getting in their car and driving down to their home in Bainville aux Miroirs. The houses there are all connected, framing the road in rustic, beige rows, and I have to admit that I was a little surprised when I walked into their home and found all the modern appliances one would find in an urban, American home. We walked along a river that goes through the village, spent some time swimming, and we played ping pong when we got back to the house. Simon, my 11-year-old host brother, is lethal with a ping pong paddle.

That evening, when the rest of the family had convened, we had a BBQ, of all things. After dinner, I lay awake in bed for a while just mulling things over.

I kept thinking, “Whoa, I live in France.” And I haven’t stopped thinking that since.

5 Things I’ve Learned About France So Far:

  1. The French aren’t this alien species; they’re just people who speak another language
  2. If you make an honest attempt to speak their language, you’re very likely to get a friendly (and surprised) reaction
  3. Bedtime isn’t until the next day (and neither is dinner)
  4. People here are very active; there are a lot of runners and bikers everywhere
  5. Most people here are sustained on bread, crepes, and cigarettes


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