The first time I saw him was as I walked off of the airplane. My clothes had the overpowering smell of stale, pressurized air mixed with those peanuts you get in the little baggies. I was a sight to be seen, in my frumpy t-shirt and knee-length shorts, as my hair fell out of my ponytail. I looked like your regular American tourist, and he was anything but.
He was huge. Broad-shouldered and extremely tan, he looked like a grizzly bear with his mop of brown hair and scruffy beard. I was intimidated, but I had traveled to France in hopes of new experiences, and I wasn’t going to let my fear stop me. When he walked toward me, placed his hands on my shoulders and kissed me once on each cheek, I was shocked. That was the moment I realized I knew nothing abou the world outside of my home.
Guy, the man who opened his home to my family and I, gave me a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was the first time I had met anyone who lived in such a different way than my own. He and his family only stuck around for a couple of days before completeing the home exchange in the United States, but I learned more in those two days than I had ever learned in school.
Guy’s childhood home, where we were staying, was a traditional French farmhouse. Over one hundred years old, it was overflowing with quaint details and Fremch styling. I learned very quickly that the French lived a much slower life than Americans did. They only had one bathroom in their entire home, which usually held a family of five. In my home in the United States there are four people living there, and we have a total of five bathrooms. It was the first time in a long time that I had had to wait my turn.
They also had no cable. To your regualr, over-stimulated, commercialized teen, this was originally a problem. But I began to see things in a new light. I was willing to try new things, some good and some bad. I also discovered some ot the small joys in life that were lost in the rush of the American lifestyle. Taking three hours to eat dinner, just so you could talk with good freinds, or sitting outside to watch the horses graze, were things to be enjoyed, not rushed through. Life was slower in France. Peaceful, and enjoyable.
When we arrived at their home, Guy’s family had a little get-together for us with the neighbors. There was a lot of broken English spoken and misunderstandings, but everyone seemed to have a good time. We laughed and played, and it was an amazing experience. I have always heard the French were standoffish, but that was farthest from the truth. Guy and his family opened their home to us, and by doing so I learned more than I ever could have staying in a hotel.
I went to France to learn about the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triumph and Notre Dame. What I actually learned was of so much more value. Through my traveling experiences, I have gained an appreciation for different cultures and ways of life. The French people I met were amazing. Through this experience, which has changed my life, I have gained a second family and lifetime friends.
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