My adventures in France have ranged from hanging out with the police after a gas explosion near our Paris hotel, to downhill skiing in the Pyrenees, to completing a ropes course near Pau. This trip has been filled with “les premières fois” (first times), and makes me wonder about all the things we haven’t seen in our petit California.
The people in Orthez and Audaux (Margot, my French exchange student’s hamlet) are friendly country folk, and live lazy, like work is no serious obligation. Margot’s house, like others in Orthez, was constructed in 1745. It is surrounded by farmland, forest, fields of yellow colza flowers, and the snow capped Pyrenees. Every morning, the cows come out to graze, the roosters crow, and I look out my window like I’ve been placed inside an impressionist painting.
At Lycée Gaston Fébus, Margot’s school, everyone is warm and sociable, and greets us with bises. The high school culture is nothing like Tamalpais: no one is incessantly taking pictures of themselves; every teenager smokes or vapes during campus hours from 8h30 to 17h30; and they don’t have homework…none. I absolutely love Margot’s history class, unlike the one I take at home. Her chemistry-physics class interests me as well, especially since we’ve learned how to balance equations and how to convert moles. I concur that science is more fascinating in another language.
The cars here drive very fast, in Paris and in Orthez. But they’re tiny, and most are manual drive and run on electric power. The food, while I’ve had to put my vegetarian diet on hold, is more superb that any wanna-be American chef could dream of making. I’ve had escargot, French onion soup, pan au chocolate, Moroccan couscous, gateau Basque, and tons of espresso shots. They all (including the teenagers) drink lots of wine (which I once mistook for ice tea). I wonder: if I was French, would I become addicted?
It’s not scary to speak French, especially when it’s all you have to communicate (Margot’s parents, nor her professors speak much English). Well, except when a teacher made me get up in front of the class and read aloud a page from a French novel! That was a little intimidating. But all the French idolize Americans: their food, their music, their morbid obesity…and for once, it’s been nice to be the center of attention (at school, in Paris, really everywhere). While the people of Paris were indeed rude, and insisted on speaking English with us (in a patronizing kind of way), it was different to walk in the rain and I know that I wouldn’t be returning to Pixie Trail anytime soon.
We took a long bus ride to some caves (des grottes) in the Pyrenees. We also visited the chocolate factory of Francis Miot, and a beret museum outside of Orthez. Margot’s parents come home very late on the weekdays, maybe 21h30, so we often eat dinner by the television and watch American shows dubbed in French. It’s quite tacky, but it’s a good way to learn the language. Margot has a record player at her house, and just last night we danced to a French rock ’n’ roll group called “Le Téléphone”! This weekend, Margot and I will stay in Bordeaux and visit her brother. When we return, I will fill you in on our second excursion in Paris. We’ve seen Notre Dame and L’Arc de Triomphe, but we are yet to see La Tour Eiffel, les catacombs, the Monet Gardens, and Ladurée (the most famous macaroon company in the world!).
Au revoir mes amis!
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.