Well, we made it. That’s a bit of an accomplishment in itself I’d say. The kids are off at cool, the grownups are off to work, and, somehow, I’m supposed to be included in that ‘work’ status as well. That is to say that the work has finally begun. I guess there’s some first post explanation that needs to happen …
First, Rachel (my beautiful girlfriend) and I are unofficially in Dieppe, France as au-pairs. What is an au-pair? Some people consider it a live-in nanny from another country, others a live-in language tutor. But really what it is is a live-in big brother or sister. Our base obligation is to be liked by the kids, and in doing so they are therefore exposed to a different culture as well as the
language experience. Some families ask that you strictly only speak your native language with them, but ours’ only asks that they have a good time. As I said earlier, we are unofficial, and that is just because you have to stay at least 90 days to get the official au-pair visa. While we are doing that, we are just barely doing so. With being official comes new obligations to our family here, they’re then forced to register us with the local authorities, get us onto the French national health insurance, as well as a good bit of other things. So we’re flying under the radar on that one…
So the first day (albeit a bit extended)! Rachel and I got to the airport at 9:30am, said our goodbyes, and the adventure began. Our flight took off as expected at 11:30 and we were on our way Toronto. As you all probably know, French is spoken in many parts of Canada. However this French is most certainly different from what we’ve always learned French sounds like. Having no experience with Canadian French, we thought we’d be able to understand it despite the ‘small’ differences (how many centuries has it been since we were colonized now???). Despite being able to catch words and phrases, it was all pretty much lost to us. So instead of ambushing an unsuspecting Torontonian (yes, that is a thing), we retired to an airport café that was very heavily equipped with iPads and speculated nervously about the experiences to come.
After much difficulty sleeping on the plane, we arrive in Paris. We’re shepherded through the usual barrage of long lines, the returning Europeans already gearing us for the cultural brutality to come, elbowing past mothers with children to get to their (shorter) passport line first. Rachel and I take the opportunity to count scores on our ‘American or European’ game, which is when we observe people and guess their culture largely based on stereotyping (though shoe color is a very strong determinant!) Our original speculation on not being able to find Guillaume (the host dad) was needless, as he was waiting there for us right from the start. We jump in the (futuristic) car and we’re on our way! I did make the mistake of calling his car small (it’s European!) and have since been paying for it with jabs about Americans and size.
As it is, Guillaume is incredibly friendly and talkative and made up for any linguistic/social shortcomings our jetlagged selves produced. We got a tour of Paris as he asked all about us and our lives. He was a bit surprised on how well traveled we were as Americans. He explained to us how he and his dad both work in Paris frequently enough to where getting an apartment was logical and that, with it being empty on the weekends, we could go to Paris whenever we desire. Having one last meeting before the day was up, he gave us the option of going to said apartment or walking around Paris for the couple hours it would take. We of course chose to explore, which would come back to bite later on. Dining at a café in the Bercy area of Paris, we dined on Galettes (deemed second rate to our Host mom’s by Guillaume), we were then bought metro tickets and released into the wild! And what adventure we had! After finally coming together and agreeing on how nice Guillaume is, we went to Starbucks to get some coffee. And promptly fell asleep. Then again in a park. Needless to say, jetlag had its way with us. But who said sleeping in Paris isn’t the life?!
We met up with Guillaume three hours later and started our 2.5-hour drive north to Dieppe. If anyone reading this knows Rachel, you also know she is like a child when it comes to being in a car. It rocks her to sleep no matter the condition of the route. Talking to Guillaume was pretty easy going. He talked about his house, nervous that’d we wouldn’t be impressed. We talked about politics, our travels, experiences in University, and France in general.
When we finally arrive in Dieppe after about 30 hours of traveling, we’re given a brief tour (by car) of the small city, ending with a drive to the top of a hill where the house literally met us in the middle as the road forked off. Here’s where I ask for some understanding from any readers, because the first thing I thought about when I say the house was the Baudelaire house from the Series of Unfortunate Events
. I don’t by any means mean to say that the house is unfortunate. I didn’t get that impression while reading the series, it’s just older, from the 19th
century, surrounded by a gate, and typically French (there should be a photo on facebook in a couple hours). We’re not only greeted by the aroma of a Quiche Lorraine, but also by three curious bouncing kids who almost instantly go into a competition trying to impress us. Gauthier (3) acting like a monkey while Zoé (6) and Augustin (9) go through the capitals of other countries (which they’re actually really good at.) We the eat dinner, and I listen as the kids’ French and manners are continuously corrected. Everyone finally went to bed and Guillaume and Laure give us a tour of the house, including our soon to be room (renovations until Monday,) which is 10x better than either of us expected! Finally, they show us to our temporary room and we fall asleep instantly.
I woke up this morning at 7:30 to the sound of Gauthier trying to pronounce my name and of course I have to find out what’s going on. I come into the kitchen and he’s takes off running like a monkey, still incredibly timid of the tall foreigner who sounds funny. They were all getting ready for school, and Augustin shows me a volleyball tournament flyer. Now he never asked me to, but I’m pretty sure he wants me to be on his team? There’s no age limit, so I’ll definitely have to look into that. Finally, they’re off to school and I’m left to a baguette and nutella/jelly. Staring out the window, down upon Dieppe, my new home for the next three months.
Some things to remark?
1-I’m no longer going to give Grace as much
crap about leaving her au-pair job so early. This experience would’ve been so much more difficult without Rachel here.
2-It’s definitely a humbling experience to go from being an upper level French student to the foreigner who sound funny. It’s going to be hard work to get there, but this adventure is going to be amazing for us linguistically.
3- Just based off of this morning, leaving here in August is going to be much more difficult than I’d imagined. I’m already starting to feel like a member of the family.
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