Sunday, January 27, 2013


(Day 21, Grenoble)

I think it's safe to say that I have been very lucky in my life. Days before I left for France my parents were counting out all of the countries I've been to at the ripe old age of 20. (Including France, nine) Having taken my love of other cultures and traveling and focused it into an International Relations major, I'm think we can say that it's a fact that I love this big crazy world and figuring out how all of these puzzle pieces connect to make a global community. One thing that has bothered me for years, however, are the stereotypes that pop up everywhere.

I have never been one to believe stereotypes when it comes to other nations and cultures, I am the New England liberal that chose to go to school in the South. I firmly believe that everyone deserves to define themselves based on who they are, not on who they should be. So when I was leaving for France, all of my family members and friends were giving me their 'advice' on what I should 'watch out for', 'be wary of', and 'expect' once I got to France. This advice ranged from what types of toilets to expect to how to handle myself around French men to the inevitable fact that my French would be made fun of. Even before I left and have had a chance to spend time immersed in the French way, I was angry at people for believing and reporting these stereotypes to me. While advice is always appreciated, I wanted the opportunity to make up my own mind about what the French may or may not be like. I am also very aware of the American stereotype abroad and how not many in America are what the rest of the world thinks we are. Maybe it's the traveling or maybe it's the international students that I have gotten to share a living space with during my time at Montrose, but I had had enough of these stereotypes and I refuse to let them add a different lens to how I approach France and the French people.

First things first, I guess we should narrow down what stereotypes we are talking about. I've written enough papers and lab reports (I don't want to dwell on that last one for too long...) in my time to know that you  always want to define your terms first so that the audience is on the same page as the author. So French stereotypes, watch this video and we'll get on the same page with that one.
You better have watched the whole video, because it's ridiculously accurate. Every piece of advice someone gave me re:France, was based on this video. Also, a lot of the French people I have met have asked me about what stereotypes I have of French people, and they always describe everything in this video.

But there are stereotypes of Americans too. There are the obvious ones, such as we're all obese, loud, dumb, rude, and all we eat tons of hamburgers a day. Everyone in America drives American made trucks and SUVs, and everyone is extremely selfish. Despite being the home of crazy rednecks and celebrities alike, we are a very conservative nation that doesn't swear, is uncomfortable with nudity, and also gets squeamish when discussing anything sexual. Then there are some I didn't realize, such as you can 'spot an American student' by their Sperrys, North Face backpacks, and water bottles they will inevitably have with them. Also we all wear jeans and college t-shirts or sweatshirts everyday....
...To be fair, I've only worn this twice including today and it's because it's Skype Sunday. I don't leave the house so I don't feel the need to get all fancy and put on a nice shirt. Also, it's really cold, as I may have mentioned once or twice and my sweatshirt is warm. It also creates a wonderful topic of conversation. Every exchange student my family has hosted has also expressed their concern within the first week in America that they are worried about getting fat while there. I think by understanding how we as a people are perceived abroad really displays how silly stereotypes can be. 

I was part way through this post earlier today, when I stopped for lunch. It was Martine, Richard, Clémentine, myself, and a friend of Martine's. I don't remember how we got on the topic, but suddenly Martine was asking me to confirm her statement that America has a lot of obese people. I gave a very shaky head nod; I'm under no illusions that obesity is not present in the US, but 'a lot' is pushing it, in my un-researched opinion. This sent Martine off about a story of a woman she met in Boston (which I believe she went to Boston when she was a kid. She told me about how the water on the Cape is dangerous because once she was caught in a rip tide. My vocabulary nor want of dispute at the dinner table was up to the challenge of saying that I summered on the Cape for 12 years before my grandparents sold their house, and the first time I got caught in a rip-tide was when I was about 16 and on Nantucket. I have been in that water plenty enough to know that saying the water on the Cape is dangerous is not even close to an accurate statement. Although the sharks this past summer may wish to change my mind....) who was so obese it was sort of a monstrosity. That sincerely bothered me. I may not go around shoving my nationality down the international community's throats, but I am a proud American. To assume that we are all fat when you simultaneously complain that I never eat enough food is quite hypocritical of you. Just because you saw one very obese woman in America, or you encountered a French artist wearing a beret, or a Mexican wearing a poncho does not mean you can create a blanket statement for an entire community.

Sometimes, stereotypes are true. The French love eating their baguettes. I have been blatantly checked out here more times than you would ever see in the US. The French do discuss the finer qualities of cheeses and wine. They are significantly less embarrassed about the human body than Americans are (Martine often asks me questions as I'm walking from the sale de bain to ma chambre and am only wearing a towel). They also love their coffee and tea. Their showers are weird, and they conserve everything from water to electricity. However some stereotypes are very wrong. Not once has my family laughed at my French. Once or twice the occasional waiter or cashier will switch to very broken English after I say something in French, but, for the most part, they are happy to explain and are glad you are willing to try and speak their language. Most 'customer service centered' workers are very accommodating and are curious about where I'm from and what I'm doing in Grenoble. The young Frenchmen I have met are absolutely no different from American men except for the language they speak in and what they wear. Also, I have seen one beret while in French. I think it's quite similar to wearing a 'Newsies' type hat, and generally reserved for the older generation and steadily being phased out.

I guess the whole point of this post is just that I want people to stop relying on stereotypes as viable information. If you want to know what the French, the Spanish, the Indians, or the Russians are like, go there and find out. Don't rely on second hand information that isn't necessarily based on fact. Go learn about other cultures! Don't even take stereotypes on different parts of America as fact! Go see your own country, meet the people, eat their food, participate in their favorite past times and then figure it out. Mostly, I think what we need to remember most, is that everyone is different and one person does not define an entire community.


Short Update Before the Big One

(Day 21, Grenoble)

Hey team. So I've been working on a blog post all day that I've been wanting to write for a while, but it's taking a while so give me time. As some of you may know Sunday is Skype day, so should you ever want to chat, I'm on all day!

And a shout out to Erin, because she asked for one, and she's going to be here in 34 days! WOOOOT!!!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


(Day 17, Grenoble)

I know this has been quite a bit of writing for me recently, but I needed to update everyone on this new/old/ridiculously cool technology France has got a hold of. Tonight's meal was cold cuts, pretty much of different types of ham and potatoes with cheese. But this wasn't any normal potatoes and cheese us Irish folk have lived by for centuries. This was potatoes with fondue cheese. This post is mostly a notice for all of us with fondue pots as part of our kitchen ensemble. WE'VE BEEN DOING IT WRONG! I walked into the kitchen chez Mondin and there was this magical contraption. It was like a round of cheese that was being melted by this heat lamp but it was attached to something. I obviously am having difficulties explaining it, but it was the coolest thing ever. Fresh fondue, well, as fresh as cheese can get at least. (And then there was strawberry yogurt for dessert.)

This has been an update from your friend across the pond. Ciao.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Let's Talk about Food

(Day 16, Grenoble)

Okay, so something I occasionally mention, but not nearly enough, is the food here. So totally underrated. HAHA JUST KIDDING! A common stereotype (or maybe it's just a fact now) is that the food en France is amazing. Backstory, you may or may not know that I am rather picky when it comes to food. Forever, I've always got chicken fingers (occasionally renamed chicken thumbs, chicken tenders, or chicken strips) at every restaurant under the sun. Sometimes I branch out and go for pasta, or something else crazy exotic like that. My mother can attest to this fact. Whenever she tries to get fancy and make something out of the ordinary, I pick and choose and eat, like, nothing on my plate (sorry mom).

Maybe it's the stereotype, and maybe it's the whole "eat everything on your plate or you'll be deported" line we were fed during orientation, but I am a member of the clean plate club every meal. I never know what the food is, and sometimes, I think it's okay that I don't understand what they're saying when they explain the meals to me. I have loved everything (except one meal this past week which was a mysterious vegetable encircled by ham, which was rather gross). Tonight, for instance, was some specialty of Lyon that was, once again, mysterious. Regardless, it was delicious! We also have dessert after every meal, which is why, when I come back from France as an unrecognizable five million pound blob that needs two extra plane seats, you should not be surprised. Dessert was like a magical apple that had exploded but was whole and was magic and I love it. Maybe I need to keep a food diary or something so I can remember all of this....

Sunday, January 20, 2013


(Day 14, Grenoble)

WAIT A HOT SECOND! How could I forget the most important part of catching you all up yesterday? A bunch of my friends and I made it out to the Brûleurs de Loups game on Friday night! For those that haven't stalked Grenoble on Wikipedia, BDL is the Grenoble hockey team. As I can't watch my beloved Bruins from so far away, I have settled for Grenoble's team. While we left after the second period so that we could go out for the evening, BDL still won 6-1 against Caen! What a great warm-up for us Bruins fans last night.

The rink is located near the end of the A line on the tram, but still in Grenoble which is great. It's a pretty small rink, but it was full. The big cultural thing, though, is that these French hockey fans are not real hockey fans. While they know their sport and their team and they were decked out in their favorite player's jerseys, they were all sitting down and silent for the whole game (except for the band, which never once stopped singing, not even for a second). While my friends and I (mostly me) were shouting at the team and yelling our advise to the players, even when Caen scored and their one fan started using his air horn the Grenoble fans didn't really do anything about it. They would only react when there was a close call for a goal by BDL and when BDL actually scored. It was crazy! As someone who has  been lucky enough to have been exposed to quality hockey in her life, both teams weren't as sharp as they could have been. It was a rather sloppy game, over all, but they did well and it was great to watch. With the sloppiness however, we fans were given multiple opportunities to yell at our team and encourage them to get their stuff together. My friend from Sudbury and I were the only ones doing any such thing, it was absolutely ridiculous. Regardless, BDL won, there's another game Tuesday night that we're going to, and all is good. À bientôt.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Centre Universitaire d'Études Françaises

(Day 13, Grenoble)

I guess it's time to talk about academics, I suppose I am studying abroad.... The university I am going to is called the Université Stendhal in Grenoble where I go to the Centre Universitaire d'Études Françaises, or CUEF as the cool kids call it. It's pretty much for all of the international students, comprised of quite a few Americans and a boatload of Chinese students. (Okay, they most likely flew here.) The way the program works is as follows:
    Monday: Take the placement test which includes an interview with a professor to assess your speaking skills and a written test to assess your listening comprehension, reading comprehension, and writing skills.
    Tuesday: Find out your level of French. There are 6 major levels. A1 and A2 are the very beginner levels, the "all I know about the French language is 'bon-jour'". B1.0-B1.9 are the intermediate low levels. B2.0-B2.7 are the intermediate high levels. C1 and C2 are the "I'm pretty much French, just hand me my citizenship card already" levels. Is the suspense killing you? It wasn't killing me, but, if you saw a recent Facebook status, you may know I accidentally did well. Now don't go thinking that I've got my French passport in the mail. I ended up in level B2.5 (in the B2 levels, there are only odd numbers except for B2.0), which blew my mind. As a result, I have officially become the API tutor, haha.
    Wednesday: Classes begin! Woot, haha. I now understand why people hate study abroad students, because I have significantly less class time than I do at school. Really, look at my schedule...

I hit the jackpot. Also, that's not even my final schedule! I'm still deciding between the History of French Art class and the Contemporary French Literature class.  I think I just won, haha. I am, however, considering joining a choral ensemble and volunteering at the American Corner here in Grenoble as well, so I could be very busy. My French class (the purple one, and technically the pink one too) is really good. This past week we read two articles expressing opposing views on gay marriage in France and were having a very complex discussion about the French's opinions and the Americans' opinions. It was great, and I could participate and keep up with what was going on in the class. The reason we were reading/discussing gay marriage is that it is a very big topic in France right now in regards to law making, etc. Regardless, I know what's going on, which is the best part!

My friends and I are also planning our February vacation! It's been FREEZING here. In between the sporadic snowing, the winds, and the generally cold temperature, all we want is to be somewhere really warm. Some of us are thinking of going to Barcelona, Spain. The best part, the flights there are only $40 in American dollars! Then at the very end, Erin from W&M is coming to meet me in Paris for her spring break! We'll spend a few days in Paris and then, on Tuesday, come down to Grenoble. I'm WICKED pumped about seeing Erin, less so about the Paris part. Can we all just take a moment to realize how expensive Paris is? Ugh, that is going to take up most of my vacation fund!! It's worth it to see Erin though, my person from home to come visit me. I'll just have to cut down on my Chocolat chauds, I suppose....

I think we're all caught up to date now. Classes have begun. I'm going to Barcelona in a month. Erin's coming to visit. Chocolat chaud is magic that should be replicated everywhere in the US. C'est tout!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Last one, I swear

The Louvre

Venus de Milo

The Madonna and Child in Majesty Surrounded by Angels - Cimabue

The Coronation of Napoleon - David

Even more...


Main Altar in Notre-Dame

View of Paris from in Between the Towers of Notre-Dame

Main Altar in Sainte-Chapelle

And some more...

Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

Musée d'Orsay

Thomas Jefferson along the Seine

Napoleon I's Tomb

Picture Time!

Le Tour Eiffel



Chapel in Versailles

Saturday, January 12, 2013

La télé

(Day 6, Grenoble)

So last night, Richard asked if I had ever watched TV in French, which, of course I haven't. He then suggested I should, that's how I'll get better at French! So we all sat down and watched NCIS en français. It was a little difficult to follow, haha. I never realized how fast people speak in television shows in the United States. Props to the kids who can follow it when it's not their first language. It was definitely a challenge, but it was good too.

One major thing that's already got me about France, maybe Europe in general, is that they don't like to heat their homes. I guess in France utilities are really expensive. We don't use many lights in the house, you take really short showers or turn off the water in between shampooing/conditioning, etc., and houses don't use a lot of heat. This means that I'm generally wicked cold and I'm not sure if I'm actually clean, haha. Okay, so their 'shower' is un peu bizarre. It's a bathtub with one of those hand-held shower heads, but instead of being able to stand and shower, I have to sit down in the tub and wash myself that way, otherwise water will get allll over the bathroom. I ventured to use it this morning, and it was interesting. I think that's what I miss right now, a real shower. 125 days until I can take a real shower, haha!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Lucy, I'm home!

(Day 5, Grenoble)

Okay, so there is no one I know named Lucy here, but that's beside the point. I'm officially in Grenoble and it's fabulous, but Day 4 first, I guess.

Day 4, Paris. Despite the crazy fog, we climbed the Tour Eiffel all the way to the top. All 660+ stairs. Me. Kaitlin Fitzgerald, who climbed 420+ stairs the day before, climbed another 660+ the next day. If I didn't know myself any better, I would say I had exercised... but that can't be. There are pictures of the top of the Tour Eiffel on my Facebook, but that seems a little foolish as you couldn't see anything anyway. It was wicked cool and we took the elevator back down (that's more like it). Then a few of us (Me, Aubrey, MC, Ariel, Cate, and Meddie) went to go see the Catacombs, but they were closed! The very nice people there told us it would be reopened on the weekend, but we are in Grenoble this weekend so no catacombs for us. Instead we went to Ils de Saint-Louis and ate at this fabulous restaurant that we had heard about from Marie. She said it had the best glace (ice cream) in all of Paris, so we got that first. Then an hour later we decided we were actually hungry so we got lunch there too! Before we met back up with everyone at our hotel, we stopped in a little papeterie which is my new thing. 'Murica, you better work on your papeteries because they are now a necessary feature of my life. Keeping in mind that my favorite store was Staples, a papeteries is a little boutique that has pens, paper, folders, cards, wrapping paper, post cards, anything stationary or paper related is found there. I obvi had to make a purchase, and I got 5 (color-coded) folders for school that will be returning with me aux États-Unis.

We made it back to the hotel in one piece and then discovered there was a taxi strike. ... There are 12 of us with 2 big bags (or a hundred if you're me) and we had to get to the train station on the other side of Paris. So, of course, we took the bus, and all the Parisians loved us. haha Maybe not, but whatever. We rode first-class to Grenoble and it only took 3 hours on the wicked fast train. Richard, mon père d'accueil, picked me up à la gare, and we walked (Je suis désolé, Richard!) to their apartment which is in the city center. It is fabulous. It's on 3eme étage, or the 4th floor for the rest of us. It's very modern until you get to the furniture in the living room and the dining room which look like something that could easily be placed in the Governor's Palace in CW or in a less gold version of Versailles.

In the house is Martine, my host mom, Richard, my host father, and Clémentine, my host sister. Richard works in the local bureaucracy, as far as API has told me (I'm working up to the asking of questions, c'est un peu difficile), and Martine doesn't work anymore. Clémentine is 22 and goes to one of the 3 universities in Grenoble studying law. They all know very basic English, I think, but we only speak in French. That's absolutely fabulous for the whole "let's be fluent" thing I've wanted, but it's a little difficult on the "let's converse" front. On the first night, (Martine made pasta bolognese) we talked about movies, my travels to France/Grenoble, Gerard Depardieu, and I could participate and recount the conversation to y'all! I KNOW FRENCH, EVERYONE. ALERT THE PRESSES! Oh my Lord, that has been the best part of my trip. I can talk with them and we all know what's going on (mostly). I'm able to understand them pretty well and the speaking part is more difficult, but possible.  I'm awesome, let's just soak that in for a little bit.
Okay, thanks. So

Day 5, Grenoble. So today was pretty easy. We met at the Office of Tourism in Grenoble, which is 2 blocks from the apartment and then Marie and Anna of API took us on a tour of Grenoble. Apparently Grenoble is known for their walnuts and Chartreuse, a very strong après-dîner alcohol that is apparently good with hot chocolate making it a Verte Chaud (obviously Grenoble knew I was coming). Then we broke for lunch (I got a kebab), and we took the tram to the campus. I'm going to CUEF, within the Université Stendhal (Centre Universitaire d'Études Françaises). Monday I have to take a placement test to find out what level of French I am, from B1.0-B1.7 to B2.0-B2.4 and then either Tuesday or Wednesday (I've been getting mixed messages) classes will start. I'm sort of nervous to figure out where I'm going with all of that, but I've officially taken up a "Que sera, sera" attitude about this whole thing. I'm going to learn French, it's going to be great, it doesn't matter what classes I take, what mistakes I make, it's all great anyway (and a little bit chilly, the Europeans don't believe in heating) and I'm already in love with this city. I'll write more this weekend, but, for now, I'm alive and it's great and I just want to smile all the time.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Day 3, Paris

Day 3.
Woke up at 8:15 (solid!) and then we walked to Notre Dame. I totally didn't realize that our hotel was so close, but after, like, a 2 minute walk we were suddenly in front of Notre Dame. IT WAS AMAZING. The entirety of Mrs. McKinney's 9th grade history class came rushing back with the flying buttresses, rose windows, side chapels, tous les choses! I walked around the whole thing which was amazing, and I took pictures of, like, everything. Then I paused for a little bit and prayed (in French!) in front of the main altar. The entire time I was kneeling there all I could think about was all the people that had kneeled there (and all the signs reminding us that Notre Dame this is the 850th 'birthday') saying the "Notre Père" and it was just so... I can't even describe it. Cool? Mind-blowing? Nothing seems appropriate enough to describe it. After that we climbed about 420 stairs all the way to the top of Notre Dame. While we did pause at the spot in between the 2 towers, we did climb TO THE TOP. It was awesome. I saw all the gargoyles and chimeras possible. I also took video from in between the two towers so y'all can get a 360 view of paris from Notre Dame, haha. Then we walked a few blocks to Sainte-Chappelle, so amazing. It's this small, when compared to Notre Dame, church that was made, also in the Middle Ages but it was crazy well preserved! They have these magnificent stained glass windows that COVER the walls it's amazing. And there are two levels to the church, one for le peuple and the other for the king/queen and nobles, etc. The upper one, for the upper class, is amazing. I have tons of pictures of that as well, worry not.

Then we had some time to kill so we walked next door to the Conciergerie. This is, like, heaven for those that like the French Revolution. This is where they held the revolution tribunals for Marie-Antoinette and Robespierre. SO COOL. We saw Marie-Antoinette's cell and it was amazing. Also, the basement level had all of these histories of castles on one side and then, on the other, it had a giant lego Harry Potter castle, a Cinderella castle, castles in snow globes, the Disney castle. Why? I don't know, but I took tons of picture for my Harry Potter lovin' friends, haha.

Afterwards we went to the Louvre where we had a guided tour, in English,  to see all the big stuff. We saw the Venus de Milo, Victory, the crowns of Louis XVI and Napoleon I, Fra Angelico, the Mona Lisa, Jacques-Louis David. I kept getting reeeeally distracted by everything there. We didn't stay for long, only for, like 2 hours before we were on information overload. BUT I saw all of the David paintings that inspired la Révolution, which was crazy. I never realized how huge they are. Like the "Coronation of Napoleon", my Montrosians, do you remember during common homerooms when we would pull out the monster screen for projections in the M&M or the Great Hall. It's taller and wider than that. How could one person work on that, without smudging??? Obvi, I'm no artist, but I'm confused. (also, as a reminder to myself, the Louvre was once a castle.)

Then some friends and I (Aubrey, Meddie, MC, Claire, Nicole, Cate, Kailey and Ariel) walked along the Champs-Élyssée and did some shopping. I mean, when in Rome.  Then we metro'd it back to the hotel, went out to dinner again, and have been chilling ever since. It's so crazy and I love it here and when I'm not chilling with my friendz I'll update y'all about more like how I love this place and the food and the everything. AHHH I LOVE FRANCE.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

And so it begins

(Day 3, Paris, FR)
AHHH!! Guess who's in France!! So I'm in Paris right now which is amazing. It totally hasn't hit me yet, but it probably will by the time I get to Grenoble and am sitting in classes next Tuesday, but let's not think about that right now.

So, day 1. I got to Charles de Gaulle airport fine and met my group at the airport, jumped a fence to get to the taxi (casual), and took a taxi to our hotel. It's this wicked cute little hotel in Paris right near la Rue Saint-Germain which is this pretty big street, wicked close to the Seine river, and it's awesome. I'm sharing a room with Niki who is from Rochester, Brianna from Oregon, and Aubrey from Sudbury.  Niki, Aubrey, myself, and another person from our group, Van, decided to go adventuring and we ended up at this park near the Musée du Luxembourg. We were able to see the Eiffel Tower, which didn't look too far away. DECEPTIVE! We didn't pull out a map and went by the saying "You can see the Eiffel Tower from everywhere in Paris". Another lie. We wandered the city for an hour until we got there, haha. BUT WE MADE IT! We stood underneath and we're going to climb/elevator it tomorrow (Thursday/Day 4). Then we decided we should pull out a map to find our hotel. We sort of followed the Seine and spent another hour making it to a place close to the hotel until our feet gave out and we needed food. We went to this café called Néo Cafe and it was fabulous. I ate my first French crêpe! Nutelle bananne which was marvelous! Later that night we took a boat tour of the Seine from Pont Neuf to the Eiffel Tower and then all around Ils de la Cité and another island within the Seine. Then we  all went to this restaurant called "Breakfast in America". It was a totally American diner, obviously, and we all got burgers or something of the sort, wicked French, right?

Day 2. We woke up at 7:15 (dead) and then went to Versailles which was AWESOME. It's way outside paris so we had to take the RER train which is pretty much the commuter rail in Boston. Then we went to the Musée d'Orsay which is where a bunch of Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, etc. It was great! Then a few of us went to the Hôtel des Invalides which is also the Musée de l'Armée. That is where Napoleon's tomb is. It was crazy big for someone so, in theory, small. I guess that Napoleon Complex continues on in the after-life. We then ate une gallette des Rois, or French King Cake. It's this cute tradition for the Epiphany where everyone gets a slice of cake and there is a prize hidden in a slice. The person who gets the prize (for us it was a little Fleur de Lis) is the king. The cake was DELICIOUS, but then we went out to dinner with our API host, Marie. There are always a bunch of courses in France, even in restaurants. I had a pumpkin soup with cream as an entrée, so good; a doe filet for my main dish, heaven on earth; and this fancy chocolate thing for desert, it was a religious experience in my mouth.

Okay, so I'm chatting with my sister on Facebook right now and she's complaining that there's nothing on here so, as it is Day 3, and a LOT happened today so Day 3 deserves its own post. Enjoy reading the small portion of my time in France, haha.