LD: End of a Chapter

Rebecca Cao DiplomatThis post is part of Le Diplomate series, in which I will chronicle my travel joys and tribulations as an intern for the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. OECD in Paris.

Alas, all good things must come to an end and I am back in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Coming back to the States was really strange, because when I was in Europe I assumed that the moment I hit American soil I would start to miss France unbearably. This, however, did not occur. Instead, I realized that as much as I loved living in Paris, living in Ann Arbor has its perks too. Mainly, I realized that no matter where in the world you are, life is still essentially the same. While I was constantly challenged to be more independent, more mature, more responsible, and more French while I was abroad, now I am being challenged in those same areas but in an entirely different context (perhaps minus the French part).

For example, I’m sick as a dog right now and terribly jet-lagged, which is frustrating because I’m starting to get anxious about the start of the school year. There is nothing in life I hate more than moving — deciding what things to bring, packing and unpacking, etc. Moreover, I am disconnected from my friends right now, since my phone was stolen in Geneva. Additionally, my artist’s temperament is driving me slightly crazy. Despite feeling awful this morning, I felt the need to plunk myself down in front of my laptop and dutifully bang out my 900-word quota for the day (novel word count is 9357!). My oil painting is sitting there, as if taunting, “You’ll never finish me, will you?” Then the piano chimes in, “You promised Luc you’d play me. How depressing that your decade of musical training amounted to nothing.”

Speaking of Luc, the man is driving me crazy. We said goodbye once, and then a second time, and then a third time, and now I still have no idea where we stand. If ever a relationship merited an “It’s Complicated” Facebook status, this is it.

Au revoir take three.

Clearly, I’ve picked up very well on one of the notorious skills of les Français — the art of complaining. Now, let me channel my American side and focus on the positives. First, I’m ready to begin the new school year. I love what I study and I have quite an ambitious projet for myself. During the week, I plan to wake up at 7 am (sorry, roommie), shower, eat breakfast, work on my novel, head to class, sneak in lunch during my half-hour break, go back to class, hit the gym for an hour, make it to my final class, cook/eat dinner, and spend the evening doing homework, watching foreign films, Skyping long-distance friends, and hanging out with housemates. On Saturdays, I will paint and run errands and hit up Barnes and Noble (oh, how I wish I could say Border’s). On Sundays, I will teach GRE at the Princeton Review from noon to 3 pm and then study for the upcoming school week. Did I mention I also would like to be in bed by 10 pm? Execution of plan doubtful…

Secondly, I will be living with three awesome girls who will undoubtedly make my junior year as memorable as my first two years have been. I look forward to sharing many experiences with them and learning more about myself through getting to know them. Currently, I don’t think there’s anything left to uncover in my relationship with my best girlfriend, Jill, but only time will tell.

Et voilà, with that I wrap up the Le Diplomate series. It’s been a great ride with all of you and thanks so much for reading! As promised, I will being starting up another series chronicling this self-deprecating writer’s creative process.

Bises,

R

LD: Lessons Learned

Rebecca Cao DiplomatThis post is part of Le Diplomate series, in which I will chronicle my travel joys and tribulations as an intern for the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. OECD in Paris.

Most of my friends know this about me: I abhor clichés. Sometimes, I try so hard to avoid following the crowd, I miss out on things that I would have otherwise enjoyed. Ironically, I love literal crowds — wherever tons of people gather to be happy together, that’s where I want to be. Tonight, though, I have succumbed to the ultimate cliché of an American girl in Paris. Tonight I declare, “Paris, je t’aime!”

Of all the things living in Paris has taught me, the most important one is how to be myself. Newsflash: le diplomate no longer wants to be a diplomat. Gasp! Instead, I have finally decided to stop living other people’s ideal lives and follow my passion of becoming a writer. As of today, I am 3267 words into my current novel, and I’m determined to crank out 900 words/day for the next 96 days — 90,000 words in 100 days to produce my first full-length roman. After I wrap up the LD blog series, I’m going to start another series to track my progress (I’m counting on all of you dear readers to keep me accountable!).

Besides this major change of heart, there are countless other lessons learned, and I’ve compiled a list in no particular order:

  1. Love of yogurt. I never got into cheese, but yogurt is such a staple of my diet, I don’t know if I can live without it. Not just any yogurt either — I’m addicted to the Velouté Nature from Danone and I’m absolutely certain that American groceries don’t carry it because it contains no sugar…

    I purchase these in bulk on a weekly basis.

  2. Disdain for tourists. This one is not necessarily a good quality to have, and I’m certainly guilty of Parisian snobbiness, but my God they can be insufferable at times.
  3. Public transportation skills. Once upon a time, I hated buses. Then, I came to Paris and appreciated buses as the lesser evil compared to the metro and RER. After a month of dating, the metro and I began going steady. Ten weeks in, though, I have yet to conquer my fear of the RER.

    No longer a fish out of water!

  4. Open-mindedness. Like I wrote before, the people I’ve met here in France have had such different lives, such distinct backgrounds, and such incredible stories, I find myself unable to judge many things as “right” or “wrong” anymore.
  5. Humility. Everyone around me, from toddlers to the elderly, can do at least one thing much better than I can — speak French. Furthermore, I’ve realized that no matter what I think I’m good at, there will always be someone in this world who is better than me.
  6. Self-love. I’ve also realized that there’s nobody quite like me in this world and even if I’m not the best writer in the world, my voice is unique.
  7. Independence. While some college students revel in their lack of responsibility, I cannot wait to graduate and be free to do whatever I want and go wherever I want. With responsibility comes both independence and liberty, which I believe is well worth any added hassles and stresses.
  8. Goodbyes suck, but it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have cared at all. I’m not only referring to Luc here, but also to the many dear friends I’ve made along this journey. Jean-Michel, IA, Fabrice, Marc, Xavier and everyone else who doesn’t have a pseudonym: thank you for making this so worth it and I love you all!

    Undeniably one of the happiest times of my life.

  9. I want to make babies with a Frenchman. This sounds incredibly superficial, silly, and potentially racist, but hear me out! I’ve learned that there’s nothing I love more than cultures and languages, and I wish to spend my life in a multicultural, multilingual household. Of course, I can do this with anyone who has a different maternal language than me, but I would also like to speak his language, so I’m limited to Frenchmen and Spaniards.
  10. I want to come back. I’m ready to go back to the US and continue my studies in order to establish the foundation for the next chapter of my life, but I’m sure that I will back in Paris or France in the near future. Perhaps the next time I return, I’ll stay for good.

Voilà, that’s all I have for now, though this is just the tip of the iceberg and I could go on forever if prompted. As the end of my séjour nears, it’s terribly bittersweet. Currently, though, the sweet is outweighing the bitter, as I feel incredibly grateful for the lessons I’ll carry with me a lifetime.

How have your travels opened your mind or changed your perspective? When was the first time you lived alone and did you enjoy it?

À la prochaine,

R

LD: Pourquoi Pas

Rebecca Cao DiplomatThis post is part of Le Diplomate series, in which I will chronicle my travel joys and tribulations as an intern for the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. OECD in Paris.

If I could use one expression to describe the French, it would be “pourquoi pas”. Translating to “why not” in English, this phrase is not only used frequently in conversation, but is also the guiding principle for decision-making. For example, if you texted a friend, “tu as envie de voir ce film ?” (do you want to see this movie?) he would reply, “pourquoi pas !” On the language exchange site I frequent, there’s an About Me section where people write a brief biography and I’ve seen this multiple times: “Je veux rencontrer des amis, améliorer mon anglais, et pourquoi pas profiter de Paris ensemble.” (I want to meet friends, improve my English, and why not enjoy Paris together). Additionally, as I’ve experienced with my good friend Luc, every romantic involvement starts with, “J’étais célibataire et…pourquoi pas !” (I was single and…why not!).

Americans tend to pride themselves on being liberals who are open-minded and accepting. When I was appartment-hunting in Paris and I saw ads that requested residents who were “ouvert d’esprit”, I thought to myself, why of course I’m open-minded. I’m not racist; I don’t care if you’re young or old, gay or straight, married or not. In fact, I was so ouverte d’esprit I was even be willing to share an apartment with a dude (as long as he didn’t explicitly request a female roommate within a specific age range — creepy).

Then I arrived in Paris, and I started to faire la connaisance of the French. The stories just kept coming. First, there was Philippe, who informed me of the time he made love with a woman from Boston in the Louvre. Then, there was Sébastien.

Me: So, how did you meet your girlfriend?

Sébastien: Actually, I met her when I was seven.

Me: Aww, how cute.

Sébastien: Actually, she was my uncle’s ex.

Me: Oh! Oh, okay. So…how old is she?

Sébastien: She’s 48, 16 years older than me. She’s a…what do you call it…a cougar! Haha but I assure you there is no blood relation.

Then there are Luc’s stories. This weekend, three of his friends are visiting him here in Paris. Two of them are married to each other, and the third is the wife’s ex. Apparently, the three of them are all chummy and have forgotten that for a month, she was sleeping with the both of them. I think they are all planning to stay at Luc’s place, which will be interesting, seeing as how there’s only one bed…

Once, his Korean friend asked him to host her girlfriend at his house in the south of France. He said, of course, “pourquoi pas !“So this girl flew in from Korea and Luc was nice enough to show her around the village. Everything went swimmingly until the next morning, when he returned from his shower to find her in his bed.

Korean Girl: It’s too cold in my room. Yours is warmer.

Luc: Um, well, you can stay there, but I am getting back into my bed.

KG: Okay.

And, of course, he proceeded to sleep with her, who thankfully turned out to be less crazy than Korean Girl #2. Luc’s unlucky-in-love friend Marc met KG #2 online and when she asked to come visit him in Paris, he went “pourquoi pas” and agreed. Upon meeting her in person, however, he was not at all attracted to her. But he slept with her, and a few weeks later, she informed him that she was pregnant. After a huge debate in which he wanted an abortion and she did not, she ended up miscarrying. While Marc breathed a sigh of relief, KG #2 became depressed and also realized she was utterly in love with him. In a few weeks, she’s vacationing in London and has demanded that Marc join her there. The last I heard, he’s attempting to prepare an exit strategy that will not induce suicide attempts.

Finally, to round out the crazy bunch, there was the Chinese girl Luc met on the language exchange site.

Chinese Girl: So yeah, my cousin is married to my other cousin.

Luc: Oh, really?

CG: It’s a family thing. My uncle is married to his sister.

Luc: Oh. Is this…normal in China?

CG: Nope. It’s weird in China too.

Oops, I got a little sidetracked — this last vignette is not even about French people. Perhaps the message of this post is now “Asian girls are nuts”, but I’m telling you it’s the French “pourquoi pas” attitude that gets them into trouble! On the other hand, though, I think us uptight Americans could learn to be a little more free-thinking. For example, it shouldn’t matter if our president is religious or married or even faithful, as long as he is a good president. Furthermore, life is simply more colorful if you throw in a healthy sprinkle of “pourquoi pas”s.

Do you consider yourself ouvert d’esprit? In your travels or even in your daily life, have you ever come across different cultures that really opened your mind? In general, do you take prefer to take risks or to play it safe?

Salut,

R

LD: Dog Days Are Over

Rebecca Cao DiplomatThis post is part of Le Diplomate series, in which I will chronicle my travel joys and tribulations as an intern for the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. OECD in Paris.

I sincerely apologize to all of you who have been waiting patiently for this post! I know I should blog more, but it’s really hard when life starts speeding up. Yesterday, I realized that I was aiming for a little too much in terms of social activities and I should take my foot off the brake a tad. As someone who is happier busy than lackadaisical, however, I don’t mind running all over Paris in search of the next big thing. In fact, the title of this post refers to this, the epitome of a summer tune and of happiness.

I’m in absolute bliss, happier than I have ever been in my entire life. Finally, I feel at home in Paris, instead of a tourist make-believing. I know that if I turn the corner and walk down Rue de Belles Feuilles, I will find both my laundromat and my grocery store. At the laundromat, I can do my laundry for a total of €6.50 and 55 minutes. During this time, I will guard my clothes (because horror stories have left me paranoid) while continuing my first French novel (a whopper at 432 pages). At the grocery store, I know that I will find my favorite juice in the world, a peach and apricot blend.

I have never tasted heaven like this.

The “adult lifestyle” has settled in — yesterday, I bought replacement soap because I finally got sick of using dish soap to wash my hands. Soon, I will have to replace the toilet paper and probably find a way to clean the floor because I shed like a dog. Considering that I’m 20 and an average American college student, you would think that I’m doing relatively well in the clean department. Don’t even get me started on my roommate this past year (hehe, love you Jade!). According to Luc, however, my kitchen table is a mess and I need to clean it so that people can eat on it. My first objections would be: 1) it is an organized mess, 2) I have nowhere else to put my camera, scarves, hats, etc. and 3) nobody eats there anyway! But he’s right. The more I look at that table, the more frazzled I feel inside and I am determined to reorganize it.

It looked like this on day one. Now…ahem, imagine slightly more clutter.

I think it’s just French culture to keep homes orderly and inviting permanently. I’ve seen a few bachelor pads while I’ve been here, and they are cleaner than my apartment. Even with the smallest spaces, people make do and create a positively cozy and charming ambiance. I adore the way the French decorate with books and records and musical instruments. Sometimes, I feel like I was born to live the French lifestyle and now that I’m here, it feels like I’ve come home. Perhaps, I’m finally done running.

On another note, I’ve really been enjoying the time I spend with my fellow interns, Jean-Michel and IA. On Monday night, we camped out in front of La Comédie-Française for hours in order to get free tickets (we did!). My favorite part of the night, though, was definitely arguing over who should go to the grocery store to buy beer and snacks. The conversations were also excellent; they ranged broadly in topic and resembled an 8th-grade slumber party at times, for which I’m still clearly nostalgic. I kid you not — we actually played telephone. Example (with heavy Indian accent): “My auntie eats chicken curry on the Himalayas.” Is this not PC? Oops.

Is there a place on earth where you feel most at home? What does “home” mean to you? Is it more about the physical location or the people you’re with?

À demain,

R

LD: Finding the Romance in Paris

Rebecca Cao DiplomatThis post is part of Le Diplomate series, in which I will chronicle my travel joys and tribulations as an intern for the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. OECD in Paris.

Contrary to popular belief, Paris is not that romantic. In fact, the only PDA-oh-my-God-we’re-in-Paris-together couples I’ve encountered are all tourists. Compared to certain cities in Asia, where everyone (girl-guy, girl-girl, guy-guy) walks around with hands interlaced, Paris is downright unromantic. The poor men that carry bundles of roses and stalk couples to try to sell them one never, ever succeed. I figured that a few particularly guilty men would give the peddlers some business, but nope. Whereas some of the sellers proposition nicely, most end up shoving a rose into your armpit and forcing you to pay for it. Quelle romance.

Last night, though, after the rain finally eased and the sun made a last-minute appearance, I managed to find the most charming corner of Paris. Although I claim to hate tourists and the areas they frequent, I couldn’t help but love Montmartre. The winding alleys, tilted roads, and historical architecture reminded me very much of Spain. I have such a soft spot for old towns and a tranquil yet healthy nightlife. Imagine: petite café on the corner of two cobblestone streets, lit up with the door open, man playing beautifully on the piano…

Luc, my tour guide for the night.

Strolling the area without any idea where I was headed, I felt like the night was endless and time had frozen for me. From the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, I could see all of Paris below me — the Eiffel Tower with its night lights, the Montparnasse Tower soaring above the landscape, and the Carousel du Louvre marking the center of the city.

Unfortunately, time did not actually slow for me, and when I woke up this morning for work, I wished I’d slept earlier the night before. While the reality of being in meetings and the office all day contrasts sharply with the surreality of the Montmartre nightlife, I am lucky in that I love my work as much as I love being in the scene of a Monet painting. Now, I return to responsibility and occasionally mundane tasks and I await the next time an open door leads me into an alternative world.

What are your favorite traveling memories? Do you believe that the most magical moments in life are also the most ephemeral?

Au revoir,

R

LD: Adventures Ensemble et Toute Seule

Rebecca Cao DiplomatThis post is part of Le Diplomate series, in which I will chronicle my travel joys and tribulations as an intern for the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. OECD in Paris.

This is great! I finally have a few hours to myself in my studio. I’ve had one of the most action-packed weeks of my life and voici the long overdue post about it all. I titled this post “Adventures Together and Alone” because my experience in Paris so far has been defined by the activities I tackle by myself and with others at my side. Since I’ve been here, it’s honestly been difficult to drag myself out of my quartier, the 16th arrondissement. Growing up as an only child with a single mother, I did plenty of things on my own — drawing, writing, reading. The one thing, however, that I’ve always hated doing solo is sightseeing.

What a shame, right? I’m in Paris with the most beautiful museums and parks and monuments surrounding me, but I am still not convinced that it’s worth it to go. Why? I’m a people person. When I see something amazing, I am not quite convinced it happened until I’m able to turn to a friend and unleash a rant that involves a story of this one time I was in Spain, this cool fact I learned in Art History, or this revolutionary idea for a bestselling novel that just came to me. Of course, this quite limits the scope of my adventures in life and I’m learning to appreciate exploring by myself.

Tonight, on my way home for work, I decided that it was as good a time as any to get myself lost. Although I did not lose my bearings entirely, there was a good five minutes where I had no idea where I was. Then, all of a sudden, I arrived at my apartment 20 minutes earlier than usual. Hello shortcut! Later, I met my friend Fabrice and we wandered around before finding a café. My French friends are teaching me a great deal about life. Apparently, you do not have to leave tip in restaurants, even when your waiter lies and tells you the service is pas compris (ahem, Jean-Michel!). Additionally, there is absolutely a difference between a 500-euro suit and a thousand-euro suit and someday I will be pressured into buying that thousand-euro suit (I disagree).

While the public biking system has been in place for a few years now, the city just instated a similar car rental system. For just 12 euro a month and about 3 euro for 20 minutes of driving, you can just hop in these electric cars and return them wherever there’s a drop-off location. Lastly, Fabrice brought my attention to an issue only the French would ponder — according to him, one is only supposed to buy roses in an uneven number. Upon further consideration, this theory is quite valid. If you give a girl two roses, is that one for her and one for you? Or worse, one for her and one for her friend? If you purchase a bundle of four, there’s an awkward hole in the middle. I guess a dozen is the exception?

Finally, I’d like to give my friend Jean-Michel a shout-out. I owe him my deepest gratitude for inviting me to the most French experience of my life, the Prix de Diane at the Chantilly racetrack. With the Château in the backdrop and hundreds of Frenchwomen in ridiculous hats (one lady had an actual live bird on her head), I really felt like a movie star on a set. The funniest part of the day was when Simon Baker pulled up in a sweet ride within feet of us and it took us — or, rather, me — five minutes to realize that Simon Baker was Simon Baker.

Prix de Diane

Now, I shall go do my dishes and perhaps end the night with another few chapters of Le Petit Prince. Tomorrow is another day, and I aspire to live it to the fullest, ensemble ou toute seule.

Have you ever traveled alone? Do you prefer to make new foreign friends or travel with old friends?

Ciao,

R

LD: Days 4, 5, & 6

Rebecca Cao DiplomatThis post is part of Le Diplomate series, in which I will chronicle my travel joys and tribulations as an intern for the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. OECD in Paris.

I have been meaning to write this post since Monday, but unfortunately I haven’t had the time! I apologize to all of you who have been waiting patiently for this next installation. To begin this post, I need to go back in time to more than a year ago, to my freshman year of college. Over the summer before college, I had just started my company, which involved camping out at Border’s to read everything business-related and filing incorporation papers that I barely understood. Predictably, I carried into my freshman year a passion for entrepreneurship and a desire to attend business school.

Then, the reality of being on one of the most social universities in the world hit, and my priorities changed. By the time I received my first B- ever in Econ 101, I had lost my fervor for business and discovered that I wasn’t particularly suited for it either. After briefly entertaining the idea of being a creative writing major, I decided that the one thing I loved above all other subjects was languages. The last thing I wanted to do, however, was to become a language teacher.

Then, one of my friends suggested that I become a translator/interpreter for the UN. This idea led me to pursue a concentration in Romance Languages (basically, French and Spanish) and I dreamed of interpreting in the booths for meetings with the highest officials.

This past Monday, when I was shown a beautiful meeting room with a grand tapestry and placards of the 34 OECD member countries, it really hit home. While I once strove to be the interpreter behind the glass window, I am now representing the United States and on the receiving end of that interpretation.

The Department of State has exceeded my expectations in every way. Its work force, from the gendarmes (local guards) to the diplomats, is full of the most brilliant and generous people I have ever met. When you step inside the Embassy, you just get the impression that life-changing work is being done every minute. There is a tremendous sense of history, honor, integrity, and prestige. Even as interns, my fellow colleagues and I have been entrusted with a significant degree of responsibility and independence.

Speaking of which, I have the greatest co-interns ever. For the purposes of this blog, they will be known as IA and Trois Fromages (the acronym actually stands for International Ambassador, but I figured if I kept writing about the Ambassador on this blog, the security team would quickly have my neck). While I have only known them for a few days, we have fallen into an easy friendship that stems from common interests and experiences. Throughout my two years at Michigan, it had been hard to find like-minded students, so it’s extremely rewarding to bond with IA and Fromages. It is also very rare to have coworkers who are not constantly looking to backstab you, but who are genuinely willing to aid in your own success.

While there is much more I would love to share with you all, unfortunately I am not allowed. In the end, though, I hope my message still came across: follow your dreams, because you never know where they might take you. Through effort and a decent helping of luck, I am now living life so full that it is brimming over and I don’t know what to do!

What are your dreams and how are you pursuing them? Can you relate to my passions?

À la prochaîne,

R

LD: Day 3

Rebecca Cao DiplomatThis post is part of Le Diplomate series, in which I will chronicle my travel joys and tribulations as an intern for the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. OECD in Paris.

One of the most common stereotypes about the French (particularly Parisians) is that they are rude. Granted, I’ve only been here for a few days, but I think I’ve figured out how this belief came about. The French are not rude; you just think they are! What the French really are — and this is one of the reasons French women are some of the toughest, most confident women I’ve ever met — is independent. Therefore, they assume that you are a self-sufficient being also, so they don’t go out of their way to explain things, which comes off as “rude” to foreigners.

In America, the service industry and occasionally the government assumes that you’re dumb as a rock. Servers will walk you through the menu and go over the daily specials. On the subway, the intercom will warn you when the doors are opening or closing. At the start of every flight, not one, but 10 flight attendants will present the safety procedure, in addition to the lady in the recorded video.

Now, let me illustrate some of the differences in France. This morning, I woke up at 7:00 am to attend mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral. No, I am not Catholic. I decided to go to mass in order to avoid the tourist rush and experience a more authentic visit. The gothic architecture was breathtaking. Voilà une photo:

Cathédrale Notre Dame

Anyway, the trip going to and back was very enlightening and I learned quite a few things. For example, buses don’t stop for you just because you’re sitting on the bench; you have to wave them down. On the metro, the doors don’t automatically open at stops; you have to physically pry them apart. When you stare at the doors blankly, waiting for them to open, the elderly French woman will not show you how to open them; she will step around you and open them herself. Also, no matter how lost you look, no one will offer to help you (which I like just fine).

Additionally, my first day here, the girl who’s renting me my apartment kindly offered me a tour of the neighborhood. She showed me the supermarket, the frozen goods store, the phone carrier store, McDonald’s, and Starbuck’s. Finally, we were several left and right turns from my apartment. Did she offer to walk me back? Nope, she told me I could look around and promptly vanished. Thankfully, I have an excellent sense of direction and made it back to Rue de Longchamp without much trouble.

While the above two paragraphs can be interpreted as examples of French people’s rudeness, it is just a matter of differing cultures. In France, people will tell you when those pants make your butt look fat, when your joke sucks, or when your question is stupid (and come on, we all know there are such things). Personally, I think false compliments are way worse than the simple truth. American parents could also take a page or two from the French parenting book. No, your three-year-old’s painting is crap and it does not resemble modern art. Often, I find that humans become what they are treated as. If you treat your child like he is a king, he will grow up to have the ego of a king. If you treat your child like an independent individual, he will become an independent individual.

Hopefully, the more Parisians expect me to act like a Parisian, the more I will eventually act like a Parisian. In the meantime, I’m meeting my language exchange partner Xavier at 3, who will undoubtedly have much to teach me.

Have you experienced the rude French phenomenon? What about your culture comes off offensive to foreigners but is perfectly acceptable to you?

Salut,

R

LD: Day 2

Rebecca Cao DiplomatThis post is part of Le Diplomate series, in which I will chronicle my travel joys and tribulations as an intern for the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. OECD in Paris.

Well, I hadn’t planned on blogging every day, but now that I have so much time on my hands, I might as well! I just came back from a lovely stroll around my neighborhood with my best friend, a 35-mm Minolta camera. Although I had wanted to take candids of the intriguing Parisians on the streets, this proved particularly difficult without a digital camera. My thought process: oh hey, what a great outfit! Picture, picture, picture. Focus lens. Shoot, need to adjust exposure. Ah, now aperture. Wait, where’d she go?! Aw, man.

At one point, I stationed myself outside the Victor Hugo Metro stop, where I’d seen tons of people emerge last night. As soon as I positioned myself, though, everybody disappeared! Just my luck. Eventually, I wandered back to my apartment on Rue de Longchamp and managed to get a good shot of an elderly woman moving slowly enough for me to catch her.

The view from the Victor Hugo metro stop.

I made several observations during my trek. Firstly, Parisian fashion isn’t incredibly outrageous or anything. It’s not like everyone’s wearing stilettos and red lipstick 24/7. People just make more of an effort to be presentable. The women are huge fans of blazers and the men can actually pull off scarves. One major difference I noticed is that Parisians dress to show off their clothes, not their bodies. On a sunny day like this, everyone in Ann Arbor would be pulling out their shorts and low-cut tank tops, but in Paris most people are in long shirts and pants.

Secondly, I noticed a particular dynamic that’s very different from what I’m used to. Though the 20th century did much for American women, I still feel that the U.S. is quite a patriarchal society. In France, however, the men tend to disappear into the background while the women are in the spotlight. When I was in Spain, I saw many more attractive men than I see here. I don’t think this is because Spaniards are hotter than Frenchmen; it’s because Frenchmen aren’t as visible. Thirdly, the empowered Parisian woman’s strength also extends to her family. On one hand, the average American mother has little control over her average American teen daughter. On the other hand, the well-dressed, confident, and savvy French mother is way cooler than her awkward teen daughter, who has much to learn from her maman. Whereas youth and immaturity are glamorized in America, age and wisdom are revered in France.

Now, it is time the women’s final of the French Open! Yesterday, while I was watching the Nadal/Ferrer match, it started to pour outside and then I was surprised to see that there was a rain delay on TV too. The fact that I am a mere walk from Roland-Garros is still blowing my mind.

What are some cultural differences you’ve come across in your travels? Did those lead you to appreciate or criticize your own culture?

À bientôt,

R

LD: Day 1

Rebecca Cao DiplomatThis post is part of Le Diplomate series, in which I will chronicle my travel joys and tribulations as an intern for the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. OECD in Paris.

I will never complain again. This is a false statement, of course. However, now that I’m taking on the most difficult challenge thus far in my 20 years, all my worries in the past have been put into perspective. Papers, midterms, finals? Psh! While traveling alone has many benefits, traveling alone as a female in a country where you don’t (or barely) speak the language is one of the hardest tasks. Prior to departure, MIISP talked to us about culture shock, but what I really needed was How Not to Get Scammed/Raped/Killed 101.

Upon my arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport, I was talked into getting in the car with a driver who promised me that he would give me a cheaper fare than a taxi would. I know I was stupid to believe him, but I hadn’t slept in 36 hours and I just wanted to get to my apartment as soon as possible. I didn’t have any means of communication, so I didn’t want to keep the girl who was going to meet me there waiting. I just prayed that someone would be there, and the apartment would be habitable. Along the way, I kept checking road signs and his GPS to make sure he wasn’t driving me off to the countryside to kill me. Thankfully, though I got ripped off, I arrived safely.

My studio apartment turned out surprisingly nice, with its quaint and cozy charm.

After handing over the first month’s rent, I collapsed in bed and slept until 5 am. When I rolled out of bed, I tried to Skype Phineas and my mother, but the internet connection cut in and out. Before I could say goodbye to either of them, the internet died for good. It’s amazing how much of a difference internet can make in terms of feeling connected to the world. Without it, I quickly felt very alone. While I wasn’t homesick, I felt defeated and couldn’t muster the energy to face the daunting obstacles ahead. After lying in bed with my eyes closed for a few minutes, I took a deep breath and willed myself into the shower.

That was the best shower I’ve ever taken in my life. Great water pressure, unending warmth, familiar scents. I was a renewed woman. With this energy, I unpacked all my clothes and made the apartment a little more homey. Then, I set out to find food. It took me 10 minutes to figure out how to let myself out of the apartment due to this hidden button I had to press in order to unlock the front door.

Another 20 minutes and an awkward conversation later, I came back with a baguette for breakfast. I poured myself a glass of milk that was already in the apartment, and ate most of the bread. Now, here I am, only 4 hours since I awoke, yet already tired from the day’s battles. Perhaps I will take a nap, and then head to BNP Paribas (a bank I spotted earlier) to open a checking account and also check out the grocery store. I have a feeling my diet this summer is going to consist of baguettes, milk, and bananas.

Have you ever lived a foreign country all by yourself? What were some of the hardships you faced?

À demain,

R