The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Chen bids adieu to great friends, France

It was another sunny day in Paris. As usual, I walked by the “crêpe”  stand near my apartment and saw the man who makes crêpes there every day.

“How are you?” he waved at me enthusiastically.

“Good,” I smiled, “but I cannot believe that I am leaving in two weeks.”

“That’s so sad, but I hope you will miss my chocolate crêpes after you leave Paris!”

Throughout the semester, I explored many different aspects of the French society in my columns—strikes, food, education, etc. However, I rarely mentioned the people with whom I interacted everyday in the past 10 months—my host family, my friends, my professors and many other acquaintances like this crêpe guy on the corner of the street. It is my daily interactions with these people, rather than some generalized observation, that shapes my “real” understanding of France. Thus, I would like to dedicate my last column to the three most important French people in my year abroad.

My host mom, Madame Landèche, is perhaps one of the least typical French women you can ever meet. Quiet and introverted, she does not correspond to the French reputation of talkativeness. Although living in a nice apartment in the well-off 7th arrondissement, Madame Landèche never acts like a typical French bourgeoisie. For example, unlike most Parisian women at her age, she rarely dresses up unless in important occasions. Her cooking completely changed my understanding of the daily French cuisine—I used to think that it takes forever to prepare the delicate French cuisine, but Madame Landèche makes mostly quick and simple dinners. Sometimes I ask myself—if Madame Landèche were not my host mom, would I even notice her at all on the busy Parisian streets?

Professor Domenach, who teaches my “Travels in China” class, is an exception in the Sciences Po education. I chose this class simply because it was related to China, but this turned out to be the most inspiring class at Sciences Po. Instead of doing the infamously rigid exposé, we are encouraged to work as a group and explore creative ways to express our understanding of Asia and travels. In every class, we begin by sharing articles that discuss various “bizarre” phenomena in Asia. Mr. Domenach always encourages us to explore the “bizarrerie” in the society. His favorite activity is to share with us his weird anecdotes, such as chatting with prostitutes from the north-east of China in Paris. But wait, did I mention that Professor Domenach worked as a French diplomat in China and occupied one of the highest positions in the Sciences Po administration?

Audrey is my French “sister”. At Sciences Po, every international student is paired with a French “buddy” to encourage cultural exchange. Just as the French laugh at the American accent, we sometimes joke about their accent when the French speak English. But Audrey speaks almost perfect American English, perhaps because she is too into Desperate Housewives and cupcakes. When I asked her for recommendation of French music and TV shows the first time we met, she paused for two seconds: “Maybe you can watch the French version of American TV shows? The French TV shows suck.” Last week, she invited me to her birthday party at her house. Her best friend made her a dozen cupcakes with her name on it instead of the French style gâteau. And of course, like most soirées organized by the French youth nowadays, the birthday party of Audrey played only American pop music and everyone was singing along with the “Empire State of Mind.” At that moment, I was not quite sure if I was in a soirée in Paris.

My dear readers, you might wonder why I have chosen these three figures as the most important French people in my year abroad. After all, they do not seem so “French”—my untypical Parisian host mom, my bizarre professor and my Americanized French buddy. Throughout my year abroad, I have tried hard to understand France—its culture, its people and its society. However, as I reflect on my year-long experience, I have finally come to a conclusion that I learn the most about the French from exceptions rather than generalization. Not all Parisians spend hours on dressing and cooking every day. Not all classes at Sciences Po follow the rigid system. And the stereotype of anti-Americanism of the French is not at all accurate. For me, the real French culture is revealed in its diversity and individuality. This is the most fascinating gain from my year-long study abroad experience—a journey of exploring others and ourselves.

-Liyan Chen ’12

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