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I’ll always be extraordinarily thankful that I had a couch to surf upon for my arrival in Paris, my first time in a country where I do not speak the language.
My hosts–I was staying with two Parisian girls–had e-mailed me directions from the metro to their apartment in the Montmartre neighborhood. I de-boarded the train at Pigalle and held the directions tightly between my hands. I moved slowly through the streets, trying to think through the incredible sensory-overload I was experiencing. I was lucky for such clear instructions, and found my way with almost no difficulty.
I arrived at a big red door, entered the code they had given me, and pushed my way through. I found myself in courtyard, surrounded on all sides by an apartment building with aesthetics that can only be described as cinematic. I called out for my host and she poked her head out of a window whose shutters were wide open and whose frame was bedded down with plants.
Upstairs, I put my single bag down at my feet as I stood awkwardly in the living room. I was unsure of any French customs regarding guests and I was afraid to offend. I soon discovered that my fears were unfounded and I began to experience the natural sense of hospitality that comes (I’ve learned) from sheer humanity. Her flatmate joined us shortly, and another friend came to “meet the American.” They sat around, smoking, drinking wine, and discussing ourselves.
Also, this being my first time sitting down with the French, I decided to improve Franco-American relations by asking about every stereotype in the book. Here are the results of my investigation:
- The French DO bathe.
- The girls DO shave their underarms (visual confirmation was provided).
- They do NOT hate Americans.
- They DO love cheese.
- The ARE baffled by these stereotypes.
The girls insisted on a traditional French dinner and I found myself struggling to subdue my giddiness. They took me down the street to the boulangerie, the fromagerie, and the patisserie (I hope I spelled those correctly!). No supermarket was needed–every food we bought was from a different shop specializing in each. Bread, cheese, and roasted chicken were sold to us, fresh from the keeper’s hands.
We stopped off at a cafe for a glass of wine (how French!) and then were joined by yet another friend and went up to the apartment to eat.
It was a heavenly meal, accompanied by wine from my host’s father’s vineyards, and I witnessed first hand the French appreciation for food. When the meal was through they pulled out a copy of Boucle d’or et le Sept Ours Nains, a French take on Goldilocks, and taught me some French from the book.
After talking late into the night, I was told to take a bed and the girls would sleep together. My first experience couchsurfing, was, in fact, in a bed.