During the past few days, I have been reminded often that I am definitely not in Texas anymore. Although I’ve spent much time in France, and many weekends in Hazebrouck (where I’m staying until I move to Douai next weekend), it’s the little things that I see or experience that serve as clear examples of the unique French (and Flemmish) culture in the north of France.
The food. The drinks. Both are quite different from what I’ve been eating all summer. French people drink often. I don’t know how their stomachs can handle 4 cups of strong coffee per day, but they do. I’ve been getting strange looks for requesting just water to drink – no, not carbonated water, just water – which makes me giggle. It usually goes like this – Host: “Do you want a coffee?” Me: “No thank you, but I’ll just have water if that’s okay.” Host: “Juice? Coke?” Me: “Oh that’s ok, just water please.” Host: “???”
The trip over here was quite the adventure and with the weather change I’ve been trying to keep as hydrated as possible. (Although I have drank at least one beer per day since I’ve been here… I mean really, how can you say no to a great Belgian beer?!) The food is delicious. Dessert is a normal thing to have after every meal. I’ve been lucky to be able to eat home-made meals at Michel’s house, his friends’ houses, and his parents’ house. Michel and I even went to an estaminet, which is a traditional Flemmish-type restaurant. So good. (But, I am still not ashamed of bringing my 1.25lb container of chili powder with me. A home-cooked Texan meal goes a long way for curing a bit of homesickness!)
The streets. In Waco, we had one round-a-bout in the whole city, and each time I had to take it, I confess – I was nervous. In Hazebrouck, there are at least a million. I am not sure if there are even stop lights in this city, although I have seen a few stop signs. I was able to borrow Michel’s sister’s bike for the upcoming week, and yesterday I decided to take it for a ride to the train station to buy my train pass. I looked up directions before I left, memorized them (so I thought), and was on my way. Luckily enough there are signs all over pointing towards the train station so I was able to find it somewhat easily. Unfortunately once I got there, I didn’t even have my bank card with me to pay for the pass. So, I headed back to the house which proved to be much harder… there aren’t any signs that point towards Michel’s house. After 35 minutes of aimlessly riding around the city, I finally asked a little group of 10-yr-old boys if they knew where the street was. They told me the directions and when I still looked confused, they offered to show me the way. So sweet! In the US we have streets that are quite angular and grid-like, but here in France, streets are all over the place. Maybe one day I’ll understand!
This week, I have plans to open my bank account, make a visit to Douai to explore the city, and go to my school in Douai to meet the other teachers. Hopefully I’ll be able to meet up with some other assistants as well!