The New Normal


Louis XIV statue in Bellecour

I’m in Lyon, France. For reals.

It’s like the initial hullaballoo of getting settled in has gone down, and so I finally have a chance to slow down and take a look around. When I say look around, I really mean explore. Like, TMI-know the city. I want to look around Les Galleries Lafayette (Neiman Marcus-like shop) and try on ridiculously expensive but amazingly beautiful things I’ll never buy, go into the three boulangerie/patisseries in the row along that route the 45 and 19 buses take towards Pont Mouton, and sit down outside at a cafe at lunchtime and sip coffee and chat.

Ya, I still haven’t done that last one yet. I would’ve thought it’d be one of the first things I’d do. But there’s something in the way.
To explain that, first I need to tell you about my week of orientation at school.

A piano in the Part-Dieu shopping center

All the SELF program students have to take this French Culture and Civilization class. Basically, it’s 3 hours of boredom and torture. Do you care that France spends 11% of its GDP on health care, or that the Battle of Marigano in 1515 where the French crushed the Italians started the culture-transfer of the 16th century? I don’t really care. But that’s what we learned during those 3 hours every day. Luckily, since it’s still orientation, people are pretty eager to meet others. Strike up conversation with your neighbor, butt into someone else’s conversation. BAM! You get to hang out for 3 hours. That second one is how I met Zhang Yun, Grace, Melody, Yuxiao, Iris, and two others (I’m bad with names. Even worse with Chinese names. Don’t hate. I bet you’d be too)

An alley near Hotel de Ville

They were talking in Chinese about something the teacher said, and I happened to overhear and turned around to respond. And we’ve been friends since. They tried to help me find an apartment, helped me move my giant suitcase once I’d gotten a place, and had me over many times. They’re very willing to help, and in return I try to help them navigate the French and English speakers.

Notre Dame in Fourviere

I get this vibe from most Chinese speakers on this program. If they were at home, they’d probably not even pay attention to one another. But here, out in this foreign, strange place, they’ve banded together, to pull all the Chinese speakers along. Kind of like an army, I guess. We were taking our test for the culture class today, and even though we all sat one seat apart from another, they talked and shared answers during the test. !!!  Woah. I’ve never done that. A teacher even called them on it, but after time was called and responses were being collected, they copied answers some more. Oh my. It’s very much a team effort, apparently.

The vaulted ceilings in Notre Dame

But I digress. A lot.

So this group, these five girls straight from Wuhan, they’re not very used to Western ways. But they’re not entirely open to French customs, either. Which for the most part, is totally fine. They hand-wash and dry all their clothes, and are all back in their rooms by 9 (don’t blame them for that, all the stores here close way too early). But they also buy groceries and make their own meals.

A street player in a Sunday riverside market

That’s why I haven’t sat in a cafe yet. I’m still a bit intimidated eating by myself here, and when I’m with them, we go grocery shopping and then go back and cook. Our approximate day goes school for a while, lunch break where we run errands or go back to the apartment and cook, some more school, get off and go to Carrefour to buy groceries, go back to the apartment and make dinner. I admit, it’s nice to have the familiar when you’re in a new place. And they’re not entirely closed off. They regularly buy Carrefour’s croissants and baguettes. We even went to a bouchon to get lunch once! But they didn’t like it and swore off French food. I don’t know how that’ll go. But still, it may just be me, but I’m ready to eat something new and do something novel.

Sneaking into Hotel de Ville.
Just kidding. It’s just a pretty door

To be clear, I’m very happy to have them for friends. They’re all very nice, and the girl I’m closest with, Zhang Yun, she’s very considerate. My Chinese is definitely getting better too! Who knew, I’d come to France and improve my Chinese. Sometimes I feel like I’m getting the most culture-shock from my conversations with them.

Did you know: they hand-wash and dry everything. University dorms don’t have hot water. Most couples say “I love you” even before they’re official. They have free access to thousands of songs and movies, legally. Whaaaaat!

A small cathedral by Hotel de Ville

The things that I’ve seen different in Lyon are of a different sort:

There are tons of one-way streets. Buses can drive the opposite direction of the cars in their lane. They have really cool towel-warming racks. Their blinds are more like the metal things that cover store fronts when it’s closed. People say hello on the streets and in elevators. They smoke a lot. Eh, but that last one I knew.

The butt of the Louis XIV statue. A common meeting place. For some reason…

There are also the random new things I’ve learnt.

For instance, I can drink coffee! I like the lattes at the coffee cart/stand/truck outside the Charpennes station.

I don’t like pain praline very much. I do like pain aux raisins, though.

French boys are very skinny. I’m pretty sure they have smaller waists than me or you. French boys looks nice. And smell good. But the Asian-French boys seem better.

Seattle should get a subway system. Subways are nice. Unless you have to change subways twice to get to school. Then it’s a hassle.

Mexicans also do a bisou. As opposed to the French two kisses, they only do one side. I got my first bisou today from a boy I lent my notes to.

So you see, lots of new things I’m learning, but I’m still excited for even more. We’re starting intensive French classes next week (I have class fro FOUR hours straight twice!). We’ll see how that goes. Hopefully I’ll get my cafe soon. Not the drink. But yes, that too. I’ll let you know how it is.

Lastly, the photos here are from wandering around the city last weekend. We went to Fourviere, Bellecour, and Hotel de Ville.


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