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The First Three Days

January 10, 2013

My first three days in Paris have been a twister of…of everything, really. Except of literal twisters, of course, as all it’s done here so far is drizzle a gray, cold drizzle.

There’s been jetlag, homesickness, mistranslations, moments of doubt.

There’s been discoveries, communication, encouragement, and moments of certainty.

I think one of the biggest pieces of hail in this figurative, extended-metaphorical twister is balancing dependency and independence. I’m super uncomfortable being dependent on people; I’m most content when I can rely on myself to accomplish what I need to.

But when you’re a newcomer to a country, especially one in which you’ll live for four months, you’re forced to depend on the kindness of others.

I had to depend on two strangers, friends of a friend, to pick me up from Charles de Gaulle Airport 8 a.m. Tuesday when my half-asleep self wouldn’t have been able to decipher the metro maps to make it to my temporary accommodation. (Thanks a million to Solene & Corentin for picking up a stranger, a friend of a friend, at 8 a.m.)

I have to depend on the aforementioned friend, who’s providing my temporary accommodation and who is my favorite French person in the entire universe. She’s helped me look for and interview for apartments, figure out the metro, and learn key French phrases that no one tells you are key during six years of French classes. She also feeds me. She is seriously too kind. (Thanks, Lucie. You’ll basically get a shout-out in every blog post, it seems.)

I had to depend on natives to find the street on which Science Po’s administrative building is located but that isn’t pictured on a city map outside of the metro. I had to depend on many people’s patience towards the fact that I’m far better at reading and writing French than speaking and verbally understanding it. I had to rely on a stranger’s I-don’t-even-know-what-she-was-thinking-hopefully-confused-sympathy when I told her I was trapped in an apartment building’s staircase because I could not figure out how to open that expletive door for seven minutes and the button only made the door make a clinking sound and the door will not budge and oh my word I’m trapped in a French staircase foreeeveeeer.*

So yes, I am unaccustomed to being dependent on others for basic procedures, such as opening a door. And it still feels very, very surreal to be in Paris.

Just the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Apparently I'm in Paris?

Just the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Apparently I’m in Paris?

But yesterday, I went for a walk by myself (to find the above photo). I didn’t get lost. I went into a bakery to order lunch and, while I did need help translating the French “for here or to go?” not a word of English was spoken in the transaction.

Today, I went to what was supposed to be an apartment interview by myself. I did get lost — in a neighborhood that made me terribly uncomfortable.

Twice.

And then, I got myself unlost.

I found the metro and successfully took it to Sciences Po and its administrative building. I spoke French with the natives who directed me to Rue de la Chaise, a tiny street that almost blends in with the very large Boulevard de Raspail. I picked up my student ID card and went for a walk around the block — which turned into a two-hour stroll. Along my aimless wander, I found La Seine, Le Louvre, & Le Musee d’Orsay.

Apparently, I’m in Paris.

So, yes, I’m learning how to be independent in Paris, how to navigate a huge city in French, how to be self-reliant. And I know it’s something that comes only with time. Three days isn’t a lot.

The first three days have been stressful. But they’ve also been very, very good.

This is, I find, mainly because people are very kind, and when you’ve found a place when you can depend on kindness, you have found a very, very good place.

Tomorrow, I start the welcome program for exchange students, and classes begin a week later. Hopefully by that time I’ll know better how to open French doors. Perhaps, I realize as an afterthought, that sentence works both literally and figuratively.

*I am sometimes melodramatic when I panic.

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