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Chinese New Year in Paris

The Chinese New Year has commenced, and I must admit that Paris is not a bad place to be during this celebration. There are many Chinese communities present, best known areas being perhaps the 11th and 13th arrondissement. A few weeks ago, when I was searching any possible upcoming events in Paris to commemorate the Chinese New Year, I was surprised to find several options. Within the past couple weeks I have attended parties and several parades.

But the parade that I attended on the 9th of February in the 13th arrondissement was by far the best. There are several parades hosted through the weeks of Chinese New Year in Paris. I attended another one by Hotel de Ville, and there is another near the Belleville and Marais area, but the largest parade takes place in the 13th arrondissement between Porte d’Ivry and Place d’Italie.

This area is of one of the more well-known Asian populations and communities within Paris, and it is also a  great place to wander around an hour or so before the parade. You can grab a Vietnamese sandwich called bành mì or something else known as baozi which is kind of a pork-stuffed brioche at a popular place called Thien Hang.

Of course, arriving early to the parade is strongly advised. It becomes crowded very quickly. Perhaps my favorite sights of these large parades that I’ve attended is watching parents puts kids up on their shoulders and younger folk climb on top of phone booths, recycling receptacles, and even bus stop awnings and cars.

All in all, it was a gorgeous procession from beginning to end, teeming with color and lots of smiling faces. The parade serves as a happy showcase  of their community with different students and members of performing routines of tai chi, karate, dance, etc. About halfway through the parade, however, I learned that this event has blossomed into a communal gathering beyond just the Chinese culture. There were other associations present, such as the Federation du Carnival Tropical de Paris et Île de France, who accented the procession with a samba beat and this awesome, awesome woman:

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In the end, this parade perfectly encapsulates what I’ve grown to love the most about my experience so far in Paris. Frankly (although not surprisingly), Paris isn’t where you should go to endure a huge culture shock experience coming from the states. However, I would like to say that, if you are willing to spend just a little time looking for it, Paris is much more than just its typical and often clichéd paradigms. There’s more to venture along than just cobblestoned streets that embroider the cafés; there’s more to taste than macarons;  there is much more to see than Montemartre, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower.

This city is saturated with culture– and not only French culture. Paris, in my (perhaps narrow) opinion, must be one of the most international cities in the world. And if you ever venture through, I advise taking the effort in seeing how. Yes, go see the Eiffel tower and browse through “bo-bo” or bourgeous-boheme Le Marais, but if you love just meeting people from everywhere, then look up events like these and explore the Couchsurfing culture in Paris, which is by far one of the richest Couchsurfing environments out there in the world.

I swear, you could almost travel the world within this city.

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How to Save Money to Travel

It’s a New Year, so many if not most or all of us have been creating New Year’s resolutions.  I usually make a few, and believe it or not, I can usually follow through with a couple. Last year, I made a resolution to travel more after I visited Egypt that summer before. And that resolution, I have followed through much more thoroughly than I had anticipated!

Here I am, one year later, and I currently live in France teaching English, exploring Paris, and planning trips during my breaks. This February, I’m hoping to spend some time either in Spain or traveling through France. We will see.

But everything starts small. Traveling costs money, and for many of us, that’s a large obstacle. We have responsibilities, bills, and other needs to spend our money on  before we can lay down a few hundred, or thousand, dollars/euros/reais/whatever to go a see the world.

So how does one start? I don’t think there’s any official or best way, but here’s what I can suggest because it worked for me:

1. Find a Small, Personal Vice, and then Give It Up.

vicesI chose two: coffee and clothes. I used to buy coffee at a Starbucks several times a week, and I used to go shopping much too often. I decided to make coffee at home and stop buying clothes for at least 6 months. I had enough clothes, and I didn’t need to spend $4 on a cup of coffee when I could buy an entire can for the same price. Doing simple math, I could save at least $20-$30 a week just from giving up the coffee alone– so I could have only imagined what I would save from giving up clothes!

In the end, buying a new blouse has never made me as happy as wearing a simple t-shirt and jacket while hiking along the Great Wall of China.

I included this picture on the left because it’s that quote that made me think of this idea of choosing a vice to trade to for travel. How often do all of us spend money we don’t have things we don’t really need? And often, it seems like what motivates us is to impress others who aren’t even really paying attention. So why not change your habits to spend money of yourself. Travel is the one thing to buy that makes you richer.

2. Put Away the Money Saved from that Vice

And save, I did! I had two methods of putting away money: I would try to transfer up to $100 into my savings account each month, and I would put all my rogue cash and spare coins into a bottle. And I chose a bottle not a jar because I would have to break the bottle in order to take the money. Every day or week, I would calculate what I save from the days that I didn’t buy coffee and put the cash into the bottle. When I found my myself itching to click and buy a new dress online, I’d put that amount of money form my bank account into my savings account instead.

2a. Cash Challenge: Spend Less to Save More.

I used to hate carrying cash, and I still do, actually, but I’ve converted. Being a millennial means that I don’t have an affectation for budgeting my income and expenses, so when I really need or want to save money, I will keep all of my debit and credit cards at home and just carry cash. I carry only a set amount ahead of time, and this forces me to use only that amount in that day. I challenge myself to use less. Whatever I don’t use, I put in my jar…bottle. To be honest, my bottle is back home in the U.S., so right now, I just use a pouch.

3. Write It Down and See It Everyday

If you have a particular destination in mind, write down your resolution to go there. Print out an enticing picture of that place and put it somewhere you’ll see it everyday. I printed a picture from China and put a picture of Paris on my desktop computer. It reminded me everyday to keep my promise, but more what was most effective was a post-it note on my laptop. Something hand-written and strategically placed was quite motivating for me.

4. First Destination: Pick a Person, Not a Place

My friends mean the world to me. I very much enjoy time to myself, but nothing makes me happier than being with the people in my life that I would do almost anything for, including traveling a few thousand miles to see them. Nothing motivates me more to get things done and accomplish something that when I am doing it for a friend or family.

So that’s how I chose my first big trip: I went to China and visited a friend from college who was working in Qingdao. He came home to visit during Thanksgiving break and challenged his friends to come visit for Chinese New Year in February, and so I decided to do so. This is a habit that I’m still guilty of; I just spent Christmas in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden to see my godfamily.

If you have family or friends living abroad, go visit them. It’s great way to start traveling by tip-toeing into the whole process of choosing a destination and planning what to do, how to get there, where to stay, etc.

5. Complete Each Step One by One

milesDon’t rush ahead and don’t concentrate on the end goal. I didn’t start by booking a trip to China or even committing to the idea of visiting China. I started with, “I wonder how much money I could save in a month if I stopped buying clothes and coffee?” After than, each result fed into the other. “Wow. I save up that much money in a month? I could travel with that! How much could I save in 3 months? Or 6 months?” Eventually, I booked a flight to China.

And now, I live in France.

I’ll be honest. I’m almost 24. I’m more or less broke… And in terms of romantic and professional endeavors at the moment, everything is up in the air…

But my decision to leave home and live abroad to travel is still a decision that carries no regrets. Every moment of my day is spent learning something new and acquiring a new perspective, even the “less interesting” days spent at home and working.

And in result, this is the happiest I’ve been in the while.

My Flight to France Cost $5

At the request of close friends and fellow bloggers, I’m posting my advice and experience with frequent flyer programs thus far. I am certainly new to this game, but I think that I’m a quick learner.

To begin, I flew from Florida to France this past August– and I did so while enjoying a first class seat. And to brag a little bit more, I spent only $5 on my flight.

As of right now, I only have a frequent flyer account with Delta– which leads to my first piece of advice:

1. Start small.

Frequent flyer programs usually don’t cost a dime to join! So why not just sign up for every single program you can find? Despite what I’ve read about joining more than one program, I think it’s better to get your feet wet first. If you have itchy feet and your travel destination can simply be listed as “everywhere,” then you should still probably pull in on the reigns a little bit. If you try to open several flyer program accounts at once, then you’ll be paralyzed by the options when it comes to choosing flights. In addition, they are called frequent flyer programs for a reason. You’ll only be able to enjoy the rewards from frequent loyalty.

I’m sure some may argue against this, but I still think I have a solid argument. The best analogy for this is to recall that time in college when you tried to juggle more than one significant other etc. What happened? You spread yourself too thin (pun intended). You forgot about dinner with one or accidentally texted an inside joke to the wrong person or simply didn’t have enough stamina to offer your sloppy seconds. In result, they lost interest in you and left, or your relations and ambitions fizzled out due to over-exhausted efforts. What seemed like an awesome idea at first did not offer the benefits you expected. Instead, you’ve spent all this money going out on the town and you still don’t have someone to bring you soup when you’re sick (-slash- sleep with you).

If you try to juggle more than one airline program, you’ll take much longer to see any benefit from your loyalty. You need to learn how to play the game first. How can you quickly rack up the miles to fly free if your miles are spread through 5 or 15 different programs?

2. Earn Miles Without Flying

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This is often very possible. You can earn miles in several ways, such as credit cards (more on that in a bit), surveys, product promotions, etc. The key to this is thorough study whatever frequent flyer program you’ve joined or are thinking of joining.

One program to check out is e-miles.com. It’s a free program where you register and respond to different marketing surveys and campaign. I’ve managed to rack up about a 1,000 miles from participating.

3. Find a Credit Card to Earn Miles

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Frankly, if a credit card isn’t offering some kind of reward, then you shouldn’t have it. Credit cards often offer flyer’s miles, or points to redeem to flights, merchandise etc. Do some thorough research for choosing one to apply for– and if there’s a credit associated with an airline that you frequently fly with, then consider that card if it’s a good offer.

I have the American Express Delta Skymiles credit card, and it is awesome. I chose Delta because so far I’ve had only positive experiences with them and their Sky Team includes a lot of international airlines, so I can usually earn at least 25% of my miles from co-partner lines. This card earns at least 1 mile per dollar spent and there is usually a bonus offer of a few thousand miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months.

Keep in mind that this advice is only solid if you’re responsible with credit cards. My habit includes putting all of my expenses on my card and paying off the balance every month. However, most people don’t have the training or discipline to not spend more money than they have. I’ve personally had my own dark battles, and during the holidays, and arriving spells of boredom etc. I often lock my credit cards in a safe. I have a friend who even cut his credit card in half.

If that’s an issue, then put all of your monthly  bills that debit automatically from your bank account: cable, internet, Netflix, cellphone bill, etc. These usually have a fixed amount that is charged each month. You can set up an auto-pay for that predetermined balance and lock the card away so you’re not tempted to buy anything outside of your budget– which is an essential practice if you’re trying to save up for a trip.

If you do this, then you could be magically earning miles without having to do anything!

4. Study Your Program Thoroughly

This is how I managed to acquire 120,000 miles in approximately 7 months. The great thing about Delta is that I can earn miles without spending a dime. There are often promotions outside of the American Express card.

For example, I can spend anywhere from 2-30 minutes filling out surveys earn money through e-Rewards. Once I reach a set amount, I can use this monopoly money to buy miles. I’ve been able to scrape at lease 1,000 miles from these surveys, which I often do while sitting on a train or when I was bored and had nothing to do at work.

Another opportunity they offer is Delta’s Skymiles Shopping. At my job in the United States, we would order our office supplies online. The store was affiliated with the Delta Skymiles Shopping program, so instead of typing the web address for Office Depot, I would log into my Delta Skymiles Shopping account and click on the Office Depot link from there. This would tag the purchase through the Delta promotion, and in result, every time we ordered office supplies, I would earn $2 per mile (I asked permission from my boss first).

Delta has many other ways to earn miles, which is why they’re my main program that I stick to.

I would have never found out about these offers if I hadn’t read through all of the promotions and offers listed on Delta’s website. If you’re avid about acquiring miles, then you must do homework.

In the meantime, I am chilling here in Paris thanks to a free flight– and I already have about 50,000 miles again– so perhaps I’ll fly home for $5 too!

Are any of you part of a frequent flyer program or credit card? If so, which one and how is it treating you? Have you learned any tricks or can you offer any of your own personal tips? I’d love to hear about it and maybe we can continue to provide each other some insight!

Learning French Through YouTube

Christmas is over and the new year has begun. As we rekindle last year’s failed resolutions to try to become more productive, why not try to turn a bad habit into a good habit?

I love YouTube for all of its counter-productive qualities, but why not turn those shameful YouTube binges into something more productive? Many of us are guilty of spending countless hours on YouTube watching everything from Harlem Shake renditions and twerking choreography to other shorts such as Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.

But believe or not, there are some really awesome YouTube channels for learning– and I mean learning for almost everything.

Maybe after you watch some Nyancat or Jenna Marble’s weekly Wednesday video, you could try out these two channels:

Learn French with Vincent

Vincent is a great guy that posts awesome videos teaching vocabulary, useful phrases, and French grammar. He seems to cover everything so far. I often sift through his grammar videos to learn new mechanics and reinforce whatever the heck my French teacher was talking about that I didn’t understand because… you know, she said it in French. I think this guy’s love of teaching language rather than profit shines through in these videos. I do a lot of my language learning with this channel, especially when I want grammar and review.

And trust me, there is PLENTY of material. He has posted over 200,ooo videos! And if English isn’t your native language, n’inquitéz pas (don’t worry) ! Either he, his friends, or his fans have converted them to cater to native speakers of German, Portuguese, Arabic… the list goes on.

Extra French avec sous-titres

Extra French

These are videos of an some old Discovery education series. I have no idea who uploaded these, but they’re awesome for several reasons. If you’re a beginner looking to reinforce the basics that you’ve learned, then you must watch these. In addition, the acting is god-awful and the writing is even worse, but honestly, it makes them that much more fun to watch.

It’s kind of like French version of “Friends” except… bad. But it’s in French!

You can tell whoever wrote this series was very intentional. They are good at implementing basic vocabulary, grammar, and repetition for reinforcement. Honestly, I wish more series likes this existed for language learning.

For more resources, check out my previous post here.

Are any of you learning a language at the moment? If so, which one and what have you found helpful?

Roam the World. Not the Internet.

The only thing I dread about planning any trip is figuring the best way to travel there. Although I appreciate the overwhelming selection on how to get anywhere, it’s often very tedious to figure the most efficient way.

It’s a juggling act between the time and money spent in order to find the best route. A bus may be cheapest, but maybe it triples the travel time. Flying is awesome, but often expensive, and if a train’s available that may be better and even faster since it cuts down on check-in time, etc.

But since I am not familiar with the destinations I travel to, I often have to spend hours trying to figure out how long it would take to get there by train versus bus versus plane, etc.

But then I found this awesome site that calculates all of that for me. So now, my hours spent researching that question only takes a couple minutes.

Rome2Rio.com has been a god-send so far.It helped me plan how to get from Paris to a tiny city in Sweden for Christmas. It’s kind of like Google Maps, but specifically created for those trying create a travel itinerary and find out how to get from each destination to the next. It’s multi-modal, multi-destination travel search engine.

If you choose a route, it often provides the websites needed in order to book tickets, reservations, etc. It’s basically a travel agent without having to actually pay for one. Do all of your transportation research and leg work on one website instead of having to shuffle through several.

So please check it out! Read their about section and get to know what they offer, because I’ve already used it quite a bit.

Learning French- No class required

Most people would probably agree that learning another language is a valuable skill. I certainly do, and that’s why I am in France. However, although many of us would like to learn another language, we can’t always just uproot ourselves and move to another country. Nevertheless, that is not an excuse for not trying to become bilingual.

Thanks to this marvelous system of interconnect computers known as the internet, it seems that you can learn almost any language– and do so for free. Before that, most of us probably learned French through this gem:

If you just watched that YouTube clip, then you’re either giddy with nostalgia or very confused. Let me know which by leaving a comment.

Without further delay, here are my resources at the moment, in no particular order:

1. FrenchPod101.com

This is service isn’t free– but the podcast is. Just search for “French Pod 101.” The only downside is that you’ll have to sift through the episodes because they’re not broadcasted in a progressive order. On Monday, they may post a beginner less, but then Tuesday they may post an advanced session.

The premium service is only $25 per month, and the resources available on the website are plentiful. There are audio lessons, flashcards, quizzes, etc. You can create a dashboard based on your level and listen to the audio lessons that consist of daily French conversations and read along with the transcript for anything you don’t understand. Afterwards, you can add the vocabulary words to your flashcard deck just by clicking a button. You’ll learn common French expressions, grammar, and also French culture.

They also offer the same resources for many other languages, including English, Spanish, German, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, Polish, etc. 

2. News In Slow French

Again, this is a website, but it also offers a free podcast. This is my personal favorite at the moment. However,  I don’t recommend this to beginners. If you’re still trying to learn basic phrases and vocabulary, then hold off on this for a couple months– or not, maybe just use it as secondary study. I use this everyday while I’m on the train and metro.

News in Slow French is simply that: the week’s news spoken in slow French. Catherine and Rylan share the week’s top news stories while speaking slowly and enunciating each word so that you can train your mind to listen and comprehend while not feeling too overwhelmed. This is a great way to practice listening comprehension and acquire new vocabulary. Repetition is key. Pick about 4-5 podcasts and listen to them repetitively throughout the week after reading along with the transcript a few times first.

I love this program because I’m expanding my vocabulary in a practical manner by learning words that I’d want to know immediately. It also offers grammar lessons, and teaches a new French expression each week. However, this is only available through the subscription, which is also pretty cheap. I think I paid $100 for the entire year or something around that price.

The only downside I can think of is that now I have an irrational fondness for Rylan and Catherine. I really want to meet them and to know what they look like. I’d like to say thank you for  offering an awesome podcast. Maybe we can grab lunch. This is a usual side-effect that I suffer from while becoming a regular listener to a podcast. They have very nice voices and Rylan sounds like a very animated and funny guy. I think we should be friends.

3. Le Petit Quotidien

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One of the kids has a subscription to this and I keep stealing them. These are a great resource to practice reading and acquire new vocabulary– but since it’s for children, the writing isn’t complicated. This also makes them perfect for a beginner to lower intermediate because you can focus on acquiring new vocabulary while not feeling intimidated by an overwhelming amount of complicated grammatical structure. Instead, you reinforce the grammar you have already learned while picking up maybe only a couple new structures.

The stories are fun and often come with supplemental information. The pictures help by providing context clues and visual aids to remember and recall what you’ve learned.

Each issues covers vocabulary, current events, the weather, etc. Additional information varies, but from these I’ve learned French vocabulary for geography, earth science, cultures, etc. You’ll learn by reading about fun educational topics that range from “How Earthquakes Work” to “What is Racism?” In all seriousness, that was one of the headlines for one of the editions earlier this week. It’s a great tool for youth education. Does anyone know if the New York Times has something like this available for kids in the United States? If not, they absolutely should.

Although the resources that I’ve just listed pertain particularly to French, there’s most likely an equivalent out there for most languages. However, if anyone reading this is interested in finding resources for another language, then please leave a comment and I’d be glad to take on the challenge and see what I could find!

But of course, it goes without saying that the best way to improve your language learning process is to TALK. TALK. TALK. TALK.

And I know: it’s easier said than… said done. I have difficulty seizing the opportunity to practice and I actually live in France. But there’s resources for that too that I’ve recently found!

I’ll continue that topic next week. Bisous!

For more resources, check out my other article about Learning French Through YouTube

Pardon My English

I came to Paris without having studied French other than a month or so before I left. Before then, my knowledge of French didn’t extend much beyond silly phrases from childhood cartoons– such as this:

We all loved this guy back in the day...

We all loved this guy back in the day…

I think it would be informative for me as well for others for me to recount what methods are working for me and which ones are not.

If you or someone you know is trying to learn another language, particularly French, then perhaps you’ll find this useful– and also, I’d love to hear from you.

What I have found to make this process difficult is the following:

Paris is inundated with English.

Paris is a #1 tourist destination and receives something around 20 or so million visitors per year. In result, English is everywhere. It’s the language of business and commerce, and therefore, it is the language world. Most locals and tourists can speak decent English and often use it on  a daily basis. This is great when you’re a tourist visiting for a few days, but not when you’re trying to learn French while living in Paris. The French immediately pick up your accent and will often switch to English.

However, I will not pin this as rude. I’ve read quite a number of blogs or heard accounts of people being offended when the French switch to English. If you visit and this happens to you, don’t take offense. It’s not because they don’t like your accent, it’s because they’re trying to accommodate you and they’re probably excited to practice English too. Just keep replying in French. If it’s someone you’re comfortable with or know personally, then ask them to speak to you in French.

On a related note, don’t feel intimidated to speak French (this is an issue I battled with everyday as well). Immediately address people here in French– and always precede your encounters by greeting them with “bonjour.” It means a lot to them for you to at least take a stab at French while asking for directions, even if you’re awful at it. (Which is another topic I’d like to address in the future.)

Before I left for Paris, I heard many stories about Parisians being rude and criticizing foreigners’ French. I’ve yet to feel any criticism or judgment. Yes, I have witnessed some confused expressions from those who couldn’t make sense out of whatever I managed to garble out. I honestly think that most feelings of being judged derive from one’s own lack of confidence.

Worst case scenario involves me giving up and apologizing. I often say (in French), “I’m sorry. I still learning French.” And that often eases the situation.

But really, English is everywhere.

Right now, I’m writing this article in a Starbucks in Opèra. They’re playing Christmas music– in English of course, and I’m referring to all the classics and contemporary renditions: Frank Sinatra to Michael Bublé. I feel more up-to-date on American cinema than I’ve been in the past few years. Most films are available in “V.O.” or “Version Originale” with French subtitles. Furthermore, going to the movies here is much cheaper, so I enjoy it much more often than I used to back home.

All in all, if you’d like to learn French in Paris, go for it! It’s available as long as you’re disciplined– but if you want to learn English too, that’s plenty available.

In my opinion, most key factors to learning a language, derive from motivation and discipline. I don’t care what articles are out there ranking how difficult one language is compared to another. I don’t agree with them. If you’re motivated and disciplined enough to learn, then you will learn.

In my past 3 months, I’ve picked up so much more French than I’ve expected to– and I want to share my tips and resources with everyone because I think I’ve found some great stuff that’s helpful! So for the next few weeks, I’ll be posting about this subject.

In the meantime, here are the simplest, yet most essentials tips. For anyone who has researched the best ways to learn a language, you’ve heard this over and over again, but my experience so far prove them to be axiomatic.

1. Stay disciplined. Study and practice every day.

2. Incorporate all facets of comprehension and production on a daily basis: listening, reading, speaking, and writing.

3. Go out of your comfort zone. Walk around and meet other people who only speak that language and make friends. You may spend a long time struggling to communication, but nothing expedites the process faster than immersion.

Thanksgiving in Paris

Yesterday it was Thanksgiving in the United States, and the few days preceding the holiday were perhaps the first times that I truly felt subtle twinges of nostalgia. Perhaps it was the Facebook posts from friends excited to visit home, or perhaps it’s because the Starbucks in Opéra where I study French began to incessantly play American Christmas music weeeeeeeeks ago.

In the months prior to leaving the US, my occasioned thoughts about spending the holidays alone  and abroad often caused my imagination to picture myself with my laptop playing illegally downloaded holiday films while eating whatever form of “pumpkin spice” anything I could forage in Paris.

But on the actual day of Thanksgiving, I did not have time to even acknowledge those feelings of homesickness, let alone stew in them. Instead, I spent much too long trying to hunt down cranberry sauce.

First I tried Le Bon Marché, where I found a foreign food aisle labeled “USA”

This was a fantastic experience, because I was able to able theorize on the following questions:

  1. What do the French or Parisians think of as what Americans buy in the market and consume at home?
  2. What can Americans buy in Paris from Le Bon Marché when they miss home?
  3. What does Le Bon Marché think of as cuisine that is indicative and representative of the American diet and culture?

And from this aisle the answers include the following:

  • Ranch dressing
  • Beef jerky
  • Salsa and guacamole
  • Chili-flavored potato chips
  • BBQ sauce, yellow mustard, and relish
  • EasyMac
  • Cheese Whiz
  • LOTS of Planter’s peanuts
  • Popcorn but it was some French brand called “American Classic Foods.” This shouldn’t count. They need to sell Pop Secret, Butter Lover’s edition in order to place it in the USA aisle. Come on, France; I know ya’ll can do better.

Please note that cranberry sauce is not on the list. I was told I could find some there, so I felt dejected and slightly panicked because I needed to be home in an hour.

At one point, I  suffered from severe emotional whiplash: in about 1 second, I suddenly felt exalted and victorious, to absolutely crestfallen because I had (wrongly) thought that I had found cornbread. Turns out it was just  more of those damned Madeleines.

Eventually, I stopped following advice and typed “Thanksgiving in Paris” into Google…maps. Google Maps. Yes.

There is a rather famous stored located in the Le Marais area of Paris called Thanksgiving in Paris. You can take the metro to St. Paul  and walked to Rue St. Paul to get there. I found plenty of cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie filling, stuffing, gravy, and you can even order turkeys. And yes, there was also Pop Secret popcorn.

Of course, the moral of this fable blogpost is that Thanksgiving isn’t really about cranberry sauce, despite my over-investment into locating a can of that crap. The actual point of this blogpost is to recount the particular memory that kept running through my head while I was thinking about Thanksgivings back home these past few days.

Thanksgiving and the winter holidays back home is a time to be with family– however, my family back home doesn’t consist of much than my mother and my sister. In result, you can imagine that cooking a turkey for three doesn’t leave you all that motivated… our participation in these winters holidays began to diminish when I was about 15 years old. We don’t even buy a Christmas tree anymore. So back home, my holidays are a bit lackluster.

I remember a few years ago when my mom and I were discussing what to do for Thanksgiving that year because all we would have was each other: why cook for three? What should we do instead? Go to the movies? A theme park? Vacation of some sort? No matter what alternative was conjured, nothing seemed to suffice.

To be honest, I can’t really recall how we came to our solution for our Thanksgiving crisis because it was so long ago. I don’t recall any “aha moment” or any flashes from lightbulbs that were hovering above our heads… it sort of just happened.

For however many years now, we’ve had what I’ve always called an “Orphan’s Thanksgiving.” We invite over whomever we can think  of that we know is alone for Thanksgiving. During our first Orphan’s Thanksgiving, within a matter of a couple of days, our empty holiday turned into a small-scale logistical mess of trying to plan and cook for 12 or so people. Our guests consisted of our friends who were most often foreign and living on their own in the United States. They often left family to either find work in the U.S. and/or go to school. Even though Thanksgiving is a holiday that does not exist in those other countries, its presence remains overwhelming. You can’t work and you don’t have school, and all of your American friends and co-workers have left to be with family. Even if you’ve never even heard of Thanksgiving, if you’re in the United States during that time, you can feel a bit left out.

Every year in college I’d invite any friend I had made who was studying abroad while my mom, sister, and I continued to have our regular guests attend. Our Thanksgiving family includes loved ones from Myanmar, Croatia, Puerto Rico, Nepal, Argentina, and so on. And despite spending the holidays with people that perhaps I’ve barely met or don’t know that well, it is those memories that I cherish most. Those Thanksgivings has been the most fun and it’s been great to meet so many people from everywhere without having to leave home.

This is the memory that kept replaying in my head these past few days; it’s my first Thanksgiving spent away from family, no matter how small or big my family is. What should I do? Cooking a turkey for for 1 is even sillier– and let’s be honest: it has nothing to do with finding a turkey. It’s spending hours cooking with my mother and being annoyed by her simultaneously; that’s the fun. So I’m applying the same solution here in Paris.

 

 

If you’re abroad or have been abroad for the holidays, I’d love to hear about that! If you’re interested in hearing more about Expats celebrating Thanksgiving check out NPR’s Project Expat

Serendipity While Sitting at the Train Station

Perhaps one of the most beautiful aspects about traveling or living in a new place is how– no matter what obstacles or mishaps occur– things always seem to turn out alright.

In the 2nd week of arriving in Paris, (and I mentioned this in a previous post) I managed to take 2 hours to get home. Why? Because my last train home that I had originally planned on taking was cancelled due to a strike.

For a local (and now, even me), this is not a big deal. There are plenty of other ways to get home. You can take a taxi, walk, ride a bike, or take a bus. But when you’re a 23 year old American girl who just arrived in a brand new country with no money, friends, or french vocabulary in order to get home, you start to get a little anxious.

Fast-forwarding through the stumbled, mucked-up Franglish conversation that I had at 1am with the info kiosk, I found the night bus that I needed to take home. However, now I am standing alone at a bus stop at 1:30 in the morning, surrounding by a bunch of people that I don’t know and I cannot strike up conversation with because I can’t say anything beyond “Hello” and “how are you,” let alone, “is this right bus? Would you happen to know which stop I need to get off at to get home?”

And of course, this is the part of story where I manage to meet a very nice stranger named Peterson who speaks English. He asks me, “you’re not from here?” Nope. I’m not. Apparently, it’s that obvious. I probably looked stressed out.

Peterson helps me get on the right bus, and he lets the driver know that I’m foreign and new, and that I’ll need him to tell me which stop to get off from. Meanwhile while at the bus stop, we have good conversation– and he even teaches me some French. Unfortunately, I don’t have a phone, but I figured “Hey! Potential new friend! Can I have your e-mail address? We can strike up a deal for some language exchange.” That night, I am not more indebted to anyone than Peterson, who went out of his way to help me get home .

But sadly, I lost his e-mail address.

 

Let’s cut to about 7 weeks later. I’m a pro at taking the train, bus, AND metro home. Lost? Psh. Please. I finally know what I’m doing. One night, I am boarding the train home at platform 13 to catch the 22:35 ride back. I sit and sit and sit on this train and it doesn’t move. Also, no one else is sitting on this train. It’s now 22:35– what’s going on?

I look to my left and this is what I see: my actual train leaving from platform 13. I accidentally boarded the train on platform 14 and somehow didn’t notice. C’est la vie. So now it’s time to get off of the train I’m sitting on, and walk back down to the lobby area to wait for the next train home.

How on earth did I manage to miss my train when I arrive 15 minutes before its departure? How did I manage to not deduce from the empty car that perhaps I am NOT on the right train? And how on earth did I manage to read “Voie 14″ and I think, “yep, platform 13. That’s my train, right there.”

I will probably never know.

At this point, I am slightly irritated. I am tired and I just want to go home. I sit down on my bench and start at the list of departures waiting for my 23:05 train to announce it’s platform. I have stuffed my headphones into my ears and am listening to some kind of music so that I don’t have to talk to strangers because tonight, I’m not just in the mood.

Apparently the person sitting on the bench to right of me begs to differ.

I can barely make him sight of him, but my peripheries do catch sight of someone waving at me to try and catch my attention. I ignore it.Sorry pal, but tonight is not your night. I’m tired and exhausted from being sick, and I want to go home. Nope, wave all you want; I’m going to continue to ignore you.

Ugh, okay fine. I’ll look and see what the hell you want from me.

It’s Peterson! Nothing could have perked up my night more. 7 weeks later, a lost e-mail, and an absent-minded, unintentionally made choice to sit on the wrong train allowed me to run into Peterson again. What are the odds of that?

Probably higher than I think– but for that moment, the serendipity was too sweet to spoil with statistics.

Rice on Rue Greneta

I found a nifty little site that has been great for finding me different things to try and places to see. I was meeting up with a fellow expat for lunch before her immigration appointment, so I used the site to try to find a good place to eat that was fairly cheap.

Luckily, timeout.com has an extensive list of good but cheap restaurants worth trying in Paris. Today, their list took me to the 2nd arrondissement for some sushi.

Rice & Fish is a great  Japanese restaurant located on Rue Greneta. However, you’ll have to decide whether you want sushi or maki ahead of time; the two are separated into 2 different venues that are about 15 meters apart. We tried the Maki section, but I definitely want to go back for sushi; I hear it’s very good.

They have some items that seem pretty classic, but their more creative dishes are awesome too, such as the BBQ bowl and the Japanese burger. It’s a small venue, near a pretty interesting section of Paris that has many vintage shops to roam through just down the street near Rue Saint Denis.

I ended up ordering one of their Bento boxes since it was a good amount of food for only about 12 euros.

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