"Est-ce que je peut avoir une crêpe avec nutella et banan, s'il vous plaît?" Can I have a crêpe with nutella and banana, please? This was the first time my mediocre French has been put to use in the real world. And what a useful sentence that one turned out to be during the rest of my time in the nation of baguettes and berets. For 10 glorious days this past summer, my French teacher accompanied 11 students and me to France to fully immerse ourselves in the language and culture we've been studying for years.
In the South of France, just two hours from Nice and Cannes, lay Montpellier. A simple bus ride from the glistening Mediterranean, this gem of a city is packed with gracious host families and their international students eager to learn the native language. My two friends and I were assigned to live with Madame Afonso, an older woman who, after raising four kids of her own, now hosts foreign students for a living. Les Familles D'Acceuils (host families) are a business in Montpellier (whereas in America it's typically volunteer), and a bustling one at that.
Each morning we attended an international school where we -- much to our dismay at first -- partook in a French course for three straight hours. On the first day, we were administered a diagnostic test. Thrilling: a test during the summer. While I didn't think it went overly well, by some miracle, my four years of middle and high school French landed me in the most proficient group.
When my friend Sami and I sat in the class later that day, there was nothing we could do but smile and act like we understood whatever the teacher was talking about. The rest of the students not only were a vocabulary book away from being fluent, but also all spoke with extremely thick accents from their respective countries. More than I care to admit was probably lost in translation. So, when the teacher asked one Italian boy how he was, he replied, "Je suis chaud." The class lost it. Well, everyone except for Sami and me -- we were just lost. The literal English translation? "I am hot." The true translation? "I am horny." By the time the British chick sitting next to me explained the miscommunication, it was too late. My laugh was a beat off, and I stood out more than my heavy American accent. Unsurprisingly, the next day, Sami and I were moved down a level. Merci Dieu.
Every Friday in a huge open garden in Montpellier there is a giant party called Les Estivales (festival). For just five euros, you are given a wine glass and three tickets for three glasses of wine of your choice. Glamorous white tents lined the wide, concrete path, where delicious entrées, indulgent deserts and fine wines were sold. The luscious grass areas housed multiple bands that played on stage where everyone was welcome to dance, and everyone did.
At Les Estivales, my friends and I met up with our new friends from Italy, Switzerland and Spain, and a group of Americans from South Carolina whose accents were so thick and southern compared to my own, that they might as well have been foreign too. Out of all the people I met, I became closest with the one with whom I had the biggest language barrier: a chic, edgy Italian girl named Carolina. She liked my shirt. I liked her dark eyeliner. She envied my life in America: muscular boys, cheap shopping and the land of opportunity. I envied her life in Rome: Italian boys, fabulous shopping and the accessibility to go to a different country every weekend. Carolina dreams of living in Manhattan. I dream of living in Manhattan. Boom. Instant friends.
If there's one thing I learned on my trip -- besides that it would be a bummer to be gluten-free in France -- it is that kids are kids no matter the language. And that, mes amis, is pretty cool.