- August 27 – September 1
- Kyra: An article that details what Claude and Nicholas described to us about the French work week
- Ben: I loved the Gardens of Versailles, but there were some strange sculptures that seemed to take away from some of the beauty.
Where we stayed
Kyra: Several years ago, an acquaintance of my mother’s introduced our family to a French family interested in having their son, Emile, stay with us for a few weeks in the summer. Emile visited us twice and my brother, Seth, visited the D’Allens in Paris and their summer home in Brittany once. When Ben and I contacted the D’Allens about our trip they generously offered the spare bedroom in their Parisian home to us.
Ben: We got very lucky with lodging in France as this was one of the places where we knew people who lived there. The D’Allens were gracious hosts, always offering something; a conversation, dinner, tips for Paris, directions, pear alcohol (with a full pear the bottle), and of course a spare room where Kyra and I stayed! It was great getting to know the whole family: Nicolas, the father, who works at a tech company, shared some local beers with us. Claude, the mother, an architect-turned-schoolteacher, gave us a great view into French culture and the history of Brittany, France. Louise, their daughter, works part-time for Uber, in between graduate school. She taught us some great French words and always had a tip for the best place to spend the afternoon. Emile, their son, showed us how he fed his pet snake, Rocky, chatted with us about cars, and learned our card games very quickly (maybe too quickly…).
Kyra: The D’Allens have a cozy apartment in a central location. Everything about the apartment is quintessentially European – clothes are moved from the washer to a drying rack in the bathroom, music from neighbors’ plays late into the night on the weekend, and most things nest within one another to take advantage of space.
Ben: Thanks to our gracious hosts, we ate quite well in Paris. The evening we arrived, Kyra and I were ready to eat anything after to the 8-hour bus ride with one shared meal.
Kyra: Our rides with Bla Bla Car from London to Paris had been cancelled twice which resulted in the last-minute booking of a EuroLines bus. Walking into the D’Allens apartment was an incredible relief – immediately our backpacks and wet jackets were removed and we could smell a homemade meal. Shortly after we sat down to dinner: green beans and sausage for our first course, salad and bread for a middle course, and brownies for dessert. Throughout our stay Nicholas shared French wine, beer, and spirits with us – each accompanied by a story of what made the drink special.
Kyra: My favorite meal of the trip thus far was shared with Claude, Nicholas, and Ruth Redhead*. Nicholas and Claude invited us to have dinner with them Saturday evening at Le Petit Chalet, overlooking the Seine and Notre Dame. Ben and I guessed what each of the menu items were with some guidance from Ruth, Claude, and Nicholas.
Ben: On our last night in France we had a final delicious meal of Beef Bourguignon, prepared by Claude, capped by crepes from Brittany.
Kyra: We found in Paris that most meals come as a sort of package with a main course and starter or dessert. All meals come with at least one loaf of bread.
Ben: Because of France’s Velib bike system (Velib = Velo + Liberty), we saw a lot of Paris we would not have otherwise seen:
Local View and Lessons learned
Kyra: We saw a lot of people sitting side-by-side, facing out from a restaurant. One night, while on a driving tour of Paris led by Nicholas, we learned that it is because you’re not supposed to disturb traffic on sidewalks and could get a fine if you do. Nicholas also showed us that license plate numbers tell the district of France where the car is from.
Ben: The French seem to be very well traveled. One aspect of this is that they don’t have to cross a massive ocean to travel through Europe, Africa, India, or Asia. The D’Allens travel to Brittany on the Western coast of France most summers to spend time with their family. However, they’ve also mentioned trips to Southeast Asia, Jordan, and Israel, among others. Another is the amount of vacation they get each year. It’s common to have 4 weeks off (and to take most of this vacation at once). Whereas Americans take small trips throughout the year, the French seem to spend a month of their summer traveling to another part of France or internationally.
Kyra: The D’Allens told us about a fairly recent change in legislation that has affected work weeks and vacation time. Essentially, in an effort to boost the economy and employ more individuals, workweeks were shortened to 35 hours. The assumption was that companies would hire additional help to round out the last 5 hours, but instead most employees have been forced to finish the work that they had previously completed in 40 hours. Nicholas, who is a manager, is still to work more hours but has been given more time off.
Kyra: There are particulars around table etiquette, as we learned from Ruth.
- Tear off pieces of bread and put butter on only the piece you’re about to consume (except at breakfast)
- Hands always on table where your friends can see them, especially when there are two people of the opposite sex sitting next to one another.
Si vous ples – Please
Merci – Thank You
Trou du cul – Asshole, we learned this one while playing Presidents and Assholes (card game) with Louise and Emile one night. Emile was kind enough to teach us this phrase as well “tu penses que je suis un trou du cul?”
Ben: Children (or adults) could rent small sailboats in the Gardens of Luxembourg, so my vote for cutest kid would have to be one of the little tykes racing after their boat
Kyra: Our first day to Paris we walked to the Eiffel Tower then took the Metro to Sacre-Coer. Outside the church we sat on the steps watched a mime harass other tourists. Here you can see a terrified boy run from the mime who had pretended to be the boy’s father and hold his hand.
Ben: Biking through Paris from Sac’re Couer down to the Eiffel Tower and seeing many things in Paris that we hadn’t expected to see:
Ben: Eating a delicious crepe with vegetables, meats, and cheeses from the recommended Rue Mouffetard (Thanks Katie!).
Kyra: Asians taking wedding pictures by the Eiffel Tower. We told Louise that we saw a few couples taking wedding photos and she immediately said, “yes, the Chinese love doing that. I don’t know why but there are so many.” Bonus fun fact from Nicholas: Only in the past 10-15 years has it been popular to picnic below the Eiffel Tower
Ben: Small cups of coffee while smoking and chatting at the corner café.
* Ruth is the acquaintance that introduced our families originally. At 91 and nearly blind, she makes a solo pilgrimage from Minneapolis to Paris at least annually. Ruth navigates Paris with ease; a former French teacher, she is fluent. Nicholas jokes that Ruth is likely a CIA operative as she always finds a new flat to stay in for the month or so that she visits Paris, and the only way to reach her is via the phone number she supplies the first time she calls upon arrival.