Sunday, August 2, 2015

Favorite Day

No matter where I am in the world, or what language they may be speaking, I always know I can feel peace and joy at church. My first Sunday here, I felt so at home when I spotted this sign. And I can't even begin to describe how much I've enjoyed attending every week. The members here are few, but they are strong, and welcoming and loving. I felt like one of them after only hours together. They are perfect examples of loving with Christ-like love. 
Before coming to France I knew my village was about 40k (25 miles) from Nimes, where I would go to church, but I didn't think it would be a big deal to take public transportation that far. Little did I know that public transportation is almost non-existant on the weekends during the summer in southern France. The buses don't run in the summer, and the train is pricey. It's about 10 euros each way to Nimes, which would be about $22 a week, round trip! Luckily there is one member who lives in my village as well. He's an older man named Bruno. And this is his sweet ride. Sometimes I wonder if it will be 1985 when we arrive. 
Bruno is not talkative, and that added to the combo of me not yet being proficient in French led to some pretty quiet car rides, especially at first. I would ask questions, and get one word answers, until I just became comfortable with a mostly silent ride. He expressed himself in other ways. Sometimes he would take back roads so he could show me a nearby medieval village, or the fields of sunflowers. And he proudly tells everyone that he is my chauffeur, and that I have a cadillac on order. Today when I got in the car he told me there was something for me in the glove compartment. I opened it to find this photo. He's snapped it the week before and printed it out for me. So sweet. 

Below is a pool party/BBQ our ward (congregation) had a few weeks ago. Some of my closest friends are Nicole (middle, just to the right of me), Monique (on Nicole's right), Josyanne (green shirt to the left of the African woman), Claudette (black and white shirt behind the African man), Darcie (next to her), and Bruno is in the green shirt on the far left. 
 A quick side story about the African man in the front. He came up to me at this party and said "Nicole, I just really love you. It's too bad you're married." To which I responded, "Oh yes, too bad."

That's Nicole on the far left. She was so excited the day we met, and said she didn't know she had an American name! She and her friend Betty took me around old town Nimes one Sunday after church. They were so much fun! They told me their life stories, and gave me dating advice. 
This was a Relief Society (women's group) activity in Montpellier. Aline, me, Isabelle, Darcie, Nicole, and Claudette. Aline invited me to stay the night with them that night so I wouldn't have to make the trek to Nimes twice in one weekend. It was the greatest night because they had a neighbor party, and their closest neighbors all came over for dinner. It was when I'd first gotten here, so I was still struggling to understand everything, but I loved it!
 And this was today, on my last Sunday. I was so sad to have to say goodbye to everyone. My earlier blog about not being seen by most people upon meeting, does not apply at all to my church friends. They see everyone. I snapped this photo because these sisters had put together a little goodbye party for me after church. It was so sweet! 'Till we meet again, sisters! 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Secours Populaire Francais

Volunteering has been one of the best things I got to do here. I really love the people I work with, and this was where I got a glimpse into French life. Here are some of the crew (Lauren, Malika, Babette, Mireille, Noira, Vincent, Jackie, and me).

Mireille, the director is in the center in the beige dress. Jackie, the one next to me, has my same last name! Well, at least it was the same in the 1500's (Carriere).

The back room where we sort the clothes and toys and other donations.

The store front.


It's easy to be overlooked when you're a language learner in a foreign country. Encounters with new people go something like this:

The 3 obligatory kisses on the cheeks
Each person states their name, and that they're pleased to meet the other.
They ask where I'm from, and when I say California, I am given celebrity status. Especially when I say I live near SF. They usually mention that they know it through some TV series.

Then the conversation continues amongst the friends, and the once incredibly cool Californian is quickly forgotten as normal life resumes.

I don’t mind. In fact, I loved it when I first got here because I could be an invisible observer. But it didn’t take long to realize I didn’t have any French friends. The people at Secours Populaire (where I volunteer) are very nice, but even after a few weeks working there, I still felt like an outsider. They all chat up a storm while we’re working, and I didn’t join in much because the language was so fast, and a lot of times they would talk about events I hadn’t been part of, or people I didn’t know. Now that I’ve been there a little over a month, things are mostly different, and most times I’m right in on the conversation. I’m still not one of them, but I am able to laugh and joke and have fun and feel normal. I feel like I belong, and I love it.

But there was one person who saw me from the start, during the stages when I was still invisible to everyone else. Meet Simone.

She is 87 years old. She’s from the Paris region, and moved here about 10 years ago with her husband. He has since passed away, and in order to keep from being lonely, she volunteers at SP three mornings per week. She was an accountant by profession, and loves numbers, so she works as the cashier in our store. From the first time I was asked to help her, she saw me. She never acted like things were any different between me and anyone else despite my less than fluid language skills.

I would help her out at the front desk, just to make sure she didn’t get confused or forget things. When we didn’t have any customers, she would just talk with me, and ask me questions, and feed me the words I struggled with. She’s a wealth of knowledge for the things she’s passionate about: energies and astrology, and such. She taught me how to test the foods we were selling to see if they have good or bad energies for the body. She showed me where to stand, and where not to stand to receive the most good energy from the earth. She taught me not to cross my arms while I’m standing, and shared with me the little wooden pendulum her husband made. I’m not about to get out and get my own pendulum, but I ate it up. I loved that she was sharing what she loved with me, and that she saw me. 

During the past weeks, we’ve met up a few times on the park benches in the city center after volunteering. I head there to eat my lunch before going to the library, and when I’m about finished she arrives and sits and rests on her walk home. We chat. It often is very similar to the previous conversations because she forgets she’s already asked me what I’m researching in the library, or how long I’ll be here. But I don’t mind. It helps me say it better the second time. And without fail, somewhere during the conversation, she takes my hand and looks me in the eye, and says “We can look each other in the eye. I’m so glad we met.” We had to say goodbye today. My last day is Monday, and she won’t be there. I am so glad we met, too Simone. Thank you for seeing me.

It's A Quiet Village

The first minute of this song plays in my head just about every morning on my way to "work." I literally had a woman pop her head out of her window while opening her shutters, exactly like this. And it's not just the baker, but everyone walks around with their morning baguette. On bikes, in a purse, under an arm with the morning paper. I often see the same people in the same spot on my little route. Yesterday I ran into the man who gives me a ride to church on Sundays. I think he'd been yelling my name for quite some time, but it took me a minute to recognize "Carrier" in French! It's so small, I've run into people I know a few times! Here are some more pics of my quiet village. 


I wish I'd discovered the view from this park during my first month while it was green. But it's still beautiful. Every day I walk from home, which is a little higher than this hill, all the way to the far edge of downtown. It takes about 35 minutes, and I really enjoy it.

 I do have to hug the walls on some of the bends, fearing for my life. It would be nice to have sidewalks.

Downtown (Centre Ville)

The mediatheque. Apparently since they have a lot more than books, they don't call it a biblioteque. I work here a lot in the afternoons, especially on hot days since it has air conditioning! 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Conversation and Courses

Today Matthias and some friends from Nimes had a scuba diving class just outside Montpellier, so we all piled in the car and tagged along for some beach time. That was twice in one week for me! (I went on Thursday with my friends from the Secours Populaire, where I volunteer). The ocean of course was great, although it was really windy, which made spending time on the sand pretty miserable. I had fun swimming and taking pictures of the baby, but we only stayed a couple hours. The highlight of the day was actually a potluck BBQ they had at the dive school after their dive. I kept telling Holly that this is what I came to France for! It was so fun to be a part of their culture. I feel that people think barbecuing is a truly American experience, but we’ve got nothing on them. I loved that something as informal as a BBQ is still a reflection of French eating.

They started off by setting out drinks and aperitifs. The drinks were mostly wine and other alcoholic drinks, but they also had orange juice, water and syro, which is a concentrated fruit/sugar syrup that you add to water. I actually like some of the fruitier ones with the sparkling mineral water, but I put so little in that it’s similar to drinking water with lemon or essential oils. The aperitifs were just chips and nuts.

They brought out salads next, and then the meat started coming of the grill. That’s when the volume suddenly doubled. Oh, and I must mention that for some reason there wasn’t any bread at the start of the meal, and you would have thought we’d forgotten the grill or something. There was a lot of panicking. But someone went and bought two bags of fresh baguettes, and all was well. There were a few kabobs of chicken and steak, and some of duck heart, which was surprisingly very delicious. I was worried about the texture, but it just seemed like regular meat, except with that rich duck flavor. The main meat was sausage. I think there were at least 4 different types, and it just kept coming. They even had one that was stuffed with roquefort cheese. It was ok, but that’s one of the stronger cheeses, and I couldn’t eat very much of it. The absolute best part was the next round when they brought out the cheeses. They had put them on the grill after the meat, and melted them. Wow. Melted Camembert. It was divine. It’s also a fairly strong cheese, but not as much as Roquefort, and I loved it. I ate two pieces of bread and cheese, and now I’m a bloated mess, but it was worth it! The cheese course also included fruit and an apple tart. One dessert. As in one tart for about 20 people. They cut it into little slices, and I’m sure not everyone had one because cheese and fruit are also dessert. And you don’t eat everything, like at an American BBQ. I absolutely love eating in courses. I fell in love with it in Spain, and always want to eat that way, but then when I get home I just return to my American ways and throw everything on my plate at once.  

Another big difference is that this whole process of eating lasts about 3 hours. At home it seems to take forever to get all the food together, everyone is starving waiting for the meat to finish grilling, kids are crying, etc. When it’s finally done everyone piles massive amounts of food on giant plates, and inhales it all in about 10 minutes. And then you do that all over again for dessert. Other than the occasional green salad, and healthy meat, most of the food is junk. Eating in courses means that you can pick at things while the meat grills, so everyone is happy. The food is almost all good for you, and you just enjoy conversation along with every course individually on your little plate, and before you know it 3 hours have gone by. Who’s up for a French BBQ this summer? ;)

 The Camambert. Amazing.
 This looks huge, but it's a little appetizer plate. That's the duck heart. 
 Note Holly's sandals, almost completely buried. With he wind that happened in minutes. 
 Baby footprints. So so cute. He didn't love his first beach experience, but we had fun with him. 

Getting Gypped

Sunday July 5, 2015
This week was going really well, until Tuesday when I got ROBBED! This is the 7th country I’ve lived in, and that was the first time I’ve ever had anything stolen. Holly wanted to collect some rocks at the river, so we were just making a quick stop on the way home from the grocery store. Right before we parked we saw this guy biff it on his scooter, so Holly popped her head out of the window and asked if he was ok. He said he was, but he gave us the heebeegeebees so we sat in the car and watched until he drove away.  We were just going to be at the river for a few minutes, within sight of our car, so we had just stashed our purses under the seats (so stupid--I never do that...the one time!!!!). There are some steps down to the river, and we were just below them when that same guy came back! He pulled up on his scooter and started saying terrible things that he wanted to do to us, so obviously we didn’t want to go anywhere near him, and he had parked himself right between the top of the stairs and our car. All I could think about was getting away, so we walked over to the next flight of stairs to get back up on the road and in sight of more people. As we were going up, I could hear him break the window of the car. The fact that he was hanging around our car because he wanted to steal from us hadn’t even crossed my mind, or the fact that he was probably a gypsy. He grabbed all our stuff, and took off on his scooter right in front of us, and in broad daylight, as we were running towards him yelling and trying to flag down another car. We ran and screamed and yelled, but there was nothing we could do! It was so beyond frustrating. He took my phone and wallet. Luckily my passport was at home. Jerk. Anyway, we went to the police and reported it, but I don’t think they’ll even do anything about it. It’s like no one really cares... We flagged down one of those mini euro vans, right after and told him we’d just been robbed, and to go after the guy to go after the scooter, but he didn’t seem to care. We stopped at a neighbor’s house who had been watering his garden and asked if he saw which way the gut on a scooter went. He said he may or may not have seen him. It was so weird! Everyone was just so indifferent. But, at least we were safe.

I think one of the most annoying things about it is that I came with such few belongings, and I needed all of them! It’s a bummer to be out a few hundred dollars, but I can get over that. I just want my things! If I were at home I would replace everything he took within a couple days, and it wouldn’t be a big deal. But here I can’t do that. I had spent a lot of time finding that particular purse because it holds a lot and is really light and the strap doesn’t dig into my shoulder. And he took my good phone--my Samsung, but also my little pre-pay France phone, so I have no way to communicate, no alarm clock, no time piece. I went into Nimes yesterday and felt so helpless. My train was an hour late and I had nothing to read (I usually just read books on my Nook app). I wanted to go the museum of fine arts, and I had taken a pic of the map on my laptop with my camera, but it just didn’t suffice. I asked two French people where it was, and they both gave me wrong directions. They love to be helpful, and give directions, but don’t always know where the place is. So I had to walk to the other side of downtown to the tourism office to get a map, and then I didn’t have enough time to go.

Sat July 11, 2015
A purse came in at my 2nd-hand store, that was a pretty good replica of the one I had. They gave it to me for free. And then yesterday on my walk home from the grocery store I found a discarded pre-paid phone in the street, really similar to the French one I had. I don’t know if I can find a battery for it, but it made me feel watched over, nonetheless. :)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

I'm Not Uncle Peter

My dad has a brother who is charismatic, funny, outgoing, pleasant to be around, and very talkative. I don’t think I’ve been with him at a restaurant where he doesn’t address the server by name. He makes everyone feel chummy and comfortable within minutes of the conversation. He genuinely enjoys talking to everyone he meets, and wants to meet everyone he can. My aunt told me while they were staying in China, he would stop people on the street and just keep saying hello until he could get someone to have a conversation with him. Ever since my first couple days here, I decided in my head that if I’m going to learn this language, I’m going to have to be Uncle Peter. I didn’t have any friends, or anyone to talk to on a regular basis-- I just needed to start talking to neighbors, clerks, bus drivers, and anyone I see.

I could think about doing that. It made sense, logically. I wanted to speak the language, and I wanted friends. But real life looks like this: I go to a park and sit on the bench to rest for a minute. A woman walks up and sits on the next bench over. We exchange greetings. I smile. She pulls out some snacks. I stand up to go. She says, “Oh, you don’t need to go because I sat down.” I say that I was just going to head home for lunch myself. I tell her “bon apetit,” and head on my way. As I walk away, all I can think is how that was such a good opportunity to get to know a neighbor and to have a good conversation. But my whole being is shouting “Code red, code red! You don’t know her. Abort. Abort!”

It doesn’t matter the language. I am an introvert. The fact the I am trying to have small talk in a foreign language only makes it more intimidating. Uncle Peter thrives off small talk. He feels great. The new friend feels great. They all come out bubbly and happy and better people. I shrink with small talk. Panic sets in, and there’s nothing in my brain to talk about. Nothing! I am an intelligent person, right? How does my brain go blank because someone I don’t know is talking to me?

I started volunteering this week at Secours Populaire Français (a charity organization). I spent the first 2 days (well, 1/2 days because I teach my online class part-time also) at headquarters going through donations, sorting and listening to the other workers, and doing my best to join in their conversations. Wed through Friday we had an open air market, where I worked at the clothing booth. People would come up and look for clothes. I just had to greet them, help direct them to where specific items of clothing were, tell them prices, and then write up a little receipt for them to take to the cashier. Side note: In my mind I kept thinking how much I’d love my students to be able to do something like that. The real-life version of what I try to create in my classroom! But, back to me. I realized by the second day of selling clothes, that I was comfortably talking to strangers!

I read a book a little while ago about being an introvert/extrovert (It was excellent--I highly recommend it to introverts and extroverts alike!). She talks about how introverts can act as extroverts in specific situations, for a specific purpose. That is what I do every day at work. Beng in France gave me a purpose to have the extrovert spill out. But it wasn’t a specific enough purpose. Yet selling clothes apparently was! I just happily went along fulfilling my little role, marveling at how much I enjoyed it.

And I’ve really enjoyed the little insights to French culture I’ve picked up along the way. One of my fellow co-workers telling a very large customer we have “des grands grands pantalons pour vous.” (very very large pants for him). And this was right after she told me all about how a teanager at the next booth over had just told her overweight granddaughter that she eats too much bread and chocolate (a problem she soothed with ice cream bars for both of them).

My moment of overwhelming popularity came when a British woman wanted to buy lotion. No one could understand her, so they all waved me over to translate. They’d been trying to sell her sunscreen, but I solved the problem! I may have broken, barely functionally fluent French. But it works. And it’s fun!

First Day of Work

Mon June 22, 2015

Today was my first day on the job. I found it really easily, and when I got there, I explained a little about who I was, and that I wanted to volunteer. They got the director (Mireille), and she was really really nice! She showed me around the place, which was a second hand store with clothes, shoes, and a couple other random things, and then some smaller food items and shampoo and personal hygiene stuff for sale. She introduced me to so many people there, in the store front, and showed me the back room where they sort, and the offices where they meet with people and discuss their needs. Then she took me out to the market. Our town has a really big outdoor market every Monday morning, so they have a booth there where they sell the same sort of things, but especially a lot of candies and packaged foods. She told me I could work there, and I stayed for a little while, but it ended up being hard because they didn’t really need me, and I was distracting them from their jobs. So, she took me back to the office and had someone take me with them to their epicerie (small corner store) where they sell produce and other expiring items donated by the grocery stores. I helped there for a little bit, which was fun, but again, they really didn’t need me much. Then when they closed, I went back to the main office, and they actually needed a lot of help because someone had just moved and sent tons of boxes that needed to be sorted. We just went through and took out all the winter things to store, and then got the summer things ready to go on the floor. That part was more fun, but there was one lady there who wasn’t very nice. She wasn’t too terribly mean, but she just treated me like I was a little dumb. Other than that everyone was really nice, and very happy to have me there. Mireille (the president) told me my French is excellent! And when she was introducing me to people she would say things like “I don’t know what she’s doing here, her French is so good! It’s funny because people say things like that, but my French is not very good. Really. I get stuck. I say the wrong things. I can’t express myself. But I guess because my accent is decent, and they generally understand me, and because my French is better than their English, that qualifies me as a great speaker. Whatever...I’ll take it! But I’m glad I have 6 weeks left, so I can get better. I really have come a long way in the last 3 weeks. And I really like having a break at home, and being as American as I want. It was such a blessing to end up here--definitely divine.


Somewhere in the midst of trying to feel a part of life here, we spent a day visiting some family members of the family I'm staying with. I went on a little walk by myself to savor the landscape. The photos don't even begin to capture how beautiful it was. I imagined what it would be like to grow up here, like Matthias did, in a medieval village, with rolling hills of vineyards, pomegranate trees, figs and olive orchards.

And then I saw this tree, so strong and so alone. Of course my mind wandered, and I thought of myself. Of how much courage it takes to cross the world alone, and of how strong I can be. I couldn't stop taking pictures.

 And then I got closer, and saw this:

French Best Friends

June 18, 2015
I went to yoga Mon night, but got the time mixed up, and I got there 20 min after it started, rather than 10min before, like I thought. So I just walked around town and did some more exploring instead. Tues was an American day, and I went into Nimes and went shopping with Holly. Yesterday I mostly worked. And today I worked in the morning, and then went to the volunteer center to try and find some sort of volunteer activity so I can be involved in the community and speak French! I had emailed and asked, and they told me when to come. I went, and even though, according to the sign posted on the door with the hours, they should be open, alas, they were closed. It said they were open from 2:30-5. I got there at 2:45, so I decided to just stroll around town and come back. I looked at some bookshops and clothes stores, and just people-watched and eavesdropped on conversations, longing to be a part of them. I talked to some people in a bookstore, but it’s hard to have a conversation of more than a few min with strangers. I went back to the volunteer center a little before 4, and they still weren’t open, so I just headed home, bummed. I just want to be a part of France. Why won’t it let me in?

On my walk home, I started thinking about all the ways I make friends and become involved in the community at home. Church. Not in my town. And other churches have services at the same time. School, nope. Work, nope. Yoga, nope again. They moved yoga to the park this week, and the teacher took my email address and said she’d email me, and give me a ride. But it’s Thursday, and I never heard back. :( Another fail.

I am really enjoying being here, walking around the village, and spending time with Holly and her family. I really love them, and love living with them. And I don’t really have to learn French for any reason. It could really be the perfect set-up for anyone, living with a great family in a great spot. But I LOVE learning languages. I love being able to communicate with someone from another country in their language--I love the connection it brings. I love hearing how they phrase things, and learning the idioms that reflect their culture. It really brings me so much joy. And I am so close in French. I can understand so much. I can speak well enough to get my ideas across. And I’m in their country, in one of their quaint little villages, but I just don’t know who to talk to.

I’ve thought a few times that I just need to get over it, and start talking to everyone I see. I’ve done it a few times, but it’s very hard, and I don’t really get to practice much, because a conversation with someone on the street is only going to be long enough to ask directions, or if they have a cigarette or lighter (I've been asked that a few times--so European!). Anyway, I realized that the reason I can’t just get myself to do that is that those sorts of conversations are not fulfilling to me. That’s not the part of the language I love. I am an introvert. I don’t enjoy small talk. Even in a foreign language. I crave heart-to-hearts with people I’ve built a trusting relationship with. And that’s what I crave here, in French. I need some French best friends.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


June 9, 2015
Well, that was an adventure! I went to my first French yoga class. I’m beginning to learn the Paris metro system is just representative of France--complicated! It’s like they’re still in the 90’s when it comes to the internet. After much searching I did find information on 3 yoga places. But all they include is a phone number for you to call and find out more information. So much for advertising your business, and posting info so people can come… Anyway, Matthias was really nice, and called them all for me. They told him this one was near the library, so I walked downtown toward the library, but couldn’t find the street it was on. I asked an older couple if they knew the street, and the directed me way back to where I’d come from—it wasn’t close to the library at all, but was on the edge of downtown. So, by the time I got there it was 6:28, and class started at 6:30. The building looked closed, but I opened the door, and there were people inside. Of course the door was at the front near the instructor, and the students were all sitting in a semi-circle facing her. I just opened the door and asked in my lame French if I could do yoga. She smiled and said, “I don’t know, can you?” Arg. At least she was smiling. So I asked if I could come in. She said yes, and seemed happy to have me. She then interviewed me about my experience with yoga in front of the whole class. She asked what kind of yoga I do, and when I said hot, she looked at me like I was crazy. I knew I said it right because everyone has been talking about how hot it is, so it’s definitely a word I know! The guy next to me came to my aid, and said he’d heard of it, and it’s yoga where the room is like 40 degrees. I told her it’s so you can stretch better, and she thought that was interesting. Funny she’d never heard of it! This class was Pradipika yoga. I don’t really know what that means, but it was very different from anything I’d done before. I loved being able to listen and follow along in French though! It was mostly just laying on our mats (which were two matts side-by-side with a blanket over them), and breathing while we lifted our arms and legs over our bodies in different ways. I don’t think I would go back again if it were in English. But since it’s in French, I totally will!
June 11, 2015

I tried out another yoga class today. It’s always such an ordeal to find a new place. I asked an older couple again, and google was telling me to go the wrong way on the round-about. But I figured it out, and found the right building. It was a building for clubs and groups in the town, which is really cool. I went to the reception desk and asked if there was a yoga class. She said no, and that she thought there was one later in the afternoon. I asked what time. She said, no, that’s not the way it works. You can’t just ask what time. You have to look up the group and call them and find out the information. I told her I had called and they 11:15. She said, oh, in that case, check with the dance studio room. Why she couldn’t just direct me to that room to begin with was interesting. French culture again. I walked into the dance studio, and there was a receptionist on the phone, so while I waited to ask her I noticed someone coming down the stairs wearing yoga clothes. I asked her if there was a yoga class. She said she was looking for the same class, and had just checked the room, but it was locked. So we waited for the receptionist who then told us the class was at noon. I didn’t mind too much because I had a French person captive to talk to for 45 min! She was really nice, but after about 15 min, I could see that I probably didn’t have it in me to keep the conversation going that long! Then someone else came looking for the class, and another person came and told us it had been moved to the park. Of course I couldn’t get there because I don’t have a car, but luckily the first woman I had been talking to offered to give me a ride. It was so fun. The park was gorgeous! And I got to do yoga in a foreign language. So many of my favorite things together! The yoga again was pretty different from what I’m used to. I’m beginning to think Americans invented our style of yoga because we want to get exercise and meditation all knocked out at once, and we focus on the exercise aspect more for sure! But the class was very fun. And the teacher offered to give me a ride next week because we’ll be in the park again if it doesn’t rain.  Success!


June 7, 2015
My first big outing on my own was going to church, which was AMAZING! It was by far the best thing I’ve done here. I wish I didn’t have to wait an entire week to go back. I found a cheap train (transportation is really expensive here), and got there really easily, thanks to the help of technology. It was so exciting to spot the building as I walked down the street, and when I walked up the steps, there were a few people standing outside, and they all greeted me. When I walked inside, everyone shook my hand and kissed me (3 kisses in France). Relief Society (meeting with the women together) was first, and everyone introduced themselves, and all were excited to meet me. I felt so loved! I wish church could feel this welcoming for everyone every time. I understood most of the meeting (just got lost a few times during the lesson, when I zoned out). The best moment was when someone I had been talking to asked me why I am here. I said I’m here to learn French, and she said, “Oh no, you already speak French! You can say you’re here to better your French.” They really helped boost my confidence. Why does Sunday have to come only once a week? And I wish it weren’t so far away.
June 15, 2015
I just went to church for the second time today. I still love it so so much. The people are just so warm and welcoming. I may walk in alone, but I’m never alone for a minute once I’m there. It was my second week and it’s like I’ve already been going for months. They all kiss me and check in to see how I’m doing. I found someone in my town to give me a ride, an older man who is really nice. I think it makes him feel really great to be able to come pick me up. He kept telling everyone I have a chauffeur now. The train costs about $25 to take and the bus isn’t very direct and doesn’t pass very often, especially during the summer, and especially on Sundays.

Anyway, today was stake conference (a regional conference). I’m in the Toulouse Stake! It’s so big. This was the first conference they started to broadcast the meetings, so the members were very excited to be able to meet in our building. It’s very expensive and very time consuming to be able to go to Toulouse (3 hrs & 75 euros each way on a speed train).  One of the members today was telling me that only the most dedicated and well-off could go. How sad! He also told me that Ales used to have its own branch, with about 30 members, and that Nimes used to have a really big ward. I asked what happened, and he said he didn’t know, really. I guess a good amount of people have moved, and slowly stopped going. I was so bummed! I would have loved to be part of a little branch here.

But, back to conference. It was so good. Three recently returned missionaries spoke about their experiences. One went to SLC temple square, another to Montreal Canada (speaking Spanish and English!), and I can’t remember where the third one went… But they were so cute. One of them mentioned Miitt Romney. He served his mission in France, so they LOVE him! The mission president and his wife both spoke too, and said their goodbyes because they’re going home in a few days. The president served his mission as a young man in Toulouse also, so he talked about how there was also a stake conference going on in Lyon, which is where they live, but they chose to travel to Toulouse so this mission could end where his last one had 38 years earlier. The stake president closed, and also told a lot of mission stories. He served in Belgium.

Bienvenue en France

I guess I didn’t start writing right away because I’ve been to France before. First impressions of a new country are so much fun to write about.
It was my first time in Paris, though, a city I found to be very user unfriendly. I didn’t have a lot of time, so I thought I would just take the metro and hit up the Eiffel tower and the cathedral of Notre Dame before I took my train down south. It took about an hour to figure out how to leave my luggage at the train station. I had to ask so many people where the luggage lockers were. The people in the information booths were not very informative, and their English was impossible for me to understand. Other people I asked just plain didn’t know. That place is a maze (so much so that I left myself ½ hr to get my luggage out, which I needed because even the second time I had a hard time finding my way back to the lockers). After finally locking up my luggage, I was on my way. I headed across the street to the other train station because it looked like it would be an easier metro ride if I left from there. But by the time I got there, and figured out which route to take, I realized I didn’t know how to actually buy the ticket, nor was there anyone around to ask. So I decided I better skip that and just walk along the river to the Cathedral, and enjoy my time there. Dear Paris, I have used the metros in Mexico City, New York, DC, Moscow, and Madrid with no problem. I definitely speak more French than I do Russian. Why are you so complicated?
Anyway, I did enjoy walking around the cathedral and the streets of Paris, and I even ate a crepe! I kept surprising myself because I actually understood what most everyone said to me during my travels. Between the shuttles and trains and train station, I did just fine! I sat next to a nice man on the train, and had a (very) short conversation with him. That train (a double-decker speed train) took me to Nimes from Paris in 3hrs, and then I hopped on another to go from Nimes to Ales.
Holly picked me up when I got here, and they had dinner all ready when we walked in. Duck, rice and green beans. What a great welcome! I feel so blessed to have been able to stay with them. Holly is American, and Matthias, her husband is French. They also have an adorable little baby, Guy.  They were so welcoming, and have been such great hosts, and we quickly became friends. Their house is very cute, and their town is so quaint.
My first few days here seemed really long. I was working online a lot, which is boring. I don’t like just sitting in a room working on the computer for hours, especially when it’s France outside. I took some breaks and spent some time exploring the town with Holly. But it has been hard not having any other friends.

One of the things Holly and I did was go to a retirement home because in my mind I thought that sounded like the best thing I could do to practice speaking—just go hang around with older people who don’t have anything to do other than speak! I’m so glad I didn’t venture out and try to do that one on my own. I would have just said something super simple like, “I’m American and I am here to learn French. Can I talk to the people here to practice?” But even with Holly there explaining in great detail, they still didn’t know what to do with us. They kept saying that they didn’t know how that would be possible, and they didn’t know who we could talk to about that. And that it’s so complicated! They suggested city hall, and the tourist information desk. It was so funny. Definitely my first major culture clash.