Valley Overseas: Champagne for Brunch & Eyeballs for Dinner

Introducing a new column, Valley Overseas. We’ll hear from students exploring new lands full of strange customs, seemingly impenetrable language barriers, and Euro-trash. They’ll dish out the good, bad and the ugly of living in a home-stay, and the tales of discount airlines. From mixed-up vocab to drool-worthy people in fantastic fashions, let us show you the experience of a lifetime.

Last night, everything my French host family served had eyeballs on it. There were whole fish staring up at us from our plates. Lying next to them were piles of shrimp with claws, whiskers and tails still attached. Then, there was a heaping plate of full-bodied, inch-long fish that, according to my host mom, we eat “like fries.”

My apologies to vegetarians, but I loved all of it.

This academic year I’m studying and living abroad with a host family in the Mediterranean city of Montpellier, France—a popular location among Penn State French majors and minors.

I had my concerns when choosing to live with a family. But then my host mom’s first words to me were, “Would you like to join us for some champagne by the pool?” Since, she’s introduced me to French cuisine and kept a box of macarons in the fridge for me. What more could I want?

Life in Mediterranean France isn’t all drinking champagne outdoors though. (I mean, sometimes it’s wine.) Really—I’ve spent evenings grappling with a foreign language over dinner, fishing for a word and coming up empty. Sometimes my only response to my host parents’ questions is a confused face. Once, I even mixed up my verbs and wrongly told my host parents that Penn State hired Coach Paterno last fall. Yikes.

Awkward encounters and subpar language skills are why so many students avoid home-stays. But there’s no place like someone’s home to learn the ins and outs of a culture. For instance, my host family regularly offers bananas for dessert. Yogurt as well—and no, I don’t mean fro-yo doused in Oreo-bits and M&Ms. Just yogurt. While meals in France can be large, desserts stay small and snacks are almost nonexistent. Given all the calories from wine, though, I can definitely come to terms with this.

Speaking of wine, when I say that we drink a lot in France, I mean this in the sanest, healthiest way possible. The French drink often—my host mom has offered wine before lunch—but slowly. The goal is to appreciate the taste of a drink, not its, uh, effects.

A snap from Friday’s festival.

My host mother has also taken me to a wine festival where you get three glasses of wine for five euros. Please, for a moment, imagine the chaos if State College did this. But in Montpellier, this is every Friday. (Oh, and while we’re on the subject of French things we don’t have in America: boat jousting. It’s a real thing. Google it.)

The more time I spend with my host parents, the more I realize how similar we are. We have so much in common, and if considering a home-stay abroad, that’s something to keep in mind. Here in France, I have a poor vocabulary. But, hey—I also have a glass of champagne in my hand and a box of macarons waiting for me in the fridge. I think I’m going to be just fine.

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