Mal du Pays & Tacos

It usually sneaks up on me on Sunday nights after all my work is finished, I am in pajamas, and have nothing to do but watch Friends for the billionth time on Netflix. It is too early to go to bed but too late to go out. The type of hushed conversations that only happen on Sunday nights create a gray and lethargic atmosphere around the tiny campus where we reside. And then it hits me: a craving for tacos. And those cravings, they are the worst. Because homesickness (or “mal du pays” en français) in Europe feels less like a longing to go home and more like a longing for familiarity.  

I measure my adaptability to a place by how I feel after week four. Week Four, I have observed, is the week when the “honeymoon” period of living anywhere new starts to wear off; in the “Culture Shock 101” books which I read in preparing for my study abroad experiences, all of them claimed that serious culture shock starts to seriously set in around Week Four. I geared myself up for the worst homesickness I would have yet as week four rolled around. During the week, I was kept busy with schoolwork but I knew that the calmness of the weekend would change my perspective. My roommates would be out of town from Friday until Sunday and so I would have two nights, alone with myself and my thoughts.

So what did happen on weekend number four? All in all, it was a great weekend. After my class on Friday, I found myself alone in my room, watching random videos on Youtube, my brain beginning to feel like a giant dustbunny, thinking, this is what the whole weekend is going to be like. But it was not. In fact, I found three new places in town that made me feel a little bit less like a stranger in France, and gave me a sense of familiarity, as an American.

Bowling: Bowling may be a sport practiced in most countries, but that is also the beauty of it. It does not matter what country you are in, bowling alleys look the same, have the same rules, and, don’t worry, because you suck just as much at bowling in France as you do in the states. It’s great! Our group had a blast cheering each other on, laughing at all of the gutter balls we threw, and shouting in glee when someone would bowl a strike or a spare. In one hour of bowling, we were left feeling a great sense of familiarity from this simple sport.

 

Ma Nolan’s: Apparently, this restaurant is a chain and is basically like the Applebee’s of France but I really do not care because they have nachos, burgers, and hot wings. After going bowling, half of the group had a collective craving for nachos. I chalk craving nachos and wings up to a form of homesickness because it is a craving for familiarity (it is the same reason I crave tacos every time 8:00 p.m. rolls around on a Sunday). So we decided to take a chance on this new restaurant because, that Friday evening, we really did need nachos. We needed it because we were a group of hungry adolescent females who would stop at nothing until we had those nachos and because we needed the taste of familiarity that nachos could provide and escargots really just cannot (no matter how amazing garlic smothered escargots tastes on a warm baguette). And our adventure ended up showing us a new cheap restaurant that had good American food and an incredibly friendly staff who were very patient with seating our large group of ten and then letting us pay separately. If you have ever eaten at a truly French restaurant, you know that the staff is often standoff-ish and/or they refuse to seat groups larger than four or five without a reservation. So even the customer service was a lovely treat.

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Starbucks: This may sound ridiculous, considering I am living in France, a country with amazing coffee, but when I am craving something a little sweet or lacking a sense of familiarity, all I have to do is walk into town and find the little Starbucks tucked away behind the train station. The green siren logo is always welcoming and I can simply sit inside and utilise the free wifi to get some work done. Plus the odds are that wherever you travel, there is going to be a Starbucks somewhere and it is a great five minute break from whatever culture shock or homesickness you may be feeling.

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Of course, I do not only drink Starbucks or only eat wings and nachos from Ma Nolan’s. I try to save those for every once in awhile treats when I am feeling homesick and it, without a doubt, always lifts me up. Overall, Week Four was a success. Despite the homesickness that everyone will surely feel at some point in their stay abroad, there will always be little things that can help – I did not let Week Four’s solemness bring me down. I used Week Four, instead, to find things or places that brought home a little bit closer to me.

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