While studying abroad, I elected to stay in the residence halls instead of with a host family. One of the more obvious downsides is that I am missing out on the family culture that comes with living in a home. This is the reason that I decided to sign up for the opportunity to have dinner with a family here in Lyon. It turned out to be a really fun and enlightening experience.
I was assigned to an older couple’s home with two other USAC study abroad students. The family had also invited two of their friends who spoke some English over. Considering we’re all still students, this was super helpful. If we were completely stuck, they were happy to tell us the correct translation. We started out the meal with apératifs (before dinner drinks), and some bread and olives to snack on. I mentioned bread in my last post, and this dinner only reinforced what I said there. Bread was constantly on the table all throughout dinner, and I’m regretting not asking what bakery they went to.
The beginning of the night was characterized with inevitable awkward small talk, and asking the “who are you” and “where are you from” questions. As the dinner went on, the conversation did become better. This whole experience made me realize that my conversational skills are a bit lacking. Well – I actually already knew that, but this dinner really drove it home. The timeline for the rest of the meal went: salad, main dish, cheese course, dessert, coffee. I’m a pretty picky eater, but considering that it’s custom to eat everything on your plate here, I downed the mushrooms in the salad like a champion. I personally hate mushrooms with a vengeance, but it’s considered rude to not finish your food and I didn’t want to offend my host family.
After the main dish was the cheese course. In France, cheese is always eaten at the end of a meal and before the dessert. There were three types of cheeses that the family served me during dinner. I believe that the custom of always serving three is purely for aesthetic reasons. This is different from the United States where cheese is always an appetizer. I know that many of my friends who live with host families have mentioned that they’re ruined forever because of this. They’re already lamenting the amount of money that they’re going to spend on nice cheese when they return home. I wish that I had taken pictures of the food, because it was delicious, but I decided it wouldn’t be a great idea to whip out a camera during dinner. The main dish was an eggplant and vegetable casserole, and I think I almost cried when she brought out a second platter of it. I guess I’ve been missing home cooked food more than I thought! I don’t have an oven at my residence, so this was a real treat for me. It’s been really difficult to change all the recipes I make at home into stove top recipes.
Next on the menu was dessert. They served an apple tart that one of the USAC students brought, homemade applesauce, and cake. I’m not entirely sure what kind of cake it was, but it was amazing. The homemade applesauce just made me miss home! Once we were done eating, we finished up with some coffee and chocolate. My host apologized for serving coffee out of a pot instead of espresso, but I was secretly overjoyed. I absolutely love plain black coffee.
As far as conversations went, we ventured through a wide variety of topics. Each of the students had a chance to talk about themselves and their families, and our host family told us about how they’re celebrating their 30th anniversary next month in Mexico. We all explained where we lived in Lyon and what we enjoyed so far, and they showed us pictures of the Fête des Lumières and told us all of the places that we need to visit during our stay. They also explained the importance of the countryside to the national identity of the French, but we somehow winded up talking about ceramic chickens at the end.
Overall, I thought that this was an amazing experience. Not only was I able to practice my French, but the amount of culture I absorbed was enormous! I consider myself a polite person at home, but they simply have different etiquette practices here. For example, your bread is placed on the table here and not on the plate. The entire night was fun and I would definitely recommend this opportunity to anyone studying abroad.
My thanks to USAC for making it possible!
Taylor Chase is a USAC Lyon alumna. You can read more about her time in Lyon on her blog, Chameleon Adventure.