While trying to create a clear illustration of Montpellier, I should not forget the most important location of all: my homestay. My homestay or “famille d’acceuil” is about a 20-25 minute walk from the Comédie. You walk away from the Comédie through Montpellier’s Arc de Triomphe. Keep walking straight through a garden. This garden does not have many flowers; it’s more like an open park with a statue in the middle and an enclosed pond at the end. Then you have to walk down several stairs to get back on the street. The Arceaux, which are the old aqueducts line this part of the walk. During the day you could see tables of used books, or old men playing Pétanque (French bocce). Nightfall brings a new crowd to the street opposite the Arceaux (arches). Transvestite prostitutes line the corners. I’ve only seen them twice, but they are in full wig and makeup. A short uphill walk past the Arceaux and you arrive at my homestay, a gated apartment complex.
But anyway, to the people I live with. I live with a middle-aged couple named Claude and Caroline. They have a son named Florian, but he goes to school in Strasbourg, so I have not met him yet. I occupy his old room though. Caroline removed the Metallica posters for me. Claude manages an IBM branch here and he is gone from before I get up in the morning to 8 at night. No 35-hour workweek for Claude! Caroline used to work in the restaurant business, rating restaurants (I think). Then she fell very ill and had to quit working. She was sick for 3 years. This was a real turning point in her life and now she lives with as little stress as possible. She leads a busy life though. She tangos like a fiend 3 times a week, attending tango soirées and lessons. She attends educational conventions on random topics. She is also very creative. She makes mosaics that decorate the house (I have a Zeus one in my room). She loves sewing little things and making cute outfits (with color…how un-French). When she was sick, she wrote a lot of poems. I see a lot less of Claude, but he is equally as warm and welcoming. Because of his job, he has travelled to Poughkeepsie, NY a lot and therefore knows English. He picked it up quick because he is from Alsace, a region in France close to Germany. So he knows the Alsace dialect, German, French, and a lot of English. Claude likes to ask a lot of questions. He reminds me of my dad a little because he knows incredible amounts of information about the most random topics. Except it would be rude of me to pose the question “How in the hell do you know all this?” to this dad. Dinner is always a long affair because the conversation keeps going. Caroline is very talkative and Claude always has stories. They are a very calm, even-tempered couple that have a lot of love for each other. Caroline frequently remarks to me how she admires Claude for his gentle manner, intelligence, and work ethic.
As is typical with most French fams, they have a cat. Her name is Minette, which just means “kitty cat”. Caroline told me that this term is also used to describe tarty girls. When she was driving me home the first day, Caroline told me that their cat has a sweet loving temperament. Not true. It’s 11 years old and she meows all the time. They leave her outside for the day and she sits on the hood of the car and doesn’t move. Or she sits on the edge of the balcony and doesn’t move. When she stays inside the house, she sits by the radiator and doesn’t move. The only time she moves is when we are eating. This movement also involves meowing. Claude plays a little rough with her, but she loves him the most. Minette lets me pet her now...lucky me. She is pretty though. She has tan and dark brown fur in a striped diamond design and big green eyes.
I am incredibly lucky with my homestay. I am free to do as I please. They always have a smile and something nice to say, which is atypical French behavior. Other people in my program have complained that their homestay family has been quick to criticize the,. And then there are the homestay horrors. I may not have the friendliest cat, but another girl on my program wishes her cat wasn’t so friendly. Due to the cultural difference that the French don’t really spay/neuter, her homestay cat is in heat. It meows loudly from 5am-8am and then follows her around the house meowing with it’s butt in the air. Oh God. And then there is Brittany. While Brittany likes her homestay in general, her homestay mom, Anne can be tough to please. What’s more, her homestay sister runs around the house completely naked all the time. She is 12, and not a young 12 if you get what I mean. I feel lucky to be in a homestay where I feel comfortable. I would install locks on my doors if I were either of those other girls.
Without a doubt, the best choice I have made about this whole trip is to live with a homestay. My homestay provides me with so much more than a place to stay and something to eat. They put for enormous effort to be welcoming and to encourage me in any way I need encouraging. The knowledge I acquire from day to day conversations is invaluable whether it is in language or culture. I honestly do not know how the students who choose to live in an apartment could possibly have access to such a fountain of French, because my homestay acts as my main source of listening and speaking French.