By Ashley Bliss
---- — Time here in France is really flying by, just like everyone back home warned me it would before I left.
I’ve officially been away from home and the normality of everything I’ve ever known for half a year, and even with that immense span of time, things here sometimes still seem like a dream. Although the initial shock of things has been gone for a while now, France continues to share its many surprises with me around each and every corner. The shock of this month: Being invited to an American-themed birthday party.
Since I wrote last month, I’ve moved in with my second host family. My new family has two daughters, 17 and 13 years old, who are a great time to be around. My oldest host sister and I have a few of the same friends in school, and just this past weekend she and I were invited to a friend’s 18th birthday party. I was all ready to go, I thought, until a few hours before we left when she asked me what my costume was that I was going to be wearing. I thought about a typical birthday party back in the United States and imagined why I would need a costume, then I remembered that I was in France and things are just done differently here. My host sister went on to explain to me that birthday parties in France typically have themed decorations, music and costumes, and that this specific party’s theme was “American.”
After getting over the initial surprise of the fact, I then was presented with the question of what does an American wear to an American themed party? I asked my host sister if I could just wear jeans and a shirt I’d wear on any typical day back home and she said I’d stick out too much so I should think of something else. I dug deep into the collection of stereotypes that I’ve learned about Americans since I’ve been in France and decided upon a simple cowgirl.
We spent the evening dancing and having a good time. I taught everyone the “Electric Slide,” something no one had ever seen or heard of before, but loved. We listened to a wide variety of American music, most of which I knew every word to. As I naturally sang along to myself, I realized that everyone was watching me. They continued to watch in amazement and explained to me that they had never known anyone who actually knew the right words to the song. They asked if I would teach them a little bit, so I tried my best to slow the lyrics down for them.
As funny as it may sound, as soon as I walked into the decorated party room, I felt so much closer to home. The walls were covered with huge photo murals of New York City with little catch phrases printed out they all asked me to translated because they didn’t understand. We had mini chicken sandwiches cut out into the shape of hamburgers, American dollar paper napkins, which I couldn’t help but think that were real when I saw them out of the corner of my eye, and little American flags all over the place. Although the decorations were simple, and almost a bit too stereotypical, I reminded myself that it was celebrating my country and I was more than proud.
Ashley Bliss is a Cooperstown Rotary exchange student. Follow her adventures on her blog at www.ablissfulbonjour.wordpress.com