Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Third Tip for Doing a Home Exchange...how do I say water?

When we first decided to do a two month home exchange, I knew immediately that I wanted to go to France.  The food and wine were calling my name.  I had taken a year of French in college (after 8 years of Spanish in high school and a little dabbling in Russian also).  In college, I was an International Relations major.  This meant that it was required (almost) to spend a semester abroad.  I was slated to go my senior year, however I encountered a little obstacle.  I met the love of my life, the man of my dreams, my soul mate...the person with whom I would spend the rest of my life. 

St. James and I met spring semester of my junior year (his senior year) of college.  Ours is a romantic story and if you haven't heard it, here it is for you.  (If you have heard it...maybe 20 times or so, feel free to skip this part.)

James and I went to college in different states (me in California, James in Oregon).  We met at a Model United Nations conference in Sacramento, CA (which was just about half way between our respective colleges).  We were both on the Security Council. 

If you don't know what the Security Council of the UN is click here.  (See, this blog is educational as well as entertaining..I hope!)  The Security Council is a rather small group by UN standards.  At our Model UN meeting, there were about 20 of us on the Council.

The Model UN Conference was held at the Red Lion Inn in Sacramento and this was my third year attending.  The prior two years had been educational and interesting...but mainly it was an excuse to party with several hundred college kids from all over the west coast.  It was a three day conference, which provided plenty of time for mischief.  Given that my son, my nieces and nephews and other young impressionable minds read this blog...I won't go into the details of those first two meetings...I will only focus on my third one...which is PG rated!

My school was representing the country of Holland and James' school was Egypt.  During our first meeting of the Security Council, I receive a note that says:

Would Holland do me the pleasure of going to dinner with me?
Signed...Blue Shirt

Cool, I thought...then looked around the room to see who my secret admirer was.  Of the 15+ guys in the room, at least 10 had blue shirts on.  Oops!  How was I going to figure this out?  I looked at the note again and saw that it was on country stationary...across the top was printed EGYPT.  Well, that narrowed it down.  I looked across the table at the Egypt delegates and there were just two.  One in a white shirt and one in a blue shirt.  I thought...ooh, the cute boy in the blue shirt wants to take me to dinner!!!  I smiled at him to indicate my acceptance.  At our next break, he came up to me to introduce himself and discuss details.  He told me that he knew of a great Chinese place and that he could use his school's van (that's how his group had come to the conference) and that we would need to go "dutch" as he didn't have a lot of money.  For many girls, this combination would have been a no go.  Chinese food, school van, going dutch!  But, he was so darn cute and I liked that he was honest about not having a lot of money.  So, I happily agreed.

Later that evening, he picked me up and we went to the restaurant.  Now, I never even wondered how he knew about a Chinese restaurant in Sacrament, when he was from Oregon.  Turns out, his group had eaten there the night before...so at least he knew that it was edible, clean and relatively cheap. 

Here's what I remember from that dinner.  I have a faint image of the restaurant in my mind, an acceptable place...clean, bright.  I have no memory of what we ate.  I do know that after just 10 minutes of conversation with James, I knew he was the one!  This was the man that I was going to marry.  No doubts in my mind.  I'd never met anyone quite like him.  He was serious but had a wicked sense of humor (a sarcastic wit that has been passed on to our son)...he had a plan for life, he was smart, handsome and quite a charmer.  I felt safe with him and could tell he was a gentleman through and through (not just a first date act)!  Here I was, all of 20 years old...and I was ready to take the plunge after 10 minutes of conversation.

We spent the rest of the weekend getting to know each other between Council sessions, then had to part ways.  We spent the next two months writing letters (almost every day) to get to know each other even more.  This was before email (heck, it was before the Internet) and long distance phone calls were still very expensive.  We talked once a week, if we were lucky.  We fell in love over those two months.  I poured my heart out in those letters and told him everything about me and he did the same.  (And yes, I still have the original note and the letters...in the attic somewhere.)

When Memorial Day rolled around, he decided to make the trek to Southern California to see me at school.  What I didn't learn until years later is that he had to sell his fly fishing equipment and a stereo to get enough money to make the trip.  Love makes us do interesting things! 

By the end of the school year, I had decided to change my life completely.  Instead of graduating in a year...I decided to graduate in December.  Which meant I would not be going abroad my senior year, as I needed to take an impossible number of units to graduate early.  I took classes over the summer and an extraordinary load in the fall and was able to graduate in December.

Over the summer, James had moved to Los Angeles to live with his step-grandmother and work and be closer to me.  I spent the summer working for my mom's company in San Diego.  At least we were only two hours away instead of 12.  The first weekend that James came to San Diego and met my family, my mom fell in love with him!  She offered him a job for the summer and  to share my brother's room in the converted garage.  She took me aside and told me that if we were ever to break up, she wasn't sure that I would be the one that the family would stay connected to.  Normally, having this much of a family blessing can be a turn off for a young adult, but for me it was so nice to have my choice validated.  I knew I was going down the right path.

James went back to Oregon to work on his Masters and I finished my last semester of college.  It was very difficult to be apart that semester, but we survived.  I moved up to Oregon in January and James and I applied to law schools together.  We were lucky to get into the same schools and selected Hastings in San Francisco.  He proposed in February and we left Oregon at the end of the summer and moved to San Francisco for law school.  I will save for another day some of the stories of living in Oregon together and our law school years. 

I told you all of this so you'd know why I missed my year abroad in college.  Which is also the reason that my French is less than stellar.  Actually, my French is really non-existent.  While I can understand a bit and can say hello and goodbye and order croissants in a bakery (notice that word is the same in French and English!), I am no where close to being able to hold a conversation. 

However, I do know how to ask for water (une bouteille d'eau, s'il vous plait).   Although, many people did not understand me when I was asking for water, at least I knew I had the correct words.  My sister, on the other hand, had a heck of a time getting water. 

Kerry is a runner and most mornings would get up and run about five miles along the country roads.  She
would finish her run through our little town and stop at the bakery to get a bottle of water.  For some reason, she always had trouble with this.  She said they always looked at her like she was crazy when she asked for a bottle of water.  Finally, she found a little shop where the owner got to know her and knew what she wanted!  When we were having lunch in Strasbourg, she ordered water from the water by saying "Azul, s'il vous plait."  The waiter looked at her like she was crazy and I started cracking up.  I told her she had just ordered Blue (in Spanish).  I asked her if this is how she'd been asking for water all this time and she sheepishly acknowledged that yes, she'd been asking for Azul.  It was even funnier at this point because we were in a Mexican restaurant (ok, fake Mexican restaurant...but they were trying hard!)

My third tip for doing a home exchange is to study the language a bit before you go.  It's important to be able to say hello, goodbye, please and thank you and to be able to count.  Being able to ask for water also comes in quite handy.  And, if your car breaks down or your toilet explodes or you get lost...being able to ask for help is also quite useful!

PS...James and I are starting a conversational French class tonight, so hopefully next year will be a little easier in France!


Michelle said...

I never knew how you guys met. Imagine if you had gone to France, met some cute farmer boy, and had lived the last 20 years shooing flies and loading bulls onto trucks....hmmm, you might need to start calling him Savior James : )

KevinCromley said...

Great story... I don't remember sharing a room w James... but I was in a pretty heavy fog back in those days... also 8 years of high school Spanish and 3.5 yrs college? Weird math!

Steph said...

Kev, I can't believe you don't remember that summer. Too funny! Yep, guess I meant to say 8 years in jr high, high school & college. :)