Last spring during one of my weekly prep sessions with my faculty adviser, she told me a story about this big blow up that had passed between a previous student of hers and that student’s host family. During the middle of the night, the student, hungry, had decided that she wanted to eat a can of peas that she had bought earlier that day. She got up in the middle of the night, let’s say 1:00am, ate the can of peas, and unsure of whether her host family recycled, left the empty can on the counter top. The next morning, her host parents were furious with her, and in response, the student had become equally upset.
I’m sure that you can imagine where both parties were coming from. The student was upset because she thought herself entitled to eat the can of peas that she had bought and that her host family had no right to be upset with her. Her host parents were upset because the student had not told them that she wasn’t getting enough to eat, and perhaps it was an additional slap in the face because the student had chosen to relieve her hunger with canned vegetables. My professor had been dragged in the middle of it, and apparently the incident was enough of a hassle to motivate my adviser to tell it to the students travelling abroad every year.
Well, before I came to France, all I had heard about was the incredible food. The baguettes, the croissants, fish, meats, wines, cheeses… and considering the volume of food consumed at Lac du Bois, the French immersion camp that I worked at this past summer, I thought that I would have no problem getting enough to eat. Maybe it’s because I have been running, or because I have not been smoking enough or drinking enough coffee, or perhaps it is just my response to the stress of being in a completely new environment, whatever it is, I found myself extremely hungry a few nights ago.
The first day that I had arrived at the house, I had brought with me some left over food that I had bought during my sojourn in Basque country–a baguette, a bag of muesli (a morning cereal composed of different types of grains), and a delicious jar of Nutella, made of glass I might add–go France! My host father told me upon arrival that I could keep it in my room or in my kitchen. Naturally, I put my food in the kitchen thinking that I would just have the food for breakfast.
It was in the middle of the night, a little past ten. The lights were out in the house, and everyone had gone to bed. I opened my door and quietly crept down the staircase. I hit a Nerf gun lying at the bottom of the staircase, and muttered “shit” quietly under my breath as I stopped moving for fear that I had been heard. Nothing. I turned the lights on, retrieved what I had came for, and switched off the light on my way out. I had nearly made it to my door, a quiet evening with some baguette and Nutella awaiting me, when I tripped on the last step, not realizing that I had one more to go. I was just outside my host parents’ door, the first one facing the staircase opening, and it was loud enough to wake them. As I lifted up my leg to keep going, the door opened, and the hallway light was turned on.
I can only imagine the scene from the eye’s of my host mom. One, it was my host father who knew that I had put my food in the cabinet. My host mother was unaware that I had any food in the house. I was certain that she must have thought my jar of Nutella was her’s, that I was stealing. Secondly, I was able to stutter something in French like, “O, hi, I’m so sorry, I was just really hungry,” as I stood there terrified with only a jar of Nutella in my hand. Finally, the entirety of my emotions were magnified by the story that my faculty adviser had told me prior to my trip. Of all the information that had been told to me, I remember this funny story of miscommunication best, and for some reason, it had filed itself away as the quintessential, student-host family miscommunication incident bound to happen, at the same time easily avoidable.
Luckily for me, my host parents are not the same ones as the poor girl who had decided to indulge in a can of peas. My host mom said that if I am to eat, I am to do it downstairs, and if there is anything that I do want to eat that they don’t offer at the house, I am allowed to buy it myself and store it in the kitchen. I panicked over nothing, I guess, and the night ended happily with me recounting this entire story to one of my roommates. That baguette and Nutella couldn’t have tasted better.