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Trip Report My summer in Paris

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First of all - a big thank you to all Fodorites who helped to change my initial reluctance to a great big YES. I am glad that I have accepted the offer of a month-long home exchange with people who live in Villeneuve near Paris.
Let me start off by describing our place for this precious month. We have a 4-bedroom house in a very ordinary street.
A big supermarket is perhaps 200 meters down the street. I love shopping here – not a tourist in sight. Compared to where I come from, there is an immense selection of wines, cheeses, breads, pastries … I queue behind a worker in blue overall buying lunch. He pays for a meter-long baguette, slices of ham, a small cheese, an apple and a small bottle of red wine. And I remember a similar worker in my city, who bought a loaf of white bread and a Coke.
Our hosts drove 45 minutes to meet us at CDG airport. We exchanged photos before the time, and we easily found them in the crush. They took time to show us their home, then left. This sounds less complicated than it was. There is, of course, the language issue: I speak no French, my DD knows a few survival phrases, they have very little English. We got on splendidly. A 15-year old cousin was brought in to translate. She did this patiently and with good humor, passing orders and requests to and fro. Assorted members of the extended family came to meet us. There was the one moment when six people quite literally talked to us at the same time, arms waving, and DD and I (jetlagged) just stared!!
We did try to type our messages on Google Translate, but this did not work when we went out into the (somewhat neglected) garden. She has a few herbs – we did not need words when we stood there crushing and smelling the thyme and mint. There is an abundance of cherry tomatoes, and one of my great joys is walking barefoot in the early mornings and picking a little white bowl of tomatoes for breakfast.
They are Muslim, the woman of the house is originally from Algeria, the husband is French. Some family members wear the headscarf; some do not. They cannot be kinder or more accommodating. After exchanging phone numbers in case of need, they all left. Silence reigned.
Our house is next to a cemetery. It looks peaceful and very neat. No loiterers or homeless people as you may find in my country. Fresh flowers on graves. Our neighbor has a very black cat. This cat has four almost-grown kittens; two black like the mother, two dark grey. They seem to prefer our garden to their own. Early the first morning, when I went down to face the unfamiliar coffee machine, I could not help laughing out loud when I looked out of the window. Five dark cats were sitting quietly in the early-morning dusk!
The neighbours are friendly and kind. I could not get the coffee machine to agree with me, and I mailed our hosts with questions. Within the next hour a neighbour rang the bell at the gate, with two of his sons he came to investigate. He cannot say more than ‘coffee’ and ‘machine’ in English, but we kindly beamed at each other. The 5-year old does not mind that I do not react, he loves chatting to me. When I look away, he softly touches my hand and keeps on chattering away in French. We really tried, but could not get the machine to work – even after phoning our host and discussing the issue in great detail. I typed on Google Translate to say that we will survive. Later that afternoon the same neighbour with wife appeared, bringing a new coffee machine for our use.
The home has everything that we need, and more. A comfy mattress, a nice bath, an outside patio (with one mosquito included).
The butcher and baker are 7 minutes away, on the way to the station.

Problems: the fact that I do not speak French does complicate things. I can be polite and say hallo and thank you, but that is about it. People are remarkably patient with me.
The commute is time-consuming. This is just a fact. Usually it should take +-35 minutes to get from our station (Orly Ville) to the station at Notre Dame. With the construction work of the moment, it takes an hour. I do struggle a bit to navigate this fascinating city. Thanks to everybody who sent the links to the SNCF site and the interactive map!

More to follow later …

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