These posts are not going to be me just bashing everything about France. I promise. However, I would be remiss in not talking about the negative aspects of my time in France. It’s great to talk about how great the experience was, or how insightful the study abroad experience was, or how I’ve become much more independent (and those things did happen! And I appreciate them a lot!), but I feel like oftentimes when speaking of study abroad experiences people tend to add in negatives almost as a side-note. Therefore, I feel the need to talk about negatives so that anyone studying abroad, in Bordeaux or otherwise, knows that things might not go well, and that that’s okay, too. You can still turn these negative experiences into a teaching tool of some sort. Going through that bureaucratic nightmare for four months, for example, taught me how to navigate it, and now I find myself helping others navigate through these difficult channels that are sometimes filled with equally difficult people. And my experience with food in Bordeaux, which was vastly different from what I expected it to be and definitely different from what I remember it being when I came to France during the summer, taught me some pretty valuable lessons about cuisine in general and about French culture regarding food. So, now that I’ve gotten that blurb out of the way, here’s how things went down:
Like most do whenever they travel to a different country, I hemorrhaged money on restaurants and street food. I don’t think I cooked in January once, despite having a communal kitchen not even 4 yards away from my doorstep. As one of the most popular tourist destinations in France, Bordeaux had more restaurants on any given street than there were stores. You could have a Belgian waffle for breakfast and then follow up with a baguette sandwich from Paul for lunch, and then dinner could be Italian food or Indian food or even Korean food. Rinse, wash, and repeat, adding Burger King whenever you felt a little bit homesick. However, like I said, a lifestyle like that leads to an empty wallet, and I was no Bill Gates. I also started to realize that the tap water was absolutely disgusting. I was told to just buy bottle water, because no one drinks from the tap here. Near the end of this month, I also started to take note of the eating habits of people around me, but not in any serious way. I also get food poisoning from a kebab restaurant in January, which was swell.
I was introduced to French Walmart by, strangely, a childhood friend of a friend I met here in the United States who just happened to be from Bordeaux. We met before we realized this coincidence. The world is small. Anyways, this place had the exact same structure as a Walmart, with clothes, furniture, and cleaning supplies in one section, electronics and books in another, and food in yet another. Instead of being spread out in a wide store, however, these sections were divided into floors. I quickly bought as many junk foods as humanly possible, as well as some fruits and vegetables, some pasta, and also some chicken. I also bought an obscene amount of dairy. I started replacing some of my restaurant outings with meals at this point. No one around me seemed to want to go anywhere for breakfast, so those became almost exclusively a home-meal. I also bought a water filter, because I felt bad constantly throwing out water bottles. My first lunch that I cooked was pasta with meat sauce and chicken. The chicken tasted terrible. In fact, I realized that I hadn’t been a big fan of any of the meat I had eaten in the past two months, and had, at best, tolerated it. At worst, and this happened often, the restaurant meat upset my stomach quite a bit. At the absolute worst, after frequenting yet another kebab restaurant, my friend threw up and I began to have strange stomach pains. Three weeks after this incident, my friend dragged me to the doctor, stating that I looked pale as a ghost. My stomach pains had gotten worse, but I chalked it up to being lactose intolerant and eating too much dairy. Boy, was I wrong. E. Coli. I got E. Coli and I had it for about three weeks.
E. Coli. From a kebab. Pair that with the fact that I already wasn’t a fan of the meat in France and you’ve got the whole reason I became a vegetarian. I started cooking my breakfast and my dinner at home and picking up a small sandwich for lunch, usually. This was in part due to the fact that I knew that if I cooked it, it would be thoroughly cooked, and also due to the fact that I started to get into the same rhythm as my French friends when it came to hanging out and going out. Most would eat a small breakfast, go somewhere for a large lunch or make a large lunch, and then almost exclusively have dinner at home, meeting up later to go out. This schedule was almost never broken, so I found myself simply doing the same. I also started to get more creative with what I made at home, buying a crock-pot and starting to experiment with different soups and broths.
During my last month in Bordeaux, I found myself actually enjoying this newfound routine. It was easy to just get up and have some fruit for breakfast, eat a large sandwich for lunch, and then a small bowl of pasta or maybe more fruit for dinner. I also started to realize that I had a lot more money saved for this month than I did around the same time last month, and definitely the months prior. I realized this was because I spent no more than $25 on groceries every two weeks. Pasta, sauce, fruit, veggies, and dairy are quite a cheap shopping list, actually. I hadn’t gone anywhere near the meat since the E. Coli incident, save for an Italian restaurant where my friends assured me that the meat was imported from Italy and not a French product.