1998 was the year I spent in Paris. My home was a very small studio apartment in the outskirts of Paris. This was the first time I lived alone by myself. There are few memorable things about this stay in Paris that I would like to share with you.
The first unforgettable moment was writing a check in French. All payments in Paris had to be made with a check, and therefore, I had to learn how to write one. There was no check system in Korea. Hence, I found the the advantages of learning a second language helped me understand not only that language, but also culture and other cultures as well. Although to many English speaker, checks seem normal, this was the still a time when I spoke and wrote no English at all, but I knew the advantages of learning a new language.
My second favorite moment in 1998 was my every morning routine. I used to a nearby French bakery and ordered half a baguette. One says, “Demi baguette s’il vous plait." The relationship I had with the bakery owners was amazing as I talked to them everyday to practice my French while I waited for hot bread to be packed so I could take it home.
The last thing that I remember was the picnics we used to go on. This was a concept very alien to me coming from Korea where picnicking with friends isn't a norm. My friends and I, in Paris, used to go to the park with snacks and enjoyed a lot of Saturday evenings there. We used to sit and talk for hours about difference of cultures back home. Half of us were not French and therefore our French was not very fluent. I was the only Asian person there which made me feel odd at the start, but with time, I relaxed. Everybody there showered me with love even though I looked different from everyone there.
The meeting points were decided beforehand as there was no Facebook or instant messengers in those times. I had a landline phone where I had recorded a message in French after hours and hours of practice. I think I still sounded like a non-French person speaking in a funny accent. In the days with no modern technology, I spent 20% of my monthly budget on long distance calls to Korea. I missed my friends and family a lot and therefore wanted to hear their voices. I really wish now that Skype had been invented then so I could have saved a lot of money and hassle of walking to a phone booth.
The school in France was very different from the schools in Korea. The French schools gave us confidence to speaking up not only in but also in public. This was not liked schools in Korea. I had a heyday with all the freedom given to me for speaking out. I often cracked jokes with my professors and raised my hand to give out my opinions about anything and everything.
Unfortunately, this was also the year my parents got divorced. My father refused to send me any money, and my mother was not able to support my French adventure. I was in deep trouble. I had to beg my Jewish landlord to give me discount on rent. I used dog shampoo as it was cheaper than normal shampoo. Eventually, I had to sell everything in my apartment in order to buy a ticket back home.
The person who helped me out in 1998 was Uri. She was a fellow Korean living in France. Even though it may seem simple, the way we cooked Korean food together and watched Korean dramas together made a big impact on me.