Monday, October 03, 2005

De soirée en soirée

Being an American involved in an established exchange program in Lyon has its upsides and downsides. Even though I’m not really one of the students, I often get lumped with them and treated like someone who’s never really been abroad before. There’s a ton of English spoken in our office, and our hall is constantly full of Americans (due to our proximity to the Centre Californie and the Centre Pennsylanie). But then again, because people know the Centre is there, you get invited to soirées.

Last week was a charged week of soirées. How glamorous does that sound? I feel like I should be wearing an evening gown and boa and gliding around gilded rooms drinking champagne. I should just leave it at that, so you think that I’ve been going to that type of soirée. But I was raised to tell the truth so I must admit- I didn’t wear an evening gown.

First there was the France/USA reception at the Hôtel de Ville. Even after this reception, I still can’t really tell you exactly what France/USA does. I know it’s a group of French people who like to meet Americans. And that they sometimes have meetings and activities. Oh, and that they’re sponsored by the Beaujolais (yes, the wine), Coca Cola, and Ricard. What? Could I really make something like that up? But I digress. A large portion of Centre Oregon students and myself, Rémé and Laurie all trekked over to the Hôtel de Ville (translated as the “Mayor House” on the publicity- I’m still laughing at that) to schmooze. Everyone dressed up (it was very sweet seeing all of the students dressed up- I think I hugged the majority of them) and was ready for whatever they threw at us. Oh French bourgeoisie, how we love thee. It was half a room of Americans (from various programs) versus half a room of older French couples, with a few younger people thrown in for contrast. There were speeches, there was wine, there was caviar, and through it all I felt like I was on parade. Too many people to be able to really talk to anyone. The room was very pretty though- nice high painted ceilings, huge windows with ornate curtains- everything you’d expect from the Mayor House of Lyon. At one point I was cornered by Rémé and an older French gentleman and interrogated as to my plans for Thursday evening. Unable to come up with an answer quickly enough, I was told that I was now attending a Lyon International soirée that evening, and that I was bringing two students with me. Greeeeeat, thought I. I, the habitual schmoozer, was schmoozed out. Where was the schmooze for Thursday going to come from?

Meeting up with Laurie (who was the only one who knew where we were going), I put on my best parading/schmoozing face and stepped into the Chambre de Commerce. Another beautiful room, another daunting array of French citizens, a different outfit and pair of shoes for me and the addition of nametags. But wait, what was different? The Lyon International crowd was much more down-to-earth and welcoming. I know exactly what they do- work to welcome people from all over the world into Lyon through planned activities and by opening their houses to invite people to dinner. This was no schmoozing. This was lovely people, some of whom reminded me of my grandparents, some of whom were just fun, and some of whom were new to the program, like the wonderful young couple about to have a baby who said they’d introduce me to a friend who successfully moved from the US to France. It wasn’t Americans on parade, either. I met people working for the CIRC (associated with the World Health Organization, doing cancer research) from Pakistan and China and had drinks after with a Welsh doctoral student living in London who’s doing research here until January. I drank champagne and ate and didn’t really want to leave at all. Soirée that, everyone!

Soirées accomplished, I could turn my attention to other things, like cooking dinner for myself and 6 friends, and, oh yes, PARIS COMBO. Tune in soon for Take the night bus, where I learn how to get to the suburbs and the value of getting off at the right stop. And see possibly one of the best concerts ever.


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