Welcome to France, where it’s easier to find wine than water. It’s been a little over two weeks here and I still haven’t figured out whether French people just don’t get thirsty or they’re all severely dehydrated and just hiding it really well. Before coming to Nantes, one of my concerns was being able to maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise. While the idea of endless bread, cheese, and pastries sounds like a dream, it’s not a sustainable reality for me. Even after one week of not working out and eating bread with every meal, I began to feel a strain on not only my physical health, but my emotional and mental health.
My mother will tell you that I have always had a very Type-A personality, craving structure and logic. And she’s not wrong. From the moment I got off the train in Nantes, I began stressing about schedules: for the next day, next week, next months. I’ve often been able to curtail this anxiety by narrowing in on my health, something manageable and in my control. Thus began the next step of my journey here: creating a routine.
In order for these three months to feel like a homestay rather than a vacation, I knew I would have to reclaim my routine. Starting with food. As someone who cooks a lot, the prospect of grabbing lunch out everyday didn’t necessarily thrill me or my stomach. In an attempt to find something a little easier on my digestion and wallet, I went to Monoprix, a major grocery store chain in France. From afar, I saw some packaged salads that looked appetizing. However, upon closer review, every salad had more pasta or couscous in it than actual lettuce.
This became a trend on my Mission: Eat Healthy. I struggled to find a salad while grocery shopping or even at a restaurant that wasn’t a few pieces of lettuce on a bed of rice. I was more surprised than anything, but resolved that I shouldn’t just expect every city/country to cater to my dietary needs and making my own food was probably a cheaper, healthier option anyways.
Once I had figured out how to balance my Camembert and arugula consumption, I was set on finding a nearby gym. I had expected to fill out a few forms, hand them my card, and likely ask them to speak slower several times. However, what I did not expect was needing an IBAN. Ahhh, of course, an IBAN. Yeah, I didn’t know what it was either but I knew I didn’t have one. An International Banking Account Number is supposed to facilitate payments within the EU, but not the payment of a 20 year old American girl to the local Basic Fit. After multiple trips and discussions in French that I thought I had understood but apparently did not, I was finally able to register with my host mother’s IBAN (merci, Helene!) and my credit card.
Besides the conversions between lbs and kg and between miles and kilometers, the gym has been a nice escape for me. I have always carried a lot of anxiety about school and the added pressure of making all new friends here — and having to do it in French — only contributed to this anxiety. Buying food at the grocery store that makes my body feel good and running on the treadmill a few days a week makes me feel like I have control over certain aspects of my life when everything else around me is hectic and new. While it was slightly challenging to find facilities here that worked with my budget and lifestyle, I think it’s important to find places in a new environment that make you feel at home. For me, planning a dinner out with friends or going to the gym for an hour can feel like the most productive part of my day. But it feels nice to know I can do both.