One week remains — and what better way to celebrate my last days in France than with an inundation of French pastries and baked goods? No matter what cultural, religious, or national background you identify with, celebrations are traditionally associated with food. A cake can say, “Happy Birthday,” a pizza can say, “Office Party,” a turkey can say, “Happy Thanksgiving.” Whatever the celebration, there is always a dish that speaks to its significance. While the week before finals is not necessarily a celebration, IES has found a way to make our remaining time in France special.
Just yesterday, our gastronomy professor took us into three different shops for our final class. The first of these shops was a boulangerie. Rather than taste-testing gateaux for an hour, we were led into the back of the shop. In the back of the bakery, a young woman awaited us at a large metal table coated in flour and dough cut into triangles. As the fifteen of us lined up around the table, the woman spoke to us about her work day and the long hours that go into running a bakery, all while stretching and rolling the dough in front of her. She then instructed us to do the same until our triangles resembled croissants. While we didn’t get to reap the fruits of our labor, the baker behind us cut up baguettes that had just come out of the oven and encouraged us each to take a slice.
The way the bread melted on my lips before even reaching my teeth made this feel like a religious awakening of sorts. By our last stop, a specialty candy and chocolate shop, our professor expressed his gratitude toward us and his well wishes, all of which was accented by the sweetness of a chocolate-coated caramel upon exit.
When I got home from this sugar-filled celebration, I was greeted by none other than… more chocolate. My host mom abruptly got up from the dinner table, gesturing that she had forgotten about something. She came back holding two slim boxes, one for me and one for my host brother. I flipped the purple box over to reveal an advent calendar filled with Swiss chocolate.
This gesture alone meant a lot to me. It wasn’t some grand, over-the-top present, but it made me feel like part of the family. Like I was worthy of being included in their family traditions. Additionally, I had never had an advent calendar of my own as I have just recently started celebrating Christmas, so this small gift felt like the final initiation into my host family. However, my host family has given me so much more than just a box of chocolates. The gratitude I feel for my host mother, brothers, and even their shaggy little terrier cannot be expressed through any number of cakes or pies. They have truly opened their home to me and treated me like a member of the family and for that, I will be forever grateful.
As I wrap up final exams, try to fit two suitcases worth of belongings into one suitcase, and prepare for my flight home, I feel an uncharacteristic calm. With every street framed in Christmas lights and pastries in the center’s library for a birthday celebration, it’s difficult to be stressed. The small community I have been a part of for the last three and a half months represents everything I have loved about my time in France: a sense of conviviality, a willingness to be weird, and an unrelenting passion for food.