by Clare Munger
My mom and I pinky promised each other we wouldn’t cry when we said our goodbyes. I broke my promise; she did too. I’d heard that typical French mothers were fancy, fussy, and often frigid–nothing like my own mom. In my taxi ride to the IES Nantes study abroad center, I was imagining how my host mom would look at me with a flicker of disappointment when she saw me in my pajamas – my dad’s tattered University of Florida t-shirt and my 7th grade Limited Too shorts. I was going to have dinner with my new French mother that evening, so I was trying to remember which fork is for the salad and which is for the meat. I practiced how to say, “You’re a wonderful cook!” in French under my breath. If my manners disappoint, maybe I can flatter my French mother with compliments, I thought. After paying the grumpy, mustachioed taxi driver, and carrying my 49.5 pound suitcase up four flights of stairs, I was ready to meet my traditional French mother.
Instead, I met Michele, my quirky French momma. Her hot pink jeans, worn-out Birkenstocks, and sequined butterfly t-shirt instantly set her apart from the other host mothers wearing heels and blazers. After my first week of living with Michele, I knew that we would remain good friends long after I left France. I have a feeling we will send each other pictures and postcards, recipes and renditions of “La Vie en Rose”, and frequently recall our favorite memories of our time together.
My study abroad time is about half way over now. My love for Michele, my belle (she chuckles every time I call her that), grows daily. When I was sick and lost my voice, she served me warm milk with honey in bed. She thinks I don’t dress warmly enough– she’s probably right– so she gave me her sweater to wear to school. She taught me the words to “La Vie en Rose” while we were making ham and cheese crêpes for dinner.
I’m not going to pinky promise Michele that I won’t cry when we say goodbye. It’s inevitable. I’m trying to convince Michele to come visit me in Portland sometime. So, if you see a woman in hot pink jeans, a butterfly shirt, and Birkenstocks walking around campus: that’s my French momma.