This past weekend I spent in Berlin with my dear friend Jessie from high school.

I flew there and I was shocked.  Since I stayed in the EU, they actually didn’t check my passport and the security was super simple, I didn’t have to take my shoes off!

I landed in Tegel and Jessie met me.  She showed me her lovely apartment and we went to go explore Berlin! We went to the liberty tower and Tiergarten.  Then she had a class so I went too.  They were watching a silent horror film about the Weimer Republic.   I can definitely say that I will never be as confused in a class as when they were discussing the film in German!

I had a local food called a Doner for dinner.  It’s a special type of bread with a sort of sandwich usually filled with meat and vegetables and sauce.  I chose to use sheep’s milk cheese instead of meat and a garlic sauce! It was super yummy.  I also tried a club mate which is the “hipster” drink of berlin.  It’s a mixture of organic herbs and juice with carbonation.  It tasted sorta like iced tea, apple juice, and carbonated water.  We also tried some yummy candied nuts.  We went to meet some of her friends and hung out their apartment and got a drink.

The next day, we went on a biking tour in Potsdam.  But first, I got to taste an organic carrot walnut muffin and a Berlin-style pretzel!  We went with two of Jessie’s roommates form her apartment.  I sincerely enjoyed getting out into nature! We rode from the edge of Berlin into Potsdam through forests next to a big lake and then through castles! We ended at Sans Souci a castle in Germany with a French name! It means “no worry” because Fredrick the great had no worries when he lived in his castle in between war times. The countryside and castles were gorgeous.  I was super lucky to be with Jessie and her roommates.  One of them is very knowledgeable about European history so he could tell us all about the history associated with each castle and landmark!  I’ve attached lots of nature photos here!

That night was really cold so we had a wine and movie night with her roommate.  We watched a victorian style movie about “the ideal husband” and then we watched a Disney movie called Straight Story.  I had never heard of this movie!! It is phenomenal. It is about a life journey a man makes across the middle of the United States on a lawn mower! It’s based on a real story too, I suggest you check it out!

The next day we road bikes across the city to the biggest flea market in Berlin!  It took place in a big park where there was live music, and drumming, and people hanging out.  The market was pretty crowded, but it had EVERYTHING.  There was a section with jewelry and handbags and second hand clothing (for only 1 euro!!).  There was tons of food, lots of Turkish-style food, and coffee!  There was a yard-sale type section with miscellaneous household goods.  I ended up tasting a chai latte and some fresh squeezed orange juice!

We then road bikes into the center of Berlin to see some of the tourist-y sites.  I have photos of these too.  My favorite of all the tourist-y sites was without a doubt the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe  (I’ve also heard it called holocaust memorial, but there are many holocaust memorials). From a distance, it looks just like some square rectangle blocks, but when you walk inside them, the heights of the blocks change, the ground curves up and down and isn’t level.  Jessie had studied this memorial in school and said it was designed so each person could interpret it differently.  I felt trapped and easily confused, which definitely embodies the holocaust.  We finished by riding bikes through the Tiergarten and going grocery shopping.

The grocery stores in Berlin are HUGE.  They even have shopping carts.  We got ingredients to make dinner, and I also got some “berlin” things I wanted to try such as special beer only available in Berlin (I got raspberry flavor of course since I’m not a big beer person), and German-style sweets, etc.

I loved my experience in Berlin.  I found it incredibly different from Paris.  Berlin is a more modern city (after all it was rebuilt fairly recently).  There are wide huge streets, modern buildings, and lots of parks.  Berlin did lack the architectural beauty  of Paris (in my opinion). Furthermore, everything is cheaper than Paris! The major ethnic minority is Turkish.  We went to a turkish bakery one morning where huge pastries were all less than a euro.  I ordered a circular bread thing with sesame seeds… and the bread was sweet dough! I definitely wasn’t expecting that.  Everything is bigger in Berlin.  I mentioned the grocery store, but also just the roads, rooms, apartments, portion sizes, and general space.  Berlin is also cleaner.  I never really thought of Paris as dirty because it’s all I know as home for right now, but after visiting Berlin I can definitely say that Paris could put forth a greater effort to clean the streets and subway stations.  Oh, and fewer people smoke in Berlin.

The language barrier was also very different.  I guess awkward is the only way to explain it.  I didn’t know what to say and I couldn’t understand so I would just stay quiet, smile and nod. I was grateful to be with Jessie and her roommate who speak German!! I did, however, hear people everyday speaking French either on the streets or on the subway.  German has a character that is different from French and English.  It resembles sort of a Beta and it is the equivalent of two s’s.

As a review of flying Air France: I loved it! On the way there we got little biscuit snacks along with beverages, and on the way back we got a lunch sandwich! I searched numerous cheap flight websites (like ryanair and easyjet) before booking the tickets.  Surprisingly Hipmunk found the cheapest flight via Air France from Paris CDG (the closest airport to me) to Berlin Tegel (the closest airport to Jessie)  so it was super convenient! They also played all their announcements in French, English, and German so it was super considerate of the different people on the plane.  Also, free newspapers in French and German… I didn’t see any in English (admittedly, I didn’t look too hard), but I read about American politics in my French newspaper. I also read about Frankenstorm… good luck to all my friends on the east coast and I hope Cornell cancels classes already!




I went to a concert!  EDUCO let each person choose between four concerts and go to one for free!  I didn’t know any of the groups very well so I ended up choosing the date that worked best with my schedule and my friend’s schedules.

So last night we went to see Revolver.  They reminded me a little of the Beatles. The concert was at Olympia, a famous concert venue! It was in the Opéra part of Paris, near Galleries Layfayette!  The building was huge for Paris standards, but the smallest I’ve ever been to a concert in.  We had seats all in a row in the balcony, but since the building wasn’t that huge, we had a decent view.

The lights and smoke and overall visual effect really surprised me.  It wasn’t anything over the top or super unusual, but I felt like it complimented the music extremely well.  The group sang in English, which I wasn’t expecting.  I only knew one song, and that’s because it was a cover of an American song (I’m not sure the name of it, but the chorus goes “Stop, children, what’s that sounds … everybody look what’s goin’ down”).   My row of fellow Americans sang along to that song.  We probably looked silly because no one was really singing along to the lyrics, but at the same time it was a concert in English.  But after all, most french people listen to American/English music.

Instead of singing, the crowd screamed and made “ouuuuu” noises. In-between songs when the group would talk that was of course in French and I could tell French was the native language of the group and when they spoke English I could hear an accent, but when they sang English I couldn’t really hear an accent.

One part of the experience really made me laugh.  Sometimes in concerts the band will ask a question and the crowd screams “yahhh” in agreement, but here it would be “oui” but to my American ears I hear “weeeeeeeeeeeee!” and I chuckle.

What they don’t tell you in French Class!

Things they don’t tell you in French class!!

photo credit

I’ve noticed many (linguistic) things that are different living in France from the atmosphere of a French class.

  • “comme ci, comme ça” … no one says it.  A familiar way of saying it is “bof”
  • “nous” as a subject is rarely used in casual / spoken French… nous conjugations of verbs aren’t even in my phone’s french t9!! Generally people use “on” instead.  For example when it’s time for all of us to eat, they say “on mange” for we are eating
  • “Du coup” is a familiar way of saying “par conséquent”; I hear this EVERYWHERE in France and I’d never heard it my six years of French classes.
  • When talking one on one with someone, they will casually say “tu vois?” continually… kind of like “do you follow” or “you know”
  • The “ne” for verb negations is sometimes optional:  “j’arrive pas!”
  • Saying “je ne sais pas” is the easiest way to be spotted as a foreigner…. here it’s simply “shay-pas”
  • “tu as” gets shortened to “t’as” in spoken french
  • “You don’t need to learn the passé simple” is the biggest lie they tell you in French class…. It’s in the daily newspapers!! Also, I’ve heard that some professors speak in passé simple if they’re super intellectual or if they’re speaking about something in distant past (for example, my host sister’s greek teacher).
  • “soit” has a meaning in addition to a subjunctive conjugation!!!
  • Sentences with the construction ” … ce qu(e/i) … ” gets slurred in a funny way. I can’t even think of a way to describe it.
  • The phrase “à partir de” is essential! I don’t remember ever learning it ( starting from ).
  • “Salut” is super familiar… you can’t say “salut” to someone you “vous”
  • The politeness required for professors is crazy.  My profs generally let me use “tu” whereas here you would get in serious serious trouble for doing that
  • The verb “râper” … I had an embarrassing first night when I saw the cheese on the table said “RAPE” in big bold letters.. turns out it was grated cheese!
  • How to order a drink… generally you’re trained in how to ask for a meal at a nice restaurant or café “Excusez-moi monsieur, je voudrais …., s’il vous plaît, merci beaucoup” … but that formality is awkward and makes you look weird in certain ordering situations.
  • phonetics! Just as a general thing, Cornell doesn’t stress the importance of phonetics enough! I’m learning everyday about how poorly I pronounce my vowel sounds.
  • The importance of random vocabulary… I feel like the higher I got in my language level, the more focus was put on elegant grammatical constructions and such instead of vocabulary.  Just this past week I found myself lost in my psychology class because I didn’t understand that the professor was talking about an “eel” …. who would have thought to make that a vocabulary word?!? btw it’s “anguille”
  • Methodologie… french classes in america (from my experience) never even try to teach the methodologie required in France… I’m talking NO THESIS… their entire mentality for writing a paper is different… they literally spell out “first we will study …, then we will examine …., and in conclusion we wil look at …. ” Furthermore, the closest thing they have to a thesis is IN THE CONCLUSION… The American style of “don’t introduce any new material in the conclusion” is thrown out the window as French students are trained to open up their topic and look at it in a new perspective in the conclusion… it’s crazy… I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

As a disclaimer, these are my personal experiences in Paris… in other cities in France or Francophone countries some of these claims may not be valid.

Hmmm, I’m sure there are more.  Maybe I’ll edit and add in some more if I think of them later on!

Liste de tâches

My Paris To Do List!

I marked three very important things off my Paris To Do list today!

  1. CHIPOTLE in Paris!!! I have missed Mexican food so very much in Paris (and even in Ithaca).  Yes, yes, yes, I know Chipotle isn’t real Mexican food, but it’s sure good Americanized Mexican food!  It actually just came to Paris this past Spring 🙂  Now it was about twice the price of Chipotle in America…. but I took an extra shift tutoring that morning so I was willing to splurge!
  2. Sacré Coeur – This is the second most famous church in Paris (with Notre Dame as the most famous).  This church is up in the very northern part of Paris and it’s only one métro stop away from the Red Light district… (I warn against going there at night).  To ensure a safe trip, I went with my friend Amory at 2pm on a rainy Saturday.. sounds like as safe of time as any.  Be wary of pickpockets in this region.  Also, be weary of  “nice” men who try every so hard to tie strings onto your wrists, they will then make you pay for them and I’ve heard horror stores of people who’ve had their wallets stolen like this.  I had been warned so when the approached me with string, I gave a very firm and very American “NO!” hehe 🙂 The outside view of Sacré Coeur (Sacred Heart) is beautiful!!! Now it is on top of Montmartre so it’s got a great panoramic view of Paris when you get to the top.  We opted to take the funiculaire up the hill to the top (We were just lazy and we both have unlimited métro passes so it was free.  For anyone touring the area, just walk up the stairs along the side or in the pretty garden… It’s really not that far and the short, cramped ride is truly not worth 1 euro 70 per person!).   The Basilica is breath-taking.  It is truly worth visiting (with appropriate precautions of course).  Photos weren’t allowed inside the church so I don’t have much to show, but I truly found it worth the visit for the beautiful church.  I can’t even begin to fathom how it was built without the modern technology we have today!
  3. Versailles – You know, that famous castle where Louis XVI lived… that caused a huge world famous revolution! The castle was HUGE! I got to see the famous hall of mirrors (which only has mirrors on one wall!) and the symmetry between the king’s and queen’s bedrooms!  I’ve added a huge gallery full of photos.  Using my student ID and paris métro pass I was able to go to Versailles and enter the castle, I only had to pay to see the gardins (and even still I got a student discount!).  The gardins had just started to change into fall colors so it was gorgeous! There was music playing throughout the gardins with hidden speakers!

Châtelet et le métro

Public Transportation is not my forté!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken the wrong train/bus, and when I take the right train, it’s usually in the wrong direction! Needless to say, this was a big change for me when moving to Paris.

I lucked out with my living location because it’s in walkable distance to most things… but as it started raining more and I started my regular classes all over the city I eventually had to splurge on an unlimited metro pass.  Most of my classes are on my train (the 7) so it’s super easy.  However I have managed other simple transfers as well.  Notice the word simple

I’d like to talk about the métro station Châtelet.  Here’s a métro map (click on it to get bigger, and I’ve circled Châtelet in the middle):

As you can see, just about EVERY train goes to Châtelet… seems convenient right??  Wrong.. it’s awful! You get off the metro, take the stairs, turn the corner and BAM (!!!)  you’re surrounded by people and practically in an airport.  I’m talking multiple never ending people-movers and live concert from “street” artists.  It’s ridiculous… so many people… such a mess… such an overwhelming experience.

Needless to say, After the first experience I tried to avoid Châtelet by all means possible.   However this isn’t an option.  From personal experience I’ve figured out which transfers are relatively easy and which transfers are relatively difficult.  Here’s a summary of do-able transfers at Châtelet:

Exchanges between Line 1, Line 4, and Line 14 are shorter.

Exchanges between Line 7 and Line 11 are shorter.

The RERs are super far away from everything!

If it’s one of the shorter exchanges I will bite the bullet and take Châtelet, otherwise… I”ll find some other out-of-the-way transfer that won’t drive me crazy!   Anyway, I can now say I’ve mastered the Paris Métro! I can get anywhere in Paris using the métro!  I have never gone in the wrong direction nor gotten lost!

If anyone’s curious, here are the métro stops I frequent, and you can follow along the map:

Place Monge / Censier Daubenton – my home

Bibliothèque François Mitterand – Paris 7 main campus

Sully Morland – Paris 7 annex where I have classes

Château D’eau – Paris 7 annex and psychology department

Olympiades or Tolbiac – Paris 1

Saint Paul – Paris 1 annex: African research library

Duroc – Hôpital Necker

République – École de Danse

Odéon – EDUCO office

Lourmel – English Tutoring

Happy searching on the map for these! 🙂