How to Survive a Homestay in Paris
Living with another family is admittedly awkward. When I signed up to live in a homestay in Paris, I didn’t think about the possible difficulties it would pose. My only thought was that this would be the best option for improving my language skills. I would eat dinner with a nice French family three or four times a week and we would talk and my French would get better and that would be the end. But I forgot about the everyday living part.
Adjusting to being in someone else’s space and following their rules can be hard, especially if you’re accustomed to campus living, where you’re hardly accountable to anyone. You can come and go in your dorm, or your home, as you please. You’re probably allowed to have guests. You can stay up as late as you’d like without anyone complaining . For all the benefits of staying with a host, you lose a bit of convenience.
I’m going into my 6th week here, and I still get scolded from time to time (most recently, it was for forgetting to lock the door). Most times, it’s not because I’m doing anything wrong per se. I’m just doing things as I would at home. Last week, I was sitting cross-legged on the sofa when my host mom came in and promptly told me, “Ahahah! Angie! No feet on the couch!” That same weekend, I was told I couldn’t stay on my computer in the living room for too long because I was using too much electricity. Since when is surfing Buzzfeed or Tumblr till midnight problematic?!
Through trial and error, I’ve learned for the most part how to cohabitate with my hosts peacefully. There aren’t really rules of thumb to follow, just observations that I’ve made that have proven helpful.
The French are very environmentally aware. Being green has really been incorporated into everyday life here. Turn the lights off whenever you leave a room, try to keep your showers under 10 minutes long and use cold water when doing your laundry. Easy enough, right?
Speaking of laundry, sometimes your host may not want you to use their washer and/or dryer. Be prepared to search for a laundromat. You’ll have to shell out some money, but you can save a bit by buying detergent at a little corner store rather than at the laundromat.
You also might not have access to the oven, stove, dishwasher and a plethora of other appliances. Personally, I believe this comes from a fear that foreigners may break something by fumbling around with unfamiliar things. If you’re unable to use your host’s kitchen, you’ll have to resort to ready-made meals. Purchase salads, fruits, vegetables and non-perishables at the very least so that you have something to fill you up when you can’t eat out. Also, you can find cheap microwavable meals–called “les produits congelés” or “surgelés,”–at stores like Monoprix and Dia (Dia has very low prices).
I also had a few problems with WiFi in my house. If your WiFi is spotty, I’d highly recommend getting a wireless WiFi range extender. I use a Belkin n300 and it was pretty easy to set up. This may not seem like a valid concern, but my host family really didn’t like it when I did homework in the living room or dining room. Being able to stay connected while in the comfort and privacy of my own room was a relief for all of us.
Coming and going as you please probably won’t pose a problem, but keep your host family up-to-date with your whereabouts is necessary, especially when it’s getting late. No, they’re not your parents, but they’re still somewhat responsible for you. I text my host mom if I know I won’t be home before her usual bedtime so that she doesn’t stay up worried.
Lastly, be as accommodating as possible. There have been many times when I didn’t understand the logic of the house rules, but I follow them anyway. Imagine how tense dinner would be if I defied their requests! Regardless of how inconvenient the rules may be for you, remember that it’s an adjustment for your family too. If you keep in mind that the family was nice enough to open their home to you in the first place, then you’ll have a hard time complaining.