Here is an excerpt from my blog, Home Away From Home (nathanihoff.wordpress.com). I finally have internet in my new place! I now know what’s it’s like to be a parched man in the desert who suddenly finds himself surrounded by the cool, gentle waters and rustling trees of an improbable oasis, or a starving beggar plopped into the abundance of a king’s feast. OK, those analogies are highly hyperbolic and probably insensitive. But it’s still pretty darn exciting to be able to look at cat pictures, watch people fail at things, stalk people on Facebook, and, of course, update my blog whenever I want!
My roommates, Sylvain and Virginie, have proved to be outstandingly welcoming, friendly, and altogether pretty perfect. They let me stay in their apartment for a couple of nights until we all moved into the dream house on Saturday with a ton of help from their friends and families. I especially have to thank Virginie’s parents for the bedspread, putting up my curtains, securing my shelves, and even cleaning pretty much every inch of my bedroom!
It’s really a pretty dreamy house: backyard, washing machine, dishwasher, large kitchen with oven (yes, a lot of places here don’t have ovens), creepy attic and basement for storing friends who came to visit — er, I mean, for storage… All in all quite the place! And it’s got a great price to boot.
Mons is beautiful. There are definitely some things to get used to as well, but overall I’m loving it. A few things I’m still getting used to:
The man bise. In French, faire la bise means to touch cheeks and make kissy noises. The number of times you touch cheeks varies by region; in Lyon it was twice, in some places it can be three or even four times, while here in Mons it is only once. It took some getting used to in Lyon, but after a couple of weeks I grew accustomed to being mobbed by all the females in a given room, their cheeks rapaciously seeking out my inevitable own. In fact it’s really rather nice: warmer and cleaner than a handshake, less sexual than a hug, more intimate than a simple wave or nod of the head. But in Lyon it was only between two women or a man and a woman, with the man bise being reserved for families members or very close friends. Here in Mons it is very different. Whenever you meet, greet, or say goodbye to anyone, you bise. I’ve bised both of Virignie’s parents and her brother, I’ve bised Sylvain’s parents, and I’ve bised about 20 of their friends. Scruffy bises still seem foreign to me, but I’m getting used to it.
Weather. It’s a relief after the upper nineties and the air-so-substantial-you-could-pour-on-gravy-and-call-it-dinner humidity that we were still having in Kansas City when I left, but it is a radical change to have daily highs in the 60s and hardly a day or night without at least some rain. For the moment it’s refreshing, but it could be imminently depressing.
Smiling less. This was more true in Brussels, where some of the Bruxellois were putting New Yorkers to shame with their directness and impatience, but at stores in Mons the cashiers rarely smile at you, and at restaurants the waiters and waitresses maintain stoic façades. It’s all in the spirit of professionalism, I’m sure, but it is a little disconcerting. This being said, everyone my age is very warm and smiles and laughs a lot, and there are certainly some establishments where the workers laugh and smile quite a bit.
Everything closing at 6:00 pm. I left the university yesterday at 6:30, hoping to buy a quick snack on my way home, but the only things open were cafés getting ready to serve dinner. It was similar in Lyon, but I think it’s more extreme in this smaller town.
Irresistible beauty everywhere. I’m quite overwhelmed by the number of beautifully preserved ancient building and priceless sights that greet me at every corner of this town rich in history. This might be one thing that I never do get used to.
— Nathan Hoffman