Papa’s Birthday

14 October

Guess who is the birthday boy today?
My host father Gilles! (Obviously you can see that from the title of this post..)
And he had the perfect day planned out for the entire family. That’s the thing I find to be super generous of him – he gives more than receives. For a lot of people, it’s all about being treated like royalty on their birthdays. But for Papa, all he wanted was for the family to gather together and have a great time. On Saturday morning, my older host sisters and brother who do not live at home began to arrive at the house. Papa picked up Pauline from the train station, and half an hour later Marion (My oldest host sister who lives in Paris) showed up with her fiancé Mayeul. The parents prepared a feast with a variety of food and drinks. My older host brother Guillaume was a little bit late because he drove here from Holland, where he lives. But in the end, we were all content with our filled tummies, but of course we left some space for the homemade birthday cheesecake. After that, we offered Papa his presents, and mine was a packet of Oolong tea leaves put inside a small pouch with beautiful embroidery, which I had brought with me from Taiwan.

The afternoon was the real fun part – Papa had reserved tickets for the Parc Animalier de Sainte-Croix (Wild animal park). It was situated in a secluded area, so that they would have enough space to create semi-wild environments for the creatures. After an hour or so we finally turned into the huge parking space of the park, and followed the signs to the entrance.
Our guided tour to see the deers was scheduled at 18h, so we had plenty of time to pass. So we randomly chose a trail and began a little adventure. There were treehouses and rope bridges placed throughout the trail and it really was as though someone lived in the forest. Soon we found ourselves face to face with a family of red raccoons sunbathing on stacks of wood. How adorable!
There were all kinds of animals, from ones we could see everyday like ducks and horses, to those that really do exist only in specific regions, like wolves and pelicans and baboons. I even found a Hedwig doppelgänger!

To be honest, I did not follow too much during the guided tour, because the guide was speaking in French and I still had a pretty bad comprehending ability. Most of the time Pauline and Guillaume were translating for me. It soon became dark and a little bit chilly, and we made our way past vast habitats lead by the strong flashlight of the guide. And the end of the tour was the restaurant where we were going to have Papa’s birthday dinner. It was a large wooden lodge and a long table of champagne, apple juice and beer awaited us just by the entrance. Cheers!

The dinner started off with green pea soup and sausages. There were also meat slices and pieces of toast. We were such a large family that everyone wasn’t able to hold conversations with everyone – instead little groups had their own topics to talk about. I sat between Pauline and Clement, across from Marion and Mayeul. They asked me how everything was going at school, to which I replied that socially I was in a much better situation before, but that I still had trouble following classes. Then somehow the subject switched to Korean idols and Pauline and I started swooning over some Korean actors even though I barely know them (Pauline watches K-drama!).
We topped off the meal with a blueberry pie and a swirl of whipped cream. By then it was already pretty late, and we still had an hour of route to get back home. When we finally arrived at the house, it was almost midnight. Everyone went their separate ways to get ready for a good night’s sleep after such an eventful day.
The next morning…
It has always been important to my host parents that the family gather together on Sundays to have lunch and enjoy. This particular Sunday (and a very sunny Sunday I might add), everyone was there. For the second time of the weekend Papa and Maman prepared a huge feast for the family, and we sat down with a good appetite and a leisured atmosphere. There was more talk and laughter than probably any other Sunday lunch. For me, it was a whole new experience because I’ve never had such a big family before. I didn’t even have a sibling to grow up, fight, and share feelings with. Having so much people around scared me a little but was also very cool. As I listened to stories about when the siblings were young and how they goofed around together, I couldn’t help but wish that I had a brother or sister too. And then I realized that I do, they were all sitting around me at the table. I only have this one year to spend time with my French siblings, and I treasured the short and rare moments when all the family members were there at the same time.

Soon after lunch, my older host brother and sisters prepared to get going. I went outside to see each one of them off – Marion and Mayeul headed back to Paris, Guillaume sped off to Holland while blasting music, and Pauline took a ride in Papa’s car to the train station to return to Nancy. It was one of the best weekends I’ve ever had.
Joyeux Anniversaire Papa! (French for “Happy Birthday”)

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