It started with a phone call. Would we consider taking in an exchange student for 10 days? She came from France and would spend most of her days joining the rest of her group in planned activities. We were expected to feed her breakfast, dinner if she was there, and provide her her own bed. We figured we could do anything for 10 days. Not to mention I would love to visit France. We said “yes.” We were able to review letters written by several students to their prospective host families. I studied them carefully and narrowed our choices between two. My girls paid no attention to my detail and chose the girl with the same name as theirs.
Drumming up my best high school French, I wrote to the family. I received a telephone text message from our student through the internet app “WhatsApp?” She sounded nice. We made a welcome sign for her and sent her a picture of the sign so she could find us (just in case she forgot her name?). When she got off the bus she had been traveling for 24 hours. Unlike online dating sites, she looked just like her picture. We brought her home, my twins chattering happily away to her, while I interjected an occasional explanation in French and my husband just drove. I bet she had a headache.
We fed her dinner and sent her to bed. She closed the door on us all as she prepared to sleep and three cats started to yowl outside it, beyond curious at this new visitor in the house. Desperately I flapped kitchen towels at them to shoo them away without disturbing her. The next morning our first pictures were of her trying to unpack her suitcase as the cats prowled through all her belongings. They seemed to find French jeans exotic and believed she had traveled all this way specifically to meet and pet them.
She had a cat at home and was kind to ours. She was out of the house for most of the day and fell asleep on the couch at 8 p.m. each night, which was about 4 in the morning for her at home. Overall I was impressed with her adaptability to a somewhat grueling schedule. She fought jet lag far better than I.
I purchased croissants and French cornichon pickles for her. She ignored them. Ooh la la, what was this? She didn’t drink coffee or wear red lipstick. She didn’t come from Paris. She was a real girl, kinda just like us. Quel surprise!
I made sure she visited a Starbucks and my husband treated her to an American Hamburger. After eating the hamburger with knife and fork she pronounced it quite good – but the French fries, well, her part of Northern France makes the best French fries in the world! This outlandish statement assured my husband’s commitment to travel to her hometown in Northeastern France. He will follow his stomach anywhere.
I invited her and a friend to the veterinary clinic one morning when their schedule was open. She saw some surgery and took a photo with a monkey from the Zoo. They watched some dentistry and left before I could get into some really interesting bowel surgery. They didn’t seem sad to miss it! I’m pretty sure that I convinced her to continue with her current studies, which did not include the pursuit of veterinary medicine. We posed for pictures in front of the clinic sign to remember this moment, like the Treaty of Versailles.
When she returned home, her cat sent a picture to our cats. I’m still waiting to see if their veterinarian will offer me a job. I can say “heart” and “knee” and “medication” in French – surely on the strength of that I should be hired? As a last resort, I can always fall back on the allure of French fries – my husband will take me there. Vive les frites!
Christine McFadden, DVM