The Exchange Student

(by anonymous6, 03 April 2003)

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The Exchange Student

I was very excited about my trip.  I had been selected to become an exchange
student to France through the advanced student program.  My French had become
impeccable, and I had done a lot of studying of their culture.  The next 3
months were going to be a great learning experience.  The flight had seemed to
drag on forever, but I was finally in Paris.

My host family, the Dumont's, met me as I exited the airplane. I recognized
them immediately from the photos they had sent me.  Mrs. Dumont was even more
beautiful in person, and she seemed to be the epitome of the glamorous French
woman.  She had two daughters; Chloe' was my age at 15, and Margaux was 12.  I
had spent many hours chatting with Chloe' on the internet practicing my
French, and she her English.  We chatted up a storm while awaiting my luggage,
and I was soon on my way to see their home.

I had thought that I was well prepared for all aspects of the French culture
and language, but what happened next caught be off guard.  We were only in the
car a few minutes when Chloe' offered me a French cigarette, which I
graciously declined.  She proceeded to light her cigarette and, to my
amazement, both Margaux and Mrs. Dumont began smoking as well.  This was
somewhat of a culture shock to me, but I tried not to show it.

We soon arrived at their house on the outskirts of Paris.  It would be
considered more of a mansion by our American standard with plush gardens and
fields surrounding it.  Mrs. Dumont said they would be having a reception for
me tonight with some of the girls friends and their families.  Mr. Dumont was
on a business trip for a few weeks, so he would not be attending.  Jetlag was
hitting me hard but I supposed I could make my way through it.

After a quick nap I nervously prepared for my reception.  It was a somewhat
informal affair and I wore a casual sundress.  There were about a dozen or so
of each of the girls' friends, and almost all of them came with their parents.
Once again I found myself confronted with culture shock, as everyone was
smoking. Seeing the adults smoking was not unusual to me, but seeing their
kids (some as young as 9) having a cigarette was very different.  I was
offered a cigarette by nearly everyone, but I still graciously declined.  

I spent the following day with Chloe' seeing the sights of Paris.  Once again
I noticed that everywhere we went everyone was smoking.  Chloe herself soon
found she was out of cigarettes, and I was very surprised when they sold them
to her.  The sights of Paris were wonderful.  We went everywhere from the Arc
de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower.  Chloe' continued to offer me her French
cigarettes, but I still declined.  Her smoking at first offended me, but by
the end of the day (and two packs later) I was used to it.

That night Mrs. Dumont had made plans for us to have dinner at one of her
friends' house.  I went to my room to change and found a pack of Marlboros and
a lighter on my nightstand. My assumption was that Mrs. Dumont had forgotten
them, and left the pack there.  The dinner was wonderful and soon after found
myself once again being offered a cigarette by our hostess.  I once again
declined while the others accepted.  The ride home seemed tense, as Mrs.
Dumont looked rather upset.

Upon arriving home I was preparing for bed when Mrs. Dumont came in.  She
looked very stern and said we needed to talk.  She said I had been very rude
to our hosts at the dinner party.  I didn't understand what she meant, I had
thought I was on my best manners.  She explained it was very rude not to smoke
following a good French meal.  She at first thought it was the fact that I was
used to American cigarettes, so she had bought me a pack of Marlboros and
placed it on my nightstand.  I explained to her that I had no intention of
being rude, but that I just didn't smoke.  That's when she really blew up at

Mrs. Dumont immediately went into a tirade.  She began to say that they should
not have sent me there.  She thought it was awfully arrogant for Americans to
think they could merely learn to say oui and wear a beret, and think we were
ready to live in France.   She couldn't understand how they had the nerve to
send someone who didn't smoke to live with them.  The mere fact that kids in
the US didn't smoke appalled her.  My heart sank as she said I would be sent
home as she stomped out of the room.

I was in complete shock and began to cry.  Chloe' soon came in to try to
console me.  She wanted me to stay, but had been embarrassed that I had been
so rude.  I explained that I had always dreamed of being in France, and had
devoted most of my time learning French and studying the country.  Chloe'
wanted to understand why I didn't smoke, and I explained that the culture was
quite the opposite when it came to smoking in the US.  She said she might be
able to talk her mom out of her decision, if I were to smoke.  She offered me
a cigarette with a look of hope that I would accept.  I hesitated for a
moment, but knew it was the only way to stay, and accepted.  I coughed a
little, but Chloe' reassured me.  I finished my first cigarette with little
difficulty, and Chloe' ran off to tell her mom.

Mrs. Dumont agreed to let me stay for a short while.  She still seemed to not
believe that I would really smoke and would need to be sent home.  The first
day of school was where I first really understood the French smoking custom.
All of the kids smoked between classes, and at my first break I was offered a
cigarette by one of the girls from my class.  Our of habit I denied, I thought
if I could get away with only smoking occasionally with Dumont's and their
friends I would be fine. By the end of the day I noticed that hardly anyone
would speak to me.  Word traveled fast in the school and Chloe' had heard that
I was branded a rude American.  She said that maybe it would be right for me
to go home, as I had no intention of fitting in.  I wanted to ensure her that
I did, and that I just needed to get used to smoking.

The fact that Chloe' now doubted me hurt me badly, I had thought she was my
one ally.  I soon set out to smoke with a vengeance.  Every opportunity I had
I smoked, and began to really enjoy it.  Mrs. Dumont decided I could stay, as
I was smoking over a pack a day within a little over a week. The Dumont's were
more than happy to provide me with cigarettes. Everywhere I went I was now
accepted, and was no longer considered the rude American.  

It was during lunch one day that I met Corrine.  She was the most popular girl
in school, and from a very rich family.  We began chatting and she wanted to
find out everything about the United States.  As we finished our lunch she
extracted what looked like a brown cigarette.  I asked her what it was and she
told me it was a cigarillo, and offered me one.  I must say I fell in love
with the first puff.  She told me most kids couldn't handle them and commended
me.  That night after dinner with the Dumont's I lit a cigarillo that Corrine
had given me.  The Dumont's were all astounded.  I had been unaware that they
were considered very sophisticated and elite.  I offered a puff to the entire
family, but they all choked on the thick smoke.

I continued to hang around Corrine quite a bit.  Her parents were happy to
provide me with cigarillos which I began to smoke in earnest.  The Dumont's
seemed proud that I had been accepted by such an elite part of their society,
but I knew Chloe' and her sister were jealous.  I managed to split my time
between the Dumont's and Corrine's family, which seemed to appease them both.

I was now smoking almost 2-packs of cigarettes a day, and several cigarillos.
I wondered how I was going to explain this to my parents upon returning home.
Chloe' would have a hard time of it too, as when I returned to the USA she
would accompany me for her exchange.  It would be difficult for both of us,
but that's another story.

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