Column by Liz Mastrangelo


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Seeing the world – and your hometown – through new eyes

Published: August 08. 2008 4:00AM PST

Teen Voices provides first-person insight into the thoughts and lives of local teenagers.

Around this time last year, I was returning from a trip that really broadened my horizons, one that changed the way I now see the world. My trip lasted just over a month, but by staying with family and friends, I managed to visit areas of France, Italy and Germany.

The closest I ever got to the real “European Experience,” was staying for three weeks with a French girl, named Laure, at her home in Marseilles.

Laure’s parents had lived with my parents during college, but we had never met. While there, I went on a camping trip with her Scouts (pronounced “scoots”), ate sausage of questionable origin and swam in the clear blue Mediterranean Sea.

Staying with someone from a different culture pushed me out of my comfort zone. Instead of eating dinner at 6 or 6:30 p.m., we ate around 8.

Since snacking isn’t really a part of French culture, this was probably one of the most difficult adjustments for me to make, as I would start getting hungry well before dinner.

I went to France with only one phrase retained from seventh grade French class. I remembered the word for fish and also the phrase for “I am,” so combined, these became “Je suis un poisson,” or “I am a fish.”

This was not very useful for communication. If Laure hadn’t spoken a fair amount of English, and carried around an English-French dictionary, I might not have survived.

During social events, it was a weird feeling for me to be the only person in the room not involved in conversation. At home, I’m an outgoing person, and my friends and I can talk for hours. While in France, I did a lot more listening and watching.

Even before I left Europe, I began planning Laure’s trip to Bend. When she took me to the beach, I wondered what she would think of the Cascade Lakes. Passing through wine country in Provence, I thought of how different it was from brewery-rich Bend.

Laure made the trip to visit this summer. Showing off my hometown was a challenge, not because the area has nothing to offer, but because I couldn’t decide what to do first. I had three weeks to show Laure all of my favorite hangouts and the natural beauty of Central Oregon. It was like trying to teach a hands-on crash course in everything American, and everything Bend as well.

We ate at Pilot Butte Drive-In at least three times and drank Slurpees from 7-Eleven. I took her rock climbing at Smith Rock, whitewater rafting on the Lower Deschutes and kayaking at Sparks Lake.

She was amazed by the Cascades, for both their beauty and the snow that still clung to their peaks in mid-July. Just for fun, we took the Pine Marten lift up Mount Bachelor.

I had planned on giving Laure the best view of Central Oregon, but she seemed more interested in a snowball fight. Coming from a hot Mediterranean region, she was bummed she couldn’t try snowboarding.

Again, language was a barrier, but a surmountable one. One hot day, I tried to explain to Laure that we were going to buy a box of popsicles.

The dictionary had no entry for the sweet treat, so I looked up the words for frozen and lollipop. Unfortunately for me, the word for lollipop, “sucette,” is similar to the word for socks, “chaussette.” I ended up telling her that we were going to get frozen socks.

By traveling, and getting away from the norm of my American lifestyle, I was able to submerse myself in a foreign culture in a way that no TV travel show could ever come close to achieving. It was exciting to tag along with someone who belonged to the city of Marseilles, instead of merely gawking at the locals. And I know that Bend impressed Laure as well.

Returning home, and seeing an outsider’s reaction to the beauty of the place where I live, has only made me appreciate Bend more.

Liz Mastrangelo is an incoming senior at Bend High School and can be reached via Bulletin reporter Alandra Johnson at 617-7860 or at ajohnson@bendbulletin.com.

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