We made our way back to Axelle’s home and headed over to her aunt’s new house as she was making dinner for us that night. Axelle would be heading out to a big birthday event for two of her friends, so this night we would be left on our own to figure out any translation issues…but it would not prove to be a big deal.
It was easy because as I had mentioned earlier, Axelle’s aunt and uncle both spoke pretty good English. In addition, we met another of Habiba’s sisters and her boyfriend who also spoke very good English.
We got a tour of the new house to discover a funny French obsession with America. Her aunt had indicated that the upstairs had New York everywhere, and she wasn’t kidding. In several rooms there were picture scenes from New York, and in their 13-year-old son’s room there was a mural of New York on one wall and his bed spread had different American images including President Obama saying Yes We Can…Jenn and I couldn’t help but laugh.
We had another amazing dinner, and then a little later the guitar came out. Axelle’s uncle is actually a very good guitar player, but they all wanted to hear the American play American songs. The funny thing about the French is that they all love English music, but most of them don’t understand any of the words. So I played them some Bob Marley and Lady Gaga as they all clapped and cheered and Axelle’s 13 year old cousin hung out the window clapping…it was a pretty funny scene.
The next day we took a boat ride to Hautecombe Abbey on Lac du Bourget (the largest lake in France) and the grounds were stunning. As we were walking around Oliver took Nolin and began pushing him around just like a proud grandfather. Which turned out to be pretty funny because he ran into a friend who Axelle had not seen since she left for America and since Nolin was just about the right age…well, he definitely gave her and Oliver a few looks trying to figure out exactly what had happened.
We attempted to take a tour of the abbey, but Nolin was not as interested in learning as we had hoped he would be. What he was interested in was trying to play in the holy water…awesome.
Thankfully Habiba came to the rescue again, and the two of them took their own tour which he seemed to enjoy a lot more now that he had exorcised any possible demons. We had finally exhausted Nolin completely and when the rest of us finished the tour, Nolin fell asleep in what would be a common place this trip…my shoulder.
We arrived back at the house and Habiba & Oliver quickly prepared for a cookout they would be hosting for more friends and family. The funny thing was every time there was a meal cooked, there was always a ton of food prepared, but I never could figure out when anyone had the time to do it. With Oliver and Luigi on the grill everything was again fantastic even the sheep & beef hotdogs (another interesting meal I tried).
At this cookout, Axelle had a few friends over and some of her cousins were there too, and they all loved Nolin. Nolin didn’t seem to mind the attention either, and he played it up. I will admit it was kind of nice to be able to spend time with the adults.
I think that night was a little stressful for Axelle’s family because the following morning Axelle would find out if she passed her exams and would graduate. In France it is a little different. You go into your school and have all your grades posted for everyone to see. You can graduate, graduate with mention, or graduate with a higher mention (which is very difficult to do). Depending on what level you achieve depends on the school you can go to…there are no applications, no essays, nothing you are either in or you’re not.
We woke up as Axelle’s mom returned from dropping her off at school to get her grades. We all sat patiently by the phone awaiting for her call…finally the phone rang. While we couldn’t understand their conversation, it was obvious from Habiba’s expressions that Axelle had done well.
She graduated with mention. And I am proud to say that her English written and oral exams were her highest grades. It was my turn to be a proud papa. It seems that all my efforts to teach her American phrases like Axelle is in the hizzie, What up baller, and that’s how I roll had paid off.
Habiba, Jenn, Nolin and I quickly made our way to downtown Chambery to meet Axelle and her friends at a cafe. Most kids would have a party or celebrate with their friends after getting the good news. Not Axelle, she went on a train tour of downtown Chambery with us…which I am sure is every teenagers dream, but just like she always did, she went with the flow and had a good time.
We arrived back at her house and her dad and family friends came over and we all had some champaign and cheese to celebrate…two-hour lunches are not a bad thing at all. Then Habiba watched Nolin as Oliver, Axelle, Jenn & I went to hike Croix du Nivolet, a 1500 meter mountain with a large cross at the top that was placed there in 1861 to keep the people of Chambery safe. Again, most teenagers would not choose this as their event on their graduation day…but we were so thankful that she did because it was amazing!
We drove a portion of the way up the mountain before hiking because I don’t think we would have made it home in time for Axelle’s graduation barbecue if we had not. The hike, the view, everything about Croix du Nivolet was amazing. You could see everything, and we had a chance to watch several paragliders cruising the alps along with some glider planes…personally you would never catch me jumping off a mountain, but it sure looked like fun.
On our final night, we once again spent time with Axelle’s family and more friends and once again the guitar came out. While I played a few songs we enjoyed listening to several french sing along songs including a rendition of Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling”. It was a perfect ending to a perfect week.
The next morning as we got prepared to head to the airport for our journey to Ireland it was sad to say goodbye to Axelle and her family. They had truly gone out of their way to show us an amazing time. I feel more confident than ever that we will continue to stay in touch and hope that the next time that we see Axelle’s parents our French will be much better. My biggest regret on the whole trip is that I did not know how to speak more because they are such great people.
If you ever have a chance to participate in a student exchange I would definitely encourage it, and if you ever have a chance to spend time in a foreign country with a family I would also encourage that. I doubt we will ever be able to experience a culture quite the same way we did in France, so I am forever grateful for that. While we said goodbye until the next time we see each other, I knew that although Brian may be in the kitchen, Axelle will always be in the hizzie.