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Posts from the ‘Journal’ Category

Pardon My English

I came to Paris without having studied French other than a month or so before I left. Before then, my knowledge of French didn’t extend much beyond silly phrases from childhood cartoons– such as this:

We all loved this guy back in the day...

We all loved this guy back in the day…

I think it would be informative for me as well for others for me to recount what methods are working for me and which ones are not.

If you or someone you know is trying to learn another language, particularly French, then perhaps you’ll find this useful– and also, I’d love to hear from you.

What I have found to make this process difficult is the following:

Paris is inundated with English.

Paris is a #1 tourist destination and receives something around 20 or so million visitors per year. In result, English is everywhere. It’s the language of business and commerce, and therefore, it is the language world. Most locals and tourists can speak decent English and often use it on  a daily basis. This is great when you’re a tourist visiting for a few days, but not when you’re trying to learn French while living in Paris. The French immediately pick up your accent and will often switch to English.

However, I will not pin this as rude. I’ve read quite a number of blogs or heard accounts of people being offended when the French switch to English. If you visit and this happens to you, don’t take offense. It’s not because they don’t like your accent, it’s because they’re trying to accommodate you and they’re probably excited to practice English too. Just keep replying in French. If it’s someone you’re comfortable with or know personally, then ask them to speak to you in French.

On a related note, don’t feel intimidated to speak French (this is an issue I battled with everyday as well). Immediately address people here in French– and always precede your encounters by greeting them with “bonjour.” It means a lot to them for you to at least take a stab at French while asking for directions, even if you’re awful at it. (Which is another topic I’d like to address in the future.)

Before I left for Paris, I heard many stories about Parisians being rude and criticizing foreigners’ French. I’ve yet to feel any criticism or judgment. Yes, I have witnessed some confused expressions from those who couldn’t make sense out of whatever I managed to garble out. I honestly think that most feelings of being judged derive from one’s own lack of confidence.

Worst case scenario involves me giving up and apologizing. I often say (in French), “I’m sorry. I still learning French.” And that often eases the situation.

But really, English is everywhere.

Right now, I’m writing this article in a Starbucks in Opèra. They’re playing Christmas music– in English of course, and I’m referring to all the classics and contemporary renditions: Frank Sinatra to Michael Bublé. I feel more up-to-date on American cinema than I’ve been in the past few years. Most films are available in “V.O.” or “Version Originale” with French subtitles. Furthermore, going to the movies here is much cheaper, so I enjoy it much more often than I used to back home.

All in all, if you’d like to learn French in Paris, go for it! It’s available as long as you’re disciplined– but if you want to learn English too, that’s plenty available.

In my opinion, most key factors to learning a language, derive from motivation and discipline. I don’t care what articles are out there ranking how difficult one language is compared to another. I don’t agree with them. If you’re motivated and disciplined enough to learn, then you will learn.

In my past 3 months, I’ve picked up so much more French than I’ve expected to– and I want to share my tips and resources with everyone because I think I’ve found some great stuff that’s helpful! So for the next few weeks, I’ll be posting about this subject.

In the meantime, here are the simplest, yet most essentials tips. For anyone who has researched the best ways to learn a language, you’ve heard this over and over again, but my experience so far prove them to be axiomatic.

1. Stay disciplined. Study and practice every day.

2. Incorporate all facets of comprehension and production on a daily basis: listening, reading, speaking, and writing.

3. Go out of your comfort zone. Walk around and meet other people who only speak that language and make friends. You may spend a long time struggling to communication, but nothing expedites the process faster than immersion.

Thanksgiving in Paris

Yesterday it was Thanksgiving in the United States, and the few days preceding the holiday were perhaps the first times that I truly felt subtle twinges of nostalgia. Perhaps it was the Facebook posts from friends excited to visit home, or perhaps it’s because the Starbucks in Opéra where I study French began to incessantly play American Christmas music weeeeeeeeks ago.

In the months prior to leaving the US, my occasioned thoughts about spending the holidays alone  and abroad often caused my imagination to picture myself with my laptop playing illegally downloaded holiday films while eating whatever form of “pumpkin spice” anything I could forage in Paris.

But on the actual day of Thanksgiving, I did not have time to even acknowledge those feelings of homesickness, let alone stew in them. Instead, I spent much too long trying to hunt down cranberry sauce.

First I tried Le Bon Marché, where I found a foreign food aisle labeled “USA”

This was a fantastic experience, because I was able to able theorize on the following questions:

  1. What do the French or Parisians think of as what Americans buy in the market and consume at home?
  2. What can Americans buy in Paris from Le Bon Marché when they miss home?
  3. What does Le Bon Marché think of as cuisine that is indicative and representative of the American diet and culture?

And from this aisle the answers include the following:

  • Ranch dressing
  • Beef jerky
  • Salsa and guacamole
  • Chili-flavored potato chips
  • BBQ sauce, yellow mustard, and relish
  • EasyMac
  • Cheese Whiz
  • LOTS of Planter’s peanuts
  • Popcorn but it was some French brand called “American Classic Foods.” This shouldn’t count. They need to sell Pop Secret, Butter Lover’s edition in order to place it in the USA aisle. Come on, France; I know ya’ll can do better.

Please note that cranberry sauce is not on the list. I was told I could find some there, so I felt dejected and slightly panicked because I needed to be home in an hour.

At one point, I  suffered from severe emotional whiplash: in about 1 second, I suddenly felt exalted and victorious, to absolutely crestfallen because I had (wrongly) thought that I had found cornbread. Turns out it was just  more of those damned Madeleines.

Eventually, I stopped following advice and typed “Thanksgiving in Paris” into Google…maps. Google Maps. Yes.

There is a rather famous stored located in the Le Marais area of Paris called Thanksgiving in Paris. You can take the metro to St. Paul  and walked to Rue St. Paul to get there. I found plenty of cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie filling, stuffing, gravy, and you can even order turkeys. And yes, there was also Pop Secret popcorn.

Of course, the moral of this fable blogpost is that Thanksgiving isn’t really about cranberry sauce, despite my over-investment into locating a can of that crap. The actual point of this blogpost is to recount the particular memory that kept running through my head while I was thinking about Thanksgivings back home these past few days.

Thanksgiving and the winter holidays back home is a time to be with family– however, my family back home doesn’t consist of much than my mother and my sister. In result, you can imagine that cooking a turkey for three doesn’t leave you all that motivated… our participation in these winters holidays began to diminish when I was about 15 years old. We don’t even buy a Christmas tree anymore. So back home, my holidays are a bit lackluster.

I remember a few years ago when my mom and I were discussing what to do for Thanksgiving that year because all we would have was each other: why cook for three? What should we do instead? Go to the movies? A theme park? Vacation of some sort? No matter what alternative was conjured, nothing seemed to suffice.

To be honest, I can’t really recall how we came to our solution for our Thanksgiving crisis because it was so long ago. I don’t recall any “aha moment” or any flashes from lightbulbs that were hovering above our heads… it sort of just happened.

For however many years now, we’ve had what I’ve always called an “Orphan’s Thanksgiving.” We invite over whomever we can think  of that we know is alone for Thanksgiving. During our first Orphan’s Thanksgiving, within a matter of a couple of days, our empty holiday turned into a small-scale logistical mess of trying to plan and cook for 12 or so people. Our guests consisted of our friends who were most often foreign and living on their own in the United States. They often left family to either find work in the U.S. and/or go to school. Even though Thanksgiving is a holiday that does not exist in those other countries, its presence remains overwhelming. You can’t work and you don’t have school, and all of your American friends and co-workers have left to be with family. Even if you’ve never even heard of Thanksgiving, if you’re in the United States during that time, you can feel a bit left out.

Every year in college I’d invite any friend I had made who was studying abroad while my mom, sister, and I continued to have our regular guests attend. Our Thanksgiving family includes loved ones from Myanmar, Croatia, Puerto Rico, Nepal, Argentina, and so on. And despite spending the holidays with people that perhaps I’ve barely met or don’t know that well, it is those memories that I cherish most. Those Thanksgivings has been the most fun and it’s been great to meet so many people from everywhere without having to leave home.

This is the memory that kept replaying in my head these past few days; it’s my first Thanksgiving spent away from family, no matter how small or big my family is. What should I do? Cooking a turkey for for 1 is even sillier– and let’s be honest: it has nothing to do with finding a turkey. It’s spending hours cooking with my mother and being annoyed by her simultaneously; that’s the fun. So I’m applying the same solution here in Paris.

 

 

If you’re abroad or have been abroad for the holidays, I’d love to hear about that! If you’re interested in hearing more about Expats celebrating Thanksgiving check out NPR’s Project Expat

Serendipity While Sitting at the Train Station

Perhaps one of the most beautiful aspects about traveling or living in a new place is how– no matter what obstacles or mishaps occur– things always seem to turn out alright.

In the 2nd week of arriving in Paris, (and I mentioned this in a previous post) I managed to take 2 hours to get home. Why? Because my last train home that I had originally planned on taking was cancelled due to a strike.

For a local (and now, even me), this is not a big deal. There are plenty of other ways to get home. You can take a taxi, walk, ride a bike, or take a bus. But when you’re a 23 year old American girl who just arrived in a brand new country with no money, friends, or french vocabulary in order to get home, you start to get a little anxious.

Fast-forwarding through the stumbled, mucked-up Franglish conversation that I had at 1am with the info kiosk, I found the night bus that I needed to take home. However, now I am standing alone at a bus stop at 1:30 in the morning, surrounding by a bunch of people that I don’t know and I cannot strike up conversation with because I can’t say anything beyond “Hello” and “how are you,” let alone, “is this right bus? Would you happen to know which stop I need to get off at to get home?”

And of course, this is the part of story where I manage to meet a very nice stranger named Peterson who speaks English. He asks me, “you’re not from here?” Nope. I’m not. Apparently, it’s that obvious. I probably looked stressed out.

Peterson helps me get on the right bus, and he lets the driver know that I’m foreign and new, and that I’ll need him to tell me which stop to get off from. Meanwhile while at the bus stop, we have good conversation– and he even teaches me some French. Unfortunately, I don’t have a phone, but I figured “Hey! Potential new friend! Can I have your e-mail address? We can strike up a deal for some language exchange.” That night, I am not more indebted to anyone than Peterson, who went out of his way to help me get home .

But sadly, I lost his e-mail address.

 

Let’s cut to about 7 weeks later. I’m a pro at taking the train, bus, AND metro home. Lost? Psh. Please. I finally know what I’m doing. One night, I am boarding the train home at platform 13 to catch the 22:35 ride back. I sit and sit and sit on this train and it doesn’t move. Also, no one else is sitting on this train. It’s now 22:35– what’s going on?

I look to my left and this is what I see: my actual train leaving from platform 13. I accidentally boarded the train on platform 14 and somehow didn’t notice. C’est la vie. So now it’s time to get off of the train I’m sitting on, and walk back down to the lobby area to wait for the next train home.

How on earth did I manage to miss my train when I arrive 15 minutes before its departure? How did I manage to not deduce from the empty car that perhaps I am NOT on the right train? And how on earth did I manage to read “Voie 14” and I think, “yep, platform 13. That’s my train, right there.”

I will probably never know.

At this point, I am slightly irritated. I am tired and I just want to go home. I sit down on my bench and start at the list of departures waiting for my 23:05 train to announce it’s platform. I have stuffed my headphones into my ears and am listening to some kind of music so that I don’t have to talk to strangers because tonight, I’m not just in the mood.

Apparently the person sitting on the bench to right of me begs to differ.

I can barely make him sight of him, but my peripheries do catch sight of someone waving at me to try and catch my attention. I ignore it.Sorry pal, but tonight is not your night. I’m tired and exhausted from being sick, and I want to go home. Nope, wave all you want; I’m going to continue to ignore you.

Ugh, okay fine. I’ll look and see what the hell you want from me.

It’s Peterson! Nothing could have perked up my night more. 7 weeks later, a lost e-mail, and an absent-minded, unintentionally made choice to sit on the wrong train allowed me to run into Peterson again. What are the odds of that?

Probably higher than I think– but for that moment, the serendipity was too sweet to spoil with statistics.

Photogenics: Sunset View from Pont des Arts

This is form Pont des Arts, which Pont Neuf behind me.

Fun fact: Every time I read and heard “Pont Neuf” I presumed it meant “bridge nine.” But nope, “neuf” can also mean “new.” It’s “new bridge.”

I took this photo in the evening; the sky was beautiful and I had to try to snag a shot. So far, I enjoy the sky here. For some reason, it always looks as though it can change colors form one end of my view to the other. For example, from outside my bedroom window once sunset starts, even at its earliest, the left side of my view will look like a light teal, but then it will morph into a dark shade of blue or pink. It’s as though two completely different skies are sharing the same space. I hope that makes sense.

To see it in its original size, which is slightly larger, just click on the picture.

Enjoy!

View from Pont Neuf

xx -J