Earlier this year I stumbled upon a video of a guy calling himself Benny the Irish Polyglot that got me realizing that I was making a lot of excuses about my progress with the French language, and wrote about it. Benny was cool enough to repost my blog on his site (which is a great resource for anyone trying to learn another language, so check it out, here), and I figured I owed it to anyone who stopped by to post something about my progress. Read More →
I have just arrived from a fantastic holiday on the island of Kos in Greece! I am busy adjusting to being back in the real world, and until I have time to actually write some decent posts, here are links to a few things that should provide good reading material in the meantime.
The amazing Mama over at HJ Underway wrote a post echoing my thoughts about speaking a language other than the local one, and the American language debate. Check it out, here.
My latest article for MyFrenchLife, talking about tennis in Paris, was published while I was away. You can read it, here.
Benny the super Irish Polyglot found my blog post about my addiction to excuses, and he posted it on his site, with some of his commentary (and EXCELLENT feedback in the comments for those of you looking to learn another language). Check out his site, here, and the blog where my addiction post makes an appearance, here.
Until next time!
For this Language Monday I want to introduce to you Benny Lewis! Benny Lewis is an Irish guy that speaks an absurd amount of languages. People that speak several languages, like benny, are called polyglots. Benny currently speaks eight languages and is working on three others. But Benny hasn't always had the ability to speak several languages with ease... Benny discovered something when it comes to language learning: speaking is the best way to learn.
I love this phrase. I use it liberally as an excuse to swear. I find it especially effective when talking to my mother who, in the not-so-distant past, used to “speak loudly” (yell) to (at) me using my entire name (you know–in that way that only Moms can) for merely mentioning the word “crap” (don’t worry, Mom, I know you’re supposed to do that ). I suppose perhaps part of why her disdain for my linguistic shortcomings has subsided over the years stems from the fact that now I’m an adult (or so they say), so swearing has become slightly more acceptable. Even still, I find that a well-placed “excuse my French” after the choice words I had reserved to describe, say, the French postal service, for example, seems to lessen the blow that a vulgarity can deliver.
Not too long ago, I was talking to Frog Prince about some issue or another and a swear accidentally tumbled across my lips. I immediately followed the surprising slip-up with “excuse my French,” which garnered quite the confused look from him. I tried to explain to him what this term means, and how it’s used. The conversation went something like this:
“Well, when a person swears but they don’t want to offend someone, they might say ‘excuse my French,’ or sometimes it’s ‘pardon my French.’”
“Why? S#*% isn’t a French word.”
“Umm… (calling on my skills of balderdash) I think it’s because a long time ago, people thought swears sounded like French words. Or something.”
“Yeah, I don’t know. I’ll look it up.”
After doing some research on the web, I came across a possible explanation of the origin of the term (though no official citation is included so I’m not sure about the credibility of this account):
In the 19th century, when English people used French expressions in conversation they often apologised for it – presumably because many of their listeners (then as now) wouldn’t be familiar with the language.
If you think about it, this technically makes my initial attempt at an explanation for the term somewhat correct. People apologized for French expressions, so at some point someone started apologizing for a swear, either thinking it was French or trying to pass it off as such. Either way, I’ll chalk this up as a minor victory. (Side note – can you imagine what the term “excuse my English” might be apologizing for?)
But the funniest part of this little phrase doesn’t come from it’s origin or common use by English speakers. The hilarity, for me, now comes from it’s new use in my life here in France. These days, “excuse my French” is a good way to apologize for the fact that my French still sucks. Go figure.
I have been lazy. And this isn’t even the confessional part of this post. I probably shouldn’t reveal this little secret, but the truth is that most of the posts I publish have usually been written days, and sometimes even weeks, before they reach your eyes. I’m sure this isn’t unusual, but the point is that when I published all of my pre-drafted posts, I didn’t write any new ones. So the last month has been a rather boring one here at Perpetual Passenger, and I intend to change that.
First, I’ll start with an update on things that have transpired that I’ve yet to write about (but will do so in more depth in the very near future):
- I went to Tokyo! Whoohoo! I have my little city review and a bunch of pictures to share with you.
- I’m taking French lessons again! This makes for great inspiration for the quirky little language differences that I’m discovering, most of which will give you a good laugh.
- I had a birthday! This is kind of old news, but actually the inch closer that I have moved toward 30 continually generates some new thoughts (read: crazy thoughts) that might be mildly entertaining to some of you.
- I got a haircut! Yeah, very mundane. But the cut is pseudo-drastic, and most of my friends and family haven’t even seen it yet. Plus, switching up my style from time to time can be refreshing, and it has a way of motivating me.
- I went to a concert! Love her or hate her, Florence and her Machine kick ass live.
Apart from this stuff, I’ve also decided that, although I am an American in Paris–which seems to be a fairly common situation that people have either lived and want to remember, are living right now and can relate to, or have never lived but fantasize about–which gives me lots of Paris-focused things about which to write, this blog started as a travel blog. I plan to keep writing about my life in France and all of the craziness that comes along with it, but also to try and remember the roots of this thing and include more about the places I go. I went to Prague for the first time and all you got were pictures! Sheesh. I should fire myself and hire a new writer.
And now for the confession.
I make no effort to hide that there are certain things from the US that I miss, but some of the things I miss are more embarrassing than others. Today I have been hit by the addictive force that is Mac and Cheese. I haven’t had it, or anything like it, in close to 10 months now, and a craving has come over me like a tidal wave. Don’t get me wrong–I didn’t eat a that much mac and cheese when I was in the States. But there are some things that you want simply because you can’t have them. I guess that’s how mac and cheese has re-entered my life. I preferred Annie’s Organic Shells and Cheddar, with a little tuna and some peas (Yum! More like a casserole than a dish of pasta covered in processed dairy…) and I think I’m going to crack, and… yes… maybe…
GO TO THE AMERICAN GROCERY STORE IN PARIS AND BUY SOME!
Oh gosh that was painful. I’ve already written about missing mac and cheese, and how most French people I know feel about it, here. But you should know, dear reader, that I am braving nothing less than ostracism by consuming such a dish here in Paris. You should have seen Frog Prince’s face when I told him this morning that I wanted some mac and cheese! It was like I had told him I wanted to eat a bowl of earth worms. But maybe I can convince him to make some from scratch at home (I know you’re reading this, B. Come on! Home made mac and cheese is awesome and you’re the best chef I know!!! ). In any case, I need to get some soon or I might just lose my mind.
So there you have it… a glimpse of the posts that are to come, and a juicy confession to snicker about. I hope it was as good for you as it was for me.
Now that I’ve been inducted into the American Women Dating French Men Club (It’s true–this is a common phenomenon. The late Polly Platt even wrote a book about it, called Love à la Française, written specifically about the matchup between American women and French men), I am constantly asked about whether or not there are any differences in having a relationship with someone from another culture. The short answer: Heck yes!
The first, and most obvious difference is one I described in an earlier post: There was no pre-relationship dating period (or hoops to jump through, or games, or mind tricks, or silly moments where one begins to doubt the credibility of the feelings they’re forming, etc.).
But there are definitely other differences–some more subtle, while others tend to be obvious. As you might expect, most of the differences are related to methods of communication. While many American men tend to circumnavigate what they really want to say in an attempt to sidestep ANY negativity or tension (read: fights), French men tend to get right to the truth. This has its pros and cons:
Me: What do you think about this dress?
American: Yeah, sure, it’s nice. But what about that other one that you have? That one you just got last week?
French: No. Your skin is too pale to wear that color.
Me: Hey, do you want to go out with me and my friends this weekend?
American: Yeah! Sounds great (thinking: UGH)!
French: Not really, but I’ll come with you anyway.
In addition to differences in communication style, I’ve also noticed that certain activities appeal to one culture a lot less than to the other. For example:
Me: I need to go shopping. I want some cute boots!
American: Ugh. Okay.
French: Okay! I know some good places we can go.
Me: Wow – these flowers are gorgeous!
American: Ummm… (thinking: Oh I get it. She’s trying to hint to me that I should buy her flowers.)
French: Yeah, they’re beautiful. Let’s get some!
What these examples do not take into account is the specific issue of language. It’s easy enough for two Americans to have misunderstandings when things don’t come out right, tone is mis-perceived, or words other than those that most accurately describe one’s thoughts and feelings are used. Imagine how tricky it can be to decipher all of this with someone who grew up with a different set of words all together?!
At the end of the day, I find that the differences and challenges I face while trying to adjust to a new set of relationship rules do NOT outweigh the happiness I’ve found. What amazes me most is that despite these differences between us, being happy with someone has never before been this easy. And the craziest part? Realizing that I traveled half-way across the world for a job after a chance meeting with the man who’s now my boss and discovered way more than just a new job and a new city. Serendipity at it’s finest, I think.
You know that show where people do absolutely terrifying things in the hopes of winning money? Well if I was a contestant, the method of torturing me wouldn’t involve sticking my hand in a nest of angry bees, eating a tarantula or walking a tight-rope from one very high point to another (though I’ll happily say “no thanks!” if offered the chance to willingly do any of those things). All the producers of the show would have to do is plop me down in the middle of a crowded area filled with French people that I know and say, “…aaaaand: SPEAK FRENCH!”
It’s true. I suffer daily from what I not-so-lovingly call Glossofrancofamiliophobia–similar in root to “glossophobia,” which is a fear of public speaking, but with a specific reference to speaking French, and speaking it to people I know.
It’s almost entertaining, really. I can run to the boulangerie and order some bread or a tasty pastry, grab some lunch to go from some local dining establishment, or even catch a ride home in a cab and everything turns out fine. But take me out to dinner with a group of friends–or worse, my French boyfriend–and that’s when the trouble starts. My pulse quickens, my face explores the warmer shades of the rainbow, my brow starts to sweat, and suddenly it’s as if I’ve never studied a word of French in my life.
I get stuck.
I shut the hell up (and trust me, you know there’s a problem when my mouth stops moving).
Sadly, there are no commercials with animated figures who go from sad to happy in a matter of seconds thanks to a miracle pill for this condition. There are no therapists specialized in this field, nor are there rehabilitation centers that can get me on my feet. No, my friends, this phobia is one that has to be tackled alone. And hard.
No doubt the root of this issue lies in confidence, and I make small steps every day to boost mine. Frog Prince helps a lot. He doesn’t laugh at me or make me feel bad when I try and say the basic sentences I have the nerve to muster. But I just can’t shake the idea that the people I’ve come to like and respect will stop reciprocating those feelings once they hear my sorry excuse for French. Unrealistic? Probably. Terrifying? Absolutely.
So, fellow expats, francophones, and bi-linguists: please do feel free to share how you may have gotten over any of your personal barriers to speaking another language. In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for a life raft to save me from succumbing to the 20,000 leagues of lexicon I seem to be sinking in (or getting eaten by un requin français).
When I first came to Paris in March to meet my new co-workers, I was really impressed with how well everyone spoke English. After being here for several months now, there are some quirks that happen when crossing from French to English that I find particularly endearing/amusing/hysterical. Here’s a list:
- Pseudo-inappropriate use of the word “shiny.” Example: “Wow–the sun is out today! It’s so shiny outside!” This one makes me smile every time.
- Addition of the “H” sound to words beginning with a vowel. Example: “Edgy” becomes “hedgy,” “oven” becomes “hoven” or “ear” becomes “hear.” This one usually leaves me scratching my head for a moment or two while I try to figure out what the person really meant to say.
- Pronunciation of the “K” sound in words beginning with “KN.” Example: “I need to wash the kah-nife,” or “My stomach is in kah-nots.” I kick into English Correction Mode when I hear this one.
- Occasional swapping of the “S” sound for a “TH” sound. Example: “I feel sick” becomes “I feel thick.” See how I said this was hysterical?
- Occasional swapping of silent or “F” sounding “GH” for a “TH” sound. Example: “I was laughing” becomes “I was lauthing”, or “This is really good dough” becomes “This is really good doth.” Another head-scratcher. Lots of times these words result in a “Huh?” from me.
- Pseudo-inappropriate (though sometimes applicable) use of the word “funny” as a substitute for “fun.” Example: “It’s not funny being sick.” Uh, no, it isn’t a comedy, you’re right. Or, “I saw my best friend this weekend and it was really funny.” At this point I’m sitting there waiting for a story about some drunken mishap that will result in me laughing until I cry, but my blank stare is usually just met with a smile.
- Inappropriate use of plural nouns or adjectives. Example: “I need to get my hairs cut. They are too long.” Or “I just scored 84 millions!” How can you not laugh at this?
Last night I attended a soiree organized by an online magazine dedicated to building a community of people who have some connection to France/the French in their lives (more to come on this in a future post).
In addition to meeting some really cool Australians, Americans and French people who are currently living in Paris, I got something really amazing out of this little shindig: Encouragement.
About to reach the six-month-mark of living here in Paris and still having only basic (though improving!) French, I often get down on myself for not having made more progress. I even wrote about it, here. And although I would argue that, among all the places in France to live, Paris is the easiest place to get by if you have only an elementary understanding of French, I expected more from myself on the language front by now.
When I arrived at last night’s event, I was unsure if I’d even be able to communicate with anyone, and was nervous that people would look down their noses at me for being a French resident who still speaks almost entirely in English. But on the contrary, I was met with a barrage of understanding and motivation! A lot of these people had come to France with little to no French training, and are now either speaking fluently or enough to communicate well in nearly every situation. And the kicker? It took them all about a year-and-a-half to get there.
“Six months?!” One woman said. “You’ve got to give yourself more time. There’s no way you could expect to be speaking a lot of French in only six months.”
“At around six months I thought I was speaking great French because I didn’t know it well enough to know the mistakes I was making. At one year I actually was more frustrated because I could hear my mistakes. Eventually you just have to stop caring and stop feeling embarrassed and it gets easier.”
I woke up this morning with a renewed sense of determination to tackle this language, and I’m grateful for the words of wisdom these fellow expats were able to share. Finding out that I’m not failing as hard as I thought I was: not a bad way to spend a Wednesday evening, eh?
As the resident native English speaker at my office, I regularly have conversations like this one:
“Do I say ‘lit?’ Or is it ‘litten?’”
“Um. Excuse me?”
“You know. Is ‘lit’ an irregular verb?”
“What are you trying to say? What’s the sentence you want to form?”
“No. I just want to know if it’s irregular.”
“It’s not litten. It’s lit.”
Though I have, as almost all American students have at one point or another in their high school careers, studied grammar–and currently think myself to be an excellent (though not perfect) user of it–I no longer recall exactly which verbs are irregular and which are regular. Do I use verbs correctly? Of course! But can I list for you even five irregular verbs in the English language without consulting my trusty friend Google or beginning to conjugate a lengthy list of verbs in my mind? No.
Because English is my mother tongue (Oh no! Starting a sentence with ‘because’ is a huge grammatical no-no! But don’t worry, I’m finishing the sentence with an independent clause. Ahh! Starting a sentence with ‘but’ is a definite no-no! But it’s okay, seeing as how this is an informal blog, and none of you are here to actually read about English grammar.), these rules are no longer rules to me. I live and abide by them. They are burned into the depths of my mind. Sort of like the rule that says you’re not supposed to steal. I don’t think about it. I just don’t steal. So now my knowledge of the ins and outs of English is being tested and I must say… Mrs. Smith probably wouldn’t be very proud.
And I’m only telling you about the verbal interrogations I receive.
On the flip-side, I look forward to the days when I will be asking for the past participle form of some seldom-used French verb to my friends. Revenge is best served verbally, no?