Archive | September, 2012

Parley-vous francais?

28 Sep

Or: How to get on when you have no idea what they’re saying

I don’t speak French. At all. In the past, I have tried to speak French in front of actual French people, to general amusement and outright laughter.

So of course I chose to move to Paris.

Yes, I know, it makes perfect sense.

My host family seems to be surprised at how well I function in a French-speaking household. I shrug and tell them it isn’t so bad. After all, I can read a French paper and get the gist of it.* The TV has subtitles on all the cartoons. And I might not be able to follow a conversation, but I can pass the butter or salt when someone asks.

At this point in my life, I’ve spent years in places where I don’t know what the hells anyone is saying. I’ve become very, very good at inferring what is going on through body language, tone of voice, and general common sense. If you concentrate it isn’t too bad. Call it my one weird skill. (Well, that, and my unerring ability to be approached and asked for directions, no matter where on Earth.)

Basically, “fake it until you make it”. I’ve found that if you brazen through, you can usually get away with a lot of poor social skills. Sure, I have no idea what the cashier said, but I certainly can read the total on the register and hand her the right amount of money. A polite smile gets me through most interactions without having to speak, other than my basic “hello” and “thank you”.

And, above all, if you can read, you can do anything. Seriously. Maps? Menus? Bus schedules? Signage? My Dad used to tease us all the time whenever we came up to him with questions that could be easily answered by reading the labelling or the internet.**

So really, my advice to the average traveller is to do basic research, learn a few key phrases, and above all, get used to not knowing what’s going on. It’s like being back in my college stats class, except with better bread.

*English and French share a lot of cognates. Plus, I have seven years of Spanish under my belt. They’re similar enough that I can figure out what’s going on. Usually. But it’s still better than my Chinese reading ability, of which I am still unable to skim a paragraph after six years. As always, see Moser for more on this.

** “That sounds like a job for The Internet!”



26 Sep

Now, some of you might be wondering how things are going here in France.

I’m doing an au pair gig for a family in the Parisian suburbs. The main difference from American suburbs appears to be that Sevres used to be an actual town before the urban sprawl from Paris swallowed it up. I’m just south of the Seine and northeast of Versailles.

Sevres (pronounced SEV) is quite honestly adorable. My hometown is downright jealous of the charm and picturesque architecture. Then again, the church here was first built in 875 CE. It’s hard for Long Island to compare. The town is a little hilly, but walkable. There are three bakeries within a ten-minute walking distance, as well as a Carrefor, and a variety of little shops, restaurants, and cafes. I’m already looking forward to trying what they have to offer. There’s even a yarn shop.

The house is surprisingly larger than it looks like from the street. It’s three stories, with a backyard large enough to fit a trampoline and a nice patch of grass. I live on the third floor, which is basically a retro-fitted attic space. The wooden stairs are a little perilous in my socks, but it’s nice having all that space to myself. Well, technically, the main room is S’s playroom, but she’s yet to use it since I arrived. I have a full bathroom up there as well. Very convenient. My only gripe is that the internet doesn’t connect up there, but that’s probably a good thing. It also gets wicked cold at night already, but the down comforter and fleece pajamas do the trick nicely.

I don’t start language class until next week. This week is all about settling in and getting adjusted. I’ve had some miserable jet-lag and slept a minimum 10 hours a night so far. I’d think it would be easier to adjust to a 7 hour difference than 12 or 13 hours, but there you go.

I’ll try to load some pictures next time when I’ve gotten some decent ones.



21 Sep

Hey all. I know it’s been a while since my last real post. I spent a nice and lazy summer with my friends and family, enjoying life back in the States. You’d think that after a year in China, I would be done with the whole “living abroad” thing.

Yeah, about that.

I’ve found that lines from the Lord of the Rings movies are always applicable to daily life. (Except the bit about a dark lord and a ring, but you know what I mean.) In the first movie, Bilbo Baggins is explaining to Gandalf why he wants to leave behind his comfortable existence at home. “I want to see mountains again, Gandalf. Mountains.”

After two months at home, I was ready to see mountains again. Or, in this case, Europe. I’ve only been to Italy once. I want to see more of the world, while I’m still young and unencumbered. I’m a student of history. Compared to any point previous, the barriers to traveling abroad are pretty freaking low. Let me put it this way: it used to take a sailboat two months to get from NYC to London, and you routinely lost a few passengers along the way. In comparison, I can get on a flight from Washington Dulles and land in Paris a mere eight hours later. Commercial air travel is an under-rated miracle of the modern age.

So I’m off to Paris, to see the city of lights and learn what it’s like to live in a slightly less foreign country. Do I speak French? Not really, no. I figure it can’t be much harder than Chinese, although it might take some getting used to using conjugations again. My goals are to see a few sights, go to a couple museums, and eat my body weight in French bread. It’s all about easy, reachable goals.


If you’ve got any suggestions for my time there, I’m all ears!

8 Sep

After a nice long hiatus, I’m coming back with a vengeance.  This fall, I’ll hopefully be somewhere new and exciting.  Keep your eyes peeled.