29 December 2009

French Culture 101: TV

I haven't watched much TV since I've been here.  It's still really hard for me to understand, so I don't find it entertaining or relaxing.  While they have many of their own shows, they also like to watch American and British TV dubbed over in French.

Some shows maintain the same title: Friends, Dallas, and Smallville
Others change just slightly: House, MD is Dr. House, The Sopranos is Les Soprano, and  The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is Le Prince de Bel-Air.
Some are direct translation from English: Everybody Loves Raymond is Tout le Monde Aime Raymond.

But my favorites are the ones they change:
CSI is Les Experts (literally: The Experts)
ER is Urgences (literally: Emergency)
Third Watch becomes New York 911
The Wire is  Sur Écoute (literally: Taping)
Without a Trace is FBI: Portés Disparus (literally: Missing)
One Tree Hill is Les Frères Scott (literally: The Scott Brothers)
West Wing is À la Maison Blance (literally: At the White House)
The Dukes of Hazzard is Shérif, Fais-Moi Peur! (translates to "Sheriff Hazzard," but is litterally: Sheriff, make me scared!)
Full House is La Fête À La Maison (literally The Party at the House)
Carnivale is La Caravane de l'Etrange (literally The Caravan of the Strange)

25 December 2009

Joyeux Noël . . . Skype makes the world pretty small

I am Skyping with my family RIGHT NOW . . . it's not the same, but it's as close as I'm going to get to being with my niece and nephews as they open presents.  I love technology!

24 December 2009

Niger in the News

Nigerien President, Mamadou Tandja, has changed the country's constitution to be able to stay in power for a third term.  According to the BBC News, back in August he "dissolved both parliament and the constitutional court to push through the referendum."  In line with the original constitution, his second term would have ended on Tuesday . . . and, as per a new article from the BBC, as of Wednesday the US has suspended aid to Niger. 


23 December 2009

All This Because My Mother Isn't French.

The other day I found a FANTASTIC recipe for meringue cookies (okay, I admit . . . I didn't even read the recipe, I was sucked in by the beautiful full page photo depicting the super-model of cookies . . . they were lovely!).  I had decided that since the French (in general) really like meringue I would make a special batch for my language helper, to say merci for her patience and grace as I butcher her heart-language.  I bought all the things I'd need, including cookie sheets (special trip to Ikea for those, as the ones at the shop down the road were 20euros . . . nearly $30 US!!!  THIEVERY!) and for two nights now I had planned to make them.  The problem is the recipe called for three hours in the oven.  Bizaire!  So finding the time has been tricky.  But I was scheduled to meet with CL today at noon for lunch, so I really wanted to have them ready and waiting.

I got up this morning ready to go.  When I got to the kitchen, two of the women who work at the school were there.  When I told them I was making meringue cookies their response was a bit suprising: Vraiment??  C'est TRÈS difficile!  (Really?  Those are VERY hard!!!)  One continued to tell me that she used to try every year and couldn't get them right and has since given up. 

How hard can they be, vraiment??  I've made meringue before . . . and that was by hand in 100F+ at Galmi.  Surely this will be EASY!!  (How does that verse go . . . "pride cometh" when???)  I took out all of the necessary ingredients.  Converted the oven temp from farenheit to celcius.  Pulled out the hand mixer and started separating the egg whites from the yolks. 

I followed the recipe exactly.  As I began to whip, the woman who oversees the facility here at Les Cedres came into the kitchen.  Tu fais quoi?  What are you doing?  I told her, she wished me bon courage! and promised to make sure I wasn't here fluffing until tomorrow.  ONE HOUR LATER I was still mixing the same concoction, which had grown significantly in size, but was still lacking stiff peaks.

Où est toi, stiff peaks??  Est-ce que ça viens??? (Where are you, stiff peaks?? Are you coming????)  I suddenly had deja vu and saw myself back at Galmi whisking those God-forsaken egg whites.  But this time I had an electric hand mixer.  IL NE MARCHE PAS!!!!!  (IT'S NOT WORKING!!)  I searched the internet for a solution.  Google's search of The Secret to Perfect Meringue yielded the truth: cream of tartar.  Bummer.  I don't have any.  Google: Substitute for Cream of Tartar in Meringue.  Answer: lemon juice.  So I added more. It didn't work.  I tried more sugar.  It got worse. 

I gave up.

I dumped the stiffless-peakless-marshmallow-fluff into the sink.  Round Two: you are MINE! 

Determined not to be beat out by the goo, I scrounged around for a few extra eggs and set to work again.  This time, a fourth woman who works the school helped me out.  L is deaf, so she signs to me with French Sign and I respond back with American Sign, mouthing words in French . . . we're quite a sight.  Anyway, she watched me closely: beat 6 egg white with 1tsp lemon juice and 1/8 tsp salt until foamy.  Done.  Add 1 tsp each vanilla and lemon extract.  Done. Slowly, but continually, add sugar while beating at medium to high speed.  It started to work.  It was growing and becoming a bit more firm.  But still no peaks, let alone stiff ones. 

L. signed something in French.  I was pretty sure she said that I should have beat the egg whites first, then added the sugar and all the other stuff.   Oh.  Mais, la recette!  (But, the recipe!)  She didn't care.  She insisted.  In walked the woman who oversees the facility.  Déborah, you are still here?!?!  She then confirmed L's diagnosis.  Beat the egg whites first.  Then add to it.  Oui, mais la recette . . . . She looked at me very compassionately and in English said, Déborah, there is no recipe for meringue!  We learned this from our mothers when were children.  VOILA!!  That was it.  My mother isn't French, therefore I hadn't learned the generational secret of perfect meringue!  But, ce n'est pas grave, I am learning now . . . it's never too late.  Merci Seigneur pour toute la leçons Tu as pour moi!

As the cliché goes, third times a charm! 

That's right, round three.  I was determined to win. 

This time I not only had to steal someone's eggs (okay, not steal, just borrow) but their sugar as well. This time L was in charge: separate the egg whites.  Whisk.  Keep Whisking.  Whisk some more.  Voila.  STIFF PEAKS, JE T'AI TROUVÉ!!!  (Stiff Peaks, I found you!!)  Then we added the sugar.  More whisking.  Then the lemon juice and vanilla.  The more we added the less stiffy the peaks were, but they were still there. 

Until the time came for me to pipe them onto the cookie sheets.  I ended up with little blobby discs, but hey, they kept their blobby-disc form so I really didn't care. They were in the oven.  That meant I won.

They stayed in the oven at a very low temp for several hours.  All of the school employees went home, so I had no way of knowing for sure if they were in fact done.  I tasted one.  Sugar coated cardboard.  Hmm.  So they definately aren't my favorites, but hey, c'est la vie at least I now have something to put in the jar for my language helper (and I didn't toss round two, going to try to salvage it and make a lemon meringue pie . . . wishful thinking perhaps).

22 December 2009

Vous Êtes Ici.

My new least-favorite-thing about France: the general abscence of You Are Here stickers.  I mean, really.  How hard is it to place a little round sticker that reads Vous Êtes Ici on those big maps in malls and metro stations and outside very large hospital complexes.  S'il vous plaît, tout le monde!!

So my friend had to spend the day back at the hospital having a procedure . . . she has to sit there ALL day attached to an IV, so I offered to come spend a few hours with her.  The last time I went to see her, it took three buses and over an hour to get there, so I thought, SURELY there has to be an easier, faster, more efficient chemin via public transportation.  I searched the internet, and sure enough . . . take the RER B train from Massy to Denfert-Rochereau, change and take the Metro #6 toward Nation to Daumsenil, change to the Metro #8 toward Créteil-Préfecture and get off at Créteil-L'Échat (okay, so maybe you didn't need to know that, but I like typing in italics and using ácçënt marks when I type . . . that and I can't tell a short story.).  Simple.  And it was.  Until I got out of the metro. 

The way I know on the bus drops me off right in front of the main entrance of the hosptial, but I decided to forgo what I know and try something easier . . . more time efficient . . . which put me out on the side of the hospital.  But I wasn't sure which side, since they all look the same.  Oh, but wait, there's a big map of the complex!  Fantastic!  I LOVE MAPS!! 

I began to search for the big round red Vous Êtes Ici! so I could commence my journey.  Hmmm.  Where is the big round red Vous Êtes Ici!??  Not here.  Not there.  Nope.  No Vous Êtes Ici!.  WELL, I began to think, I KNOW I'M HERE!  SOMEWHERE, BECAUSE I'M STANDING RIGHT INFRONT OF YOUR MAP HENRI MONDOR L'HÔPITAL!  I began to compair the buildings I could see with the 2-D map in front of me.  But the shapes didn't seem to match.  That's when I realized they must be posted north-to-south . . . but which way was north.  I checked the location of the sun.  HEY!  WHERE'S THE SUN??  Today was a perfectly typical Parisian day . . . the sun was neatly tucked away behind all the clouds. 

PlanB.  (I love PlanB's . . . I always seem to have to come up with them . . . but they are often very short lived and eventually it's PlanD, E, or F that works)  PlanB: wander around the complex until I find the main entrance.  I figured if I stuck close to the outer wall of the hospital I'd get there eventually.  Well, Henri Mondor l'Hôpital won't let you walk it's perimeter toute de suite . . . and there's no yellow-brick-road either.  I wandered outside the hospital until I eventually found an entrance. 

It was the mortuairy.

The next door I found was the med school.  Strike two.  I retraced mysteps to the metro station and turned left instead of right.  I found the ER and the helicopter pad . . . and then, there it was.  Like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow . . . the main entrance.  It was beautiful.

I wish I could tell you all that this was the only time today that I got lost.  But when is my life ever so uneventful.  After I left my friend at the hospital, I headed toward the bus (because even though I could get back to the metro with my eyes closed, I needed to do a little shopping on the way home) and went to the mall.  After I got what I needed, I made my way to the bus stop.  Now, I know from past experience that the bus would only be running until 8pm, so I figured if I got there by 6:30 I'd be fine.

I checked the marquee indicating the arrival of the next bus, ten minutes.  Parfait.  10 minutes came and went.  Then 15.  I checked the marquee again: ten minutes.  Wait a minute!  Ça ne marche pas!  Hmm.  I thought.  I checked the posted schedule.  Wait, what's that!?!?  There were three pieces of paper over the schedules.  Something about holiday hours and the schedule for the week of Christmas and certain bus stops, but they had the number of the other bus, not the 319.  Finally someone came to the stop.

Excusez-moi, je parle un peu le français.  Est-ce que le bus trois sent dix-neuf va arrêter ici? (Excuse me, I speak a little bit of French.  Will the 319 bus stop here?)  He read the posted message.  Oui.  Je pense.  (Yes.  I think.  Famous last words . . . even in French.)  After 45 minutes waiting at the stop, a small crowd of about 10 people formed waiting for the 319.  Everyone read the sign and all came to the same conclusion.  Yes, the 319 will in fact stop here.  But it hasn't.  And it's cold.

A collective decision was made to dash across the parking lots to the opposite side of the mall and hope that the 319 would be stopping at the TVM bus stop.  I had no idea what was going on, so when a woman who was also heading to Massy grabbed my arm and said On y va! (Let's go!)  I went.  Sure enough, the 319 pulled up as we all arrived at the stop.  Merci seigneur!  We elbowed our way through the even-in-France-there-are-last-minute-Christmas-shoppers crowd and boarded the bus.

The kind woman who made sure I got on saved me a seat next to her.  At one point I thought she might be an angel, but I think if she had been she would have also been able to speak English, or at least speak French slowly enough for me to understand her. 

The first twenty minutes on the bus we didn't move.  The pre-Christmas-traffic was HORRIBLE!  But my neighbor was chatty, so I didn't notice . . . too much.  The trouble was, I couldn't understand a single word she said to me.  I just kept smiling and responding to match her facial expressions.  We were going along nicely like this for quite some time when I heard a phrase I did in fact understand: Nous sommes perdue! (We are lost!)  Now, I think she used far to few exclaimation points with that sentance, but at the moment I was just happy that I understood something she said . . . okay, more, bitter-sweet, considering the context.

I looked out the window . . . even though it was dark, I could tell she was right.  This was not the typical way home!  She went up to talk to the bus driver.  She came back and said Ça va and shrugged her shoulders.  When the bus finally pulled over for the first stop, but it was really about number 15 into the route.  Guess the traffic was so bad and the bus was so off schedule he had to do something to catch up. 

Good news is, I got home.  Finalment!  I think I will give up public transportation for lent.

19 December 2009

Le Corps Humain

I ventured back to the library last night.  My new favorite thing about France: no late fees at the library!  God bless 'em! 

My partner in crime, SP, wandered around with me, searching for new books.  The first shelf was teenage romance novels . . . way over my head.  I turned around.  Ah ha!  Picture books.  "This is what I need!"  SP responded "English books??" It was the Anglais section . . . right next to books in Espagnol and Allemand.  Ooops!

As I wandered through the shelves, I found lots of books on the anatomy and physiology of the human body!  Parfait!  But the best find was L'Encyclopédie Visuelle Bilingue LE CORPS HUMAIN (The Bilingual Visual Encylopedia of the Human Body)!!!

I checked the book out (along with one on the sensory system and another on the circulatory system) . . . without event this time.  As I searched through this gem I found, I began to feel really overwhelmed.  Over my seven years of post-high school education, I have taken two anatomy classes (one complete with cadaver lab), kinesiology, biomechanics, neuroanatomy (that lab was fun too), and even classes specfic to injuries and rehab of each region of the body.  If there's one thing I know, it's human anatomy. . . IN ENGLISH.

Being a lousy memorizer by nature, this knowledge I have of terms has come from almost 10 years of repetition and use.  But now, I have to learn the same terms I know, but IN FRENCH . . . and that's when it hit me . . . and for some of the terms, IN HAUSA TOO!  AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!    

I've always been better with pictures than words, so for every anatomy-related class, I would spend hours sketching the bones, muscles, ligaments, systems, etc (my grad school notes are even color-coordinated to match Dr.FrankNetter's paintings).  So I guess it's time to dust off the old sketch book and sharpen my pencils. 

Some of the terms are the same (ribosome), others are similar (crête mitochondriale -- mitochondrial christa), but so many are are night-and-day different (épaule -- shoulder, or rachis -- spine, apophyse odontoïde -- dens, aileron du sacrum -- ala, ligament de Bertin -- iliofemoral ligament, os spongieux -- cancellous bone, tête -- head, fossette du ligament rond -- fovea, col -- neck, diaphyse -- shaft . . . you get the idea).  And then there's the wonderful world of pronounciation!

Merci Seigneur for this great opportunity to study the complexly fantastic human body You created!  AIDE-MOI! (HELP ME!)  Ni par la force, ni par la puissance, mais c'est par Mon Ésprit, dit le Seigneur! Zacharie 4:6 (Zecharia 4:6, Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord).

16 December 2009

First Time in Germany, Hopefully Not My Last

I'm in Heidelberg, Germany until tonight.  My brother is here for work, so I came over for a quick visit.  He had some last minute changes to his itinerary, so I had to hunt down a place to stay for Monday night.  There is something very beautiful about facebook . . . this networking site has allowed me to keep in touch with people who have come and gone from my everyday life.  I posted a little sentence on my wall: Anyone have a friend in Heidelberg, Germany.  I need a last minute place to stay for Monday night!  While I waited for a response, I began hunting down youth hostels in Heidelberg.  Thankfully Germany is a bit more Anglophonefriendly than France tends to be, so their entire sites were available in English!  I found a little place that looked clean enough and was affordable.  I sent them an email.

While I was waiting to hear back, I got a reply to my facebook page . . . Deb. I live 40km north of Heidelberg, I will pick you up from the train and you will stay with me!  I met J.W. when she was working as a nanny in the Philly area last year.  She started attending our Bible study, but returned to Germany last Christmas.  We've kept in touch a little bit, and even tried to get together back in the fall, but it didn't work out.

Her family is LOVELY!  They took me in and treated me like a princess.  J. took me up to an old church that over looks a little old town (and by old I mean buildings dating back to the 1200's!!).  There was snow on the ground, the air was crisp (okay, maybe a little biting), but there were STARS!!  We don't get stars in Paris.  And I even saw a shooting star!! (btw, what's the time frame on those wishes??)

It was nice to be in a home, with a family.  J's mom speaks only German and Russian, but she tried talking to me anyway.  I continually answered her in French!!  It was habitual.  But maybe that's a good sign.

I arrived in Heidelberg around 1pm yesterday.  All I had was the name of my brother's hotel . . . I had no idea what time they were arriving, or even if his room would be registered in his name or his companies.  I didn't even have his cell phone number.  But as I walked into the hotel, there he was, about to get on the elevator!  Perfect timing!

We wandered around the old part of the city last night, through the Christmas Market.  It was really weird hearing a language I couldn't understand.  It's only been four months that I've been in France, but I've gotten used to being able to pick out something of what people are saying!  I got quite a few stares and weird looks when I would thank someone or say excuse-me . . . and that's when I realized I was automatically responding in French!  Oh well, what are you going to do??

So today I'm going up to the old Heidelberg Castle with one of J's friends that I met at her house, and hopefully Mike will be able to call when they are done with their meetings.  Otherwise, it's back on the train at 5pm, hopefully home by 9.  I will post some photos when I get back.

13 December 2009

Word Finding Difficulties

15 of us had dinner together tonight.  At one point I was sitting across the table from the professor who lives here on the property.  She was saying something about someone (in French of course) and I was following along.  Until all of a sudden I heard "Y yez endi seize y yez."  I had to think about that for a second: "Y yez endi seize y yez."  Hmmmm . . . what does that mean?  I thought harder.  "Y yez endi seize y yez." 

Well, seize is French for sixteen . . . and y is a pronoun for a place (kind of like there . . . kind of) but yez??  and  endi??  And just because I don't know the words, doesn't mean they aren't French. 

And that's when it dawned on me.  The sentance was in EnglishHe is and he says he is.  They tell me this is a good sign, but really it just makes me feel like an idiot!

12 December 2009

Breakfast in America Parisian Style

There is a diner in Paris.  Yes, a diner.  It has red diner booths, Frenches mustard, and those true-to-a-diner sugar pourer glasses . . . you know, with the round silver top, and the greasy-never-been-washed ribbed glass sides. 

I had heard about Breakfast in America from fellow American students, but I really had no interest in going there.  I've only been here four months, and haven't really been feeling the need to "eat American" yet.  But one of the prof's here at the school invited me to join her and small group of students for breakfast this morning.  And when a prof asks you to join it's best to accept. 

I had no idea what to expect upon arrival . . . but I confess, I suprised myself with the feeling of giddiness I had when I saw the neon red "DINER" above the door!  I laughed . . . "A diner . . . IN PARIS?!?!?" As I entered, I found myself feeling happier and happier.  The chalkboard of todays specials: PASTRAMI with MUSTARD!!  Not sure if it was on rye, but it was pastrami!

Also on the menu: hamburgers . . . and chicken nuggets . . . and cheesecake . . . and breakfast burritos . . . and Dr. Pepper and RootBeer . . . and bottomless cups of coffee . . . and (drum roll please) BAGELS WITH CREAM CHEESE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

I was with three other Americans, my French professor, and a German student . . . but the three Americans are from either the south or the midwest, so when I exclaimed "BAGELS!" and "PASTRAMI!" my joy was met with "DR. PEPPER!"  While I know they enjoyed the little slice of home, I don't think it meant as much.  Diners are definately specific to the culture of the northeast . . . or at least to the greater New York City and Philadelphia and Jersey Shore areas.

I never thought I would be so happy over a bagel.  But as I sat there, thinking about it, I wanted to cry.  I didn't order a bagel.  I didn't actually want to eat one.  But just knowing that if I did, I could have one.  It was a wonderful feeling. 

And a bottomless cup of coffee!!  Now, when it comes to wine or cheese or pastries, the French are experts, but I have to admit, I think they know very little about coffee.  So to purchase a good cup of coffee that came in a real mug that the waitress kept filling was about as close to home I'm going to get right about now . . . granted, I would never describe diner coffee as "a good cup of coffee," but hey, I'm in France, not everything can be authentic!

08 December 2009

Hearing From Home

I haven't lived close to my family in 10 years . . . but God has always provided pseudo-family for me wherever I end up.

When I moved to New Jersey in 2004 good friends in South Africa actually got me connected to the church that would become my home.  After about a year at FBC I ended up in a community group with the folks that eventually became my New Jersey Family.  These wonderful people have loved me and cared for me and treated me like I was one of their own.  And I was.

As I wrestle with off and on culture-stress, looking ahead to Christmas in a few weeks, and press on learning French (with all the regular highs and lows of life), I have come to find myself facing a very new feeling: homesickness.  It isn't always there.  But sometimes.  And I feel it right now.

I received a box in the mail today from my New Jersey Family!  Getting mail is always a blessing and it always cheers me up.  They sent my favorite kind of coffee (French Roast . . . which you can't get here, believe it or not) some happy chocolates, granola bars (!!!) and even a pair of Christmas socks!!  But the best part . . . CHRISTMAS CARDS!!!  Each couple had written one for me! 

I was never into Christmas cards before.   I hated writing them, and really, what does one do with them after Christmas is over??  But these are the most beautiful Christmas cards I've ever received!  The French don't really do Christmas cards.  You can find a few, but mostly the ones in the shops are for New Year's.  I find that strange, but hey, it's their way.

So thank you!!  THANK YOU!!!  I love you all and miss you very much.  My Sunday nights are not the same without you. 

And for all the rest of you out there, if you know a m!ss!onary somewhere out there in the world . . . WE LOVE MAIL!  (and you can send Christmas cards to me at: 17 voie de Wissous, MASSY 91300, France)

07 December 2009

Nothing Funny Today

Actually, I'm sure if I step back and think about it hard enough I will find something from today that was funny.  But was just sitting here working on a personal study (that I've actually been doing off and on for several months now) on an aspect of the character of Jesus that I really love . . . His willingness to get His hands dirty.  Literally.  A while back I was taking a course on Christianity and Health Care, and we did a case-study on the woman from Mark 5 who had been bleeding for 12 years.  I began to wonder how many times (that have been recorded in the Gospels) Jesus willingly put Himself in a position to become unclean as according to the Levitical laws that the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day were enforcing.

I'm finding it fascinating to read portions of Leviticus along with the account of Jesus that we find in the New Testament (I know what you're thinking . . . Deb. the French is messing with your head!!  Leviticus??  REALLY??) . . . anyway, I'm not done with my study, so if and when I do, I will be sure to fill you in. 

But as I'm sitting here taking a mental break from all the French, I'm listening to a mix of some of my favorite music.  I have been listening to I Surrender All on repeat for about half an hour now.  What a concept.  Surrender.  I have been learning a lot about surrender recently.  When experiencing a new language and culture there are a lot of things completely out of my control.  But I like control.  In fact, I LOVE control.  Control, je t'aime!  But as a disciple of Jesus, living today, I am not called to control, I am called to surrender. 

One of my most favorite conversations in the Bible is from Job 38:2-5 & 42:2-6.  Job has been up to his knees in bad advice from his nearest and dearest, and he's in so much agony he's getting a bit desperate. But as we learn later, he was still found righteous throughout his questioning and searching and struggling.
(God to Job) Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you and you instruct Me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me if you have understanding. Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? (Job to God) I know that You can do all things. And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me which I did not know . . . I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now MY EYE SEES YOU; therefore I retract and I repent.
I love this!  God says to Job: Yo, who do you think you are? Where were you when I . . . .  And really all Job can say is: Uh, You're right God . . . my bad.  I've got nothing. 

I love that: WHERE WERE YOU WHEN I LAID THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE EARTH?  So if that was true for Job, back before the time of the great patriarch Abraham, surely it's true for me.  WHERE WAS DEB.??  Exactly. 

So, here I am, in the southern suburbs of Paris, learning some much needed French, so that I can head off to a place that typically doesn't even make it onto the map.  Because I come from the school of thought that God can use anything to bring Himself glory . . . in my case it's the process of surrender, taking my skills as an OT to help bring healing those in the desert (or at least at the edge of it).  To God be the glory.

03 December 2009

Tu Vous or Not Tu Vous

Around here we use the second person plural form (vous) when speaking to a stranger or superior, etc.  And with the vous form comes a whole socially appropriate vocabulary (and likewise, an inappropriate vocabulary).  Things like Vous allez bien? for How are you doing? or Vous avez passé une bonne journée hier? for Did you have a good day yesterday?  So, likewise, it is very impolite to say to a stranger Salut! Ça va? for Hey! How's it goin'?

If you've been following this blog since I arrived in France, you are very familiar with my continual screw ups and geniale ability to make a fool of myself.  Well, the other day was (of course) no exception.  My dear friend S-P was with me in Lidl (our favorite little German shop just down the street from the school).  Now a while back I had posted a few entries about the security guard that was always talking with us and helping us with our French.  Well, for the past month or so, he's been MIA.  Until the other day.

Or so we thought.  Since it's been a month since we had seen him, we weren't really sure.  As we waited in line we tried to figure out if this was the same guy or not . . . he looked a lot like him, but maybe just a twinge thinner . . . but it had been a month after all.  As we approached the till, the guard stared at us.  Feeling the pressure of the culture of the French till and his staring, I looked at him and said Salut!  Ça va? 

He stared at me.  I realized it was, in fact, not the security guard that took so much pleasure in helping us learn . . . it was a different man.  A man I had never spoken to before.  He stared again as we squeamishly wiggled past him.  We didn't even make it to the door when the laughter began.

"DID YOU JUST ÇA VA HIM?!?!?!" S-P said, roaring with laughter.  "I DID!!!!!!!!!  THAT'S NOT OUR GUY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" 

We giggled all the way home.  Maybe it's not really so funny, maybe we just needed a laugh.  Maybe all this French is getting to me . . . because, quite frankly, I'm still giggling about it.

30 November 2009

The View From Here

Just a few photos from the weekend.

Making It Up As I Go Along

Sometimes I don't know specific words in French.  Sometimes I am able to reconstruct sentences so that I can make my point without needing the specific French words I don't know.  Other times, I just throw in an English word said in French accent, hoping no one will notice. 

Today, during Biblical French class, we were all broken up into groups and given a few verses from the Bible which we then had to read to the class and explain the vocab (which we looked up last week) without using English.  The first group went and there were many words I didn't know . . . my classmates used word pictures and even charades to get the point across.  Sometimes it helped, other times, not so much.  There was one word that I thought I knew, so I made a sentence using the word, then stated: Je vous demande seulement pour clarification (I asked you only for clarification, pronounced: cla-ree-fee-kay-see-onnnnn). 

Thinking no one would notice the little bit of Franglais thrown in there, I sat confidently, expecting a smooth transition to the next group.  THAT'S NOT A FRENCH WORD, YOU MADE THAT UP!!  I heard one of my classmates say.  CAUGHT!!  Guilty as charged!!  The secret was out . . . I make things up as I go along and hope no one will notice.  He searched the dictionary, and sure enough: NOPE!  IT'S NOT IN HERE!  IT'S NOT A REAL WORD!!!! 

We laughed so hard I needed my inhaler.

Shortly thereafter, it was my group's turn to go.  Jesus Washes His Disciples Feet (John 13:4&5).  Since I had the list of words, my group left me to do most of the talking.  Oy.  Explaining words like "bowl" and "towel" and even "grip" aren't too difficult . . . but explaining "And Jesus removed His outer garments and took care to make sure that everything was properly prepared before He knelt down to was their feet" can be a little bit tricky . . . in French.  Yeah.  That was fun (once again, I not-so-willingly stepped into my role of class entertainer).

Minor Collision

I think I've mentioned before that the French don't hug . . . and hand shaking isn't as common as it is back home either.  Here, to greet a friend or an acquaintance (or, when at church, a complete stranger) one gives bisous . . . that's the kiss on both cheeks.  In other parts of France, they will give as many as four, but here it's two: starting with the right, and moving to the left.

So far I've had no real blunders with the bisou . . . well, that is up until now.  At church yesterday, my friend S. came up to say hi.  He gently leaned in for a soft bise on the right . . . CRASH! 

I knocked my head right into his.  Smooth Deb., real smooth!

I will blame my lack of grace (and gross motor skills) on over exhaustion having left to take some friends to the airport at 4:45am . . . but sadly there's really no good excuse for being an absolute motor-moron!!

22 November 2009

My Galmi To-Do-List Is Growing!

A few weeks ago, the man who is in the pipeline to become the hospital director at Galmi came to visit.  It is always a blessing getting to know the folks I will be working with when I get to Niger.

Anyway, he just sent me this link from the BBC http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/8369900.stm about a group of Congolese men who have started a rock band.  They are all wheelchair bound, mostly from polio.  It's a nice little article and video. 

So I have been inspired . . . we will definately have to start some music therapy in our rehab too!

20 November 2009

It's Hard Throwing Away Everything You Already Know

I think the first grammar rule we anglophones learn as kids is I before E except after C.  Well, that's not true in French. 

I not only gets to change it's position with E, it has taken E's name!  That's right, in French, the I is pronounced as E.  So as if I wasn't confused enough already!!

But as I was struggling with spelling and pronunciation today in class, it occurred to me that there is a spiritual lesson here for me as well.  I have trouble spelling 16 . . . seize because the way my brain has always thought is I before E.  But now, I have to put off that old way of thinking . . . because while it is a rule in English, it is not in French.  And since I already know English, I am here to learn French . . . and to learn French I must let go of the old rules I know for English and stop applying them to my new language: French. 

Spiritual application: I know the old way of the self-life really well.  I was born into it.  It's comfortable.  It's easy.  I don't have to think about it . . . it just comes naturally.  But since surrendering to grace and choosing to take on a lifestyle of discipleship of Christ Jesus, I have to continually put down the self-life and allow the Holy Spirit to control me.  I find myself continually struggling between what self wants and what The Spirit wants.  Sometimes self puts up a pretty good fight . . . but in His kindness, The Spirit convicts and guides and grows.

So, no laughter tonight . . . just a reminder that His grace is sufficient.

(Oh, and I gave a stranger directions to the train station tonight . . . IN FRENCH!  And he understood me!  There's really no telling if I the directions were correct, but hey, the point is that I understood what he was asking and I was able to respond . . . VICTORY!  Well at least until I find him wandering around the streets of Old Massy tomorrow morning still looking for the train station)

18 November 2009

Free Lesson #274: How to Make a Fool of Yourself In France

Today's free lesson comes as a three part series.  I hope you laugh as much as I did (because the French people involved didn't find it nearly as amusing as I did).

Part I: Today is Tuesday, which means an evening of tutoring with T. in English and tea with his mom in French.  I had already prepared some activities for us to work on, and I still had time to kill (as it's not cultural to be early or even right on time here).  So, since T. lives near the library, I thought I'd finally stop there to pick up a few kids books to read . . . since I'm not even yet at a pre-school reading level. 

I found five: two little stories, two books on the origin of some random French words, and a third on the differences between similar phonetic sounds.  Now, I hadn't been to this library since September when we got our cards, so I had forgotten some of the rules.  Each section of the library has it's own circulation desk . . . was I supposed to check-out the books at the section desk, and return them front desk downstairs . . . or do I return them to the section desk and check them out at the front desk.  And since I was already upstairs, 5 feet from the circulation desk, I stopped there first. 

I had pulled my library card from my wallet and stuck it in my pocket prior to coming in.  So I placed my books on the desk with my card on top.  Bon soir (good evening), I said to the librarian.  Bon soir, madame . . . which was then followed by a string of French sentences that I couldn't understand.  Désolée? (Sorry?)  She looked at my stack of books and library card on the desk and repeated herself.  I got nothing.  Je parle un peu français (I speak a little bit of French).  She looked at my card a little closer.  She got a friend.  Quelle lange? (Which language do you speak?) Anglais.  Her friend replied: What you want? You want borrow?  I stood there for a second, a bit confused.  This is a LIBRARY after all . . . what else would I possibly be wanting to do?  That's my LIBRARY CARD, not my credit card, I'm not looking to make a purchase . . . I'm coiming to BORROW . . . isn't that what you do at a library??  Hmm.  Oui. I answered.  Downstairs. She said.  OH!!  Désolée!!  Oui, merci beaucoup! Désolée!  (I'm pretty sure I heard a few snickers on my way out the door . . . surely at my expense . . . what a dummy, not only can she NOT speak French, but she's reading children's books, and she doesn't know how to check them out of the library!)

Part II:  I go downstairs to check out the even-at-this-level-over-my-head tomes.  I place my stack on the desk, with my library card on top.  Bon soir, madame (I managed to remember the madame that time).  Bon soir she said, with a puzzled look on her face.  She said something in French.  Désolée? (Sorry? . . . as you can tell, this is on my Top 25 Most Utilized French Words and Phrases, along with Ce n'est pas grave [it's not that bad] and je ne sais pas [I don't know] and je ne comprend pas [I don't understand]).  She repeated herself.  Before I could even tell her that "I only speak a little French" she read it on my face and picked up what all this time I had thought was my library card and said Ce n'est pas pour la bibliotechque, c'est la carte de Cora!  IT WASN'T MY LIBRARY CARD . . . IT WAS THE DISCOUNT CARD FOR MY LOCAL GROCERY STORE!!!

Let's just say I found this VERY funny, but she didn't.  Maybe it's a cultural thing.

Part III: Once my books were checked out I made a dash for the exit.  Feeling like a complete idiot makes one want to get out of Dodge.  I shoved the door marked sortie (exit).  It didn't budge.  I pulled.  Nothing.  I pushed the other door.  Nothing.  I pulled the other door.  Still nothing.  I tried the entrance doors.  Same thing.  I went back and tried the first door again.  I turned to find the woman who had refused my Cora card as appropriate means of trade staring at me.  Excusez-moi, s'il vous plaît?? (Excuse me . . . please [help])  She threw more French at me.  I stared pathetically at her.  She slung some more.  Désolée!!  Je ne parle pas le français!  (SORRY, I DON'T SPEAK FRENCH).  She responded in French . . . but this time I heard bouton (button).  I looked back at the door.  There was a silver knob under each of the door handles.  Bien sûr! (Of course!)  I tried the knob . . . I turned it to the right, then the left, then up and down and even tried pulling it out.  NOTHING.  I turned, even more pathetically now, and looked back for more help. 

She walked up to me, gave me a very condescending look, and pushed the button on the WALL.  Voila!  The doors swung open.  I was free!  Stripped of all my pride, but free!

16 November 2009

I Think There's Humor In Everything

Today in Biblical French class, we were looking at the parable of the Sower from Mark 4. We learned all kinds of new vocab like le chemin (the path) and roches (rocks) and épineux (thorny).  After we had to read the parts of the parable and arrange them in order (sans anglais), my prof gave us several other activities we had to do related to the meaning of the parable. 

In one of the questions was the word favoriser (to favor) . . . but it was conjugated, so we weren't quite sure what it meant.  I pulled out my trusty dictionaire--which has become my new best friend--and began to look up the word while my prof tried to explain the meaning utilizing other phrases in French (which didn't really help).  While I was looking, I heard her say favoriser and began scanning the page for a word that looked as that sounded (which for those of you who speak French, often there are many letters not pronounced, so if I haven't already seen the word written down, looking it up is sort of hit-or-miss).  I found faveur, but not favoriser.  So I scanned again . . . and voila!  There was something that looked like what I thought I was looking for: favoris!!  VICTORY!!  Or so I thought.  I glanced at the meaning: SIDEBURNS!   

15 November 2009

Why The Good Guy Always Has a Shoulder Sling After Getting Shot Five Times

After a day full of laundry and studying, I spent the evening watching a movie with two other students.  We were going to watch The Diving Bell and the Butterfuly, one of my favorite French films, but instead watched Eagle Eye an American action movie.  One of the others watching with me is also an America, but the other is French . . . but he is fluent in English.

I think learning a new language and living in a new culture has ruined the movie-watching-experience for me.  I spent majority of the time watching thinking about the nuances of American English and if my friend was understanding most of the dialogue.  I was struck by how quickly things were said, and how much of it was cultural discussion . . . for example, when the audience is introduced to the main character, he is playing poker and talking about his friend's girlfriend.  If I spoke English, but didn't know anything about poker or American dating relationships, or even what American's feel is appropriate interaction between friends, I would have been entirely lost!

I have often heard it said that the rest of the world perceives American culture to be exactly what they see in movies.  So I began to wonder, while watching Eagle Eye, what does this film say about American culture.  Here are the assumptions I would draw if I was an outsider:
  1. Car chases happen on a regular basis in everyday life.
  2. The person driving the get-away-car in said car chase may get some bumps and bruises and a few dents in his driver's side door, but he will walk away with a scratch on his head.
  3. Cool things only happen to beautiful people.
  4. Those people still look beautiful no matter what they've fallen into or been hit by.
  5. Not only does everyone own a cell phone, but also every piece of the most current technology created.
  6. Slang is used . . . a lot.
  7. Cars and trucks and airplanes blow up and everyone's got a gun and can hit a target, even if they've never used one before.
  8. Beautiful people can fall in love anywhere, at anytime, under any circumstance.
  9. The non-important extras can get killed by simple punch to the face . . . so everyone must be skilled at unarmed combat.
  10. No matter how many times the good guy gets shot and everyone thinks he's dead, he ends up walking away with a few scratches and a shoulder sling on his right arm (bummer . . . especially if he's right handed!).
  11. There are only sleek, fuel-efficient, top-of the line cars on the road.  And should you not have your own, a kind stranger has run off leaving his keys in the ignition for someone else to use.
  12. Rockband is not an international phenomenon.
Well, anyway, you get the idea.  Point is, learning French has ruined my ability to simply sit down and brainlessly enjoy being entertained.  But then again, maybe that's a good thing.

14 November 2009

When Borders Close You Get Creative

I found out earlier this week that Niger was closing it's border with Nigeria for a bit.  I don't know any other details or circumstances, but my first thought was "OH NO?!?!  How will the folks at Galmi get their toilet paper??" (typically someone from the compound drives across to a town in Nigeria to purchase a suply for sale at the co-op).  Well, I got my answer: http://chatswithcindy.blogspot.com/2009/11/priorities.html

13 November 2009

Le Concert

I've just come home from the cinéma.  We went to see Le Concert.  The film is in both Russian and French and I highly recommend seeing it if you have the chance.  While the film is a drama, there is quite a bit of comedy throughout.  We laughed and we cried.  It was beautifully done.  Here's a quick synopsis I found in English online:
The Concert was a big seller in pre-production at the Cannes market in 2008, and it’s easy to see why. The story is about a Russian conductor (Alexei Guskov) who is demoted to janitor under the Communists for his support of Jewish musicians. Years later, he intercepts an invitation for the Bolshoi Orchestra to play in Paris – and decides to accept, using the opportunity to reassemble his old orchestra, Buena Vista Social Club style, and finish the concert that was interrupted by the Communist authorities all those years before.
 Watching the film was quite the reading comprehension exercise for me!  Whenever the characters were speaking in Russian there were French subtitles . . . with proper grammar of course.  However, once the Russian characters began to speak (very broken) French, the subtitles were written exactly as it was said.  So the subtitles were then in very broken, very grammatically poor, French.  Now I understand what I sound like to everyone else!

It was  very fun to read and hear words that I've just learned this week . . . or to hear how French speakers phrase something differently than I've put together in my head (for example, when I ask someone what they are doing, I say Qu'est-ce que tu fais?  But in the film one of the characters said Tu fais quoi? (literally, You do what?)  So now, not only have I had an evening of fantastic, high quality entertainment, I've had a subconscious language lesson (And I think I've earned my metal for the week . . . watching a movie spoken mainly in Russian, reading it in French, and walking away having understood about 80% of what was going on . . . not bad for being in my third month.  Hmm.  I think the work is paying off).

11 November 2009

From Student to Teacher

Early at the start of the fall term, a fellow student, who has been here with her husband and kids since January, approached me and asked if I'd be interested in helping a little boy with his English.  She was under the impression that he may have some learning disabilities, so she thought since I'm an OT it would be a good fit . . . and it would be a great opportunity to build a relationship with a French family. 

After thinking about it a bit, I agreed to give it a try.  Due to all kinds of scheduling conflicts, we hadn't been able to get together until today.  So this morning, my classmate and I went over to their apartment.  T is a VERY energetic little boy and he has two younger sisters who are very friendly and sociable. 

After some coffee my friend and T's mom made their way to the kitchen.  We started with colors.  He was wearing a spiderman costume, so that made it easy: red and blue.  Their was something green on the table, I was wearing purple, his sister was in pink.  A nearby book was orange and something else yellow.  We moved on to numbers.  I said the number, he woud repeat it.  We did that for a little while.  Next, I gave him a number, and he wrote it out.  Then he wrote down his telephone number and read it in English.

Letters were a little bit more tricky, as the French pronounce all the letters differently.  But I think I've found something that will help him remember . . . for all the letters that have the same sound as a word in English, I drew him a picture and explained it:  for example, the B had a little bumble-bee next to it.  The I, an eye.  And the P, a little pea pod.  And for the G and J, which the French pronounce opposite to what we do (G in French is pronounced J and vise-a-versa), I explained that we pronounce them differently.  These explainations helped him a little bit.

The W was fun to explain too: in French it is pronounced Double-V (dou-bluh-vay), but we pronounce it Double-U.  So I showed him how, while we write two V's, we say two U's . . . and I drew UU to help him remember: En français, c'est double-V and I drew VV, mais, en anglais c'est DOUBLE-U and I drew UU. 

Anyway, I finally have an in with a French family!  And when they asked what kind of work I do I told them Je suis une érgothérepute (I am an Occupational Therapist).  OOOH!  They said.  But people are the same everywhere . . . the OOOH was followed with, uh, what does that mean exactly??  Explaining what an OT does is hard enough in English, let alone very broken French.  But I had to try.  So I told them (completely in French) that we are similar to kiné (PT) but different . . . that when someone has an illness or injury (often relating to the brain) and can't do the things of everyday life, we help them learn how to do those things again.  OOOH! they said.  Vous comprenez??  Oui!  They understood what I said!!!!  I turned to my friend and said C'est un miracle!!  (It's a miracle!)

Sometimes I Wish I was More Inhibited

They tell me that when learning a new language it is vital to be able to laugh at one's self.  Those of you who read this blog on a more regular basis are familiar with the frequency at which I say and do things that result in quite a bit of said laughter.  So here goes.  Enjoy.

Last Thursday was our first day back to classes after the 10 day vacances that we had for Toussaint (All Saints Day, 1 November).  Since my morning prof is on maternity leave, my afternoon prof is covering her afternoon classes, so we have now merged completely with the other débutante class for the whole day.  Their afternoon prof is the same man we have for phonetiques each Monday.  A. is a good prof, but is very different from SL--our former afternoon prof.  So getting used to his laidback style took a few minutes.

We've been working on learning adjectives which come in masculine and feminine, singular and plural (and there are some masculine adjectives that end with a vowel sound, so if they preceed a word that starts with a vowel there is a different masculine form of the adjective that is to be used . . . it's a bit confusing).  So A. begins the class: Vous me dites des adjectifs (Give me some adjectives).  Someone says beau.  He asks the student to use it in a sentance: J'ai un beau velo (I have a beautiful bike).  Un autre?  He looks at me.  Gentil (kind) I say.  Dans une phrase? (In a sentance?)  Vous êtes gentil (You [formal] are kind).

He gasps, puts his hand in the shape of a telephone and procedes to pretend to call his wife . . . informing her that he has a student that thinks he is gentil.  Oh the scandal!  Apparently, while I used the correct word, culturally a student would never EVER say such a thing to a professor, especailly a female student to a male prof.  OY.  Mais, c'est la vie.

A few minutes later I manage to make a fool of myself again when I used mes cheveaux (my horses) instead of mes cheveux (my hair).  Oh, the joys of language learning!

The prof then decided to further use me as the example.  At the top of an over head he wrote: Les Characteristiques de le Future Mari de Deborah (Characteristics of Deborah's Future Husband).  He made us all give two pages worth of adjectives . . . then for my homework he told me I had to go into Paris and find myself a husband (there is a point to all of this . . . just keep reading). So that evening, we were having a dinner party for a student who was leaving for Africa.  One of my friends shared my adjectives homework assignment with those sitting around us.  One of the guys who lives here is a French Architectural student at a local university.  So he said, "Hmmm, what's on the list??" I replied, "Tu est trop jaune pour moi." (You are too yellow for me)  Well, at least now I know the difference between young and yellow (jeune and jaune)!!

02 November 2009

Celebrity Sighting . . . I Think

I think I had my very first celebrity sighting in Paris yesterday. 

We were heading to Versailles (photos to come soon) on the Metro . . . as we were changing trains in Gare de Saint Michel/Notre Dame, I looked to my left.  On the next escalder was a man who looked somewhat familiar . . . he had very distinct facial features.  I could be wrong, but it REALLY looked like him. 

At the time I had no idea what his name is, but I recognized him as a supporting role from the Academy Award Winning Film Amelie.  I looked him up, Dominique Pinon.  According to http://www.imdb.com/ he has a pretty extensive filmography and has been in both French and American films. 

So I'm keeping my eyes peeled for Johnny Deep.  Word on the street is that he lives somewhere in this area.  You never know! 

31 October 2009

Walt Disney was Wrong

According to blogger, this is my 100th post!  Crazy.  Thanks for reading.

So, I have come to the conclusion that Walt Disney was wrong.  His pseudo-world is not the happiest place on earth.  The arrivals door of any international airport is. 

I spent Thursday morning at Charles de Gaulle fetching two friends.  While waiting, I couldn't help but notice the large number of squeels from children, "MAMANPAPA!"  Or the welcoming kisses of a spouse.

In fact, with so many in costume--dressed as chauffeurs--and parents looking tired and stressed, and people moving through queues, and the over priced gift shops, it really was just like Disney World!  Hmmm.

One intersting observation about the arrivals terminal, however, was the general absence of hugs.  The French don't really hug.  One of the profs here told us that they don't even have a French word for it, they just use ours, and it is reserved for the closest of friends.  No, the French don't hug.  Instead, they give the bises . . . they kiss both cheeks.  Which is fine when you know a person already.  But having a stranger walk up to you at church and lean in for a couple of kisses is a bit alarming the first time.  Ce la vie.

Anyway, I've been on break for the past few days and have a few more to go.  Tomorrow is All Saints Day, and the French get 10 days of vacances for it!  One more thing to love about doing language study here.  But come Thursday it's back to the books.  They say that from now until Christmas, those of us that are debutantes really improve significantly.  Let's hope so.  Last night we had a picnic dinner under the Eiffel Tower and walked along the Seine after dark.  I was walking with a fellow student who is from Germany, so we were chatting in French.  I told him a funny story of something that had happened to me recently, and after carrying on for 10 blocks or so, I said, "Tu comprendes?" (Do you understand?)  He looked at me and said, No.  OY!  Then he asked me to tell him the gist in English to fill in the blanks.  How's that for a blow to one's confidence!  : )

20 October 2009

Wordless Wednesday (Mecredi Sans Mots)

Okay, so it's not Wednesday yet, but it's mid-term week and I'm tired of reviewing le futur proche and le passé composé and la liaison and beaucoup vocabulaire.  But nothing exciting happened today . . . or at least nothing worth reading on this here blog of mine, so I thought I would join in on the tradition of so many and post nothing but photos for your viewing pleasure (and because my blog is looking a bit wordy and bland these days). 

The night shots are from Nuit Blanche, a city wide arts event that runs for the entire night in three seperate neighborhoods (a classmate and I went to two of the three).  They have special installations for that night only (ie: a giant disco ball hanging over the Luxembourg Gardens and a lights display along the Pointe Nuef and giant colored luminescent plastic crystals in Notre Dame) and film and theatrical performances . . . all for free.  It was a great night!  I was really impressed with how well behaved the city was!  Parisians really know how to pull off an event.  The day shots were from the Fête du Vandage de Montmatre (The Harvest Festival of Montmatre).  The famous neighborhood of Montmatre was celebrating the harvest of their tiny little vineyard, so we went for the parade and other such festivities.  We were having lunch on the steps of the Sacre Coeur when a news team set up shop and they featured a local pop singer . . . so we were right behind her when they filmed (yes, I have now made it onto the French news!  Or at least you can find me in the crowd if you know where to look).   

So much for making this 'wordless.'


19 October 2009

Ce n'est pas iPod.

Starting today my class has merged with the other débutante class, as our prof has left for her maternity leave.  After our Unit 5 test, our lesson this morning was reading comprehension about French culture.  After we finish reading out loud (which is very reminiscent of a 1st grade class: "Dick . . . and . . . Jane . . . run . . . fast.   So . . . does . . . Spot."  But . . . when . . . you're . . . just . . . learn . . . ing . . . it . . . takes . . . some . . . time . . . to . . . be . . . able . . . to . . . read . . . and . . . pro . . . nounce . . . and . . . compre . . . hend.  Lets just say that reading outloud is very difficult for all of us!) the prof asks if we have any vocabulary questions.  Amongst the new words we didn't know was les baladeurs.  One girl had already looked it up and found that it meant "a walk" as in "lets take a walk around the pond."  But our prof explained that as a noun in this context the word has come to mean a walkman or an iPod. 

Free French Lesson #76:  The letter I is pronounced as Anglophones pronounce E (as in see or we or tea . . . we'll get to how the French pronounce the letter E around Free French Lesson #302 . . . you're not ready for that one yet).  So, the guy to my left leaned over and asked me "So is it pronounced I-pod or E-pod?"  So I asked the prof. 

There is a certain facial expression common to Francophones that they reserve for the stupid questions us Anglophones ask.  All she had to do was look my way.  She didn't need to say any more.  But she did.  "Ce n'est pas iPod, c'est iPod.  Do you call it an ePod in English?"  ("It is not an E-pod, it's an I-pod.  Do you call it an E-pod in English??"  Figurative translation: DUH, come on Deb. are you really that thick?!?!)

16 October 2009

Est-ce Que Tu Parles Francais?

Today in class we were reviewing the answers to a homework sheet from last night.  We were learning the different ways to phrase questions.  There are several ways of wording, and then using vocal inflections in order to clarify that you're asking a question, not making a statement (we do it in English all the time).  But if you really want everyone to know that your asking a question, without any confusion, you add the words est-ce que ('es kuh').  For example, Tu vas où? would ask Where are you going?  But to clarify that it's a question, you would make it: Où est-ce que tu vas? 

Well, something else you need to know about the French language.  There is this lovely portion of grammar called the liaison (and now, thank's to learning French, I finally know how to spell it!).  A liaison is used (and since it is French, there is always exceptions to the rules) to link a fore word with an aft word when the aft word begins with a vowel or an 'h' (and as we learned in conferènce today, it's the non-asperated 'h's' that are liaised).  So for example, mes amis is NOT pronounced 'may ami' but rather 'may zami.'

They also use l'apostrophe to link articles and certain words to words that start with vowels.  For example, to say I have the child the words are Je ai le enfant.  But in French it's really J'ai l'enfant (which is then pronounced 'Zjay lonfon' with the 'n's' being more nasally than the anglophone 'n'). 

SO ANYWAY (there is a point to this story).  We were reviewing the homework and my prof called on me for number 5.  On utilise ce mot quand? (When do we use this word?) Add est-ce que, and you have: Quand est-ce qu'on utilise ce mot.  But I said it all wrong.  Most of the whole phrase is run-on: "Kan-tes-kuh-kon-nu-tiliz ce mo." For some reason this correction of my pronounciation struck me as really funny.  I started to laugh and couldn't stop.  The prof kept going, on to number 6: Tu parles francais? (You speak French?)  This made me laugh even harder! 

I responded to her in French: Je ne parle pas francais!  Je parle quelque chose, mais je ne parle pas francais! (I don't speak French!  I speak something, but I don't speak French!) And just to make things worse, the translation of the next two were: Do you understandWhy is this difficult?  Maybe it's just me, but I found this very funny!

319: Bus Terminé

I have some very dear friends that live about half an hour away (by car . . . over an hour by train) from me here in France.  K had been in the hospital last week, but they invited me over for dinner Wednesday.  As I arrived in the station, K's husband, D, told me that dinner had been cancelled, as he had to bring her back to the hospital.  So after an evening with them learning a handful of French medical vocab, I promised to try to come back on Thursday after classes to see her.  I went online and scouted out the route.  It was easy: 319 bus to the TVM at Le Corde Chasse, TVM to the 104 at Eglise de Créteil, 104 stops right in front of the hospital.  Pas de problème. 

But my life is never smoothe (and if it was, this blog would be boring and you wouldn't be reading it anymore.  Then again, based on the general lack of comments from my readers, not really sure anyone is reading!).  First, the 319 bus stopped after 5 minutes and made us all get out.  The driver switched the placard on the side of the bus and headed off the other way.  Once back on the 319 I realized that I had forgotten my cell phone in my school bag.  Oh, I'm just riding the bus, what could possible go wrong??  I'll be FINE! (as my mother always said: famous last words). 

I had a lovely time with K . . . well it was lovely for me, she had to stay there when I left.  But her room has a view of the Paris skyline . . . complete with the Eiffel Tower!  They'd have paid an arm and a leg (and probably a kidney) for that view in a hotel!  Anyway, I left there at 8pm.  Waited 20 minutes outside the hospital (in the cold) for the 104 bus.  15 minute wait for the TVM, half hour ride to Le Corde Chasse to pick up the 319.  It's now after 9. 

At Le Corde Chasse, they have these fantastic scrolling marquees that show how long the wait is until the next bus comes.  TVM: 3 min.  TVM: 22 min.  87: 8 min.  87: 34 min.  158: 15 min.  158: 53 min.  294: 34 min.  319: bus terminé.  Wait . . . what was that . . . 319: bus terminé.  BUS TERMINÉ???  TERMINÉ?!?!?!?  Yes, you don't have to open google translator for that one!  319: bus ended. 

I checked the schedule posted.  Sure enough, the 319 ends everyday at 8pm (except Sundays, but that's because it doesn't start on Sundays).  Oh crap.  Now what.  Oh, I'll call Allison, she'll come get me.  Hmm, don't have my phone.  Plan B.  I know, I'll call Sabrina . . . she has a car.  Dummy, YOU DON'T HAVE YOUR PHONE!  OH CRAP . . . NOW WHAT?!?!?!?  Okay, Deb. don't panic, you can figure SOMETHING out.  DO NOT PANIC.  I started to pray.

Most of the bus stops in the Paris suburbs do not post the entire local bus map, only the specific routes for the lines at that stop.  I had to say a quick Merci, Seigneur, because there on the wall of the bus stop was the entire area, including the RER B (my line on the regional train).  It showed that the bus I had been on ended at an RER B station, but before getting there, the route continued off the page with a little down arrow, but came back in a bit to the left with an up arrow.  So I had no idea how long I'd have to be on the bus before getting to the RER, but I was really out of options.  After a few mintues (of rapid praying and talking myself out of panicing and crying) the TVM showed up again and I hopped on.

Sitting on the bus (with a creeper staring at me for an uncomfortable duration) my brain had a conversation with itself:
                  I can't believe I couuld be so stupid to forget my cell phone!
                  Well, at least I remembered my keys! (as I've been locked out a few times already)
                  But how could I forget my cell phone!!!
                  But I have my KEYS!!!
                  What if the RER B isn't running???
                  It doesn't stop until after midnight.  It's only 9:30.
                  But what if I'm south of Massy-Palisseau and the trains aren't running this far south??
                  I can always get a taxi.
                 When have you ever seen a taxi outside of the Paris city limits?
                  Hmmm.  Good point.
                 And if the train isn't running, why would taxi's be hanging out at a closed train station?
                 Another good point.  Okay, I'll find a police man.
                 And say what?  You know three sentances in French (and none of them are: HELP!  I'm an idiot!)
                 I would show them student ID if they couldn't understand me.
                 You're dumb.
                 I could walk back.
                 You don't know the way.
                 I'll sleep in the station and take the first train in the morning.
                 You're making your mother cry at this very moment.  She trained you better than this!
                 Well, regardless, it's not going to do anyone any good if you panic.
                 (enter panic stage left)
                 (enter prayer stage right)
                 (exit panic stage left)
                 (exit prayer stage right)

After about another half hour on the bus I made it to the RER B station, which was actually north of my stop, so all my worst-case scenario, Plans B, C, D, E, and F never came to fruition.  I waited 15 minutes for the train, and before I knew it I was walking the empty, quiet, after 10pm streets of Old Massy.

So there you have it.  Another episode in my life.  Enjoy the laugh (it will keep you young).

12 October 2009

Le Petit Nicolas

I went to my first film at the ciné tonight.  We went to see Le Petit Nicolas--a comedy about a boy who thinks his mom is going to have a baby . . . and he's not happy about it.  So he and his friends scheme a bit.  Even though I couldn't understand all the specifics of the dialogue, I was able to comprehend the general idea and found a lot of humor throughout the whole film. 

The story was based on a series of popular French comics from the 1950's.  If you're interested in learning more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_petit_Nicolas

As we were coming home, one of the much-further-along students commented on pronunciation, adding that it will be easier for me in the long run that I am trying to pronounce things correctly now.  I shared a story, that in light of the film tonight thought I'd pass on to you. 

I've always been good at accents and mimicking peoples' voices or facial idiosyncrasies . . . sometimes without even realizing it (which has great potential for getting me into trouble).  When I was little . . . 5 or 6 maybe, we had a tree in front of our house in NY.  We called it The Talking Tree, because there was a big branch toward the base of the trunk that, when stepped on with just the right leverage, would lower towards the ground, like a bottom lip, making it look like the tree had a mouth.  The leaves were always very full and a maroonish color, so if my brother or I were in the tree, chances were an onlooker wouldn't see us.  Anyway, across the street we had a neighbor named Patsy.  He had to be old, because his mother was ancient!  He had hit his head on a piano as a kid which resulted in life-long brain damage and resultant cognitive and speech deficits.  But his was a nice guy and would wonder around the neighborhood and talk to everyone.  His mother had a very distinct European accent, and she would call to him from inside the house if she ever needed anything.  Now this lady was old, but she could yell! 

One day, my dad was out working on the car in the driveway.  PAT-SSSSSSSSSYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!  He heard.  YEEAAHH, MA?  Patsy answered, as the screen door to his house slammed behind him.  Wha do you wunt, PatSY?  I deeed not cull you?  Patsy went back outside.

A few minutes later . . . PAT-SSSSSSSSSYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!  Again, YEEAAHH, MA? as the screen door slammed.  Wha do you wunt, PatSY? I deeed not cull you? Patsy went back outside.

After a few rounds like this both Patsy and his mom were getting frustrated with one another, Patsy knowing full well what he heard, and his mother knowing full well what she didn't say.  My father, still working on the car in the driveway had been listening to this go on for a bit.  He must have seen my shoes at the base of The Talking Tree . . . DEBBBBORAH!  Oh how I knew that tone . . . and I knew what was coming!  Yes?? 

I don't remember much more than that, but I do recall sitting on the big-at-the-time loveseat, slouched with my little hand-me-down-from-my-big-brother blue sneakers dangling off the edge.  I think it took them a little while to spank me that time as they were wanting to do so without laughing.  No wonder my mother never had any more kids.

Not Every Day is a Good One

I had a FANTASTIC weekend, with plenty of funny stories and photos to share. But those will have to wait. Because not every experience is funny or exciting or interesting. Sometimes this process of learning French is painful and embarrassing and frustrating and discouraging.

If you ever feel like your sanctification process is stagnant, boost it with some language learning! Throw in a little community living with a dash of cultural stress . . . and voila! Sanctification. At this moment, it feels like extremely coarse sandpaper to my pride. But there it is. No frills. No sugar coating.

With that having been said, you deserve at least an embarrassing story. Okay, here goes (I should be working on memorizing Le Notre Père--The Lord's Prayer--but I've been working on it for over a week and I still don't remember it . . . but I've always been a lousy memorizer).

So Saturday night my friend SP (who is SUCH a blessing in my life here!) and I decided to invite two people to dinner. I managed to slightly scorch the chicken, drop my own piece on the floor, and drop several other things as well . . . so I already wasn't starting off well. One of the points of hosting this little soirée was to practice speaking only in French (we went about 4 hours sans English!). Being the only débutante in the mix I had to continually stop the conversation and ask for clarification.

At one point we were sharing about our siblings. I didn't know how to say I was the youngest, so I decided to say that I was the "back" or "behind" child. Easy . . . dernier. I've heard my professors use it dozens of times. I've even used it. But that's not what I said. I used derrière. But not realizing what I had said, I carried on as if I was actually a francophone.

My monologue came to a screeching halt, interrupted by an outburst of very loud laughter by the three others at the table. "YOU JUST CALLED YOURSELF THE BUTT CHILD!!!!!!" Oops. 

There's no coming back from that one . . . nor do they ever let you live it down.

06 October 2009

Bien Sur

Yesterday afternoon I was back at Lidle (France's version of a Quick-E-Mart, with Walmart prices) picking up a red pepper, a zucchini, and some cheese (which grows on trees here . . . or at least one would think it does).  Anyway (sorry, by now you should know my inability to tell a short story . . . although, I can when I have to tell it in French . . . see, there are positives to having a small vocabulary!!) . . . okay, where was I??

Oh, right . . . in Lidle.  Well, you may remember a post from a few days ago about the security guard approaching me and my friend about our good pronounciation and obvious progress.  Turns out, I think he was just talking to her! 

Okay, before I progress with the story, you need a little snap shot of an aspect of French culture: it is to be expected that one will spend the majority of one's time in a shop standing (patiently) in the queue waiting to approach the till in order to pay.  Here in France, we not only bring our own bags, we also bag the items ourselves.  Which is no big deal.  The problem comes, that the line moves at a snail's pace (again, everyone waits patiently!) until it is your turn at the till.  Doesn't matter who you are, it is understood that the patience of the person after you runs out as soon as your items are being scanned.  At that point, the race begins . . . he who bags his items (in an orderly and efficient manner) and pay the clerk the fastest wins!  BUT if you cannot manage this simple multitask before the person behind you begins, it's off to madame guillotine!  Okay, not really, but it certainly feels that way!

So, now you understand the significant pressure that comes with standing in line at a shop (not to mention the clerk is speaking in French . . . and I still have trouble remembering if vingt-deux euros quatre-vingt quinze is 22 euros 95 or 34 euros 86 . . . and then they speak so fast . . . OY!).

BACK TO THE STORY: so there I was, standing in the queue waiting (patiently) in 4th.  As I moved into 3rd, I got ready . . . I want to merge into French culture as much as possible, so I got my impatient face on, ready for my part as number 2.  Next thing I know as I transition into the one at the till, the security guard smiles.  Bonjour! I said politely.  He responded.  UHHH . . . OH NO . . . HE'S SPEAKING TO ME IN FRENCH!!  I SHOULD BE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND HIM . . . BUT I DON'T!!  OH CRAP!!!  HE'S REPEATING IT . . . OH NO, ALL MY ITEMS HAVE BEEN SCANNED . . . I HAVE TO PAY . . . BUT HE'S SPEAKING TO ME . . . WHAT DID HE SAY?????  OH NO, 2ND PERSON IS GETTING IMPATIENT!!!  Pardon, je ne comprend pas (I don't understand), I managed to say.  Vous allez bien? he repeated.  UH . . . VOUS ALLEZ . . . THINK DEB. YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS!!  IT'S AN EASY ONE . . . VOUS ALLEZ . . . YOU USE THIS EVERYDAY! 

I stood there paralized.  Not only could I not remember vous allez (you, polite, are going) but I couldn't pay or bag my few things.  I just stood there mute and pathetic.

Graciously (and I think to prevent a riot from all those in line who should have already been rightly moved into the 2nd position), he switched to English.  "Here in France, we have many ways of saying 'How are you doing today'."  "Oh!!!  BIEN SUR! (OF COURSE!)"

DUH!!  (how do you say that in French!!)  He encouraged me that it will come and that I really am doing well.  But oh man . . . I felt like such francophonic moron!  I clearly need MUCH more work on my auditory comprehension!!