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!! 

05 October 2009

Encouragment from the Jungle of all Places!

Just got an email from a dear friend who translates God's Word in the jungles of Papua New Guinnea.  This is what she wrote:

Matt 6:25-34
Do not be anxious for your life, as to how you shall ever read French or learn how to say that stinkin' hard sound in that language. Is not life more than learning a new culture and a new language? Look at the birds of the air, they do not struggle to learn French or worry about fashion, or what new friends they will make, YET YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER takes care of them. ARE YOU NOT WORTH MUCH MORE THEN THEY? Which of you be being anxious can add a single hour to their life span? For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things, but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow.

So, since the birds of the air aren't concerned about learning French . . . so, as we say here c'est ne pas grave (loosly translated: no worries).

02 October 2009

Do You Speak English?

Sorry for the week of silence.  I was away last weekend, and the week has been busy.  Before I left last weekend, I had felt like I was making headway and was finally understanding.  When I got back on Monday and sat down in class, I had to make sure I was really in the right place . . . it didn't sound anything like the French I understood . . . for all I know, Monday's class could have been taught in Russian because I didn't understand a word!!  But I am happy to report that over the week my ears have tuned back in to French, and I'm back to plugging ahead. 

When I left last weekend I had to go through passport control in the train station.  The man spoke very quickly, so I appologized and told him that I only speak a little bit of French.  Looking down at my American passport, he saw my last name and began speaking to me in Italian!!  I errupted into laughter and said, "My Italian is even worse than my French!"

This afternoon I went to the African Market that happens twice a week here in Massy.  I found some greenish-yellow pods amongst the vegetables.  Unsure of what they were, I turned to the North African vendor and asked Qu'est-ce que c'est? (What is it?)  He responded.  I didn't understand a word he said.  Je ne comprende pas. (I don't understand.)  He asked if we spoke English.  Yes.  He began speaking.  We stared at him.  He said something else.  We stared at him, Comment? (What?) Parlez Anglais? (Do you speak English?) Oui, we said.  He began to speak again . . . I looked at my friend, "He's speaking to us in German."  We finally said thank you and walked away.  As we left, he said to us in French, "But I thought you speak English!"  Really, the options were either French or German and he didn't seem interested in attempting French with us!  (And I found a pod on the ground, so I opened it . . . I think it was edemame.)

But then, as we were walking home, we stopped in a shop to pick up some cheese.  The shop is just down the street from Les Cedres, so they are used to seeing us in there.  My friend and I were trying to find toothpicks but couldn't . . . and since neither of us know the French word for "toothpick" we had to improvise.  Où c'est trouvre le petit battons bois? (Where are the little sticks of wood found) The employee stared at us (I get that a lot!).  So I added (with a bit of charades) Pour les dents (For the teeth.)  AH!!  Les cure-dents! Non.  Nous n'avons pas (OH!! Toothpicks!  Nope, we don't have any).  Anyway, my friend and I were chatting away, attempting to use as much French as we could, and the security guard approached us and in perfect English said "You speak French very well!  It gets better ever time you come in."  VICTORY!!!

Wednesday was a classmates brithday, so a few of us took her into Paris.  We went to a fabric (tissu) market in Montemare.  The neighborhood is lovely!  Here are some photos.  Enjoy.