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!