30 things I am grateful for

For Thanksgiving, which is today!, I will be spending half of my day in Paris in class, part of my day on a train and the rest of the evening in London, where I’ll be staying for an extended weekend. I’ll try my best to make it feel like Thanksgiving by dressing up and maybe I’ll eat a turkey sandwich or some peanut butter today, but I’m going to take a wild guess and say that, like Halloween, the day will probably pass without anything remarkable or festive happening. So to get into the spirit ever so slightly I’ll fashion a list of the 50 25 30 Paris-related-things I am grateful for this Thanksgiving season.

30. Having found the perfect spot for hot chocolate

29. Finding what I consider one of the best croissants in Paris

28. The absence of cleavage here in Paris as a fashion statement or whatever reason it’s so omnipresent in the U.S.

27. That the heat finally came on in my apartment

26. How walking around the house without shoes or slippers on is considered a scandal for it makes me feel like I’m living in the 1900s in the old country.

25. Having the opportunity to live and study in Paris

24. Having found good friends in my Paris program

23. Only having to cope with a 6 hour time difference so that I can still skype to my family on weekends.

22. “Prix reduit” at museums and other cultural spaces for students or residents under 26 years old

21 The convenience of the Paris metro (sometimes)

20. That I have yet to be mugged

19. Being able to find good and affordable meals at restaurants

18. Having a wide range of patisseries to choose from daily

17. That I have the time and means to start practicing ballet again

16. The older Parisian women I see on the streets who are dressed impeccably or are even more daring than most younger Parisians, who are generally dressed alike.

15. The enormous yogurt aisle in food stores.

14. The Seine River at night

13. Well behaved children on the metro..Seeing children in the school yard wearing uniform smocks so they don’t dirty their clothes.

12. The no smoking law indoors

11. The dismissal of certain laws (which are really more like suggestions) like the one regle that says you can’t drink while picnicking on the grass beneath the Eiffel Tower

10. Being able to taste and eat “real” macarons, bread, cheese and wine

9. That it hasn’t rained an awful lot this fall

8. That tax is already included in the price  of items when you’re shopping

7. Cheaper luxury items

6. My pass naivgo (a.k.a. Metro card) that gives me unlimited rides and that I dont have to worry bending or de-magnetizing

5. The inefficiency of businesses (like not responding to e-mails, closing their stores whenever they feel like it, freezing bank accounts for no good reason, posting inaccurate and deceitful information on their webpages) for it reminds me that I could probably never live in Paris.

4. The too-relaxed attitude (or ignorance?) concerning hygiene and the prevention of illnesses for it has built up my immune system.

3. Going grocery shopping every weekend at the open market

2. The fact that my host has an open tab at the boulanger next door

1. That Disneyland Paris is only a train ride away (even though I have yet to go)

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Bonjour mes amis

The one topic I believe that I ignored thus far but deserves it’s very own post is of course the one in which I finally talk about my experience with language. After 2 months of living in Paris and speaking French on a regular basis, I suppose I finally have something to say. I also can’t wait to reread this in the spring of 2013 and celebrate all the progress I made.

It’s necessary to confess that I don’t speak French in 100% of my conversations. I always speak French when I’m at school, at home or doing an activity as a part of my program. I don’t however speak French all the time with my friends. I’m not really ashamed to admit it, even though at first I felt very guilty speaking English, because I firmly believe that it’s healthy. I can only speak for myself but when you’re restricted to only speaking French you can only express 60% of your true feelings and thoughts. Additionally, what ends up being expressed, in this language that is not your own, is a watered down version of your real ideas and feelings. I know that the only way to get comfortable in French and reach the point where I can fully express myself is to force myself to speak French in every situation, but I honestly don’t believe it’s healthy. Speaking English became a sort of therapy. When I finally “broke down” and spoke English with my friends for the first time I realized that it had been weeks since i had laughed. In French, none of us are really funny. I wound up laughing so hard I was crying while telling a story, that wasn’t even that funny, just because my sense of humor had been suppressed for weeks. The same is true with your negative emotions that get remain unexpressed all because you can’t find the precise words to use.

So that is my little confession. But after I spend a little bit of time speaking English with my friends, we usually go back to speaking French by choice. Firstly because it’s fun and secondly because I recognize that it’s important if I ever want to advance.

After about a month in Paris I noticed that my fluidity and speed had increased, but I was still convinced that i was speaking incoherently. It was quite an “AH-HAA” moment when my friend told me over crepes that she saw an immense (or maybe I’m exaggerating now) difference in my oral communication and that I was in fact speaking in grammatically correct sentences for the most part. It will probably be one of those moments i won’t forget because until then I had thought I sort of plateaued after gaining a little bit of “speed and accuracy” during my first month. Right now, I feel like my level of communication is just an actualization of what I always knew I was capable of / what was going on inside my head. I really hope my progress continues. At least now I know, due to my phonetiques class, what my “trouble areas” are and how I can improve.

For example, I have to pay attention to how I pronounce [u] [ø] and strangely enough [a]

[u] as in pour, cours, et bonjour & [ø] as in bol, porte, homme. The reason why I have trouble with these sounds is because you have to make your voice quite deep to achieve the sounds. Not only are the sounds unnatural to me but I sort of resist having to hear my voice sound sort of.. masculine ?

[a] as in amie, ananas, américain etc. This sound I was surprised to find was an issue for me. Instinctively I try to pronounce it as “uh” like “uh-mie” and “uh-mericain”. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the result of the 2 years spent during college trying to water down my New York accent, the one that would have made me pronounce it  AHH-ksent instead of the more neutral pronunciation of aks-ENT. (I hope this was logical)

And while it’s still a challenge to speak in French  because I don’t have a complete vocabulary and I still have to stop myself to make sure i’m using the right very tense (I believe there are 17 verb tenses in French and 12 in English), I see small clues that I’m definitely advancing. Sometimes I shock myself after i realize how quickly I can spit out a response or how when I write or speak in English, like when writing this post for example, I can only think of the French version of what I want to say and cannot find the proper English equivalent of what I want to say.

I hope it isn’t too long until I can write an update on this subject and let you all know how I can finally yell at people in French (my personal measure of what it means to be truly fluent in a language.)

xx,

S

Lucky Rabbit Hat

I don’t know what I did in September to earn such bad karma but October definitely wasn’t my month. In addition to being hit by a complete stranger, which I won’t go over as I think I covered it extensively in my last post, I don’t think I passed 3 consecutive days in October without finding myself in an embarrassing situation. I’m not complaining because when recounting the stories they merited many laughs. Such stories include:

-the time I uknowingly and stupidly used my host’s decorative teapot to boil water on the stove for my tea.

-the evening I came back to the apartment to find out the roast I had been responsible for cooking was partially burnt and portions had to be thrown out

-the numerous occasions where lamb was served and I couldn’t bear the taste. I am going to figure out a graceful way to make sure i never have to taste lamb meat ever again.

-Leaving my house and walking for at least 20 minutes before I realized I was wearing my sweater inside out. Ace.

-Buying groceries and thinking how cunningly I had eschewed the need to pay for or ask for a grocery bag by simply using a leftover plastic bag at the end of the register. A few steps after leaving the super market I then realized I was proudly swinging around a garbage bag. I should have realized sooner after seeing that the bag didn’t even have handles.

I optimistically decided that my luck would change come November. (*Note: I feel that due to the events that transpired from the storm on the East Coast I must clarify that I don’t seriously think I had it all that bad. If anything my “month of bad luck” is really gold in terms of comical material.)

On October 31st around 7pm I was nearly inside the train when I passed a young guy who was coming off the train. As soon as I passed him he slipped and fell on the floor of the subway platform. I like to believe that was the precise moment that all of my bad luck left me and attached itself onto him. (The guy was completely fine so I get to write about this and profit from his humiliation).

Of course, I won’t be completely free of embarrassing moments. Not until I stop breathing. But I really do think my luck has turned around. For example:

-The night of October 31st I baked a cake and it came out delicious. I also offered a portion to my host and think that dissipated any leftover negative feelings she had toward me for burning her roast.

-Yesterday, November 1st I found an amazing patisserie and ate an extraordinary and large pain au chocolat aux amandes et à la pistache that’s only 1/3 the cost of your fancy Starbuck’s latte in Paris.

-Today, November 2nd I found a rabbit fur hat. I don’t know if i will actually wear it and it’s not really my style but I’d like to see it as a good omen. Also, today I had caught the woman who tried to short change me (accidentally or on purpose, I have no idea) and I also had another noteworthy gastronomic experience.. (I really don’t know if i’m ready to share my good finds here yet but trust me, it was splendid.)

I keep getting calls from an unknown French number that I refuse to pick up because i have no idea who it is. But from the ways things are going, maybe it’s an unsolicited job offer or a case of mistaken identity that ends with me receiving a cash for life prize. Or maybe somehow that young guy from the metro tracked me down and is trying to return the bad voodoo.

à bientot,

S.