Living in a Different Language…

I had to break down and get a French mobile phone this weekend. I still use my Irish number as my main method of contact but, after living in Paris for eight months, there are certain things I keep coming up against that require a French number. So, I bought a cheap, refurbished iPhone and decided to get a very basic call and text only plan. I first tried to buy a SIM online. But when ordering a SIM card to get a French mobile number one must already have a French mobile number in order to be sent SMS tracking info. Okaaaaay. Do you get the irony here, France?

So, this meant I would have to go to a brick-and-mortar shop and actually talk to people in order to get my SIM. I don’t like dealing with shops and people as a rule and I was even more stressed out because there was a very good chance I would need to do this transaction in French. Oh, the horror.  I seriously worked myself into a tizzy trying to figure out how to say want I wanted in French. I needed to get this right. This wasn’t something cute like when my waiter the other day thought I said “Côtes du Rhône” when I had actually said “carte du vin”. Whatever. I still got a glass of wine. It was fine.  But my decidedly non-parisian accent and limited vocabulary could get me into trouble when trying to buy a mobile phone contract.

I am not strong when it comes to languages. I have been trying to learn French on and off for the past fifteen years and I’m still an advanced beginner at best. I feel like I constantly have to learn the same concepts over and over. Things just don’t seem to stick. I have a private tutor here in Paris now and she’s great, but I can tell I frustrate the hell out of her.

Living in a place where one doesn’t speak the language is not easy. It’s frustrating, isolating and exhausting. Frustrating because I desperately want to be fluent in French but it feels so out of reach so much of the time. Often, I feel like I’m making progress only to get knocked back down when I’m reminded of how little I really know. Isolating because the language being spoken around me is not one I understand fluently so I retreat into myself (even more than usual) as a result. On a recent visit to New York, I was on the subway and I was taken aback when I could actually understand the various conversations going on around me and it was surprisingly comforting. And exhausting because living in French means constantly having to figure out what I’m supposed to say, or what someone is saying to me. The language does not flow naturally into and out of my brain and sometimes I just get tired.

By the way, I feel the need to point out that, for the most part, the Parisians have been amazing to me and my broken French. I have a standard line that I say when someone starts speaking too rapidly: “Je suis désolé. Je suis nouveau à Paris et mon français n’est pas bon. Mais j’essaye”, which translates to “I am sorry. I am new to Paris and my French is not good. But I am trying.” Almost without exception, I am then met with words of encouragement and questions about where I’m from, why I moved to Paris, etc. This has been such a welcome surprise for me. Merci, Parisians.

I love the French language. And I knew it would be one of the biggest challenges when I moved to Paris. I’m not giving up. I am determined to, if not master French, at least get to a point where I can join in a conversation rather than retreat into myself because I don’t understand what anyone is saying. I’m inspired by the French people who encourage me to keep going and compliment the progress I’ve made. I’m inspired by friends who have lived here for a while and knew even less French than me and are now fluent. And I’m inspired by Paris itself. This beautiful, amazing city will be even more beautiful and amazing, I think, when its language comes more naturally to me.

In the meantime, j’essaye.

 

 

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Settling In…

By far the most common question I get asked when people find out I’m newly living in Paris is how long I plan to stay. It was like that when I lived in Dublin as well – everyone always seemed to want to know how long I was there for.  The answer has always been and still is “I have absolutely no idea.”

I moved to Paris three months ago but I feel like I only started living here last week. I was gone for most of the month of April, taking a long-awaited vacation to Japan and then a more spur-of-the-moment work/play trip to Los Angeles. When I arrived in Paris at the beginning of February, everything was so new and things were so stressful that I put off a lot of stuff until “after Japan.”

Well, it’s now “after Japan” so I can’t really avoid those things any longer. It’s time to get stuff done. I went to Office Depot (they have those in Paris, random!) and had fun buying supplies for my home office. I then had less fun getting the office set up and filing the stack of papers that had accumulated over the past few months. I start private french lessons with a tutor this week and hopefully my atrocious french will soon start to improve. I have a cleaning person starting this week as well – I’d much rather practice my atrocious french than dust. I even have a French social security number now which means I can do fun things like get paid and have universal socialized health care.

I’ve also got a to-do list chock full of other mundane life stuff: find a doctor, join a gym, get that dress dry cleaned, make a hair appointment, back up my hard drive, buy some houseplants, get a new bath mat, figure out how the sofa bed works before I have my first houseguest… the list goes on and will continue to grow I’m sure. These are not the tasks of a tourist or someone on a short stay. These are the tasks of everyday life. My life. That is now in Paris.

I still don’t know how long I will live here, but I do indeed live here now.

Dublin v. Paris…

I’ve lived in Paris for two months now and I’m settling in rather well. Though sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that I do in fact actually live here.

Since this is my second expat experience, I can’t help but compare Paris with Dublin. I’m not talking about who has better museums or a more picturesque countryside. That’s a comparison of tourist attractions. I’m talking about how these two cities stack up against each other when it comes to LIVING in them.

Here’s what I’ve come up with thus far:

  • People – You’d be hard-pressed to find a population nicer than the Irish. They exude friendliness and it was one of the things I knew I would miss most. But, surprisingly given their reputation, the Parisians I have encountered have been almost shockingly friendly to me. My french is, in a word, appalling, yet whenever I must apologize that I don’t understand something because I’m new in Paris, I don’t get eye rolls or corrections on my accent. Most often, they ask where I’m from and compliment me for at least trying to speak french. It was a surprise and it’s been nice.
  • Landlords – So, those friendly people I was talking about? Landlords are excluded from this category – in Dublin and in Paris. However, my situation in Dublin was especially dire and it was the greed of my landlords that ultimately had me decide to make the move to Paris. Parisian landlords aren’t much better but at least in Paris the laws favor the tenant, whereas in Dublin, tenants are pretty much shit out of luck.
  • Weather – No one moves to Dublin or Paris for the weather, and I’m one of the very few people who actually didn’t mind the weather in Dublin. This freak-show of a winter notwithstanding, it doesn’t get too cold and the summers don’t get too hot. Paris is much the same, though for me, I think the edge goes to Dublin because every year Paris has the canicules (heat waves) where the temperatures soar and everyone, especially the heat-averse moi, becomes pretty miserable.
  • Food – Everyone knows that Parisian food is ridiculously good. But, I’ve been struggling with the food in Paris this time around. Since I moved here I’ve adopted a reasonably strict LCHF (low carb, high fat) way of eating (and I’m down 20 pounds, yo!). In Dublin, I feel like there were more LCHF choices and that restaurants were more willing to make substitutions. In Paris, with the pastries and the bread and the frites and the… well, let’s just say eating low carb can be a challenge. And restaurants are less willing to sub out something like potatoes for a salad or some veggies. Thank goodness that wine and cheese are both gloriously low carb.
  • Ease of Travel – Ireland is an island. There’s no way around that. So, if you want to go somewhere you need to get on a plane. Paris is much better located as a travel hub and being able to take trains to places like London or Amsterdam is amazing. I feel like I have all of Europe within reach now that I am in Paris.
  • Amazon – I was addicted to ordering from Amazon when I lived in the States. Sadly, Dublin only has access to the UK Amazon and it’s therefore very limiting and very expensive. Now that I am in Paris, I am back to my old Amazon habits. I have my french Prime membership and order just about anything I need in the click of a button. Oh Amazon, how I missed you.
  • Time Zones – I know, I know, how can one time zone be better than another? Trust me, they SO can be. Paris is only one hour ahead of Dublin but I was shocked at how big a difference that hour made. I still work mostly with people in the GMT or EST time zones. I’m forever confusing my schedule because I don’t know if calls are set for GMT or CET. And being one hour later means I usually end up working an hour later. I’m a GMT gal all the way!
  • Transportation – Paris has this one down. Even in a spring that is set to be riddled with strikes, it is so easy to get around this city using public transportation. The metro is one of the best in the world. And I’ve recently overcome my bus phobia and now take the Paris busses BY MYSELF on a regular basis. Dublin, for a european capital, has always sadly lacked in the public transportation arena. Apparently the LUAS lines are now joined up – that only took about 15 years. I took a bus in Dublin once and feared for my life the entire time. Never. Again.
  • Coffee – Some might find this shocking but the coffee in Paris is average at best. For a coffee snob like myself that borders on the tragic. Dublin, though, had great coffee. How I wish I could walk to Nick’s in Ranelagh right now for an americano.

So there you have it – my initial take on little bits of living in each city. Two cities I love. Two cities that are “home”. So, who wins?

Me.

Umbrellas and candles…

Yesterday was my last French class and we had to do a ten minute presentation about where we live. Yeah. Public speaking… in French.

What I imagined I was saying: “Dublin has been a around since the time of the Vikings. A beautiful and vibrant city, it is filled with history and culture and boasts, arguably, the friendliest people in all of Europe. It is a city of great literature, wonderful art and lovely nature. Yes, it rains a lot, but that means we get rainbows.”

What I probably actually said: “Dublin be old of the vikings. A city beauty and live with much the history and people of the very smiles. It is a place of more books and good the paintings but also to pretty the plants. Rain more, yes. But we be have much bows of rain.”

“It nice, the Dublin.”  😉

I really do struggle to learn this baffling but beautiful language. (Well, beautiful when someone other than me is speaking it.) But it’s hard, and the French, perhaps justifiably, are not charitable when it comes to their language. That can be frustrating when someone like me, who does not have an ear for languages, is nonetheless really trying.

Perhaps my biggest frustration is the accent. Not only am I trying to learn a new language, but I am expected to master the French accent as well. Now, I have a bit of a problem with this. I know a lot of French people who speak excellent English – with a French accent. I don’t understand why I have to get the accent right when they don’t.

True story – a couple years ago I was leaving the office for the weekend and in saying good-bye to a French colleague I said “Bon week-end.” And, I kid you not, he corrected my pronunciation of “week-end”. Seriously?!  I don’t think I could have rolled my eyes farther up into my head.

When I get responses like that, I’ve learned to “fight back” a teeny bit. I say “J’essaye”, which means “I am trying.”. Which I am. Really hard. And I have made progress. My daily class this month and back in November really helped my comprehension and conversation, though I still have a really difficult time understanding what people are saying when they speak to me – everyone talks so fast!

Some key phrases that help me in these situations:

  • Je ne comprends pas – I do not understand.
  • Désolé, mon français est très mauvais – I’m sorry, my french is very bad. 
  • Lentement, s’il vous plaît – Slowly, please.

I’ve also learned some french phrases that I kind of love:

  • ça m’est égal – this means “I don’t care” but it’s the formal more respectful way of saying it.
  • je m’en fiche – this also means “I don’t care” but it’s familiar, reserved for special people who are driving you nuts, like friends and family.
  • je m’en fous – and when you really need to kick it up a notch, this means “I don’t give a shit”. Everything really does sound better in French.
  • mon petit chou – literally “my little cabbage” but this is a term of endearment in French. I would love to be someone’s little cabbage.
  • tomber dans les pommes – literally “falling in the apples”, this is the french term for fainting.
  • chanter comme une casserole – I think this one is my favorite. It literally means “to sing like a saucepan” and it’s the phrase used to describe a god-awful singer.

Oh, and my two favorite words in the entire french language are parapluie (umbrella) and bougie (candle). I love how they sound and I often say them just because I find it fun.

I will continue to strive toward fluency in French and I will, to be sure, continue to struggle. But I love this language too much to not try. Or should I say “essaye“?