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.

 

 

Advertisements

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“?

 

 

 

L’expérience Grande…

Translation: The Grand Experiment.

That is what I will be embarking on at the end of October. I am moving to Paris – for a month.

A little while back I came to the realization that I am not going to get full-time work before the end of the year. Instead of bemoaning that fact, I started thinking about what I might be able to do with this time and freedom. The jobs that I do have, pay me pretty good money, and more importantly, I can do them remotely. So, I decided to spend a month in Paris, not as a tourist but as someone who is living and working there.

I have rented a tiny apartment on my favorite street and signed myself up for a semi-intensive language course. And I’m just going to “be” in Paris. While I have been to the City of Light many, many times, the longest I’ve been there was for about ten days, and my previous stays were always vacations where I stayed in a hotel and the days were packed with things to do and see. With this month, I want to try and experience, at least a little bit, what it might be like to actually live in Paris. Yes, I’ll be working, as I said. I’ll also be cooking my meals, doing laundry, trying to exercise and keeping the apartment clean – you know, the everyday stuff I do here in Dublin, just in Paris.

When I had decided to make the move to Europe, I did talk to companies in Paris and it was a real possibility that I could have ended up there. I am so glad I wound up in Dublin because I think Paris as my first expat destination could have ruined my favorite city for me (you can read my ruminations on this here). But now, I am nearly three years into my expat experience and Paris does loom as a possibility. Professionally speaking, it has a very strong animation industry with several studios I would be happy to work for, and it’s fairly common knowledge that there is a real shortage of animation writers there as well, which is something I could definitely work to my advantage.

The language course is also a big part of my reasons for committing to this month in Paris. My French is pretty abysmal considering how often I visit. And I’m not being modest here – it’s truly awful. I don’t have a knack for languages at all. I am hoping that a month-long course that includes two hours of small group instruction per day, might help me turn the corner with my French. While I don’t necessarily need to speak French to work in the animation industry in Paris, I feel I do need a very strong grasp of it to live there or it would be a very lonely, frustrating life. So, hopefully after the month, I will be able to do more than order a glass of wine in a restaurant. Though seriously, if there is one thing you should learn how to say in French, it’s that (Je voudrais un verre de vin, s’il vouz plaît.).

A couple weeks ago, a friend asked me if I was tired of Dublin. The answer is no, not by a long shot. I am not spending this month in Paris because I want to leave Dublin. If the work stays steady, I could definitely see myself staying here for at least a few more years. But, as I said earlier, while I have the freedom to do so, why not give Paris a whirl? I would like to see if I realistically think I could live and work in the city, and be happy. Paris will always be a part of my life and I know that at the very least I will continue to visit on an annual basis, but could it be something more?

Peut-être.