To Err is Human

Learning French

“ELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL…, ERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR…repeté s’il te plait!”

“ELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL, EAIIIRRRRRASDKFLJSKDGLJKSRRRRRR”

“Non, non!  Attention!”  My French professor claps her hand and points to me.  “You! Watch my mouth, yes?  ELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL, ERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR…okay?”

I look at her helplessly and place my tongue on the top of my mouth.  “ELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL,” then move the tongue to behind my front teeth, “EAIIIRRRRRASDKFLJSKDGLJKSRRRRRR…”

“I do not understand,” she looks at me with irritation.  “Why you cannot do this?  ERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.”  She says it even more slowly as though somehow I was confused.  The letter “R” is written on my worksheet and on the board and coming out of her mouth…I get it…I just can’t pronounce it.

You might think that learning the French language is the hardest part, and it is difficult, but the accent presents a whole new challenge.  In attending French classes, I thought that we would be studying vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and we did; but I had no idea about the amount of time we would spend doing things like repeating, “ohhhhhh….ahhhhhh….ehhhhh” in order to retrain my American mouth to make the right shape.

In many countries, you wouldn’t bother to even try to perfect your accent.  It is considered “cute” to have an accent and makes you more attractive and appealing…but this isn’t many countries, this is France.  And while there are some French people who will tell you that your accent in French is adorable, more often than not they will spend copious amounts of time correcting each and every pronuncial (yes, I just made that word up) infraction that you make, no matter how great or small.

This isn’t done in a rude way or a mean way, just a very matter-of-fact way:

“Oui, mon copain aider (ah-day)—,” I might begin.

“Aider (eh-day).”  They will say this correction swiftly before you have even managed to finish your sentence.

“Ah oui, pardon, eh-day moi avec le lecon (less-on).”

“Lecon (loose-on).”

“Ah oui…avec le “loose-on” une (ahhh).”

“Une (ahn).”

“Quoi?”

“Tu dit une (ahhhhhhhhh) mais c’est une (ahn).  C’est obvious, non?”

No.

By the time this rigmarole is over you have either a) forgotten what it was you were trying to say or b) lost your motivation to try to speak.  While this can be an extremely exhausting practice, I continue to press on…bad pronunciation and all.  I know that I’ll never be able to make the ERR sound properly but that’s okay, because after all, “to err is human, to forgive, divine” and maybe someday the French will forgive me.

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Versatility?

Living Abroad

Laura at “The Everyday Life of a Young American Girl in France” (http://laurasviequotidienne.blogspot.com/) has kindly bestowed me with the Versatile Blogger Award:  (tah-dah!)

Thank you so much, Laura!!

Upon receiving this award I am to list 7 things about myself and then pass the award along to other blogs.  Instead of listing 7 things about myself, I think I will, instead, list 7 things to remember when moving to a foreign country.

7.  Be versatile!!  (wink, wink, nudge, nudge – I slay me)  But in all seriousness, this is a good thing to keep in mind upon arrival in your new country.  Perhaps, in your mind’s eye, you have a vision of how it is all going to go:  you will arrive and get the perfect job, maybe marketing for a wine company, then you will meet a good looking foreign person who will make you laugh with their accent and charming way of saying things.  Needless to say, you and said foreigner will fall madly in love while you simultaneously get a promotion at work.  Money is therefore not an issue and you don’t even have to search for housing because you are, obviously, living at your new lover’s villa (oh, and magically your body will be better).  Voila!

In reality, you may do a series of temp jobs that make you hate yourself while living in a share house with ten strangers, all the while staring at the good looking foreigners who won’t give you the time of day.  Deal with it – make it work (Tim Gunn)!  Be open to whatever situation falls in your lap – who knows?  One day, one of those strangers might end up being in your wedding…really.

6.  All consulates are created equally…horrible.  Make sure that you are thrice prepared for any visa appointments/changes that need to be made…and then be prepared for something to go wrong, something like the clerk just deciding to close the counter for 2 hours while you wait, or the entire ‘tourist visa’ office going on a three day retreat one day before you need to get your passport back, or the list of what you needed for the visa changing the day you arrive with your information.  It doesn’t matter whether you are in France or Timbuktu; this stuff will happen.  My only advice, keep your cool, the people behind the counter really do hold your fate in their hand – don’t piss them off.

5.  Don’t be the guy who spends the whole time eating peanut butter and jelly, listening to Kanye, and drinking Budweiser (insert: whatever cultural references work for your home country).  Basically, try not to spend too much time re-creating home.  Sharing your culture is one of the most fun things about travel; it’s a pleasure to make one of your favorite dishes for someone from another country or show them your favorite film.  It is also crucial to abating any bouts of home-sickness.  Just don’t let it take over.  If you create a mini-version of your own country while you are away then what will you have to talk about when you go home?

4.  “Everything is better in my country!”  (to be said in a 1930’s Philadelphia “society” accent)  Look, we are all guilty of it, I know I do it regularly, but try to keep the comparison game in check; it is not charming.

No local wants to hear a foreign visitor constantly charting the ways in which their own country is better:

“Here (sidebar: in this country I have chosen to live in) you are too fast, too slow, too disorganized, too organized, obnoxious over-achievers, lazy under-achievers, (have) not enough stuff at the grocery store, TOO MUCH STUFF AT THE GROCERY STORE!  In my country we have perfected all these things; over the course of our acquaintance I will list to you all the ways in which we have done so in order for you to learn.  You can thank me later.”

Here’s the deal, there are going to be things in your new country that will drive you bananas and you will miss the way that your own country does stuff; everyone does.  Just try to be careful how you bring it up – you don’t want to be obnoxious – if you catch yourself talking about how much “awesomer” your country is at something, maybe finish the statement with a mention of another thing that you think your host country does better.  No one likes an ungracious guest…and when you can’t take it anymore, unload to your expat friends – they’ll get it.

3.  “I hate it here.  I have no friends, the food sucks, their tv shows are stupid, I’m sick of public transportation, I don’t have any of my stuff, I’m missing out on all the crazy, unusually awesome stuff that my friends at home are CLEARLY doing without me, I’m so lonely!”

The “three month slump” exists and while it does occur generally around the three-month time frame, rest assured that it can rear it’s ugly head at any time during your overseas existence.  Eight-month slump?  Five and one-half month slump?  Why not?  Living in another country can be really exciting, and challenging, and incredibly fun but it is also really hard.  You can’t expect to pluck yourself out of your comfort zone, away from those you love and all things familiar, and have a seamless transition.  Sometimes, it is going to suck and you are going to feel depressed and alone; and that is normal!  Don’t throw in the towel; instead, when three of your ten strange roommates organize a trip to go and do a zip-line over a volcano, do it!  When the daughter of a distant friend of your Father’s emails you to say “hi, I’ve just moved here”, invite her to a party.  Don’t let “slumpness” suck away the possibility of new experiences…I mean, wasn’t that the whole point anyway?

2.  Never move to a new country during their winter.  This might seem stupid to list as #2 but if you have ever done it then you know it is not.  Unless you are an avid skier moving to someplace like the Swiss Alps or Queenstown, NZ, moving to a new country in winter will be horrible.  I mean, think about it, nothing says welcome like barren trees and gray skies.  And forget about meeting new people and making friends, people stay at home in winter, they go to cozy house parties; they do not hang out on patios or stand in groups that are convenient to interrupt with an awkward fake question.

Nothing is more depressing then sitting in your new room, freezing, while it is drizzling outside, with no friends.  Really, if you can avoid it then just don’t do it.  That is all I can say.

1.  Okay, so now, basically forget everything I just wrote and remember this one thing:  it is the same everywhere.  Sure the scenery may be different and the people might have funny accents or don’t smile as much (that’s for you, Frenchies) but your life will pretty much be the same in your new country as in your old one.  From a distance it might seem like in France your bathroom will clean itself, obviously, because living in France is far too glamorous for such things.  In Australia, every work day will be wonderful because they will all be good-looking and say things like “good on ya, mate”  (that last part might be accurate).  But here is the truth, I clean my bathroom once a week and some Australians are ugly.

So have reasonable expectations, remember that mundane days exist everywhere, you can’t run away from them.  No matter where you live you are going to have good days and bad days.  Even at home, you will get a case of “slumpness” or want to pull your hair out because the people in front of you on the sidewalk are walking too slowly – you just won’t have the convenience of being able to blame it on a country.  Travel and living abroad is an amazing, eye-opening, and exciting experience; but altering your coordinates won’t change your life, that is up to you.

And…that is my two cents on living abroad.

Now for the fun part, here are a few blogs that I would like to pass on the Versatile Blogger Award to:

Tanya In Transition (http://tanyaintransition.wordpress.com/)

Existimatio (http://existimatio.wordpress.com/)

Crystal Goes to Europe (http://www.crystalgoestoeurope.blogspot.com/)

Grenobloise (http://grenobloise.wordpress.com/)

Enjoy!

The Romance of a Sale

Holidays in France

I love sales.  Love them.  I will buy things that I don’t really find attractive or things that I absolutely do not need based solely on the fact that they are on sale.  As a dear friend of mine puts it “really, by not buying it you are losing money because it is such a good deal!”  (RIGHT?!)   This statement pretty much sums up my feelings when I see something marked down.  “Why look!  It’s a goose leash!  We don’t have a goose, I know, but one day we might and come on, honey, it’s 70% off!” 

This is why the time just after Christmas is particularly dangerous for me.  In fact, if Santa really had my best interest at heart, he would drop off the gifts and steal my credit card on his way up the chimney.  But alas, year after year, I buy ill-fitting sweaters and boots that I’ll only wear once because of ridiculous post-holiday prices.  I am used to it by now; I know it is coming and I prepare as best I can.  For instance, this year, I bought things that I genuinely think that I will wear…mostly.

I was in no way, however, prepared for returning to France and what their post-holiday sales had in store.

“Woah!  What is happening?”  I am looking around the Carrefour (France’s superstore, complete with grocery and everything else you could ever want).

Quoi?”  MB seems nonplussed as he pushes the cart, fascinated, instead by reading the previous owner’s grocery list.  “Look, I think they were going to make a punch of some sort, it sounds good, no?”

He shows me the list but I am too distracted.

“Honey, look, all the groceries, everything…it’s like the whole store is on sale!”  I wave my hand across the entire front section of the Carrefour which is covered with yellow signs that have 25%, 35%, 50% printed on them.

“Ah ouais!  The after Christmas sales, I forgot this!!”  MB seems excited too.  “Look, a vacuum on sale, we need a vacuum!”

“Only twenty-five euros?  Heck yeah, we need a vacuum!  Oooh honey, they have a hand-mixer for ten euros too.  I need a hand-mixer sometimes you know!”

MB looks at me with skeptical amusement.  “When?  When do you need a hand-mixer?”

“Um…hullo!  Don’t you remember the time we tried to beat egg whites…that was a disaster!”  This happened exactly one time and we have never needed a hand-mixer for anything else.

MB puts the hand-mixer in the cart.

I grab MB’s arm and jump up and down.  “This is so great, I love a sale!  You know I love a sale!  Woah – is that buy one, get one free?!?

I run to the smoked salmon display.

“What do you reckon?  You think we can eat two kilos of salmon?”  I am now playing a little game, pretending that I might not want to buy it.  I look at MB, waiting for the reasonable response, preparing my angle.

“I think we can,” he says resolutely.   “We can always freeze it, yes?  It is fourteen euros a kilo; we aren’t going to beat that.”

I stare at MB and realize, he is not going to be my steady voice of reason but instead my accomplice, my kindred spirit in sale-induced-insanity.   We lock eyes and share a look of mutual understanding and admiration that says “yes, we can eat two kilos of salmon in ten days for that price!”

Suddenly, my eyes are drawn towards the back of the section.

“Could that be…no, surely not…”

MB follows my gaze.  “Ouais…” he says slowly, with cautious optimism.

We advance towards the sign, clutching onto each other’s arms.

50% Reduction Foie Gras

There is front of us are two huge bins filled with all shapes and sizes of foie gras, reduced 50% in price.  I jump up and down, clapping my hands and MB and I embrace, in front of the foie gras bin, under fluorescent lights in Carrefour.  It is trés romantique!

A vacuum, a hand-mixer, two kilos of smoked salmon, two cans of gesiers, one side of beef, a whole chicken, a rabbit, and four packages of foie gras later we begin to make our way out of the grocery store, satisfied and triumphant in the knowledge of all the excellent bargains we got.

Once we arrive home, I start desperately trying to make room in the freezer and ponder the necessity of purchasing an entire rabbit seeing as how I have never cooked one before.  Squeezing the three foot long package of smoked salmon into a corner, I wonder if maybe the salmon and the rabbit are the equivalent of an ill-fitting sweater or an ugly pair of designer boots.  Has buyer’s remorse set in already?  Will we ever actually use this stuff?  Has this all been just a big waste?  Nah…

“Honey, I think we have to have a dinner party!”

MB looks up from where he is arranging cans of foie gras and gesiers in the cupboard, “I was just thinking the same thing.”