Bise! Boo!

Adjusting to France, Cultural Differences, Uncategorized

In honor of Halloween next week I thought I should write about the scariest thing in France…

Sometimes I actually know what is going on when I am in France…I mean, okay so it is probably not the majority of the time but I’m getting there; now when I nod at something someone says there is like a 50% chance that I know what they meant (45%…WHATEVER).  Point being, I am making progress.  There is one area, however, in which zero progress has been made.  I am basically just as lost as I was the first day I got here.  It is wily and ever-changing, a chameleon in the world of social niceties…

*cue thunderclap and lightening*

A tradition so scary…so intimidating…

*teeth chattering in fear*

…that even the creators themselves can’t seem to get a handle on their Frankenstein, it is…

THE BISE!

*SCREAM*

MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Alright…maybe that is a little dramatic but seriously, what is the deal?  Even some French are confused by what to do!

Exhibit A:  http://combiendebises.free.fr/

Exhibit B:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9m0OEpE0z8

Now, I know I’ve written about this before but last time I was writing about getting over the hump of allowing a stranger into my highly coveted personal space so that they can apply their lips to my face (I have accepted it fully, I swear); but this time I want to talk about the actual rules…or lack thereof.  As you can see in Exhibit B, the side you start on varies, the number of kisses varies, and the time in which you give them varies, as does the person you are giving them to vary.  Now the French have grown up with this tradition and seem to move on instinct…subtly noticing the direction a head is going to go before it has gone there but I have no such luck.  I do things like catch half of a person’s mouth and accidentally force them into a half-way make out because I thought their head was going in the other direction.  I mean, how does any normal touching –phobic Anglo recover from this?

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to just lick your mouth.”

Furthermore, I can’t seem to get a handle on the number of kisses that are going to be doled out to me.  I have often had the same person sometimes do two and then sometimes do three.  So, just when I think I’m down with the three and go in for another round, they stop at two and I feel like a jackass.  Why, French people, WHY?!  Don’t you know that I already feel super awkward about kissing strangers?! And don’t even get me started on entering large parties or what to do with children who don’t want to get near you…the confusion abounds.

So, while other people dress as ghosts and goblins this Halloween, I think I will dress as the scariest thing I know…the bise!

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The Old Woman without a Clue

French Food, Learning French

I’ve been taking yet another French Intensif Course, this time at the University, and until today it has been an exercise in humiliation.  Everyone in the class is about 12 years old 20 years old and have been studying French for anywhere from 2 to 8 semesters.  They can reel off subjunctives and infinitives like it’s nothing.  When we had a session in which we described Fairy Tales, they were flawlessly reciting the plots to the Lion King*, Cinderella, and Pinnochio…and then there was me, the old lady without a clue (har har).  I could get the words out but not the correct grammar.

It’s been like this almost every day of class.  They run circles around me with their freshly reviewed grammatical wisdom and I just sit there jaw-open still trying to translate the sentence that I am supposed to be deconstructing.  I can feel their pity.  I can feel the shiver that runs down their spine as they think “god after a year and a half shouldn’t she be better than this?”  Wait, is that their thoughts or my internal dialogue?

It makes me want to challenge them all to a Dewey Decimal System duel – who’s the smart one now, suckas? (Hmmm…yeah, probably still the people that are familiar with today’s cataloging system…damn’t).

However, this morning I had an epiphany; I realized that while I may struggle with grammar, both domestic and foreign (much to my grammar-teaching Mother’s chagrin), I’ve got practical knowledge.  Today the teacher asked questions about France…the regions, the cuisines, the restaurants in town…FINALLY, I had some answers.  When it comes to talking about food or travel I am magically fluent instead of stuttering and stumbling across silent suffixes.  I may not have fluent French even after a year and a half but I have fluent knowledge (does that even make sense…don’t care, I’m going with it); I know my city and my region, I know great places to visit around the country and tips and tricks on where to stay and what to do, I know the different regional accents and attitudes, I know the distinctive body language of a Parisian.  Pfffff….

So, I may not be fluent in French but I’m starting to become fluent in France and at the end of the day, I reckon that’s worth a lot more than a past participle.

*clearly an all time classic fairy tale, right millennials, right?