March 31, 2011

Une Histoire d'Amour: How I Met FBF

Last year (2009) I was invited to a New Year’s Eve party by one of my French friends, Quentin. He told me it was an 80s themed party, we could sleep at the house, and he’d be by to pick me up around 21h.

As it was winter and below freezing at night, I wore a giant jacket, a scarf, and gloves. I walked out of my apartment and directly into the back seat of the car, as there was already an occupant in the passenger seat.

I entered the car, said “bonjour,” and was immediately presented with a lightening fast French phrase, delivered by the unknown passenger.

I had spent the holidays up until the day before with my family, speaking nothing but English. My French was a little rusty, and I was unprepared for this sudden attack of a foreign language. “Pardon?” I asked.

C’est où, ton costume?” he repeated. This time, I understood that he was asking me where my 80s costume was.

I was now confronted with a new problem: I couldn’t remember how to say “under” in French! I wanted to say “under my jacket,” but was coming up with a complete blank.

“Uuuhhh…..” I stalled, trying to come up with my French phrase.

The passenger had no patience for me. He immediately turned towards Quentin and asked, “Elle parle français où quoi?” with a tone of disdain. (Does she speak French or what?)

Oui… je parle un peu français…” (Yes… I speak a little French) I mumbled in reply.

Deciding this guy was an asshole with a stupid wig, a stupid fake mustache, and stupid giant sunglasses, I sat quietly in the back seat not looking forward to the party.

As the night went on, I realized that most everyone at the party was in a couple. Having been dumped the month before, I was not looking forward to watching a bunch of happy couples making out at midnight.

I decided to take matters into my own hands. I was going to try to find someone eligible to kiss when the clock struck twelve.

By this time the wig, sunglasses, and mustache had disappeared from the asshole’s face. I was disappointed to find out that he was exceptionally cute. The rest of the single crowd was definitely not.

I drank a bit, and decided to talk to this guy again. He was nicer round two, so I started flirting with him, trying to get ready for the new year's kiss.

There was one problem: Nobody made out come midnight. Instead, they all went around faire-ing la bise (kissing each other on the cheek), wishing one another “bonne année!” and opening the champagne bottles.

Despite the fact that I didn’t need to find somebody to kiss after all and now I had no more need to talk to him, I continued to talk to him all night. We, and another friend, stayed up until 6am talking about life, the universe, and everything.

He was charming, interesting, funny, and had gorgeous blue eyes.

And, before finally crashing on the couches, he asked for my number.

Proof that things worked out! FBF and I last summer.

March 27, 2011


The French like beverages.

They like having lots of different types of beverages during a single meal.

In my experience, a typical French meal will start with an apéritif, which is composed of two parts: little snacks (chips or nuts), and a cocktail. During the rest of the meal, there is a glass of water, as well as a glass of white wine during l’entrée (hors d’oeuvres) and a glass of red wine during the main dish. Then with desert comes champagne, which is swiftly followed by un café (coffee).

It’s a lot of beverages. Especially considering during dinners at my house, my brother and I drank only one drink, milk.

This love of beverages isn’t restricted to les repas (meals), but it would seem that enjoying six beverages over the course of a meal is the result of the French love affair with liquids.

They like meeting up at cafés to boire une verre (have a drink). They like offering drinks to their invitées (guests), and they love accepting drinks from their hosts.

Now, I know that in America we too offer our guests something to drink, but we’re not as aggressive about the whole ordeal as our French counterparts seem to be.

Sometimes when I go over to a friend’s house to hang out, I am not thirsty. Sometimes I just don’t want a beverage of any kind. I can still have a good night without something to sip on.

This fact does not seem to register with my French counterparts. If I refuse their offer for a beverage, it seems to make them uneasy. They will without a doubt ask me again a little while later if I’m sure I don’t want anything to drink. They have all sorts of beverages readily available to suit any kind of beverage related craving I might have.

In the beginning, I would accept people’s offers just to make the situation less awkward, but I’ve had enough of drinking unwanted beverages just to make the French comfortable.

I was at a friend’s house the other night, and they offered me something to drink no less than 4 times! They even brought me out an empty glass, just in case I changed my mind.

I realize that they are being polite in their culture, and I appreciate their attention to my level of hydration, but can the French really be this thirsty? Or do they avoid drinking until they are in company? Or do they have bladders of steal and never have to pee? Or do they just like going to the bathroom a lot more than I do?

Whatever the reason, one thing is clear, you will never die of thirst over here as long as you have friends willing to invite you over.

March 22, 2011


If proof was needed that I am currently dating a Frenchman, I now have some.

We went to Le Ch’ti Bello for a date night, and since I originally posted about the place, I have taken up eating my pizza à la FBF.

Now the way he eats his pizza is not what defines him as French. It’s what defines him as a little bit bizarre.

He eats the crust off his entire pizza first, saving the inside for last. Most people I’ve observed eating pizza here eat their way across the pizza.

Since I’ve startted putting an egg on my pizza, I, too, now eat all the crusts off first.

In pausing from devouring my pizza to speak to FBF, he suddenly interrupted me, noticing my pizza.

Mais pourquoi tu as fais la France avec ta pizza?” (But why have you made France with your pizza?) he asked me.

Quoi?” (what?) I replied. I had no idea what he was talking about. I did not see France anywhere on my plate, just a pizza missing a substantial amount of its crust.

FBF then turned my pizza around to a bizarre angle. He pointed out to me that I had made the hexagone that is France, complete with leaving an air bubble to represent the mountain range that separates France from Spain.

Regarde, tu as même fait la Corse avec ce morceau-là!” (Look, you even made Corsica with that bite!)

My pizza aka a map of France.

I think only a true Frenchmen would have spotted an upside down and sidewise France from across the dinner table.

March 19, 2011

La Saint Patrick

I had St. Patrick's Day all planned out. After I got home from work, I was going to walk over to the bar just down the road that has Guinness on tap. Then I was going to drink one (or two or three) pints of that black gold while wearing my green tights and green sweater.

I was ready to be like all good Americans on March 17th. I was ready to pretend to be Irish.

From my trip to the Guinness Brewery in Dublin.

But just like at Halloween, France had other plans for me. I spent Thursday in bed sleeping and watching TV, fighting the evil invasion of bacteria France had unleashed upon me.

Instead of proudly celebrating a Holiday that the French choose to ignore for reasons unknown to me (who doesn't like drinking heavily and wearing green?), France got the better of me.

All wasn't lost however. When FBF came over to check up on me, he wasn't wearing any green whatsoever.

So, I pinched him!

March 14, 2011


For the most part these days, I understand when being spoken to in French. I can follow both conversations at top speed and directions flawlessly. I finally feel comfortable talking to people like my banker without having an intermediary present.

In trying to do my US taxes, I needed my bulletins de paye (pay records). I had yet to receive them from my lycée, and this was unusual. I went to the secretariat (secretary) brimming with confidence in my ability to sort this out with him, in French, all by myself.

He understood my problem, called the rectorat, and then told them the problem.

After a few minutes, he hung up the phone and told me, “d’accord, elle ne savait pas pourquoi vous ne les avez pas reçus, mais ce n’est pas un problème. Elle m’a dit qu’elle vas m’envoyer un mail avec vos bulletins de paye. Vous travaillez cet après-midi?
(Okay, she didn’t know why you haven’t yet received your pay records, but it’s not a problem. She told me she is going to send me un mail with them. Do you work this afternoon?)

Oui,” I replied.

Bon, revenez cet après-midi et ils seront probablement là.” (Good. Come back this afternoon and they will most likely be here.)

I was so surprised! Not only did the problem seem to have a very simple solution, but my bulletin de pays would be arriving in the mail that very afternoon.

I walked out of the office wondering how on earth the post office was going to deliver them so quickly. Do they have their own, special rectorat-to-lycée post service? Or was the secretary just being overly optimistic about the whole thing?

Regardless, I went back to the office that afternoon, and it was then that I realized my translation mistake.

He got on his computer, checked to see if he’d receieved le mail, and then proceeded to print out my bulletins de paye.

This is because in French mail does not mean mail.

Gmail is a trademark of Google Inc.

Mail is email and la poste is the mail.

I had fallen victim to a faux ami (false friend), a word that looks and sounds the same, but means something totally different.

One I already knew about, en plus.

Feel free to send me some mail, defined by either language, to make me feel better about ma bêtise (my mistake)!

March 9, 2011

Faire La Bise

When my family came out to visit me my first Christmas in Lille, a very nice French family invited us to dinner at their house. It was the very first night my parents were in town, and waiting in my studio to be picked up by the French family, I casually dropped into the conversation, “oh yeah, don’t forget! In France they faire la bise!”

I figured that anyone coming to France would have learned about the French cheek kiss.

“They fair the what?” my family asked me in unison.

Evidently, I was wrong. I explained to my mother, father, and brother that instead of shaking hands at a first meeting, the French kiss one another on the cheek.

My family immediately started to panic. The look on their faces said, "they do WHAT with perfect strangers?"

I further explained that it isn’t actually cheek kissing. You simply touch cheek-to-cheek, while simultaneously making a kissy noise. I then proceeded to demonstrate.

“And the men do this too?” my father asked, a little weary.

I told him that between men it is a little bit more complicated. Between friends they usually faire la bise, but not always. I further explained that since I wasn’t a boy, I hadn’t had to deal with this, as woman pretty much always get the bise.

To my father and brother’s content, the husband of the French family shook their hands, but everybody else faire-la-bise-d. For both hello and goodbye.

Afterwards, my family told me they were super stressed about doing it wrong.

This is a feeling I can relate to. Even today I’m unsure sometimes about to bise or not to bise.

Lucky for everyone, I have found an instructional video made by Nikola Obermann aimed at foreigners for how to faire la bise! Unfortunately for us foreigners, the video is in French. Not to worry, however, I've offered my own translation.

The French say, "as simple as hello!" when referring to something that is easy. As simple as hello? There is nothing more complicated than saying "hello" in France, especially for foreigners! This is because, in France, who don't just say "hi" or shake hands, we faire la bise! And to faire la bise is actually an art form...

[The rest of the translation]

March 5, 2011

Laissez-moi danser!

One thing I don’t like about French house parties is that nothing happens at them. After giving everyone la bise (cheek kisses), all there is to do is find a seat, sit in it, and talk. All night.

I miss going to house parties where there is an activity. Back home, I would often have board game nights and Wii parties with my friends. Here, it’s all talk and no action.

Cranium. The best game ever.

Now that I speak French reasonably well, I am able to partake in said conversations, but when I first moved here and spoke very little French, it was miserable. I was miserable.

All I wanted to do was dance!

I loved going to dance parties back in the States. If I ended up at a party at someone's house that wasn't a dance party (and there was no cranium), I would turn it into a dance party.

It turns out, however, that I am not the only girl in France who just wants to bouger mes fesses (shake my butt). Dalida was a very famous French pop artist in the 70s.

I just discovered her song, laissez-moi danser, and it pretty much sums up my feelings on this issue.

Let me dance!
Oh, let me!
Let me dance and sing in liberty all summer
Let me dance!
oh, let me!
Let me follow my dreams

March 3, 2011

Parlez-vous anglais?

One of my friends from back home recently asked me if I still speak English.

If the French government happens to be reading my blog, of course I still speak English perfectly!! The French language has not at all influenced my langue maternelle (native language).


Unfortunately for my students, the question my friend posed is a just one. Do I still speak English?

I would be lying if I said the French language hasn’t left a mark on my abilities to speak correctly.

I can’t seem to stop myself from saying things like:

“They’re pretty, the flowers” instead of “The flowers are pretty!”

This is because in French, you pretty much never say what you’re talking about until after you’ve already talked about it. It’s all personal pronouns BEFORE the nouns.

We tend to speak the other way around, Americans.
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