The following post comes from the one and only: my mom (and yes, she does count as a famous celebrity. She’s actually huge in Sweden). Enjoy her account of her recent trip to France to visit her favorite daughter/child/partner in dog-walking (ME!):
Raising four children through dating and adolescence, I cannot count the number of times I must have uttered the phrase “Give it/him/her/them a chance” – a reference to every new kid, new class, new teacher, new coach, new job, new situation each of them faced.
So…that being said. What were my first impressions of France? And how did they hold up through the course of my trip? Let’s take a quick walk through my week.
- The French education system has taken the American anti-drug phrase “Just Say No!” to new levels. My initial encounters with native French-men and –women involved the following phrases (imagine each being said with resolution and a haughty accent!):
- “Ferme!” (Closed)
- “Not possible”.
- “Uh oh. Problem.”
And these were all before I left the airport. Thank God my hostess slash daughter mentally prepared me!
- The above examples not withstanding, the French language is not intuitive to an English speaker. I take my own props (with a tip of the hat to the Indiana University linguistics program) for helping me to pull context clues from the cognates on the status board of the only crowded train platform in the station (mine): “Retard: En Raison d’un accident de persone.” Retard = late or slow. Raison = reason. Accident = accident (Wow – you’re good! You figured that out too?). Persone = person (You’re almost fluent at this point!!). Guess that means more time for people-watching and/or writing.
- The French love a party. And – they do them well! In fact, the train station workers set up a special breakfast for me* with free pastries, juice, and coffee. The pastry was a ball of fried dough, rolled in coarse sugar, and filled with an unfamiliar fruit cream. “Oh – a donut…” you say? Non. Unless it was the kind of donut they serve in heaven. All due respect to Grandview’s own DK Diner – these were: The. Best. Ever. I am already worrying about how much weight I might gain in the course of a week. Even the airport food looks enticing – especially the aptly named restaurant “Lily’s Beautiful Sandwich”. I agree, Lily. I agree.
- The French appreciate fashion. Thankfully, I had the foresight to snap out of my “unemployed HR Manager/part-time dog walker” wardrobe prior to my departure. And I think I nailed the arrival outfit. I am warm. I am comfortable. And I am blending in so well that other foreigners are stopping to ask me questions in French – as though I LIVE here?!?! Thank you, Nordstrom’s Rack, for your annual boot sale. The 50-shades-of-gray suede boots rock!
- The French embrace their passion for art, especially the modern art. Consequently, I may or may not have used a men’s bathroom. In my defense, the signs offered far too many options, none of which translated cleanly: persons (plural), handicapped person, reclining(?) person, or person molesting baby. I thought the former was the safer bet – until I noticed (oops – too late) the urinals.
- Contrary to the US culture, “Just say no” is a starting point, rather than an ending point with the French. No, we don’t take that credit card, BUT we can do this. No, that train doesn’t go to that destination, BUT you can try this. Probably more so than Americans, the French seem to be willing if not eager to ENGAGE – with actual PEOPLE. I can remember – literally – only ONE TIME that I was slowed down by someone texting while walking on a cell phone (and it was probably an American!). When I looked in the windows of the coffee shops and cafes, I did not see people staring blankly into open laptops – EVER. Instead, they were looking intently at each other, once again, while TALKING. With their MOUTHS! It was incredible!
- Even more fascinating than the French talking to each other – they RESPECTED rather than REPUDIATED our attempts (mine much more lame than my daughter’s!) to speak French. They didn’t dismiss us as pesky illegal immigrants the way we are all guilty of expecting people to “SPEAK THE LANGUAGE” if you’re in America. They gave us respect for trying – and even tried to use their own English back on us. **
- First impression: the French love a party. Final impression: the French LOVE a party! I admit to being blissfully unaware of the performance of the Euro and France’s economic position relative to moribund Greece and flailing Spain, but I do know this: whatever disposable income they have, they will spend on good food, good wine, and good company, every day of the week. From the passionate enthusiasm of the soccer lovers in the Lille bars for a Wednesday night France-versus-Italy Major League Soccer match, to the seemingly intense discourse of tables full of middle-aged diners at every café in Paris, every night…I found my American mindset needing to scream at these people: “It’s time to go home and watch TV! There’s a new episode of 30 Rock airing as we speak!!!!”.
- Fashion. I peaked with the boots. Americans can’t compete. It’s not the clothes – it’s how you wear them. Had the French versions of Stacy and Clinton kidnapped me, stolen my suitcase, and reoutfitted me with French labels – I could not pull it off. Without a significant reduction in my BMI. A significant uptick in my “attitude”. And a willingness to walk and smoke.
- One place where French art translates to the visitor’s benefit: The METRO! Colors and arrows – now you’re speaking my language! As we smoothly navigated from Boulogne-Billancourt to Abbesses and beyond, I found myself wistfully day-dreaming about a future-state in which Central Ohioans would use their own colors and arrows to navigate a local state-of-the-art public transportation system. But not in my lifetime.
I have already exceeded my guest-blog welcome with my many many words – but I would be remiss not to end with these. France is a beautiful country in and of itself, but it is particularly so from August through December, 2012 thanks to the presence of my daughter. She is positively glowing with energy and excitement over this incredible study abroad experience. From observing Universite Catholique, to visiting with her “adopted” French family (who taught me the fine arts of crepe-making, champagne-pouring, and Wii dancing!), to drinking wine on the grass beneath the Eiffel Tower at night (unless you’re a French officer of the law and that’s illegal – in which case it was Coca Cola), to offering prayers at Sacre Coeur, to taking in the multi-sensual experience of the Champs Elysees decorated for Christmas – I could not have asked for a more perfect trip, or a more perfect hostess. The stories, pictures, and memories will live in my heart forever.
Vive La France!!!
* OK. The breakfast was not for me personally but rather for an annual event. But kind of coincidental that it happened to take place on the one day a year that I am arriving, non?
** Two phrases that will live forever in our “French people speaking English” memories: 1. Everyone loves OBAMA – and the way they pronounce it is endearing. 2. An exact quote (I could not make this up!): “Everything I know about America I learned from CSI Miami!”.