Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Funny Things French People Say

In my work as an English teacher and even in my daily interactions with the French, I'm exposed to a never-ending stream of hilarious malapropisms. I always say that I'll write them down but usually forget. So for the sake of adding a little laughter to your day and mine, I've decided to keep track of some of that funny stuff in this blog.

A typical example involves misuse of prepositions: In response to my amusement at one of his English mistakes, my partner says to me, "Stop laughing on me!" Of course that just makes me laugh even harder...

Pronunciation also causes some problems: During an activity where my students had to make up lies in order to give a negative response to their partner's questions, one student asked the other, "So I hear you ate children." As if hating children isn't bad enough, she's accusing her of eating them!

Of course she meant to say hate, but French people tend to make the h silent when they see it, and to pronounce it when they shouldn't. For example, one of my students couldn't say the word "I"; she would say things like "Hi like pizza, Hi went to the movies," etc. Or they'll say "I hate lunch" instead of "I ate lunch." "I'm very hungry at him" instead of "I'm very angry at him." So I spend a fair bit of my class time working on the h sound, and of course laughing my butt off - luckily my students are pretty good natured about it all!

One last anecdote for today comes from another teacher, with of mix of pronunciation issues and general vocabulary confusion: One of his students recently asked him if he was a "cheese gamer." Hunh? After much confusion, they finally realized he meant to say "chess player." Ahhhh.

Speaking English with the French can take a fair amount of detective skills to uncover the hidden midden in the incomprehensible stuff they sometimes come up with. But that's part of the fun, and it's true in any foreign language I suppose; I make plenty of mistakes myself when I speak French. And when I lived in Ecuador as a college student, I said so many ridiculous things in Spanish that my host family started calling me "payasa" (clown). The important thing is to have a sense of humor about it all!

In that spririt, stay tuned for the next installment of "funny things french people say. " :-)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Today's Moment

I came home for lunch today since I had a long break in between classes, and I took advantage of the gorgeous weather to sit on my “terrace.” I’m using quotation marks because I don’t think it really qualifies as a terrace; it’s just a bit of concrete in between two hydrangea bushes. But the previous tenants left a rusty table and some dirty plastic chairs, which I am very thankful for since I’m sure we never would have bought them ourselves. When you put a tablecloth down it’s actually quite presentable:

The problem, however, is that our mini-terrace gives onto the driveway for all the tenants. So whenever our neighbors return home, they see us eating and always say ‘bon appétit!’ and make a random comment about something. (Seriously, this a compulsion among the French; it’s impossible for them to see anyone eating without saying ‘bon appétit!’, even if they are just passing by and have nothing to do with your meal).

For me this felt a bit weird, almost as if these folks were walking across our dining room to get to their apartments. So for a long time I didn’t think much of our terrace, especially because our view is onto the parking spaces in front of the house. Compared to the neighbors behind us who have an enormous garden all to themselves, our little parking lot terrace seemed a bit lame (nul as they say in French).

Here is our view of the parking lot, our garage is on the far right:

But then I started to wonder why I was so attached to my privacy that I resented my neighbors’ intrusion into my meal. All of them are nice people, so the more I think of it, the more I think it’s actually great that we do interact with our neighbors a bit, considering how isolated most people are these days. And yes, we sit right next to a driveway. But there are only 8 apartments in this house, so it’s not like there is constant traffic. And as you can see in the picture our view is not just of parking spots but also of big beautiful trees, lavender bushes, climbing vines, roses. For living in the city, we’re actually lucky to have a terrace at all, especially one surrounded by such greenery.

So today my moment of mindfulness came as I was eating my lunch on my little terrace, breathing deeply and gazing at the trees, feeling grateful that I have good food and a beautiful place where I can eat it. And though I didn’t actually see any of my neighbors, I think I would have been happy if I had.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dreams Do Come True - And Then What?

"Are you happier in France?" a visiting American friend once asked as we strolled along the banks of the Rhone River in Lyon.

I had to laugh, because my life in France was anything but dreamy, despite my expectation that I would indeed be happier once settled on French soil.

"Actually," I replied, "what I've learned is that I'm really good at being unhappy wherever I go!"

This should have come as no surprise to me; I've moved so many times in my life that I know well that the initial excitement eventually wears off. And yet, I'd continued to cultivate the fantasy that relocating to France and moving in with my boyfriend would mark the end to most of my troubles.

Surprisingly (for me at least), this is not what happened. I did leave some problems behind, but many new ones emerged, as they will.

At dinner the other night with a few other Anglophone expatriates, we talked about how pervasive that French fantasy is, and how people back home often tell us how lucky we are. Yet we still have to go to work, do the shopping, cook and clean and do all the other mundane things we did back in our own countries, but now in a context that can be quite confusing and alienating. It's no accident that many of my friends are expats, despite my initial determination to seek out French friendships. I think we develop a fellowship over shared trials and tribulations, of constantly dealing with things that make no sense and having to negotiate our cross-cultural relationships. We compare notes about our French partners, and often end up saying “Oh, I thought it was just him, but maybe it’s a French thing!”

What do you do once the fantasy fades, when your dream comes true but it's not at all what you expected? How do you deal with the reality of daily life in France, which is frustrating and downright infuriating more often than it is blissful and beautiful?

We agreed that we do get so caught up in our everyday routine that we take for granted living in a country so many people dream of. And we concluded that we could appreciate where we are a little more, even naming some of the things we liked best about Lyon. In fact, this blog is part of my effort to keep that sense of appreciation going, because it's true there are so many things to love about this city and this country.

But ultimately, for me it’s not just about appreciating France; it's about being in the present moment, wherever I am. I know I have a tendency to search outside of myself for solutions to my dissatisfaction, and to move on when things get either rough or boring. Now that I’ve been in France for 3 years and the doldrums have set in, it would be so tempting to pine after another fantasy destination. If I were single, I'm sure I would already have left in search of greener pastures.

But my partner is here, and needs to be in Lyon for at least 2 more years. So for now my life is here too. What's a restless soul to do?

This is where my mindfulness practice comes in (see sidebar if you haven't already). I’m beginning to understand that part of living mindfully is also being present where I am; seeing the beauty around me instead of fantasizing about other places or getting caught up in all that bothers me here. So from now on my goal is to bring my practice to where I live, so that I can learn to love where I am, moment by moment.