Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tongue tied

For a change instead of the usual travelogue commentary I've been posting I thought I'd pen some thoughts on living here and adapting to french life.

I'll start with the language. Before arriving in France I took a year long french course at UCSF. I walked away with the oral and writing skills of an 8 year old, tops. This is not to say that the course wasn't worth the time, it's just that French is a difficult language to master, especially written. It's true that I improved upon the very basic french required of all Canadian school children up to the age of 14. But not by much. Combining what I had learned from my various french courses I could sing Frère Jacque, ask for the time and declare that it is raining. As we all know the best way to learn a language is to completely immerse oneself in the country of the desired language. And then to promptly make an ass of oneself for a very very long time. The experience is severely humbling to say the least, but after some time now I can finaly say that I have progressed. But according to some folks not in the right direction.

You see, I have been picking up not only a number of bad grammar habits, but I have also developed, apparently, quite the potty mouth. For the longest time B, my live in tutor, never taught me how to swear in french, and rightly so. It would have been too tempting not to flex some provocative verbal muscle and then forget it was provocative. So, for a while I was pure, preoccupying myself with proper verb conjugations, the use of the preposition in french, the subjunctive, etc.. Then I started working and it is during then that I learned some new vocabulary. When I told B how I was conversing with people at the boulangerie and at the pharmacy he promptly made a list of words and expressions that I am forbidden to use.

They are as follows:
fait chier - to make one shit (apparently I pronounce this like a real Parisienne!)
bordel - hellish (I don't why this creates such a scene)
putain - prostitute
salope - bitch (this is bordering on the punch the c sharp word gives in english)
connard - asshole
enculé/enfoiré - sodomized
putain bordel de Dieu - not sure of the translation here, but apparently it gets quite a reaction
merde - shit
Any combination of the above

B and all his friends and even his parents could use these words, but not me. I thought that was unfair, and rather hypocritical. He told me that he didn't want people to get the wrong impression that I was raised by wolves. He has a point there. So instead of "fait chier" I say "quel galère", and instead of describing something as "bordel", I substitute with "vraiment pénible". Especially if I'm in an interview or speaking with an immigration officer. I know that it seems pretty self evident that one does not easily drop these words in conversations, but hell, I hear people (respectable ones) use them everyday! The French, it's true, like to swear. A lot.

So then to add to that there are words and expressions I have picked up that no educated adult would say. I once asked for "des patates" from a potato vendor. She looked at me a little strangely as she passed me my 'taters. B has pointed out that "pomme de terre" is what I should've used.

All in all still trying, still making an ass of myself, but ultimately getting a handle on this strange and lovely language.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter in the countryside, again

Regardless of whether or not one observes Easter, I can't think of a better time to take note of the regeneration occuring in nature than now. For a former prairie girl spring has always been a greatly anticipated season. But I find that there is even more excitement of the prospect of spring living in France. Four months of humid grey chilly weather is a loooong time for those not used to it, especially in a rather cold apartment with no insulation. So here's to spring, the sun and the warmth. And to all things returning from a long winter nap.

The following photos are from our Easter traipse to the Sarthe and the Loire Valley.

Château Villandry, built during the French Renaissance and famous for it's gardens, notably those of vegetables. The interior is regrettably in not as fine form as the landscape.

The always magnificent Loire River. There are many beautiful and awe inspiring rivers in the world but the Loire has always struck me as the most tranquil and lovely I have ever seen. It is easy to see why the nobility in french history were drawn to this region what with all the natural beauty and mild micro climate.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The coast of Bretagne

A few weeks ago we visited southern Bretagne around Nantes in the Morbihan department, in particular around the salt fields of Guérande. The coast is quite rugged and the countryside lush and green with rolling hills. This past weekend we did a tour furthur north by Lannion, situated by the English Channel to visit our friend Geoffroy who was taking a break from Paris. B and I were also looking to take a break from urban living. Honestly, we were expecting fog, overcast skies, and reading by the fireplace. Instead, we got sunburnt. yay!

Being in this part of Bretagne was a strange déjà vu of sorts. The vegetation and rough beauty of the coast had me mentally situated in Monterey and Carmel. But the California coast has nothing as exotic and bizarre as the Côte de Granit Rose. For kilometres and kilometres the coast is defined by ancient natural formations of pink granite with names like The Witch, The Crepes, The Rabbits, etc. The granite is worn down, quite smooth in some areas by the water. The beaches for the most part are scratchy and gravelly. But then you stumble upon some beaches with smooth silky white sand when you least expect it.

The entire time we were here we ate one of two things. Seafood and crepes (also a heavy dose of bacon and potatoes one evening because everything shuts down at 9pm and that's all that was left in the pantry). And sometimes in marvelous combinations. Everything is prepared with sea salty butter and served with brut cider. We're not talking about sweet artificially flavoured apple cider, we are talking about the real stuff. Aromatic local apples, refreshing gold, dry finish, full flavour.

Apart from the local fare to admire, there is also the local culture which I find fascinating (and yes, that's because I am a history nerd). Bretagne is a peninsula in the northwest of France with origins more closely aligned with that of it's Celtic neighbours across the Channel than with it's Frankish neighbours in the majority of France. For a long time the Bretons were able to fend off being absorbed into France, mostly as a result of an alliance with Danish Vikings in the early Middle Ages. Even after joining France in 1532 the Breton language, culture, cuisine, etc. continues to be quite distinct.