Sunday, July 12, 2015

First Week in Paris

We've been in Paris for 11-1/2 days and every time that I think that we are starting to figure things out, I realize that we have not yet begun to scratch the surface of understanding life in Paris. We still get lost occasionally, but we are learning to do the basics such as buying groceries, renting bikes, banking, getting around on the Metro, and ordering food in a restaurant.  Our biggest blunder so far was to purchase a rotisserie chicken at the local organic food market.  It ended up costing around 40 euro.  I think that I need to learn to understand how to understand the answer when I ask "how much is that?"

Grande Epicerie
Of course, we've also been visiting a couple of tourist sites every day including Notre Dame Cathedral, the Picasso Museum, Sacré Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, the Monet Museum, and the Bastille (or at least the remains of the Bastille), as well as lots of chocolateries, patisseries, and gelatories. Despite all of the walking, I don't think I am likely to loose any weight in Paris.

For the past week, Joan and I have also been taking a French immersion class.  My class has 8 students representing a wide range of nationalities (Venezuala, Mexico, Indonesia, Phillipines, Canada, South Africa and the U.S.), ages (18-64), and backgrounds.  When we signed up for the class we given a description of each level of instruction and asked to choose the appropriate level of instruction. At the bottom level of instruction there was a choice between "beginner" and "complete beginner" According to the materials, I should categorize myself as a complete beginner if:

                    - I can spot if someone is speaking French even if I don’t understand the meaning.
                    - I know a few very basic words.
                    - I cannot complete basic needs in French.

Bronwyn using her phone to navigate
Beginners were supposed to be able to ask and answer basic questions, understand directions, order food in a restaurant, and many other things.  Clearly, I was a complete beginner.  Unfortunately, I accidentally did better than expected on the placement exam despite answering six pages of questions with "??????".  As a result, I was thrown into a class that included at least two people who were much more advanced than me.

At first, the class was overwhelming and frustrating.  Although I only understand about 20% of what is said in class, I do feel like I am learning a little French and my presence in the class makes the others feel much better about their language skills.  For example, I have been a source of entertainment for the rest of the class as I struggle to correctly pronounce basic phrases.  Even a simple phrase, such as "I live in the United States" is a tongue twister for me.  The French version is "J'habite aux États Unis."  It looks simple and if I saw the words written on paper I might guess that "États Unis" refers to the United States, but unfortunately it sounds nothing like it looks on paper.  The French like to run words together and ignore consonants just to confuse people like me.  Pronounced properly, it sounds something like "jah-beet ah-say-tah-zoo-nee."
People on the sidewalk outside fashion show

One thing that I am enjoying learning is French idioms, which are full of politically incorrect expressions.  My favorites are "femme de foyer" (housewife) and "lèche-vitrine" (which means "window shopping" but literally translates to "licking the glass").

As we enter our second full week in Paris, we are falling into a routine - fresh croissants for breakfast, an afternoon snack (goûte), an evening stroll (with great people watching particularly during fashion week), and a late dinner,  Paris continues to produce new surprises, such as stumbling onto movie stars and fashion designers exiting from a John-Paul Gaultier fashion show. I find myself looking forward to learning to speak and understand French a little better so that I can absorb even more of the fascinating culture.  Maybe I will find time to learn to play boules with the old men in the park.  Maybe AT&T will finally send me the unlock code for my phone so that I can insert a French SIM card.  Who knows what the new week will bring?

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