This weekend, I got out and mingled with people who, gasp, actually live in Paris.
It hadn’t occurred to me before I left that I would spend all my time with other foreigners in class, and so wouldn’t get to meet anyone from France (other than my fantastic teacher). So while I now know a lot more about Italy, Spain, Venezuela, Brazil, Slovakia and Cuba that I might have otherwise, the main discussions I’ve had with actual French people have been along the lines of “Je vais prendre une demi-baguette, s’il vous plait.”
Friday night, I went to this “meet in Paris” group that I found on the Internet. Trying really, really hard to be late, as I’ve noticed most people are here, I managed to arrive at 19h45, as opposed to 19h30. I arrived at the same time as another young woman, who was also looking uncomfortable and closely scrutinizing the people sitting at each table we passed.
When we got to the end of the bar, Marie and I introduced ourselves and sat down together. No one else from the group ever showed up, but we had a really interesting couple of hours together.
I’m ashamed to admit we talked in English, because her English was absolutely perfect. Better than mine, in fact, she kept asking really nuanced questions that completely stumped me. She teaches English at a high school in one of the wealthier suburbs of Paris, and was quick to inform me that not all Paris suburbs are poor and rocked by violence.
Anyway, we spent a lot of time talking about differences between North American and French cultures. For example, she confirmed that my dad’s theory I should just sit down with some French people at a cafe and say I’d like to speak with them for practice was unsound. She was fascinated by the fact that in New York, the person on the subway next to you may spill a ton of secrets to you, and then happily get off at the next stop without ever seeing you again. A French person, she said, is unfailingly polite, but it takes a long, long time for them to open up in any real way. Once they have, though, it’s something that won’t be easily thrown away.
At the end of the night, she started for the little air kisses, and then stopped and laughed. She said that she finds a hug a really big invasion of space, and she knows that people who are used to hugging feel the same about always kissing hello and goodbye. I told her I’m getting used to it.
My second encounter was a lunch today at the home of one of the girls in my class, Maria. She’s from Slovakia, but her fiance is French, and after living apart for years they’re finally making a home here. She lives with him, his two young female cousins, who are students here. An aunt also joined us for lunch.
Now THIS was mainly in French. Really speedy, colloquial, talk-over-each-other French. But it was pretty cool. One of the cousins had lived in Montreal, and she thought it was amazing. How people there will take a verb like enjoy, and frenchify it, making “enjoyais.” So they’ll say “As tu enjoyais ton weekend?” and not even realize that there’s a bit of franglais in there.
It was also an amazing lunch. It took about three hours, and had course after course after course. Including really fantastic cheese. And wine!
They’re really a very worldly family, and they had a lot to say about how other countries were less gastronomically advanced than France — which I totally agree with! For example, everything in Ireland is deep fried, and it’s impossible to get good fresh produce. And they just don’t get how we don’t have little grocery stores everywhere, but rather huge big-box store. Apparently one of the cousin’s friends, while visiting Canada, took a picture of a bulk box of Cheerios, she just couldn’t wrap her head around how big it was.
I feel like I’m finally fully settling in here, with only a month left to enjoy!