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TEF Wasn’t So Tough; No Nightmare for KJ and Tony; Louis and Marie Live On

The Alliance Française de Paris offices in Paris
The Alliance Française de Paris


Friday morning I was so anxious not to be late to the Alliance Française de Paris for the Test d’Evaluation de Français (TEF language test) for citizenship that I arrived one hour early, even though my bus wasn’t running for some reason and had to head to the Métro instead. Arriving so early gave me time to stop in a café for a coffee and read through an old book I had found on the shelf: Berlitz French Grammar Handbook published in 1993.

Cover of the Berlitz French Grammar Handbook

It was very handy indeed for a refresher course, but while reading it, I realized how little grammar I actually have under my belt, how difficult it is to learn and memorize the verb endings, as well as simply understand the many French verb tenses. This has been a rude awakening for me, not only realizing how pathetic my knowledge of French is after all these years of living here, but even more so, how little grammar I know, period…even in English.

Sure, I write just about every day and manage to write fairly correctly in English, but do I know why my writing is correct in English? No! I’ve taken no writing courses and grammar was taught in high school which is too many years ago to count. My college education was in fashion, which didn’t require any profound knowledge of English, either! So, even English was learned organically, by the seat of my pants, much like my French which was learned exclusively via the French-English conversation group we ran for 20 years, “Parler Parlor.”

To prepare for the TEF exam, I worked once a week for several weeks with Stephen Lynch, an American French professor who knew just how to prepare me for the test, which is different than teaching the language. That was the perfect approach in this situation. We focused on the parts that were most difficult, which turned out to be written comprehension. In fact, my ability to read French text (that is not legalese, since I’m rather adept at that!) and fully understand it is “nulle” (non-existent). One thing I learned from the exercises is that when the French write, they write the same way they think, which is not at all direct, but very indirect and circular. It’s not just the French itself that escaped me, but the true meaning from their philosophic, esoteric point of view. Even Stephen couldn’t get all the answers right when we were practicing together. At least I knew then that if I get these answers wrong, it wouldn’t be entirely the fault of my inability to read the text, but to put myself in the mind of a French person. Impossible!

At 9 a.m. we were welcomed into a multi-media room at the Alliance Française de Paris on Boulevard Raspail. Established in 1883 by Paul Cambon, the Alliance Française was established with the aim of promoting French culture and language across the globe. Over the years, it has become a resounding success, boasting a vast network that spans over 132 countries and comprises more than 822 Alliances Françaises.

There were six of us, each at a different computer station. The keyboard was AZERTY, not QWERTY, as I suspected it would be, posing a real problem for me, as I have never typed on a keyboard for French. Fortunately, one of the test administrators pointed out that on the screen there is a little chart of the letters with accents making it easier to use. That helped speed things up.

An AZERTY French keyboard

I was fully aware of what the tests would be like, so believe it or not, I breezed through Part I and was the first to leave the room after only one hour. This is not to say that I answered every section correctly, as I am sure I made a few mistakes (one question I didn’t answer fast enough), but having prepared for taking the test the way I had with Stephen was clearly helpful. The parts that were toughest were exactly the parts I knew would be tough…the ability or inability to read a text and answer multiple-choice questions about it. Instead of trying to comprehend the text fully, I looked for the clues and through a process of elimination, made a choice. I have no idea if the choices were right or wrong, but instead of stressing out over it, I just moved on. According to the website, the points are calibrated based on the difficulty of the questions…so let’s hope those count for less than some of the others.

After lunch was another session, this time with one test administrator who was to determine my speaking level. What a piece of cake that was! She asked me to pretend she was a friend and convince her to either go to a park or a museum as an outing. Since this is what I do regularly, it was so easy; almost laughable. The second part was to pretend I was phoning an organic supermarket and asking about their delivery capability. Again, “du gâteau!” In less than 10 minutes the session was done and I was sure I had aced that part.

Unfortunately, I won’t know for another four to six weeks if I have passed the test or not, but left there confident that I answered about 75% correctly in the morning, scored 100% on the oral test, and if that gets me passed, then hallelujah!

As a result of this process, it gives me the incentive to actually take French lessons to learn how to read and write…at least better than I do…and all this after 28 years of being “nulle.”


Last week I wrote about an article in the New York Post: “How an American couple’s dream of ex-pat Paris life became a grande nightmare” and commented on all the things they had done wrong before moving to France.

KJ and Tony from the Post's article "How an American couple’s dream of ex-pat Paris life became a grande nightmare"

It wasn’t surprising to have gotten a response directly from them, but was surprised that they weren’t entirely pissed off by my commentary. In fact, they were quite nice about it, but did want to explain that they had been railroaded by the author of the article.

According to KJ and Tony, “The writer was going for a particular angle that he wouldn’t get off no matter what we said. He took our answering a question about a bad experience with an Uber driver in Paris and blew that up into French ‘haughtiness’ towards Americans.”

Furthermore, “The article’s headline about our ‘nightmare’ is laughable. The word was never used in the interview or follow-up. Nor was there anything about a ‘disaster’ or any other overarching negative summary.”

KJ and Tony just wanted me (and you) to know that they did not go to France unprepared, and I believe them. The New York Post is known as a conservative daily tabloid, owned by Rupert Murdoch, filled with gossip and clearly, non-truths. I admitted to them and apologized that I, too, had used the article to give you readers something juicy to digest! Either way, it all makes for a fun read and a fun topic!


If you want to learn about the intimate lives of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette, then take in the free exhibition at the Archives Nationales, “Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette et la Révolution. La famille royale aux Tuileries (1789-1792).”

Entrance to the Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette et la Révolution. La famille royale aux Tuileries (1789-1792) exhibit at the Archives Nationales

The building itself is worth a visit. The Hôtel de Soubise is one of the most beautiful representations of Rococo art in France. In 1700, François de Soubise bought the former estate of the Constable of France Olivier de Clisson, entrusted the architect Delamair with the task of bringing it up to date, and is now not only the museum of the national archives, but is classified as a historical monument.

The courtyard at the Archives Nationale

As the one-time residence of the Prince of Soubise, visitors can slip through the princess’s bedroom, which, it has been said, had yielded to the whims of Louis XIV. The apartments of the princess also exhibit important documents of French history, and facsimiles of archives such as the last letter written by Marie-Antoinette just a few hours before her execution.

The princess's bedroom in the Archives Nationale

The Princess’s bedroom at the Hôtel de Soubise, Archives Nationales

The museum showcases a selection of more than 1,800 documents to the public in the reception rooms of the hotel in order to provide visitors with a summary of the history of France via the “written monuments of the motherland” and to illustrate how writing, media, and diplomatic conventions have evolved over time. A favorite document is a large replica of the Plan de Paris by Louis Bretez, known as “Turgot.” I just love that my street is on it, although my street was there long before Turgot documented it, in the area of the city then known as “Temple.” This is where the temple of the Knights Templar sat!

A map of Paris on display at the Archives Nationale

18th century map of the Quartier Temple, showing Adrian Leeds' neighborhood as it was then

Closeup on Adrian’s neighborhood

In this current exhibition, on until July 3rd and then from August 30th to November 6th, the National Archives sheds new light on the little-known period that followed the events of 1789. This exhibition brings together a hundred documents, paintings, engravings and several pieces of furniture, and offers an immersion in the daily life of the royal family, from its departure from Versailles for the Tuileries until the fall of the monarchy.

“My friends, I will go to Paris with my wife and children: it is to the love of my good and faithful subjects that I entrust what I have most precious,” wrote Louis XVI, in a declaration made at Versailles on October 6, 1789.

The questions at the heart of the exhibit are: How did the royal family experience the period of great political tension that followed the outbreak of the Revolution? What was life like at court in the Tuileries? How did the king and queen feel about the tumult of the street and the pressure of public opinion?

Portrait of Marie Antoinette, by Adolf Ulrick Wertmüller, circa 1785-88

Marie Antoinette, by Adolf Ulrick Wertmüller

Rich in political events, this episode during a period of about a thousand days is well represented in the archives and iconography. A portrait of the queen, by the Swedish painter Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller painted circa 1785-1788, is among unpublished or little-known documents. Most fascinating (to me), were the letters between Marie-Antoinette and her (so-called) beloved Hans Axel von Fersen while she was incarcerated and shortly before her beheading. Many passages are coded and redacted. It’s the first time that these letters are being revealed to the public.

It had never occurred to me until visiting the exhibition, that Marie-Antoinette’s trial began on my birthdate (October 14th) in 1793 and she was beheaded two days later. Two-hundred-thirty years will have passed when I celebrate this coming October, and not only will I think of her, but can honestly say we’re still enamored of her and her fascinating and opulent life after more than two centuries. She lives on…

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds' face superimposed on a portrait of Marie AntoinetteAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®

Adrian as Marie Antoinette

P.S. We host or speak at a number of events each year. To see what we’re up to next, please see our Events page on our website.



  1. Stéphanie on April 24, 2023 at 8:50 am

    Hi there,
    Good for you to have taken the TEF test. Why didn’t you take the DELF B1 and how did you choose the test you took over the other? I’m wondering because TEF is only good for 2 years vs the B1 test no expiration date.

    • Adrian Leeds Group on May 3, 2023 at 11:42 am

      Thank you! Adrian only need to pass the test for the purpose of applying for her French citizenship.

  2. Jennie Quinn, San Francisco on April 24, 2023 at 11:24 am

    Hello Adrian, I was so happy to see your comments about Tony and KJ in today’s newsletter. When reading your first comments I thought they were a bit harsh, considering the source where you got your information. I am also happy to hear that they contacted you to clarify their situation and that you have seen the couple in a new light. The American press can be quite brutal as it makes for titillating reading. Who has any faith in the American press.

  3. Daniel Winiecki on April 24, 2023 at 1:05 pm

    Adrian, I look forward to Mondays as your post comes then. I have been out of work for close to six months and reading through it brings me back to my wife and I’s best vacation. Thank you from taking me away from my search and frustration to getting that job, fingers crossed.
    KJ & Tony took that step we all dream of and when you hit a wall look for that window or door, don’t forget to laugh. Its scary how people twist what they hear and if ever on a jury in US court you know what I mean, we were in the same courtroom as me???
    Congrats on the TEF (in four to six weeks) as that would be a full time job for me to pass , if at all!
    Hope to see you soon!

    • Adrian Leeds Group on May 3, 2023 at 11:41 am

      Thank you! Good luck on your job search.

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