A Ten Year Relationship With The French
It is so hard to believe — Saturday, I will celebrate ten years in France. I’ll never forget the shock of our first week here.
We moved into a furnished apartment in the 17th arrondissement with ugly furnishings, depressing carpets, but lots of space and awaited our shipment of belongings to come from the U.S. There was one other American in the building. Everyone else was very French, very “bourgeois.”
Our daughter started a bilingual private school only a couple days later. We bussed her across the city to this entirely new environment where she didn’t understand a word of the language. They handed her a long, long list of items she MUST have by the next day, very few of the words did we recognize. A trip to the neighborhood “papeterie” (stationary shop) and 850 francs later (about $160 at the time), she had all her school supplies and we were in shock. No, the kids couldn’t use pencil to do their math! Only blue fountain pens were allowed, but they had cleverly invented a special eraser pen to fix the mistakes. It was all so new to us.
Ruth Mastron, author of “Au Contraire! Figuring Out the French,” is preparing her cultural crossings presentation at the Living and Investing in France Conference (September 10 – 12) to warn the attendees of the eventual highs and lows so they will know the low points are completely normal. When they hit and your first thought is to pack your bags and head for more familiar ground (like home where the toilet is not separate from the bathroom), you’ll know if you just wait another week, the worst will be over.
Now, ten years later, I really get a sense of accomplishment, having not only lived through the roughest of times, but having learned how to accomplish just about anything by having really adapted the French method of maneuvering. What’s the secret? ESTABLISHING THE RELATIONSHIP FIRST.
Try it. Next time you attempt to speak to any French person in any situation, take a deep breath, pause and establish the relationship. “Bonjour Madame. Excusez-moi de vous déranger, main j’ai un petit problem…,” “Bonsoir Monsieur. Je suis désolée que je suis en retard. J’espère que vous avez me garder la table sur la terrasse?” You see, we think we save the other person time by omitting the formalities. Then we learn that by doing so, we’ve just everyone’s time when the reaction we get is negative! Ever since embodiment of this concept, there are fewer rough spots and life in France has been a breeze. This works even when you’re just passing through.
For those not attending the conference, but living in the DC area, Ruth and I will be speaking Thursday night, September 9th, at Brasserie Les Halles, over a glass of wine (or whatever is your pleasure)…me about being single in the City of Light (and loving it) and she about being married to a Frenchmen (and loving it, too). So, be sure to come say hello if you can. (Visit /frenchproperty/conference/LIF_DC/LIF_DC_single.html for more information.)
And in celebration of ten happy years in France, I’m taking Labor Day off to be with family. Hope you don’t mind that there will be no Parler Paris newsletter that Monday. I’ll be back on Wednesday the 9th writing from Tennessee, where I will be having culture shock in reverse as I usually do!
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
E-mail: [email protected]
P.S. On a special note, congratulations goes to author Toni Kamins on the recent publication of “Franceguide for the Jewish Traveler” — Maison de la France’s latest edition. A reception to launch the book will be held next Wednesday at the Consulate General of France on Fifth Avenue in New York (by invitation). Toni is also the author of “The Complete Jewish Guide to France” and numerous articles widely published on this subject. For your copy of the guide, contact Maison de la France at [email protected]