Tag Archives: French

Americans in Paris: 2006

After leaving Guam in June of 2005, we began a new journey towards the other side of the world.  But first, a pit stop in Monterey, California to learn the language of love, le français.  My husband and I went to school just like our kids from 8 am – 3 pm Monday through Friday for 6 months.  The  differences were my husband and I lived, breathed, and dreamed in French 24/7 for those 6 months, AND I still had all of my mommy/housewife duties too.  Everyone tried to chip in and help, but overall, I was stressed out with wanting to be the perfect French student, mom, and wife. 

Miraculoulsy, we all made it through those 6 months and packed up all our household goods to be shipped overseas to Paris, France.

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Theeey’re Heeere

If you entered our house right now, you’d wonder what country you were in.  There is a non-stop mix of Swedish, French, and English in the air (and the occasional, “Oops, that’s Spanish, not French!”).  Our (adult) Swedish friends speak English.  And their oldest daughter, who is 11, has been learning English so can carry on a conversation in elementary English fairly well.  All three of their children speak French (as well as Swedish, of course).  All but our youngest son can carry on a decent conversation in French, although he speaks as if he is fluent.  He likes to French-isize English words.  It’s quite funny!  And I keep bringing Spanish words into the French conversations.  So it will be interesting to see the interactions when we go down to the farm in Florida tomorrow where no one speaks anything but (southern) English.  After translating back and forth, my head should be spinning by the end of each day!

After they arrived yesterday, we did our best to keep them awake (their time zone is 6 hours ahead).  I took them to Wal-Mart after dinner.  The kids decided they wanted to see the costumes and each found one they liked.  And I wanted to get just a few grocery items to sustain us today and of course candy for tonight’s ghouls and goblins.  Our refrigerator looks so empty everytime I open it.  But we are leaving tomorrow for a week, and I don’t want to leave anything to go bad.  Not something I want to deal with when we get back. 

I’m off to finish a Red Riding Hood costume and make sure everyone else has all their parts and pieces for tonight. 

Happy Haunting!

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Répondez S’il Vous Plaît

Even though it’s French, I think most people knows what RSVP means:  call the phone number on the invitation and say whether you can attend the event or not.  And the most important part of that is “whether you can attend the event or not.”  I have been sending out birthday invitations for my children’s parties yearly for over 15 years and then there are those for adult parties as well.  I can probably count on one hand the number of people who have actually RSVPed – to all of the parties.  I have gone so far as to call everyone on my invitation list to see whether or not they were coming as I had to know in order to plan for the event.  Why do people blow this off?  Why do they assume if they don’t call, the host knows they are not coming?  Or that they think, we’re close friends, so they know I’m coming? 

My daughter is having several friends over this weekend for a sleepover for her luau birthday party.  We sent invitations out several days ago, and yesterday my daughter came home and told me we had forgotten to put our address on the invitation (oops).  I usually go through the 5 W’s (Who, What, Where, When, and Why) but this time forgot the Where.  After thinking a short time, though, I said that maybe this was a good thing.  If they were coming, they would need to call to get directions and then we’d get the RSVPs.  That still leaves the ones that don’t call because they can’t come.  But we still have 24 hours before the RSVP deadline, so we will see.

The French are big into dinner parties.  We got invited to many while we lived in Paris and even continue to be invited to some as we have met French families that have been transferred by their military to the area we live in now.  It’s funny how, no matter who is hosting the dinner, it feels exactly the same as another.  We are invited to arrive around 7 or 8 pm.  We go inside, greeting our hosts with handshakes or kisses to each cheek.  We are taken to the living room to drink apéritives and eat hors d’oeuvres.  And every few minutes the host walks around the room with one of the plates of food for each person to take some.  After an hour or so, we all go to the dining room, where we eat anywhere from 3 to 5 courses, each thing being served one at the time.  The wine does not stop the entire meal.  If your glass is close to empty, it is refilled.  By the time dessert is served, it is nearly 11 pm, and I am tipsy and tired.  But ususally we sit and talk some more, sometimes at the dining table, but usually back in the living room, with coffee or tea, probably to help with the tipsy and tired so we can make it back home.  But since I drink neither, I sit there stifling yawns hoping my husband will drive home. 

Foreigners love to practice their English, but sometimes they are uncomfotable not knowing certain words, so we end up speaking French for the evening.  My husband loves it.  I like it that I can practice my French too, but after an evening that starts when I am usually winding down for the day and getting ready for bed, I am pushing the full meter and don’t want to see, hear, or speak French for a while afterwards.  We’ve been invited by a French couple to a wine party next week.  My husband says that I don’t have to go (I’m not a big wine person).  But it would be weird; other couples have been invited and he would be there alone.  I know he’d be fine, and he’s just trying to make it less stressful for me, but I would feel badly for the hosts wondering why I wouldn’t come.  So, I will go and practice my French and sip some wine and hang out with my hubby (sans enfants – hey, there’s a motivation).  But first, I need to be sure he already RSVPed.

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Back to the Books

Now that my kids have been back to school for 3 weeks, it’s my turn.  Last night I started the second half of a Spanish class I started in the spring.  Then, the class was held during the day and mainly consisted of senior citizens, most wanting to have a better understanding of the language when they go on missions trips with their churches.  They had some neat stories about their travels to different Spanish-speaking countries.  This time the class is at night and is full of people more around my age.  I’m sure I’ll gradually find out their reasons for taking the class.

I took Spanish in high school, and since the French I learned 3 years ago has stuck fairly well with me, I thought I’d give Spanish a whirl again.  I don’t think I can beat the training we had with the military program, but I figure I’ve got nothing to lose in trying (except the $65 I paid for the class).  I need to be a bit more disciplined than I was in the spring though.  I’ve bought lots of Spanish workbooks and even language tapes and cds.  I’ve downloaded podcasts to my ipod.  I’ve listened to a few here and there when I’ve had the chance.  But I think actually going to the classes will help the most.  In the spring I studied a little between the once-a-week classes but not nearly as much as I did with the French.  Maybe the fact that there were tests and grades with the French class motivated me a bit more and that the class was held every weekday probably helped as well. 

When I first started researching blog spots a month ago, I came across some foreign language blogs on livejournal.com.  There were quite a few posts by people who are trying to improve in a second language.  I found one girl who speaks English but grew up with a Spanish speaker at home as well.  She is now trying to improve on her French which she took in college.  We are in the process of meeting on line and trying to set up a way we can help one another.  I hope it works and that this might be another way to improve on my Spanish. 

As I continue to look at other blogs, it is amazing all the info out there in cyberspace.  One website I found is a little different than others, experienceproject.com.  I think it’s a neat concept.  I found it while searching for military families who are getting ready to separate/retire from the military.  I found a posting there by a woman who is having a hard time adjusting to civilian life; as a result I met a slew of others with similar interests to mine.  I met a brand new Navy wife last week who is getting ready to move to Guam; it will be their first duty station.  She seemed so excited yet nervous, but I think I helped alleviate some of her worries. 

The internet is a great place to learn new things, meet new people, share experiences…  I could spend hours on the computer sometimes.  But I don’t think it can beat face-to-face interaction.  So, I’m off for now to go learn and share with my family.

Hasta luego!

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word (noun): a unit of language that functions as a principal carrier of meaning

It seems my kids are always asking what a word means.  If I say, “Go look it up in the dictionary” like parents are supposed to, they just say, “Nevermind” and would never find out what it means.  Sometimes I just tell them.  Other times (especially when I’m unsure on a meaning, but I don’t let them know that!), I get the dictionary out and look it up “with” them.  My daughter is working on her homework as I sit here typing, asking me what quixotic means.  Now there’s one that I’m gonna have to pull the dictionary out for.  A few minutes ago she asked me if chausette is feminine or masculine.  That one I can help her with, but I don’t and hand the French dictionary over to her instead.  She needs to start looking up things on her own.

Last night, the high school had an open house where parents can meet their children’s teachers.  When we met our daughter’s English teacher, he immediately told us what a good student she is (*proud parent moment*).  He said she is a very good writer.  As much as some children say they dislike writing, I think it is an important part of lives.  Our kids have travelled quite a bit, more than some adults.  When we have moved or gone on trips, we have encouraged them to write while we are on the road or in the air.  Sometimes, we pull out their old journals and laugh at some of the entries.  I think they will appreciate having these stories more and more as they get older.  My parents saved some of my school papers and projects.  Every so often I pull a different one out and show it to my kids.  We laugh at some of the funny misspellings or silly pictures.  With the introduction of the computer and internet in the immediate past, there may be more “writing” going on now than people think.  So people need to be careful with what and how they write.

Choice of words is very importabnt.  My daughter’s assignment is to use as many different words to describe one of Edgar Allen Poe’s works.  I don’t think quixotic is going to describe many of his writings.   When my children get mad at each other, there are some of the typical You’re stupid. or You’re a bonehead! that come out in the quarrels.  As they get older, they are hearing much stronger language at times, at school, in movies, in music, out in public even.  I tell them if they decide to use these words, it will make them look stupid. 

We all know there are times when we have unwisely chosen words.  They may not be curse words or even bad words at all but could just have been the wrong words at the wrong time.  We get tired, stressed, or distracted, and we react with the first words that come to our minds.  I know I am guilty of using these wrong words with my family quite a bit.  They are the ones that I interact with the most, and they usually get the brunt of my bad moods.  I am trying to stop, take a moment, and wait for better words to use in situations like these. 

One of my husband’s cousins lived with him during college.  He would often ask his cousin what he wanted to do.  His cousin would respond with, “It doesn’t matter” or ” I don’t care.”  My husband got tired of coming up with things to do, so he started saying, “Okay, let’s go wash my car” or “The yard needs mowing.”  I think his cousin eventually got the picture.

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History Lessons

I have always loved to hear family stories.  I remember as a little girl listening to my grandmother tell my sisters and me about growing up in South Carolina with 4 brothers and 3 sisters and then moving to Florida when she was 12.  I wanted to be where she spoke of.  It was then that I started asking about ancestors.  I wanted to know where our families had come from.  My mother’s side is mainly English with some Scottish.  My father’s fraternal grandparents were Czech and his maternal side was French.  My mother-in-law and her mother have found someone from one side of their family was on the Mayflower and another side back to Robert the Bruce in Scotland.  We have compared a few notes between my husband’s family and mine and see where some of their paths could have crossed in the past.  With all the resources on the internet now, I have learned new things my parents couldn’t pass on to me about their families and have met a lot of cousins. 

Before we moved to Paris a couple of years ago, I met a distant cousin through the internet who lives in France.  He didn’t speak any English, but I had just learned to speak French.  So when we moved there, my family and I were able to visit the quaint town of Muttersholtz, Alsace, France where my great-great grandparents lived before they immigrated to the US.  There, we were taken on a horse-drawn carriage tour of the city by some other distant cousins.  We kept meeting cousins along the ride, and it felt like a reunion.  A few months later we were invited back as special guests to the unveiling of a book that had been written about the town’s history.  They had put a picture of my children and me in the book under a 2-page write-up about how my great-great grandparents, a couple of uncles, and a few cousins had left France for the “New Frontier” of the United States.  They seemed so proud of their connection to the US and of having several of the off-spring of previous citizens of Muttersholtz in their midst that day.

I have fun reasearching my family’s genealogy, and maybe one day my children will enjoy reading the stories and interesting facts I have collected over the years.  I know they love history class at school, so maybe they will love their family history as well.  My youngest son’s 4th grade history class was based on the Greeks all year long.  I knew he was really into it when everytime we went to the bookstore or library, he came to me with an armload of books about the ancient Greeks or a Greek god or a Greek dictionary.  He couldn’t get enough of it.  He even did a special report, not assigned by the teacher, for the class.  My kids come home often with, “Did you know…?” and have a new interesting fact unknown to them before that day.  

History is important in many ways.  It tells the story of life.  It tells us where we came from and may give a glimpse to where we are going.  It tells what may have been done wrong in the past and gives us the opportunity to do it right or maybe just better the next time.

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Yo hablo. Sie sprechen. Nous parlons.

There are almost 7,000 languages in the world today.  Wow.  After Chinese, English is the most widely spoken language.  That makes it easy for us English-speakers; we think we really don’t need to learn another language.  We are required to take a language in high school.  I took Spanish, and I don’t think I could hold a conversation with anyone hispanic at all.  I could point and grunt one- to two-word sentences, I think.  Buenos días!  Cómo estás?  Gato.  Blanco.  Hasta la vista.

When it was time to attend war college a couple of years ago, my husband got to choose which one he preferred.  Most go to Rhode Island (Navy) or Alabama (Air Force)… He, however, is a big language nut.  He can say, “It’s a beautiful day!” in more than 20 languages.  He has been all over the world, thanks to the US Navy, and has always tried to converse with the locals.  So, he chose L’Ecole Militaire (the French War College) in Paris.  But before we went, we got sent to beautiful Monterey, CA for 6 months so that he could learn French first.  When we got there, his class consisted of only 5 military personnel, so they asked if any spouses would like to attend as well.  So I got to go to “work” with him from 8 – 4 every weekday and learn French too.  It was one of the most stressful 6 months of my life.  We have 3 school-aged children who are used to having a stay-at-home, volunteer-at-school, help-with-homework mom.  I was a I-have-to-study-too mom for those 6 months also.  When we arrived in France, however, I was a most thankful mom to have learned the language.  Granted when I spoke, they knew I wasn’t a local, but they understood me, and I could have a decent conversation.  And I think I still can.

We decided to put our children in a bilingual school in Paris, as opposed to the American or International schools that a lot of others did.  We wanted our children to learn the language as well.  Half of their courses were taught in English, the other half in French, so they learned French fairly quickly.  French K-12 schools are tougher than most American ones.  (When you get to university level, it’s the opposite.)  From what I can tell, most European children begin to learn a second language at the elementary level.  And it’s not half an hour a week.  It is a regular, everyday course. 

Right now, we are having a small tug-of-war with our kids’ high school.  We are trying to convince them to move our freshman daughter up to French IV from French II, as we didn’t know until her older brother took French II there last year after first arriving back to the States, that the level they took in France was much higher than we thought was parallel with US language class levels.  After he suffered (from boredom) the first semester, we asked his teacher to move him up to level IV for the second semester.  She wouldn’t budge, so he suffered (from boredom again) in French III.  Last year, they offered only French I year-round in the middle school, so we encouraged our daughter to take it just to keep her French alive.  She was bored beyond belief, but it was her easy A course, I kept trying to convince her.   This semester she has a different teacher than her brother did last year, and the teacher is noticing that our daughter’s ability is beyond the French II level.  So it may be a little more promising this time around.  On verra…

With the hispanic population increasing in the States, I am finding Spanish might become a little more helpful.  So I have decided to brush up on my “second” language and am taking a course at the local adult learning center.  I often find myself saying a French word instead of a Spanish one, but it’s not as hard for me as it is for some of the others as there are a lot of similarities between the two languages (and the back of my brain is gradually opening some locked filing cabinets from 20 years ago).  I may never use it, but I am having fun. 

Es un día bonito!

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