Goodbye France!

I have been back in the US for a month now and have had time to reflect more on my experience in France. I wanted to wrap up my blog with a few of the highlights of my time abroad.

  • Friends and family

First and foremost, it was special forming a real relationship with Cyril’s family, getting to know his friends to the point of them becoming my friends, and also adventuring out and making my own friends. Learning French enabled me to do this which brings me to my next highlight.

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Cyril and I with his mom and stepdad

The sunny south

  • French

I am now comfortable speaking French! It is no easy task learning another language; living in France and surrounding myself with French was necessary. I still remember how the language sounded before I started learning; completely alien and unintelligible! The process has been like a blurry picture slowly coming into focus. Very rewarding as one of my life goals was to become fluent in another language.

Thoughts on learning French

Embarrassing things I have said in French

Embarrassing things I have said in French Round 2

Embarrassing things I have said in French-round 3

  • Volleyball

I loved playing volleyball with ACBB, first as part of the Panda’s and then with the departmental woman’s team. I am not sure if the endeavor was a net loss or gain of calories though, with all of the aperitifs after the games and drinks after the Friday night practices:)

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  • Visitors

Visits in France from my favorite people were the best. I adored playing the tour guide and showing them around.

  • Paris

What an amazing city! I got to know it intimately by walking around and getting lost, biking with velib, and doing a book of paper chases. The museums are world-class and the parks are lovely- one of my favorites was right next to my home.

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Parc de Billancourt cannot be beat in March!
  • Food adventures

French cuisine lives up to its reputation; eating out and family meals were always a treat. My favorites were cheese and fresh bread. We had 4 bakeries within 10 minute walking distance, something I will miss dearly in the US.

Six week mark ramblings

Escargots

Misadventures in Easter egg dyeing

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Mmmm frog legs!
  • The Euro football championship

Last June and July were crazy with the Euro in full swing. If only France had beaten Portugal in the Finals!

Euro 2016

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  • The 2017 French presidential elections

It was a roller coaster election that unfolded with scandals, plot twists, and unlikely candidates gaining prominence. It was fascinating to see the process from beginning to end. The political atmosphere was tumultuous with the French wrestling with many of the same issues as Americans had a few months before. In the end there were many records broken, some good some bad, including the youngest president ever, the largest voting abstention rates ever, the first time that neither of the two major parties’ candidates made it to the final voting round, and the most legislative turnover ever. Even though it was long, drawn-out, and stressful at times, this was a highlight because I felt like I bonded with the French through the process.

  • Teaching

I enjoyed the challenge of teaching. I learned a lot about myself and more about English grammar than I ever cared to know. The students were really the best part of the gig. My elementary class students were so darn cute and my private lesson students all had interesting personalities and different learning styles.

Le commencement

Week one impressions

French kids say the darnedest things

French Kids Say the Darnedest Things Round 2

French Kids Say the Darnedest Things Round 3

French Kids Say the Darnedest Things Round 4

French kids say the darnedest things round 5

English is Weird

English is Weird Reprise

American and French Education, contrasted

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  • Comedy

It was a lot of fun going to the smallest, most tucked away comedy clubs of the capital and paying 10 euros to see talented comedians who weren’t famous yet.
Cyril went up on stage at our favorite open mic, first as a special audience guest, then as a performer doing his first ever 5 minute stand up set! (Pst if you speak French don’t forget to ask him to see the video).

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  • Traveling

We traveled extensively, often to visit family and friends in far off places.

In France we visited Normandy, Alsace, Angers, Verdun, Dreux, the French Alps, the Drôme, and Montpellier (more times than I can count). We also went to the Netherlands, London, Venice, Munich, Vienna, and Morocco (Blog post #2).


It was a lovely two years of my life! Leaving was bittersweet but tomorrow I am opening up a new chapter- graduate school at Rutgers in New Jersey!

À très bientôt la France!

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American and French Education, contrasted

As I was working as an assistant in French elementary schools for the past two years, I couldn’t help but notice the differences between the French and American school systems. Some are small, like crossing 7’s, and some are huge, like the French baccalaureate.

As a caveat, I have never actually taught in American public schools. All of my knowledge comes from going through the system as a student, so perhaps some of it is out of date or skewed by my memories. Also I am from Minnesota, and all of my knowledge is from that area of the US. I know schools can differ a lot depending on the area of the country.

So for the info of future TAPIF language program assistants or anyone that is simply curious:

  • Small differences at the elementary school level

First of all, in France all the students use erasable pens to write. In my schooling, I wasn’t allowed to go near a pen until high school.

They are taught to write their 1’s, 7’s, and 9’s slightly differently. I didn’t want to cross my sevens or cap my ones but I ended up doing it when I wrote on the board because it confused the kids when I didn’t. (Erin? Is that a seven or a one?)

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French elementary students are very strictly taught to write in cursive as well. And they continue to do it through the rest of their schooling and into their adult life (even though it isn’t required anymore).  I remember my elementary school teachers were very strict about cursive as well, but as soon as we entered middle school it fell by the wayside and nobody used it anymore.

Split level classes are quite common. For example, I often taught in classes that were half 7-year-olds and half 9-year-olds.  It is a lot of work for the teachers because they have to teach constantly. They teach one group a lesson, then give them something to work on quietly while they teach the other group’s lesson and keep switching back and forth like that. Some teachers enjoy the challenge and think it is good for the kids to be exposed to the other lessons. The advanced kids in the younger class can learn something from older class’s lessons, and the struggling kids in the older class can review the basics from the younger class’s lessons.

The closest American equivalent that I had heard of was the one-room prairie school house concept.

The elementary schools I worked in rarely had substitute teachers. If a teacher was absent, they split up the class into all the other classes. The kids had to sit in the back of the classrooms and work quietly on their own. One teacher I talked to about this said their national education budget was cut recently so there isn’t much money for substitutes. Substitutes are first sent to small schools with only one class (or less) per grade because they can’t break up their classes easily into the other ones.

French teachers are not afraid to hold back students if they feel like they are not ready to move on, even in high school. It happens much more often than in the US, and there isn’t as much stigma attached to it. However, because of a recent education reform in France, teachers are no longer allowed to hold kids back at the elementary level (This may change again soon; every new administration that comes into power brings its own reforms.)

  • Grade names

The grades are not named the same of course

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  • THE BAC

At the end of lycée ( the equivalent of high school) there is this huge test called the Baccalaureate (often referred to as the Bac). French people don’t talk in terms of high school diplomas, they say they ‘have the Bac’.

The Bac is a cultural phenomenon, a stressful test that looms over every high school student’s head. It takes several days and there are oral and written portions for each subject.

In the US getting a high school diploma is more about passing all of the required classes. In Minnesota there are a few state assessment tests students take throughout high school, but they don’t affect their graduation and are used more of a way to judge the schools. The SAT/ACT tests are taken to get into colleges but they test critical thinking skills rather than depth of knowledge in a specific subject.

  • Earlier specialization, but more rigid

At the beginning of high school, French students chose a specialization. The three main ones are Science, Literature, and Economics and Social Sciences. They follow a relatively rigid set of coursework through high school up through the Bac. In the US, students don’t technically specialize, but as they progress, they have more freedom to choose the classes they would like to take.

This continues in college. A three year french ‘Licence’ is the equivalent of a four year American bachelor’s degree. Why? Because Americans have a lot of general education credits, even in college. French people find it strange I had to take a history class in order to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in Horticulture! I really like this type of well-rounded education, but I know other Americans who think these types of requirements are a waste of time.

In the United States it is also possible to have two different ‘majors’ or a ‘major’ and ‘minor’.  It wouldn’t have been possible for me to do an art minor in France.

  • College admissions

College admission in the US seems to be based more on a variety of factors. Admission counselors look at an applicant’s high school transcript, extra-curricular activities, SAT/ACT scores, and application essays.

In France, in order to get into good universities, especially for business, engineering and health sciences, they have to pass specific standardized tests. Only their test scores determine their entry. It seems like a very high stakes affair. In order to prepare, they often go to ‘preparatory’ schools for two years after high school.

  • School calendar and schedule

French schools start in September and go until the beginning of July, but there is a lot of vacation in between. Students normally go to school for six weeks, and then have two weeks off. In the US school vacations are few and far between. We got a week and a half for Christmas, two days for Thanksgiving, one week for spring break, and then some random teacher workdays and snow days (yeah Minnesota!).

French schools normally have all Wednesday afternoons off, but French middle and high school students have longer days M T Th and F, going from 8:30 am to 6 pm! Until a few years ago French students had Wednesdays off and half days on Saturdays.

The lunch break at French schools is quite long, about an hour and a half. Students at the elementary school can either leave to eat at home or stay at school and eat hot lunch served by the cafeteria. American students are not usually allowed to leave for lunch time, but if they don’t want to eat the cafeteria lunch they are allowed to bring their own.

  • Centralized organization

The French public school system is very centrally organized, rigid, and bureaucratic. For example, all the school vacation days are decided at the national level, whereas in the US that would be decided more locally on the state or even district level. Even the assistant program I went through was organized nationally. My district had no power to extend my contract or hire me on themselves. I knew someone who was training to be a teacher. She had to pass a high stakes entrance exam (she chose the hardest region, Paris), and when she was accepted, was placed in a school there. She could give her preference on what neighborhood she wanted to be in, but that was about it. In the future, she can’t just decide that she wants to move to the south of France and teach there. She would have to request a transfer, and have a good reason for it, for example if her partner had gotten a new job there.

  • Education level

American teachers need bachelor’s degrees and state teaching licenses. All french teachers, including those at the pre-school level, have to have master’s degrees. A teacher once complained to me that teaching is the lowest paid profession in France which requires a master’s degree.

  • Sports and extracurricular activities

Sports and extracurricular activities in the US are tightly linked to the school system. Middle schools, high schools, and universities have sports teams and mascots and play each other competitively. Sports are a bigger deal in the US because of this. There are even music and theater school competitions!

Sports in France are linked to city clubs, not schools. Kids can join a club team and continue playing with clubs as long as they want to, as they also organize adult teams.

  • Language

Kids start learning a second language very early in France, with many starting the basics of English in 1st grade. Then they pick up a third language starting between 5th and 8th grade! I know that it greatly varies in the US, but I didn’t start learning a second language until I was in 9th grade, and there were kids in my high school that never took one at all because it wasn’t required.

  • Religion

French people are super strict about their public schools being secular. Of course, in the United States, teachers are not allowed to teach religion, but in France since 2004 no one is allowed to wear any religious symbols or clothing. This law was pretty clearly aimed at Muslims but basically kids can’t wear large crosses, kippas, or headscarves at school. In the US a law like that would be brought to the supreme court by religious freedom activists faster than you could snap your fingers.

At the same time, there is a very culturally Catholic aspect of France which given their insistence on secularism is a bit destabilizing. For example, many schools put up a Christmas tree in their entrance halls, elementary school teachers often have advent calendars, and students get off of school for religious holidays like the Ascension. Hmmm…

  • Grading Scale

Grading works differently as well. Compared to the American scale, the French one seems a bit harsh.

In the United States we use the ABCDF scale, while in France it goes from 20 to 1 (where 20 is 100%, 18 is 90% etc). A good student in France regularly gets 15’s, the equivalent of a C in the US. Meanwhile, a 19, the French equivalent of an A, is almost unheard of! I know middle schoolers that regularly get 9’s.

But I have noticed that culturally the French tend to underrate things (at least from my American point of view). For example, on public rating sites like Trip Advisor, I often see French reviews for restaurants that look like this:

Excellent food and wine selection, the owner himself came to welcome us to his restaurant. We will definitely be coming back.

But it is marked 4 stars out of 5!

In the US, if everything is very good and we have nothing to complain about a restaurant, business, or museum, we will mark 5 stars. In France it has to be exceptional for them to do that.  It isn’t that they love to complain (although that is a stereotype about French people), it is just they have really high standards.

Perhaps this mentality starts at school with their grading system.

 

I hope you have found this post interesting and educational! I would like to hear your thoughts if you agree or disagree with me about the French or American education system!

Embarrassing things I have said in French-round 3

Last September, I realized that even though I was comfortable speaking French, I was very bad at writing it! I had been speaking French with Cyril for months but was still texting him in English- so I deciding to take the next step and text in French as often as possible. Even more opportunities to make mistakes!

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I messaged Cyril, Your check deposit slips stopped by! (I wanted to say that they had come in the mail)
So he messed with me and messaged back, Did they say hi?
I wrote, Who?
He said, You know, the check deposit slips!
And then I realized my mistake!

The other day I texted Cyril to bring my leather jacket but ended up asking for my ‘vest to cook’ (veste à cuire vs vest en cuir).

I recently came across an interesting article that talked about how our morality can change in another language and why. Swear words and harsh words just don’t seem as bad in a second language because there isn’t an emotional history that goes with them. F*** seems super harsh but the French equivalent ‘putain’ seems chill to me.
Sometimes when I am joking around with friends in French I use words that are actually pretty harsh. Also, some words are way heavier in one language than their literal translations in the other.
Once, a friend was talking about how he beat the odds because he has a pretty good life even though he bumped his head a decent amount when he was a kid.
I said jokingly, ‘Well you are still pretty young, you could still turn out to be a failure, and you don’t know it yet.’ Everybody was like ‘OMG that is harsh!!!!’ ‘Wow, sucker punch!’ Apparently in French you don’t joke around with the word failure.

Once, Cyril and I were talking about Harry Potter. I used the word banette for wand (that is the word that I thought I had heard Cyril use just a few minutes before) and he laughed like crazy. (Banette is a type of bread.) He said, ‘No it is called a baguette!’ And I was like ‘Haha very funny, stop pulling my leg,’ and he insisted ‘I am being 100 percent serious…’
Banette, baguette, what’s the difference anyways? They are both types of bread.
Can we all just agree that it is hilarious that wizards in France fight with baguettes?!?!
Now I know that baguette wasn’t originally the name for a type of bread. The bread was named baguette because it was shaped like a baguette, aka a stick. **mind blown**

This is an anecdote that I remembered from the beginning of my time in France and have forgotten to share before. Once, I was hanging out with Cyril and a friend in a cafe and I was having trouble following the conversation. It seemed to me that they kept bringing up Jews into the conversation- I couldn’t understand why. I jumped into the conversation, ‘Why do you guys keep talking about Jews?’ ‘Jews? We aren’t talking about Jews?! We are talking about slapping each other!’ (Which is something French people like to joke about doing to people when they say stupid things.) (juifs vs. gifles-they don’t look alike on spelling but they have similar pronunciations)

Last year I joined a club volleyball team. When we played matches competitively, I would get into it and yell encouragement. Sometimes I yelled out the same phrases I would have used in English, translating them directly into French. Occasionally my teammates would look at me strangely and ask, ‘What are you even saying? That doesn’t make any sense…’

Once I asked a volleyball friend if she was going to sleep in the next day, using the expression ‘faire la grasse mat‘ except I said ‘faire la grosse mat.‘ (to do a fat morning vs to do a big morning) She laughed, ‘Wow that is the cutest thing I have ever heard, I think I might adopt your expression from now on!’

Last Thanksgiving I cooked a big turkey for an American feast for my friends. After they had dug into their meal, I asked them, ‘How do you guys like the bird?’ Apparently in French you cannot refer to a turkey as a bird.
They thought it was the funniest thing ever…

At a restaurant once I asked for a magret de connard… the waiter laughed and said, ‘There’s plenty around but we don’t serve them.’
Instead of duck breast, I had asked for breast of ***hole/ jerk (magret de canard vs magret de connard)

Last but not least, once I was showing a class a few slides about American breakfast that I had put together. I spoke in English and then translated what I said into French (the kids have a very basic level so I translated when I talked about culture).
I said, ‘In the US for breakfast we like to eat pancakes, waffles, or French toast with maple syrup.’ However, when I translated, the class gasped, and the teacher stepped in quickly. ‘MAPLE syrup children, she meant MAPLE syrup.’ I realized that instead of saying maple syrup, I had said Arabic syrup, literally syrup made of Arabs. 😱
After the teacher stepped in a kid in the front row, Arabic, relaxed visibly, ‘Whew, I was afraid there for a moment!’
This is the second time I have messed up the pronunciation of maple (érable) with Arab (arabe).

French songs that I can’t get out of my head- Edition Aznavour

These two years have flown by too fast. I am leaving France in three weeks!  It is going to be a busy time because I have quite a few things to do, people to see, places to go, and blogs to post, including a few posts about my favorite French artists and songs. You don’t need to understand French to fall in love with this music.

Charles Aznavour is an incredibly expressive singer, songwriter, and performer. Born in France to Armenian immigrants, most of his songs are in French but he sings in eight different languages. He is 92 years old and still touring! It is hard to chose just a few songs to highlight as he has written over 1300!

  1. La Boheme

This is one of my favorite songs. I discovered it in the film Demolition on the day my grandmother passed away last year and I was touched by its melancholy tone.

In the song, an old artist describes with longing his youth when he was poor and in love in Montmartre, a neighborhood that used to be a cradle for artists in Paris.

It starts like this:
I will tell you of a time-past that the young do not know. Back then, Montmartre gathered its lilacs under our windows…

Je vous parle d’un temps,
Que les moins de vingt ans,
Ne peuvent pas connaître,
Montmartre en ce temps là,
Accrochait ses lilas,
Jusque sous nos fenêtres,

2. Emmenez-moi

I love Emmenez-moi because the lyrics paint a picture and the chorus is so fun to belt out!

A lonely dock worker from the dreary north of France dreams of stepping on a boat and sailing to the ends of the earth.

Emmenez-moi
Au bout de la terre
Emmenez-moi
Au pays des merveilles
II me semble que la misère
Serait moins pénible au soleil.

Take me to the edge of the earth
Take me to the lands of wonders
It seems to me that my misery
Would be less painful under the sun

3. For Me Formidable

This original, upbeat love song plays on words as it switches in between French and English. Charles can’t seem to decide if he wants to seduce the woman in the ‘language of Molière’, or in the ‘language of Shakespeare’.

4. Je m’voyais déjà

This Broadway-esque song is the story of a old singer who never was able to make it big as hard as he tried. But he still believes that he can make it!

J’ai tout essayé pourtant pour sortir du nombre
J’ai chanté l’amour, j’ai fait du comique et d’la fantaisie
Si tout a raté pour moi si je suis dans l’ombre
Ce n’est pas ma faute mais celle du public qui n’a rien compris
On ne m’a jamais accordé ma chance
D’autres ont réussi avec peu de voix et beaucoup d’argent
Moi j’étais trop pur ou trop en avance
Mais un jour viendra, je leur montrerai que j’ai du talent.

I tried everything to stand out
I sang love songs, funny songs, and even fantasy
If nothing worked out for me it’s because I was in the shadows
It’s not my fault, but that of the audience which didn’t understand
They never gave me a chance
Others, with less talent and more money, made it big
I was too pure or too ahead of my time
But a day will come when I will show them that I am talented.

If you love these songs, look up La Mamma, Que C’est Triste Venise, and She.

I hope you love Charles Aznavour as much as I do now:)

Misadventures in Easter egg dyeing

Sometimes I struggle in France because I want to do things my way (traditions, recipes) but it doesn’t work out because I can’t find the right materials and ingredients. I have to remind myself that these things aren’t big deals and to accept that I can’t have everything that I have in the United States. I love the adventure and discovery that comes with living abroad but sometimes the small differences send me for a loop.

Two weeks ago, I realized that it had been two years since I had dyed Easter eggs and I missed it terribly.

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Eggs that I dyed last time around

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Perhaps being with my Minnesotan friends and family is the real reason I miss dyeing eggs.

I decided it would be fun to introduce the tradition to Cyril and his family. In France, the ‘Easter bells’ hide chocolate eggs for children to find. The Easter bells?? Seriously? But then again the Easter bunny doesn’t make that much more sense.

Because of the late notice it wasn’t easy to find a pastel egg dye kit that would ship in time, but luckily I was able to get one shipped from Germany. (The shipping cost more than the product but no matter.) Unfortunately, I forgot to pack it to bring to the south of France for the weekend…

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At first Cyril thought that they had sent me an empty package. Such a big box for such a small thing!

I decided to go with plan B: regular old food coloring. I had never done it like that before but thought why not?

After searching two supermarkets I found the food coloring and then added some crayons to my basket. Crayons are great for decorating eggs because they repel the dye from the eggshells. I had wanted a white crayon in particular because the white crayon designs are super classy, but the only pack on sale didn’t have one- oh well- I could get over that.

Last but not least, I went to find the eggs. This is where I hit the wall. I had noticed before that eggs in France had brown shells, but I didn’t realize that they are exclusively brown. Also, all eggs in grocery stores are stamped in red with the date on which they were laid. In short, impossible to dye. I had come this far only to be thwarted by the eggs!! It was almost too much to bear.

Photo credit http://www.gourmet.com/food/gourmetlive/2011/081511/fresh-french-and-gorgeous.html

However, despite my egg dyeing failure, Easter turned out well.

On Easter morning when I came downstairs for breakfast, Cyril’s mom handed me a basket and said, ‘Now before you can eat, you have to go find the chocolate eggs in the garden. I am afraid they are going to melt!’ I was pleasantly surprised and had fun searching. It had been a while since I hunted for eggs.

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After church we headed over to Cyril’s grandparent’s house for Easter lunch.

Cyril’s mamie, Roberte, prepared frog legs for the appetizer so that I could try them. Frog legs are one of France’s famous typical dishes. Last time I visited the south she made me escargots (snails). Check out that blog post here.

Roberte did an excellent job; they were very tasty.

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Tasted like chicken;)
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The second batch came from a different supplier and were smaller

In return for all of Roberte’s hard work in the kitchen, I indulged her and the family by saying ‘grenouille’, the French word for frog, several times. I can’t say it quite right and French people find it adorable/hilarious.

I hope everyone had a great Easter weekend with friends and family!

French Kids Say the Darnedest Things Round 4

You asked for it and here it is! Another edition of funny quotes from my students!!

I renewed my contract with TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France) again for this year with the same district and same three schools as last year. I have most of the same teachers and a few new ones as well. For the most part my classes are shorter so I have more. For the young kids it is mostly a half an hour and for the older ones it is 45 min instead of one hour; I prefer this because when lessons are too long it is hard to keep them motivated and attentive! The kids are adorable, as usual. This year half of my students are the same as last year, which is great because there is some continuity. 

My French is much better than it was when I started the program last year but this year I am really trying to speak absolutely no French at all to the kids, except if we talk about culture. It’s an adventure to be sure. 

** Quotations in Italics were spoken in French

When I went back to my schools for the first time, a seven year old with the biggest doe eyes raised his hand, ‘You left before the end of the school year last year. You aren’t going to do that again, are you?’ And I told him, ‘I am sorry but my contract doesn’t last the whole school year, I can’t stay all the way until July.’ Then he asked me, ‘And next year, are you going to leave early too?’ He melted my heart!  The kid thought I was a fixture of his school because last year was his first there. But there isn’t going to be a next year. Even if I wasn’t planning on going grad school next fall, one can only do the program for 2 years max.  

In another class when I visited for the first time a six-year-old girl raised her hand and said, ‘Sometimes I speak English with my sister…even though I don’t speak English.’ ???? A little while later she started singing. The teacher asked, ‘What are you singing?’
A song in English.’
Well then sing a little louder so we can all hear.’
The song was to the tune of the abc song.  I listened super hard to try to make out the words. The teacher laughed and asked me, ‘That doesn’t mean anything does it?…’
Nope, not at all!’

I talked about Halloween in a lot of my classes. We went over some fun vocab like ghost and witch and pumpkin. For the 8-year-olds I found a small text online in French explaining Halloween origins, including the legend of miserly, selfish Jack, who had even gone so far as to trick the devil so he was doomed to wander forever with his lantern between heaven and hell.
A girl in the back raised her hand, ‘What is hell?’

For some vocabulary, the kids have a reference because of English words, brands, and characters that the French have borrowed, like ‘snow’board, Minny’mouse’, and angry birds.  However they frenchify the pronunciation a bit. Because of Spider-Man and Batman, spider and bat are easy words for them to remember, although they say ‘speeder’. It drives me nuts.
‘It’s Spiiiiider, children, spiiider! Now repeat!’
‘Speeder!’
‘No! Spider!’

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One kid did this on this review crossword puzzle. He was so proud of himself!!

Some kids are SO EXCITED to answer questions and participate- I love it! Some always keep their hand up even after they have answered a question such as ‘What’s your name’, because they want to answer it again. I ask, ‘Who hasn’t answered yet?’ And they wave their hands even more. I give them a look and say, ‘I know you have already answered!’ They smile guiltily but keep their hands raised. 

One day we were playing a ‘point to’ game where I would call kids up to the board and tell them a vocab word, like cat. When they would point to the right picture I would say ‘cat’ and have the class repeat. One time I forgot to do the repeat part and started to move on to the next word and one kid yelled out the first word all by himself. I had deprived him of that simple joy of repeating a vocab word, you know?

Eating with the teachers is hilarious because they love to gossip about their kids.

One day, two of the CP (1st grade) teachers were complaining, ‘This year, one of the kids doesn’t even know his days of the week…’ They used expressions like ‘They were rocked too close to the wall’ or Il a été fini au pipi’ This one is quite vulgar (hilarious but vulgar) so I won’t spell it out.

Also, two of the teachers confessed to me that they speak in English with their husbands when they don’t want their kids to understand what they are saying. Then one of them asked me wide-eyed as if she had just realized something mind-blowing, ‘What language do you speak when you don’t want the children to understand?’

It is interesting to see how the kids interact with each other during lessons. In the beginning in the seven-year-old class we learned, ‘Hello what’s your name?’ and ‘My name is ____’. For most of the kids it was a review. There was one little boy who had moved from another school and hadn’t learned English before. The first lesson he didn’t want to participate at all. He just crossed his arms and shook his head mutely. The other kids tried to encourage him, including this adorable, painfully shy girl. She told him, ‘I was scared at first too, but even I did it! Look at me now!’ She is the best, I love it when she volunteers to speak.

It is easy to see the different levels of maturity. In the six-year-old classes especially there are a lot of kids who giggle uncontrollably when I play them a song for the first time. It is hilarious because the few mature ones get pissed off at this and hiss at everyone, ‘Stop laughing, IT’S NOT FUNNY!’ The looks on their faces are a mixture of rage and exasperation.  I can tell that they are thinking, ‘I am surrounded by idiots.’ 

When drilling vocab with kids right after I teach them new vocab, kids often say mushy nonsense words. Sometimes they actually say a real English word by accident, just not the right one! I mimed ‘I’m tired’ and a girl raised her hand and answered ‘I’m dead!’ The teacher and I laughed, ‘Close, but not quite kid!’ 

One of my students is bilingual- his mother is Canadian. As I was leaving the lesson one day I heard him sing, ‘She was drinking…’ That stopped me in my tracks.
‘What are you singing???’
He smiled, ‘Grandma got run over by a reindeer! I am singing it for my American school.’ And he started singing, ‘She was drinking too much eggnog…’
I joined in because hey, that is a great song:)

In one of my classes as we talked about thanksgiving, the teacher gave them a short text in French to read. At the end it says that every year, the American president chooses one turkey to pardon and it lives out its days on a farm, never to be eaten. The word pardon in French is gracie, which sounds a little like their word for fat, gras. When she asked them, ‘what does that mean?’, they could not get the word ‘fat’ out of their heads. 
The president puts fat into the sauce.’

No, it has nothing to do with fat.’

The president takes the fat out of the sauce?’

No!’
The president puts the fat into the turkey?’

No, no, no!’

Kids are like that though! Once you get an idea into their head they can’t let it go!

And last but not least-One day I asked the kids if they were going to dress up for Halloween and if so what they were going to be. Kids started volunteering their costumes,
A ghost!
A princess
Kylo Ren!
A vampire
another ‘Kylo Ren!
Then a kid raised his hand, ‘I am going to be Darth Vader!!
One of the Kylo Rens shot back at him, ‘You can’t be Darth Vader, he is dead!

I had to step in, ‘Ok children, Calm yourselves!’

Versailles in four seasons

The Palace and Gardens of Versailles are a must see for anyone that goes to Paris. It is an essential place to go to understand the old monarchy of France and be wowed by the splendor and grandeur that ultimately caused the French Revolution.

I have been fortunate to visit Versailles in all four seasons with different family and friends. I love this place. Every time I go I discover something new and see things in a different way, especially in the gardens. That is one of my favorite things about gardens; everyday they grow and change, and the garden that you visit at the end of May is completely different come the beginning of July. Also Versailles is so immense that it is impossible to truly cover it all (and appreciate it) in a single day.

Another wonderful thing about Versailles is the huge contrast between the awe-inspiring grand axes and views that seem to continue forever and the surprising, intimate gardens and small fountains that one stumbles upon while meandering through.

The first time I visited Versailles was in a few years ago in January with Cyril. The gardens, although wintry-brown, impressed me with their scale and splendor. The fountains weren’t running but this made it easier to appreciate their sculptures’ forms.

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The grand axis of the gardens- when the grand canal was designed, the landscape architect took the tilt of the earth into account.

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The Saturn fountain- the allegory of winter- how fitting!
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A detail of the famous Apollo chariot fountain, the Sun King’s symbol.

We spent a long time in the palace, which was free because it was the first Sunday of the month, a lucky coincidence. My impressions: the hall of mirrors was the highlight of the palace, a truly incredible room, and court life was quite stifling. I would have hated to be the king. There were official ceremonies for when he got up in the morning and when he went to bed, and the court would come and watch him and the royal family solemnly dinner in silence to classical music.

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That spring Cyril and I returned for the musical fountains show in the gardens. In the spring and summer during weekends and random weekdays, the fountains are turned on for visitors and classical music is played from hidden speakers in the garden. The ambiance is incredible: this is truly how the gardens should be experienced.

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The Apollo fountain in all of its glory
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My personal favorite, the giant Enceladus defeated by Jupiter

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Two years passed and I returned with Jasmine, one of my best friends, during the beginning of June. We chose to go on a musical fountains show day. Unfortunately we visited the palace first. It was so crowded that we had to push our way through the different rooms. I felt bad because that ruined the palace experience for her a little bit. When we finished the palace, we went outside for the musical fountains show, but there were only twenty minutes left of it; whoops, where had the time gone?

After the musical fountains show finished, most of the people left, so we had the gardens to ourselves. We made the best of it; I had found an interesting audio guide app that did a great job of explaining the history of the gardens and the fountains’ themes.

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The English garden was especially lovely at this time of year.

Then as we were leaving, the suns broke through the thick cloud cover that had been there all day and illuminated one of the main fountains on garden’s grand axis. It slowly turned on and danced for us, bathed in light; the highlight of the day. It was awe-inspiring!

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A few weeks after that, I returned with my brother Matthew, his wife Brooke, her sister Alicia, and Alicia’s husband Matt. The weather was fickle, changing quickly from sun to rain to sun, chasing away the crowds. After strolling though the main gardens we paid a bit extra for a side area that I had never visited before, the Grand and Petit Trianon, and the Queen’s Hamlet. What a treat! The fountains there were running there even though they weren’t in the main garden.

The Grand Trianon was a palace that the king had ordered built as a retreat for him and his family from court life. The Queen’s Hamlet is an idyllic corner of Versailles that Marie Antoinette had designed to be a ‘rustic country retreat’ for her and her closest friends, complete with a pond, stream, windmill, farmhouse, barn, and tower in the form of a lighthouse.

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The Grand Trianon-It had poured not long before-the blue sky reflection on the wet tile was magnificent.

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Alicia and I. Photo credit: Brooke Pfarr

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The English garden behind the Petit Trianon was lovely. The landscape was full of little hidden gems like this one.
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The Queen’s Hamlet
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One of the cottages for the Queen’s friends.

I recently returned with my friend Erin and was charmed by the gardens on a sunny autumn day.

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À la prochaine!

Until next time:)

Journée du Patrimoine

Journée du patrimoine is an event organized throughout France the third weekend of September every year that celebrates heritage, a concept that the French love. Many important government buildings, private castles, and cultural institutions are opened to the public, and museums have free or reduced prices. Often of these places offer special guided tours and kids activities as well.

I just barely missed journée du patrimoine last year, arriving in France a few days afterwards. (Exactly a year ago now, wow!) A bit of a bummer because Cyril went to the Élysée Palace, the French equivalent of the White House, and ran into the French president!  They had a nice 30 second chat:)

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I love the concept of journée du patrimoine. This weekend of exploration, history, and learning is a huge cultural event! The government has a website where the information is centralized, although all the institutions come up with their own programs. It is better than each place having its own random open house during the year because I always seem to miss them when I am caught up in my life and not paying attention.

The only downside is that everyone else is also aware of the options and the lines can be very long, like at the Élysée Palace. To avoid this, some places have set up online reservations systems for visits. Cyril and I had originally wanted to tour France TV, but we would have had to grab a time slot two weeks beforehand. I had also tried to score places for a badass TWO hour escape game put on by RATP, the Parisian transit authority, but when they opened up the reservation site online, all of the tickets were taken in 2 seconds, and I was booted off the system. Oh well. It still turned out to be a great weekend.

On Saturday morning Cyril and I took a tour of the Crayères des Montquartiers, a system of caverns carved out of the limestone bedrock under the city of Issy-les-Moulineaux. In the past it has been used as a chalk quarry, beer brewery, mushroom farm, and WWII bomb shelter. Nowadays it is used to store wine and host events. The underground network is quite extensive but most of it was closed off to us so it wasn’t as cool as I imagined it would be.

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In the afternoon we biked to Fondation Louis Vitton. They have a brand new gallery space designed by Frank Gehry. It was gorgeous! I know next to nothing about architecture and famous architects but I could recognize his style almost anywhere. He designed the WAM Art Museum at the University of Minnesota (my alma mater!) but is perhaps most famous for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

The galleries were closed but we were able to explore the building and go onto the roof.

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A bit hard to capture the whole thing!
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I saw the stickers and stamps and colored pencils and I couldn’t resist. Cyril joined me as I did the kid’s art activity.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a garden connected to the Foundation – I steered Cyril right into there as well. Cyril joked, ‘Wow, you are good, how did this happen? Somehow you lured me into yet another garden. Was this your plan all along?’  I am innocent, I swear!

The Jardin d’Acclimatation is over 150 years old, with groomed botanical gardens, a little farm with animals, birds either running around as they please or exhibited in the old ‘royal menagerie’ facilities, and a children’s carnival.

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The old rookery, where they used to keep and train messenger pigeons

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What an elaborate dragon!

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Sunday Cyril and I met friends to tour the Grand Rex, a famous French theater.  With 2800 seats it is the largest cinema theater in Europe and its sumptuous decorations and starry sky ceiling give the illusion of being outside. Often it hosts the French premiers of  Hollywood productions complete with the red carpet and celebrities. The Grand Rex also is a venue for concerts, comedians, movie marathons, and movie-orchestra combo performances. Cyril and I saw the Franglaises there last year and this tour made me itch to come back for another show!

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A bit hard to capture the size of the theater!

Right after, we tried an additional side tour called Les Étoiles du Rex, a surprisingly fun and interactive attraction about cinema and the Rex, complete with special effects, a green screen, and  an cheesy movie that featured us visitors. This was the only attraction that we paid for, although it was offered at a discounted price. All of the other places were free to visit.

Next destination: the Grand Palais, a huge glass exhibition hall built for the 1900 World’s Fair. But we settled on instead visiting the Petit Palais (a bit smaller) across the street after realizing that the Grand Palais really wasn’t open. Whoops! Still lovely- my favorite part was the interior courtyard garden.

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It isn’t really petit by any means

Lastly we stopped at the open house at the Heliport of Paris, where we could see different kinds of helicopters, talk to pilots, and try a steering simulation game.  At one point they landed a helicopter right next to the demo area. The wind the helicopter created right before landing was intense.

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And then Cyril and I dropped dead from exhaustion and cultural overdose:p Being a tourist is draining!

Euro 2016

It has been a while since my last post but June was a busy month with work, researching grad schools, entertaining friends and family, and soccer mania!

It’s the month of soccer round these parts. France is hosting the European Championship, which happens every four years between the world cups. The games are spread out in stadiums of several major French cities.

The atmosphere is crazy. There are throngs of soccer supporters throughout Paris. Every time I get into the subway I see groups of fans singing on their way to or from a stadium or bar.

Every night they light up the Eiffel Tower with the colors of the country whose supporters tweeted the most about their team that day. It is very beautiful to see! I saw it bathed in red one Friday night for Turkey and another time when it was blue, white, and red for France.

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Needless to say, it is way more impressive in real life!

A lot of French people are surprised that I enjoy watching soccer because there are two stereotypes working against me- I am a women and an American. I don’t go out of my way to watch soccer, and I don’t support a specific team besides the national French team, Les Bleus, but if someone invites me to a bar or to their house to watch a game I always enjoy it.

The craziness started on June 10th. Cyril found a lovely bar to watch the games in- beautiful and spacious with reasonable prices (for Paris).

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France played Romania  for the opening game which they won 2-1. In their second match, Les Blues won at the very last moment against Albania.

We went to the fan zone near the Eiffel Tower to watch the last of their pool games, against Switzerland. It was a nail biter that ended in a tie, even though France had controlled the ball much more than Switzerland and took quite a few more shots on the goal. However, a tie against the Swiss was all we needed to be first in the pool and move into playoffs.

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This screen is almost as big as a basketball court!

The fan zone was a cool experience because of the sheer number of people and the view of the Eiffel Tower but I think I prefer watching the games in the bar. I spent my whole time there on my feet, standing as tall as possible to see over or in between the heads of fans in front of me! Thankfully I am pretty tall- one of our short friends had to go to another area by the concession stands, where people where sitting down and chilling in order to be able to see anything.

My brother Matthew, his wife Brooke, her sister Alicia, and Alicia’s husband Matt were able to visit us during this craziness too. (Hopefully I will have time to blog more about their visit later.) Cyril managed to get tickets to a game for us, not an easy task by the way. We saw Germany vs Northern Ireland.

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The gang

Coming into it, I wasn’t sure who I was going to cheer for. I had a vague notion that I would support Germany just cause they were probably going to win. However, the Northern Ireland fans were so loud and crazy and funny that their team spirit infected me and before long I was rooting for Ireland too.  I don’t think I have ever seen that level of enthusiasm or endurance or coordination before; they all sang the same cheers at the same time.

They literally only stopped singing to make fun of the Germans, who I would describe as more reserved and dignified.

‘Do you hear the Germans sing? I don’t hear a f****** thing!’
‘Shhhhhhh!’ -Silence-
‘Let us sing a song for you!’
‘Deutschland!’ Clap clap clap ‘Deutschland!’ Clap clap clap

One of my favorites was sung to the tune of ‘you are my sunshine’.

I love my Guinness, my lovely Guinness,
It makes me happy when skies are gray,
So fill a big cup with all that good stuff,
So please don’t take my Guinness away!

And of course, Will Grigg’s on fire, a song they sang over and over and over and over.

The chorus is this
Will Grigg’s on fire- your defense is terrified,
Will Grigg’s on fire- your defense is terrified,
Will Grigg’s on fire- your defense is terrified,
Will Grigg’s on fire- OOoo
Na na na na na na na….

It is the unofficial anthem of the 2016 Euro!

The Germans ran circles around the Northern Irish on the field, but because of the luck of the Irish, the Germans only won 1-0.

Nothing could dampen the Northern Irish fans’ spirits. Even after they lost they stayed in the stands and sang ‘Will Grigg’s on fire’ over and over and over again. We stayed and watched them for a good twenty minutes before finally leaving. The Irish fans were still going at it. It seemed like they weren’t going to stop until they were cleared out by security. You can see it with this link Will Grigg’s on fire.

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The corner of hardcore Northern Irish fans just kept on singing!

Playoffs started last weekend, and there have been a few upsets, most notably the second ‘Brexit’ in a week. Ireland gave the French team a run for their money, and the fans quite a scare during the first playoff game, where they scored two minutes into the match. However, France game back in the second half to win 2-1.

This evening France is playing Iceland in the quarterfinals: if they win they will go against Germany and then hopefully to the championship- Allez Les Bleus!!

Embarrassing things I have said in French

Making a fool of yourself is a natural part of learning another language. Overall I am very happy with my progress in French but I have made my fair share of funny/embarrassing mistakes. After writing so much about my students’ mistakes I figured to be fair I should share some of my own with you guys!

Sometimes I misunderstand questions. I feel so stupid when that happens. Someone asks me a question and  I start responding, then I can tell by their expression that I didn’t really understand…

Sometimes my accent gets in the way. I say a word just slightly wrong (at least to my ears), and people don’t understand me. One time I was speaking to someone about grammaire (grammar) and they thought I was saying grand-mère (grandmother). They asked me, ‘Whose grandmother? My grandmother? Your grandmother?‘ In my defense, they sound remarkably similar in French. Also, the difference between vingt (twenty) and vin (wine) gets me every time. Those nasal vowels are hard!

One time at the end of a meal I told Cyril’s parents ‘Je suis pleine,‘ a direct translation of our expression, ‘I am full’, but if you say it in French it means you are drunk.

One time, I was trying to explain to someone that most of my ancestors were Germans that immigrated to the US, but I mispronounced the French word for ancestors and instead kept saying the French word for incest.

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At a party, I asked the host ‘Ou est la salle de bain?‘ (Where is the bathroom?). The host laughed and kindly explained to me that I should instead ask ‘Ou est la toilette?‘ (Where is the toilet?) because when you ask someone in France for the bathroom it sounds like you want to take a shower. Also, the toilet is sometimes in a little separate room apart from the bathroom anyway, so they might not direct to the right place if you ask for the bathroom.

I used to say ‘Est-ce que tu est fini?‘ (Are you finished?) Instead of ‘Est-ce que tu a fini?‘ (Have you finished?) Then Cyril explained to me that when I ask ‘Are you finished?‘, it sounds like I am asking if the person is done being made, like in the womb.

I make up words all the time. Sometimes I will take an English word, give it a French accent, and use it. This works for some words like immigration, weekend, bus, but not all the words I try to use it for. But I think a lot of people do that when learning another language. It is funny when my students try to guess what the English word is by pronouncing a French word in an English way.

One day in January, Cyril and I were walking somewhere and I remarked, ‘ Hmmm! Smells like firs!‘ In French, they call Christmas trees Christmas firs, and often just firs for short. Nearby there must have been a recycling drop off for the trees. Cyril was unnerved, ‘Well actually, you shouldn’t say that in French. It is an old expression that means someone is going to die soon. Coffins used to be made of fir wood. You actually really creeped me out when you said that…

One time I called a ‘crèche‘ a ‘crècherie‘. A crèche is a nursery, and adding erie to the end makes it sound like a place where they grow or make babies. A boulangerie is a bakery and a porcherie is where pigs are raised.

Cyril and I were planning our skiing trip with his aunt. She had offered to bring extra skiing gear from her stash at home for us to use during our trip. She asked me, ‘So what do you need?‘ I said, ‘First of all I need gloves and a hat.‘ I used the word chapeau for hat, but the french use a different word to say winter hat (bonnet). They thought it was hilarious because they imagined me going down the slopes in a fancy lady’s hat.

Even though I have forgotten most of my Spanish and Italian, sometimes random words will come out when I am trying to speak French. One time I asked Cyril’s aunt, ‘Can I please have a spoon?‘ Blank looks… ‘You want a what?‘ ‘Can I please have a spoon?Oh wait, that is Italian, how do you say spoon again in French?’ I used cucchiaio instead of cuillère. There are certain words, like spoon, that I always use the Italian or Spanish word for. I don’t know why!

One time I asked Cyril ‘Est-ce que tu a mangé le reste de la pain (lapin)?‘ instead of ‘Le reste du pain‘. So it sounded like I asked if he had finished eating the rest of the rabbit instead of the rest of the bread just because I gave bread the wrong gender. Like other Romance languages, all nouns have a gender. They are mostly assigned at random (it seems to me anyway). Just another layer of things to memorize!

Cyril and I were biking in the countryside and we passed a sign that said Maçonnerie (masonry) and I didn’t see the ç and asked ‘what is a maconnerie?‘ Which sounds like ‘my stupidity’ (ma connerie).

A few months ago I had Cyril correct a cover letter that I wrote in French. French is tricky because a lot of words sound the same but are spelled differently. So spell check doesn’t catch my mistakes either. I wrote ‘alaise‘ when I meant ‘a l’aise‘. So instead of saying I was comfortable with speaking French I wrote about adult diapers.

I learn a lot of words by listening to and conversing with French people. Because of this sometimes I learn and use slang words that are inappropriate or too casual.
For example, during conversations with my vb friends, a lot of people I talked with used the word bosser. So I asked one of them, ‘What does that mean?‘ ‘Oh it is another word for work‘. Then I started using the word when I spoke, until Cyril heard me and explained to me, ‘Hmm, you shouldn’t use that word… that is slang, and with your accent it sounds like you are trying too hard to speak French like a local.‘ (Kind of like a guy with an Indian accent saying, ‘Yo, what’s up man?’)

One time I asked Cyril, ‘Can we go check out that exhibition?‘ He laughed and corrected me, ‘Exhibition is when someone is naked in public. Exposition is an art show.‘ And it is hard for me to remember the difference. To make it worse, Cyril ‘corrects’ me whenever I am using the right word because he thinks it is hilarious when I talk going to this or that ‘exhibition‘.

Until next time!