La Vie Française & Why I’ll Never Learn French

First observations of France (from Orly airport): the kneeling man and the chapel*, the McDonald’s just around the corner, the lingering** and the smoking, the machine gunned army men.

Met with Papy (wearing his Berkeley sweater – good man) at baggage claim and took a taxi back to his place. Papy eats massive breakfasts, so the first thing we did was also the most stereotypically French – he got a bunch of pastries (including croissants, my favorite!), made four cups of tea and seven cups of coffee, lit up a cigarette, and talked about foreign affairs and philosophy.

Took a shower and jumped on the Metro to the center of Paris – en route, learned that none of French grammar makes any sense, and that Parisians are snobbish and rush around for absolutely no reason. Went to Sciences Po to get some paperwork, saw the wall of naked sports players (still confused as to how it’s supposed to be a legitimate ad campaign… Oh, wait, hot naked rugby players? I get it. For more information, watch this year’s making of the famous annual calendar “Dieux du Stade”, but maybe in privacy..), then held the door open for more snobby, rushed French people who couldn’t be fussed to say merci. 

Forgot to tell ING that I was in France (now that I mention it, forgot to tell my parents I’m in France), then updated my information on Papy’s phone (safe? I’m a bit paranoid about pickpockets but apparently am not concerned at all about hackers). Picked up someone’s bike (French people laughed at me), pet someone’s dog (“very American”), was startled to see hand-covers for motorbikes, then went to another administrative building where I pretended to know French.

Went back to Sciences Po, pretended to read a book about Keynesian economics, was surprised to see that I was not pretending as much as I thought! But I was extremely underdressed (for the library, even). Then went on a pointless search for gelato (learned that the word for ice cream is “glace,” which is appropriate because I’m like a meth-head when it comes to ice cream). Meanwhile ran into a bank that actually wanted to give me money, then meandered alongside the Seine where we ran upon a bunch of unruly police-in-training people in front of the National Assembly.

Papy had to go to basketball training, so figured out at length how and when to meet up again, decided on a spot and separated. Checked out the L’Homme photojournalism exhibit around the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Really awesome, reminded me of why I was interested in photography in the first place. Also realized I can understand more French when it’s written and I can pretend it’s Spanish. Not so easy when spoken, because half of the letters don’t exist in verbal communication.***

Then walked towards the Eiffel Tower amongst a bunch of small avenues, saw a woman wistfully twirling a perfect fall leaf and staring up at space, smiling to herself. Thought about taking a picture, decided against being that creepy. Soon afterwards saw a very fancy woman in all-black, possibly mourning some fashion designer’s death with what looked like the most hilariously lavish hat. Also possibly looked like an old Helena Bonham-Carter, which was perfect because we ran into a Mexican Johnny Depp earlier.

Made it the Eiffel Tower, got distracted by crows eating trash, then was followed at close range by soldiers with machine guns. Took many photos at the Tower of awesome geometry, then walked across the bridge to the Avenue de New York, where my ankles began to hate me and I cursed myself for not having bought insoles in the much cheaper Germany.

The ticket machine was not intuitive to me so I ended up being late for Papy, but we were able to meet and witness a very, very impatient old man try to flee the train away from the off-duty soldiers who are literally everywhere. Got home, took off everything that was moderately heavy, sat down, and talked. And talked. And I wasn’t dominating the conversation for once! Progress!

Ordered a pizza and enjoyed sitting with my feet up, which is quite nice, trying to learn French. Started, in Papy’s words, one of the best TV shows ever (Suits). Originally wrote: “Whether this is true will be confirmed or denied in a few moments, with delicious pizza,” and I must say now, it is absolutely confirmed. Suits: highly recommended.  We planned to go to a friend’s place for drinks, after which we were planning to return (early) so I can sleep more than two hours (which is why I wasn’t even going to bother turning this into a real post).

Instead, two episodes of Suits passed, my feet stayed up, and we went to sleep at a quite nice hour. Have my own room here! What luxury! And Suits is so good! Delicious lollipops accompanied! Life is good!

* Anti-Muslim sentiment is way up in France (particularly in the past few days), but it’s already way more diverse than Berlin. Africans and Asians galore! However, the first thing I saw upon exiting the arrivals hall was a man praying on the ground, just off to the side of the double doors, wedged between the gates and the wall. Two seconds later, I saw a full-on chapel. That doesn’t seem right..

** I’m going to miss a lot of things about Germany (the safety, the cheapness, the street art, the friendly people, the cute boys..), but amongst that list doesn’t include the constant feeling of being so weirdly inefficient. As a slow person in general (anyone who meets me for more than a minute knows that it takes me forever to shower, eat, tell a story, etc.), the most illuminating memory of distinctly German culture was arriving in Berlin from Oslo. Before the luggage carousel even began, people were poised and ready****; when the bags arrived, they gobbled them up like piranhas. I had grabbed my bag (which came relatively early in the queue) and was removing the protective cover (a process that took all of two minutes) when I looked up and realized the room I was in was completely empty. German efficiency, to a T.

*** I know this sounds like I don’t like French, but that’s not the case at all. In fact, it’s kind of nice being in a city where I can understand more than six words. French is also easier for me to pronounce than German, and is obviously a very sexy, lyrical language. Papy’s teaching me a lot, and considering it follows many of the same sentence structures as Spanish (as well as shares a certain base Latin vocabulary), it’s pretty fun to demystify sentences.

However, it is without a doubt very elitist – the language was constructed intentionally to keep the lower classes from understanding and interpreting religious texts. Not super down with that. But to do that, it adopted many interesting bedfellows. We discovered, through a detailed discussion of linguistics, that the German word for cheese (“käse”, kae-suh) and the Spanish equivalent (“queso, kae-so) are very similar! Moreover, the potato cultures of Germany and Russia share roots as well; Germans call them “kartoffel” and the Russians say “kartoshka” (картошка). What else have I been missing?!

**** That reminds me: yesterday, I flew out from the smaller Berlin airport of Tegel. Boarding was set to begin at 6:00, and due to some technical issue, we didn’t begin until 6:20. Regardless, at 6:00 promptly, a long queue began, and passengers stayed standing for twenty minutes – I assume most of these passengers were German. I, on the other hand, stayed seated until the last few people boarded; why stand when you can sit instead? (And at 6 AM, why be upright when you can be asleep?)