Pamela MacNaughtan

Will my love affair with Paris – or France for that matter – ever wain?

As I travel, I find myself looking for places to stop. Places where I can go beyond being a tourist. I look for areas that are quiet, full of character, and off the tourist track. Don’t get me wrong, I love to be social, and party from time to time, but I want more. I want a connection to where I am.

Coming to Paris this week has been like visiting an old friend. Visiting my favourite patisserie, and grocer. Staying in the same hostel as I did 5 years ago, Hostel Caulaincourt because it’s in a quiet Parisian neighbourhood in Montmartre. Bliss.

While I’m in Paris I make an effort to use what little elementary school French I can remember, and walked into shops as if I belong there. My strategy is simple. Smile, try to say what I want, in French, and hopefully walk out happy. My first attempt came at the patisserie near my hostel. I walked in the door, smiled, and ordered “deux croissant au beurre “, then stood there nervously as the man behind the counter repeated my order. For some silly reason, I took this as a sign that I had spoken incorrectly, and I quickly said, “Oui. Parle français, un petit peu”, and smiled once more. The man smiled then, asked of I spoke English, and then spoke kindly as I finished my purchase.

I’m not sure if I pronounced things wrong, but it didn’t really matter. I had tried, and that seemed to be enough. This experience has been repeated several times throughout my stay in Paris, and I was always pleasantly surprised when locals would ask (in French) if I spoke English, then go out of their way to communicate with me – some of them encouraging me to keep trying, as the practice would pay off later.

My knowledge of French is quirky at best. I can read menus, signs etc., and I can say a few words and phrases, but I rarely understand people when they speak to me. It makes things a wee bit more challenging, but I’m okay with that.

Each hour that I spend in Paris (and France), I seem to remember more and more words, and phrases. I find myself sitting on the metro, trying to figure out the proper way to form a question. I know what words to say, I’m just trying to remember how to put them together properly in a sentence. So, I turn to Google, and when that doesn’t work out, I abandon my effort and think of a different way to get what I need.

As I travel to different countries, I have been surrounded by new languages. In Thailand, I can say about 5 words, and I know about 3 naughty phrases. In Germany, I can say even fewer words, and the same goes for China and every other country with a foreign language. France however, is different. I actually understand it more. I can read where I’m going and not get lost. I can communicate a little bit. I feel more connected to the people, the country, and the culture.

It. Is. Awesome.

I need to work on my French. I know this. The fact that my niece is starting French immersion this fall is an even bigger incentive (can you imagine a 5 yr being cheeky in French, and not knowing it?!). After all, I can’t have her knowing way more French than I do!

The thought of taking French classes in Canada is dreadful, as is the idea of listening to language CDs. It’s boring. There is no fun, no real challenge. If I don’t like it, I can stop. In France though, it’s different. Speaking French – it’s a crappy segway, but I’m out of finesse at the moment – every day would be a challenge, and quitting would make life a tad more difficult.

France. Oh, how I would love to return to France for 6 months and learn French (this is something I have thought about a lot in the last few days). I would love to live in Paris or a delightful little town outside the city. I close my eyes, and I envision a small, but cozy, apartment. Walks to local markets where I practice my French while shopping for groceries. Nights spent in a café, reading, writing, or people watching. Taking some cooking classes. Being an expat.

When I arrived in France on Sunday, I was ready to explore the city, take some photos, and move on. I didn’t expect to fall in love with the idea of speaking French and living a quiet and fulfilling lifestyle for 6 months. Of course, I have no clue how to make any of it happen. I definitely don’t have the funds right now to move to France for 6 months, but maybe I should look at ways to make it happen. Perhaps going back to work for a year would be a good idea. Make money, save, then move to France, learn French, cook, read, write, explore.

It could work, right? I could totally re-arrange my life plans so I can live in France for a little while. Yeah, that’s what I thought you would say. Viva la France!


  • July 5, 2012

    Learning the language goes hand in hand with learning the culture and ultimately enjoying the place. Being an expat is one of the most challenging things as well as one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

    It gives you a new perspective of what you can handle and a new set of challenges in a way that even being a traveler does not. The traveler to expat comparison is similar to the language class in France example you had. As a traveler if something gets to hard you can leave. Most annoying paperwork things don’t pop up for months after living in a place anyway. And locals who are perfectly happy to help you when you are just coming through can turn unhappy when they feel you are invading. As an expat decided to stay, you have to deal with things and it helps mold you stronger in ways.

    I say go for it. Figure out how to stay in Paris for a while. If nothing else it lets you tell the story about the “time you lived in Paris for a while.”

  • Heather

    July 12, 2012

    Paris seems absolutely charming and I’ve somehow always slipped over it! As a side note, your niece will absolutely be cheeky in French. My brother and I would speak it when we didn’t want the adults knowing what we were saying. Looking forward to reading your Mongol Rally posts!

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