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Falling in love in Paris (revisited): Cliché becomes reality

Being that today is Valentines Day, it seemed appropriate to update the blooming romance to a full-scale love story. Two years later, I love him more than I ever imagined possible:

This [my] story sounds cliché, but falling in love in Paris really can happen! We’ve all heard that Paris is dubbed as ‘the city of lights’ and a lovers paradise, but I had no idea it could happen to me. I love the movie Casablanca too, but come on, does that really happen outside the movies or books? I can now tell you it does. My crusty, sarcastic coating regarding love, has been melted away by the man I now call, ‘mon mari’ (my husband).

How exactly did this happen? Well, back when I jokingly say that I had a ‘real job’, working for a global manufacturer, my job took me to our Belgian office on a month-long project. During that time, I met my ‘would-be’ hubby, a shy, handsome Belgian with boyish good looks and manly charm (see, I told you my story was a cliché before we started!). At least I didn’t say he was tall, dark and handsome!

OK, moving on. I worked with him side-by-side, we attended group functions and interacted as most coworkers do. During the course of these interactions, we both felt there was something between us, but with working 15 hour days amoung a group of people and no time off, we never spoke of our affinity for one another. As time went on, I began to think that I was being overly intuitive about his feelings for me and having that crusty coating at the time, I soon let logic and reason take over any notions of budding romance breaking through the shell. And eventually, it was time to go back home to the US and it became business as usual and sadly, we didn’t speak again for 12 years.

In checking one of my networking sites, I saw his name pop up as a suggested connection and wondered if he’d even remember me after all this time. I composed an awkward reintroduction saying, ‘hope you still remember me, I was one of the Americans who worked with you 12 years ago….’ I held my breath as I thought, what if he doesn’t remember me or doesn’t want to reconnect? How will this effect me? I then exhaled and clicked, ‘send invitation’ and hoped I wouldn’t embarrass myself or him too badly in the process. He responded by saying, ‘…of course I remember you Regina…’ and so, we reconnected as former employees do, right? Again, no bells, whistles, declarations or confessions, only the acknowledgment that he did remember me, a small yet important victory in my mind and unwittingly, a foreshadowing to the future.

In late September, a friend and I were planning to go to Paris for vacation. Since I knew my former Belgian coworker was living and working in France from his online profile, I asked if he was close to Paris to see if we could meet and get caught up on each others’ lives.  He said he’d love to see me again and would take the train to meet me in Paris to have dinner at Le Pied de Cochon, a Parisian institution for classic french cuisine. We met for a late dinner and already, I could sense my world was about to change.

Re-winding a bit to 12 years ago, we recognized the spark we had for one another, but never voiced our feelings, which only resulted in internal dialog about what could have been. The next morning, we met again for coffee with my travel buddy, so again, no time to explore our feelings from either of us on how we felt when we first met or in Paris, just great dialog between friends.

When he was leaving to take his train home, we hugged good-bye and it took all I had to not cry, which seemed ridiculous at the time, given that no outward expression of our feelings had ever taken place. Regardless, I hugged him and couldn’t even look back to see him disappear into the Metro, because I knew I would not be able to hold back my emotions.

Little did I know at the time, he was experiencing the same pain of leaving me and had all the same emotions he had then and now.  He told me later that he waited for me to look back and when I didn’t, he thought I didn’t share the love he had been carrying for me all this time. I was devastated that he was gone and that yet again, I didn’t have the courage to tell him how I felt.

As he disappeared into the Metro that day, he sent me an email at that time (which I never got until arriving home) that I had changed his life in just a moment, that he was starting to lose faith in love and happiness and that it all changed when he saw me again. He said he wasn’t willing to lose me again and wanted to find out if we were meant to be together. After returning home, I naturally got his message and I began to cry as I now finally knew the truth about how he felt and I could tell him I loved him too.

About a month after Paris, he came to visit for 10 days (his first trip to the US) and we actually got to talk and get to know one another without a constant audience. We found out that we do have a strong bond and connection that hasn’t waned over time or distance. And so it began, a romance that would take another year to come full circle, after 12 years in waiting.

“…See there’s this place in me where your fingerprints still rest, your kisses still linger, and your whispers softly echo. It’s the place where a part of you will forever be a part of me.”
–Gretchen Kemp

Happy Valentines Day everyone and keep on dreaming!

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Culture Choc, Daily life in France

 

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Gimme 5 minutes to ‘splain!

Sometimes [I think] we forget that language is the basis of culture. It shapes our experiences and in how we relate to others. If living in another country is not adventurous enough, learning the language can seem like climbing Mount Everest! I can honestly say, I am about halfway up the mountain and on good footing. Have I slipped and almost fallen? Absolutely! Many of these moments, I have humbly chronicled here (in my blog) for your amusement, but more importantly, in hopes that you will be able to step outside of your own culture and laugh with me (OK, ‘at me’ is fine too). Before moving to France, I was in love with all things French, still am. I thought there is no more beautiful language in the world and it has always been a dream of mine, to speak French. Well, again, “be careful what you wish for..”, as the saying goes! I have made every language gaff imaginable, made people laugh, cry and even angry at times. A veritable plethora of human emotions, I have insighted in complete strangers, new friends and family. I guess there is a sense of freedom in knowing that you’ve screwed up so much, that whatever comes is nothing new and hence; nothing you can’t handle. French truly is a beautiful language and I stand by my conviction, but it is certainly not easy to learn, not even for the French. For instance, there are multiple uses for the same word such as ‘toilette‘ (besides the obvious) and different words for the same thing, such as: ‘armoire’ (free standing cabinet), ‘placard’ (built-in cabinet) and just plain old ‘cabinet’ (hanging cabinet, like the kitchen type).

The biggest difference between French and English, is the subtlety. In French, you have to learn the differences between the types of cabinets and other seemingly redundant words, that have very close to the same meaning. In English, not so. You may learn English quicker than French to start, but the subtleties of English come later. After the basics are mastered, the nuances can then be put in place. It seems bizarre to me that a French child could know the subtleties of cabinets and toilets, but somehow, they do!

My poor hubby is constantly bombarded with questions by me about language differences between French and English, and he takes it like a champ. It’s like having a kid ask, ‘but why?’ all the time I would imagine. Sometimes he looks at me like I was just possessed by a body-snatcher (as in, the ‘invasion of’) to “I’m so proud of you, sweetie”, which I must say, is the one I prefer most. But either way, he supports my learning, even after a long day at work. Again, I can only compare it [my situation] to how a parent must feel when they have worked all day, feeling exhausted and your child needs help with their homework. That is probably the most important thing for any expat to know and commit to heart, is that you cannot do it alone. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating; we cannot succeed as expats without the support of those in-country, whether it be a supportive spouse or someone at the local market who is willing to work with you on your language skills.

In learning this [philosophy] early on, you will curb many feelings you will experience that are natural progressions of learning in an expat environment. The ‘imposter effect’ which is best explained as a chronic feeling of pretentiousness. You feel like the new kid on the playground, waiting for someone to pick you to play. At some point, your pronunciation exceeds your actual knowledge and this is the most difficult time. Why? Because you sound like you know what you’re saying, more so than what I call ‘tourist’ language.

When you learn enough to remove some of your native accent and construct simple sentences in present tense, people think you understand EVERYTHING they are saying. This is the imposter syndrome at its full-blown capacity! You feel like you have ‘faked’ your accent enough to trick them into thinking you know more than you know. And as a result, you feel awful that they have to repeat what they’ve said (especially when it’s very personal) which makes them feel more embarrassed than you. To combat this feeling, I would simply nod and smile and I got through most of it, but I still felt terrible that they walked away thinking I understood them, when really, I didn’t. There are just so many times you can ask someone to ‘parlez doucement’ (speak slowly) or repeat themselves, before it becomes awkward. In a nutshell, the expression, “fake it ’till you make it” is necessary to push past these insecurities. I now understand that in the end, most people are happy for you to just listen, nod and smile anyway. My takeaway from this? You can still claim to be a good listener even when it’s not your native tongue; you’re still paying attention to what they’re saying, even though you don’t understand everything. To listen to one another without judgement or interruption, transcends all understanding and never needs explaining.

 
 

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“To listen to this message in French, press 1″…go ahead, I dare you!

Courtesy of Google

We’re all familiar with the customer service prompts, “Press 1 to hear this message in English or presione 2 para escuchar este mensaje en español.” I never really thought much about it until recently, but after I read a post from a friend and consequently, saw all the “likes” for the Facebook group: “Press 1 to hear this message in English, press 2 to learn English,” I felt my blood begin to boil!

After reading the post and feeling my blood pressure rise, I thought, you know, I’m not going to dignify that with a response. Well, my good intentions were spoiled again, as I couldn’t keep quiet about a subject that was so near and dear to me as a visitor and now resident in France. It has taken me everyday, a minimum of 2 hours a day for the past year and a half to learn basic French. This is not to be fluent mind you, far from it! Only now, am I at the point where I understand the larger part of conversations when someone speaks to me and at least the gist of those I don’t. Passive understanding (comprehension without having to concentrate) is still (hopefully) yet in my future, but if I continue, by the end of the year (a mere 2 years later) I should be close to academic fluency. To become truly fluent (e.g. nuance, colloquial understanding), will take many more years. I am so grateful, that this opinion is not shared by my French neighbors, as they have been very understanding and helpful with my language mistakes and have tried to help me any way they could. They seem to inately understand how difficult it is to learn French and have complimented my efforts.

The point being, I’m not sure that those who are so insistent that we learn the language of the said, mono-linguist, truly understand the monumental task they have placed upon the heads of others (themselves, obviously excluded by default). I did in fact respond to the post and here is the excerpt;

POST: Happy Memorial Day!  Press 1 for English, Press 2 to learn English

me: Ouch, that’s a tough one on my end! My French has improved, so guess I pressed 2 to learn but am glad the French have been kind while I was learning. Maybe ‘Press 3’ for patience with those of us learning a new language? ;).

monophonic friend: When in France, speak French. When in USA, English baby! Enjoy France. Miss ya.

Well, I do miss him too, he’s a great guy, but I have to say, I was very stunned that someone who I thought to be intelligent, kind and considerate would still feel this way. Deep down, the devil in me one day hopes, that he will go on vacation or live in a place where he will have to learn a (at least some) foreign language to get by OR run into someone who speaks perfect English, who loves to correct him. I can dream, can’t I?

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2011 in Culture Choc

 

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Balcony view of the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné cycling race

Balcony view of the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné cycling race

Critérium du Dauphiné had it’s 63rd finale ending yesterday. Running from Sunday Jun 5th to 12th 2011, this cycling race consists of 1 prologue and 7 stages (8 days total), which when completed, covers a distance of 1,065 kilometres (~662mi.), winding its path through the French Alps and luckily, right past my balcony. Sheepishly, I have to admit, I felt a bit guilty having my ‘quatre heure’ (4PM designated snack time in France) while watching the crews and then the racers work their guts out, while I was sipping an afternoon tea and partaking of a few cookies. Several vanilla cremes later, I did get over my guilt and took some pics of all the hubbub. Everybody was into the pre-race frenzy and/or relaxation: amateur and professional cyclists, parents and grandparents, kids and of course, the professional tour riders that we were all gathered to see. It was a spectacle for the eyes, with all the logos, sponsorships and trendy, energetic music. The announcer literally took 45 minutes to mention all the sponsors for the event. As my dad would say, “I wish I had a dollar for every…( logo I saw)”. As a former marketer, trust me, it was impressive!

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The Critérium du Dauphiné (formerly the Dauphiné Liberé) started in 1947 and several of its past winners have often gone on to win Le Tour De France (which begins July 2nd), making it an important precursor to show team leaders, who will be chosen for the aforementioned grand-père of cycling races. Have you ever wondered what the different colored jersey mean? Well, if so, mystery now solved along with this year’s winners of the Critérium du Dauphiné.

Winners (source for all professional images and stats: latour.fr)

YELLOW JERSEY–rewards the leader of the general classification, calculated by adding together, the times achieved on each stage. Also taken into account are any bonifications earned on the intermediate sprints or the finish.

GREEN JERSEY–identifies the leader of the classification on points. The points in question are awarded According to the passing order on the intermediate sprints and at the finish line.

RED POLKA DOT JERSEY— identifies the best climber. The points counting towards the mountain classification are awarded on the basis of the passing order at the top of the climbs and passes.

WHITE JERSEY–identifies the first young rider up to 25 years old in the overall standings.

Winners: COPPEL-WIGGINS-DUQUE-RODRIGUEZ OLIVER© ASO/B.Bade

It still seems like yesterday, when I would go on ten plus mile runs on weekends, three mile runs during the week and weight-train a minimum of 3 times a week and still have the energy to work a physical job. Sure, I looked like I just jumped off a box of Wheaties, but the time and effort it took me on a ‘hobby level’, was tremendous, not to mention the dietary constraints. These guys are machines, not only in the performance level of their bodies, but in their mental endurance.

My serious athletic days may be behind me, but the rememberance of my past sacrifices (that pale by comparison), only underscores how much I support and appreciate the level of hard work, skill and mental toughness it takes to maintain peek performance. Maybe a caveat to the expression, “don’t sit back and let the world pass you by…” is, UNLESS, you have a really great balcony from which to do it!

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in Daily life in France

 

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Voila, dude!

Merci Google Images

The longer I live in France, the more I see a melding of the American and French cultures. Even in the commercials, there is a lot of English used. I’m not sure if the French culture is aware to what degree, as they may think it is simply advertising speech or an unfamiliar French word that they have now learned. The same is happening in American culture as well with the French language. Some feel that this melding of cultures is dangerous while others think that it is a natural and welcomed evolution for both. Whatever your school of thought, things are changing. The world is becoming smaller and better connected through the amalgamation of movies, TV, streaming video/radio, social networking, podcasts, blogs, you name it. No surprises there, but it did get me thinking about language similarities between French and English.

For just one example, the French use the word voilà like Americans use the word, dude (It’s OK, I still say it too). It reminds me of the Rob Schneider skit where he compares the word ‘dude’ to ‘Aloha.’

When I first arrived in France, I heard people use voilà, as my dad would say, like it was ‘goin’ out of style’ (Southernese for ‘a lot’). People used it in so many ways, it took me a while to understand the differences. Voilà literally is a contraction of ‘voir’ (to see) and ‘la’ in this instance, meaning ‘there.’ In the US, it has more of a ‘presto’ connotation, which is also one of the French uses along with many others. Voilà can be used in the following ways as translated to English:

1) See there or it’s there.

2) That’s it!

3) There you go!

4) That’s obvious (should be obvious).

5) So be it (what can you do about it?) Somewhat futile situation, apathy.

6) You’re right.

7) You’ve got it! (the hang of it.)

8) A response to surprise or like presto

The word also comes equipped with a sound effect, similar to what we would call a ‘raspberry’ or dare I say, fake flatulence noise? Just for fun, try holding air in your mouth with your cheeks puffed out. Then, let the air out quickly to make the sound effect. To release the air quickly and to fine tune your sound effect, you can use your index finger and gently poke one of your air-filled cheeks to let just enough air out to sound authentic. My belle soeur (sister-in-law who is a French-speaking Belgian) is a pro at this and I credit her with the perfect technique. 

Literally, for the first 3 months, I simply learned the word used in all the appropriate scenarios and many French had no idea that I didn’t speak the language. It was the perfect answer when you have no answer! The word dude may be the closest thing to it, but I think it still may fall a bit short. Perhaps using a ‘what’s up’ as a compliment may get you closer to the meaning. So, Voilà (insert sound effect-ppbbtt) my friends, if you can understand the multiple usages of the word and master the technique of the sound effect afterward, you too can survive in France! As you can see, it really is an amazingly versatile word. Use it freely, just don’t forget the accent at the end, s’il vous plaît!

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2011 in Daily life in France

 

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Into Great Silence

It was a Monday, when I stood witness to the Carthusian monks of the Chartreuse coming down from the monastery, to take a break from making their famous and curiously strong green liqueur. They walked right past my balcony window in their sturdy, handmade white robs, heading for the bus stop to go back to the place they now call home (I wish I had caught a picture of them). I marveled at them speaking and enjoying a day in town like the rest of us. Even considering the size of their group, they still spoke to one another in hushed, yet joyful tones. In watching them pass, I pondered, what on earth (literally) could any of us have in common with these monks? They seem to live an impossible life: painful, monotonous, bizarre and probably most of all, lonely. I was fascinated by them but also in awe of them for the life they’ve chosen.

After seeing them go by that day, I went to the monastery, hoping to get another glimpse of them. I know it sounds strange, but seeing them was like seeing three dimensional ghosts, something of legend or a figment of the imagination. In those brief moments of observation, I felt as if I were reading a fascinating story, which had the last chapter ripped out. I longed to know more about them. I took pictures in an effort to peer into their mysterious lives, to get closer to them somehow. Even though I am not Catholic, to see them evoked a sense of peace that is difficult to describe and illusive to recapture.

What is their curiosity? Is it that they are the antithesis of modern society? That they sacrifice more than any of us can imagine and do so, willingly? Whatever the reason, they do seem to make a huge impact in this region of France. It’s hard to say, but somehow, here…in the Chartreuse, I think the mountains are even more special. Could it be the influence of the Chartreuse monks? I only know how they make me feel: relaxed, happy and hopeful that there is still good in the world despite the news and what modern society would have us believe.

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Although I still don’t have an answer as to what we have in common with the monks, I do think this is one reason why we travel: to experience life-changing moments that give us peace, regardless of the reason. These images help me reconnect to that peace that I would imagine, also enables them to endure a life of silence.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2011 in Daily life in France

 

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Expat relations: where have my old friends gone?

Over coffee this morning, I told my husband about a weird dream about an old friend. Long story behind the crazy dream (they rarely make sense to the waking mind, do they?), but more importantly, I started thinking of my old friendships and how the expat experience not only changes you, but also how your old friends relate to you as well.

To give you a bit of background first, back in my hometown (Memphis), I was part of a small but tight group of friends that worked together and played together. We looked forward to our lunches and then to our weekends plans with one another. As time went by, our lives changed with the advent of children, job promotions and losses and other family circumstances. However, we were still able to survive all those life events for 15 years. Friends forever! We toasted to it and declared it on many occasions, that no matter what happens, we will always remain friends.

At the time, I know we all believed it and wished it to be true. But after moving to Charlotte, NC, I began to feel the distance when I would go back home to visit. They all had lots of laughs, private jokes and experiences that they shared, that now had to be explained to me. I felt myself swallow hard with the realization that time and distance were starting to take their toll. My ‘tier one friendship circle,’ as I call it, was starting to deteriorate. It reminded me of the Millennium episode of  Seinfeld  when Jerry fell from the top 10 on the speed dial.

It was a year later, that I moved to France. After living in France for almost another year, I returned home again for another visit. What little familiarity that existed two years ago was now completely gone. The once comfortable ramblings had been replaced with deliberate and calculated chatter that only takes place between friends of friends desperately trying to find common ground. The magical connection was gone; Camelot had ended. My friends were vanishing before my eyes between uncomfortable pauses. There were even some friends that were no-shows. I’m not sure which was worse, the trite conversations with the living ghosts of my past or the absence of the ideal friendship that no longer existed. Maybe it was both; maybe they are one in the same.

In speaking with another friend about my angst over the apparent transition with my tier one circle, he told of how the same thing happened in his and his wife’s lives. He told me that you are the one who changes, it’s your friends who have stayed the same. I protested and said, “But, I’m the same person I’ve always been. I don’t understand why…” and in that moment, he stopped me and said, “no, you’re not the same.” Looking even more bewildered than before, I asked him what he meant. He proceeded to tell me that once you’ve experienced certain life events, you change and often without you noticing. It is inherent and inevitable.

Courtesy of Google Images

Funny how you don’t feel it happening, but it’s like a bowl of candy that starts out half full. With each day and each experience that challenges you, stretches your mind and touches your soul, you add another piece of candy to the bowl. Before long, you realize how much sweeter your life has become and how much you want to share this bowl of candy with all you meet.

There are things that can steal candy from you bowl, such as becoming sour on friendships that change or disappear all together or having one foot into a new culture but not yet fitting in; but if you can push past these feelings and understand that it is part of the process, you can live the sweet life! I would be a liar if I said that letting go (of old friends) has been easy, but I now understand that I was the one who left them. I changed. Although we’ve not discussed it and may never have the chance after all that has happened, I know that they are probably mourning the death of our former friendship too.

We all know that the old dies to make way for the new, both literally and figuratively speaking, but it still hurts when we loose a loved one in any capacity. Sometimes they are still living when we lose them and that can be what hurts most, the seemingly unfinished business of it all in wondering, why? So as an expat, your relationships will inevitably change but in the process, try to enjoy the ride. Enjoy your friends and family while you can and stay open to the new friendships that will inevitably replace some of the old ones. The process will be painful but it’s still worth the ride. ‘Profite de la vie’ (enjoy your life) y’all!

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2011 in Daily life in France

 

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