On Speaking French

As I am getting closer and closer to having my apartment just like I want it (the goal is probably unreachable, but I strive), I find myself wondering what I will do with my time when I no longer need to be interior designer, plumber, and furniture arranger.  I will finally be able to answer the question posed to me by many: what are you going to DO in France?

And as I asked myself, I wondered – write? draw? Start a Meetup?  No answers were forthcoming.  But I realized I have visitors until the second week of May and the question doesn’t need to be answered immediately.  Isn’t procrastination wonderful?

But I don’t think I have to wait for May for the answer.  The Universe seems to be moving things right along.

The wonderful Meetup of Expats has been a great resource.  The Brit told me about Conversation Exchange which I have written about previously.  Up to today, I have three people I have met with for conversation, one quite regularly, one semi-regularly and the last scheduling difficulties have postponed us from meeting again  until May.  Nice.

And in the last week, language, language, language.  The CE tax attorney told me his wife – quite spontaneously – offered to meet with me for an hour each week to just speak French to help me along.

Four other quite interesting people have contacted me on CE itself.  We are set to meet in May.  One is a life coach like me, another used to be a director of some type of adult learning, another a history teacher and the last… just a business woman, I guess.

And yesterday at the expat Meetup, Christianne (she is French – the Meetup is both expats and French) suggested we meet for 2 hours each week.  1 hr each English/French.  She wants to improve her English – she is quite fluent but idioms, don’t you know?  And she used to teach English to foreigners so she said she can teach me and explain why things are said certain ways.  Woo Hoo me!

If I schedule this right, I will be having 2 conversations or so a day starting in May.  That should kick-start my fluency.  Oh, and I forgot Sabine (a retired law professor also from the Meetup) and I are going to meet in May also.  She has helped me with my French phone issues.

Oh. French phone story. I get texts from the phone company about the plan.  One says this is how much you have left of data.  Then it said “votre credit de communication est epuise.”  Which means  your communication credit is used up.    But the phone works.  (of course, I can’t recharge it online because I do not have a French credit card.  I have to go to a Tabac – tobacco store to pay for a code which I then can enter on line).  Still – that message is disconcerting.  Wanting resolution, I stop in an SFR store and ask.  The gentleman does speak English.

What’s funny is the text breaks the work communication because it’s too big for one line.  So one line says “communicatio” and the next says “n est epuise.”

Now in French, the negative is expressed by placing ne before the verb and pas after.  So the clerk tells me it says “n’est epuise.”  It’s not used up.  They forgot a word.  Well, ok, sometimes they might use the ne or the pas alone but not ususally, I don’t think,  in a formal notice.  Then I realize the “n” goes with the “communicatio.”  When I point that out to him, his response – they forgot the “ne pas.”

Like what?  Attendez! Quoi?  At that point I gave up – the phone works. He clearly has no interest in researching this – if the phone works, why bother? Who knows what they mean.  And it’s a prepaid monthly plan so it should work til mid-May and recharge time.

Back to the French…

I am more and more comfortable speaking French, but I do need to take some time to look at a text book again from time to time.  Sometimes I am just chatting away and suddenly I realize that I am thinking in French and my brain stops in amazement and all the words then tumble over themselves and pile up sort of like a traffic jam of rear-ending cars.  I need AAA to tow my brain away and give it a jump start!

And speaking of idioms… I was earlier in this post… it is of the most interesting parts of this language business.   I catch myself thinking something in English – like using a metro ticket when I didn’t need to and thinking that I had “burned that ticket.”  And I stop and realize my French friends might not understand that.  It happens with other thoughts.  So my French is making me pay more attention to my English speech.

Then there’s the issue of accent.  I have no clue  where my accent falls on a scale of terrible to great.  I get compliments, some people clearly understand me.  And others: others look at me as if I crawled out from under a rock which no language skills.  I repeat and repeat and finally they deign to say exactly the same word in a tone with a facial expression that says “Oh so you meant to say this???”  And I swear to you, their pronunciation is almost identical to mine.  As I ponder this, it seems that most of those people happen to be waiters.  Hmmmm

Visitor… and a disaster averted

I was last seen on Word Press in a blog on how long I could take to clean my apartment. I excel at this.

Cleaning was in preparation of the Guest arriving from California on Tuesday. Monday saw the second delivery from Monoprix- I stocked up on staples in advance of her visit. But I find I almost (almost) miss my daily trips to Monoprix.2015-04-13 09.16.22

Then another trip to BHV (the wonderful department store with a hardware store in its basement) for what I once again think will be my last trip for making the apartment mine. Somehow I seem to continue to discover new amenities I want. <shrug> So this trip was for second towel, caulking, mold cleaner, and, of course, two new scarves. Well, I am in Paris after all!

The bathroom suffers from some mold as I said. The hydrogen peroxide worked well, but the caulking was breaking up, so I bought some silicone and applied that on Monday afternoon. My, what a difference it makes. Happy.

2015-04-14 21.36.58

And then plans for a good sleep as I was going to get up on Tuesday to go out to Charles De Gaulle to meet my Guest. (G). I didn’t need to meet her, but I wanted to experience the RER (suburban trains) and the airport when I was not traveling myself. Then I am too focused on my own trip!

Up at 6 (yes, six in the morning!). Dressed. Bite to eat. 2015-04-16 15.55.46Grabbed three small bags of trash. Locked the door, bags and keys in left hand and right hand on the railing – do NOT want to trip and fall in Paris. Dump trash and head for the trains.

The RER is interesting… these trains run from suburbs into and across Paris. So you can take an RER from Porte Maillot (my station) to Chatelet. There’s also a metro – typical subway cars. The RER is a real train. It just feels strange to get on a real train that runs underground. It’s France. Anyway, I took the metro to the RER station where I had to go out and buy an RER ticket to CDG (ten euros) and then find the train.

After waiting on the wrong track for 5 minutes, – the sign did say these trains went to CDG! – I realized the train I wanted was on the track on the right. And of course I had just missed it. No worries. I was early enough.

Seated on the train. About a 40 minute trip. Just watching the scenery (it does not go through the nicest neighborhood in Paris). I have set up an instinctive and automatic self check… happens about every hour – wallet, right pocket, yup. Change, right pocket, yup. Navigo card for metro, right pocket, yup. Ok, now left pocket: keys. Wait what? Try that again: Keys? Really? No keys?

Immediate scan – where are the keys, where could the keys be, when did I last have the keys?

Pretty immediate response. You put the keys on your index finger on your left hand with the trash with the intention to remember they were there before you dumped the trash.


Yes. My keys fell into the trash with the three trash bags. There are two trash containers for my apartment. One was full. The one I used only had one bag in it. And then my three. And, of course, my keys.

2015-04-16 15.57.21

Vital question. When is the trash picked up? Because I will not be back for 3-4 hours. And what if they do dump the trash? I will have to find my landlady – who works. Across town.  (That photo is of the “backyard” with the little trash shack.)

Trash schedule… I have been trying to figure this out in general as my goal has been to take my trash down 2 days before so there is room for it. But sometimes les homes de poubelles (trashmen) seem to pick up some Tuesdays, other Wednesday and even Thursday. So I don’t know.

I give it up to the Universe. I can do nothing until I return. Except mentally kick myself.

The Air Canada meeting place is easy to find. There are some chairs so I sit and wait. A TV monitor is on the wall next to the doors announcing the arrivals and giving details about when the bags will be delivered. That gives you an idea when to expect your arrival.

Coming into CDG, you leave the plane and walk a long way to the Passport Control where you are sorted by Schengen passports (EU countries who signed a treaty to allow for open borders) and everyone else who must present their passport to the French police in the booth. Then you go on to baggage claim if you have checked a bag. And then to Customs. Douane. Which always confused me. You just walk past three or more uniformed Douane guards who are chatting and you continue out the door. No forms. No questions. I guess sometimes they decide to stop you but I have never seen it. (This is a photo off the web – as I said, I have never seen them talk to a traveler.)

Then you are truly “arrive” en France.

I sit. Watching the TV screen keeping me up to date. And. Only in France. Two workers come by with a ladder and carefully take the TV screen down and away. Without replacing it. Suddenly all of us waiting for a variety of planes have no information. Only in France.

But it doesn’t really matter. The length of time to wait is the same with or without a TV screen.

My Guest arrives! With her bag and my famous purple bag – my second wave of things I need in France.   If you are going to move to a different country, I strongly recommend this. I was able to send some lighter weight summer clothes in the purple bag.   And my fabulous renter was kind enough to pick up some extra vitamins and TJ tea and salad dressing mix and more miscellany. And my G was kind enough to check it on her flight. So it was like opening a surprise box!

But before I could open the surprise package, I needed to get into the apartment. Fortunately, the apartment building access is two security codes – no keys. After walking over from the Air France Le Cars bus stop by Port Maillot, we got into the building, G waited in the lobby with the bags and I went out to the trash.

I was scared to look.2015-04-16 15.57.31

If the keys weren’t there, we would have to wait several hours for the landlady and I would have to pay for a new key and there would always be that nagging thought – did someone take them and could get into my apartment anytime?

I opened the lid. No grey trash bag that had been there. None of my three small white trash bags. Empty.

Except there was some indeterminate trash (like empty plastic sacks) sitting in a tiny bit of water and next to them: MY KEYS.

I will take the success. But I still don’t know where the other trash went and why no one saw the keys and took them. Just don’t think about it – just thank the Universe, open the door, and wash the keys with soap and very very hot water.

After that excitement, moving G in and opening the surprise purple bag was a bit anticlimactic.

But, horrors! G was getting sick. She had stayed with friends for three days on the east coast before hopping the pond and those people had deadly colds. In spite of zinc, she caught it too. Yet she was a trooper. She wanted to stay awake to make the time change transition and wasn’t feeling too badly.

2015-04-14 17.16.39A lovely late lunch at an outside café. And later while I had a conversation exchange (CE), she walked along the Seine to Notre Dame and back to my CE restaurant. Her energy had peaks and valleys as is normal for a first day jet lag experience. We came back on Metro 6 and bus 82 – my favorite routes for a view of the Eiffel Tower.

Wednesday, G was totally into bad cold mode and stayed in all day. As she is wisely doing today. We hope by tomorrow she will be well as we have plans for Chartres.

On Wednesday I had another CE and the over 50 Meetup Group – that has such interesting people –And I bought a cute hat – it has been sunny and HOT (79 degrees) here so the hat was a necessity. Tomorrow there is a significant decrease in temp to a high of only 65.2015-04-16 15.32.06

Moi? I am taking Xicam religiously and planning to avoid any illness. Being sick is NOT on my Paris agenda.