Observations on the French…
Wednesday was a busy day, starting with Albert in the morning for our weekly conversation exchange. He was just back from the long weekend in Normandy. And he brought me a present! Some file folders (have I told you about the wonderful French file folders? I told him that we can’t get them in the states and I love them – he’s brought me 4 now!) and a tin of butter biscuits from Normandy with D Day on the top.
WWII and the French are somewhat of a mystery to me. One of my French language sites, www.commeunefrancaise.com had a video specifically on WWII on May 8. She warned people to be diplomatic about the war and that the French people don’t like to speak of it. OK. I was thinking of painful memories. And I have gone to the Churchill De Gaulle exposition at the Musee de l’Armee. No love lost between them. And recently reread the Herman Wolk Winds of War and War and Remembrance with its perspective of Roosevelt and De Gaulle. And then, of course, Is Paris Burning? And a few days ago I finished Suite Francaise. Hmmm. I am certain there are better more informed history buffs and scholars in my readership than I am. But what’s the psyche of a country that has been invaded multiple times? And had to live through Vichy France? And changed the Allied timing to liberate Paris to one of De Gaulle’s timing? I grew up in a country that honored the vets of WWII. We tell the stories, make the films, John Wayne-ho. And here I am encouraged to not talk about it? In fact, the quick conversation I did have with a Frenchman about WWII was almost at a whisper. At his initiation. More to ponder.
But let me say, I am changing my mind about the French and the topic of rudeness/nicety/gratitude. I have noticed and shared the story about not saying Merci so often with a number of other French folks. And all strongly support saying Thank You. And now that I am more fluent in French, I am starting to initiate conversations with strangers – and they are nice people. Reserved at first, and formal. But nice. Now I am not ready to back track on the “getting involved” question as I still think that’s more an American trait! And I reserve the right to change my opinion in the future. 🙂
Several years ago I sat next to a consultant from one of the Big ? the accounting/consulting firms… used to be a bigger number and now there may be only 2-3. Anyway, one of the big ones. She consulted on intellectual property rights and worked all over the globe. She was just finishing 2 years in Paris. She shared an observation with me. She said that the French took longer to get to know you, but once you get past that reserve, she thought they were closer more connected friends than any she had in the States. I don’t know about that yet – time will tell.
But I can say that the expats I meet here are the most open and helpful group of Yanks I have ever met. I so enjoy that Meetup Group. People are eager to meet the new drop-ins. Quickly exchange cards or emails or phone numbers and follow up on the comments to get together in the near future. And everyone is interesting in his or her own way. Yes, we share a common love and desire – for Paris and to be in Paris. And that seems to be enough to develop a friendship – there are no expectations or judgments. Everyone brings an interesting past and exciting future. When I moved to Sacramento years ago, I encountered many “nice” people but clearly they had exactly the right number of friends and didn’t really need to make space for any new ones. Totally opposite here.
Today after conversation with Albert, I went on the Crypt under the plaza of Notre Dame. Albert was sure it would be packed with tourists. But no. I didn’t think so – heck, it’s taken me 8 years to even think about going there. Probably 5 before I even noticed it. It is NOT the place of bones and skulls. This is the archeological site of Roman ruins. And medieval ruins. Walls, stairs, the quay on the Seine – yes it was closer then. Very interesting indeed. I need an engineer to explain to me how a river is transformed into a channel with stone sides. Because back in the day, the Seine had regular old river banks. And there were more islands than just the two. And how do ruins like this get covered over? It had to be 10 feet at least lower than the plaza above. That’s the level of the cathedral. How does it get buried and built upon? And forgotten until someone needs a parking lot? There were great exhibits and drawings showing the transformation of the island. Check out www.paris.3ds.com.
The day ended with a conversation with Elizabeth. And I just chatted away in French without much thought. But I made sense. I look forward to the day when I don’t notice that I am speaking full sentences, full paragraphs of French. Now, when I do, part of me steps aside and, as an observer, jumps up and down in excitement! Hurrah you! Elizabeth gave me her professional assessment tonight – yes, I used to speak in sentences, pausing between each thought to compose. Now I am speaking in paragraphs, getting a complete idea across at once. Still have vocabulary to work on and still need to work on the verbs. The best thing she said, however, was that at times she didn’t hear an accent! That I actually sounded really truly French. (So there, Michel Jouet – French 5 teacher at UCSC who yelled at me every time I said something in class. I dropped out. A French friend said to me – what does he k now about pronunciation? He’s Swiss!!!)
Tomorrow should be a clear day (today was showery off and on – Oh and a true HAIL storm!) and I am off on an adventure to Chateau Malmaison – home of Josephine (of Napoleon fame).