France and Me

Here's an anecdote about my current boss. He grew up in California where 30% of the people speak Spanish as their first language. He has spent years travelling to and from and even living in Mexico for various reasons. His wife is originally Argentinian, so all his in-laws speak Spanish. He's now here in Spain heading up this project and has been here for over a year. Despite all this, he doesn't speak Spanish at any level beyond ordering food and asking directions to the bathroom.

I mention this because my relationship with France is becoming eerily similar. I grew up an hour or so South of the Quebec border in New Hampshire and many of my classmates were bilingual French-Canadians. I've been in Quebec several times and we used to even play basketball against a school from there. In San Francisco, I became good friends with a half-American/half-French guy named Chris Maresca and learnt a lot about French life and culture from him. I first travelled to France in 1998 during a 3 month backpacking trip around Europe. I made a huge loop so I was constantly passing in and out of France and Paris. At least 5 times during that trip I found myself inside the borders of France. The highlight of this trip was that I was in Paris during the last day of the Soccer World Cup when France won against Brazil - I marched with a million other people from the Latin quarter where I was watching the game on a big screen outdoors, up the Champs d'Elysees to the Arc de Triumph. It was quite the memory... though because I don't speak a word French, I didn't get a chance to really party with the locals, it was still fun to be in the middle of it all. This is a recurring theme.

Say what you want to about France and the French (my favorite joke is that France is incredible, if it weren't for all the French people), but it really is an amazing country. Beautiful beaches to the south, the Alps, the beautiful towns. Paris. Smack dab in the middle of Europe it really has the some of the best parts of the whole continent right there. And the food is amazing. I've never had a bad meal in France. Not knowing French, but being somewhat daring, I usually just take recommendations and go with it. I've never been disappointed. And as Megnut is discovering, the French are normally quite friendly and very curious about Americans - whom which they have a love/hate relationship. Parisians can be bitchy, but they're known for it, so you just have to deal.

To continue, after I moved here to Spain, I took Ana to Paris as one of our first big trips together (others included Egypt and a grand tour of the U.S.). Paris is very romantic - and it obviously made a decent impression since she married me. ;-) I had been there several times before I was able to show her around to all the touristy bits and roam around some of the parts where the tourists don't normally go. It was a nice trip. But not knowing French, it was difficult for us to tell the insane taxi driver we had NOT to engage in a high-speed chase through red stoplights after the guy who bumped him in traffic on the way into Paris from the airport.

For our honeymoon, Ana and I tried to find something unique to do, so we booked a vacation through a travel company called Catai. The idea was to avoid an "English or Spanish-only" vacation so we tried to find something that was a middle ground. We booked a week on a Carribean island called Martinique and another week aboard a small catamaran cruise ship bopping from there to the Tobago Kays. It was an amazing trip, but in many ways quite frustrating. The reason is that the whole trip was in French - Catai is a French company and the people who book tours through them are mainly French. We didn't know this beforehand. Martinique is owned by France and is like any other province on the mainland: 100% French. Between Ana and I we're very bilingual, but no one spoke neither Spanish nor English, it was incredible. At our hotel, the whole staff spoke only French (except the front desk who spoke halting English) and all the other guests of course were only French. Once we got onto the boat, it was more of the same - with only the captain of the boat speaking any English at all and every other couple only speaking French. All the announcements were in French. The movies were in French. Everything. Two weeks of solid French... which would be fine, but even after buying a phrasebook, Ana and I were lost. The low-point came when the captain knocked on our door one morning: "Pardon. But everyone is waiting for you on the bus." Bus? What bus? Where ARE we? We had no idea.

That brings us to present day... It now seems that once again French is making an appearance in my life. In the past few days I've learned that there's a large contingent of French people in the group! Erik and Cedric are from France and living in the U.S. and Patrick is French and living back in Paris after several years in Silicon Valley! Wow... all these guys amongst us! Anyone else?!? (The thing about these guys is they've all work or worked for big name tech companies like Apple, Sun and BEA. It's very interesting. I wonder what that means?) And finally At my current job, all the web servers are in Lyon and I've already been booked and cancelled twice to go up there and check them out. Very soon I'll be in France again... yet again without any sort of knowledge of the French language. Ugh!

Anyways, it looks like it might be the right time to take some lessons in French. Now that my monoglot mind is warmed up to the idea of speaking another language, maybe learning a third wouldn't be that bad. (That's what they say at least) Well, learning how to count and order a drink at the bare minimum wouldn't be bad since I'm obviously going to be experiencing French throughout my life...


Later... I'm also going to go see Cirque du Soleil tonight with Ana. I'm not sure if this counts, but still, a sign's a sign.

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