Back in February, I began my French class through the Mairie de Paris (~Government/City Hall of Paris). I only made the waiting list in the fall semester because I had the hardest time trying to translate the course information and then, fill out my form properly en français. Since these classes are cheap compared to those offered by institutions, it is very competitive to get in so one needs to register quickly by snail mail and the forms must be filled out sans erreur. Weirdly enough, I was still required to show up for an oral interview to place me at my correct learning level. It was a very stressful occasion and I recalled that all the students came hesitantly into the classroom, not knowing what to expect; the teacher then randomly chose students (by making eye contact) to interview. So I was quite irked that it wasn’t conducted on a “first-come-first-serve” basis because I didn’t have two hours to wait around for a placement that likely wasn’t going to happen. I finally took the initiative to make deliberate eye contact to get my interview but no matter, I was tenth on the list with no hope of getting in. So for this winter registration, I was reminded to take the initiative again: I left my seat and waited behind the next person who was being interviewed, as the teacher just called out “suivant!” (=”next!”) although it took me a while to figure out what suivant meant… For my writing test, one of my tasks was to finish sentences of a paragraph, one which read en français, “I didn’t think she was French because _____.” For fear of sounding stereotypical or offensive, I spent ten minutes on this sentence before coming up with an adequate answer but you can imagine how difficult I found this exercise, considering my sarcastic nature.
So here I am, taking classes with people from all over the world, some who’ve just arrived this year, others who have lived in Paris for decades. And I love it. My teacher is super nice and smiley (unusual for a teacher, let alone a Parisian!), very approachable (compared to my last two French instructors), and I have learned so much in her class. In fact, I feel like an old dog who is having trouble learning new tricks because I have been doing things incorrectly for such a long time. Par exemple, I have been liaising every French word possible in my sentences which is completely confusing to everyone, including me. I have been pronouncing the word “dessert” en français as the word “desert.” My teacher has also introduced us to popular French culture, like the singer who sang the original tune of “My Way.” Claude François’ song “Comme d’habitude“ was purposefully rewritten by Canadian Paul Anka, specifically for Frank Sinatra to sing. Imagine all the turned up noses of the Americanized ears of students (mine included!) who listened to the original French version in class. The French version is sung as gutsy and raw as Frank’s subsequent English version.
When I hear French conversation, my brain still has a habit of shutting it out so I am constantly lost when I listen to French. Yet, one of my favourite moments is in this classroom, when I hear the cacophonous chimes of the bells from the nearby tower of the church, St. Germain l’Auxerrois, before the clock bell strikes on the hour. (Yes, sadly perhaps the same bell that signaled the beginning of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572…)
Shhh– I hear the ancient bells clanging outside. Inside, the soft lyrical tones of French conversation surrounds me in the classroom.
I am living in Paris…