Saturday, February 22, 2014

The same, but different

It’s not news that the French are ardent protectors of the French language. L’Académie Française, one of the defending entities, was established in 1634 with a mission " work with all the care and all possible diligence to give certain rules to our language and make it pure, eloquent and capable of handling the arts and sciences." The Academy sets up the rules governing dictionary entries, grammar, literature and poetry as well as staunchly, in some cases controversially, preventing English words from entering the vocabulary. For example, in 1990 brainstorming became remue-ménages (literally translating to stir the brain membrane) and in 2011, hashtag became mot-dièse (literally meaning hash symbol word.)

This is totally reasonable given French is a pretty darn hard language to master and there are only 40 members (of 65 million French residents) in L’Académie Française. If I was an expert of French linguistics, grammar, literature and etymology, I, too, would do everything in my power to preserve the language out of fear of getting fired for letting another English word slip into the French lexicon. What an embarrassment that would be!

In relatively recent years, it seems there have been some slackers in L’Academie since a few English words have become commonplace in France, albeit with a slightly different meaning.

Here are the terms and their French meanings:

Parking (noun, masc.): Parking Lot. Because it’s a word often used, I’ll admit to sometimes saying it in English. Is there a parking?

Speed (adj): Someone who is energetic or hyper; to be rushed or stressed.

Mail (noun, masc.): An email. Technically there is a French word created by L’Académie Française –courrier électronique- but it’s not often used.

Playback (noun, masc.): Lip Syncing. This one really threw me off the first few times I heard it. To me, it sounds less Britney Spears and more ESPN.

Camping (noun, masc.): A campsite or campground. Forget rustic weekends in the great outdoors, campings in France are something to experience. Just watch the aptly-titled film ‘Camping’ and you’ll get it.

Fashion (adj): Fashionable, trendy. When my adorable niece Victoria was between 3-8 years old, everything she deemed cute or cool was ‘so fashion.’ I think of this everytime it comes from a French person.

People (adj. or noun, masc.): famous, trendy; celebrity. Can be used in singular or plural form. Real magazine headline “Le président de la République est-il un people comme les autres?= Is the President of the Republic a celebrity like the others?’  Another headline “Tout les actualités people” = All the celebrity news.
Babyfoot (noun, masc.): Foosball. I’m guessing it’s football for babies, its cuteness has won me over.
Jean (noun, masc.): Jeans. It’s singular in French.
Has-been (adj): In French it’s used like this, ‘He’s so has-been.’
Pressing (noun, masc.): Dry Cleaners; the dry cleaning.
Talkie-Walkie (noun, masc.): Walkie-Talkie. Confusing for me and increasingly harder to remember which is used in English, and which in French.
Tube (noun, masc.): Hit song. Maybe someone wanted to say ‘tune’ but had a cold, and it just spread like wildfire thereafter.
Week-end (noun, masc.): Weekend. This is one that traverses all languages.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Name That Tune

One commonality between Julien and me is that we're relentlessly old school when it comes to technology. Not out of nostalgia or stubbornness- we're not luddites- it's just that neither of us really ever thinks about investing in hi-tech gadgets.

Smartphone, nope, GPS, nope, DVD player, nope, Tape deck in the car, yep. We have an eclectic and miniscule choice of tapes: Indian Jewelry's 'Peel It', Depeche Mode's Greatest Hits, and a French reggae cassette Volume 2. To mix things up once in a while, I'll turn on the radio, mostly landing on the ads which finish with "Pour votre santé, evitez de manger trop gras, trop sucré, salé" (For your health, avoid eating too many fats, sugars, or salt.) Every so often, between the ads, I'll find programmming on my 4 favorite stations.

1. FranceInter- the national public radio station, responsible for my quick improvement in listening comprehension when I first moved here. Usually interesting material and interviews, but occasionally painfully boring and pretentious like any public radio station in the free world.

2. RadioMega- features obscure music from independent artists worldwide. There's usually enough variety to engage all tastes and always something new. Makes for good conversation at dinner parties, even better if I could remember the artists' names.

3. Rires et Chansons- (Laughing and Songs)- and that's what it is, alternating recordings of stand-up comedy sketches with pop music. Either I only get about 70% of the jokes, or they're just not that funny.

4. Nostalgie- national oldies station, and to me a bizarre lesson in French music history. Nostalgie features French pop singers that Americans would know: Gainsbourg, Aznavour, Françoise Hardy, France Gall, but also massive French stars from the 60s, 70s, and 80s that are barely heard of outside l'Hexagone like Claude François, Eddy Mitchell, and of course, Johnny Hallyday. 

Given their success in France, these artists and their music can be expected, but what is surprising is the number of American and British songs that are covered in French. I would estimate that out of every 30 minutes of driving, Nostalgie plays at least one classic Brit/American oldies song redone by a French singer. Below are some that you can hear on any given day, do you recognize the tune?

Marylene- Martin Circus

Cette Année La- Claude François

Miss Caroline- Eddy Mitchell

 Les Portes du Pénitencier- Johnny Hallyday

Friday, February 7, 2014

Between Two Countries

I'm approaching my third anniversary as a French resident, and I can safely say there are two recurring questions I often come across from both American and French friends, family, and strangers concerning life in my adopted country.

Here are the questions and my responses:

Q: What do you miss most about the US?
A: My family and friends, without a doubt*. I stay in regular contact with them through emails, Facebook, and phone calls, but nothing can replace face to face interaction with the people I love dearly. When I go home to visit, I try to maximize my stay, and minimize my sleep, by saying 'yes' to every invitation, being present, and creating new memories. Hugely emotional memories like one sister's wedding, being there for the birth of another sister's first child, but also of ordinary activities such as eating with my favorite people at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant, going grocery shopping with my brother, or to the post office with my dad. Living abroad has countless advantages, but the biggest drawback is missing out on what's going on back home; for this I try my best to seize and appreciate the moments when I am visiting the ones I love.

Q: Do you feel French now?
A: I'm not sure I'll ever completely grasp what it is to 'feel' a nationality, as far as I know (correct me if I'm wrong), I don't fall into your typical flag-waving American cliché and have always been endlessly curious about different languages, cultures and cuisines, including those of the French. However, in answer to the question, I do feel like I fall somewhere between the two countries. For example, although I'm used to shops and businesses being closed between 12-2pm everyday, it still sometimes irritates me that I have to plan my day around going to the bank, to the grocery store, etc. On the other hand, back home in the States, I forget that shops are open not only during those hours, but also past 7:30 pm and even on Sunday. It blows my mind every time. 

Even though my husband is French and I've embraced many French habits and rituals, because one of my jobs is teaching English part-time, I'm constantly reminded that I'm American. Students often assume that I eat fast food regularly and own a gun, and I'm sure many of them think I bleed stars and stripes. And while I sometimes indulge their imaginations with outrageous tales for my own amusement, in truth, these accusations are false. Nevertheless, there are some American mannerisms I prefer over French ones: forming lines instead of masses that you must push through to get to the front, casual parties and bbqs where you can walk around and mingle instead of sit around one table, and smiling at strangers after making eye contact. 

Contrastingly, when I go home to the US, there are many aspects of the American way of life that now shock me, whereas before, I considered them run of the mill: eating at restaurants often instead of cooking at home (and leaving tips!), getting carded when buying alcohol, and the variety of sizes and flavors of everything (including couscous!) at the store. So, in short, if 'feeling' a nationality is a question of habits and your ways of doing things, then I'm definitely floating somewhere between the Land of the Brie and the Land of the Free.

*In 2nd and 3rd place, respectively, Tex-Mex and Thai food.