”Growing up, you think you know everything.
About those places you see in pictures.
But to see is not to experience,
You have to be.
I visited this country just once before,
And I thought it had shown me everything I ought to know.
It seems a straightforward practice..
In this world of connection and instant dexterity.
And yet I sit here,
Sapped by the relentless stream of information.
Does this deter me?
The pursuit of experience cannot be burdened.
It only begins to spark further enthusiasm.
And this manifestation crowns my decision
as legitimate and just.”
It’s not been easy settling in to my new surrounding. But it has been rewarding. Despite the progress I’ve made in learning French it is a tricky challenge made more difficult thanks to the level of detail and history of a language spoken by approximately 220 million people throughout the world. There are only five other languages with more speakers and these are Mandarin Chinese (leading the way with over a billion speakers), English, Hindi, Spanish and Arabic. And as is the same with most languages spoken there are many different variations as a result of accents, social elements, natural progress and countless other important aspects. Being a hugely influential language worldwide French is absolutely no different and this is where I would maybe aim criticism at popular sources of language education. For it is often stated that the best method of learning a language is to thoroughly immerse yourself in the culture and I cannot agree more. When learning in school or using online apps like Duolingo (which I have used frequently in my own time) it is very easy to learn the basics to work off. However.. this will never help to fully prepare a person for a conversation with the average native person. Certain words and phrases I have heard very often provide evidence of such. Here are a few examples…
Pronounced like b-a-l.. Not balls. A slang term for money, it’s literal translation into English slang would be ‘quid’ or for the Kevin Bridges lovers out there… ‘Smackeroonies’.
This officially is the french word for brothel (hoor hoose for us Scots). However it’s often used to describe a mess.
The slang term for man and is also used for boyfriend. Kind of like when a Scottish guy says ‘ma burd’. Obviously the roles are reversed so well done to the ladies of France.
Very similar to the Scottish term ‘ooft!’ this is used to describe something mental and is the French word ‘Fou’ (crazy) spelled backwards. This is a fairly common throughout the country to use words in their backwards form as slang.
”Eh donc, ça c’est un truc de ouf..”
Comparing Scottish food culture and French food culture has been one of the most interesting things for me so far. There is a great importance placed on meals and socializing to the point where I have felt I spend most of my time at a dinner table. It’s a good way of communication and interaction. Phones are off. The TV is off. There are no distractions. Being from a home where the norm was to eat dinner on the couch with the dining table relegated to an ornament until Christmas rolled in means that I am not very accustomed to this.
‘Cheese is very important to the French. That’s why I’m reppin’ Swiss.’
The stereotypes of wine, bread and cheese are 100% authentic. There are aisles in the supermarkets dedicated to cheese and the smell is absolutely rotten (I should mention that this is just my opinion and not based on scientific facts, although i’m sure most degree swingers would agree). Baguettes are forever present much to my pleasure and wine is also a big game changer in foody affairs. It says a lot about the population however that alcoholism doesn’t seem to be a major health issue. Maybe it is for others but when you’ve lived in the West of Scotland for the entirety of your existence it pales in comparison. The quality of beverage is better thanks to production regulations and a truly continental attitude towards the preservation of the liver.
”The laid-back nature of Europeans..”
France is one of the most diverse countries in the world when it comes to geographical standings. Each section of the country is more closely linked to the neighboring countries and their various aspects of culture. In the East where I reside now is mostly vast expanses of mountains which travel deep into Italy and Switzerland. Winter is a big season for the inhabitants here. Holidaygoers travel from all over the country and other parts of Europe during this period to make the most of the snow by Skiing, Snowboarding etc. and this has an effect on the local economy. Most businesses will make their money in Winter before shutting down for the summer while hiring enthusiastic staff keen to earn some money while enjoying the surroundings in their spare time. Therefore the majority of these people will aim to work through winter before enjoying a long summer break. Obviously, the potential to have a three month holiday is enticing but what does this mean for the time being? Long hours and very little days off which are used up aiming to do anything that hasn’t been done throughout the week. It can be and usually is very tiring. It all depends on personal preference I guess but I struggled with this. I spent most of my time working, eating, sleeping or drinking and I can feel the fatigue now even as I write. Physically my fitness is gone and mentally I have struggled to continue at a creative level I was achieving before I started. So while the advantages are there.. is the work/ life balance really sustainable? Or are most folk at breaking point by the end of the season?
”Fin de saison.”
Considering how difficult the season can be it’s the people who make it easier to get through unscathed. I’m grateful to the people I met throughout my time. They made the experience worthwhile and I learned more from them than from any other website or textbook. My colleagues were fantastic and with our apartments all next to each other we formed a small community for the duration. I’ve heard many things about French people being historically moody or simply unpleasant but it could not be further from the truth. The customers aswell were mostly very receptive and often very cheerful when they discovered I was Scottish. Only two groups of people guessed this, which brings me on to my next statement… SCOTTISH PEOPLE AREN’T ENGLISH. It’s all in good nature but if you can’t remember Mel Gibson’s famous (even if historically tainted) blockbuster ‘Braveheart’ then sorry troops but it’s jist no gonny fly that way.
”And if HE were here, he’d consume the English with fireballs from his eyes.. and bolts of lightning from his arse!”
I had some great interactions in work. Many folk spoke about the ginger hair bellowing from my head and face (I let the beard grow out for a few months) while others continued to play ‘Guess the Nationality’. I was English, Irish, American, French-Canadian and even Swiss or Belgian. There seems to be some confusion about Scotland and the UK. It is often referred to as a region within Great Britain. I have to say this was fairly irritating even if understandable. People are only given information and in fairness the United Kingdom has become increasingly irrelevant while simultaneously being horrendously slaughtered by it’s European counterparts thanks to the way its been dealt with.
”The Real Queen Elizabeth.”
A fleeting conversation I had with a gentleman from South Africa has stayed with me due to it’s insightful nature. This man was French by heritage and he claimed during the colonization of the country the Dutch banned the French navy workers from speaking the language in order to halt any possible revolutions. They were forced to learn Dutch and thus the French culture is only remembered by the ancestors (such as the Monsieur mentioned) and the names of towns and districts still preserving their distinctly French names. I found this fascinating however I’m still very unsure of it’s truth. If anyone could add to this or rectify any wrong points, I would be most grateful.
As stated in my previous post I would continue to share music currently soundtracking my journey. Here’s another popular French song by a well-known group here, and the video is quite a laugh too..