Photo Day: La Camargue

One thing my husband and I have discovered in our many travels together is how differently we can perceive the exact same thing. Such is the spice of life! La Camargue was one of those places for us. Located where the Med meets the Rhone River Delta, this marshy region is hardly the France advertised to the American tourist. When I think of France, I picture the grand streets of Paris, the dramatic Cote d’Azur, castles and gothic churches, old stone farmhouses set in vineyards. For my husband, the grand streets of Paris are… meh. He grew up seeing them, so they don’t awe him the way they do me. And while he appreciates the beauty of the things I’ve listed, they aren’t foreign nor dramatic to him. La Camargue, by contrast, fascinates him. On our visit, he energetically spouted out all he had learned about this region and kept pointing and saying things like, “Wow! Isn’t that amazing?” Much the way I do in Paris. For me, it was a bit… meh. His enthusiasm did rub off on me after a while, at least enough so that I will post these photos. For him. And for those who appreciate things differently than I do.

513 Le Camargue

515 Le Camargue

A home with a large fishing net along the Petit Rhone

A home with a large fishing net along the Petit Rhone

A Guardienne (French Cowgirl) and her herd. This was pretty cool.

A Guardienne (French Cowgirl) and her herd. This was pretty cool.

528 Le Camargue segulls

Egret

Egret

Egret

Egret

536 le Camargue

537 le Camargue

Couldn’t resist this one: Our view during dinner in Carry-Le-Rouet, on our way back to Antibes.

Gotta love 'em, those Frenchies in their speedos

Gotta love ‘em, those Frenchies in their speedos

By the way, this region produces some amazing salt. It’s a staple in my kitchen:

IMG_7365

Ten Things I Love About France

Because it’s all about lists these days, right? In no particular order:

1. Walking the streets of Paris – the entire city is a work of art. I love to simply stroll along the avenues, people watch, gaze at the architecture, find unique spots in each quartier, inhale the scents, leading to #2…

Latin Quarter

Latin Quarter

2. The smell of a patisserie. I’ll never forget the time I was strolling down a narrow street and was stopped in my tracks by a rich, buttery scent pouring out a patisserie door. I stopped, whispered, “Oh. My. God.” Closed my eyes, and stood there inhaling deeply, unselfconscious until I paused, looked inside, and saw the pastry chef watching me with an amused, and pleased, smile on his face.

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3. Flower boxes on windows.

132 Window in Nice

4. Fields of lavender right next to fields of sunflowers in Provence.

Abbaye de Senaque

Abbaye de Senanque

435 More sunflowers!

5. Provence. For its beauty, its romance, its cuisine, its otherworldness.

6. Riding a bike through Bretagne.

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7. Eating galettes and drinking cool apple cider on a hot day in Bretagne.

IMG_1790 8. The French language. For all the grief it causes me, I love the sing-song beauty of this romantic language.

9. The Impressionists.

Claude Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Claude Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

10. And Paris. I really love Paris. Cliché? Perhaps. Still, to me, she will always be romantic, mysterious, something I will never quite touch nor truly understand, yet a place where I come alive and life beats forward at a quicker, more exciting, more beautiful pace.

I love Paris in the spring time
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles

I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
I love Paris, why, oh why do I love Paris
Because my love is here

I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
I love Paris, why, oh why do I love Paris
Because my love is here

She’s there, she’s everywhere
But she’s really here

         -Cole Porter

011 Same as G Belmon painting

Photo Day: Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and Villefranche sur Mer

Happy first day of spring! Dreaming of warm days, tank tops, flip flops, and a cool glass of rosé after a hot day at the beach. Here are some pretty pictures with lots of pretty flowers, all taken a few years ago in the south of France. Ooh la la!

A short train ride from several villages on the Mediterranean coast, these two destinations are worth a visit.

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat was built in the early 1900s by the Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild (architect Aaron Messiah). When she died in 1934, she donated it to the Institut de France, and it is now open to the public.

334 Villa Rothschild on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

330 Villa and Jardins Ephrussi de ROTHSCHILD

Peek inside at the chairs for her little dogs.

Peek inside at the chairs for her little dogs.

Foyer

Foyer

Nine themed gardens surround the home.

339 Jardin

342 Stone garden

Views of the surrounding areas, including Villefranche-sur-Mer, are stunning:

340 View west of Villeneuve sur Mer

Villefranche-sur-Mer is a colorful village located near to the Villa (one or two train stops apart):

139 Villefranche Sur Mer

144 Villefranche

148 Stef in Villefranche

151 Villefranche

154 Villefranche

Some trivia: Many villages in france have names that begin with “Villefranche.” Translation: Free town. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the bourgeois settled in these areas and were freed from the feudal lords and also freed from many financial obligations to those lords. This allowed the bourgeois to use their resources to develop, among other things, the banking system in France.

Hope you enjoyed a little armchair traveling and perhaps are inspired to make some summer travel plans! I know I am!

French Lessons for Preschoolers

This post is part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs Blogging Carnival, hosted this month by Isabelle at Multilingual Education Cafe. This month’s topic is The Multilingual Classroom. Be sure to follow the link to Isabelle’s blog to find the other great posts on this topic, starting March 17!

As some of my dear readers may recall, I made a New Year’s resolution to teach French lessons at my daughter’s preschool. I’m following through and now I’m two months in.

Teaching preschoolers is no easy feat, but trying to teach them in a foreign language – wheh! Way harder than I expected. And I never expected a cake walk. I knew I’d be spending a lot of time outside the classroom brainstorming ideas, prepping, finding and making props, and even test driving ideas on my own kids before taking my lessons to the school. Still – it’s even more than I anticipated.

My daughter’s preschool is a mixed-age class of 2 1/2 to 5-year-olds. One large area houses the preschool where there are various “open” and “closed” rooms. A teacher hosts each open area, and activities vary from structured to free play. If a child decides s/he doesn’t want to stay in one of the rooms, they are free to leave and find a different activity to participate in.

So my work is cut out for me. I have to keep things fun, exciting, engaging, or I lose them. Literally. They announce (or not) that they are done and they walk out. So far, my lessons have ranged from being so fun the kids literally dogpile me, or so boring (to some) that once one little girl interrupted me to say (in a voice that sounded more like a 14-year-old than a 4-year-old), “I’m tired of this. When are we going to do something else?”

Ouch.

Luckily I’ve already learned that one must shelve the ego when dealing with preschoolers.

What I didn’t anticipate was how much I’d end up resorting to English. In my mind, the kids  wouldn’t understand everything I said, but they’d pick bits and pieces up from the 30 minutes a week and eventually it would amount to something. I didn’t want to use English, the first and only language for nearly all of them, because, well, total immersion is better, right?

That may be true in situations where you have a captive audience. When a classroom teacher is in the room with me encouraging the kids to participate, things run more smoothly. Outside of preschool, I attend a weekly French lesson with my children for kids aged 0-5, and parent participation there is key: it’s the parents that make sure the kids stay on track. While the lessons are engaging, kids this age still have short attention spans, and certainly aren’t invested in learning a second language just for the sake of bilingualism.

If the kids in my classes don’t understand me – I lose them. The older ones will tell me, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Even explaining to a child this age to watch my gestures, my expressions, what I’m pointing at, doesn’t necessarily make it easier for them.

Here’s what I’ve found that works:

Movement: They need to boogie. So we saute (jump), we nage (swim), we vole (fly), we danse (dance), we fait du ski (ski) etc.

Food: Lessons about food. With props. Making crêpes was a huge hit – nearly all the kids wanted in on that one!

Me, practicing the perfect crepe flip so I could look like an expert in class!

Me, practicing the perfect crêpe flip so I could look like an expert in class!

Success!

Success!

Keep it Simple: Duh, says anyone who knows a preschooler. Still, I felt the need initially to  go grand. I’ll put those plans for multiple lessons centered around a story and song theme complete with role-playing and art projects aside for now, perhaps for when the kiddos are older. Now I know: Simple songs, simple stories, lots of props, and lots of repetition. We’ll sing some “Mains en l’air,” dance to music, and point to our pieds and our cheveux.

Doing Stuff: We took an “airplane ride” to Paris where we all sat in our seats, buckled up, flew through the sky, hit a bit of turbulence (they loved that!), then landed. In Paris, we made Eiffel towers out of Legos. What a great opportunity to learn counting and colors! They didn’t even know I snuck that in there.

Songs: We sing all sorts of traditional French songs, plus a couple that I’ve made up in French to familiar tunes (thanks for the tip, Sarah at Baby Bilingual!)

Enthusiasm and Expression: There’s no doubt that I have to be on. There’s no half-ing it in teaching. The second I lose my exuberance, the kids lose interest. If I’m not emphasizing things through expressions, gestures, pointing, etc., they’re lost. And that’s frustrating for them.

Resorting to English for short explanations: I try to avoid translating everything, as the kids simply learn from this to tune out until the English comes. But sometimes, the kids need the “anchor” provided by their mother tongue. I give them this when I see their brows coming together in confusion, or when I anticipate they will need it.

The encouraging thing is that I have a little group of regulars; 7 or 8 kids who get excited when I walk in and ask me what we’re going to do that day. They give me hugs, big grins, and the occasional, “Bonjour !” Some are picking up basics: a few colors, counting, body parts. And this is exactly what I had hoped for. Some interest and enthusiasm. Awareness that other languages exist. Empowerment of knowing they can learn those languages. And the laying of the groundwork for second (third etc) language acquisition that is so essential at this early age.

I’m learning a lot from this, in what I consider the beginning of my journey as a language teacher. So far, I’m going to call it a success.

La Politesse, and a Few Tips on How to Get Along With the French

Arc de Triomphe on Bastille Day

The French can be unfailingly polite.

No, really, I’m being serious.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone who has traveled to France comes home with some story about a rude Frenchman or Frenchwoman who treated them horribly and worse, seemed to enjoy it. It’s almost like we look for those moments now: it’s a rite of passage. We need a commemorative “I survived talking to a French person” T-shirt.

Yet the truth is, there is much politesse in the French culture, we just don’t understand it  because their social rules are different from ours.

I’ve witnessed arguments between strangers where despite the obvious disagreement, they continue to address each other as “Madame,” et “Monsieur.” Usually without sarcasm. Ever had a homeless person hop onto your metro car to ask for money? Their speeches often mirror each other, and usually begin with a grand, “Mesdames et Messieurs, pardonez-moi de vous deranger.…” Translation: Ladies and Gentlemen, please pardon me for bothering you…. Even the term used for the homeless is more dignified than the word “homeless.” It’s SDF, or “Sans Domicile Fixe.” Translation: Without a fixed home.

Whenever I travel to France, it’s as if a flip switches in my head and I go into French mode. Things that would drive me crazy here become tolerable, because I’ve spent enough time there to understand why things are as they are, and to better know what to expect.

Kind of.

Who am I kidding. There are some things the French do that I will never understand, no matter how many times my husband or my French friends try to explain them to me (or deny their existence). At any rate, here are a few examples of things you can do to make your next trip to France run more smoothly:

When entering a store, always greet the shopkeeper with a “Bonjour.” While here in the US it’s not uncommon to enter a store without acknowledging, or being acknowledged by, the employees there, in France it’s considered incredibly rude. Same for leaving. Make sure you say, “Au revoir.” Toss in a “Bonne journée !” or a “Merci !” for good measure.

Flower shop in Paris

Flower shop in Paris

Try out some French, even if it’s only to say, “Pardonez-moi, mais je ne parle pas Français. Is it okay to speak English?” After all, the French have grown tired of people walking up to them and barking out a foreign language. I know I’d grow tired of it. I’ve been scolded by patients incensed that I don’t speak Spanish fluently, and that never brought out my benevolent side. Ease into the conversation, and the French are much more likely to be okay with speaking English.

Personal space there is very different from here; the French require much less of it. So if someone is bumping right up against you without acknowledging that they’ve jostled you, don’t take it personally. It’s all normal for them.

Chances are, the waiter is not ignoring you. The French like their meals long and uninterrupted. Unlike the US, where tables must turn over quickly in order for the restaurant to make money and the waiters to make adequate tips, in France, if you reserve a table, it’s pretty much yours for the night. A waiter won’t bring your bill unless you ask for it. To do otherwise would be rude, the equivalent of asking you to leave.

Just because the French person you’re speaking with isn’t grinning and enthusiastic, it doesn’t mean they’re annoyed with you. Well, they might be. But it’s more likely that it’s just a cultural thing: the French don’t grin and get enthusiastic in conversations with strangers. They are more reserved and tend to hold back until they get to know you. Give them a chance to warm up and you may end up making a great new friend. I’ve been told by my European friends that they knew I was American because I’m always smiling. I see this as a good thing, but I’ve also come to realize that the huge grin that comes so easily to my face is hardly a universal trait.

Ladies, enjoy the French version of customer service. I posted on this previously, here. Now’s not the time to go indignant feminist – let those shopkeepers flirt with you and treat you like a queen for a few moments. It’s really fun.

As for forming lines – they aren’t going to do it. This is one of the areas I have the hardest time with in France. After being shoved around trying to claim my coat at the counter after parties, swept past repeatedly while waiting in line for a toilet, and literally shoved off metro cars, I finally realized I had the necessary skills to survive, all learned during my years of playing basketball. It’s all about claiming space, blocking out, and moving toward the ball, or as the case may be, the toilet. Don’t be afraid to get wide, or even throw out a forearm to ward someone off. When it comes to lines in France, expect nothing less than pure Darwinian survival of the fittest.

Another tip: get out of Paris. Paris is gorgeous, stunning, there’s tons to see and do, but it’s still a big city. And like any big city, people are in more of a rush, stress levels are higher, people are more closed off to outsiders, and fatigued of tourists. That’s not to say that pleasant Parisians don’t exist – they absolutely do. But if you want to experience a little more joie de vivre, more bienvenue, hop on a train for the countryside.

I hope your next encounter with a French national goes smoothly. If all else fails, a French shrug (see this post here) and a resigned, “Eh ben,” are perhaps the best responses.

Me in a lavender field

Try a visit to Provence. Beautiful country, friendly locals!

How to Piss Off a French Person

A friend sent me this link to an article on How To Piss Off a French Person, written for Matador Network by Morgane Croissant (com’on, does a name get more French than that?).

Aside from claiming that the French language is “insignificant” (See my previous post), Croissant gives us some fabulous ways to piss off French people, should you decide to make this a goal.

The point she makes about the healthcare system and other benefits was an interesting one. From my American perspective, the French do have it rather easy with their 5 to 8 weeks of vacation, nearly free higher education, and free health care. Yet many continue to complain – as the French are prone to do. (Sorry if I just pissed you off, my dear French readers!) Croissant points out that – yes, the French have these benefits, because they have worked hard, stood up for what they believe to be their rights, and even fought revolutions in order to ensure the lifestyle they now lead. Excellent point, I concede.

I had to laugh, too at the idea that our butchering of the French language is like fingernails on chalkboard to the French, and they’d rather not have to hear it. Did anyone see the movie The Monuments Men? I loved how French character after French character made a disgusted face when Matt Damon’s character tried to speak French, and how they all told him, in their thick French accents, that his French was terrible. Over the last nearly two decades of traveling in France, I’ve noticed the French, even the Parisians, easing up on us poor foreigners as we attempt to speak in French. I’m sure it is in part that my French has vastly improved, but I also think the French are starting to cut us some slack. Still, I’ve had more than one stubborn conversation with a French person where I say something in French, they respond in English, I continue to speak in French, they continue to speak in English, and so on. I want to use my French, perhaps they want to practice their English. I often feel my French is better than their English, perhaps they feel their English is better than my French. Either way, pretty sure we were both pissed off. Good times.

Stay tuned for my next post, where I will give you valuable tips on how to not piss off the French, and perhaps enjoy your next vacation to France un peu plus!

Why You Should Learn French

Did anyone happen to catch John McWhorter’s article in The New Republic about why people shouldn’t bother to learn French? Here it is, if you care to have a look. He makes a shallow case for why French is “antique,” even elitist, and isn’t worth pursuing as a second language. From his point of view, the only reason to learn a second language is to better employment opportunities. According to him, only Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish are worthy of pursuit, as these are the current political power players.

Nika over at Nika Likes Maps makes an excellent counter-argument to McWhorter’s, here.

There there’s this article by Rob Wile in Business Insider: 7 Reasons You Should Teach Your Children French.

I had a friend who studied Russian during the Cold War, determined to become a translator in the geopolitical scene of the day. Then Russia imploded, no longer a geopolitical power. Didn’t exactly lead to the power career she had hoped for. Now I’m not saying don’t bother with Chinese or Arabic or Spanish – I believe pursuit of bilingualism in any language is a worthy pursuit. But McWhorter’s assumption that pursuit of bilingualism should be solely for career advancement is narrow-minded.

In a country where bilingualism is too often a low priority, discouraging learning any major world language strikes me as short-sighted and ignorant. To, on top of that, ridicule those that pursue learning French as doing so simply as a fashion statement or elitism is, well, insulting.

French is hardly on its way to the graveyard. It’s widely used throughout the world. I’ve travelled to places (non-French or English speaking countries) where English wasn’t spoken but my French sure did come in handy. Do you hear the languages being spoken by the announcers at the Olympics? Russian, English, French. French and English are the working languages at the UN Secretariat. Want your knowledge of English to improve? Learn French. My understanding of English grammar as well as my English vocabulary have broadened dramatically since I began learning French.

Learn French. It’s beautiful, fun, and will open doors to a broad range of cultures throughout the world. Or learn whatever other language you have fallen in love with. Study that language simply because you love it. Because it speaks to your soul. Because, as Nika so eloquently points out, “learning a language is an access card to seeing life through another perspective.” Learning a language that you love will make you a better person.