Boulder, Colorado: Where Caring About Fashion is Unfashionable (and Unfathomable)

Boulder is ruining my Frenchman’s fashion sense.

Boulder is a place where anything goes. Seriously. I saw a 20-something woman walking along a main street downtown wearing nothing from the waist up. Nothing. Boobs, swinging in the wind. Dreadlocks tossed behind shoulders. People go shoeless as a fashion/political statement, not because they can’t afford shoes. Stilettos and Keens sit next to each other in restaurants. Long flowy hippie skirts or biking shorts; yoga pants or business suits or sundresses and Uggs – it’s all fair game.

Now, my husband was never on the cutting edge of fashion, and I’m a physical therapist – not a profession renowned for our fashion sense. But he’s French, so that meant button up shirts, a nice pair of slacks, maybe a polo on a more casual day. I admit there were a few items in his closet that succumbed to “Operation: Lost in the Move.” (Don’t even get me started on the pea soup-colored polo with the denim collar). But I never had to tell him: “Honey, we’re going out to dinner with my parents. Perhaps the Corona tank top isn’t the best choice….”He’s always dressed up for our dates. I’m one of those girls that is crazy about a sharply dressed man. Not too sharp – if he’s more into fashion than me, I grow suspicious. But my husband, like most Frenchmen, had just the right amount of sharpness.

So, the other day, he started out the door for work wearing a beat up pair of cargo shorts, a worn grey workout shirt, white socks (on a Frenchman!) and sneakers. Before I even stopped to think what I would sound like, I blurted, “Are you wearing that to work?”

He once-overed himself and then said, “Um, yeah?” in the form of a question.

“It’s just… really?”

“Carol, you should see what some of the guys wear to the office. This is dressing up.”

There is truth to that. A Google dress code doesn’t exist. Googlers take workplace casual to a level unheard of in most other corporations. Just drive by the office around lunchtime and watch the parade of engineers heading to the cafeteria dressed down – way down – and check out the hats a few of the more brilliant engineers wear. The other day, a guy crossed the street in front of me wearing a tophat made of white fur with a pig sticking out the top.

I get it, kind of. Google is a casual place stocked with geniuses where what’s between their ears matters a whole lot more than what’s on their backs.

But, still. I’ve always loved that even after years in the U.S., my husband’s wardrobe choices remained … French.

So, I said, “But, you’re French. French dudes don’t dress like that.”

He smirked. “French dudes, huh?”

“Yeah. That’s too much dude, not enough French. Seriously. Boulder is getting to you.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

I had to think about that. Truth is, I’m one of those people that believe the impression we make on others matters, and that what we wear has something to do with that. It’s not like I never grocery shop in my workout gear, or that I’m diligently following the latest trends, but I still think… work is a place where impressions matter. Dates with my husband are worth dressing up for. Putting on a dress and heels for a night on the town is fun.

A recent article in our local newspaper labeled Colorado as a state full of fashion offenders, and Boulder as the worst of the lot. Is that a bad thing? Maybe. Maybe not.

In the end, he changed his work clothes. No longer verging on slob genius, but instead coiffed genius, he left for work.

And I spent the day asking myself existential questions about the importance, or lack thereof, of fashion and what we wear, whether it should affect how others view us or how we feel about ourselves, are we or are we not expressing ourselves through our choice of clothing, and why can Google geniuses get away with anything.

How very French of me.

Immersing in Language

There’s no doubt in my mind that immersion is the way to go when it comes to learning a language. It’s how we learn our mother tongues, after all. In my experience as an adult learner, I learned more in 3 weeks of complete immersion – in country – than I did from months of lessons taught in English. When immersed, it’s sink or swim. You don’t have the luxury of falling back on the language you know. You can’t wait for the English explanation that you know is going to come, and thereby tune out – even without doing so intentionally – the language you’re trying to learn.

My daughter attended a French immersion program for her first year of preschool. In that year, we saw her language ability in French – both in speaking and comprehension – skyrocket. Granted, we are a bilingual household, so she already had a good French base established. There were other children in her class, though, who had never heard French before arriving for their first day of school, and they were able to adapt quickly. For the preschoolers, the most utilized languages on the playground were French and English. By elementary school, the playground language was more often French. A good litmus test as it tells what language the kids are comfortable communicating in.

Now that we no longer have access to the immersion school, I struggle to find immersion experiences for my kids. Many of the French programs I’ve looked into use a lot of English to “explain” the French; far from ideal in my opinion. Most people – children and adults – will learn in a complete immersion environment when given visual aids, context clues, and an expressive speaker. I have yet to meet anyone who is competent in a language who didn’t have at least some form of immersion in their education. We’ve pieced together some experiences here and there – story times, French classes at the Children’s Museum, play dates.

We recently had family in town visiting us from France. By the end of their stay, my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter was using full French sentences on a regular basis, and my two-year-old son was using more French words and partial phrases than I’ve ever seen him use. Total immersion, working. The kids even started speaking Franglais to each other – most memorably when fighting over a toy: “Mine jou jou !”  “Non ! Mine jou jou !” My daughter would come to me from time to time to ask me how to say something in French, then run to her Mimi to tell her whatever it was she wanted to say. My favorite moment: one night when my husband’s parents were heading out, we told the kids it was time to say good night. My son ran straight to his Papy, grabbed him into a leg hug, and said, unprompted, “Au revoir !” Priceless.

Finding a total immersion experience is not easy when living in a country that speaks the majority language (in our household, English, because this is what I speak and I’m with the kids the most, and it’s the language my husband and I use between the two of us). It would be easier if I spoke exclusively French with the kids and my husband, but I’m not so brave nor comfortable with my French. Knowing this, it’s heartening to see that the knowledge and ability are both there with my kids, they just have to be, well, forced to use it a bit. Pushed out of their English comfort zone.

[Edited Note: As a friend astutely pointed out, this is true for me as well. I, too, need to be pushed out of my English comfort zone; me speaking French with the kids helps us all. We do French activities - grocery shopping, zoo days, French dinners twice a week - where we speak only French, but I haven't made the leap to speaking French all the time. My aim is 30% - the magic number that some experts have said children need to learn a second language.]

In our near future we have French immersion summer classes in San Diego for the kids, a trip to France, and a French degree program for me (because seven years of higher education and a doctorate degree just isn’t enough school).

And so, our bilingual journey continues on!

 

Photo Day: Antibes (Part 2)

One of my favorite things about traveling is meeting people. I approached the summer we spent in Antibes thinking I would probably be at least a decade older than most of the students in the immersion program, and therefore likely to spend a lot of time alone. I brought my laptop and blank notebooks, thinking I’d spend most of the time I wasn’t in school working on my fiction and studying French. Instead, I met some of the most fabulous women (many my age on language vacations) I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. As it goes with traveling, sharing a common experience, we bonded quickly and became fast friends. I have to admit I have many reservations about things like Facebook, and even blogging (it’s so public! I’m so exposed!), but these things have enabled me to stay in touch with these lovely ladies.

Here are some photos from a walk/hike I took around the Cap d’Antibes with one of those dear friends.

Cap d'Antibes

Cap d’Antibes

Looking across the Baie de la garoupe

Looking across the Baie de la garoupe

Walking along the Sentier touristique de tirepoil (tourist path around the cape)

Walking along the Sentier touristique de tirepoil (tourist path around the cape)

Locals use some of these spots to practice diving. Yikes!

Daring locals use some of these spots to practice diving. Yikes! The water is powerful and the rocks precarious. I just took photos.

551 Cap d'Antibes

554 Cap d'Antibes

When in Doubt, Take ‘em Out

 

View of the Flatirons from Boulder

View of the Flatirons from Boulder, Colorado

French lessons at the preschool are wrapping up as the school year comes to an end. My “regulars” – a small group that greets me when I arrive each Friday, all of them bouncing like Tigger, grabbing my hand, and asking, “are you going to do French today?” – made this experience more than worth it. Coming up with lessons each week engaging enough to hold a preschooler’s attention is no easy task. But they are interested. Their earnest eyes study me as they repeat my words, putting all their concentration into speaking a foreign language, and having fun while doing it. I hear from other parents that their kids are using French at home – words, pretending to read in French, even correcting their parent’s pronunciation. For them, French is exciting, cool, and thus I say: Mission Accomplished.

Over the past few weeks, the snow melted and the Colorado sun finally warmed things up. My group, understandably, has dwindled down to a loyal few. The past couple of lessons, I began with 6 to 8 kids but after a few minutes, the playground beckons, and they drop their puppet or crayons or whatever else we are working on to run outside, hardly acknowledging my “Au revoir !”

I told one of the teachers, “I’m fighting a losing battle against the great outdoors, I’m afraid.” She suggested we do a French lesson outside. “When in doubt, follow their lead,” she wisely advised.

Brilliant!

So we took them outside. All it took was the mention of a field trip to the “soccer field” to do a French lesson, and I had twelve kids clamoring to join me.

It might have been the most fun lesson yet. We played American games translated into French: “Duck, duck, goose” became “Canard, canard, oie!”; “Red light, green light” became “Feu rouge, feu vert.” I learned a new game: Mr. Fox. The kids call out, “Mr. Fox, what time is it?” And the leader responds with things like, “It’s time to jump forward six times!” Each game is easily adaptable to French (and my husband tells me that the French have a version of “Simon says” that works well too). Each is a great way to get the kids talking, following directions, and counting in French. By the end of class, all of them had said at least one thing in French, and all had definitely responded to simple commands. Having a group of English-speaking kids enthusiastically shout, “Oui !” in response to my question, “Vous-êtes prêts?” had me grinning and feeling like a great success.

Plus I got to run around on the grass and play like nothing else in the world mattered.

God, I love being around kids.

So when in doubt, take ‘em out. Play with them, follow their lead, and sneak the French in there. They won’t even notice they’re working. Neither did I!

IMG_7692

Truth be told, given the option, I'll always choose outside, too.

Truth be told, given the option, I’ll always choose outside, too.

Ten Things I Love About The French

1. I love the appreciation the French have for good food and good wine. A Frenchman I know once stated that when a person isn’t willing to indulge sometimes, enjoy great food, let go a bit, it “really says something about that person.” He couldn’t comprehend people who never eat the good stuff, even if it might go straight to their thighs. Lest you think the French are okay with gluttony – they aren’t. (I think half the women in France are starving themselves because they certainly aren’t exercising!) They just aren’t into denying themselves the pleasures of life.

2. I love Sunday lunches, where families gather to spend a couple hours together over a nice meal.

3. That je-ne-sais-quoi French people possess. The way the women seem to never style their hair yet it still hangs in perfect waves with just the right amount of flyaways to say: I’m beautiful, and I’m not trying. The slightly arrogant, stooped posture of the men that says I’m more intellect than athlete, and I don’t care what you think about it. What is it about French people…it’s so hard to put a finger on it, it’s that je-ne-sais-quoi. They can drive me crazy, but I still love them.

4. I love that they flirt with most everyone, even in the most benign situations. Not to be anti-feminist, but turning a simple transaction – like buying a container of aspirin – into a dance of compliments and innocently arching eyebrows puts a smile on my face. I call it the French version of customer service.

5. I like that the French enjoy intellectual conversations and pride themselves on being realists. I like that they will engage each other in a verbal battlefield over ideas and current events, yet not take the conversation personally or allow it to damage a friendship. Except sometimes I don’t love this. I should probably put this on a list about things I don’t love about the French, too.

6. I find French men’s abhorance for white socks (even when exercising!) endearing.

7. I love that the French believe, and pursue, balance in life. Between work and play, time for children and adult time, in indulging in their desire to enjoy amazing food but not overdoing it….

8. I love the way my French friends are always happy to spend time together. We linger over meals, enjoying long conversations, enjoying each other’s company, playing games, long after most of our other friends have decided it’s time to get back home, or go to the next party, or who knows what. The French prioritize people in their lives in a way that I wish we did better here.

9. Scarves. I stayed in Paris long enough to learn several different ways to wear a scarf, and wear it well, but not so long that I stopped smiling at people. I love the elegance of scarves, and the way the French propel scarf-wearing to an art form.

10. Get away from Paris or any other major city, and you will find the French to be some of the most welcoming, gregarious people you will meet in your travels. Even Paris is getting better – complete strangers have – gasp – smiled at me and offered to help me when I appeared lost or confused. Parisians in restaurants have complimented my imperfect French and cute accent. Learn a few key words and get ready to knock down those stereotypes!

Photo Day: Antibes (Part 1)

Here’s the conversation I had with the guy at the bike shop yesterday:

Him: “Are you ready for the snow on Sunday?”

Me: Jaw hits the floor. “Wh- the- snow? Are you kidding me?”

Him: Big shrug and amused smile. “It’s only May. Welcome to Colorado!”

I don’t want snow. I want flip flops. Sunburns. I want the Riviera. I’ll have to live vicariously through my own pictures and memories. Maybe I’ll crank up the heater, don a tank top, close my eyes, and drink a glass of rosé.

Here’s Antibes:

A few years ago, we spent part of our summer in Antibes, France. For me, I got to attend a French immersion program and explore the south of France with the friends I met there. Fabulous. For my hubby, he was working. Hard. Sophia Antipolis, located in the south not far from Antibes, is a mini-Silicon Valley, home to a growing number of software companies. Stef’s job had a site there, so we thought: great! Summer in the south of France! It’ll be like an extended vacation! For him, not so much. Poor guy put in some serious hours and left our “vacation” exhausted. I made sure to take one for the team and did extra exploring and extra rosé drinking. I’m a good wife like that. Here are some photos from that adventure:

Looking over Antibes from the cape

Looking over Antibes from the cape

Centre International d'Antibes - my school (and inspiration for a YA novel I'm working on!)

Centre International d’Antibes – my school (and inspiration for a YA novel I’m working on!)

Healthy petunias partout

Healthy petunias partout

Cap d'Antibes - the oldest part of the village

Cap d’Antibes – the oldest part of the village

Swedish students celebrating the summer solstice

Swedish students celebrating the summer solstice

Funny story, this photo (above). Apparently, a group of Swedes comes to Antibes each year to welcome the summer solstice. We were eating at a pizzeria across the street and the owner was watching them, arms crossed over his chest, shaking his head. Inevitably, a couple of girls needed to use the facilities and made for his restaurant. Their blond locks decorated with leaves and flowers and their innocent young faces alight with mother earth goddess energy, they asked him if they could use the toilet. Reality crashed upon them. He chased them off with harsh, “Non!”s and “Only for customers! Buy my pizza if you want to use my toilet!” Crushed and desperate, they begged, but elicited no sympathy. They finally gave up and left, and he turned to us and complained about the crazy Swedes who do this dance every year and line up for his toilet. I was almost scared to ask where it was, because I actually needed to use it too, but he told me, “You, I don’t mind. You ate my pizza.”

Street in old Antibes

Street in old Antibes

Plage du ponteil in Antibes

Plage du ponteil in Antibes

Spices in the Marche Provencal

Spices in the Marche Provencal

This is what happens to cars parked on the narrow streets of France

This is what happens to cars parked on the narrow streets of France

Yummy pizza abounds in the South of France

Yummy pizza abounds in the South of France

Me Thinks Thou Doth Protest Too Much

I’m assured it happens with all kids growing up bilingually, but it’s still hard to see my daughter pitching fits every time we try to coax her to speak in French. She understands most everything she hears but she typically responds in English. Lately, she tells me she doesn’t want to speak French, begs me not to speak French, and sometimes collapses into crying fits complaining that speaking French is too hard. With my husband, her protests are only slightly less intense. Aside from a few well-worn phrases, she responds to him in English only as well.

Here’s what we’ve done right so far:

My husband started off speaking to our kids exclusively in French from their births. Actually, he spoke to them in French when they were in the womb. Except the one time he cupped his hands around his mouth, placed them against my pregnant belly, and said in his best Darth Vader impression: “Baby. I. Am. Your. Father.”

For him, speaking to his kids in French, despite the fact that he’s French and French is his first language, wasn’t completely natural at first. He’s lived and worked in the US since his mid-twenties, and he married an English-speaking American, so his life has been in English for quite some time. Once he made the adjustment, though, he’s stuck with it. A lot of parents give up at the first sign of discomfort from their kids. I get it – no one wants to feel like an instrument of torture to their own offspring.

We’ve tried to make it fun. We’ve cheered our kids on when they use their French.

We’ve found French classes, French story times, and other children who speak French, so the kids can see people other than their own parents speaking French.

I’ve tried to speak more French with them. We do grocery shopping in French. French dinners twice a week – where the whole family speaks French. I play French music in the car and we all sing along.

Here’s where we went wrong: 

I fear that allowing our daughter to respond in English when French was spoken to her was a bad idea. English is her stronger language; I speak it, everyone around her speaks it. She started out responding to my husband in French, but somehow, gradually over the last several months, her responses transitioned to English only.

So we tried to help her form phrases in French when she became frustrated and protested… and now she’ll only repeat what we say, or tell us that she’ll ask her question/tell us what she needs to tell us when we go back to speaking in English.

I’ve become the mom I didn’t want to be: calling out to my daughter: “Il faut parler en Francais!” And to my husband: “Lentement, tu parles trop vite!

Can you tell who’s type A in our household?

My mantra has become: I’d rather them be mad at me now because I’m pushing them to speak French than mad at me when they’re grown because I didn’t.

But the truth is, no parent enjoys seeing their kids upset, especially when we, the parents, are the source of that discomfort. There’s a fine line between pushing hard enough that we get over this hurdle, and pushing so hard that our kids decide they’ll just kick all the hurdles aside, sprint away from us to the finish line, and give us the finger when they arrive there. (Luckily they don’t know that gesture yet).

A friend of mine, who is also raising her children bilingually (Hi, Sarah!), astutely pointed out that we push and expect our kids to say, “Please,” and “Thank you,” among other things, so is it really that different to push and expect a response in the same language we address them with?

I’m reassured that in the French class we take, my daughter is speaking to the teacher mostly in French. (My son, almost 2, responds in whatever language he’s addressed with, or with whatever word or phrase is on his mind, regardless of the language. My daughter did the same at that age.) I’ve caught my daughter pulling out French children’s books and “reading” to her brother – also in French. Sometimes her doudous (stuffed animals) speak French to each other.

Still – we’re thinking it’s time to go a little more hardcore. As in, “We’re speaking in French now, please respond in French!” and though I swore I’d try to avoid this, our daughter giggles when we playfully say, “Opf! Je ne comprends pas ! Je parle francais (pour le moment) !” It even elicits a French phrase from her, most of the time.

When all else fails, we just point out that Elsa speaks both French and English. That works. For now.