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.
Looking across the Baie de la garoupe
Walking along the Sentier touristique de tirepoil (tourist path around the cape)
Daring locals use some of these spots to practice diving. Yikes! The water is powerful and the rocks precarious. I just took photos.
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.
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!
Truth be told, given the option, I’ll always choose outside, too.
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!
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.
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
Centre International d’Antibes – my school (and inspiration for a YA novel I’m working on!)
Healthy petunias partout
Cap d’Antibes – the oldest part of the village
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
Plage du ponteil in Antibes
Spices in the Marche Provencal
This is what happens to cars parked on the narrow streets of France
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.