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Pourquoi la France vit dans mon cœur

Written By: kealohap on October 26, 2011 1 Comment

I have been taking French for 7 years now, since my freshman year of high school. I attended a French American school where I was learning how to say “Bonjour” while my many of my new friends were taking math and chemistry in French since they had been there since kindergarten — or maternelle as I should say. I loved how the language sounded when my teacher spoke. She was a tiny woman with wiry black hair and ruby red lipstick who smoked incessantly and believed that a coke and a Twix bar constituted breakfast during our 8 am class (“French women don’t get fat”) Having never encountered French people in any great number, I was naive to the many stereotypes that proved all too true within my first months of high school. Even the American students had adopted French habits, mannerisms and Franglish during their time there. But it was all part of my daily routine, I didn’t feel strongly francophile or francphobe. Until I visited Paris my sophomore year. We went for two weeks to study and explore the city and I lived with an older couple in the 13th arrondissement (a sort of dilapidated Chinatown) on the 29th floor of an ancient apartment building. In true form with every cliche in the “City of Lights,” I was in love with everything about Paris from the moment I got off the plane. The way of life, the food, the language, all seemed to run contrary to the things I disliked about America. My host family welcomed me into their miniscule apartment, cooking fabulous meals and producing for us a TV on which to watch MTV and eat the French equivalent of Hostess cakes (what they imagined every American teen must do at home). They were patient with my amateur French, not arrogant or cold like I had heard too often of Parisians. I saw a blissful utopia in the most famous of French (and, perhaps, European)cities.

Since then, I have been confronted with the less than idyllic history and workings of France’s culture and government, of the consequences inherent to their way of life. It is more now a realistic place in my mind, an entire country rather than the gem that is Paris. But the romance hasn’t rubbed off. As I learn French as a more advanced level, the language offers nuance that I don’t find in English. It demands more of my respect than my mother tongue. So I want to become fluent, unashamed to speak with natives and to offer analysis of French cultural works or my opinion on their news — in the real world, not the sheltered sanctuary of the classroom where everyone’s voice is heard and people are achingly patient. So it’s off to Bordeaux for a semester, to live with a family and study in French. Hopefully I will experience a setting closer to my own reality, one where things aren’t so perfect as the boulevards of Paris (or my native San Francisco) would project. I want to be immersed in how an “ordinary” French family lives, if life really can be all wine and baguettes, strolls through town and vacations in the South even while staying current and educated and earning a living.

Hearing French ignites a fondness in me and I want so badly to join in. I want to taste the food and wine, to be a student in a country where youth are celebrated and not repressed or feared. La joie de vivre is something we could use a little more of in America but it’s something that I feel evoked when I hear myself say a complete, complex sentence in French. I feel a connection to a country I visited once, superficially, but the infatuation has only grown in my time waiting to return — absence makes the heart grow fonder I suppose. I hope to find the language and cultural history my own family lacked and create a place for myself within the heart of the French way of life and vice versa.

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One Response to “Pourquoi la France vit dans mon cœur”

  1. Youki on: 31 October 2011 at 7:05 pm

    I took a year of French in high school, and reading your post reminded me of how wonderful it was to learn French. For some odd reason, I heard the phrase, “je suis un petit fromage” and it forever got stuck in my head.

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