Wednesday, 2 April 2014

How Living with a French Man Changed My Life

When people ask me if I moved to France because of Understanding Frenchman, I'm always quite proud to reply, "No." In fact, I survived 3 (non-consecutive) years here, learned a whole lot of new words, committed many faux pas and even got the dance moves to Paris Latino perfected (that one always amazes French people) before stumbling upon my Frog prince. Not that  moving abroad to be with your significant other doesn't create its own challenges: I'm sure if I'd met UFM in the "France is ridiculous" phase that hit around my 13th month here I'd have been a lot harder to be in a relationship with, but, things having turned out the way they have, I am happy to claim full credit for all the integrating that I did before I even met him.

But there can be no doubt that the past three and a half years have made an impact too. Good, bad, or merely indifferent, here are some of the ways that being with a Frenchman has changed my life:

Eating: It's a bit of a joke in our house that while I tend to have coffee with baguette and jam for breakfast, Understanding Frenchman has a very British breakfast of cornflakes, banana and yoghurt. I'd like to say that my Frenchification includes sitting down to delicious home-cooked bons petits plats every evening, washed down with a civilised glass of red wine and that single square of high-quality dark chocolate that all Frenchwomen supposedly "indulge" in once every day, but in fact we both eat in the canteen at work at lunchtime and only have very simple things in the evening. Because of our working and commuting times though, one thing I have been forced to adapt to is eating later in the evening. We mostly have dinner around 8 and for someone who grew up with tea at half past five, that's a big adjustment. It's actually the one thing I really don't like about our domestic arrangements - I usually end up snacking when I come home because I'm hungry, and even if I hadn't had much, by 8pm I'm too tired to be interested in food. Plus, it makes the evening seem really short!

Language: I was pretty proud of my honours-degree level French, and my vocabulary was not without a smattering of the kind of words you shouldn't really bust out in a university oral exam, but between the good words and the bad words is a whole range of informal vocabulary that you only really pick up inside a Francophone home. La flotte (water, whether coming from the sky as rain or sitting in a carafe on your dinner table) que dalle (nothing, used in a negative sense), and balancer (meaning "to throw away") are all words that I quite definitely learned from UFM. Plus, when you have someone who listens to you patiently (most of the time) and doesn't hesitate to correct you (all of the time), your pronunciation, grammar and general fluency definitely improve as well. What's really funny (or scary) is when you find yourself starting to sound like your significant other and they accuse you of stealing their linguistic quirks.

Cultural Knowledge (or, understanding Les Guignols): I don't know about other nationalities, but many British people who live in France have a pretty low opinion of French television. But while I don't think it's just me being patriotic when I say that the BBC is unrivaled by anything I've ever seen in another country (and even UK commercial channels show a lot of high quality and original programming), Understanding Frenchman has introduced me to some great stuff over here. Take Les Guignols, for example. Like Spitting Image, it's a satirical puppet show that mocks the foibles of powerful, well-known people, and it's really, really funny. Except, of course, that you have to a) understand the language and b) know who the characters are and what the real story behind the satire is. I remember watching it with flatmates during my first year in France and being completely baffled, but now, watching it with my own French Culture tutor by my side, I'm finally beginning to recognise the caricatures and laugh at most of the humour. Other shows which fall into this category include the whole of Le Petit Journal (of which Les Guignols is actually a part) and the wonderful Stephane de Groodt on Canal+'s Le Supplement.

I've got more of these, but this post is getting long, so maybe it will have to become a series. In the meantime, what about you, readers? What have you learned from your French partners/friends/hosts? And do you think they've picked up anything from you?
 

7 comments:

  1. I learned a lot from my very own Canadian man. Language skills I guess: I didn't speak English when I first came to Canada. I learned many cultural facts, from hockey rules to tipping. Practical skills too, such as reading maps, driving...

    Okay, he learned stuff from me too, including European history, enjoying French music, basic French politic knowledge, etc.!

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    1. Hockey rules is a good one. I still don't really understand football, despite living with a guy who watches it religiously (and coming from a country where it's played as much as in France) but I did learn that in rugby the "jeu toulousain" basically involves lots of running up the wing, so that's something!

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  2. I would have sworn I'd never heard "flotte" before, and wouldn't you know, my colleague *just* came in the office saying she'd spilled "la flotte" all down her front!

    I think my vocabulary's getting better all the time, but as for cultural references, I'm still nulle. Very impressed you understand Les Guignols!

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    1. I bet you'll be hearing it everywhere now! For Les Guignols, I think it probably helps that UFM and I both like politics and it happens to be on at French dinner time, when we watch TV together. I guess that's one advantage of eating late!

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  3. It's funny, I've learned tons about American football from my Frenchman, thanks to his interest in it! And though I had the basics before I came over, he's the one who really taught me how to drive a manual transmission (within a few months of meeting, so he could be the one to drink when we went out, lol).

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  4. Hahahaha, my husband is always accusing me of stealing his expressions. He's rather colorful in his expressions as well, and I've had to learn to ask which ones are okay for using at work.

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  5. I've learned about French actors and singers, both those that are still alive and those that have passed on. Whenever I hear an old song and ask him who sings it, 95% of the time he knows. I don't know how he knows all this! I know I couldn't name the singers of old North American songs with as much accuracy as he does with all these French songs (I'm talking the 1950s/1960s).

    I've also learned a lot about politics: who the main players are and who has left their mark on French politics in the last 50 years. I have learned about elections, the government set-up, what riles French people up concerning politics, what French people like concerning politics (a charismatic leader), etc. I can't really say that it's only my husband that has contributed to my learning; I have also learned a lot from my in-laws and my husband's colleagues. I would say, however, that most of what I have learned, I learned it from him.

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