Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bring on December

Glad November is over. Long-hated month of mine; I especially feel the effects of short days here in Paris, which is roughly at the same latitude as Montreal. Daylight is fading by 4:30 and by around 5, any traces of the sun are nonexistent. Of course, December is worse in this respect, but you at least have the upcoming holidays to distract you. November seems to drag on forever here. No Turkey Day festivities to break up the month! There are two bank holidays, but it's not the same. (It is, however, lovely when they fall on a Thursday, Friday or Monday. Long weekend! Especially on a Thursday--everyone "makes the bridge" and takes Friday off, too.)

My weeks pass faster than I think they will. Mostly because of my two set schedules that pack everything together in a few days—work and school. I work Saturday-Tuesday at the café, around 25 hours. I get very little schoolwork done on the weekend, but I do have Monday and Tuesday during the day off. I theoretically consecrate these days to catching up on schoolwork. However, real life often gets in the way. Laundry, bank, supermarket, tidying up, catching up on sleep, remnants of a social life, etc. I know I said it last year, but the biggest thing I’ve had to learn from working and going to grad school is time management—something I admittedly struggle with. Growing up kind of sucks sometimes…

After my four days of work, I have the following three days for school and studying. My classes are all day Wednesdays and Fridays, so those days are effectively blocked out of my schedule. I leave for school just after sunrise and get back long after sunset. I come home so tired that I practically fall into bed! Classes are three hours long and I have trouble concentrating for that long in a row, even if I enjoy the material. It’s just tough to keep my brain active for so long in a row. I can’t space off too much because the classes are so small and I can't really get away with it. Of course, it wouldn’t be France without a coffee break halfway through the class, but by the end of the day, my brain is fried. My eyes hurt from looking at a computer and being under bright florescent lights, in the same room, all day long.

On the metro ride home, I should, but don't always read a book. My eyes kill me. (Note to self : Go to the eye doctor!) I just listen to music and close my eyes, peeking them open every now and then to make sure I don’t miss my transfer. I like my uni, and I like living in Paris, but I have to say, it’s pretty disheartening to walk off campus after 9+ hours straight in a classroom and know that your bed is a multi-transfer metro ride, walk home, and seven flights of stairs away.

But it’s worth it. I like my program and it’s small enough (on a good day, 6 or 7 people) that I get direct contact with my professors, something I missed last year in my giant Communications program. Two of my classes are in English, and although I would prefer that they all be in French, I have to admit that it’s nice to have a little bit of familiar. I prefer the way Americans teach but I also prefer that cost of education in France. One of these classes is with an Australian guy, maybe mid-30s and pretty cool. Asks if we understood, jokes around, allows discussions off topic, uses an online website to submit homework, etc. All the things that I miss about traditional French education. 

The other class is with a French professor who spent a fair amount of time in Boston. He teaches a lot like in the States, but maybe not as much as the Australian. Still, I appreciate that he posts assignments for us online and writes key terms on the whiteboard. His English is impeccable, so much so that I have taken to noting his vocabulary :

Exhibit A (wherein I doubt any language ability I may have thought I had) :
striking feature
strike of a key
…and many others that make you question your education

I know all these words in English, thank god. At least he has yet to use vocabulary that I don’t know in my native language! But do I know these in French? Umm…no. Granted, English has many more words and the word ‘akin’ probably just translates as comme,the usual translation of ‘like.’ But still, for a non-native English speaker--and French at that--I am certainly impressed. (Not that America is any better..) Now if only I would get my ass in gear and look up his words in French so I could match his vocabulary...

Anyway, bref, classes are good. I thoroughly enjoy the challenges that translation brings. I finally am enrolled as a real student at my university, which brought forth my favorite benefit as a student : access to the university library. I checked out a bunch of translation studies books and am hoping to read them a bit in my spare time. My program is a decent translation program, but I still feel like there’s some essential material missing, or at least it’s not been introduced yet. Vocabulary for what we’re actually doing, explanations of theories, etc. So I’m supplementing it with my own readings. I have very grandiose ideas concerning my academic plan that rarely come to fruition, but in my dream world, I think things like :
“If you’re going to do a Master’s, you should do it right. You should be reading extra material all the time!"
“If you start early, you'll avoid staying up until 4am the day before it's due!” 
"Stop getting on Facebook. Seriously, Rachel, no one is doing anything of interest. Really."
“You must study for three hours a day.”  HAR HAR. At least the intention is there, right? Right?!

**I promise pictures soon. Going to let my camera out of his closet dungeon this weekend!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reporting from the right bank

Since I've moved to the other side of the river, I've had to change some old habits. You get used to your haunts, the same faces on the street, the baker that knows you by name and uses tu with you like you've known each other for years. Now it's new metro stops and bus lines to route out, a new grocery store (and I had just perfected navigating the aisles of my old one!), new shops and streets to learn. I'm enjoying learning a different part of Paris, even though I'd walked around this area many times before moving here. But it's not the same as actually living there. You have to know your neighborhood, especially in Paris (well, France), where most businesses are closed on Sunday. Luckily, there are little superettes--over-priced convenience stores that are open till around midnight--around the city, but you have to know where to find them. They're usually tucked away in an unsuspecting corner as to attract the least amount of people possible. Anyway, still getting to know my surroundings, and I see something new every day that I hadn't noticed before. Though I really hate schlepping all my crap around the city every year when I move, it's nice to get to live in different parts of Paris. I love getting closer to the "real" Paris with each street roamed, each metro stop used, each bakery visited. (The French may not be the best cookie makers, but they most definitely excel in making other baked goods.)

I've relocated to the République/Bastille area, a very posh and busy part of the city. It's actually the merging of three arrondissements (districts)--the 3rd, 10th and 11th. Lots of bars filled on the weekends, cute hipster-filled cafés, bike shops, art galleries, etc. It's cool and I've just barely started to discover the places around me.

Since there's no direct metro or bus to my work, I've taken to biking to work. I could take the metro, but even lazy Rachel admits that a 25-minute metro ride is just stupid compared to the 10-minute bike ride. Ask me about this in late November and I might have a different answer.  I take the city bike that I have a subscription to and have to go around this big statue:

It can get kind of scary. Plus, it's cobblestone that's not completely flat, and plus, incoming cars have the right of way. It's like a mini Etoile--maybe I'll try that one next. (With a helmet and insurance card.) But I like to think that biking around Bastille on a daily basis makes me a little more Parisian..or at least I pretend! (Two years in and I finally tie back to the title of my blog)  Usually, it's not this crowded, but this picture was clearly taken during a strike. And it is currently strike season, so I'd be lying if I said I hadn't already seen it look similar to this in the mere three weeks I've been living here. Pretty soon it will get cold and like magic! The strikes will go down to practically nothing. 

Another week of school went by and I've started to get into a routine, finally. I hate the first few days of class because you're still figuring out logistics and trying to make a good impression, ha. I've got the metro route down (it is god-awful in the morning. Squeezed up against the walls, fun.), I know where my classes are, I know my classmates' faces, and (most importantly) I've gotten a temporary library card while I wait for my enrollment to be made official. France is slow with anything that involves filling out papers, and university is no exception. Being as I was accepted at the very end of September, my process has been pushed back. They're still validating my American degrees or something, I'm not totally sure. Even though I haven't had to pay yet, I'd rather just write the check and get this behind me. I had to reschedule my appointment at the prefecture because my current uni is taking so long, and I need my official "you're in school" certificate to get the cheap metro pass....sigh, France. You're exhausting sometimes.

The more I study translation, the more I think why didn't I just do this before? I've been a language enthusiast for a good five or six years. It made sense for me to finish up my journalism degree in the US and obviously it would have been a waste for me to have not finished my French degree after spending a year and a half in France. But all those months two years ago that I mulled over which degree to choose, what path to follow, how I could incorporate my language love and journalism..I don't know why I cast away translation so quickly. Probably because I know, here at the beginning, that it is not a job you do for the loads of money. It's more of a "Ok, I have these skills that would be wasted if they just chilled in my brain. Can I find something that can put them to use and I can make and ok living out of?"-career. I'm ok with that. I really enjoy translating between languages, learning new translation software, meeting other to-be translators with a huge variety of languages, tying in a lot of the communication studies I did last year, and *best of all* talking strict grammar. I love grammar, and can pull out subordinated clause, direct object pronoun, epithet adjective  and many others like no one's business. 

Did I mention that I'm taking German and Spanish classes for fun? Oh yeah. Might have gotten in a little over my head. Translating into French won't be allowed in my professional career, but is good practice for now. I have a high enough level that I do an ok job. However, translating from French to Spanish? Oooh là, a bit difficult. It's a challenge that I am enjoying, but so far is taking up a big chunk of my time. Eeek.

So, all and all, I'm really enjoying my second go at being a student in France. The commute is longer, and the school is a little rough, but it feels like I'm where I should be. And not watching kids anymore? Oh, the joy. OH THE JOY. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It's definitely fall/On est bien en automne

I didn’t mean to be away this long! Four months later, I’m still alive, still in Paris. I had a few entries written, just waiting on pictures or a final read-over..but life caught up with me, what can I say. I might post one that I wrote in September because I had nearly finished it and then kind of forgot to publish it..

So, a short summary of Rachel's first full-length summer in Paris :
Finished with children on July 1st. Left for vacation July 2nd! I went on a little tour of the Germanic countries to meet friends. Berlin to see my friend, Brittany; Bamberg, to visit my two German friends ; and finally, to Vienna, to see a high school friend get married to an Austrian winemaker (not bad, huh!).

All in all, a good experience despite the crap weather in Berlin, again! I still like the city but I hope to see it in the sun one day! The cheap cost of living tempts me..maybe in a year or two I’ll head on over there. It was good to see Bamberg and friends again, and I went out with them and all their German friends to a pub quiz. It was fun, even if they had to translate a lot for me. All the more reason for me to finally conquer this language! Vienna was very pretty and classic. So many nice buildings and I loved that the trams were still old school with wooden seats and signs from the 60’s. The wedding was beautiful, and it was a perfect summer day. And the wine was abundant! But more than a week of traveling behind me, I was ready to come back to Paris. I love German, but sadly I'm not fluent (yet). After trying to express myself (poorly) for a week, it was so nice to hear French again. Enfin je comprends tout!

Worked my ass off. Following the summertime tradition of intense labor since 15, I put in a lot of hours at the café. I knew I'd have to find an apartment in September, so I started putting away money in a little jar on my shelf so I'd be reminded to add to it! Luckily tips were pretty good thanks to the tourists that were in there non-stop. It was strange for the first few weeks not having to frame my day around the school hours. I didn’t have to watch my kids except for one week—just picking them up from a daycare and waiting till the parents got home.

Spent a lot of time at the library. A French test in early August and watching kids for one week later in the month reminded me that September would be, in short, awful. Although I enjoyed my time off, I knew I had this 5-page project to write to get accepted to my Master’s program, due the first week of September. Not to mention completing the whole application process—various forms to fill out, a cover letter, a CV, translated transcripts, the aforementioned French test and the promise of my first-born child. Plus tons of time researching for the 5-page project—which was to explain the idea for my mémoire—a 50-page paper due at the end of your first year. Confused yet? Me too.

There was some other stuff in there--Bastille Day on my roof, gorgeous sunsets, cafés with friends, sales, the faux-beach "Paris Plage," a mini-trip to the Netherlands, the subsequent six-week obsession with the Dutch language, reading novels, eating baguettes and drinking wine on the canal, going to the outdoor cinema with picnics, enjoying Paris without the Parisians, deserted libraries, long days and warm(ish) nights.

(Of course there were also the plentiful grey skies, the tourists on every corner of the city, the lack of open bakeries or really anything, ridiculously hot days at work, the frozen state of the French bureaucracy, hearing about everyone else's génial vacations, the building concierge yelling at me for having too many people on the roof, the massive return of Parisians and their offspring..)

My  kids' school started back up in September, so there were 15 hours a week there, another 25-30 at the café, apartment searching and subsequent moving, the 5-page paper, interview and translation test preparation, and oh by the way, my visa expired at the end of August and I imperatively needed to get into school to be able to stay in France…


I’m pretty calm most of the time. I take things one at a time and deal with what comes at me. But here, I didn’t have the luxury of doing that. Everything culminated in a short period of time. For two days, I was convinced that my application hadn’t arrived at the office in time, and here I was, a day away from signing a lease contract without having a acceptance letter to get a visa to actually stay in France so I could fulfill the lease..

Cue the quarter (+1)-life crisis and scrambling to figure out what to do in the case that I had to leave France. Korea? Germany? New York? Marriage ad on Craigslist? It was not a pretty little freak-out session, I’ll tell you.

But. All ended well, or at least I hope it continues to be that way. Moved out of my 7th floor apartment on the Left Bank to a new, 7th floor apartment on the Right Bank. (I have FAR too many books.) Finished with my kids and passed off the job to the new girl. (Such a relief. Loved my family, but it was time to leave Nannydom.) Got a letter later in the week of freaking out that the university had received my dossier and it was being looked over. Then came the tests (ok), interview (horrible), re-writing of project (stressful), and acceptation to the program. (YES!) I am now a bonafide student of translation. Classes started last week.

So. That brings us up to about now. I have an appointment at the prefecture on Tuesday, and I know that I won't have everything I need to get my visa renewed. My new university is taking forever to get all my paperwork through and I’ve given up harassing them. It’s one of those “you just have to wait until it gets processed, it’s working..” type of things. I’ve had the visa appointment for two months, and it’s very likely that I will be sent away within five minutes with a new appointment in 2012. Sigh. I’m preparing my best defensive and slightly rude French phrases just in case.

Uni--so far, so good. The program is very time consuming, and I'm juggling work with that as well. I really enjoy doing the translations and am excited to learn more as the year progresses. I've always worked a lot during my studies, and though I'd obviously prefer to sleep more have more time to study, there's only so much you can wish for. I'm down two jobs (nanny, English teacher), so I already feel like I have an enormous amount of time in front of me. My school schedule is packed into two days, which makes for long days but less time commuting the hour-long trip each way. More to come as I settled into my program.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The views out my window have been pretty incredible lately. Colorful, pretty, late sunsets. The nights are short--the sun goes down around 10:30 but it's still pretty light until 11pm. And it's back up again before 6. I recently worked an all-night cleaning shift at the restaurant and it was weird to see how short the night really is. It started getting light around 5, seemed so weird to see the sun go down and back up all in a span of a shift.

So, to continue the last post, I had a pretty good spring. May went by so fast. I was busy studying, working, having birthday celebrations. I've made some friends this year, mostly from my job(s), and it was fun to go out with people and bring in my 26th year with class. I had some people to my apartment for pizza & drinks, then we went out to join up more people at some bars in the neighborhood. Good times but sadly (or maybe a good thing..), no photos. Having no lens for the last few months has meant a) not taking pictures b) using crappy camera phone 3) mooching other people's photos/stealing their camera [see below].

May and June are notorious for public holidays, which equals long weekends. The French like to faire le pont, or "make the bridge" to the weekend. So if you have a lucky year where a public holiday falls on a the perfect day--Thursday--most everyone will take off Friday because really, who's going to work in between two days off? No one! This year and last year were unlucky because two of the public holidays fell on the weekend, which is just unfair. Have a public holiday on a day we're already off? Mean. One, however, happened on the perfect day this year. Ascension was on a Thursday in early June, and as best I can gather, it's when Jesus took an elevator to heaven to join his pops. The French aren't hugely religious but by golly, they will take their jours fériés where they can get them.

My friend and I took this chance to head to Giverny, a small French village in the bottom of Normandy. It's about an hour from Paris by train, the place of the famous waterlily paintings by Claude Monet.

I know I said it before, when I went to Lille, but I am always amazed how much else is outside of Paris. I felt like I could have been in Provence, yet we were only a short trainride from the bustling, crowded capital. It was hot, sticky weather, and there were no clouds in the sky. Just a clear blue sky, with a beating sun that left its mark on my shoulders by the end of the day. But it was picturesque--no wonder Monet spent so much time there. Rolling hills, flowers in bloom, quaint houses and the familiar Seine flowing by.

Giverny--Claude Monet's house/studio
Caro and I had a good lunch a French restaurant and enjoyed walking around, despite the masses of tourists. Ascension weekend was all over Europe, so there were long lines everywhere we went. Annoying, but it was to be expected. At least there was a nice breeze going.

The problem that we ran into, however, is that we ran out of cash after spending almost exactly the amount required for the busride home 5 minutes before, in the gift shop. So here we are in this little town, which is 6km (almost 4 miles) from where the train picks up, and we have no money. And oh yeah, there's no ATM. We had to walk the whole way back after an already long and hot day in the sun, waiting in lines and looking at flowers. Not so lucky, but I guess we saved the 4€ and got some exercise. We missed our train but instead of getting mad, we decided to get a drink and wait for the next one an hour later. Turned out okay after all!

On the walk to the main town--notice the awesome tan

Since then, I've just been working and enjoying my time off. Back to studying German for a little bit. I kind of switch off and on with it, but had to abandon it in February to study for the translation test. I would love to live in Deutschland for an extended amount of time in the next few years. Maybe after I've had enough of France, who knows. The next best thing is visiting, and I'll be doing exactly that the first week of July. I'll be in Berlin for a few days, then to Bamberg, then to Vienna. Friends in each place, and the last one, I'm shooting the candid wedding pictures for a friend that is marrying an Austrian guy. I've never been to Vienna, and I've heard it's beautiful, so I'm pretty pumped to check it out. I've got my new lens, so I need to get some practice in before I head over to the land of Mozart. I'll try to keep my flickr page updated with some shots around Paris.

In the meantime, more pictures from my recent adventures.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Spring Catch Up

Désolée, sorry, lo siento for the delay in posting. I did not realize it had been so long since I posted! I have much to recount, many photos to share.


It doesn't help that the weather has recently felt like a throwback to April. Coats and umbrellas haven't been far from hand recently. Guess it's payback, because April was unusually warm and mostly rain-free. So much that parts of France experienced droughts. It just hurts more when it's summer (almost) and I have to dress in layers!

I'll start out by saying that I sadly did not get accepted into the translation school that I spent this spring studying for. I had my reservations the weeks leading into it after hearing (again) from people that it was quite difficult and very competitive..but I wasn't about to just ditch it all together. I studied s'more, took some deep breaths, told myself it'd make me stronger or something like that. There were an insane amount of people there, I'd say at least 400-500. Although I am notorious for badly estimating large groups of people..let's just say it was an entire auditorium that had two levels. Totally filled. The list came out the next week and I was not on it, but I definitely wasn't the only one. Ah, well. C'est la vie.

I had a wtf-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life day, but it was short-lived since I felt out some Plan B's in the weeks prior. I will be applying to a few other translation programs this fall at three universities. France has two sessions to apply to university--one now, in late May/early June, and one in mid-September. I would have liked to just get it over with and apply now, but nothing is ever that easy in La France! I have to take an official French test to prove my level. That's right, after living here for 3something years I have yet to prove I indeed speak French fluently. Quelle galère..(what a pain)

And so that is what I will be doing this summer, among other things. Paying 90€ for someone to write down on a piece of paper that I have a level worthy of a French/English translator-to-be. (Last year, I got lucky as my university had their own, free French test. Sadly they did not provide any kind of written proof that I took it. OF COURSE!)

Although September will be a little stressful (I could easily find out I'm accepted the week before classes begin), at least I have the summer to study a bit and relax. For the first time since last fall, I read a book that wasn't Communications/Translation related. It was glorious.

In between studying, sleeping, teaching English, working at a restaurant and watching my kids, I did have a pretty good spring. Brittany came up to visit at the end of April and all I can say is that we had an epic weekend. The weather was beautiful, café and pub terraces were filled with people, friends joined up, laughter was was fun. We went vintaging, drank some wine and/or coffee in between, stopped by the bookstores since, well, we always do. The next day we went to Lille, a little town an hour north of Paris by TGV. I'd been told it was very up-and-coming and cute. Carolina came along and it was a really great day. Lille is highly recommended to anyone visiting France! I wish I had money, I'd invest some there! Lots of old houses being renovated, cute cobblestone streets, interesting French/Flemish architecture, a huge plaza, tons of shops, two train stations.. it's only going to improve in the coming years. If I wasn't so attached to Paris, I'd really consider living up there. I couldn't believe how much cheaper it was than Paris! For the rent of a small 15-20m2 studio here, you could have your own 70m2 apartment there..







It was good to be reminded that Paris is not synonymous with France. I think a lot of people, myself included, fall into this trap. I love Paris and will always have a strong emotional bond with it, but there are so many other little towns and cities that deserve some lovin'!

Alright there is more to say..I had a birthday in there, you know! But lunch with a friend awaits!

I finally got a new lens for my camera--perfect for long summer days and (hopefully soon) warm weather.

A plus!


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A diversion from studying

My big test is in 7 weeks! I've been studying, but life gets in the way and I often have days where I have no time to crack open my books. Luckily, I have another break coming up, and I'm sticking around Paris to study/work/enjoy my life sans enfants for two weeks. A stay-cation, if you will.

I went to the open house ESIT held last Friday, and I feel like I have a shot. I wasn't the youngest nor the oldest (by a long shot). Lots of questions were asked, and it felt like (although admittedly, it's not like I saw other students' translations..) many people had similar questions, similar concerns that I have about the program. It's not like it's easy for anyone, even if you've had the luxury of classes préparatoires--classes made specifically to help you get in. (Part of a larger BS grandes écoles system in France.) I was certainly not the only one that was winging it on her own. If I got in, you bet I'd be proud of myself!

I fit the description of a translator to a T, and although I had originally given myself this one shot, I've decided that if I don't make it this year, I will try again next year. (You can only apply twice; if it was meant to be, it was meant to be..) I really want into this program. The further I delve into the intricacies of translating between languages, the more I enjoy it. However, I am very aware of the possibility that I will not get in. I do not let myself think, under any circumstances, that I have more of a chance in getting in than any other person. My native English means jack diddly as everyone and their mom speaks my native tongue. And besides, it's not a test of English. It's a test of how well you can comprehend, synthesize, and translate ideas from your B & C languages (French B, Spanish C) to your native language. Now, whether all these applicants speak English well or not is a whole 'nother issue. Nonetheless, I am not special for growing up in an anglophone environment. And there is no way I can be the only native-English speaker applying.

I read an article this morning (in French) about how the French place #17 out of 44 countries for English levels. (1,2,3 Norway, Netherlands, Denmark, respectively) [No bashing intended] I was honestly surprised that they weren't lower on the list. Though English is learnt by most students these days to at least a conversational level, the French, in general, cannot compete with their European neighbors. I could go into it further--another time--but in my opinion, it comes down to two things: they dub movies and TV shows, and they have such a strong love of their own language that they are hesitant to let English in. There are always exceptions, and my worry is naturally that this small group of French exceptions will be the ones that show up to the test in May...

I listened in on some conversations that current ESIT students and professors were having with would-be students, but I didn't have much to ask that wasn't answered in the 90-minute Q&A session. The longer I was there, the more stressed I felt, so I stayed a little bit to get some of the handouts and crap they were selling, and then hopped on the metro back home. I already know this school is hard, ta! Reliable method or not, I'm putting my figurative blinders on to the pressure and just studying my ass off. Trying to get through a comparative translation book this week, and then I will focus more on doing practice translations from books, and eventually from newspapers. I need to brush up on my Spanish, too, but one thing at a time. I listen to Spanish podcasts from time to time and am trying to read an adolescent book in Spanish when I'm not busy with, oh, 80 million other things. My language C is important, but I will only have to be able to comprehend it enough to translate it into my language A, never vice-versa. I would rather improve my French for the moment and worry more about Spanish in a week or two.

So that's where I am. Trying to stay motivated, but it's hard when it's just yourself doing the motivating. Going to the open house was a great motivator because I needed to see others attending it to make my instinctive "Ima kick your ass" drive kick in. I have to keep telling myself that I've essentially been studying for this for years. I take notes all the time: from newspapers, subtitles, conversations, billboards, etc. I need to group them all together (a project that has needed doing for at least 3 years), but just the act of writing down a word or phrase or grammatical structure I don't know makes it much easier to remember the next time I see it. Though 'they' might have an entire year of prep courses behind them, my one true advantage is that I have a strong language B. They judge you on translations into your native language, and your level of French. So as it would be, my 7-month intensive study stint in the Alps in 2007 and my subsequent time in Paris (all in all around 3 years by now) is an advantage that they will have trouble beating in language classes. I don't care how well you memorize, I really believe that nothing can compare to immersion.

The other thing going for me is that I'm really good at language in general. They say good readers make good writers and I guess this, along with the constant grammar and vocabulary corrections growing up helped me be the grammar nazi I am today. Thanks mom! Plus the college degrees in English and French couldn't have hurt. After going to the open house, and reading some literature they gave us I paid 15€ for, I realised how important it is to have an excellent command of your maternal language. Good with editing, finding synonyms, phrasing sentences, etc. And especially good with not mixing your languages. Funny, after just writing the entry about my franglais, huh? I need to shape up my own language and search out the correct terms, not the easy "franglicized" ones. I can turn it around if I concentrate, and I know that when it counts, I will make sure to use the most correct form of English.

Alright, break officially over. Back to the books, back to the future ass-kicking..hopefully from me, not the other way around!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Majorly long entry wherein I make up for absense with abundance of photos

Ready for some pictures? Photo dump begins in 3, 2, 1...
Spent a weekend in Amsterdam and saw a great concert by the fabulous band, The Black Keys. I'm not cool enough to be one of those people that have known about them for years [insert hipster speech] you know, before they were big and mainstream, back when they were still releasing LPs and playing in small venues..

Even as a Fall-2010 newbie, they did not disappoint! Cool indeed. My sidekick, Brittany, joined me from Switzerland and we met early Friday morning, me having taken the bus the night before. Bus got in at 5am so let's just say that it was a long day, supplemented by lots of cheap coffee. Which brings me to one of my favorite things about the Netherlands: they are convenience store junkies! Okay, nothing to the likes of America's 7-11's and QT's and Casey's, but still. You are never far from 1€ coffee and donuts. And waffles. And cookies. And little cakes I don't know the name of that are delicious. There are also these hot snack machines in train stations, on corners, anywhere you can fit them..pretty sure I gained at least 10 pounds in my 2.5 days there. Worth it!
This was my third time in Amsterdam, but there were plenty of things I hadn't gotten a chance to see yet. We went around some neighborhoods to get off the beaten path a bit. Got some good pics in a district not far from the center, called Jordaan. At the edge of the district lies the Anne Frank House, but I got the impression that not many tourists ventured past that part because we were definitely the only ones speaking English (quietly) in the streets. I love it when that happens!
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So, all in all, a good little weekend. I like the Dutch a whole lot. I don't know if I could live in Amsterdam per se, but maybe a different city farther south in the country. I love the weird language, the brick streets, the thousands of bikes you see everywhere.

They are obviously not afraid of killing their children:

So that was Amsterdam. Had a lovely time, will probably not be back for a while as I desperately need to branch out in terms of traveling. Must..visit..somewhere..NEW. Soon.

Onwards, shall we? Let's back up in time to 1 month ago, when one of my besties from high school came to Paris for a long weekend for a conference. I only saw Katie for one night, but we managed to talk about her cute chubby baby, Emerson,
[let's stop here for a moment to show how f-ing cute he is]

and catch up on other things like small-town gossip, work, life in general. I hadn't seen her for a while, so it was a good little visit. We also took a boat tour down the Seine, and even though I've lived here for going on 3 years, I'd never taken one. Check!
Notre Dame and her flying buttresses from behind..ha
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So fast forward to last week, when I was asked to accompany a 12-year-old girl to the Louvre and Eiffel Tower while her mom was in meetings. Of course I said yes, because hey, being paid on top of guided tour and going up in Paris' most famous monument? No brainer.

Our tour guide was a bit cheeky..

Seine looking northwest

Seine looking west

Looking southeast. Big tower is Tour Montparnasse, close to where I used to live

See the Arc de Triomphe?

Okay, I think I'm caught up for the moment. I'll leave you with a picture of Girl #2's arm yesterday. She was bored in class and drew an entire BD (comic book) on her arm. How she avoided a scolding from her teacher is beyond me. Kids...

Tot ziens!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mon franglais

After studying French for years, living in France for three years total, and after working and studying in French, I feel fairly confident saying that I’m fluent in French. However, besides my classes, which are all in French, I spend a large part of my day in English. All of my jobs involve English, although not exclusively. Some customers at the café love to try and order in English, so I usually humor them until one of us gives up (them, from lack of vocab, me from lack of patience). I talk to my kids in French and in English, but sadly more French because it’s really hard to get them to speak English.

I guiltily read a lot in English, for pleasure and for research. Research is often much better/more available in English, and I’m not about to read an English book translated into French about Commnication Theory—not when it’s hard enough in English, thankyouverymuch. In order to keep my French up (and also to improve it), I’ve told myself I’ll only read for pleasure in French. However, seeing as I have little time to even read outside of the academic realm, don’t know how realistic that one is. Gotta finish David Sedaris’s new book before I commit to that pact! Add to all that the TV series I watch via the Internet, English-speaking friends and colleagues, to-do lists and thinking (mostly) in English, I am never totally cut off from my native tongue.

Through my constant contact with both languages, I most definitely have developed my own hybrid of the two languages. When I’m talking to Anglophones living in Paris, it’s not a big deal because they understand the anglicized French (and are guilty of it, too). I’m with my friend Carolina a few times a week and we both do it so much that we’ve kind of stopped even correcting ourselves. It’s not that I’ve forgotten the English word, it’s just that the French often comes to mind first, or the story I’m talking about took place in French, so I just use whatever word I remember first. English sometimes lags, but is still there somewhere in the depths of my brain. Naturally, when I’m speaking in French, I have the same moments trying to remember a French word—especially if I just spent a few days in a totally English environment. (i.e. most weekends. My French is always mistake-ridden on Mondays). I love linguistics, and I’ve always found the progression of languages really interesting. I can see now how easy it is to adopt new words into a language. It’s kind of cool to see it happen in real time.

The other thing that has affected my speech is that I work for a British school, and last year, as a language assistant, all of the material was in British English. I also run into quite a few Brits/Irish/Kiwis etc. in Paris that use different vocabulary or expressions. Work with some, too. There are just some words and grammatical things I do that have strayed away from my native American ‘dialect.’ I’m developing an international hodgepodge English methinks..

So without further ado, I know you’re dying to read the notes I’ve jotted down over the last few weeks :

*words that could be in both categories since BrE uses a lot of French words that North Americans have stopped using

British Influence

British word/phrase used instead of/in addition to American word/phrase

I’ve got/Have you got? I have/Do you have?

biscuit snack/cookie

bank holiday national holiday

cheers thanks ; informal e-mail ending

nearly almost

hang on hold on

lift elevator

garden yard*

jumper sweater (I purposely do this one, I’ll admit)

football soccer*

barman bartender*

whilst while

(on) holiday (on) vacation

postbox/postman/postcode mailbox/mailman/zip code*

university (uni) college*

to sit an exam to take an exam

prof abbreviation of professor

transport transportation

colleague co-worker

quite pretty, really

ground floor first floor (ground floor is 0, 1st floor is 2nd floor AmE)

note bill (mostly because saying bill just sounds wrong for €)*

sweets candy

mine/yours/his at my house/at your house

➡ I’ll meet you at yours, ok?

take away take out

past participles:


French Influence

Anglicized word/phrase from French word/phrase

pressed pressé, in a hurry

pass (by) passer, a verb with a million meanings in French, but here, 'to stop by.' I've also caught myself using it for 'to give.'

➡ Can you pass me your e-mail?

controlled contrôlé, means 'controlled' in the English sense, but also used in the sense of getting stopped by an officer (un contrôleur) for jumping the metro.

➡ Damnit, I got controlled again today! (Has happened multiple times..)

for why pourquoi, why. Would never say "For why are you leaving?" but when asking 'why' all by itself it happens.

rent a book (from the library) emprunter un livre (de la bibliothèque)

how many are you? Vous êtes combien? How many of you are there? (restaurant talk)

sack sac. I know this word exists in English, but 'bag' is probably used more, at least in AmE. I say sac for just about everything that can contain something and be carried by handles.

to be called s'appeler. French say je m'appelle for 'My name is.' So I carry that over to English for whatever reason. It's not that I don't notice, it's just that it sounds normal to me now. Also, may I note (Brittany!) that the usage is accepted in BrE!

What's that girl called, the one we met in the café last week?

supermarket supermarché. I say grocery store as well

cinema cinéma, movie theatre*

Other French words I use

resto abbrev. of restaurant

gare train station (usually only in texts since it’s so much shorter)

ordi ordinateur, computer (also usually in text)

Aïe! Ouch! (Sounds like ‘eye.’)

Allez! Come on!

café coffee. French uses the same word for coffee shop and coffee. I am sometimes too lazy (or don't realize) to make the difference.

Other crap that has come out of my mouth to my own horror:

I’m going to search a post in the neighborhood.

Your hairs are so long!

Put your pyjama on or I won't read you a history!

And many, many others that I do on a daily basis..

**Excuse the formatting! Blogger seems to hate MS Word's formatting and after messing with it for hours I give up!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Juste un petit mot

"Just a little word" as the French like to say..

My schedule is actually really nice this semester. I got out of taking English (yay!) and therefore have every Thursday and Friday off! Not bad. I might be getting into a Spanish or German class, which of course I'd take with open arms. I'd love to take both, but I gotta limit my crazy. Did I mention I'm applying to l'École Supérieure d'Interprètes et de traducteurs (ESIT)? 'Cos I am. It's an interpretation/translation school officially affiliated with my university, but on the campus of another Parisian university. Confusing, and I don't know why they play musical chairs with different departments but it happens a lot. Another entry sometime in the future, I will try to explain the Université de Paris system as best I know! Anyway, I'm applying to ESIT, which really just means taking an entrance exam in May. The process, as far as I can see, is less complicated than last year's for my current program, but the test is intense and requires a good amount of studying. I went to the university today to get the former tests that they sell for 15€. Guess it's good that I have a little extra time this semester, but I should most definitely be working on that 40-50 page mémoire due in May..what can I say, I'm easily distracted when it comes to practicing languages vs. communication theory!

I was in a really super mood today. Had a journalism class I enjoyed in the AM, walked home slowly in the spring-like weather, enjoyed a really delicious's the little things! Then I went to the uni to get the tests, and came back to the Latin Quarter, to one of my favorite places in all of Paris.

My favorite language bookstore. I told myself walking in I wouldn't buy anything..maybe next time this will work.

The lovely Seine. Taken in late afternoon so it looks a little glum, but it was a beautiful day compared to the recent rainy weather we've had.

I really do love living here. Here's to a great mid-week!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


[I wrote this on the train a few days back..sorry for the delay!]


I’ve had quite a week! Started out with going to a concert from one of my favvvvvvorite singers, William Fitzsimmons. I found out the week before last that he was playing in Paris—and a free concert at that! I’ve been a huge fan for years and have watched him tour Germany and the Netherlands, always skipping my little part of the continent. I’m so glad he stopped by this time! I highly recommend him if you like folksy/melancholic music. Not for everyone, but I love his music (and bad ass beard!). I even got a pic with him, although my friend is 5’ tall, so it’s a horrible angle..


Just returned from my trip to the Swiss Alps to visit my friend, Brittany. Pretty much the entire country is some part of the infamous mountain range, but I happened to be in the eastern part, near the Austrian border. I spent three days in a small mountain village, where her husband has a house that has been in his family for the better part of a century. Very kitschy (in a cute way) and very Swiss. Pictures lined the walls with old photos, cereal bowls were inscribed with kids’ names from past summers and breaks spent there, and everything you could ever need—from paprika to coffee percolators to fondue sets was there, in a designated place. I imagine it’s taken years to acquire all the little bits and pieces, but I could tell that it is very much a house that is lived in throughout the year, by family and friends. Especially during ski season!


There were tons of skiers, snowboarders, hang gliders, etc. of all ages walking the streets. It was nice to leave the uptight, well-dressed manner of Paris for the more comfortable polar fleece and snow boots style of the mountains.


I didn’t ski—too much money, plus the fact that I’ve never put a pair of skis on in my life—but having time to relax, outside of Paris, with no obligations, was plenty of vacation for me. I walked around the town to take pictures a few times, read a whole book in English without feeling guilty, studied a little German, enjoyed good coffee in the morning and delicious wine in the evening. Nothing super interesting, but I have to say that being in the mountains with cool, fresh air and a shining sun was great for me. I feel recharged.

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So now it’s back to work, at least mostly. My university break only shared last weekend with the Paris school’s break, so although my classes start tomorrow, I’ll be sans kids for two weeks. I of course would have preferred to have a week overlap so I could go somewhere for longer, but at least this way I can start out the semester with more time and concentration. I hope.

I’m toying with the idea of applying to a different program for next year. I like Communications, but I kind of feel indifferent about it. It’s interesting, and there are parts of it that I really enjoy, like the Cultural Studies movement in the 1950s and 60s, especially the linguistic theories applied to society like structuralism and post-structuralism. But I don’t necessarily feel passionate about a lot of the other things that I've studied. Some classes are better than others, but really, I thought it would be closer to Journalism, and in many respects, it’s closer to Sociology and Philosophy. I want a Master’s degree, I do, but studying here has always been for me more of a cultural experience and a way to stay in France. I don’t know exactly what I plan on doing in the future as far as a “real job” goes. I have some rough ideas drawn out in my head. I know I’m almost 26 and I should have this figured out by now, but I say to that : meh. An article last year in the New York Times was spot on. I’m under 30, college-educated, and not in a hurry to settle down anywhere, so I’m kind of making it up as I go along.

If you twisted my arm and told me that I had to choose a career, I could narrow my interests down to : languages and photography. Language not only in the foreign sense, but also as written word in general. I am meticulous with grammar and vocabulary, and if I'd stayed in the US after college, I probably would’ve applied to be a copywriter or a technical writer. I resisted the idea for a long time, but the more I think about it, the more I think I could be a pretty good translator.

My resistance has always been that I like going into a physical workplace. I like having co-workers and a desk that’s not at my house. I like the interaction with other people, I like the separation of home and work. But let’s face it, I’m at my computer a good portion of the day anyway, and I’d consider myself quite Internet-savvy, which is the medium for a lot of translations these days. I browse bookstore and library language sections on (at least) a weekly basis, read grammar books for fun, and already have a few translation manuals on my shelf, bought out of curiosity. My university has a program for translation and interpretation and I am going to look into it. This would mean that I'd be behind a year in studies, but I feel almost guilty saying that it's not a big deal to me. I chose to do Communications this year mostly because I thought it would be more profitable for future job opportunities, but I don’t know if I want to spend two years in a program that I don’t even enjoy. Translation, at least I think, would be more interesting for someone whose desk is littered with memo-block notes of random phrases and words I like or need to look up in French. Someone whose bookshelves are buckling with the weight of books in no less than five languages, someone who has is in a browser on a nearly-constant basis. I think I owe the translation thing a shot. I have a high level in French, and good levels in Spanish and German (need to brush up, gets in the way, sadly). I might have found the one thing I'm actually somewhat gifted at..sorry, sports of any kind, we were never meant to be!

And as far as the photography goes, it can always be a hobby. Maybe a photojournalism gig will show up one's my ultimate dream job.

So if you're saying to yourself, my oh my, Rachel has yet to get a real job, what is she going to do!, don't worry. I'm okay with that. I'm also applying to an assistantship program in Spain as a backup. I'm sorry, dear friends and family, but I just don't feel like coming back to the US just quite yet.

Not for now. Not when I'm a day's trainride away from this :

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More photos if you so desire