Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Franglaise Episode 1: Quebewhat?

I have had the opportunity to study French under more than 5 different people in the last 6 months and have learned some very interesting things about the language over that time.  I should also point out that all 6 of those people were France French, not Quebecois. What's the difference you ask?  Well, let me tell you.  Before I do though, I just want to point out to all my Acadian readers, I know you are out there...but...I am not touching that one with a ten foot pole...really...don't expect to be understood when you come to France.  You're French, but in the same way that Bobcat Goldthwait is English.

He's English...No Really, I Swear

As this is my first article in this series I think a little background is in order. In the 17th and 18th centuries France colonized Canada, and it was in that time that the majority of who are now known as French-Canadians came to live in Canada. Over time the populations shifted and changed becoming known as Quebecois, Acadian, and generally as French-Canadians.  Today, French is the official second language of Canada and is even protected by law under bill 101 in Quebec.

This is important because it is the basis for the main reason Quebec French and France French is different...history.  Anywhere outside Quebec in Canada, French is little more than a ceremonial language that you hear at the airport and see on your consumable products.  And the French in Canada know this.  To combat the potential death of their language, they have created laws and became incredibly protective as a culture of the "purity" of their language.  In fact, they have protected it so much that it has not evolved like the French in France has.  To every France French person I have talked to, Quebec French is the French of antiquity.  They actually describe it as cute...not really an adjective you want associated with your way of speaking when you are trying to ask for a toilet.

A few examples of words and phrases in Quebec French that just don't work here are:

1.  Arachides:  As in Beurre D'Arachides.  Just doesn't exist here...peanuts are Cacahuetes, not Arachides.

2.  Swears:  Calice and Tabarnak, although fun to say for us non-French speaking Canadians are perfectly normal religious words in France...a tabernak is just like our tabernacle and calice means "chalice", which is somehow a swear in Quebec...weird.


3.  Fin de Semaine:  Yes, it is the literal translation of the "end of the week" however, in France the Fin De Semaine is "La Weekend"...simple.

4.  Magaziner:  A verb in Quebec French meaning to go shopping, it does not exist in France.  In fact, like weekend, the French simply "Faire Du Shopping."

5.  Bicyclette:  This one is actually the opposite of the general rule in that the Quebec word has become Anglified and the France French word has remained in its original form.  In France a bicycle is simply a "Velo".

These are the big ones I have found so far but they have been enough to throw me for a loop...especially when I am trying to find peanut butter...which, as I have mentioned before is hard enough to find in France already.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A Canadian In Paris: A New Direction

Over the past two months I have been writing (sporadically) about what has been happening in my life.  honestly, I find it tedious and a bit boring.  So, I am taking my blog in a new direction starting today.  Instead of basing the blog around a retelling of my day to day I am going to base it around a few regular miniseries of articles.  So, without further adieu, here are the first series you can expect to see on the blog:

1. Observations From Across the Pond:  This is the one that I will be continuing from the original blog format.  Most people tended to like these articles the best in the past and they will remain as they have been.  It will still be a regular list of a few quirky observations that I have made about French/and European culture.

2. Franglaise:  I am trying to learn French, and the more I try to learn, the more I learn I am doing it wrong...basically, this series will be devoted to discussing things I have learned about speaking the French language, differences between France French and Quebec French and the differences in the way you speak to someone (formalities etc.)

3. Eric's Uninformed Travel Tips: As the title suggests, I will, based on my limited experience and knowledge, pass on some of the experiences I have had and places I have visited in France and Europe. 

4.  A Funny Thing Happened...: I do feel I still have to talk about day to day life here in some way so I will keep this series to recount only the interesting stories that occur while I am living in France.

So there you go, I think that this new direction will help make all the articles a little more interesting on the blog.  Hope you all continue to tune in.  Look for the first collection of new articles in the next few days.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Observations From Across The Pond, Episode 2: Food Edition

French food is good...really good, and quite frankly it deserves its own observations piece.

1.  Ketchup exists in Paris.  It's here, you can get it, heck I've even seen Parisians using it (not many but some) however, mustard and mayonnaise are much more commonly used.  I have yet to go to a restaurant that didn't have ketchup when we wanted it and in fact, every time we were in a situation where we ordered things you would want to put ketchup on, they brought it out to us.  Aside from this, you can also buy good ol' Heinz 57 at every grocery store I have been to.

2. Speaking of mustard and mayonnaise, I feel they need to be defended a bit.  If you are anything like me, when you hear that the French put it on everything, you think of the French's mustard and bottles of mayonnaise you get at the grocery store.  That's where you and I are wrong my friends.  The mustard and mayo here is like an art form, I have seen more flavours, textures and colours of these items since arriving here than I new existed.  In fact after a quick count, we currently have 5 different types of mustard and 2 different types of mayo in our fridge right now...and they are all awesome (I'm not a big fan of the blue cheese mustard, but Julia likes it).  So yes, they may put it on everything, but come here and try some of them and you will want to as well, they are delicious. 

3. Pain au Chocolate...delicious.  Croissants...delicious.  Fresh baguettes...delicious.  There are more boulangeries (bakeries) in France then I have ever seen (we have 3 within a 5min walk of our apartment), and they are all awesome!  One of the coolest cultural observations I have made is watching the Parisians who go and buy a baguette fresh from the bakery and eat it as they walk home...nothing on it, just a fresh baguette...amazing!  I tried this once and felt like a tool, but it tasted great.  The bread is literally sooo good that you don't even need to put anything on it.


4.  Meals are serious business, respect them.  I, and most North Americans, have what the French consider bad etiquette.  Our culture is more apt to take our time enjoying a coffee or drinks with friends than to enjoy a meal.  This is not the case in French culture.  Drinks are something that adds to the meal experience, but they are no more than that.  The meal itself is the event that you would invite your friends to, and you would be expected to chat and savour the meal.  In fact, I would say that if a meal lasted less than 1 hour in France it would be considered a failure.

5.  They do eat uncooked hamburger.  this one is completely true, and if you order a hamburger and you are used to North American style burgers make sure you order it "Bien Cuir".  I cannot stress this enough, BIEN CUIR!  It's the equivalent of well done, and it will prevent you from receiving a raw chunk of beef that flames may have touched at some point on its journey between the kitchen and your table.

Bon Apetit!

Please keep these food pointers in mind and I will be back soon with some more observations.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Putting The "I" In Immersion

I have always been a relatively restless person and prone to snap decisions.  It was these qualities that saw me signing up for a 2 week "super-intensive" immersion course in central France just days after I arrived in the country myself...good idea...we'll see.

For the sake of making this post somewhat useful to those who may read my posts for the actual information as apposed to my witty repartee, let me divulge some of the info:

School: CAViLAM (www.cavilam.com/en)
Town: Vichy, France
Course: Super Intensive French Immersion Course
Cost: About 600 Euro/week (there are cheaper/less intensive options though)
Duration: As long as you want (I did two weeks)
School Period: It runs year round and new students can start every Monday
Transportation: It's about 3 hours from Paris on the train and costs about 90 Euro return
Housing:  They have several options, the cheapest is living with a family in Vichy for about 12 Euro/night and the most expensive is a hotel for 50-90 Euro/night.  I stayed in a "studio" (a dorm room with a bathroom and kitchenette) which was about 19 Euro/night.
Food: Vichy is actually a pretty decent sized town, with a mall and lots of restaurant options.  The school also offers a subsidized cafeteria where you can get lunch for about 5 Euro.
Entertainment:  The school arranges events and excursions for its students almost every night and other than that, I really enjoyed jogging along the river.

Alrighty, with that out of the way...back to my pointless storytelling.

As I said, I had signed up for this course pretty soon after I arrived in France.  Total offers it to its employees who need to get a crash course in French.  Spouses (that's me, in case you're wondering) on the other hand, are kind of on their own.  Luckily, we have made friends in our short time here, and one of these friends is a couple like us (Canadian expats, where the man is the "other").  In their case they paid to go to CAViLAM, enjoyed it, and highly recommended it.

I should also point out that I have learned that I am not the norm.  Not in that I liked CAViLAM (spoiler alert) but that I am a male other.  In fact, this couple is the only other one I know of with a male "other" in Paris working for Total (I'm sure there are more, but I emphasize the "I know of" part of that statement).  Interesting, we'll see what this leads me to as the journey continues...maybe I should take up knitting.

So, it was after this recommendation that I signed up and shipped out to Vichy for 2 weeks.  For those following my non-existent time lines, Julia and I were separated for 1 month (April), reunited for 2 weeks (May) and now, were separated again for another 2 weeks (May)...Oy Vey.

I arrived on the Sunday before my classes started and was greeted at the Vichy train station by a CAViLAM staffer.  She was incredibly nice and spoke only in French...my immersion had begun.  I responded in broken kind and we had a quasi conversation until she brought me to my apartment.

At this moment I have to comment on a general annoyance I have found in the whole immersion experience.  Although it is great to be immersed and forced to speak and listen in French all the time, when your French is not that good and you are being told a "you have to know this" point...it is impossible to ever be sure if you understood what was meant...This ultimately led to me finding out hours before my departure that I had to wash all my bed linens and towels before checking out...lovely.

That little mix-up aside, my weeks did manage to go really well.  I even found myself getting into a bit of a rhythm.  My average day looked something like this:

8:00: wake up and hit the incredibly small European shower
8:45-Noon: General French class (level B1/B1+, hells yeah!)
Noon-2:00: French "How could I take less than 2 hours?" lunch (It's more funny if you read it with a French accent).
2:00-3:30: Comprehension workshop
3:45-5:15: 1-on-1 tutoring
5:30: gain 2 pounds eating pain au chocolate
6:00: Jog 7km to try and lose said 2 pounds
7:30: Pick a random restaurant to undue any benefit I gained from the jogging

I also attended events and excursions while I was there.  The school offered trips that were very affordable (40 Euro netted me an all day excursion), and I took advantage, traveling to Montagnac, Clairmont-Ferand, Puy De Dome and of course exploring Vichy itself.  For some photos of these trips check out my soon to be updated photo blog (http://ericinparis2011pics.blogspot.com/).

Here's A Sample From Montagnac
Because it is an immersion school, everything, including the excursions and activities were 100% in French.  I liked this a lot because it forced me to improve my comprehension, which I did by the time I left.

This immersion was further backed up by the other students at the school.  There was a really interesting collection of students attending the school and the one thing that joined us all was that we could all speak at least some level of French.  That meant that you never were really sure if someone could speak English, but knew they would be able to understand some French and so, conversations and introductions were always at least started in French.  By the end of my stay I had sussed out who could speak English in my class and talked to them in English when I had to, but I still spoke to the others in French as it was our only common tongue.  This made for a very interesting experience, and I managed to make some acquaintances who I never spoke to in my mother tongue.

So, was it a sucess?  Was it worth the money, leaving my wife once again, going to a random town in central France when I hadn't even gotten to know my own home in Paris?  Well here's the success tally:

 1. Got to experience French culture outside Paris and found out was very different than the culture in Paris...To be brief, 90% of the French stereotypes are Parisians, not French people.
2. Got to explore a region of France I would likely not have been interested in seeing otherwise.  That's the Auvergne region.
3. Got to feel like a student again...this was both good and not good...I could have some conversations with the "young-ens" but I was one of the oldest guys there...I am officially an old dude...let's just hope I'm a "the dude" style dude and not a Red Foreman style dude...
4. Got to meet some really interesting people from all over the world and experience their views etc.  Here's a huge spoiler for anyone who is wondering...there a lot like us except the look and speak differently...shocking.


                                                                        Not This
5. I guess I should also point out that I unofficially graded in at a level A2 when I arrived at CAViLAM and a level B2 when I left, which is great improvement.  So, I did actually learn stuff too...

All in all I would highly recommend the experience to anyone, I even talked to a man who was simply traveling in France for a month and decided to take the course at CAViLAM for a week before he began his trek.  It seems that no matter the urgency and duration of your French needs, the immersion school experience is worthwhile.