Day 237: Recognize Achievements.

Illustration by Jane Mount

Yesterday Séb and I decided that we needed to start organizing our things as our clothes for the past two weeks, shopping bags and gifts were piling up in my bedroom at my mom's house and starting to creep into den. The plan of action was that he was to tackle my bedroom while I started on the den, getting rid of wrapping paper, storing bottles of wine that have been given to us and neatly lining up our boots and my endless collection of ballerines in the hallway closet.

My room, where Aurelien was supposed to be hard at work seemed suspiciously quiet. It hardly sounded like someone was tidying up, folding blankets (although that doesn't make much sound), hanging up clothes and/or organizing - at all. All I heard was silence and then a roar of laughter. Oh no, what did he find? I was sure that he found my box of ugly high school pictures where I tried to rock the Drew Barrymore/Courtney Love 90s babydoll look but just ended up looking like Betty Davis in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?". Picture it, an Italian girl with fried white hair (what a joke), braces and unshaped bushy eyebrows wearing a three sizes too small communion dress posing in a suburban backyard with a Pontiac Grand-Am in the background - truly frightening. The sad thing is that when I got these photos back from Genovese 1 hour photo service, I actually thought I looked "sooo" cute.

While I'd say that I lucked out that he didn't find my creepy "modeling" photos, what he did find was equally embarrassing. He stumbled upon my old French notebooks and homework from Alliance Française. Whenever I thumb through them, I cringe at how cheesy I was due to the fact that I was so eager to learn. I used to write out the stupidest effing things with homework essays that were always bleeding with corrections from my teacher Grégoire because I overcomplicated sentences with advanced vocabulary, tenses and sentence structures that were levels beyond where I was at. I hate looking back at my early French-speaking days - because to be honest, I was really annoying.

Aurel was literally rolling on my bedroom floor laughing at my essays. One assignment in particular, was to write a letter as if you're on vacation to a friend and tell him/her about the city you are visiting, make comparisons and describe the culture. For some reason, I chose to be on vacation in Nice and was living in Paris. The problem was that I had no idea what I was talking about because at the time, I had never been to Nice and was not living in Paris so I sounded like a fucking idiot. My "observations" of Nice were completely inaccurate, as well as my comparisons to Paris and can only imagine what my teacher was thinking as he was reading this fallacy. Séb on the other hand, was wildly amused, especially when I wrote that the food in Paris is so much better than the food in Nice because it comes from local organic farms in Clichy-sous-Bois. Anyone who is familiar with Paris proper knows damn well that there isn't a community of organic farming in the rough Clichy-sous-Bois.

Coming back to New York always reminds me of how far I've come since my first days at Alliance Française where words, phrases and expressions are now second nature and I am able to articulate myself. In Paris, I am unable to recognize my growth because I'm surrounded by native speakers or Americans who have fancy degrees from les grandes écoles or have been learning since childhood who kick my ass when it comes to speaking. Learning French was the big resolution of 2009 and while it took longer than a year, I'm proud to report that I succeeded and persevered through the challenges of learning a second language (on a budget!) as an adult and I can finally admit that I do in fact, speak French. Saying that, there is definitely room for improvement....damn you subjonctif!


  1. OMG that was hilarious! You're a great asset to France and the "blogosphere".
    Do you consider yourself bilingual or just fluent ?
    To me, you know you're bilingual when you:
    dream in french,
    win verbal fights with your bf or gf in french,
    Lose your english and mix it up with french while being in an english speaking country*.
    The later is called the "Jean-Claude Van Damme Syndrome", when you tend to forget
    parts of your mother tongue while not completely mastering the local language,
    I used to say "j'ai le cul entre deux langues"...

    *It probably doesnt happen to you since you write in English keeping a strong connexion with your mother tongue.


    It's good to stop and take stock at times... and pat yourself on the back!:) Everything is a matter of perspective:)

    The subjunctive is a BITCH! And the one in Spanish has two extra tenses we either don't have in French or don't use! (THEY DO!):) You know, not for the first time, I realize how glad I am that I didn't have to learn French as a foreign language! The French are so damn exacting! However, in English, anything goes!:)

    In any case, you go girl!:) Bon travail!:)

  3. @Gabe - Thanks!! It's nice to know that I'm considered to be an asset somewhere! That's very nice of you to say. : )

    I'd say I'm fluent, certainly not bilingual. And my dreams are smart, "they" know whom I would speak French to and whom I'd speak English to, so my dreams are mixed...and I do think in French more than I do in English. I won several fights with my ex in French (that's when discours indirect came in handy!) But like I said, there is always room for improvement..(I'm also a terrible perfectionist, so my perception is known to be off when it comes to me.)

    You're English is very good...did you live in the States/UK for some time?

    @Duchess - OMG, You got the Baby Jane ref?!?! YES! I thought I was going to the extreme of obscurity with that one. I love my pop culture references! And I love that you ALWAYS pick up on them...very cool! : )

    You're so right, in English anything does go...we are far more lenient. In French, I find things can be very black and white. I can't count how many times I've heard "we don't say it like that, only like this". I'm going to master the subjunctive this year...yes!!!

    As always thanks for your awesome comments and support. xo.

  4. Oh how funny! I actually just signed up for French classes at the Alliance Française de Dallas. I decided to learn a third language this year and since I took 2 years of French in high school I decided to go ahead and continue learning it. I wasn't to sure what to expect from the classes but now thanks to your post I'll know what to expect. Keep up with the awesome blogging!!

  5. @Elsa - Good for you!!! What a great way to start the new year. You'll enjoy your classes, I love, love, loved my AF experience. I made lifelong friends there, people I keep in touch with regularly. Courage! :)

    And thank you for commenting! :)

  6. I'm still excited about Gabe, your male reader! He's so cool! I think I am showing signs of Jean-Claude Van Damme Syndrome..

    I haven't taken a French class since high school (where I did only 2 years) but having spoken Spanish fluently my brain is used to this romance language and it seeps into the cracks made my Spanish ...and so I started by mixing the two and now 'replacing' Spanish. Very interesting how ze brain works...

    Wish my French BF didn't speak English bc I need to practice French more! And I'm in France darnit..

    I can speak well when confident (IE: drinking) and not always so much when not confident. :( I am perfectionistic about it too!

    You scared me a sec with what Seb had found in your room.. phew! It could have been worse!

    You didn't have to take a 2nd language in college? I did, but took advanced Spanish to be completely bilingual and also for less stress as I already spoke it at the time.

    "because it comes from local organic farms in Clichy-sous-Bois" ---> hilarious! you're so detailed and clever! I think that's why it's extra funny.

  7. Hahaha great post! I also love the thought of you going "sous bois? Gotta be organic farms around there somewhere!"

    @grenobloise I also speak better French when confident (i.e. drinking). Good call!

  8. I'm jealous of your blog

  9. You give me hope that someday I might be able to express myself just a tiny tiny bit. Of course I'm in the camp that does not speak French w Sir Lancelot (although we should) and only do French in restaurants, markets and a few stores (barely). Le sigh. I need a better plan of attack for 2012 so I can stop feeling like the village idiot in the 17th!
    PS: the baby doll look was SO cute though! ;)

  10. Fantastic post! I'm currently that Eager Beaver student at AF, and I can only hope that I look back someday and go, "Wow. I was such a geek. Look at how versed I am now!" Here's hoping! Your blog totally inspires me to learn and travel - I adore reading it!

  11. @D - Me too! I love that Gabe has been joining in on our girl talk!

    How funny! my French is "better" when drinking it better or do we just THINK it's better? Hmmmm...something are best left to the unknown!

    I didn't have to a language in high school! I had issues in Math so I was taken out of French and placed in double math and I went to an alternative college with a "no grades/no minor" program so I didn't have to take any wasn't a good thing because of all of the cramming I had to do before moving to Paris.

    @Gwan - LOL! I really believed that Clichy-sous-Bois would be a clever "tie-in" thinking it was a rural outskirt of could I have been so off?!?

    @Brett - I'm jealous of your book.

    @kbh - You'll get there! Hang in there. I had moments where I just didn't think I'd ever get over the took a while but once I did, it was so worth it. I too was surrounded by English speakers my first few months in Paris and then I met MF who didn't speak a lick of English and well that kicked my French into gear (I had to win arguments!) !!!

    @Meg - Thank you for your kind comment! Being a geek is a good thing! We're at an age where we WANT to go and get the most out of the classes we enroll ourselves in, so I say go for it! My 18 year old self would totally make fun of my 30 year old self....

  12. The picture you described of you in an old communion dress is priceless. Thanks to Courtney Love, I wore a slip to senior prom. An actual slip. In Texas. **shudder**

  13. SOOOOOOO late to the party here, but thought I should throw in my two cents...

    Clichy sous Bois, are you kidding me? I nearly bust a gut laughing. On my way back to the UK, I drove round the East side of the Periph up to the A3, let me tell you, it's r.o.u.g.h.

    Glad you and Seb are enjoying NYC and LI. Thanks for letting me know about the name change and Happy New Year (belated).