To be French at Heart, but American in Spirit

by Andrea Bouchaud on March 3, 2015

french heart

(photo by ladyaxis.deviantart.com)

At a recent soirée de fléchettes, a French friend asked me what kind of music I like. In all our conversations, we had never discussed anything so personal. Mostly, we discuss French and American culture / language as seen through the eyes of the other- myself being the other for French and my French friends being the outsider for American culture and the English language. I was caught a little off guard as I knew the answer would expose my American spirit. There’s nothing wrong with an American spirit; it’s just not very French and I didn’t want to show it to my French friend as I thought it might change his opinion of me. But if you can’t be honest with your friends, with whom can you be honest? So I started running down my short list (I’m not the biggest consumer of music) of artists starting with my favorite. I explained to Mathieu, my French friend, that I love angry music because I’m American in spirit. He didn’t believe me saying that I am French at heart.

Now the annoying, but convenient at times, thing about this dart bar is that the music gets pretty loud after 9 pm. I guess the clock must have struck nine o’clock because it got too loud to casually converse so we went back to playing darts. I don’t remember if I even won or lost that night. But I do remember our conversation. It got me thinking what it means to be French at heart and American in spirit. Is there really a difference and if there is, can two opposites thrive within the same being? To get my answer, I started thinking about my Paris study abroad experience.

p2(I went back here to find my answers. Photo by Derya Senol https://instagram.com/senolphotography/)

When I went to Paris, I was a young punk rocker who loved the darker things in life- hair color, clothes, music. I loved the rawness of unnecessary anger. There is something freeing about embracing and loving this extremely primal emotion. It’s this anger and willingness to jump into battle which I think really epitomizes American culture. Now don’t get me wrong, I love America and in many respects Americans are a benevolent and compassionate people. But we have an unhealthy and insatiable love of anger and violence. Don’t believe me? Just turn on the TV, pick up any smash hit book (can you say Hunger Games or Gone Girl?), or listen to the songs on the radio. Violence and anger are so engrained into our culture, it’s in our DNA. We love to hate it and hate to love it.

When I was trying to explain how I am American in spirit to Mathieu in that dart bar, I was thinking of that anger. The same anger that I hear and rejoice in when I jam out to an Eminem CD in my morning commute. I wouldn’t consider myself an angry person, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like to think angry sometimes. It’s just an emotion like happiness or sadness. It’s healthy to address it in music or in fantasy, just not reality. Going back to my time in France, I found out that the French have a different relationship with anger and violence than Americans. It’s not to say that the French don’t have anger or violent crimes; it’s just that they don’t idolize them in the way that Americans do.

These themes are not so readily found in French music, movies, and books. When I think of French culture, I think of Vanessa Paradis’ 80s tube (hit song) Joe le taxi and the film La moustache. I think of a people who would prefer to talk it out rather than pull out their fists as if it’s the Wild West or the OK corrale. But the American spirit isn’t just violent and angry; it’s also over the top and inventive. A perfect example of this can be found in Victor Hugo’s Around the World in 80 Days. There’s a scene when the French main character is on a train which is about to go over a cliff due to a missing bridge. The passengers are all discussing how to stop the train and get to the other side when the American passenger gives his opinion. His suggestion? To increase the speed of the train so that it jumps over the cliff. It was completely over the top and very American which M. Hugo points out in the book. It worked by the way! Another example of this aspect of the American spirit is when I was in Tatie’s apartment and noticed there was no fire escape. When I asked what we would do in case of a fire, she said we call the fire dept and wait. My American spirit was immediately concocting up Spider Man-esque ways of escape. To sit and wait in a burning building may be French, but it’s not American.

american spirit(The embodiment of the American spirit. Photo by gallery4collectors.com)

Once I figured out what it meant to be American in spirit (which I still totally am), I contemplated what it meant to be French at heart. What I was able to conclude is that to be French at heart means that you have a different outlook on life. It means that you value good friends and relationships (over good food of course!); that you think, talk, rethink, and re-talk everything through (instead of using your fists) to solve a problem; that even when things are going good, you’re thinking of ways that they can be better; and that you appreciate beauty in all its uniqueness. In that way, I’m very French at heart. But keep this in mind, If we’re having a deep discussion over a great meal about the issues of life, I’ll politely disagree with you while envisioning a more over the top way of handling the issue in my head. I may be French at heart, but I’m still American in spirit.

  

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(The SA Blues are always open, but you can put them out of business. Photo by www.stevieraysbluesbar.com)

This post is dedicated to Ronnie who wanted to know how to handle being lonely abroad

Read any study abroad promotional material and you’ll read how exciting an opportunity studying abroad is. What you probably won’t read or hear in most study abroad preparation sessions is that studying abroad can also be a very lonely experience, especially for us introverts. Many students don’t realize that you can emotionally prepare for loneliness. These skills aren’t just for a study abroad; they can be used in your daily life here at home too! Let’s take a look at what it means to be lonely abroad and how you can fight it so that you don’t succumb to the study abroad blues like I did.

What are the study abroad blues?

Lingering feelings of sadness, depression, confusion, loneliness, isolation, and homesickness during a study abroad. I say lingering because having a day or even a few days of sadness, etc… makes you human and not a victim of the study abroad blues.

What causes the study abroad blues?

The study abroad blues are caused by some common key factors. Depending upon the person, they can also be caused by other factors such as emotional / mental health status or a traumatic experience. Let’s focus on the common key factors. The first cause for the study abroad blues is having unrealistic expectations of the study abroad experience. The second common cause is not emotionally preparing for the experience. A third common cause is not preparing culturally and/or linguistically and dealing with the difficulties of cultural and foreign language immersion. This list is not exhaustive, but it gives you a better idea of what can cause someone to feel lingering (more than a few weeks) of negative feelings in what is ultimately a life changing experience. As an introvert, I can tell you that we are more susceptible to the study abroad blues. But, it’s important to understand that the study abroad blues can happen to any student. Here’s why:

frame(It’s all about the picture portrayed. Photo by greenertrees.net)

How studying abroad is often portrayed: An adventure with the occasional class where you will embark on the experience of a lifetime with new people, new food, and sight seeing.

What studying abroad actually is: Being 6,000 miles away or more from everyone and everything you’ve ever known in a foreign land where you’re not understood, do everything differently, and have no one who loves or understands you.

If you only think of amazing adventures and not the challenges that go with studying abroad, you could find yourself succumbing to the study abroad blues. Does it mean that the first blurb of the portrayal is incorrect? No! But it’s a gross over generalization of the experience and one that doesn’t acknowledge the second blurb which is also part of the experience.

lonely(Loneliness. Photo by annsantos08.wordpress.com)

Why is it ok to be alone, but stinks to be lonely abroad?

Let me start with the latter. Being lonely stinks period. No one likes feeling isolated from the rest of the world, like you just don’t matter. Being lonely abroad is even worse because now not only do you feel isolated, but you actually are isolated. Not from the world entirely, but from your world. From the place that you called home for twenty years where you understood the language and the cultural norms. It also means that you are isolated from the people who know you, who love you, who want to be with you. But it’s not just the emotional aspect of being lonely abroad that stinks, it’s the experience of being lonely as well.

Have you ever gone sight seeing alone at home? Kudos if you have! Before I went abroad, I had lots of alone hobbies in my apartment, but I never actually did anything alone like eating at a restaurant, going to a movie, or to a museum. I was always with someone. When I got to Paris and walked out of Tatie’s studio onto a busy street in the heart of the sixth district is when my first taste of true loneliness hit. I immediately realized I didn’t understand a single thing said by passersby; I was receiving very strange looks; and every where I looked I only saw unfamiliarity. I could have gone on exploring past le Louvre which was just over the river, but I was overwhelmed by the sudden and strong feelings of isolation. Then I started thinking how I was thousands of miles away and 6 hours in advance of the man I loved and my family. At that moment, I lost interest in exploring Paris because I was lonely. And I allowed myself to stay lonely like that for 4 months. The seeds for the study abroad blues were planted my second day in Paris and they stayed with me the entire first semester! My wallowing in the study abroad blues was a disservice not only to my emotional and physical health, but it didn’t allow me to enjoy and embrace being alone abroad.

Being alone abroad is a critical part of the studying abroad experience. It’s where we learn some of our most important lessons about becoming an adult. Being alone means that we have to depend on and trust in ourselves to make our choices. Without the experience of being alone, we can never fully reach adulthood. Why the emphasis on being alone abroad? For many of us, it’s the first time in our lives that we have the opportunity to actually be alone and can’t phone a friend or our parents in a time of need. Being alone can take getting used to. It can seem lonely but it’s really not. But just in case you are feeling a bout of the SA blues coming on, here’s some quick, easy, and free ways to deal with it.

pow(Fight those blues! Photo by nacamentertainment.com)

Quick tips on how to fight loneliness abroad:

  • Start at home! Don’t wait until you get abroad and feeling lonely to make up a game plan for battling the study abroad blues. Start now before you get on that plane.
  • Get out of your room! It’s easy to want to stay in and lock yourself in your room when you feel like poo but isolating yourself when you’re lonely equals trouble. Do you like coffee or hot tea? Get yourself out of bed and enjoy your comfort beverage in the a public place. It’s amazing what a change of environment can do.
  • Exercise. I’m too lazy to look it up but there are articles out there on how exercise releases endorphins or some feel good chemical in your brain. Even a quick 5 minute jog in the park or 5 minutes of jumping jacks in your room for those nasty, rainy days works wonders.

 

 

  

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French Expressions You Don’t Learn in Class: Slanging it up

by Andrea Bouchaud on February 23, 2015

francais

(Photo by sites.unice.fr)

French slang is a weakness for me. Not like I can’t get enough, but rather I don’t know enough. Slang is difficult because: A) They don’t teach it in French class; B) It changes constantly; C) And it’s usually said so quickly that it’s hard to pick it up in conversation. Anyhoo, I came across a somewhat recent slang expression that I know you didn’t learn in French class, but will help you to sound like a native Parisian in no time.

Is it Like, Love, or Something in Between?

star trek

(Je kiffe grave Star Trek! Photo by moviepilot.com)

Je kiffe grave. This is a slang expression very popular in Paris and its surrounding suburbs. It means that you like something strongly. For example, je kiffe grave ton écharpe (I really like your scarf). In this expression, grave is no longer negative. Usually grave (just like the English counterpart) denotes something is bad. But this expression takes the usually grave grave and makes it something positive.

Filler words- anything goes

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(Photo by www.ilovegenerator.com)

If you’re not really feeling kiffe grave, you can still take the new positive meaning of grave and use it as a filler word at the end of a sentence. Young French people can be heard excitedly saying “Ouai, c’est grave!” to show how much they agree or like something. They’ll also simply end a sentence with grave. For example, j’aime bien ton écharpe grave. Quoi can also be used as a filler word at the end of a sentence in place of grave.

  

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(This super amazing Paris photo is by Derya Senol from SenolPhotography. https://instagram.com/senolphotography/)

I am super duper honored that Twenty in Paris was named one of the top 20 Paris blogs to follow for 2015 by FlipKey.com! What was even more amazing was to be included in a list with my all time favorite Paris blogs.

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Andrea’s favorite Paris blogs which you totally need to check out are:

Prête moi- Paris (Fun fact: Melissa- the creator of this blog- will be featured in the Twenty in Paris newsletter in April in the new “Hear it from a Pro” section)

Oui in France

My Parisian Life

Paris in Four Months

Where is Bryan?

Bon weekend!

-Andrea

  

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