Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Old Habits Die... Not So Very Hard

I swear my English has got much worse after five years of living abroad. When I first arrived in Paris, I used to translate large documents from French to English, and I think I was a better translator then than I am after five years' experience. My English was pure and unadulterated, I was mono-lingual and I could tell immediately what "felt" right in my mother tongue- any Franglais or French-isms were immediately obvious, and I had a clear idea of how a sentence should scan in an anglophone way.

This is no longer the case, which is unfortunate, considering I am trying to make my living translating! I am more muddled about correct English, it's no longer a reflex. I need to check and double check spelling, and I can't rely on my own instinct any more. My French is undoubtedly better than it was five years ago, which I have worked hard to achieve and am proud of, but this is part of the problem. There is a bleeding of the two languages together in my addled brain, and I often end up translating things too closely to the original, feeling it sounds ok as it is, it makes perfect sense to me. I should make more bold leaps away from the text and into a more natural English idiom. 

It seems pretentious but there are times when I look at the French and think, well, that's the best way to say it - we should leave the French word. I'm forgetting the French words that we do use in their original form - cliché, blasé, cul de sac, Le Freak c'est chic! And adding others I think we also leave but it usually turns out we don't! Or we do but we use them wrongly, or anachronistically. Brunette. Garçon for waiter. Résumé (CV in French!). English has so many rich borrowings from other languages, it's hard to remember which have been accepted by the Oxford English Dictionary, and which remain fully foreign, in need of translating. 

It's all that, I suppose, and it's also the terrible examples I see and hear in English all around me all the time in Paris - I am fluent in bad English spoken by foreigners! I know why they translated "The Hangover" film title to "Very Bad Trip". I sometimes catch myself using "people" in the French way (meaning celebrities). I use the word "speed" as an adjective! Sorry to got to rush, I'm a bit speed today!    Don't even get me started on Le Fooding. And as for grammar. Well, there's this : 

Beignet donut's - selling like hot cake's 
 It doesn't help. It's relentless!

Cookie's, brownie's and donut's

Liquidation you say? I wonder what can have been the problem with the chic and upmarket clothes store, After Pant's.
 I hope there is life after After Pant's for After Pant. Poor After Pant. Ok, the word Pant looks weird to me now.
My Pant. My Pant's... label?

I need to spend some more time in England, completely forget French (should take 2 weeks max.) and then come back and be the best translator ever.

Friday, 7 June 2013

South Westerlies or Après Nous, Le Deluge

Shower chic. 

 Last week we packed up the cold and flu remedies and made our way through the deluge down to the South West coast, on the Bay of Arcachon for some pre-summer holiday beach-time. The inclement weather did not deter us from setting the children free on the windswept beaches opposite Cap Ferret for some be-ski-suited sandcastle making. It was emphatically not even paddling weather, but I did admire these chic wooden showers on most of the public beaches.

The Great Dune of Pyla - The largest dune in Europe, or Nature's grandest sandpit

Wind beaten roses
On the fourth day, just when we thought we couldn't stand it any longer, and were donning our waterproofs and preparing to make our second trip to the Arcachon Museum-Aquarium, which, as pictured below, could not be any more charming, and housed an intriguing exhibit of stilts used by shepherds to navigate the marshy fields of Les Landes, but might not have stood up to much more scrutiny from soggy toddlers, the clouds cleared.

Shepherding pre-wellies= hard work

When the sun came out in all it's southern glory, and with it the mosquitos and crickets, we were almost too shocked to enjoy it. We were suddenly "on holiday" for real and exchanged balaclavas for sun hats and factor 50. Our fragile white skin saw the first light of day since approx July 2010 and prickly heat threatened to set in almost immediately.

Paddling time!

Old timers discussing the bizarre wind direction

The garden tap of happiness

Paragliders in the distance many meters below - surely he is worn out by now? (Non).

Winter to summer in 24 hours, but as the word on the street back in Paris is now - we can't complain!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Grey Pareee

As the rain beats down and the noses run and the gas meter spins, May is drawing to a close. Cannes was a washout but some good films are coming out of it - very excited about this documentary of Paris: they got the colours right!

Jolly grey.  

Seems the rain and the credit crunch have not affected LV's fans on the Champs Elysées. Incroyable:

No comment.

This little bouquin caught my eye, amongst all the rhapsodic love letters to the city, here is a book of anecdotes about not being so keen on Paris. One to read tucked up in bed with a hot water bottle in June perhaps.

I've been there.

Merci Paris, on boulevard Beaumarchais in the 11e. Haven in the storm and aspirational treasure trove of unattanaible goodies. Also a used book café with a great selection of books in French and some English and other foreign language. Cosy!

Merci used book café

The garden of the café du potager at Merci. Verdant!

Dream summer outfit. Dream weather not included obv.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The new May

The dream
Our trip to Normandy marked the first time the Boy felt the sand between his toes and streaked across the beach to paddle in icy water. I have an unexplainable obsession that childhood should involve as much time as possible running around on a beach, whatever the weather. I did grow up a mile from the sea, although admittedly that stretch of coast was more The Sea The Sea than The Beach, with nary a grain of sand for miles upon miles of rugged pebbles and assorted nuclear power stations. Still. The seaside is the seaside, and I suppose it's also the exact opposite of my babies' year-round urban habitat with only hard wood floors and concrete beneath their feet.

Those few short minutes of sandy freedom before the heavens opened again and we piled into our soggy wagon with teeth chattering were fantastic. Last summer was all about LaBaby's imminent and then actual arrival, and I felt we deprived the Boy of a proper childhood summer - we stayed in Paris for the birth in July and by the time we emerged from the baby haze winter had blown into town (that would be August).

This year I am determined to make up for it and give both the children a chance to escape apartment life and let their hair down somewhere I don't have to have a wrist strap on them at all times. I want the boy to go all Chariots of Fire again and shriek with sheer joy as his little legs carry him through the shallows. His face registering a hitherto unseen primal happiness as he pauses for breath before charging back into the waves.

This year we have gone all out and booked two holidays to the Atlantic coast - to the bay of Arcachon near Bordeaux, and later to La Rochelle, all in the hopes of seeing that look on his face again, for more than just an hour. My only fear now is for the weather which.... I can't even contemplate really, the tragedy of our current weather system is too horrendous for words.  Is there any fate worse than being under house-arrest for a three day weekend with 2 toddlers while the rain beats your windows and you watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the fifth time?* Well actually yes...
I think this pretty much says it all:

The reality: out and about in May

*fully aware that there are many worse fates, and am particularly mindful of these victims and their families in Oklahoma right now.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Ruby slippers

Almost 5 years ago, I started work at a small Parisian company based in the Marais. On the first Monday, as on every subsequent Monday for the best part of four years, I sat at the circular marble table, très design, with my ten or so colleagues as we discussed projects and planned out the week. On that first Monday, during an absent-minded moment, I found myself looking under the table, at all our feet. There they were, 18 low-heeled black shoes, like the spokes of a wheel. Each of them chic and correct and comme il faut. Completing the circle of footwear, were my two pink Mary-Janes with a t-bar and contrasting tights. Quelle horreur. I was different, and it showed from my head right down to my fuschia pink toes. For the record, I was almost certainly wearing all black or navy from the ankle upwards, so I was never exactly punky, or even trendy or an all out dandy. But I was certainly une "Anglosaxone".

This had already been established at a previous company (a large French institution) where they interviewed me for a job and hired me, only to decide at the last minute that they weren't actually able to take on an "Anglosaxon" and had to find someone French. I'm pretty sure it wasn't "legal" to decide based on ethnicity, and to say so to my face, but the culture was not yet anything like the UK or the US where such fears would come into play. They could hire out the parts of the job that needed English to an outside freelance or partner agency. Luckily I found another company willing and actively looking to hire an English speaker.

At work as at home in my quartier, I felt slightly oppressed by our decision to try and 'go native' and fit in, not to seek out anglophones but to try and fully immerse ourselves into our adoptive city, language and culture. We saw only French films, or even, disastrously, English films dubbed into French. We read newspapers, books, magazines only in French, subjected ourselves to French television and even got hooked on Nouvelle Star. We saw only our pre-existing English friends and otherwise sought the company of only French speakers. We didn't go back to England for the first 6 months. It was lonely and a complete culture shock for me. It was hard to make friends, we saw some French cousins of OhPapa's, and some language exchange acquaintances, and we started to be friendly with a few neighbours and work friends. It was hard work to establish common interests, find shared references, and we felt a bit apart from life and lonely, and I lost heart for a long time.

Five years down the line, I know how wrong our approach was. Our unique selling point at work was being English, not competing with French candidates on their own territory. At work, our language, connections and perspective were useful because and not in spite of the fact that we were British, and in our daily lives and friendships we should have embraced that just as much. Befriending fellow expats has in fact led us to meet more French friends because they have an interest in meeting us for who we are, and we naturally met people with an interest in meeting foreigners. It helps too that the last five years have seen a real surge of "anglos" becoming leaders in various industries in France, opening doors and inspiring more interest in and acceptance of anglo culture. Some of Paris's trendiest restaurants and wine bars are run by "Anglosaxons", and now more than ever the wider impact of the non-francophone world is being felt. There is an increasing anglo community of people that are not afraid to show their roots and celebrate their differences. And Nathalie Portman's moving here! Call me! There are still huge cultural differences, and they are to be celebrated all the more as our world moves ever closer to homogeny. And they will of course form the basis of much of my ranting in this space! But my pink shoes are still going strong and I'm happy they are finding other colourful friends to hang out with.

Friday, 17 May 2013

La Belle et le Bad Boy

Two heads are better than one 
OhBoy has not always been ecstatic about becoming an older brother. In fact he took it rather terribly badly. Despite months of reading proud big brother books and preparing things for the imminent arrival, when LaBaby and I arrived back from the hospital for the first time, the grand frère was not altogether welcoming. To be fair, it was the day of his second birthday, and LaBaby was not at the top of his present wish list. He sobbed and sobbed and looked from me to the baby with mournful and accusing eyes, and then sobbed some more. "No baby, no, don't want no more!" he wailed as he tried to hurl her from the sofa. It was heartbreaking and terrible at the time, and I spent a long time feeling guilty at "betraying" him this way, on top of having left him to go back to work.

Some wise French doctors and "psys" have in the intervening months let me know that it's often the way; the revered childhood expert Françoise Dolto stated that the arrival of a new sibling is akin to a wife coming home to find her husband has taken a second bride. Not pleasant at the best of times and especially hard to deal with amidst other stressful two year old troubles like learning to talk and control one's bowel movements.

Some children appear to internalise their angst, becoming Mama's best little helper as a way of ensuring they are not replaced and summarily flung from the family nest. Not our boy. How I laughed as read the expert suggestions to ask your toddler to "do a quiet activity nearby" as you feed the baby, or "involve him as much as possible in the care of the baby". If LaBaby has survived nearly to her first birthday, I fear it is no thanks to her older brother. She has however learned to dodge all manner of ballistics sent her way, and to set off her own "LaBaby alarm"TM with a high pitched siren scream at the merest hint of an incoming fraternal attack. OhBoy's brothering style has been more one of open outrage and manipulation, as he seeks more and more varied methods of distracting attention and ensuring LaBaby knows she is numéro deux in these parts. Recently he has taken to announcing his dark plans before he executes them- "LaBaby! I'm going to push her!" or "Oh, the dinosaur! I'm going to snatch it!" he declares before pouncing. There are also glimmers of hope, as LaBaby becomes more interactive, they are beginning to have some moments of sibling complicity, and there are lots of hysterical bouts of laughter as well as the daily tussles and karate chops.

Today's trip back from the crèche was a big test for the boy - the double push chair has got a flat tyre, so they had to ride back together in a single. The call to responsibility paid off and he clutched her round the middle and kissed her and giggled all the way home. I had a birdseye view of my progeny snuggled up on their little seat - and I had time to marvel at the fact these two not so very little heads recently made their way out of my body. I wonder how long before that image wears off? They have that in common, and many more things I hope will become apparent as they grow together petit à petit.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Famille Nombreuse in Normandy

Hair and clouds on the beach
We went to visit OhPapa's French cousins in Normandy for a few days over the bank holiday, three days of light rain, intermittent shine, and lots of firsts for OhBoy. At the ripe old age of nearly 3, he had his first ice-cream cone on the beach, first swim in the sea, and first nip on the toe by a nasty crab. Also first time realising that cows lie down when it's about to rain (read : all the time).

We were in a tiny village on a northeast tip of Normandy, and it was more of a gust than a breath of fresh air to be out of town and in the veritable middle of nowhere for the first time in months. The weather was freezing to mild and we were very hardy about our outdoor picnics and sea paddling, inevitably leading to a couple of hacking coughs and some very soggy clothes in the 'car' on the way back. Our car was something of a sensation in the village, the sight of four people crammed into a 1990s Suzuki wagon which is just large enough to seat the OhBoy in the back in his seat with his heels on OhPapa's shoulders in the front was clearly not the usual mode of transport for Parisian weekenders.

The countryside was vivid green (how could it not be with this monsoon?) and chock full of Normandy cows in creams and browns, the font of all the delicious local cheeses, Pont l'Evèque being a particular favourite.   Winding roads lead round cattle meadows to steep pebble beaches on inlets between sheer chalk cliffs.

It was really all about the van
I adore visiting the cousins, a French famille nombreuse par excellence, with ten children and 25 grandchildren, it's the family I always dreamed of belonging to. With a constant supply of playmates in the garden and a crockpot bubbling in the kitchen to serve the ever increasing number of mouths at dinner, OhBoy and LaBaby were incorporated into the mass. Maman had a bit of a rest while LaBaby was passed around the many pairs of arms, and the Boy spent the whole time bossily addressing all of them as "children!" - which was certainly easier than learning all the names, I agree. "Children! You coming in the garden?", "Children! Let's go!"

The matriarch of the family is basically one of the wonders of the world, slim and beautiful in her seventies and cool as a cucumber about the dozens of her progeny (plus extras) that littered her garden. She does mealtimes simply and deliciously, whipping up tarts and salads effortlessly and turning out tagines and frites at the drop of a hat before ringing an actual bell to round up the troops. I was literally taking notes on a pad, jotting down recipes as I watched her prepare things for the weekend, I noticed she was not afraid to cut corners and make things as easy as possible, which I admire endlessly. Presentation was important but not overdone, preparation was everything. Pudding was often a tray of shop-bought brownies which were cut up and sprinkled with cocoa powder, or a bag of oranges chopped and mixed with some cointreau and apple juice for a fresh and summery palate cleanser. Cheese was of course, key.

In many ways it was an inspiring stay, and we returned to town with a resolve to be less stressed by the little things (the kids?!), more active (get up earlier!) and to have a huge family of never-ending children. The last part was a joke on OhPapa's part I'm sure. He is hilarious when he wants to be.