Monday, October 13, 2014

Innocents Abroad

As you might imagine, I've been getting some e-mail from people of a certain age who also have attempted to learn French and have had similar experiences to mine. One such correspondent, Greg Curtis, even enrolled at the Sorbonne -- and lived to tell about it.

Here's his entertaining story, which appeared in Alcalde, the official publication of the University of Texas.

Bonne lecture !

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Would you prefer I spoke English?"

Okay, so I'm no Orson Welles, and I have this New York-ish accent...but if you want to get a goût gratuite (or is that a "dégustation gratuite" -- who the heck knows; it's French!) of Flirting with French you can hear me read a minute and fifty seconds, courtesy of the New York Times.

Of course, in doing this for the Times I've certainly killed any chance of being asked to record my own audio book, but I like this clip because it's the type of thing that happened to me often in France.

To set it up, my wife and I have arrived in the town of Dinard after several long days of bicycling in the rain, and an hour earlier, I had struggled mightily trying to understand where the hotel clerk wanted us to store the bikes. Now, I have to deal with her again...and I'm not looking forward to it.

Je lis...

Saturday, October 4, 2014

NY Times Book Review reviews "Flirting with French"


 This Sunday's New York Times Book Review has a colorful (and nice) review of my book, "Flirting with French," under the headline "Old Dog, New Trick." Some excerpts:


In his new book, “Flirting With French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me and Nearly Broke My Heart,” he deals with a lot of pangs, yearnings and fears that readers, especially those around his age — 57 when he set out to learn French — can identify with. How old is too old to learn something new? Is there anything to be done about a memory that’s beginning to sputter?
Bon courage, mes amis. As Alexander discovers, French is the least of it when you’ve reached late middle age.
 ...
He throws himself into learning to speak French with Gérard Depardieu-like gusto in a George ­Plimpton-like stunt, toiling over Rosetta Stone, enrolling in immersion classes, joining a conversational group, writing to a pen pal, papering his kitchen with vocabulary-boosting Post-it notes.
...
But he never gives up. He hurls himself at French again and again almost like a cartoon character who, smacking up against a slammed door, slides to the floor in a puddle of humiliation. His wife, meanwhile, a doctor who has never studied French, turns out to be a natural, able to navigate serenely through brief encounters on the vacation they take in Normandy and Provence.
I did feel a bit like Wile E. Coyote during much of the time I was studying French...

See the full review here

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Paris around the clock

How to tell if you're a francophile: If this slideshow from the New York Times doesn't make you want to jump on a plane to Paris right now....you're not!
 

Friday, September 26, 2014

The French stomp out cigarettes!?

Legendary singer Serge Gainsbourg with his ever-present cigaratte
The French have almost lost their ability to shock: doughnut-faced presidents have affairs with hot actresses via motor scooter; Metro ads features half-naked models, and farmers plow over McDonalds. But this latest news caught me by surprise: As reported in today's New York Times, the French government has announced a plan to curb smoking that would introduce plain packaging for cigarettes (no more cute camels!), ban smoking on playgrounds and -- get this -- even ban e-cigarettes in some public places, putting them ahead of the US in combating the growing use of e-cigarettes!

This from the country that has always celebrated the cigarette. Thank goodness they banned smoking in restaurants a few years ago -- I remember going to the famous Cafe de Flore, where Sartre and Camus once hung out and and the stink of their Gauloises still hung in the air -- I could barely breathe (or taste my food).

So, kudos to the French. Better late than never!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Can you learn French from listening to popular music?

At some point during my 13 months of studying French I heard that listening to French music is an effective technique for learning the language. How'd that work out for me? The results may surprise you. Read my post on the wonderful music blog Largehearted Boy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Flirting with French debuts - finalement!



Finally, a book about the experience of trying to learn French as an adult!  

Hope it's good --- because I wrote it.

Flirting with French hit the bookstores yesterday, 4 years after I tackled my lifelong goal of learning French. In addition to telling my story, I explore such topics as why it's so difficult for adults to learn a language; what's holding up the general availability of Captain Kirk's universal translator, and the puzzles of gender and when to use vous and tu.  

Excerpts from some early reviews:
"A charming memoir by a passionate Francophile" - Kirkus Reviews
"Highly readable...His quixotic resolve to transcend his inherent competence recalls the participatory journalism of George Plimpton, the lanky patrician whose unlikely stints in football and boxing lent nobility to failure.  - The Wall Street Journal
"A great book, and not just for Francophiles, but for anyone learning a new language." - The Novel World.
Flirting with French is available at your local bookstore, or click on this link to order from your favorite online retailer.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Wall Street Journal raves about "Flirting with French"

Thanks for the Wall Street Journal and reviewer Danny Heitman for his remarkable review of Flirting with French! Some excerpts:
"Mr. Alexander is a bit of a Walter Mitty who's developed an expertise at playing the novice. His first book, "The $64 Tomato," chronicled his misadventures as an amateur gardener. Next, in "52 Loaves," he reported his experiences as a hobbyist baker, going so far as to grow his own wheat. Now, in "Flirting with French," he discovers that learning a language late in life is as difficult as an uphill climb on the Tour de France."
"This is the man, after all, who once attempted French in a Paris eatery and ended up saying, "I'll have the ham in newspaper, and my son will have my daughter." But despite these comic setbacks, Mr. Alexander's tone remains one of wonder rather than resignation: "The hush of dawn at a medieval monastery, for a magical ten minutes perhaps the most beautiful spot anywhere on earth, as the Norman mist vaporizes before my eyes, lifting its veil from rows of sunlit apple and pear trees, their ripe fruit awaiting the attention of a monk's hands and a chef's knife." If only he could render that as beautifully in French"
"His quixotic resolve to transcend his inherent competence recalls the participatory journalism of George Plimpton, the lanky patrician whose unlikely stints in football and boxing lent nobility to failure. Like Plimpton, Mr. Alexander presents himself as an apprentice, but the reader quickly discovers he is also a master teacher."

Read the full review.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Bon (whatever!)

I received an e-mail yesterday from a Frenchwoman which ended with the salutation, Bon dimanche! And I thought, that's a first -- no one has ever wished me a "good Sunday." But once thing I've noticed (and like) about the French, they are always wishing you a bon something or other.
When you enter a shop you are greeted with bonjour; when you leave it, bonne journée. In the afternoon, you may be wished a bon après-midi or its more loquacious cousin, passez un bon après-midi. Late in the afternoon, come some magical time that only the French know, bonjour becomes bonsoir when you come and bonne soirée when you go. In between, at dinner, you may be wished bon appétit before you eat and bonne continuation during. At the end of the meal, the waiter might wish you a bonne fin de repas or even (and this one is a little too clinical for my taste) a bonne fin de digestion.

My favorite, though is bon courage!, sometimes shortened to just Courage! which, depending on the situation, can apparently mean anything from “have a nice day no matter what may come” to an ominous “good luck,” sometimes with a nuance of “good luck, pal — you’re going to need it!” I suspect in my case, particularly when I trying to speak French, it’s usually the last. And I do need it.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Frenchman forces plane to land over legroom

Let's hear it (although hear what, I'm not sure) for the 60-year-old Frenchman whose last name is Alexandre for raising a fuss over leg room on a flight from Miami to Paris. It seems the woman in front of him reclined her seat into his lap, and refused to budge when he complained. After he let his French temper get the best of him, undercover air marshals subdued him, and the flight was diverted to Boston.

There have been several disputes over reclining seats on planes recently, and here's why: Not only are tempers short because flying has just become so flat-out horrible, but while the airlines have reduced the legroom -- the number of inches between you and the seat in front of you -- they have not reduced how much that seat in front of you can recline!

I think it's time for a dialog about reclining seats on planes in general. Are they really necessary? And when we're done there, let's discuss the putting rocking chairs in movies theaters. I mean, are they nuts? You even been behind someone who rocks his chair while you're trying to watch a movie?

In the meantime, be consider of the passenger (moviegoer) behind you. Especially if he's six-foot, four. And has bad back. And can't afford first-class.

Merci!