Wednesday, October 29, 2014

French non-Cultural minister outdoes Palin

If you haven't heard, France is abuzz over this past weekend's admission by the French Minister of Culture, one Fleur Pellerin, that she hasn't read a book in two years. What's more, she seemed totally unfamiliar with Patrick Modiano, the French author who recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

"Barbarism is here," declared one French writer, joining a chorus of voices for her resignation.

My thoughts immediately went (unfortunately) to Sarah Palin, who was similarly caught with her pantalons down, so to speak, when she couldn't name, well, anything, including the name of a newspaper she reads. At least Pellerin didn't try to deflect the embarrassment with charges of "gotcha journalism." (Hmm, how do you say that in French?)

It's temping to poke fun at the French for this indignation, but the real point is that the bumbling President Holland has named a mere bureaucrat who has risen through the ranks of French bureaucracy (starting with university)  to  an office charged with the nation's culture. Judging by the photo above, perhaps Ministry of Fashion would've been a better fit.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

90+ ways to know you're becoming French


A reader from France, Lisa Vanden Bos, recently sent me a copy of small, illustrated book (and by small, I mean 3 inches square) titled 90+ Ways to Know You're Becoming French.  A couple of my favorites:
  • Start a series by counting with your thumb (as opposed to your index figure)
  • Find nothing wrong with saying in English, "I am here since three years."
  • Know where the "first floor" really is
(Hint on the "first floor": You might want to take the elevator.)

Fun stuff. You can learn more about the book here . The authors operate a website that serves the expat community in France,www.fusac.fr.  You know how I know that they're becoming French? The website ends in ".fr".

Bonne lecture!


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.