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