Pancakes, Mexican food, and speaking French

I mentioned, a few weeks ago that the word for “pancake” is “pancake.” I was partially wrong. There is no directly analogous one-word term for “pancake,” however, while having a root beer float at Breakfast in America last night, I noticed that they called pancakes “crèpes americaines.” In other pancake-related news, I had been informed previously that there is an American specialty grocery called “Thanksgiving.” I went to their site and LO AND BEHOLD, they sell Bisquick!! I am so excited that I just used superfluous punctuation. That’s how excited I am. This would be bigger news if I had an oven, because I love biscuits. Even bigger news if I had a waffle iron, because I looooove waffles. But, as it is, pancakes are going to be on my plate… eventually.

Now, this may seem disturbing to you. Melissa moved to Paris and is eating at specialty American diners like Breakfast in America and buying groceries at specialty American groceries like Thanksgiving. This leads us to what I think is a rather interesting discussion of an American’s life in Paris:

1.) There is not really any good Mexican food.

2.) You don’t actually have to speak French (This applies to all Anglophones, not just Americans)

I am hard pressed to decide which of those is more upsetting. As of this moment, it’s a draw (though as soon as I get home, I’m going to Tacos N More and getting one of those obscenely messy tortas and some horchata). But, seeing as this blog is about living in France, let’s discuss the second horror.

People sometimes move to Paris to learn French more fluently. People like me, for instance. The sad, sad truth is that my French was better in high school than it is now. Studying languages is hard work. Even if you are immersed in a country that speaks that language, it doesn’t come to you like John Smith and Pocahontas. There are no magical willow trees that will let you suddenly “listen with your heart, you will understand” so that you can start discussing how corn is gold and how your siblings are geographical features and bears are people, too.

I may have digressed, but the point is, it is still really hard work. And apart from saying pardon in the streets and excusez-moi on the metro, and bonne journée or bonne soirée to the clerk at the grocery, if you’re feeling lazy you won’t have to learn French at all. A depressing amount of people do just that.

In Paris, sometimes even if you attempt to speak in French, they will recognize your hesitance and thick American accent and reply in English. It happens less often outside of Paris, but it still does occur. I think sometimes it’s just that they want to practice their English, or to have good customer service. For others it really is just them being condescending Parisians (heh, oh, Paris).

On top of that, English-speakers tend to gravitate toward each other. French culture can seem straight up bizarre and terrifying in some ways, which is strange because it’s essentially the same, Western culture that we have — it’s just that there are enough outlandish ticks that it feels like you’ve fallen through the rabbit hole into an alternate universe. And it’s fun to talk about those oddities with people who understand. As exchange students, we end up in a lot of the same classes and that just pulls us together even more. Really, gravity is the most appropriate way of describing this phenomenon. It takes real effort to not fall into these pitfalls. It feels wrong to call friends pitfalls, but I mean it in terms of learning French, not in terms of… life. I guess.

I can say for myself that I haven’t been putting nearly enough effort into honing my French. This is because it’s scary and difficult. Which, of course, aren’t excuses. Just explanations. So I’m starting now with the flashcards and grammar books that I should’ve been doing a while ago, and I’m looking forward to next semester when my classes will be almost entirely (gasp) in French. That is, if I don’t fail everything and end up stuck in ‘Murrica. (I feel this way every November/April. Bit worried this is the year it’s justified…)