The ‘raison d’être’ (purpose) of Le Métro et moi, is that despite years of learning and teaching French, I’m still frequently ‘déconcertée’ (stumped) by French words, phrases and sometimes ‘comportement’ (behaviour). Written with ‘un soupcon’ (a dash) of ‘humour anglais’ (English sense of humour) I offer ‘un aperçu’ (an insight) in to my nearly Parisian experience, as I discover life in the ‘banlieu Parisienne’ (Parisian suburbs).
La cuisinière est enfin arrivée!’ (The cooker has finally arrived!), but ‘les livreurs’ (the delivery-men) were unable to connect it to the gas supply as it was not ‘conforme’ (up to current standards). As it is a ‘cusinière mixte’ with one electric and 3 gas rings, I now have a rather expensive second ‘plaque’ on which to cook my pasta and sauce – but a fully working ‘four’ (oven)!
Tried to buy the ingredients for a strawberry sponge cake for a birthday, but were stumped on what double-cream was called in French (crème fraîche épaisse). Asked a sweet little old lady who admonished that it was ‘bon pour prendre les kilos’ (good for getting fat) but failed to find it in the dairy ‘rayon’ (aisle). So we bought a ‘moelleux au chocolat’ (runny in the middle chocolate cake) instead.
Despite visiting the gardens of the Château de Versailles often, I have never braved the tourists who gather ‘en colimaçon’ (in a spiral) in front of the gates. But I recently bought ‘un abonnement annuel’ (a yearly pass) that provides unlimited access for you and ‘un invité’ (a guest). I waved ‘ladite’ (said) magic card in front of the security guard and he escorted me and my guests past four hours of ‘touristes deconcertées’(bewildered) straight to the front. ‘On en a pour son argent’! (Worth every penny!).
Once inside the Château, there are no more queue privileges and the one for the toilets was almost as long as the one we’d just jumped. Forget the ‘Galerie des Glaces’ (Hall of Mirrors) – we headed straight for the ladies’, then managed a whistle-stop tour‘une visite éclair’ of the royal chambers before joining the lunch queue. We were in such a hurry that we missed Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom ’carrément’ (altogether)! As the visit is strictly ‘en sens unique’ (one-way) we had to get ‘talkie-walkie’ (walkie-talkie!!!!!) permission to squeeze back ‘rouge de honte’ (red-faced) past the same ‘foule’ (crowd) that we’d just jumped.
Having visited Versailles several times now, I’m beginning to feel quite ‘chez moi’ (at home) and I’ve started to get frequent urges to perform (citizen’s arrests) ‘appréhender l’auteur et le conduire devant l’officier de police judiciaire le plus proche’on tourists who ‘carressent’ (stroke) the gold-leafed doors, touch the ‘tableaux’ (painting) and casually ‘s’appuient contre’ (lean on) the furniture. Quel culot! (The cheek of it!).
Talking about cake and Versailles in the same post, I simply have to bring up the ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!’ (Let them eat cake!) quote. But did she actually say it or was it all ‘mensonges’(lies)?
Find out by visiting www.history.com.
Le Métro et moi – week 6
Published 13th October in England, 14th October in France.
I’m ‘à la bourre’ (in a rush), trying to get to the ferry ‘à l’heure’(on time) to get my car to England ‘à temps’ (in time) to ‘passer le contrôle technique’ (pass its MOT). I absent-mindedly type ‘Douvres’ (Dover) in to the ‘Tom-Tom’ (Sat Nav) and frown as it shows a 4 and a half hour journey. Surely it’s only a 3 and a half hour drive from Paris to the coast? I throw the useless thing on the floor of the car and peer out of the misty windows instead.
I try to join a busy main road at an awkward angle and have to put on the ‘feux de détresse’ (hazard lights), jump out of the car and clean my ‘vitres embués’ (steamed-up windows) to see what’s coming. The ‘conducteur’ (driver) behind me is not impressed. It’s the first time that a ‘conduite à droite’ (right-hand drive car) has let me down over here – otherwise ‘je me’en sors tant bien que mal’ (I muddle along quite nicely).
‘À mi-chemin’ (half way) I stop to check the time of my ferry and the horrible realisation dawns that I have made the booking fromDouvres (Dover – the one in England) to Calais – instead of the other way around. I consider telling ‘personne’ (no one), not even my ‘prôches’ (nearest and dearest) about this ‘bêtise géographique’ (geographical stupidity) for fear of being ‘internée’ (committed).
I manage to rebook the ferry on my ‘portable’ (mobile) and get to the port just in time to be behind two ‘camions’ (lorries), ‘faisant marche arrière’ (reversing) towards me down the dual carriageway. On go the ‘feux de détresse’ again. Suddenly I see a van approaching me ‘à toute allure’ (on the speedy side), so I put out my hand and signal for it to ‘ralentir’ (slow down). A team of ‘gendarmes’ (policemen) jump out of the POLICE van and I feel a complete ‘crétine’ (twit) yet again. I’m going to ‘rater’ (miss) my ferry I say meekly, so they order the lorries to move aside and let me through in a most charming manner.
As the white ‘falaises’ of Dover come in to view, I realise that the ‘contretemps’ (hiccup) with the ferry booking is symptomatic of ‘une confusion plus profonde’ (a deeper confusion). I no longer know which country is home! But then, as the rain starts to pour and the M25 clogs up with Friday night traffic, I’m already dreaming of the deserted A16. One thing is for sure – ‘L’herbe est toujours plus verte dans le pré du voisin’ (The grass is always greener on the other side!).
Le Métro et moi – week 5
Published 6th October 2014
‘Il y a des jours’ (there are days) when I feel like, jumping on (not under – not yet) the Eurostar and ‘partir précipitamment’ (hotfooting it) back ‘sous la manche’ (under the channel). Maybe it’s ‘à cause du froid’ (because of the cold), or the fact that ‘je suis enrhumée’ (I have a cold) or maybe it’s the end of the expat ‘lune de miel’ (honeymoon), or ‘maintes’ (numerous) little things that are just more challenging abroad. I don’t want to ‘me plaindre’ (complain) but nor do I want to ‘faire semblant’ (pretend) that it’s all ‘un long fleuve tranquille’ (a bed of roses). Otherwise you’d all be coming out to join me – and I still haven’t had my ‘cuisinière’ (cooker) delivered ! I cheer myself up with a free ‘premier dimanche du mois’ (1st Sunday of the month all French museums are free or reduced) visit to the local Musée Maurice Denis and all of my little ‘ennuis’ (problems) fade away in glorious colour.
‘Toc toc’ (knock knock). ‘Qui est là?’ (Who’s there?). It’s me – remember? – from the ‘association d’accueil’ (welcoming association). I let the lovely lady in and she sits down and we natter away about why ‘je suis partie’ (I left), why I’ve come back ‘je suis revenue’ and ‘combien de temps je reste’ how long I’m staying for. I tweak it as I go along so that it sounds like there was some method to my madness. ‘Bienvenue!’ she says warmly! “Join us for the town’s ‘pot d’accueil” (welcome drink) and so, a week later, I am handed a sticker with a green dot which shows where I live – and I mingle with other, (shy) ‘timide’ stickered and dotted ‘nouveaux venus’ (newcomers) over exquisite ‘fait maison’ (home-made) ‘amuses-bouches’ (tidbits). I meet two ladies ‘très sympathiques’ (really lovely) with whom I ‘èchange’ (swap) life stories and phone numbers.
I take ‘quelqu’un’ (someone) to the hospital as a ‘patient en consultation externe’ (outpatient). We arrive and take a number – like at the shoe shop. When the number is called, we go and pay and only then do we get to see the doctor. It is an experience ‘qui donne à reflechir’ (sobering) to someone caught between 2 health systems. I hold on tight to the ‘l’escalier roulant’ (escalator) as we leave but by the time we’re back home I’m balancing on ladders changing ‘ampoules’ (light-bulbs), cleaning first floor ‘volets’ (shutters) and crossing my fingers.
See Maruice Denis’ beautiful paintings at www.wikiart.org
Published 29th September 2014
Friday night and my daughter ‘s’ennuie à mort’ (is bored to death) after daily overdoses of ‘devoirs’ (homework). We’ve been here a month and we still haven’t done the 20 minute métro journey in to Paris! ‘C’est inadmissible!’ (It’s simply unacceptable!). ‘Sur un coup de tête’ (on a whim) we put on our ‘rouge à lèvres‘ (lipstick), buy a ‘carnet‘ (book of 10) tickets and head off in to the night.
We take ‘les petites rues’ (backstreets) from the Arc de Triomphe towards La Tour Eiffel. It is Paris fashion week and people in ‘tenues bizarres’ (strange outfits) huddle trendily on street corners. We find a table on a ‘terrasse’ and eavesdrop on a fashion buyer and a journalist and suddenly feel terribly cosmopolitan. The waiter asks if we’re here for ‘La Semaine de la Mode’. I ask him incredulously if he’s seen what I’m wearing. We eat quickly and hurry to the tower just in time to see it ‘scintiller’ (twinkle) – just for us.
Antonio, ‘caricaturiste’, harasses us amiably as we take ‘un selfie’ (ok it wasn’t just one…). “Vous êtes soeurs?’ (Are you sisters?) – meant to flatter ‘maman’ (mummy) with the ‘porte-monnaie’ (wallet). ‘Tu es tellement belle – je vais mourir si je ne peux pas te dessiner’ (romantic flattery) he hypnotises my daughter, leading her away ‘par la main’ (by her hand). Despite my huffs and puffs of protest, we are soon offered a rather lovely ‘croquis’ (sketch) at a very unattractive price. “Je n’ai que’ (I only have) 5 euros”! I protest. He hands me the sketch with a smile. ‘Garde tes sous’ (keep your money) he winks – which is just as well as ‘une noisette’ (expresso with a hint of milk) goes up from 3 euros to 4:50 after 8:30pm (is that legal?!?!?!?).
This morning I jump out of bed, eager to go on my first ‘me’ activity since arriving – a forest walk with a local ‘association’. Only the event is ‘annullé à cause de la pluie’ (rained off). If we took that attitude in the UK it would end up being an annual event! I mutter as I slip on some ‘bottes en caoutchouc’ (wellies), grab ‘mon imperméable’ (waterproof jacket) and set off for ‘la forêt’ (the forest) alone.
Published 22 Sept 2014
‘Je trouve que tu as grossi!’ (I think you’ve put on weight!) said a French relative accusingly – reminding me that in France ‘la perte et la prise de poid’ (weight loss / gain) is fair game for general discussion ‘à table’ (at the dinner table). ‘
Je trouve que tu es très impoli !’ (I think that you’re very rude!) I countered. But ‘le lendemain matin à l’aube’ (the following morning at dawn) I donned my sports shoes. After a week of puffing and panting, I finished my circuit at the boulangerie, desperate for a croissant – only to find that it was fermé le lundi et le mardi! ‘Quel pays!’ (What a country!)
‘On a fêté’ (we celebrated) the ‘Journées du Patrimoine’ (heritage days) with un dîner spectacle (cabaret) in the ‘centre social’(community centre). We were treated to a ‘cancan’ and I learned that the word originally meant ‘scandal’ and that people used to be arrested just for dancing it! I also heard the sad story of the famous dancer at the Moulin Rouge ‘La Goulue’(the glutton).
The only awkward part of the evening was posed by the bread rolls. We were well in to ‘l’entrée’ (the starter) and no one had taken a bite. « How does it work in France ? Left or right for the ‘petits pains ? » I asked the table in an attempt to hide my peasant upbringing. After an awkward silence, it transpired that no one knew – so we voted on the matter. I was just about to tuck in when someone asked ‘And in England?’ at which point I had to own up that I knew nothing about ‘l’art de la table’ (the art of table setting/dressing/decoration) in either country. I’ve since checked and the English rule is “solids on the left liquids on the right” – and for once the French agree – presumably to avoid diplomatic disaster if the French and English were dining together on a cross-channel ferry…
We first saw the enourmous black ‘araignée’ (spider – pronounced aray-n-yay) late at night on the stairs. I managed to scoop it up and set it free despite shrieks of ‘Tue-la!’ (Kill it!) from my daughter. The next day, I found an identical spider ‘sous l’évier’ (under the sink) in a saucepan. « It came back! » shrieked my daughter « You need to take it far away! « So I trotted half way up the street and tried to tip it out quietly on the kerb. The spider clung on and I had to bang the saucepan several times on the side of the road to get it out – at which point I noticed some neighbours waiting bemusedly to introduce themselves.
Published 15th September 2014
Week 2 of the ‘déménagement’ (move) and most of the ‘cartons’ (boxes) are unpacked, but not yet ‘rangés’ (tidied away). I cannot bring myself to spend as much money on a ‘cintre’ (hanger) as the item of clothing that is going to be hung on it, so I’m waiting for a trip to ‘eee – kay – ah’ (Ikea).
Couldn’t wait for a kitchen table, so went to visit the local ‘Emmaüs’ (warehouse size charity shop). You don’t find Oxfams on the high street in France; everything is sold at ‘vide-gréniers’ (car boot sales), online, or is donated here. Picked up ‘une trouvaille formidable’ (a real find); an (extendable) pine table ‘avec rallonge’ for 20 euros and 6 rather pretty cups for 1 euro!
We are still cooking on a single ‘plaque de cuisson’ (hob) while we try to decide which ‘cuisinière’ (cooker) to buy. I am tempted not to buy one at all and use my cookerless state as an excuse for not being able to cook for anyone vaguely French.
I have not been to Paris, or to a museum or eaten very many croissants yet, though I am managing to drink a fair amount of wine which as I am a wine idiot I choose at random. In fact, my daughter chose the last bottle because it had my middle name on it – Château de Ruth – which turned out to be equisite! Still, whole days go by when I could easily be ‘en Angleterre’, were it not for the baffling French tradition of ‘écoliers’ (schoolchildren) being allowed home at lunchtime. No sooner have I breathed a sigh of relief and sat down at my ‘ordinateur’ (computer) than it’s time to prepare lunch and do the whole “Have you got your ‘carnet’ ?” (school-diary) routine AGAIN!
‘Pour résumer’ (to sum up) a week of ‘le train-train quotidien’ (daily grind) peppered with some lucky finds and the slow realisation that I am going to have to learn how to cook and choose wine or go back to the mountains and become ‘un ermite’ (a hermit) again.
Published 8th September 2014
So I’ve swapped the mountains for the métro, ‘à la périphérie‘ (on the outskirts) of Paris and the only thing I’m scared of here is how not to look like a ‘mal fagotée‘ (frumpy), middle-aged (the French don’t even have a word for it!!!) Englishwoman. I can finally satisfy my ‘penchant‘ (fondness) for fresh croissants and ‘longer les berges de la Seine‘ (strolling along the banks of the Seine). I’m supposed to be here for ‘les affaires‘ (business) but how can I focus when there is so much lovely FOOD and WINE and so many MUSEUMS? Quite simple, ‘je m’enferme’ (I lock myself away) in ‘la mansarde‘ (the attic room) with a copy of my ‘to do’ list (the French don’t seem to have an official expression for this either. What a sensible lot!)
I borrowed a ‘tondeuse à gazon‘ (lawn-mower) yesterday and the race was on as on Sundays there is an allocated ‘créneau‘ (time slot) to make loud gardening noises from 10-12. All was going marvellously until I made a sudden turn down a sharp bank and got dragged half the way down the garden on my derrière before I remembered to let go of the ‘truc‘ (thing – no idea what it is in any language) that makes it go forward.
I have been trying to perfect another kind of ‘créneau‘ (parallel parking) with an English car on a very quiet, but full street where everyone parks politely in their allocated spot. I made about ten ‘tentatives‘ (attempts) before I drove off in a huff and parked rebelliously in front of someone else’s house. Each day, my lovely neighbours have been diplomatically increasing the space between their two cars, so that now anyone apart from me really could ‘garer‘ (park) un autobus in it.
My worries about fitting in with chic Parisians disappeared instantly after reading Hadley Freeman’s article http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2014/sep/08/how-to-be-parisian-move-to-paris which categorically states that chic, scary, skinny women don’t actually exist in any significant quantity and all I need to do is “Move to Paris. Speak French. The End.” I can do that.