Monday, April 19, 2010

5 x 0 = 0

One of the most memorable lines from my mother's visit to Paris came from my husband's mouth. My mother was reading out-loud from one of those pregnancy books looking for facts to back her apartment remodeling agenda.  "Ahh ha!" she cried, "Here it says that a woman's nesting instinct is multiplied by a five during pregnancy. Mary, are you sure that you don't want to sort through the junk in the living room closet? Mathematically speaking you should be jumping at the chance!".

To this my dear husband says, "Yes Debbie, but five times zero still equals zero!"

It is true, for the time being I do not feel the slightest increase in desire to scrub our apartment with a toothbrush, alphabetize our piles of magazines or sort through my sock drawer. Maybe that will kick in later. If I play my cards right, it will kick in when I am too big to move and can simply art direct from the comfort of my couch.

While I have not felt the urge to clean I have had a very strong desire to create... stuffed animals out of old shrunken sweaters to be specific. That must mean something! Here is a picture of an octopus, an owl and a robot that I recently finished.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Vocabulary Lesson Part IV

We Americans are enthusiastic by nature. This fact is evident when you hear us describe things; our everyday vocabulary is bursting at the seams with adjectives and exclamation points! How am I doing today? I am great, fantastic, wonderful. What do I think of this quiche? Oh I think it is delicious, amazing, out of this world.  Do I like this music? Like it? I love it! I think this music is rockin-awesome! As you can see, when the adjectives in the dictionary no longer suffice, we don't hesitate to combine and invent even bigger better ways of expressing ourselves, rockin-awesome being a case in point.

In contrast, the French refrain from the casual use of adjectives to protect these precious words from loosing their impact when they are employed. Cautious use of positive adjectives and measured enthusiasm are two things that take getting used to as an American in France. We easily mistake their lack of enthusiasm for snobbery or indifference, which is actually far from the truth. The French are simply more honest and realistic than we are when describing things. It is true that an amazing quiche is actually rather rare. If a French person finds something that is mediocre, they see no reason to say it is great or even good just to spare your feelings. Instead they will frankly describe the quiche as fine or tell you they have had better; both likely true statements. This is not to say that the French never give out compliments or praise, they just wait until they find something or someone who truly deserves it. When a French person does run across something so extraordinary that it merits a strong adjective then it should be seen as a very special moment indeed that others should pay attention to and the person receiving the praise can fully believe and relish.

While on tour, one of my clients asked me how to translate the word 'great' into French. I paused. I know the literal translation of the word 'great', it is either grand or génial depending on the context. However I did not pass this information along right away, because if I did teach this man how to pronounce génial and set him free to point at things (like his dinner at a restaurant for example) and say géniale while smiling and giving the server a thumbs up, I would in fact being doing this man a disservice. Great is a strong word in French and if used too often or too easily, the person you are trying to compliment will assume you are being disingenuous, that you are mocking them, or that you are a complete fool who can't tell good from garbage. So I told him that the actual translation for great is génial but if he really wants to give a compliment à la française he would be better off saying pas mal, not bad, or one of the following adjectives...


Literal translation: Decent

To be used when an American would say... good, nice, fine, or lovely.

Pas mal

Literal translation: Not Bad

To be used when an American would say... great, wonderful, or very good.

Bon or Bien

Literal translation: Good or Well.

Side note: As a general rule bon is used when describing things that we can taste, touch or smell and bien is used for everything else.

To be used when an American would say... exceptionally good, far exceeds expectations, fantastic, amazing, or awesome/rockin-awesome.

As you can see, in the photo above these boys are enjoying a Monaco (beer and grenadine). Since they are drinking said beverage at a Parisian café,  they have resisted the urge to high-five the bartender and grin with pleasure as they sip their delicious drinks, instead they are making a classic French Face (I will write a whole separate post on that soon) and probably thinking, these drinks are made just like they should be, thus they are pas mal.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bare Lightbulbs

My mother landed in Paris two weeks ago to get the lay of the land and see this baby bump with her own eyes. Her time here was very enjoyable and tad exhausting (emphasis on the enjoyable mom!). During the first few days of her visit all three of us were plagued with the stomach flu. Since you are mostly an American audience I will spare you the dirty details but suffice to say that it put a serious cramp in our stinky cheese eating, oyster slurping, wine sipping, walking all over Paris plans and resulted in a lot of time resting in our apartment.

The last time my mother was in Paris was in April of 2008, she arrived one day after we moved into our Montmartre home. At that time we owned two inflatable mattresses, two blankets, a couple of cups made out of cut-off plastic water bottle tops and a set of disposable silverware we kept from a take-out place. Since then we have fleshed out our apartment with some furnishings: a tulip stand record player from Germany, a cardboard stag head, an electric fireplace, a couch, a bed, a vintage rolling bar cart... but admittedly we still have a some holes....

For example it isn't easy to explain to one's mother why one doesn't own a garbage can, a rolling pin, a pot holder, a full length mirror or a single coat hanger... The excuse of 'we just moved in and aren't sure where to buy hangers in Paris' just doesn't fly like it used to. It was equally hard to justify why exactly we have a retro French faux bois Jazz wall clock in our kitchen that slowly loses time (which happened to be 93 minutes slow that day) as our only timepiece.

What sent my dear mother over the edge, however, was the bare lightbulb dangling from the bathroom ceiling. Unlike most American apartments, French apartments come with no light fixtures; just wires protruding from the walls and ceilings and if you are lucky a lightbulb. Such was the case two years ago when we moved in and sadly such is still the case in both our bathroom and entryway.

Why? It's hard to say.

Is it because we have trouble with commitment? Is it because I am married to a person who scoffs at most lamp shades and says things like "30€? Pfffft! I can make you one of those!'? Je ne sais pas.

These missing items, combined with an extended amount of time sitting on the couch feeling unwell, lead to a larger discussion of how we are going to prepare this petite apartment for our new permanent houseguest, the bébé!

My mother looked around, declared it a mission impossible and strongly suggested we move to (gasp!) the suburbs. Coming from her (long time suburb hater) I knew that to a non-Parisian the situation here does look a little daunting.

But not to worry! We have a plan: Since we only have one bedroom and I value my sleep and sex-life we are planning to put the little darling in the living room. I have the corner all picked out. It's going to be lovely. My crafty husband is going to put wheels on the crib so we can slide it over to access our only built in storage which would be otherwise blocked by the crib. Then when we need to do laundry we will just push the coffee table against the record player along the wall and fold out our giant drying rack. The kid won't need a mobile because Grégoire's bike hangs on the wall to save floor space and its spinning wheels will surely provide hours of entertainment to this little bébé. See? Piece of cake!

Parisians have adapted to living in small spaces by becoming expert jugglers and impressive contortionists. As you can see in the photo up top, this clever city dweller stores his bike outside his window. My imaginative sister in law uses her oven as a pantry. These fine people in the photo to the left don't have the space for a garden so they glued a plastic one to their windows. Until last week (when we took an admittedly much needed trip to IKEA to purchase a full length mirror) I inspected my outfits by standing on my toilet seat and bending over to look at myself in the cabinet mirror glued to the wall above our sink. Problem(s) solved.

All of this to say, where there is a will there is a way and Parisians have been cramming themselves into Paris for years! With imagination and determination we too will find a way to integrate a baby and all of its accouterments into our tiny Parisian home. I have no doubt.