It’s been a while since I last posted on here but I’ve been a bit caught up in the routine of working and writing my university essays. Whilst on my year abroad I was given two projects which I’ve had the past 14 months to write, however I have typically left them to the last minute and most of my free time in August was spent at my laptop hastily hashing together coherent sentences whilst regretting not working on them sooner. Anyway both are finished now which means guilt-free free time!
To update you all, just two weeks remain of my work placement and I’m beyond happy about this. I feel like I have now mastered the fine art of selling expensive cotton shirts and I rarely make mistakes at the cash desk, so things are definitely less tense, some days I even enjoy myself. Having said this, I’m more than ready to stop folding cashmere v-necks and measuring body parts. Also, it’s been eerily quiet in the store recently as most of the French population are off on their summer holidays. This usually means I am left alone to supervise la boutique whilst my boss gets some work done in the office. If there are no deliveries to deal with or customers to (attempt to) help then I mostly just polish the displays obsessively and rearrange the ties in colour order. I find myself messing things up just to give myself something to tidy and I don’t know if these habits are healthy if repeated for 35 hours a week.
Luckily I have enjoyed some time in central Paris over the past month or so and the weather has generally been perfect (I’m tempted to say ‘insufferably hot’ but I’m about to experience a winter in Durham so I will not complain about warmth). Below are some of the sites of Paris that I have enjoyed recently…
The beautiful funfair at Les Tuileries and views from the terrace of Galleries Lafayette
Jardin de Luxembourg
Montmatre, including Le mur des je t’aime – a wall of ‘I love you’ in multiple languages ❤
Exploring the Île de St Louis, one of my favourite parts of Paris
I haven’t been able to watch the Great British Bakeoff but a visit to Ladurée is sort of the same thing…
One of the main struggles with languages is learning and remembering vocabulary. I know how to construct sentences, conjugate verbs and all that jazz but there will always be subject-specific vocabulary that eludes me. At university we focused on a different topic each week and as a result I am pretty clued up when it comes to terminology associated with discrimination in the workplace, linguistic tensions in Belgium and the pros and cons of nuclear energy.
What we didn’t cover were kitchen utensils, so working in a restaurant meant I had to quickly get to grips with the relevant terms. I knew knife and fork already but ash tray (cendrier) and cocktail sticks (des bâtonnets d’apéritif) took some time.
However, after being here almost a month I was satisfied that I’d mastered all the necessary vocabulary to carry me through the remaining weeks. How wrong I was. Last night we started rehearsals for next week’s staff show or spectacle as they call it. Everyone takes it very seriously; there are costumes, rehearsals every night until 2am (I’m not kidding) and complicated choreography. It’s circus themed and I have somehow been given the role of the acrobat. I can assure you that this was not an informed decision and I am quickly demonstrating just how ill-suited I am to the task.
I don’t know the French for handstand so couldn’t express how much I really really hate doing them. Similarly, I couldn’t explain that I’ve only ever done a round-off on a ‘sprung floor’ as that word is absent from my brain. This ignorance, combined with the year abroad mantra ‘say yes to everything’, meant that I spent most of the rehearsal unhappily upside down. For one of the routines I am balanced (I use the term loosely) in a handstand with Solène (who is knelt precariously on the second level of a human pyramid) holding my ankles. In another routine I have to do a handstand and flip over onto Artur’s back. I didn’t know the word for ‘dizzy’ to describe my discomfort I like to think it was obvious from my facial expression. Costume-wise, I asked what I’d be wearing but circus attire was equally lacking in my French education so I remain none the wiser. It was all a bit stressful, inelegant and embarrassing.
I think the moral of this story is to listen to French teachers when they tell you to study beyond the taught material. I may have succeeded in my exams but when it comes to real life (or life in a holiday resort) being able to discuss immigration policies is yet to come in handy. A bit of gymnastic-based vocab on the other hand could have saved me from this whole ordeal.
I have never been one for big groups. At school I always had a smaller group of friends and its been the same ever since. In big groups I’m shy and anxious whereas one to one I can have proper conversations and truly be myself.
Here it’s been much of the same. During group social occasions with the rest of the staff the language barrier only amplifies my awkwardness and I often find myself observing rather than contributing. Because of this I am repeatedly faced with the question “Pourqoui tu ne parles pas Megane?”.
It’s the same at meal times. When I’m working I eat with all the kitchen staff before service begins, we all sit round a big table and they all discuss the goings on of the hotel, which I don’t know much about. I like to listen and I am able to understand more and more each time. But again, I get the question “Pourqoui tu ne parles pas Megane?” this time in a more scathing manner from the terrifying head chef.
It’s frustrating because one to one I am much better. I have made friends with another waitress, a local girl called Clara. We have loads in common including music, tv series and a deep dislike of coffee (which is very unusual for a French person). We get on really well and with her I feel so much more confident about my speaking ability. She now knows most of my life story and I am spending my day off at her house meeting her family.
As far as learning French goes, I’m aware that the more I talk the more I will improve and I’m trying to be more confident in the group settings. However, because I value the quality of my friendships over quantity, forming proper relationships here is a higher priority than making myself heard in a group. So for now I won’t let it bother me that a couple of the chefs think I’m mute, I’m happy to have made a genuine connection in another language and a friend who I know I’ll stay in contact with for years to come.