Memories of Paris

I’ve had a lot going on with my day job, which isn’t going to let up until June (but there is an end!), and I have some freelance projects due. So, when something has to give, it’s the blog. I will have some posts throughout May, but I may not get to leave comments for you in return. I will be back eventually – I promise.

In June 2010 I blogged here about some of my memories of Paris. These memories were brought to the surface by the revision of one of my novels set in Paris. Since I’m currently immersed in French for most of the day, it felt right to share this again.

When I was about 18 years old, I spent the summer in Paris, working at a software company in the 8th arrondissement.  I lived in a dorm room at the American House of the Cité Universitaire in the 14th arrondissement.  Every morning I would take the RER B train into the middle of Paris and change to the metro to get to work.  Every evening I would take the bus home with my new friend Mireille.

She was the bookkeeper at the software company.  The boss didn’t know what else to do with me, so he decided I would work with Mireille, who was three years older than me and didn’t speak English.  Because of her I not only became fluent by the middle of the summer, but she made me add up long columns of numbers on an adding machine while saying each number out loud in French.  I’m awesome with French numbers.

photo credit: RocketMan, May 2012

photo credit: RocketMan, May 2012

Mireille also taught me many “rude” phrases.  She told her mother she taught me those words so I would understand them if anyone said them to me.  She didn’t want me smiling at a guy who told me to f*** off.

It was actually my reading that led to the lessons in French slang.  I had raided my uncle’s bookshelves and picked out all kinds of books in French – mostly not by French authors.  For example, I read Agatha Christie and Hemingway translations.  For Whom the Bell Tolls was quite challenging.  And many words I read I couldn’t find in my French-English dictionary.  So I’d bring them to Mireille.  Who would laugh.  Then she’d explain.

She would also laugh anytime I made a mistake.  Like if I used the wrong French word for hair (there are different words for the hair on your head – cheveux – and the hair on your body – poils).  She would laugh hysterically, and I would get upset.  Once she wiped the tears from her eyes, she would tell me what I said wrong.

“Why can’t you just correct my mistake without making fun of me?” I asked her.

“Well, you’ll never make that mistake again, will you?” she replied, still laughing.

She had a point.  And she was right.

I don’t parent that way, and I don’t laugh at my students, but there is value in this technique.  Mistakes that have embarrassed me stick in my head and will never happen again.

Just like life in general and learning a foreign language, writing is a learning process.  I’ve made mistakes – querying a manuscript too soon, not getting enough distance from a manuscript before revising, among others – and I’ve learned from my rejections, however painful.

And I will never, ever tell someone on the Paris metro that I like her poils.

What writing mistakes have you learned from recently?



Filed under The rest of my life

6 responses to “Memories of Paris

  1. It’s a HUGE life lesson, in my opinion, to be able to laugh at mistakes and learn to not take ourselves too seriously. What a fantastic life experience btw! I went to Paris my first (and only as of right now) time in Fall of 2010! You might’ve spotted me. I was the tourist looking very confused by the language, but utterly smitten with the city. I could happily spend two hours of every day of my life in the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. 🙂

  2. What a great experience and yay for such a great friend! I am always learning from mistakes! I have a friend who corrects all my written French and every red mark sticks with me and is not repeated! She can’t believe how fast I catch on, but I can’t stand those red marks! LOL

  3. What a great story. I too, learned from a friend when I ordered a burro for lunch. I thought she was going to have a heart attack she laughed so hard. In public. In the middle of a restaurant. Now I know the difference between the a burro, (an animal,) and a burrito, (a menu item,) and never shall I misspeak one for the other again. 🙂 Mireille was a very thoughtful friend, to teach you all the naughty words!

  4. I loved this post, Vicki. One of my closest friends is French and although her English is amazing, she sometimes gets words mixed up…like chisel for easel. I find it very endearing, but I admire her for knowing English so well, Paris is an education in itself, so beautiful and confident. I envy your time there.

  5. That’s a great story/memory! It’s true, learning that way really makes the lesson stick, doesn’t it? Hmm, writing mistake… I’m not sure. I just feel like I’m constantly learning, and hopefully improving in the craft. Especially when it comes to character voices.

  6. Margo Berendsen

    I love this story! Recently read about a girl who complimented a British man on his pants – not knowing that pants, to the English, refers to underpants, and trousers would have been the more appropriate term!

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