French Lessons: Funny Words

by Jackie D on March 17, 2017

Today’s lesson is brief: I keep a note in my phone of all the little funny French words I’ve come across so far. I see them on signs or hear them in passing, or discover them while Google-translating a coworker’s e-mail. They all make me smile.

La poubelle: trash (I still think it’s so funny that the word for trash is straight-up gorgeous)

Pourboire: a tip (literally translates to: “for drinking,” because I guess in France people are honest about what tips are used for)

Trombone: paperclip (because paperclips look like little trombones)

Avocat: lawyer/avocado (these are the same word! what!)

Coucou: this is a greeting/term of endearment that my coworkers often use in e-mails, and I find it absolutely adorable

Cauchemars: nightmares (I learned this word during a conversation with a coworker, and it came up during an exercise in French class and I was like, “oh! Nightmares!” and my teacher looked at me like, you have the reading level of a six year old but you know what the French word for nightmares is?)

Etoile de mer: starfish (literally: star of the sea)

Guimauve: marshmallow 

Depaysement: describes the feeling of being in another country (full disclosure: I saw this one on Instagram when I was having a bad day and straight up cried on the metro)

Bague (a ring) and vague (a wave): because I always mix them up. Constantly telling girls I like their waves

Rire: to laugh (my favorite word in any language)


Volunteering at the American Library in Paris

by Jackie D on March 14, 2017

American Library of Paris“In my world there would be as many libraries as there are Starbucks.” -Henry Rollins

Whenever I’ve moved to a new city, I’ve gotten a library card within a month of arriving. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I’ve found apartments so quickly – you need an address in order to get a library card, so my apartment searches have always been intense and urgent. Plus, you know, it’s nice to have a place to live.

In Chicago I didn’t visit the library quite as often as I usually do, but I had too many other places I wanted to explore: the Art Institute (I had a yearly membership, and honestly the Art Institute was basically my library for my entire first year in Chicago), new museums, new cafes, new neighborhoods. I also found a used bookstore and a Goodwill where I could get books for very cheap, and I devoured about a book a week during my regular commute.

In New York, the library was one of the only things keeping me sane. I stopped by on my way home from work at least once a week to trade out an old book for a new one, or more often to see how many books I could carry before I broke my back. In retrospect, this may be where all of my back problems began.

I even got a new library card when I moved from one part of Los Angeles to another, because Santa Monica thinks it’s special and it has its own library.* In Santa Monica’s defense: the library‘s audiobook selection is actually not bad.

In Paris, I was momentarily outraged to find out that you have to pay a monthly FEE for your card at the American Library; however if there’s one place I never really mind throwing my money at, it’s the library. They do good things. They deserve money.

Plus, this library offers a volunteer program similar to that of Housing Works in New York. As with Housing Works, I will be helping out mostly with events that the library holds each month (readings, lectures, even a wine tasting later this month).

In Housing Works I was also helping in the cafe, and even though this meant that sometimes my entire shift evolved around washing dishes and cleaning counter tops, it was still often the best part of my entire week: to walk into a shop full of books at the end of a long day at work, to be around other people who love to read as much as I do, to clean and wash and actually use my hands for something other than typing on a keyboard all day.

It’s a fun crew at the library — mostly Americans, and I imagine we all feel a similar sense of relief to spend a little part of our weeks surrounded by other people who are as far away from home as we are.

And when I exit the library at night, it’s such a strange feeling — to go from being inside this place that is so familiar and so comforting to me, with its American accents and silly thrillers and the classics I’ve seen lining so many different library shelves; and then I suddenly step outside and look up and see the Eiffel Tower RIGHT THERE, literally hovering over the library, a sight that is still so surprising and so bizarre to me.

When I was younger I thought that maybe I would never get to see the Eiffel Tower in person even once, let alone once a week. I’d thought that maybe it would only ever be one of those things I read about in a library book.

*I realize that the reason Santa Monica has its own library and city hall and everything is because it’s technically its own city, but I prefer to think of it as a petulant child.


French Lessons: Time

by Jackie D on March 3, 2017

Talking about age: In French, when you talk about how old you are, you don’t say, I am 28 years old. You say, I have 28 years. J’ai 28 ans. The years are something you have.

Talking about years: In French, there are two versions of the word year: an (masculine) and annee (feminine). But you don’t determine the use based on whether you need a masculine word or a feminine word. You use an if you are talking about a specific year or date, and you use annee if you are talking about everything that filled a year — if you want to say, it was a good year, you’d say c’etait une bonne annee, because you are talking about everything that filled the year and made it a good one. I think of it as: it describes a whole experience, not just a point in time, and so you need those extra e‘s to hold the weight.

It’s the same thing with a day — un jour is a day, straight and simple, but when you wish someone a bonne journee, you’re referring to everything that fills it.

I visited Paris for the first time on July 17, when I was 16 (when I had 16 years). I studied in the south of France for two months when I was 20. I’ve passed through on countless layovers; I used almost all of my meager vacation days to come here for a week by myself when I was 26.

Exactly a year ago, on March 3, I moved to Paris for three months on a tourist visa. At the time, I’d thought that maybe that was what all my other visits had been leading up to: three months living in Paris, probably the best I was ever going to get.

On November 13, I moved here permanently, and on March 15, I’ll finally receive my official resident visa.

Time speeds up in places you love, so I am trying to slow down and consciously appreciate everything about my life here. It seems unreal to me that I’ve only been here permanently for four months when I think about everything that has occurred in those four months: I moved here with three suitcases and no apartment; now I have an almost-fully furnished apartment, a regular grocery store, a regular bar, a regular commute, a few friends, a library membership, a regular volunteering position at said library, and a few weekend trips planned.

Ce sera une bonne annee.

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