I Spent a Week Speaking French

Bonjour mes amies!

I wanted to start off the new year on a good note. I needed some change, to do something exciting, to challenge myself.

I hadn’t traveled on my own outside of work for awhile, and I was missing one of my favorite cities dearly—Paris.

I studied French in university—I took a French course almost every semester of college and ended up minoring in it. The summer before I graduated I spent six weeks in Montpellier, in the South of France, and lived with a host family to try and learn how to actually speak it rather than just doing the bookwork and grammar that’s done in school.

Although I had completed many French courses and studied all the points of grammar, I still couldn’t speak it fluently or like a local. I decided that in 2018 I was going to become fluent in French. The first step to doing so was to immerse myself completely in the language and culture by moving to Paris for a week and entirely cutting the English language out of my vocabulary for the time being.

I had been studying French in my free time utilizing audiobooks from FrenchToday.com. I highly recommend purchasing and downloading these guides as they are very user-friendly and have aided me in many aspects of the language all on my own and on my own time.

On the FrenchToday website, there is a tab for French Immersion courses. I thought, why not check it out? The moment I read the description of the French Immersion in Paris I knew it was the program for me. I can easily fly to Paris thanks to my job and a week living in a Parisian apartment in the 17th arrondissement sounded like the perfect way to kick off my year of French studies.

I was signed up and in contact with my French host in no time. Once Christmas came and went, the time came for my trip to La Ville Lumière. In typical Jet Set Bets fashion, the night before my flight I was lazily packing and simultaneously absorbed in a Sex and the City marathon when I realized (at 1:00am) that the weather the following day was calling for severe snowstorms (who checks the weather?) and all flights in and out of the New York area were cancelled. I decided to re-route myself through Washington D.C., and that taking a bus there at 8:00am would be a better idea than the train (I’m still not sure why I decided to take the bus, besides the fact that it was a mere fraction of the train’s price). After a six-and-a-half hour, white knuckle bus ride through icy roads and zero visibility, I made it to my evening flight to Paris from Washington Dulles, quite literally, in the nick of time.


*I apologize for the poor photo quality…since I was traveling in a carry-on suitcase, I had to forfeit my DSLR camera and cute coats–sad!*

I arrived in Paris early that Friday morning. From Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Airport I took the RER B (over ground train) into the city, which I have done a time or two before (read this blog post about my summer adventures in France! I provide tons of info about French transportation). With an RER train ticket (€10) you can transfer on to the metro free of charge. I alighted at Gare du Nord and hopped on the Metro over to the stop “Rome” in the Batignolles neighborhood where I was to live for the next seven days.

Batignolles is in the 17th arrondissement of Paris—just to the west of Montmartre, my favorite part of town. It resembles a village and like my host said, it has everything you need. Trendy restaurants, markets, boutiques, salons, and more, Batignolles is very Parisian and there wasn’t an American in sight. Just a few hundred feet from my apartment was the Martin Luther King Park and a massive, newly-built city in itself with high rises and towers galore in preparation for the 2012 Olympics Paris was a candidate to host. Overall, it was cool, it was Paris, and I couldn’t be happier to be a resident.

My host, Françoise, was a 63-year-old Frenchwoman who has spent the majority of her life teaching French as a second language to English speakers. She was upbeat and active and I was her new roommate and student for the week. Her apartment was stunning. On the 5th floor (6th for Americans as Europeans count the ground floor as zero), it boasted stunning views of the 17th with tons of light coming in through the balcony windows. It was a Haussman style apartment, the gorgeous ones with chevron floors and marble fireplaces, and as stated, being on the 5th floor meant having a wraparound-style balcony (which I adored!). I had my own bedroom, and you can imagine it was absolutely charming and incredibly Parisian—the theme of the week!

Each day consisted of three hours of coursework that Françoise had catered to my level of French, breakfast and lunch or dinner together, and free time for me to explore the cultural aspects of Paris, all the while attempting to speak and understand as much French as possible.

You may be thinking that this whole jetting off to Paris to live with a random Frenchwoman to learn French thing was a bit daunting and even spontaneous…and yes, it was! But that is true Jet Set Bets fashion at its finest. I love making an adventure as casual as going to work in the morning. Of course I was a little bit nervous, but that feeling wore off the second I was in the good hands of my host and freely speaking a language that I adore.


Day one involved getting to know each other, the apartment, and the neighborhood, allowing Françoise to gauge my French knowledge. In the afternoon, I couldn’t be pulled away from the uber-trendy, uber-cool restaurant just steps from her door with the giant queue—Mamma Primi. You know I can’t resist a trendy spot to dine. Although the wait staff generally spoke Italian, I still got to indulge in one of my favorite activities of the week (besides eating): eavesdropping. As I was alone the majority of the time in Paris, much of my learning was through listening to conversations of other French people. The food at Mamma Primi is to-die-for Italian, as I like to call it. Massive margherita pizzas, plentiful proportions of pasta inside a cheese wheel, and of course, decadent desserts. Heaven for a carb queen. Check out their Instagram location–it’s gorgeous!

The following day was more coursework in the morning and then in the afternoon, my first visit to the Musée D’Orsay! It was simply unbelievable that I had never been before, but with the dreary weather all week I couldn’t help but visit this iconic venue. The Musée D’Orsay may be famous in its own rights, but it’s also a famous Gossip Girl location, which made it even more exciting for me to visit. I wandered the halls and actually genuinely enjoyed the selection of art (much more than the Louvre—there’s just too much there in my opinion). I found the illustrious clock-window, which was just as stunning as I imagined, just before entering the hall of impressionists (my favorite part of the museum as well as my life icon’s, Blair Waldorf). In front of none other than a stunning Manet, a Frenchman even came up to me and began telling me how beautiful he thought I was, if we could go for drinks, etc., and when I mentioned I was American he was dumbfounded. He said I had the air of a French girl and that he was convinced I was French (Yes! I was already blending in!) If you aren’t as huge a Gossip Girl fan as I am, the very famous scene where Blair meets her prince is almost eerily similar, except he already knows she’s American because her watch is set to east coast time. They chat a bit and then when he cheekily mentions her nationality, she says, “Don’t tell me it’s because my accent isn’t as good as I think.” Her answer couldn’t be any more me. (I’ll attach the iconic scene below!) Unfortunately the man I met was not handsome, nor a prince, and I promptly threw the piece of paper with his number and email scrawled on it in the trash. But I digress… Every inch of the museum was stunning, and I definitely recommend it to a first-time visitor. That evening I wandered the streets of St. Germain des Prés and observed the patrons of Café de Flore (yet another GG location).

Day three was a Sunday, and the day I clocked a shocking amount of steps from my exploring. I began in the 17th, and worked my way towards Madeleine to visit L’église de la Madeleine (I adore visiting cathedrals in Paris—there’s nothing like it in the states). Then of course stopped to window shop on Rue Royale before making it to Place de la Concorde for an exciting surprise—an antique car show. I noticed on my walk that morning that there were tons and tons of old cars driving around: Mercedes, Aston Martins, and Volkswagons galore. They were all headed to the Concorde for a huge viewing party that wasn’t lacking in picnic baskets and champagne! As I walked through to check out the hundreds of cars, I was asked for bottle openers and photos—it was great fun! I then proceeded to visit the always-gorgeous Jardin des Tuileries, said hello to the Louvre, and stopped at my favorite place for an Instagram-worthy post: Le Jardin du Palais Royale. Artist Daniel Buren’s striped columns make this garden super chic and playful (here’s a post where I took lots of photos here last summer!). One final stop on my tour of central Paris was my absolute favorite, Place Vêndome. It was particularly stunning with the Christmas trees and lights still up, and with it being a Sunday, there wasn’t a soul in sight. The Chanel and Louis Vuitton boutiques are inspiring here. I grabbed lunch at Ladurée, known for their macarons, and it was delicious and over-priced as imagined!

My day wasn’t complete without a walking course with my host through Montmartre and specifically, its cemetery. The Cemetery of Montmartre is something I’ve wanted to visit for ages but never got to. It is quite the sight, and it is old. Some tombs have dates from the 1600’s and are decrepit and covered in vines. We made sure to visit the famous tomb of Dalida, the renowned French singer from the disco era famous for her beauty and sass. Her tomb gets daily visitors and is draped with flowers and love notes.

On Monday I had another morning course and then my host and I had plans to do a cooking course for lunch! I loved the idea. It was a great way to be immersed in the French language and interact with other French people. We cooked duck (and it was insanely delicious) and a sweet potato mix. It was at L’atelier des Chefs in the 9th arrondissement and I was so happy to get to be involved in something fabulously French as well as interact with others in a casual setting. I was pretty proud of my plate too.

I finished the day by heading out to Fondation Louis Vuitton—no, not a giant Louis Vuitton store (although that would be dreamy), it’s a museum, and its architecture is stunning. This museum and cultural center is sponsored by LVMH group and was designed by architect Frank Gehry. I visited the “Being Modern: MoMA in Paris” exhibit, which showcased over 200 pieces from the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I got to see art by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and even Walt Disney.

One of my final days was spent simply wandering in parts of town I didn’t know that well. I explored the fifth arrondissement, mostly the area of Le Panthéon and La Sorbonne. I love to simply get lost and discover new places all the while finding my way back by using landmarks and bus maps. Nothing’s forced that way. That evening I attended a tap dance show! As a former tap dancer, I was very excited to experience how tap works in French. The show featured a pianist (playing jazz and classic tunes from old Hollywood films) and a tap dancer who tapped marvelously to each song, and then would discuss the origins of tap dancing and its role in films afterwards. At this point I had been in Paris about five days and my comprehension had skyrocketed from constantly being surrounded by French. I was picking up almost everything he said—even laughed along to a few jokes!

My final day included a grueling course. Afterwards I completed my time in Paris with a tour of Le Marais, a darling part of town filled with boutiques, galleries, and hotels particuliers. We visited the Hôtel de Sully as well as the Place de Vosges. My favorite part, though, was the shopping. My host wanted to show me a shop that she claimed all of her students thought was tremendous. As we walked up to it, I didn’t find it all that alluring…designer sunglasses and odds and ends were displayed in a small boutique. The amazing part though, was the almost-secret walkway into the main part of the store. Through a hallway with duct-tape-looking silver walls, it opened up to everything I’ve ever dreamed of. It was edgy and dark, a department store of sorts, but everything was high end. Balenciaga, YSL, Chloé, Céline, Gucci to name a few, it was Leclaireur, my new favorite store in Paris.

The next morning I was up early and back off to Charles de Gaulle. A Frenchman asked me if I needed help with my luggage at the train station, and I comfortably replied to him that I’m a flight attendant, I’m used to lugging a suitcase up and down stairs. It was amazing how in just one week of immersion I was understanding so much better than I had previously.


 

So…am I fluent? Did my grueling week of français pay off? No, I am not fluent…yet. But yes, it did pay off. I speak with much more ease than I did before I went. My host mentioned my accent was superb, and that it’s one of the hardest things to get down when it comes to a language. For now, I just have to keep working at it. I have to study a little bit each day, interact with as many French speakers as possible, and work on getting to know the common slang and phrases as I already know the basics. The point is: I’m getting there. And I am so pleased with myself for getting this far.

It’s not too late to come up with your own New Year’s Resolution–we still have eleven months to succeed in 2018, and a lifetime after that.

How do you want to better yourself this year? Comment below or interact with me on social media: @betsyabernethy.

 

Xx Jet Set Bets

2 Comments

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  1. 1
    Françoise

    J ai beaucoup apprécié ta compagnie. It was fun. I had to look up the word “grueling” ! Hope it was not trop épuisant 😊.
    Tu peux revenir quand tu veux et découvrir d’autres quartiers insolites !

    • 2
      thejetsetbets@gmail.com

      Et j’ai apprécié ton hospitalité ! Non, Ce n’était pas trop épuisant ! C’était parfait pour moi.
      À la prochaine fois, Françoise !

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