It’s hard for me to write during a time of crisis. But write I must. I write for the beauty of Paris and for the wonderful life the city has given me.
It hasn’t always been easy for me here. It still isn’t. Being in a big city like Paris can be lonely. The language is unfamiliar, as well as the culture and customs. Before Petit Copain, I struggled a lot with my terrible French and felt like I was diving into a very unknown future.
Learning another language as an adult is difficult. They say there are two prime ages for language acquisition: 4 and 8. After 8, it becomes more difficult to be bilingual.
I was never good at learning languages. In high school and at university, I tried to learn Spanish. In California, it made sense to learn Spanish as I was surrounded by the language and many of my friends and colleagues spoke it. Spanish is a beautiful language and California wouldn’t be California without it. However, I was a lazy student and didn’t have much motivation (nor support) in school to speak anything other than English. If language acquisition is best started at age 4 or 8, then why on earth is it only required in the US to start learning another language in high school? And later, depending on your major, it might not even be required for your program at university? This is a sad, sad attitude we Americans have about learning other languages. One day, I hope this changes.
When I started to make my dream of France a reality, I took some French classes at a LA community college, thinking it would be a breeze. It was not. Learning academic French in a safe, English-speaking environment proved to be fruitless during my first trip to Paris. However, I did dictate my Airbnb address to the taxi driver. That was a big accomplishment in itself.
Even though I never became fluent in Spanish, it is still familiar to me. I can say basic phrases and get around LA if needed. But French is a complicated, unfamiliar language full of silent endings and strange rules. Yes, Spanish and French are both romance languages. They have some related words and rules. But in Spanish, you always pronounce the endings of every word, just like in English. This rule doesn’t apply in French. Combine that with vowels your mouth has never made before… and you get a crazy mess. Don’t even talk to me about the r’s. French is not easy on my American tongue.
After two years of living here, the hardest part for me now is constantly switching back and forth from tu (informal you) to vous. Usually, vous is used to formally address a single person, but it’s also used when addressing more than one person. So if you’re teaching a class of crazy little French students, and you want to switch back and forth from addressing one person to addressing the entire class, it can be a little exhausting remembering all the separate conjugations for each pronoun.
Another thing I have to work on is remembering the correct phrasing of things! Such as confit de canard and not confit de connard. Trust me, you don’t want to say the latter, unless you’re getting into a bar fight.
To say the word “boyfriend”, you have a plethora of options in French. You’ve got petit ami or copain. You also have mec which just stands for “guy”, but it’s a little less elegant. Or you can break out pet names like mon cheri, mon lapin (my rabbit), or mon chou (my cabbage, I know… it’s weird). If you’ve been pacséd (PACS is the French version of a civil union), you would call each other conjoint (partner). For husband, you’d say mari.
Petit copain is a correct way of saying boyfriend. I’ve chosen copain instead of ami because ami sounds too old fashioned. I also like adding the cuteness of petit. Petit Copain isn’t actually little, but he is very cute, in that boyish way. We have other not so French pet names (they aren’t in any real language), but I won’t disclose those at this time!
I was alone in Paris for a little more than 3 months before I had met Petit Copain. I tried Tinder, of all things, to find a new friend in the City of Light. It failed miserably and only scored me 1 date that left when I was 10 minutes late for a rendez-vous (I notified him 2 hours in advance!)! After that horrible incident, I let the universe take me wherever it wanted me to go.
An amazing thing happened to me in those first few months living in Paris. I let go of a lot of expectations and stress that was ingrained in my American life. In America, you’re always planning for the future. You need a life plan, a strategic way to climb the ladder. You need a career, a house, a new car. French people want and get these things too, but the way it happens is very organic. You just have to wait a little more to get the things you want, and if they don’t happen yet, oh well! Of course there’s stress, but somehow French people manage better than Americans. I think it’s because the French have deep values in enjoying life as much as possible. To meditate on the present. To take your time eating lunch or dinner. To have time off for real vacations and holidays. To eat the most delicious of foods!
At that point of my life, all my plans had failed me. My original dream of Paris was broken and nothing was working. But I was still in Paris. With nothing else left to lose, I took the time to enjoy myself like the French do. I treated myself to every small gift of life I had ignored for many years, like reading a book in a park instead of being stuck in traffic on the 405 freeway in LA. Or have a little self-date at a posh restaurant where everyone else had company, but not feel sorry for myself like I would with a LA guy who was only waiting to meet the next girl. With the money I had left, I took myself on a giant shopping trip.
Then, a dear friend I had met on this wild adventure suggested I meet her roommate. A few weeks later, at a pirate-themed bar of all places, I was asked out by a very cute Frenchman obsessed with movies. That evening, I had asked him to send me a list of his favorite movies. With my request, he sent me an invitation to go to a photography exhibition. Two days and a kiss later, I was suddenly Petite Copine (girlfriend).
I’m indebted to Paris and all of France for being the place where I found happiness. I know life changes and maybe one day I’ll find myself back in L.A. or some other town, but for now, in the present, Paris is where I’m meant to be.
Until next time! À bientôt!