My family is infamous, as am I, for being Anglophiles. My house is full of British things. There is a map of London in my family room, the Brighton skyline on my bedroom wall (in a frame, not taking up the entire wall!). I complain if my tea is Lipton and have been known to take my own bags of Yorkshire tea to Starbucks, telling the barista, “Look, I’ll pay for a brewed tea with skim milk, but please could you use this bag instead? Cheers.” My love for all things British, which has been a constant in my life since my mother and aunt went to London without me and I tearfully wrote “I’M NEVER GOING TO GET TO GO TO LONDON” with a bunch of sad faces, often overshadows another country and culture that I also love with every fibre of my being – France and the French.
When I was in sixth grade, my parents decided I should go to private school for middle school. In my area, most private schools tend to be Catholic. We aren’t. Most of these Catholic schools only offer Spanish or Latin. The school I ended up attending was a small school founded with a Christian basis but did not teach religion. The language they offered was French.
I fell in love on the first day of seventh grade with a language I barely knew, yet it slipped onto my tongue like a glove. My only exposure to the language had been a song we learned in choir camp the previous summer, “Ton Thé”(FYI – singing in French is actually super hard especially if you’re like me and are really particular about pronunciation. A Parisian man once told me I spoke great French, a Parisian student once informed me that I spoke beautifully – I’ve achieved things in my life but these are some of my proudest moments). Because my teacher used complete immersion, we had to either Frenchify our names or, if our names held zero French roots, we would be named accordingly (Kyle and Garrett were Christophe and Giles). I successfully avoided being named “Marine” (I shit you not, this is only exceptionally funny to me for reasons that I’m not even getting into) and adopted my middle name, Corinne.
I began clamouring for a visit to Paris. I would throw casual French phrases into my everyday conversations. I lived for the hour on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays that my class would walk down the hallway to the French classroom (when I was in 8th grade, it was moved to the basement. Also, my beloved teacher had her second baby that year, so was on maternity leave for most of it. I used to wonder how a classic American beauty ended up naming her children some of the French-est names ever but it makes far much more sense to me now). I learned about the Francophone countries, but didn’t pay much attention to them. I learned stupid verb conjugation and vocabulary songs that still sometimes pop into my brain (“Avoir, avoir, pour la possession/J’ai, tu as, il a, nous avons, vous avez, ils ont, avoir, avoir !” “Janvier, février, mars, avril, MAI JUIN. Juillet, aout, septembre, octobre, noVEMBRE, DECEMBER.” “Je suis, tu es, il est, elle est, nous sommes, vous êtes, ils sont ici, elles sont ici, à la court de Louis XIV !“). We went to see Les Miserables, I tried escargot and it was a love between girl and culture that I can’t even explain.
When I started high school, I skipped French I and headed directly into French II. I took two years longer of a language than was required because although I didn’t love my teacher until senior year, I loved the language (my teacher did not like me very much either, mainly because languages come naturally to me and I didn’t take her class as seriously as I should have. My nickname from her was Petite Diable, and it wasn’t until my final year that we really clicked). I translated the Madeline videos I was so fond of as a child into French because the poor pronunciation and awful accents made me cringe. When our class read Le Petit Prince by Antoine de St-Exupéry, I fell in love harder than anyone in my class and still have my copy of the book. I embraced our tiny class’s Francophone cooking once a month, learning how to make perfect crepes and poutine (had to get something Quebecois in there!).
But it was my junior year when I went to Paris for the first time…and it was not love at first sight. I went on a school trip over spring break, we combined with the Spanish classes to travel to Barcelona and Madrid as well, we stayed in a terrible hotel and the weather just wasn’t good. Montmartre was full of string bracelet sellers (although Sacre-Coeur was lovely and I truly do appreciate the artistry of the area), we weren’t allowed to check out the Moulin Rouge, we didn’t have enough time to investigate the entirety of the Louvre, I didn’t get to see the Monet paintings I wanted to see (they’re in the Orangérie, which is through the Jardin de Tuileries). I preferred Barcelona with the Gaudi artwork and architecture, seaside view and the liquor store where I purchased my first absinthe. I left Europe after 10 days feeling incredibly disappointed – it was as though the hot guy I had lusted after for 5 years actually watched My Little Pony and smelled like Doritos.
As most people know, I studied abroad in Brighton spring semester of my junior year in college. That April, my mother flew to Paris and I took the train through the chunnel to meet her. And it was as though that hot guy who smelled like Doritos and watched My Little Pony traded in for Mad Men and Chanel Bleu pour Hommes. I fell in love with the perfectly warm Paris sun, with the bells of Notre Dame. I fell in love with the lights of the Eiffel Tower at night and with the Bateau-Bus that took its passengers everywhere on the Seine. I fell in love with the water lilies and Monets at the Orangérie. I fell in love with the giant clock in the Musée D’Orsay. I fell in love with Ladurée and macarons, with the palace of Versailles. I loved the fact that I could navigate and pass for a native, tell gypsies trying to ring scam my mother and I to “fuck off,” figure out the ploys of the security guards at the Louvre who had no patience for bossy Americans. I left Paris after four days incredibly sad to be leaving and incredibly eager to return.
When I graduated college with a minor in French, my sorority has a tradition where our “families” prophesies your future based on things they know about you. My family had me meeting my future spouse tripping over a street crack in London. They envisioned me with an English man who was hopelessly polite, made me tea and knew that I preferred cider to beer. He would walk with me through Hyde Park whilst we shared an umbrella and we would raise a crop of incredibly polite tea-drinking children. But, wait. Didn’t they know I had a soft spot for boys who could switch between French and English on a dime, who knew which cheeses paired best with which wines, who would call me his chérie and know that Printemps isn’t just a season?
Well, like Hannah Montana, I think I’ve got the best of both worlds. I found a guy with a panty-melting English accent, who knows that I prefer cider to beer so always has them for me and who knows that the best way to get me to do anything for him is to tuck my hair behind my ear, lean in close and whisper – in his native tongue, French.