french expat

Language Nuances You Don’t Learn in a Classroom

Conjugation, subject-verb agreement, verb tenses…is there anything more clinical than learning a language at school? While these are all necessary elements of language learning, real fluency is born from listening to native speakers in their natural element.  

I’m talking about the type of mannerisms and peculiarities even native speakers don’t know about themselves! Sure you can write a 10-page essay in impeccable french, but can you gab with the girls at the hair salon? Here are the five language nuances your teacher won’t teach you. 

1. Inflections 

Languages don’t sound the same. That’s an obvious statement. But even the inflections and vocal tones don’t necessarily translate. For example, in english, depending on the context, we don’t necessarily need to go up at the end of a question. But in french, its essential. I’ve even been told before that even though my american accent is often undetectable, I speak in an american rhythm. I’m not sure what that means but it just emphasizes how these subtle idiosyncracies can make the difference. 

2. Interjections

I always thought interjections were intuitive. Actually, I never thought about them much at all until I moved to France. But I quickly realized that interjections are a learned part of language. If you stub your toe, you’re not going to say “ouch”. You should say “Ouïe”. If you eat something gross, you’ll get quite a few looks if you say “yuck” instead of “Beurk”. Even animals aren’t safe. Ducks don’t quack and pigs don’t oink. One of my classes (embarrassingly) had me imitate the entire animal kingdom because they found the differences so peculiar. At any rate, it’s definitely worth looking these interjections up because they’re a huge part of language. 

3. Facial Expressions

The french are quite facially expressive people. It’s quite entertaining as an outsider and all expats notice this right away. My favorite expression is the dumbfounded look my students give me when they have no idea what I’ve said. They widen their eyes and puff their cheeks like a blowfish…it’s hilarious. You can see that look HERE at 0:49. But what struck me most is how uniform that look is, which indicates that is cultural more than it is individual. 

4. Hand gestures

The french start counting with their thumb instead of their index finger, the “Ok” sign actually means “zero”,  and rubbing your nose means you’re drunk. Hand gestures are definitely cultural. It’s recommended before going to any country to look these up because you may think you’re giving the thumbs up but instead you’ve just started a fight in public. Typically, you won’t find these cultural differences in a textbook. 

5. Idioms 

One day I asked a friend what she thought of this guy she was seeing. 

Her response: “Il est sympa, mais il se regarde le nombril (He’s nice but he looks at his bellybutton). 

My first thought: “….That’s weird” 

What I didn’t know (and didn’t find out until a week later) was that se regarder le nombril is an idiomatic expression that describes someone as egotistical or narcissistic. 

Idioms are a little harder to prepare yourself for because the possibilities are endless and often the expression holds very little indication of what it actually means. However, whenever you hear one try hard to remember it and challenge yourself to use it in another situation. 

When I tell people that I want to leave France after I graduate college, and work and live in a foreign country, they often ask me why I hate France. My roommate even told me that I was being ungrateful for wanting to leave the country I was raised in.
But the thing is, I don’t hate France. On the contrary, I love it 🇫🇷 We have great people, pretty towns, incredible landscapes… and the food is amazing! 🍇🧀🍷But I just think that there is so much more out there to experience, so many people to meet, so many towns to discover, so many landscapes to admire, so many foods to try, so many languages to learn! 🌎🌍🌏 I want to know different cultures, traditions, ways of life, and I won’t be able to do it if I spend the rest of my life in France. I am grateful for the 20 years I spent in that beautiful country but I feel like it’s time for me to live elsewhere ✈️
So no, I don’t hate France, even with all the crap happening right now because of the election.
I love my country, just like I love so many more.

How to Upgrade Your French: Part 2

Round 2 & Back for more!

1. Instead of  Je veux, Try J’ai envie de…

As one of the most important verbs in the french language, vouloir to express a want or desire. You won’t go a day without using this verb. But every now and then, try to say j’ai envie de… which means “I feel like…” doing something in particular.

Par Exemple:

Personne 1: “Tu veux aller à MacDo?” (You want to go to McDonalds?)

Personne 2: “Bah non, j’ai envie de manger de la bonne nourriture” (Uhmm no, I feel like eating good food)

2. Instead of J’aime faire, Try Je profite pour…

This expression enhances your statement greatly. Profiter de literally means “to thrive on” or “take advantage of” doing something. It’s not a direct translation, but I hear the french say it quite frequently in the context of saying they simply enjoy doing a certain activity. 

Par Exemple:

Personne 1: ”Vous avez passé des bonnes vacances? (Did you guys have a good vacation?)

Personne 2: ”Tout à fait! On est allé à Nice et on a vraiment profité de la plage” (Absolutely! We went to Nice and we really enjoyed the beach) 

3. Instead of J’aime bien, Try J’aime bien, moi

There’s this thing in the french language called the reprise. You might not see it in books but It is VERY popular in everyday life. It’s basically a repetition of the subject of a sentence with its tonic pronoun (moi, toi, lui, elle, nous, vous, eux). The purpose is to add emphasis. You can add the tonic pronoun at the end or beginning of the sentence. It’s pretty complicated but I’ll try to break it down. 

Des Exemples:

“Tu es bizarre, toi” (You are so weird!)

“Peut-être que tu les aimes mais moi, je déteste les haricots verts” (Maybe you like them, but I hate grean beans) 

“Tu vois le mec là-bas?? Quel beau gosse, lui” (You see the guy over there?? He’s so good looking!)

4.Instead of la chose, Try le truc

There’s nothing wrong with saying la chose when trying to point out a random object or concept, but another way to say “thing” or “stuff” is le truc. It’s just more colloquial. 

Des Exemples:

“C’est quoi, ce truc-là?” (What’s this thing here?)

“Le truc avec les casinos, c’est qu’ils sont toujours des arnaques!” (The thing with casinos is that they’re always ripoffs!) 

5. Instead of Tu est sorti Try T’es sorti 

Let’s be honest, french is a vocal workout. Ain’t nobody got time to pronounce all those extra vowels! So to eliminate the extra mouth movement, french people have a tendency to run vowels together. Especially when its tu + être/avoir. 

Des Exemples:

“T’es déjà parti?” (You left already?)

“T’as trouvé ton truc encore?” (You found your stuff yet?) 

And that’s a wrap! Hope I could help. 

things that happened at my doll job
  • (I still work for them, but only in a social media capacity since I moved to a different state. this all happened when I worked there in person)
  • a lady cancelled her layaway because her pet kangaroo shat on her hardwood floor and she had to pay to have it replaced
  • an elderly man introduced himself on the phone, unironically, as “The King of Kewpies”
  • someone my boss banned from buying our dolls because she’d never make her layaway payments made a new email account and pretended to be a French expat missing “the dolls of [her] childhood” in an attempt to put yet another doll on layaway. she accidentally sent a message from her old email, but what would have tipped me off was the implication that she could clearly remember the 1880s
  • one of my coworkers insisted on wearing rings and acrylic nails to work constantly, even though she scratched a doll’s face with the rings once and tapped on wax dolls with her nails (?!?). the rest of us, who mostly kept our nails short and wore minimal jewelry to work- I didn’t even wear necklaces or large earrings because we often rested dolls’ faces against our chests/shoulders for security when we carried them around the building -were horrified
  • this didn’t happen at my workplace but apparently some other dealer sold a bunch of dolls for older collectors on consignment, never paid them their share of the profits, and ran off to Florida with his ill-gotten cash and a much younger woman (as opposed to his wife)
  • we have a rival. we spoke of her around the lunch table in the same tone Cecil Palmer reserves for Steve Carlsburg, and my coworkers probably still do. the photos on her listings suck and at auctions, she occasionally bids up the prices on dolls she doesn’t intend to buy just to price my boss out of the running. she is Doll Satan
  • the doll world is wild man
2

Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs Is the Most Charismatic Person in the Room (Esquire):

The prolific musician spent most of his 20s bouncing around jobs between Los Angeles and the Bay Area: teaching and performing with Clipping. When it came to acting, he was frequently disappointed by the specifications of the casting calls when it came to race and gender, which made the already frustrating process of going out of auditions a source of disillusionment. “On one of the last auditions I did for a commercial, there was a room full of people like me,” he says. “To walk into a casting room full of people who look like you is a crazy thing. What is the thing that necessitates all of us having the exact same shade of skin and having the same hair? What about this deodorant commercial needs that? [It was] like the light-skinned, big-haired section of Costco. I don’t even think I stayed for the audition.”

Based on his experiences with Hollywood typecasting, he certainly never dreamed he would end up portraying a U.S. president on Broadway. Even though he’s crucial to the DNA of his role inHamilton—Diggs worked on the musical in its genesis, flying to New York to participate in early readings of the show—he wasn’t at all confident that he would get the part once a full production was mounted. “I just assumed I was a placeholder,” he says. “I loved doing it so much that I was just going to do it every time I could.” It was a team effort to get him to the stage—his mom even helped him fight for the role. “I was talking to my mom the other day about buying tickets to see my girlfriend in Trinidad,” he says. “She laughed and said, ‘Remember when you could only fly when I had frequent flyer miles from my business trips on Southwest? And that was literally the only way you went anywhere?’ The producers flew me out sometimes, but several of my trips to do workshops for Hamilton were on my own dime—or on my mom’s frequent flyer miles.” Diggs laughs, remembering his personal investment in Hamilton’s earliest days. “There were times when they said, 'You really don’t have to be at this one,’” he says, “and I was like, 'Damn if I’m gonna let you see someone else play this role!’”

Once you see him on the stage, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the dual role of Marquis de Lafayette and the stunningly flashy Thomas Jefferson. Diggs is incredible as both characters—the former a French expat coming to the aide of the American revolutionaries, brandishing his rapid-fire verses as his ammunition; the latter, a genteel Southern gentleman who acts as a philosophical foe to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton. The show is, of course, a smash hit and the hottest ticket on Broadway. It earned its principal cast and creative team a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album earlier this year, and it’s up for a record 16 Tony Awards—with Diggs himself nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. It’s not a stretch to claim that Diggs is a standout among an ensemble cast—even if six of his fellow actors are also nominated for Tonys this year.

Recently, he had a chance to see what that looked like when he saw his own understudy perform “I saw the show without me in it, and it blew my mind,” Diggs says of being in the audience as opposed to on stage. “It was so good! I’m excited to see other people’s take on it.”

Casal always knew Diggs would land the part. “Who the fuck else is going to do the fast rapping part?”

Diggs’ signature rap style might have been a surprise to the rest of the world—one can’t not be impressed that he spits 19 words in three seconds during the song “Guns and Ships,” setting a definite record for Broadway rapping—but it’s an extension of his progression as an artist. “I was so excited after opening night,” Casal says. “And Diggs just told me he wasn’t doing anything differently from what we’ve been doing for years.”

[…]

Despite the all-consuming role of playing two revolutionary historical figures in Hamilton, Diggs is still focusing on creating something new in his off hours. With Casal, he’s developing a play that wrestles with the concept of masculinity. “Everybody’s definition of masculinity develops in very specific ways,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to be my father. He doesn’t necessarily identify as gay, but I’ve known my father’s boyfriends [throughout] my life, and he’s my role model for maleness. This is the dude I want to be—the most charismatic person in the room, always.”

more great photos & conversation about his time as a middle school teacher, the gentrification of Oakland, & kidnapping his drummer in the article

7

6/10

Autumn flowers are the prettiest

Dermatology is way more interesting than I thought it would be. Also, my working hours are super chill right now so I can continue working on my NaNo outline.

Today’s Little French Lesson:
Autumn vocabulary!

pumpkin - la courge, le potiron, la citrouille
the costume - le déguisement
leaf - la feuille
chestnut - le marron, la châtaigne
cinnamon - la canelle
nutmeg - la muscade
hot chocolate - le chocolat chaud
cozy - confortable, douillet(te)
blanket - la couverture
to treat oneself - se faire plaisir
fog - le brouillard
it’s raining cats and dogs - il pleut comme vache qui pisse (Literally: it’s raining like a cow who pisses. Langage familier, for obvious reasons.)

Words to be Careful Pronouncing

It’s no secret that french is hard to pronounce. From the throaty R to the nasally vowels, you can’t tell if you’re really speaking french or just a bad caricature of Pepe le Pew. I’ve taken french for 9 years and I still make pronunciation mistakes daily. Here’s a list of some words I’ve said incorrectly recently.

Canard (duck) can easily become connard (a**hole)


Cannes (city in France) can easily become con (idiot)


Chat (cat) can easily become chatte (p***y) 


Décidé (decided) can easily become décédé (deceased)


Gare (train station) can easily become guerre (war)


L’amour (love) can easily become la mort (death)


Pêcher (fish) can easily become pécher (to sin)

What happened when I mispronounced these words? Usually…nothing. Either the other person would politely correct me or I would realize later that their sheepish grin meant I probably said something slightly inappropriate. Its okay to make mistakes though! We’re human. And more than likely you will get a funny story out of it (: 

Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs Is the Most Charismatic Person in the Room

THE FAST-RAPPING AND ELECTRIFYING TONY NOMINEE HAS FINALLY LEARNED HOW TO STAND OUT.​​​

“I watched an amazing fight yesterday between these kids across the street from my house.“ Daveed Diggs puts down his fork so he can use his hands to punctuate the beats of this story about the scuffle he saw in his neighborhood while walking Soccer, the dog he shares with his girlfriend. "I clearly got there right after round one. Kids were celebrating, pointing, and telling jokes about the other kid on the ground, who was like, ‘You didn’t even hit me! You ready for round two?’”

Diggs told me he was shy when I sat down to lunch with him and the poet Rafael Casal, his friend and long-time collaborator, but his knack for warm and engaging storytelling instantly turns him into an unavoidably dynamic presence. It’s not hard to understand why he was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the Broadway juggernaut Hamilton. The 34-year-old Diggs is just as compelling and energetic to watch as he is to listen to, even when describing a schoolyard fight.

“Both camps had a conference about it, and then they were like, 'OK, we’re gonna do this, let’s have a second round.’ The fight was literally the worst sort of slap boxing.” Diggs laughs. “The kid who lost round one was slapped in the face but clearly ready to keep going, but everyone else broke it up. It was so cool—everyone else was like 'No, you’re done, you’re done.’ It was the most organized schoolyard fight I’ve ever seen.”

The former middle school teacher is used to being on a different side of playground politics. After graduating from Brown University, Diggs returned to his native Oakland, California, to teach poetry and acting classes, and he developed a popular rap curriculum for seventh-grade students in the Bay Area. “It was cool,” he says. “I got to teach these rap classes in tandem with the curriculum that was happening anyway.” Diggs saw the effects immediately.

“The awesome and equally tragic thing is that all of those kids are old enough to form complicated opinions about things, and nobody cares what they have to say,” he says. “It was nice to give them a place to read something they had written and the audience—the rest of the class—wasn’t allowed to leave.”

Diggs knows a thing or two about hoping to sustain an audience’s attention. He graduated from Brown with a degree in theater, and his hip-hop group, Clipping, signed to Sub Pop before he gained national attention for helping to bring rap to Broadway. Even though he loved teaching, he gave up the job in 2012 when he started to get more opportunities as a performer. It was a sacrifice; Diggs only wanted to do the job if his whole head was in it, and he didn’t want to disappoint the kids by being yet another burned-out teacher just there for the paycheck. Still, he sits up straighter and talks emphatically when describing his time as a teacher, and clearly loved being part of his student’s lives.

“The reason you write something that is exciting and visceral is to force people to hear what you have to say, especially if you’re in any kind of marginalized community where people don’t want to listen,” he says, flashing his infectious smile. “You have to come up with tricks to make them listen.”

Diggs has certainly applied some of those tricks to his own career. The prolific musician spent most of his 20s bouncing around jobs between Los Angeles and the Bay Area: teaching and performing with Clipping. When it came to acting, he was frequently disappointed by the specifications of the casting calls when it came to race and gender, which made the already frustrating process of going out of auditions a source of disillusionment. “On one of the last auditions I did for a commercial, there was a room full of people like me,” he says. “To walk into a casting room full of people who look like you is a crazy thing. What is the thing that necessitates all of us having the exact same shade of skin and having the same hair? What about this deodorant commercial needs that? [It was] like the light-skinned, big-haired section of Costco. I don’t even think I stayed for the audition.”

Based on his experiences with Hollywood typecasting, he certainly never dreamed he would end up portraying a U.S. president on Broadway. Even though he’s crucial to the DNA of his role in Hamilton—Diggs worked on the musical in its genesis, flying to New York to participate in early readings of the show—he wasn’t at all confident that he would get the part once a full production was mounted. “I just assumed I was a placeholder,” he says. “I loved doing it so much that I was just going to do it every time I could.” It was a team effort to get him to the stage—his mom even helped him fight for the role. “I was talking to my mom the other day about buying tickets to see my girlfriend in Trinidad,” he says. “She laughed and said, 'Remember when you could only fly when I had frequent flyer miles from my business trips on Southwest? And that was literally the only way you went anywhere?’ The producers flew me out sometimes, but several of my trips to do workshops for Hamilton were on my own dime—or on my mom’s frequent flyer miles.” Diggs laughs, remembering his personal investment in Hamilton’s earliest days. “There were times when they said, 'You really don’t have to be at this one,’” he says, “and I was like, 'Damn if I’m gonna let you see someone else play this role!’”

Once you see him on the stage, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the dual role of Marquis de Lafayette and the stunningly flashy Thomas Jefferson. Diggs is incredible as both characters—the former a French expat coming to the aide of the American revolutionaries, brandishing his rapid-fire verses as his ammunition; the latter, a genteel Southern gentleman who acts as a philosophical foe to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton. The show is, of course, a smash hit and the hottest ticket on Broadway. It earned its principal cast and creative team a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album earlier this year, and it’s up for a record 16 Tony Awards—with Diggs himself nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. It’s not a stretch to claim that Diggs is a standout among an ensemble cast—even if six of his fellow actors are also nominated for Tonys this year.

Recently, he had a chance to see what that looked like when he saw his own understudy perform “I saw the show without me in it, and it blew my mind,” Diggs says of being in the audience as opposed to on stage. “It was so good! I’m excited to see other people’s take on it.”

Casal always knew Diggs would land the part. “Who the fuck else is going to do the fast rapping part?”

Diggs’ signature rap style might have been a surprise to the rest of the world—one can’t not be impressed that he spits 19 words in three seconds during the song “Guns and Ships,” setting a definite record for Broadway rapping—but it’s an extension of his progression as an artist. “I was so excited after opening night,” Casal says. “And Diggs just told me he wasn’t doing anything differently from what we’ve been doing for years.”

Oakland takes up prime real estate in Diggs’ heart, and he credits the Bay Area for giving him the freedom to develop his artistic sensibilities. “There was something about that environment that was really conducive to being an artist,” he says, thoughtfully. “The lifestyle in the Bay Area is tough to beat—it was relatively cheap, great food, lots of outdoor space and art space, and ways to be inspired at the time. It was a beacon to artists who had been frustrated somewhere else—you could get the things that you needed pretty easily. I think it’s important that your work is in conversation with artists in your community. It’s nice to come from a place where I actually had and have a community of artists who call each other on the phone and make something new.”

He’s worried that won’t always be the case. “Neither of my parents live in Oakland anymore,” he says. “They both got priced out. The tide is changing very. I worry about the sustainability of a viable arts scene there, because it’s getting really hard to get the things that you need now.”

That might explain why he’s slowly bringing his friends to New York in order to continue working with them. “He literally moved to New York because I wasn’t responding to him,” Diggs laughs as he gestures toward Casal. The two have an easy language together, punctuated by laughter and finishing each other’s stories. It’s not about keeping it real—Diggs is buoyed by his friendships, and the history they share is an integral part of who he is at his core.

“Remember that time we played a show in Sacramento, and then we got a call to help with a documentary for our friend’s production company?” Diggs says to Casal. “Our drummer had no idea. We were doing a show, and then we got the call, and said we’re going to Los Angeles right now.” Casal, laughing, chimes in. “There’s no time to drop you off!” Did they kind of kidnap their drummer? “Yeah!” Diggs says excitedly. “The photoshoot was at 9 a.m., and it was 2 a.m. when we got the call. We drove down, and then drove back the same night.” To Casal, it was a no-brainer. “You do it for friends,” he says. “If they ask for something, you go above and beyond.”

Despite the all-consuming role of playing two revolutionary historical figures in Hamilton, Diggs is still focusing on creating something new in his off hours. With Casal, he’s developing a play that wrestles with the concept of masculinity. “Everybody’s definition of masculinity develops in very specific ways,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to be my father. He doesn’t necessarily identify as gay, but I’ve known my father’s boyfriends [throughout] my life, and he’s my role model for maleness. This is the dude I want to be—the most charismatic person in the room, always.”

Diggs is also deeply considering the unique pressures of masculinity. “It’s a construct, but there’s a ton of pressure at all times,” he says. “Part of masculinity is this idea that you can protect somebody, this idea of keeping the people close to you safe. It gets very tricky.” Even though he’s been putting these messages in his music for years, they seem to be more accessible to his audience lately. “I don’t know if it’s the world changing, if my position in the world changing, or both.”

As his professional world swiftly changes, Diggs holds his friends closer and pushes forward. “When people who know and believe in each other get together to make a thing they feel powerfully about, those are the best things,” he says. “We end up loving those things. Those are the things that last.”

-Danielle Henderson for Esquire

How The French View Americans: Negative Stereotypes Explained

We all have preconceived notions of certain countries and cultures. We might even understand that these are gross generalizations but that doesn’t keep us from believing them. The French have quite a few preconceived ideas on what it means to be American. I’m going to explore where these stereotypes might come from.  

*Disclaimer: This is all (slightly researched) speculation. *


1. Americans are stupid 

Americans have the unfortunate stereotype of being not so bright. Many Europeans would agree. Is there some truth to this? Well according to OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), the U.S ranks 26th worldwide in scholastic test scores, below other world powers such as France, Germany, and China. But this is only proof if you believe that test scores accurately define intelligence. Also, the typical French person probably doesn’t know this statistic…so why do they think we’re “idiots”?

Probably because we are generally ignorant of the world around us. Who’s the Prime Minister of the UK? What political scandal is currently going on in Brazil? What is ISIS? The reality is many Europeans could answer these questions and many Americans could not. The other day I watched this American girl try to order at a french bakery. This first thing she said was “Hola” (*face palm*) and then she very loudly asked for a sandwhich in english, as if yelling would help the cashier understand her better. This is the American traveler in a nutshell - we go overseas without any regard for common practices, norms, or courtesies. This lack of cultural curiosity is what probably makes us seem uninformed, silly, and quite frankly, stupid. 

2. Americans are superficial

Outsiders believe that all we care about is our looks, status, and wealth. Materialistic is our name and consumerism is our game. But like, we can’t like, be bothered with things like “inner beauty”. I mean, duh, we have reps to protect! 

It’s not hard to understand why one would come to this conclusion of us. Watch American TV for 30 minutes and you will see how we eat up ideas of popularity and wealth. I mean we are the same country that has made famous-for-nothing Kardashians a household name. We’re also the same country that lets Channing Tatum “act” and lets Taylor Swift whine on every stage. I must admit (ashamedly) that I’ve thought to myself, “Wow, french actors and singers are not attractive”. But their celebrities are actually famous for being talented. Crazy concept, right? 

3. Americans are conservative 

One day when I was babysitting, I took the kids to the park. On the side of a building was a LARGE ad for a burlesque show with a topless woman gracing center stage. I remember feeling appalled. This is a park where children come to play! I looked around and none of the moms or their kids paid it any attention, almost as if this was normal. Am I a prude? No, I’m just American.

When it comes to nudity, cursing, or anything else considered taboo, we tend to censure it. These things are typically reserved for private spaces among adults. But in France, whether its in the media or in real life, they are much less likely to censor themselves. 

Theory time: Part of this may be because we are a much more religious country than France. Although we express freedom of religion within our Constitution, we cannot deny that our country was founded on Christian principles and those principles manifest themselves within our political, social, and cultural identity. Around 88% of American citizens are affiliated with a religion compared to almost 55% of French citizens. Why are LGBT and female reproductive rights hot button issues? Why is the drinking age still 21 years old? Because of persisting conservative sentiments. Perhaps we hold more modest values because of our country’s subconscious (or maybe not so subconscious) ties to religion. 

4. America is dangerous and racist 

To many outsiders, most of our major cities are synonymous with danger. New York. Miami. Chicago. I’ve been asked several times by wide-eyed Frenchies if I’ve ever visited these cities and if I’ve ever felt unsafe. What puzzles them most is why, oh why, can’t America solve its gun issue? Trust me, we’re asking ourselves the same thing. Mass shootings have become unnervingly commonplace and we are just as exhausted.  

As for the racism thing, French people have televisions. They see our public discourse on police brutality, the physical aggression at Trump rallies and that same presidential candidate’s stance on Mexican immigrants. They know well that our country was built on the backs of slaves and immigrants and has a 400 year history of racial oppression and discrimination. But don’t be fooled, France is not at all a racial utopia. They’ve had their fare share of discriminatory laws over the years. However, due to our track record, its the U.S that usually wins the prize of most racist world power. 

5. Americans are fat 

This is without doubt the number one stereotype about Americans and unfortunately there’s a lot of merit to it. We are one of the unhealthiest countries in the world. In 2015, 74 million Americans, almost 2/3 of the country, were considered overweight or obese. Researchers predict that these numbers will only increase and by 2020, 75% of the nation will be overweight. Compared to the 40% of overweight French citizens, these numbers are quite egregious.

But what’s ironic is that we are by far more obsessed with exercise and healthy eating. We have a strong “work out culture” in the states and for most Americans the question is not whether you’re dieting but which diet you’re on. As a whole, French people don’t actively work out. In fact in the 9 months I’ve been here, I have seen one gym. ONE. And it was extremely empty. They don’t have to work at being healthy because they just naturally are. It’s not in their culture to eat large fast food portions or eat out for that matter. Where as in the US, we love to dine outside the home. Not only is it a great way to connect with friends but its convenient. And from drive-thrus to 24/7 restaurants, you cant deny our love affair with conveniency.

6. Americans are self-involved workaholics

“You can be anything you put your mind to” “Reach for the stars” “You could be the next president of the United States!”

From an early age we are told that everyone is special. That hard work is the key to success and to dream as big as possible. I asked a couple of my students what they wanted to be when they grew up and none of them had an answer. From an American perspective this is very strange. Every American child knows exactly what they want to be by the age of 3. Even if the answer is a Princess, we raise children to have a very clear and confident vision of who they are and where they are going in life. 

Our society is characterized by individualism. What that means is that we emphasis personal achievements, we value independence, and much of what we do in life is self-enhancing. Many countries fall into this category and you can argue that there’s nothing wrong with it. But the inevitable result of individualism is that we lose sight in the importance of people around us. We are less family-oriented and instead place more value on our personal success, which typically translates to how we perform in our careers. 

Everyone is chasing the “American Dream”, hoping to make something of themselves. But instead of enjoying life, we’re too busy working hard for the money. We work 30% more than Europeans, have significantly less paid vacation time, and we’re one of the only countries that doesn’t guarantee parental leave for new mothers and fathers. We don’t value leisure time for ourselves or with our family. Maybe we are not personally “self-involved workaholics”, but the way our society is set up its almost impossible not to be. 


Feeling bitter? Well let’s glance at some positive stereotypes. 


7. Americans are very self-confident 


8. Americans are charitable


9. Americans are super friendly


10. Americans are good looking 

See, it’s not all bad. 

© Courtesy of HdV

Wine Wednesday: Winemaker Stéphane Vivier, a French expat, uses Burgundian winemaking techniques, like fermenting in enormous French foudres and meticulously sorting grapes after harvest, to make his fantastic Carneros Chardonnays. HdV’s on-site sommelier, Eddie Townsend, leads guests through the cellar. Here, more of the best Napa Valley wineries.

8 Expressions/Words I Hear the French Use Often

1. Bah ouai/oui/non

This one I hear about 100x a day. It basically means “Well yeah…” as in how you would respond to someone asking or stating something fairly obvious. The meaning is mostly dependent on the tone.

Used in conservation:

Personne 1: “Si j’étudias plus souvent, je recevrais une bonne note” 

Personne 2: “Bah ouai!” 

Person 1: If I studied more often, I would get a good grade

Person 2: Well…yeah, duh!

2. En fait

This is probably the most highly used adverb. It’s english equivalent is “actually”.

Exemple: “En fait, Barak Obama est très connu en France”

Example: Actually, Barak Obama is very well known in France

3. C’est pas grave

I love this expression because its a good less-boring response to someone thanking you than “de rien” and I also feel it summarizes the french disposition pretty succinctly. “It’s not a big deal”!

Personne 1: “Oh non! J’ai renversé du vin sur la table!”

Personne 2: “C’est pas grave!”

Person 1: Oh no! I spilled wine on the table!

Person 2: It’s not a big deal! 

4. Pas de soucis

Nearly the same as #3. “Don’t worry about it”. It’s especially french if you barely pronounce the “de”, i.e. “Pas d’soucis”

5. Ça marche

“That works” No explanation needed.

Personne 1: “On peut se rencontrer un peu plus tard si tu es occupé maintenant?”

Personne 2: “Ça marche!”

Person 1: We can meet up a little later if you’re busy now?”

Person 2: That works! 

6. Ça va/ Ça va?

Ok, for anyone that has taken french 1 you’re probably like duh Anndi of course they say that a lot. But this phrase is way more all-encompassing than your high school teacher led you to believe. This phrase can mean “How are you” “I’m fine” “It’s Ok” “That’s fine” “Is that Ok?” “Are you OK?” “Are you doing alright? “I’m doing alright” etc etc. It all means more or less the same thing but the translation changes slightly depending on the context.

Personne 1: “Tu veux plus de bonbons?”

Personne 2: “Non merci, Ça va” 

Person 1: You want more candy?

Person 2: No thank you, I’m fine 

7. Franchement

Meaning “Frankly”, this word is a lot less dorky and more widely used than its english counterpart. Its more similar to how we would use “honestly”.

“Franchement, je comprend pas comment quelqu’un pourrait voter pour Donald Trump”

“Honestly, I don’t know how anyone could vote for Donald Trump”

8. N’importe quoi

I learned that this word means “whatever” but its honestly more similar to “nonsense” “Craziness”. I often hear my host mom tell her kids “Ne faites pas n’importe quoi!” which roughly means “You’re out of control!/ Stop all this nonsense!”

Personne 1: “Il y aura une autre grève demain matin”

Personne 2: “Bof, n’importe quoi” 

Person 1: There will be another strike tomorrow morning

Person 2: Ugh, craziness. 

Black in Europe

“Ugh I didn’t like France. French people are racist”“Go to Italy! They’re so friendly and I hear they love black women”“Do Germans even have black people outside of the military?”

It’s something almost every black traveller fathoms before venturing abroad. How will my blackness be perceived in this predominantly non-black space? It’s a valid concern. At best, our otherness might put us on a flattering pedestal. At worst, we might get mistreated. Even traveling to remote areas of the U.S you will find people that stare at you and ask aggravating questions like “Can I touch your hair?”. I certainly wondered about how I’d fare as a black woman before moving to France. 

But this post is really not just about me. Yes I am black. Yes I am in Europe. But that really doesn’t make me special. Because even though only a small percentage of African Americans travel to Europe yearly, there are tens of millions of black people that are already there: Afro-Europeans. 

Black people don’t just live in Africa and the United States. Thanks (but like, no thanks) to colonialism, the African diaspora truly reaches some of the most unlikely corners of the earth. Most African Americans make the mistake of assuming that we are the only group of african descendants living as the underrepresented, mistreated, systematically oppressed minorities in predominantly white spaces. Tell that to the 55 million Afro-Brazilians. Or the millions of black descendants in the UK, Italy, and France. 

But our egocentricism isn’t entirely our fault. I, too, had no idea exactly how many black and brown people lived in Europe until I came here. I assumed based on films, television, and images I had seen growing up that Europe is one homogenous white continent. Full of sameness with very little variation of color or culture (or at least not culture from an ethnic standpoint). It’s the invisible diversity of Europe. In the same way African-Americans lack representation in almost all facets of our society, Afro-Europeans lack it even more. 

I had met a lot of people my first couple of months in France but I still felt something was missing. I yearned to connect with people that were like-minded. People in which I had an inevitable bond with. In short, I needed to make black friends. It sounds silly to some but anyone a part of a minority group in some way (race, sexuality, etc) understands this desire. 

The problem was never the lack of black people, but how to organically make friends with them. Making friends as an adult is not an easy feat. When you’re a kid it’s so easy! All you have to do is say this: 

But how do you tell a random person you think they’re kinda cool and we should hang out in the most platonic way possible without being creepy? 

Several months later and I’ve met friends of friends, connected with random people through social media, and have even joined a Black Expats in Paris meet-up. By speaking with people I’ve gathered quite a few perspectives. 

African Americans are both admired and envied in France. Believe it or not, we have the type of global visibility not afforded to others of the African Diaspora. African Americans are the examples of cool, the creators of pop culture. Our celebrities are their celebrities, our favorite TV shows are their favorites too. African Americans are vocal in periods of inequality and reactionary during times of social injustice. Mike Brown & Trayvon Martin are not only names uttered on American soil. “I Have a Dream” is familiar to all European ears, the “Black Lives Matter” cry has been heard around world and the Civil Rights Movement is a part of their curriculum just as much as ours. In short, the Black American experience has left a definite mark in world history. 

For Black Europeans, however, their history tends to get shoved under the rug. I am not AT ALL an expert on this topic but here is a concise history of European colonization in Africa in my own words. 

**Anndi’s Quick and Over-simplified History on the Conquest of Africa**

In the late 1800s, several European countries such as the UK, France, and Portugal had set up port cities in Africa for trading goods and resources. Everything was cool until this dude named King Leopold II of Belgium was like, “you know what would be awesome? My own territory in the Congo”. So homeboy sliced out a chunk of the Congo for his own PERSONAL benefit, not even in the name of Belgium. The other European powers (UK, France, Italy, Portugal, and Germany) started to freak out and thought, “Damn my ego is super big, how can I make it bigger?”. So they had a meeting in Germany, found a map of Africa, and literally cut the continent apart like slices of pizza. It’s worth mentioning that none of the African countries in question were invited to said pizza party. So NINETY PERCENT of the continent was colonized without permission, MILLIONS of Africans were forced into labor, resources were exploited, men were killed, women were raped, children were maimed, feuding ethnic groups were mixed…all under the guise that they were “saving uncivilized savages from eternal damnation”.

Flash forward several decades and the European Powers finally started to leave. Whether they left on their own accord or were driven out by revolutionary groups, the heinous effects of imperialism are evident for several African countries by way of corrupt governments, tireless civil wars, and psychological trauma.

**The End** ….Except not the end because these heinous effects still linger. 

I’ve noticed a slight lack in community for Afro-French people. For African-Americans, there’s this idea of fictive kinship. I may not know you from Adam, but if we are the only two black people within a predominantly white space then we will acknowledge one another. But that’s only on a micro-level. On a macro-scale, we have become masters of creating spaces for ourselves. Hair salons & barbershops, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, BET Network, NAACP… we have a black national anthem!! All with the intent of uplifting and strengthening one another, for validating our place in a society not made for us. 

But our sense of community derives from our shared experiences. Many of our ancestors were slaves. Many of our living relatives grew up in segregation. For France, and many other European countries, the experiences of black europeans, while similar, are not identical nor are they shared. At any rate, its hard to have a sense of community when you don’t even know how many people of African descent live in your country. Apparently, taking an ethnic census is constitutionally banned in France. 

For Afro-french people, they’re not bound together by race as much as their family origins. If you’re a black woman from Guadeloupe, you might feel a bigger bond to people from the West Indies than to those from West Africa. Honestly, I envy greatly that Afro-Europeans know exactly where they come from and even have family that still live in those countries. I have never felt so shameful about not knowing my roots until moving here. Every time I meet an Afro-french person for the first time, the conversation goes as follows.

Them: So where are you from?

Me: I’m from the U.S!

Them: Yeah, I know. But like where are you really from?

Me: Washington, DC. 

Them: What’s your family origin I mean to say.

Me: Um…I don’t know? My ancestors were slaves so…

Them: …..

Me: …..Nice meeting you! 

In general, there’s this idea that black people are never really from whatever predominantly white country they reside in. Afro-french people can be born and raised in Paris and never feel or be seen as “french”. Even when I meet White Europeans, they are generally skeptical about my origin story but for a different reason. Because I have a lighter skin tone than most Afro-french, many assume that I am “métisse” or mixed. During my trip to Italy, an italian man told me “You’re beautiful. I love mulatto women”. The assumption really bothers me because black and beautiful are not mutually exclusive concepts homeboy! But I do love their faces of disappointment when I tell them I am proudly, undeniably, 100% BLACK. 

But let’s discuss some positives, for there are many. While Black French don’t organize against injustices in the same way we do, that doesn’t mean they aren’t having these important conversations. The Afro-fem movement seems to be really big here. I’ve seen countless articles, youtube videos, tweets, and have even been invited to conferences by Afro-feminists to discuss the interesting balance of race and gender. 

I’ve met so many black french women who are smart and woke. Clever and funny. Women who want to be a voice for their community. Women who are artists, poets, and singers. Women who are beautiful inside and out. Women who are writers. Women who are fly. Women who are college educated. Women who want to uplift and strengthen their fellow sisters. Women who want to be a vessel for serious change in their society. 

So don’t sleep on Afro-Europeans. They have a very real place in our world. 

I would be remiss not to mention the Strolling Series by Cecile Emeke, which was in truth my personal introduction to Afro-European voices. Cecile Emeke is a British woman who brilliantly decided to film black individuals across the African diaspora. The result? Unraveling the generalized blanket of our black experiences into singular, personal threads of testimony. Emeke has filmed in the Netherlands, Italy, Jamaica, and many other countries and its widespread appeal has garnered a huge Youtube following. Of course, you’ll hear the familiar stories of micro-agressions, respectability politics, and self-love affirmation. But you’ll also hear views on mental health, sexual orientation & expression, capitalism, veganism, colonial reparations, and a plethora of other subjects not often heard from black standpoints. 

If you’re interested, I would start with one of my three favorites: Two Black Friends in France , One Black Male Feminist from the UK, or A Black Actress in London

So what does it mean to be Black in Europe? I have the same answer for someone who would ask what its like to be black in the U.S. There is no simple answer. The culture, the attitudes, the ideas, the joys, the struggles of black people are not monolithic. They are varied. They are nuanced. They may intersect but they don’t coalesce. 

I write this to say there is more to the black experience than what you have experienced personally. I think its important not only to have conversations on blackness within the US but in a global context as well. And lets remind ourselves that as Black Americans, our global visibility gives us a certain level of privilege. The next time you say #BlackLivesMatter, mentally expand that demand outside of North America. When you think of the black community, challenge yourself to think beyond your own borders. 

And if you’re able, travel abroad. Talk to people. Have these discussions. Your eyes and minds will open wider than you know. 

How to Upgrade Your French

So you’re in France talking to real french people. You think you’re prepared with all your years of classes at school, but soon you realize you sound like a textbook robot. Here are some ways to upgrade your french and sound a little more fluent. In the words of the great Beyonce: 

1. Instead of Comment ça va?,  Try ça va?

I’ve already talked about why ça va is a great expression. It’s all encompassing, you can take it in several different ways. It literally translates as “It’s going?”. French people tend to lean towards this relaxed, familiar expression than its more formal counterpart. 

*Bonus points: Try  ça y est?

2. Instead of Qu’est-ce que c’est?,  Try C’est quoi ça?

In general, it is more common in spoken french to form a question like this. “Qu’est-ce que”, “Est-ce que” “Qui est-ce qui” and all of its other cousins are said more for formality or politeness. You wouldn’t use them around your friends. So next time form your question like this: Subject + Verb + Question Word.

Par Exemple:

Qu’est-ce que tu aimes faire? —–>Tu aimes faire quoi? 

Où est-ce qu’elle travaille? ——> Elle travaille où? 

3.Instead of ici,Try 

Technically,  means there. But in spoken french, it often substitutes ici to mean here. It’s a nuance in proximity, which makes a huge difference in english, but doesn’t at all in french.

Par Exemple:

Personne 1:“[Au Téléphone] Bonjour. Je pourrais parler à Pierre?” 

Personne 2: “Désolé, mais il n’est pas là”

4. Instead of mes amis, Try mes copains/mes potes

I rarely hear french people refer to a friend as un ami. Copain or copine is the most supported by all ages and pote is usually reserved for young people. Be careful with copain/copine for it can have a more boyfriend/girlfriend connotation. 

Funny Sidestory: I once told this random guy hitting on me that I was waiting for my copine. He immediately asked if I was a lesbian. Whoops. 

5.Instead of Allons-y,Try On y va

Despite what your textbook taught you, Allons-y is a lame thing to say. For starters, no one uses the subject “nous” and allons-y is the imperative form of “nous”. If someone says it, they’re probably saying it ironically. Instead of “nous”, people say “on” so naturally On y va is a much cooler way to say “lets go!”. 

Par Exemple:

“On est prêt de partir? On y va alors!”

Part 2 Coming Soon! Until Next Time

Cultural Differences Part 3: French vs. American Girls

*Disclaimer: The following list is full of stereotypes….that happen to have a little bit of truth to them

1. Eating On-the-Go

American Girls:

French Girls:

It’s simply not done. 

2. Smiling

American Girls:

French Girls: 

They don’t. (Unless of course you’re best friends) 

3. Giving a random person a compliment

American Girls:

French Girls:

Apparently, complimenting another woman you’re not friends with is considered creepy. Whoops.

4. On Meeting New People

American Girls:

French Girls:

Europeans in general accuse Americans of being over-the-top friendly. 

5. Waiting for your french friend

American Girl:

Still the American Girl (Several Hours Later):

On time is not in the french vocabulary. In fact in many cases, it’s considered culturally polite to be tardy. See why here

6. On Dating 

French Girls after 6 days

American Girls after 6 years:

Let’s try to find a middle ground. 

7. On Makeup

American Girls: 

French Girls:

Seriously I feel like RuPaul outchea! But a little foundation wouldn’t kill ya’ll…

8. Dressing Up to Run Errands

French Girls:

American Girls:

Are we the only ones that do groceries in our sweatpants? 

9. Healthy Healthing 

French Girls:

American Girls:

But seriously, where’s my donut. 

10. On Working Out

American Girls:

French Girls:

I’m pretty sure french women have never set foot in a gym. But how do you stay so thin?! 

11. A Night Out

American Girl:

French Girl: