Improving my French

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Nobody but nobody can help themselves from saying “oh, Nice is nice.” Maybe it’s because when people think of Nice, they’re thinking of palm trees and truly azure-blue skies and seas, streets in the shade of faded Great Gatsby-era glamour, warmth, the pleasant mix of dreadlocked hippies and well-dressed locals in gold jewellery and crisp shirts and tourists who might try to copy the French Riviera look but will never succeed, the open-air market where the vendors tell these tourists the price of their wares in whatever number they can think of in English at the time (usually conveniently rounded up), fresh-baked everything , the pebbly beach on the city’s edge where an American girl is going topless, self-consciously, while lithe French teenagers who don’t make any distinction between street clothes and beachwear sunbathe beside women who answer their phones and in nicotine-stained voices tell their callers that they are “sur la plage-uh,” which judging by the quality of their skin—crispy, mahogany—is exactly where they’ve been every day for the past sixty years.

Or maybe people say “oh, Nice is nice” because it’s just too irresistible not to describe a city called Nice as nice.

At any rate, it really is nice and we’re going! For the fourth time, thanks to a house deposit that we feel is better spent on “experiences” rather than “things,” like a house.

Besides debating with myself, as I do every time before we go to Nice, about whether or not to apply fake tan (go on, it’ll take the edge off the whiteness/ what’s the point? the inevitable tell-tale signs around the ankles will just make me and my effort to cover up my heritage and the climate of my homeland even more pathetic), I’ve been working on improving my French, which like fake tan, has zero chance of helping me fit in any better, my accent being as Irish as my skin, but at least the ability to speak French puts me in a different class of tourist, a classier class, if you will.

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Don’t need no fake tan

How have I been improving my French? By watching YouTube videosof gorgeous French girls applying their make-up, that’s how. I find these videos completely engrossing, in a way that if I didn’t know they were a “thing,” i.e. that other people watch them too, I’d feel  funny about this pastime as there’s something unsettlingly intimate about being part of someone else’s toilette. Still, somewhat queasy feelings aside, I’m learning loads, from key vocabulary (“make-up” is make-up in French!) to pronunciation soop-ehrr (“super”), heeep-ehrrr (“hyper”), oool-trra (“ultra”), to broader cultural lessons about the so-called effortless French-girl look actually taking a good amount of effort.

I’m also prone to strrreet sty-uhl videos where very young twenty-somethings describe each item of their outfit. Very useful stuff.

And just to make sure, I checked and Thomas Mars is still my boyfriend. So, I’ve been watching this and this en boucle, as well as letting him teach me French here. Any excuse. This particular crush of mine drives Joseph mad, for some reason. Our conversations go like this:

Joseph: Ugh, so he’s the tortured poet of the band, I suppose? Uh, uh, uh. (That would be Joseph’s imitation of a tortured French poet.)

Me: (Dreamy-eyed, sighing) Yeah. Isn’t he soooo lettres modernes?

Joseph: (Silence)

Me: You know he’s just a French version of you!

Joseph: Really. (No question mark.)

I’m hoping that all of this intense preparation is not in vain. How can it be? I now know how to pronounce beauty product names like sooblime-uh seeelk perfexion and use non-verbal interjections like pffff and that spitty raspberry blowing sound that I can’t find letters to match. I’m well on my way. Or so I think. I know that when I get there I’ll be all flummoxed, like Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise when he’s describing the anxiety of having studied French for years only to arrive in France and not be able to do something seemingly straightforward (it’s never straightforward) like buy a train ticket. My favourite part of that scene is how Julie Delpy corrects his grammar because argh! it’s so French.

At any rate, I don’t intend to dedicate too much time to my anxieties surrounding the French language in Nice this year as I plan on lying on the beach in my factor 50, reading books and Elle magazines, drinking rosé, and speaking to no one. Unless I’m fortunate enough again to get caught in an undercurrent that tumbles me over, cutting my knee on benign-looking pebbles so that I have to hobble up, bleeding, to a grouchy hottie lifeguard (who despite being a lifeguard, has not seen me go under, nor has motioned to come and rescue me) and have an exchange wherein he realises I have enough French for him to get by without having to resort to his worse English and then he goes on to put a plaster on my knee, like I’m a five year old.

As for Boone, he thinks that what we really need to do to prepare for our holidays is paint our toenails pink and “keep our socks off!” Done and done, mon p’tit gars.

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4 thoughts on “Improving my French

  1. P.S. Though I am NOT suggesting that you drop Joseph, after makeup videos, getting a French boyfriend is still the best way to improve your French… .

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