Tu crois que tu sais danser?

June 22, 2009 at 9:59 PM | Posted in Musings, Paris 2009 | 1 Comment

French television cracks me up. Right now I’m watching “So you think you can dance?” dubbed into French. It’s great because I can really understand it (well, as much as I can understand anything), but it just feels so funny to hear perfect French coming out of the “mouths” of some very unlikely people (not that there’s a type to speak perfect French, but what usually comes to mind isn’t, for example, overly tanned Miami Beach diva types or a slightly out-of-shape dad wearing sweat socks pulled up to his knees, red tortoise-shell glasses, a tucked-in sweatshirt, and shoulder-length hair)

Although my French is really progressing, it’s been pretty hard. I feel like I have so much to learn that my class frustrates me sometimes, because on some days–like today–I feel like I don’t learn anything new. Often we learn a little and reinforce it over and over, which I know is really important, but when I have such a long way to go, and when I need to know it now, and when the class is not cheap, I just want to learn as much as I can, as fast as possible.  That being said, I really have learned a lot in the past week, our teacher is great, and my French is worlds better now than it was at this time last week.

But then I get to work and it feels like understanding 50% of what is going on in meetings is not enough.  Today we had a reunion (meeting) with Marcel (the head of the lab at INSERM and my French thesis advisor), Grace (the post-doc from Harvard whom I work and live with), and a few other people from the INSERM group, to talk about our project for the summer, which will turn into my dissertation.  Everyone spoke slowly, for my benefit (except when the conversation got heated or exciting, when everyone would start talking at once and my head started jerking around to watch people talk as if I were a deranged puppet), and at points I was ecstatic to really know what was going on.  But there were some really technical pieces for which I had absolutely no idea what people were talking about, or key words that I didn’t know and without which I couldn’t anchor myself in the conversation and know what to listen for.  I know that after six four-hour French classes I should not expect myself–nor does anyone expect me–to be fluent or even conversant.  And everyone is really understanding–Marcel periodically checked in with me to make sure I knew what was going on, and he would explain in English if necessary, as would Grace–but it is hard to be sitting in a meeting about something which I am passionate, and on which I will be working for the next two to three years, and not be able to ask questions in real time or have more than a basic understanding of the topic at hand.  Especially when some of the most exciting parts are in the details and subtleties, which are often lost on me even when I grasp the general idea.  Rather than feeling proud of myself for getting to a point where I actually get the gist of what is going on, I feel frustrated that I can’t get more than that.  I just want to wake up one day (preferably tomorrow) and be magically able to speak and understand!

But it’s nothing that can’t be remedied by a pistachio-flavored mini financier (a honey-almond cake the size of the first knuckle of your thumb, which is like an incredibly moist and flavorful muffin) from Eric Kayser.  I’ve had regular-sized financiers before, but the mini ones are brilliant because of the perfect ratio of crust to inside, and the fact that you can get your patisserie fix without feeling weighted down.  And at about €0.20 each, they are a quite reasonable indulgence!


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  1. Sounds frustrating…wanting so badly to be fluent, but having to go through the necessary hoops to get there. I am so glad that little sweets ease the pain just a tad. And I am sure that by the time we arrive on Thursday, you will be a regulah French speaking fille/femme/whatever! Et, tres tres tres jolie!

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