Language Learning, Babies & Blogstalking, and Movies in Paris


Peter Pan and Wendy on a carousel near M° Convention in the 15th arrondissement.

I hope everyone had a good weekend! I am back after a couple of days’ hiatus from this blog, ready for Week 2 of the NaNoWriMo November Writing Challenge.  My goal is to have written at least 50,000 words on this blog in the month of November. NaNoWriMo is supposed to be a challenge for people to complete a novel. While I love to write and I tried to complete a novel last year, this year as NaNo approached, I was not going to do it because I was not feeling inspired to write a work of fiction. I understand, though, that the point of NaNo is to  just do the writing and I thought, “Perhaps if I simply begin, something will emerge, like a statue coming out of stone.”

I am an admirer of  memoir writing, I love autobiographical authors such as David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs. To me, there is nothing more interesting and funny than a person writing about his or her life in a humorous, touching, and/or authentic way. It’s probably why I like reading and writing blogs so much.

Anyway, it seemed kind of silly for me to become full of angst over wanting to participate in NaNoWriMo but excluding myself from the challenge because I did not have something “fictional enough” about which to write. The idea of writing my *own* life for the month of November made me feel really excited and thinking things like, “I can DO that!” So here you go. I am calling this “fictionalized memoir,” for whose life is *not* a work of fiction some days, I ask? It’s probably a “fiction of omission” more than my altering things so they are no longer factual. And I am prone, of course, to a little hyperbole, but who isn’t? 🙂

So there you go. Week 2 Begins. I have written 20,504 words so far, and need at least 4,496 word by the end of this week to be on schedule. I am hoping, however, at this point, to carry the writing further, into the 75k range, if possible.  I think it is.

Today’s Topics:

  • Language Learning
  • Babies & Blogstalking
  • Movies in Paris

Language Learning

I have lived in Paris for 17 months and I speak appallingly little French. I no longer feel badly about this, however, because of the aforementioned David Sedaris’ latest book, now in paperback, and which I purchased a couple of weeks ago at WH Smith, also when I went to get some more Ladurée macarons.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames is a collection of essays written from first person perspective and include such topics as David’s neighbor in Normandy and how he quit smoking.

I just made the awfully witty and very sardonic Sedaris sound like the most boring thing ever!

Here. It’s often better to show rather than tell.

First, if you have a chance, watch David Sedaris on The David Letterman Show. David Sedaris reads from his book the portion from which the title comes.

Next, here is an excerpt, part of the chapter entitled “The Man in The Hut,” a story about a neighbor in David and his boyfriend Hugh’s Normandy village:

With no one to maintain it, the house that was ugly became even uglier. Our neighbors across the road would often comment on what an eyesore it was, and while agreeing, I’d lament the sorry state of my French. Oh, my comprehension had improved — I could understand just about everything that was said to me — but when it came to speaking I tended (and still do) to freeze up. It wouldn’t hurt me to be more social, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. The phone rings and I avoid it. Neighbors knock and I duck into the bedroom or crouch behind the daybed until they’ve left. How different things might be, I think, if, like Jackie [the resident of the ugly house and who was recently jailed] , I had no more hiding places. Though harsh in other respects, prison would be an excellent place to learn a foreign language — total immersion, and you’d have the new slang even before it hits the streets. Unlike the French school that I actually attended, this one, when it came to verbs, would likely start with the imperative: “Bend over.” “Take it.” That kind of thing….

If I spent as much time speaking to my neighbors as I do practicing imaginary conversations int he prison crafts center, I’d be fluent by now and could quit making excuses for myself. As it is, whenever someone asks how long I’ve been in France, I wonder if it’s possible to literally die of shame. “I’m away a lot,” I always say. “Two and a half months a year in America, and at least two in England, sometimes more.”

“Yes, but how long ago did you come to France?”


“I asked, ‘How. Long. Have. You. Been. In. France?”

Then I might say, “I love chicken,” or “Big bees can be dangerous,” anything to change the subject.”

(When You Are Engulfed in Flames, UK Abacus paperback edition, pages 179-181.)

Since reading that story a couple of days ago, I have become obsessed with the most correct way to say “Big bees can be dangerous.” It sounds like such a great way to get people off the subject of my not knowing French and/or trying to talk to me. Similarly, when I first got here, I thought it would be kind of interesting/quirky/helpful to know how to say, in French, “I am deaf” and then say it like I am Marlee Matlin speaking French, you know, like a hearing impaired person might say it, and then whoever was trying to talk to me would just nod and go away. Saying “je suis sourd” (zhuh soo-ee soor) was so much less of a mouthful than “je ne parle pas français” (zhuh nuh pahrl pah frahn-say), a phrase I still tongue-trip over. “Big bees can be dangerous.” I like that as a distracting tactic. I need to find out how easy it is to say, though.

I just Googled, “How long has David Sedaris been in France?” (lol) and I came up with some interesting articles.

Here is a Q & A with David from a site called The interview is here. This predates his quitting smoking, so it has to be at least two to three years old. (I read the article carefully and he mentions “francs.” The euro was put into use in France in 2002. I’m guessing the article must be about 8 or 9 years old.) has In the Words of David Sedaris from 2007 in which it states: “You bought an apartment in Paris about six years ago and have written quite a bit about your experiences there. What drew you to the France?”

*cracking up at the Franglish (fractured Frenchified English), “the France.”*

The Salt Lake Tribune has an interview with David most recently updated in October 2009 stating Sedaris currently lives in France. “What’s the biggest difference between you and your friends in France, where you currently live?”

The New Yorker held a Q & A session with David on August 19, 2009, “Ask the Author.” Pat Donohue, a New Yorker reader from Point Pleasant, New Jersey, asked David, “As a resident of France and an American citizen, your point of view on health care in the two nations is of interest to those of us who have never received medical treatment via a system such as France’s…”

David’s answer is really informative as well as witty. At the end of his response, however, he writes, “Now I live in England. I’ve just been granted Indefinite Leave To Remain, which allows me access to the N.H.S.”

From what I can piece together of David’s life, he must have spent time in France in the 1980s, studied French in the mid-to-late 1990’s (from which stories about his French language learning experiences appear in Me Talk Pretty One Day, published in 2000), bought a Parisian apartment in 2001 or so, and at some point in the past eight years, David has become a resident in England as well. Even the excerpt I quoted above, Sedaris writes that he lives in New York and England in addition to France, so I understand he is multinational.

I guess I am just wondering what the odds are that I might run into him on the street or something while in Paris. I suppose the major “it’s never going to happen” argument is because I don’t really go out of the house very much, heh. I fantasize, however, about meeting my two favorite (currently) gay men in the world, David Lebovitz and David Sedaris. Karin’s Fantasy: to have lunch in Paris in a really swanky place where they can make me a tasty gluten-free, dairy-free lunch with David S. on one side, and David L. on the other, both of them making me laugh until the champagne we are drinking comes out my nose.

In the meantime, I have David Sedaris’ book to thank for helping me not feel so retarded because I can still barely squeak out the words, laden with irony, “Je ne parle pas français.” I don’t speak French.

Babies & Blogstalking

I was just about to start on the next segment of the blog when I thought, “I wonder if the other Paris Expat Personality I Stalk and Fantasize Most About Meeting has had her baby yet.

She has indeed. I just Twitterstalked Catherine Sanderson’s (petite anglaise’s) Twitter and her husband’s Facebook photos (which she linked), and it looks like she gave birth to Baby Jack on or about November 3, right about the time of the full moon! Congratulations, Catherine, Manuel, and Tadpole on the beautiful new addition in your lives.

I just requested an “Add” of Catherine at FB, too, on a kind of whim. It makes me feel a little like a stalker and like I wonder if my motives are pure. I’m trying to figure out how to write my feelings accurately here. It’s like this: I think that if I were her, I would be a bit suspect of anyone I don’t know/have not met trying to friend me on a place like FB. Like, I would wonder if the person were just trying to touch a bit of fame and so on from having an association with me. With her. Oh, you know what I mean. It’s like my leaving what I think are witty and fun comments on David Lebovitz’s blog hoping people will click on my linked name and visit mine. There is a part of me that feels it is practical to do such a thing when you want people to visit your blog, but then there is a part of me that feels it is kind of smarmy and usurious — riding coattails, as it were. Thing is, people DO visit my blog because I comment on his, like Karen, who wrote the amazing comment that she did after reading my blogs, and it becomes a nice, life-enhancing thing. If a little creepy, lol. (I just mean in the sense of how we can really ALL stalk one another on the ‘net, and write things to one another in this way.)

Maybe I worry too much about this kind of thing.

I hope she accepts the “Add.” 😀

Movies in Paris

I also have David Sedaris to thank for helping me not feel like being a schmuck in not doing more here in the City of Light.

From Me Talk Pretty One Day, “The City of Light in the Dark”:

When asked to account for the time I have spent in Paris, I reach for my carton of ticket stubs and groan beneath its weight. I’ve been here more than a year, and while I haven’t seen the Louvre or the Pantheon, I have seen The Alamo and The Bridge Over the River Kwai. I haven’t made it to Versailles but did manage to catch Okalhoma!, Brazil, and Nashville. Aside from an occasional trip to the flea market, my knowledge of Paris is limited to what I learned in Gigi.

(UK Abacus paperback edition, page 205.)

The rest of the story is Sedaris’ account of the experience of seeing movies in Paris and how wonderful it is.

Paris is a huge cinephiliac city (*wondering if “cinephiliac” is a word. I mean “people in Paris really like movies” but I was trying to be sophisticated in saying so) . Read the Wikipedia article on Cinephilia. “Perhaps the most notable cinephilic community of the 20th century was the one that developed in Paris in the decades following World War II.” There are dozens of movie theaters in Paris, and two multi-screen venues within a 5 minute walk of our apartment. PJ purchased a special subscription where at two of France’s largest cinema chains, the MK2 and UGC theater groups, he and another person can go to see unlimited movies for 35 € per month. One film is about 10 € per person per séance (which means “session” or “showtime” but always for me conjures up people sitting at a rounded table with a turbaned medium calling upon the dead), so if PJ and I go to two films together in a month, the subscription has been worthwhile.


Movie poster for Away We Go in the Métro station, Ternes, 17th.

In the last month, PJ and I have seen

  • The Informant
  • Mary and Max
  • Funny People
  • The Descent, Part 2
  • The Proposal
  • Le Petit Nicolas
  • Jennifer’s Body
  • Whiteout
  • Surrogates
  • Michael Jackson’s This Is It
  • Away We Go
  • The Box, and
  • Saw VI.

Yeah, with the last one, Saw VI, I wish I hadn’t, heh, but it wasn’t like it cost us a lot or anything. We’d already had made use of the passes once we got to Funny People on the list.


Movie poster for The Box in the Métro station, Ternes, 17th.

As David Sedaris points out about Parisian theaters in Me Talk Pretty One Day, they are quiet. No one tries to use his or her cell phone, no one has an unending and loud conversation with the person sitting next to him or her. People are very polite in movie theaters, as they are in all most walks of French life, by and large.

The movies are all shown in English — or whatever the original language of the movie is — with French subtitles, except for kids’ movies, which are shown during daytime and evening hours in dubbed French, but in their original language with subtitles at night showings.

Living full-time in another culture and country is not an easy thing. I think people who have never done it dream that they might fully integrate quickly and easily, but until a person has actually gone deep into day-to-day living in another country, I don’t really think he or she realizes what a challenge it is. This is not my first time to live as an expat in another place. I did it for a semester of high school in England (which is significantly culturally unique from the United States, even if the language is essentially the same, that there is sometimes stress from the cultural differences), I did it for a year teaching English in China. I have found in those experiences that a person needs frequent breaks and experiences of things that are close enough to one’s culture of origin so as to feel fortified to go for another round of feeling like a fish out of water. Or, to be less clichéd and not politically correct at all, like a retard off the short bus.

I mean, I pretty much feel retarded and different from other people in my *own* culture, you can imagine what it is like to be doubly so. I guess at least I am used to it. 🙂

I can sit in the theater and pretend that I am in the United States, that I am 14 years old again, when life really was *not* as complicated as I thought it was, and when I would sit with a Coke in one hand, a popcorn between my legs, and a box of Junior Mints or Good ‘n’ Plenty in the other hand, all purchased with my babysitting money.

Well, it’s almost like that.

I cannot eat a lot of movie food that they have in either American or Parisian movie theaters these days because of my food intolerances, but on and off I have been trying to eat popcorn to see if I have a reaction to corn or not. I know popcorn is gluten-free and dairy-free at least, so I am avoiding the major food  offenders, I know. Here’s what I learned about movie snacks in Paris, though.

With the movie The Informant up there, I first went to see it alone before going a second time with PJ, who also wanted to see it. There was one time when this would have been an impossibility for me here in Paris because of fear and axiety with getting out alone, but about a month ago, I grew a pair and went all by myself. PJ stayed out late after work on a Friday night, and I was not sure when he was going to be back home (the kids were not with us on that particular weekend, either) and I decided, “What the heck. I just have to say the name of the movie, the number one (for one place at the séance *snicker*), say “please” (always say “please” in France), and fork over the cash. Nothing hard about that!”

It kind of worked out that way, but when I took my ticket inside to gain entry to the screen, the gentleman taking tickets said something very polite in French, but he said it fast and I understood from the way he handed my ticket back to me that The Informant was not yet being seated. I said d’accord (“okay”) not really knowing to what I was saying “okay” (which made me feel like a retard) but then remembered they had lines out front with the salle (room/theater) numbers on signs so one can line up according to the movie he or she is seeing until seating begins (ahh, back to being a smart chick!).

I waited in line until the show was seated, and then I thought, “I want a snack.” I know how to say, “I would like…” It works just like in English where you can say “I would like something” and use a noun, or “I would like to something” and use a verb. I was pretty sure that “popcorn” was “popcorn” in French, too, but pronounced like Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, and I had recently learned that fizzy water à la Perrier is l’eau gazeous, gassy water, so I figured I could get something to eat and drink.

As soon as I said “Bon soir. Je voudrais un popcorn, s’il vous plait” to the college-age looking kid manning the concessions, he pegged me for a non-native French speaker (I think he might have recognized me from when PJ and I have been there before, too), he switched to English, and asked me if I wanted salt with the popcorn. Or something like that. I heard him say, “Do you want salt?” and I just wanted it plain, so I replied, in English, “No, nothing, please.” He scooped up the popcorn, put it in a small cardboard tub and then I asked for a San Pelligrino, which is the fizzy water they sell at the theater, handed over the cash, and made my way to find a seat. It’s about 5-6 € for all that not-very-much stuff. I try not to convert to dollars in my head anymore, or I flip out, but just so you have a basis for comparison, that’s about nine bucks for the smallest size popcorn – the container would hold about 30 fluid ounces, probably – and a 16 ounce drink in a plastic bottle.

PJ has long legs, he sometimes cries in movies, and he also shows up at the theater at the last possible moment before the movie starts a lot of times. He therefore  likes to sit in the middle of the very front row, where he can always get a seat, where no one can see tears if it is a movie that provokes them, and where his legs will not cramp up. I have always loved what I call “the middle of the middle,” the center of the theater. To be smack dab in the center feels balanced to me, and so on this independent evening, I went for it — right in the middle of the middle.

I was nice and early for the movie, in a comfy middling seat. I decided to nibble on the popcorn.

*munch, munch*

I remember thinking, “You know, this popcorn tastes kind of sweet,” but also thinking it was my imagination at first. As I kept eating, though, I realized, “This popcorn is *definitely* sweet” and wondered if sugar had accidentally been sprinkled on the plain popcorn. It was not bad, just unexpected and therefore kind of weird. I did not think too hard about it, though, and let it go out-of-mind as some kind of fluke.

A couple of weeks later, I was reading Australian writer Bryce Corbett’s book A Town Like Paris where he mentions getting popcorn in a movie theater and how there is salée, salted popcorn, and sucré, sweetened popcorn. There is no such thing as plain popcorn in a movie theater. Nor, much to PJ’s chagrin, buttered popcorn.

Ya learn something new everyday!

In the past couple of weeks, I have been eating some sweetened popcorn at the movies. It has really grown on me. But, I think I am going to have to quit. I have been noticing after eating it that I am getting headaches and what my best friend calls “allergy tummy,” which is kind of like PMS bloating only really high up at the top of one’s belly. Sugared, salted, buttered, or not, I don’t think popcorn and I are doing so well right now. I think I will have to go back to sneaking in rice cakes in my purse.

With that last paragraph, I have just over 3,700 words and two stories about my life in Paris. I think I will stop for today, catch up on some other reading and writing things on the Web, and some housework (le ménage), which is neverending, and should be an upcoming topic for this blog soon. I have more photos I have wanted to share on this topic.

Until tomorrow, then, be well. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.

Over and out.

Categories: Language Learning, Life in Paris, Movies in Paris, NaNoWriMo, Paris Blogging, Personal Life | Tags: , , , , , ,

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8 thoughts on “Language Learning, Babies & Blogstalking, and Movies in Paris

  1. pariskarin

    Ah ha!! I needed to read further. The reporter in this interview of David Sedaris asks him exactly: “How long have you been living in France?”

    As of 2008, he says, “10 years.” And it says his time is divided between London and Paris — so you never know! I just might run into him in a movie theater or something!! 😀

  2. aimee maher

    Great blog! You make me want to come there soooo badly. You know anyone who wants to get married for a green card and swap apartments? lol…

    I think I hear the Police horns blaring.

    • pariskarin

      *neee noooo neee nooooo*

      Hmmm. I will have to keep my eyes and ears open. So far, I seem to be very simpatico with the gay male community here (lol), but who knows? We might be able to get you set up!!

  3. Jeff

    Hey woman! Just poking my nose in where it doesn’t belong…

    A couple things:
    1) Kudos on doing NaNo. Wendy and Joey are both attempting it. Me…not so much. My fear is that the two or three ideas floating around in my head aren’t fully baked, and I’m afraid of somehow wasting them. I realize that’s not the point of NaNo; maybe it’s just a cover for some other deep-seated psychological issues 😉
    2) Did you ever get “Sweet Life in Paris”? I think you were looking for it a few posts back. It’s a good read. Kinda short, but it has a bunch of good recipes. Sorry to push anything with gluten, but Double Chocolate Crepes? Come on!! Smeared w/Nutella, they are oh so good.
    3) “my two favorite (currently) gay men in the world” – Are you implying that you can convince them to switch teams? (tee hee).


    • pariskarin

      Hi Jeff!! Thank you so much for coming by and leaving a comment!
      1) Thank you. I know exactly what you mean about not wanting to waste the ideas, lol. I still dare you to try NaNo next year. It really is a fun excuse to tell people, “But I cannot do X, I am writing!!” and to drink lots of coffee. 😀
      2) I am hoping to get it for X-Mas if Santa is real. LOL. I really do plan to pick it up when it is in paperback eventually, if not before.
      3) LOL — I realized that was ambiguously-written after I posted, and then thought, “Aw, I shall leave it alone.” 😀 I have a feeling they are solidly playing for their own team, but if they want a cheerleader, I would be glad to root them along! They are such fun guys in writing, and I have a feeling fun in person, too.

  4. PJ

    You forgot another advantage of the front row: No one sitting close to you, invading your personal space!

    Another wonderful read, m’dear. Thanks!

    • pariskarin

      Oh yes, that is another good reason, true, and especially important in France in the summertime, IMHO. Thank you for reading, Peej.

  5. Pingback: 2012, Wallace Fountains, Good Reads, and Coffee « An Alien Parisienne

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