Offrir du tofu au diable

After my little bout of existential crisis / self pity, I’m much better. Thanks for your concern :-)

I went to Gergö’s bank and they accepted the lease as proof of address and the other document I needed was something I could print out myself. And I did it all in French to boot. I’m half way through bureaucracy jungle, I believe.

Plus, I am really enjoying my French classes at the moment, I learn a lot and I feel like the progress between Christmas and today was much bigger than between October and Christmas.

Last week, we talked about figures of speech and everyone had to mime one they were assigned. Everyone else had to guess the figure of speech and then the meaning of it.

I used to hate miming, when playing Activity, for example. But ever since my sign language courses I enjoy it much more. My phrase was easy to mime as well: couper les cheveux en quatre, which literally translates to cutting hair four ways and figuratively means splitting hairs.

After our round of French figures of speech, everyone had to explain one from their mother tongue. I went for “ins Fettnäpfchen steigen” and tried to translate it as “mettre son pied dans un bol de graisse”. In English you put your foot in your mouth and in french you put it on the plate. Feet in inappropriate places are involved in all versions.

I also really liked a Portuguese one: “you still use ph” referring to old fashioned spelling of words, so it’s basically telling someone their views are old fashioned and / or outdated. My absolute favourite though was a Chinese colleague who said that you can use “offering tofu to the devil”. She explained that you use that if someone tries to do something that’s a bad idea and bound to fail. I totally needed the explanation, too, because I wasn’t sure if the devil maybe would like tofu or not. What do I know about his tastes? To me it could just as easily have turned out to be “making a deal with the devil” instead.



The autumn holidays have started today (two weeks!). And it was about time, too: I’ve already had three weeks of french classes, three times a week. Thursday is for grammar, Friday is for conversation, and I’m not really sure about Monday. Last time we read a page of Jules Vernes, discussed it and got a writing exercise as homework.

The other students are a very interesting mix. Women (and one man) from so many different countries: Russia, Italy, Vietnam, Kambodia, Colombia, Ukraine, Estonia, Syria, Ethiopia, Portugal, UK, Romania, Poland, Hong Kong, Japan, China.

And I think I notice a bit of an improvement: I still have to ask pardon a lot, but now I usually understand it the second time around. Not that “C’est sera tout?” and “Veuillez un sac?” are very complicated concepts, but I still often don’t catch it the first time I hear it.

Today as part of the course, we got a guided tour through the Médiatheque where the course is twice a week. In case I ever think of going back, just remind me of the children’s librarian and I’ll change my mind. She makes sure she only gets quality material in proper good french. Our teacher chipped in with the lament of the terrible way the kids these days text all the time.

I found it really interesting that the library doesn’t collect any late fees. If you don’t return your items, you’ll get a notice and you can’t get any more items from the library. But at no point to they collect any fines! The librarian who guided us visibly disapproved of this policy.


Trois tortus à triste tête trottaient sur trois toits très etroits

This week my French classes started. I go to three different classes with three different retired elderly ladies as teachers on Monday, Thursday and Friday morning. One is for grammar, one for conversation and the third one I’m not sure about yet.

Friday is conversation class and today we learned the tongue twister from the title. A tongue twister is called virelangue in French. I think it was to practise pronunciation.

Other things I learned this week: vocabulary related to my being ill. Je suis enrhumé means I have a cold. I looked that up and also décongestif (nasal spray) for my visit to the pharmacy. I was ill prepared (pun not intended), again, though. The pharmacist asked me about “moucher“. I didn’t make a connection from se moucher (sich schnäuzen/to blow one’s nose) to mouchoir (tissue/Taschentuch), but instead thought of boucherie, which is means butcher. We could clear up that misunderstanding with mime and I got a nasal spray with essential oils that burns like hell and brings tears to my eyes but is very effective for about 3 minutes.

After class today, I revisited la boulangerie de notre défait (the bakery of our defeat), as I like to call it. When Gergö and I wandered about Palaiseau for the first time, we decided to get a sandwich at a bakery. It had just turned noon and the place was empty. We walked in, ordered a sandwich, understood that there were two options: thon et jambon (tuna and ham). After that part it got difficult. The baker told me the amount and I handed over a 10€ note. But she refused my money. She explained but I didn’t understand, neither did Gergö. At some point he caught on, that she wanted the exact amount in change. Apparently she had seen that I had 6.40€ in change in my wallet and wanted it. I was pretty flustered by the time I handed over my coins, we got the sandwiches and turned around to leave. That’s when I saw that there were about 15 people queuing behind us, having watched our exchange. The queue went all the way out the door.

Now that I’ve been here for almost two months, I know that lunch queues of 15 people are nothing unsusual. And I am getting used to embarassing exchanges. Today actually went pretty well. I’m starting to appreciate the queues, because they give me time to listen in on the ordering process and let me prepare answers (no drink, thank you). There was one moment of hesitation today: I knew she was asking if I wanted anything else but I wasn’t sure if the appropriate answer would be “yes, that’s all” or “no, nothing else”, so I smiled and nodded through that part of the interaction. I wasn’t even flustered at all! Unlike yesterday, when I bought salmon tarte at the market only to discover I didn’t have enough cash on me and I didn’t know the word for atm, enough, or embarrassing.


Trouver du travail est dur

I had a bit of a setback on Monday. I prepared a job application for a very promising sounding job, very carefully. I received an answer within 5 minutes of sending it, asking if I could get a “convention de stage” – a contract for an internship. I did a bit of research with this term and realised that it’s impossible to do an internship in France unless you are enrolled as a student in a university or similar.

I feel a bit dumb, because I missed that fact. I did some research on internships when I decided that this would be my fallback option, should I not find work soon-ish. I figured with my very limited French, internships would be easier to come by. But I completely missed the “convention de stage”.  And I don’t even think it’s a bad idea – having a law prohibiting hiring graduates for internships makes sense, I think. I spent the week feeling sorry for myself. Plan B fell through, so I have to go with plan A and find real work!

I’m recovered from my bout of self pity and started applying for various jobs (thanks for the pep talk, Ulli), some even in French. And I finally looked up french courses in Palaiseau and found Dire Lire (caution, ugly ugly website). It’s the Association d’aide à l’apprentissage du français. It appears to be run by nice elderly ladies. I suspect it’s the same kind of retired teachers who teach German to Syrians in Austria). At least that was my impression when I showed up there today to be evaluated for my level of French. I got signed up for 3 courses: Monday, Thursday and Friday and it’s only 75 € for all three for the entire year. Only downside: they are all in the morning.

And I really need these courses, because I still freeze in terror when people speak to me unexpectedly. Two people asked my for the way today, I think. I couldn’t help either one but second person at least I offered to look the address up on Google maps.

Wall of texts are generally boring, so here are a couple of photos of Palaiseau that I took while wandering around town today.