Thursday, April 28, 2005

The pen is mightier than the sword

Though getting into a swordfight with only a pen in your hand doesn’t strike me as the most intelligent thing to do.

Frequently mentioned among Parisien Anglophone expat bloggers, is the Abbey bookstore – a great new and used English language (mostly) bookstore located in the heart of the Latin quarter. Since conveniently being shown its location by a fellow Aussie expat-lured-to-stay-in-France-by-a-wily-Frenchman, I have since visited a couple of times and enjoyed the thrills of trying to extricate a book that is ¾ of the way down a precarious tower of tomes without toppling over 3 other adjacent towers (that place is the jenga of the bookshop world I tell you).

I seem, without quite knowing why, to have started a habit of reading books by authors regaling their experiences of an expat living in France. As I said, I really don’t know why I do it, I think it may somehow be linked to the carcrash syndrome – there’s an accident, you shouldn’t stare, but you can’t resist a little peek nevertheless. Years ago I read the ‘Year in Provence’ series by Peter Mayle, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but have thus far been pretty disappointed by related books that I have read since. ‘Almost French’, as previously mentioned (despite having some well penned observations), was overall a bit of a flop for me, but I have persevered in the hope of finding a Mayle equivalent. More recently I bought ‘A Year in the Merde’. Now it’s a pretty apt title, only vaguely semi non-fiction, but not excessively well written and too much sex. I’m no puritan (there was that time I had a verbal disagreement with the ticket seller at the Amsterdam sex museum who decided he should be the first prick of the exhibition and refuse to take any small change for ticket sales, while the ticket PRICE was a very small change attracting 2.50. Idiot. Only disagreeable Dutch person I came across, as an aside). Where was I?..oh yes, the too much sexness…I dunno, it just didn’t really work in favour of the story. So then the Abbey owner recommended ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’ by David Sidaris, though only half of it concerns living as an expat in France. It was ok, but it only took me 3 hours to read, which altered the expense:enjoyment ratio somewhat. I’ll continue with my treasure hunt, if anyone wants to post up suggestions.

Still on the topic of the English language, sometime round 9.27pm last night, monsieur suddenly blurted; ‘You have to teach me to speak English. Now, right away, it’s critical’ (he said that all in French though I should add). There’s probably something behind this bonnet-inclined bee, but I didn’t bother to probe. His reluctance to take advantage of my English speaking skills (for once a guy doesn’t want to take advantage, go figure), has been a long standing point of consternation for, well, pretty much everyone (who all seem to assume that our couple communication is conducted in English). Again, as an aside, the people who assume this are conversing in French with me at the time, so I’m not sure what leads them to this conclusion. I have tried to encourage him, and we’ve had short bursts of conversation, but it quickly lapses back into French. It doesn’t bother me that much, he knows quite a bit of English already, it’s just a question of practice. Knowing English is also advantageous in the French job market, so it's mostly for his own sake that I'd like to see him converse more anglo.

There followed, last night, one of the longest English conversations we’ve had thus far. And despite the general delight I take in showing off how very informed and knowledgeable I am, I make for a very crappy English teacher. The thing is (monsieur'sjaw dropped when I explained this), I don’t know very much about the rules of English grammar – more specifically, why things are said or written in a particular fashion. I know what words mean, and I know how to write correctly, but I have a feeling that this is more intuitive than the result of instruction. Aside from Past, Present and Future, for example, I do not know the names of any other verb tenses in English. I can only give French names to verb groupings in English because at some point, it ‘went out of fashion’ to teach this aspect of grammar at high school. We were taught about nouns and adjectives, but never about hyperbole and irony. There were quite a few points that I could not explain – this kind of bothered me. So I need some teaching aides it would seem.

'We'll practice speaking English every night, for a month, in a month, I'll be fine'

*I raise a sceptical eyebrow*

To be continued!


Katia said...

CRAP. I have a copy of "Me Talk Pretty One Day" that I could have lent you. Also bought from the same shop (although I was not prompted to do so by Brian, the owner, I just picked it up and thought it might be fun - but alas it also was a v.short read). Anyway. You must come over and raid my bookshelf.

Lisa B. said...

I read "Me Talk Pretty One Day" during lunch hours in the book store over the course of a few days. I liked it quite a bit, I just didn't feel like paying for it.

As for grammar, have you looked for a good online resource? There's a grammar course on line at
that you can try (you can also buy it on cd rom if your internet access is still crap). If you can't find anything there I could look for something here and send it to you--our bookstores have huge ESL-workbook sections because of our immigrant population.

Nyx said...

OK Katia, will raid your bookshelf before any more book purchases ;)

And thanks for the link Lisa B. I'm sure I'll be using online resources (when I get them) to better explain the intricacies of English (of course all the instructions for learning English are in French in the books I've bought, but I was able to find some teaching books without any problem, thanks!)