Parlez-vous Francais?!

In September 2011, when I arrived in Paris, trying to understand the news was a nightmare; it was just noise.  A complicated noise, that no matter how hard I tried to understand, or how I tried to separate out single words, I couldn’t make sense of it.

Now relocated in Melbourne, I watched the French news on SBS, (shown every day at 10.30), and it was rewarding to see progress from one year ago.  The efforts with French friends, reading newspapers or watching a movie, was all worthwhile.  The pleasing moment where a long phrase on the TV makes sense, where you have satisfaction of understanding what is happening on the other side of the world, you can read into and appreciate another culture, and all in the comfort of your own living room. These feelings of reward make me want to understand even more.

I believe the best way to learn a language (and the most enjoyable), is to immerse yourself, by living in the country and appreciating the culture etc.  This is not an option for everyone.  Luckily, there are so many things we can tap into to help with languages.  If you are studying French at school, or university or simply have a passion for picking this up, see below my shortlist of recommendations.

SBS – Daily French news program; French and world news with one special feature per episode  normally, (shown at 10.30 Melbourne time).

SBS – Click here for the online radio exercepts

Library- Offer good services, ask for the international section, where you could find bi-lingual books

Movie/TV series – Select the French version with subtitles; this can be a pretty fun way to learn

Podcasts or YouTube videos- I came across Yabla offers videos of interest (travel, cuisine style) with the French and English transcript on the same page;  I found this one particularly neat!  See example video, skiing in the Alpes

Mango languages – online service for beginners, where you can learn about grammar and vo-cab in an interactive way, $79 per month

Newspapers and magazines-Check the international section of your newsagent

Join a meetup group in your chosen language

Or just organise a holiday to the country of choice for some inspiration or practice!

Moving back to Melbourne

I left Paris 4 weeks ago, stopped past New York for an amazing ten days. I joined to keep practising French and I’m amazed by the wide range of people I have met already. I started my own French meetup group  in Melbourne, for french nationals or Aussies wanting to improve their language.  It has been a rewarding experience so far.  I met a French girl from Bordeaux and together we brainstormed to do a French cuisine teaching workshop for the French foodies out there on

I imagine Australians would be excited to learn about French cooking, from a French girl of the south-west, a region famous for its gastronomy. Attendees should just be charged a small fee to cover the cost of the kitchen hire, the food and a nice couple of glasses of wine. The first theme for the meetup may be appropriately cuisine of the south-west. So dishes of foie gras,  nice red wine and perhaps a chocolate tart…

French movies. I was pleased to watch Les Intouchables again in Melbourne with English subtitles, for the first time. This was the third time watching it, however the other times were in France. I understood most of it the first time, the second time was better as someone explained details for me. The third however, revealed a couple more intricate details that I initially missed.

The movie was a success at the box office, with the highest number of box offices sales in France, after Bienvenue chez les ch’tis.   It’s a timeless story that can appeal to all, how an unlikely friendship forms between two men from completely different walks of life. A millionaire paraplegic and a poor man from the Parisian suburbs, who by some stroke of his luck, creates a lasting impression at a job interview and ends up working with this man.

Monsieur Lazar, another great film originating from Quebec this time. The story of how a classroom comes to learn and react about their classroom teacher committing suicide. There is a twist to watch out for, only revealed towards the end of the film. This sad and beautiful story is sensitively told.

I miss Paris, meeting French people and immersing myself in the French language. But, it’s nice to know that I can keep exploring the culture and language from Melbourne, and in better weather!

Marche Aux Puces

If you love markets, especially for vintage and antique goods, visit Marche aux Puces; an extraordinary market with an interesting origin.

The flea markets, as the name translates was started in the late 19th century by rag and bone men, who scoured the Paris streets and bins for items to sell to the public. Hygiene and petty crime forced their business to settle in the north of Paris, and St Ouen become the famous area in Paris for the Marche aux puces.

By 1920, the vendors sold their goods from enclosed stalls and by 1945, the markets become more upmarket, as bric a brac dealers were replaced by second hand clothing and furniture dealers.

Nowadays, the markets sprawls over 2,500 stalls of new to vintage clothes, antique to modern furniture, catering for low end to high end shoppers; the market has something for everyone. Window shopping here is an inspiration. Can you imagine looking through old collections of Coco Chanel’s jewellery, to art deco furniture that you get up close and inspect to lace lingerie and hats from a bygone era…?!
Don’t deny yourself this experience, put the Marche aux Puces on your list for a leisurely Saturday afternoon.

Be prepared to bargain a bit, the dealers will appreciate some French for a good negotiation, some show respect for the goods by talking time to talk to the dealers. Be careful with your personal items as the markets are normally crowded areas.

Practical information
Saturday 9am-6pm
Sunday 10am-6pm
Monday 11am-6pm
Closest metro is Porte de Clignancourt, line 4

Do you know the cheapest fruit and veg market in Paris?

After living 5 minutes from the la Chappelle metro, (18th arrondisement) for almost one week, my French flatmate introduced me to a great fruit and vegetable market, the Marché Barbès.  Situated under the line two metro, Barbès Rochechouart, this is one of the two cheapest fruit and vegetable markets in Paris.

For around 11 euros, I bought 3 mangoes, a  kilo of strawberries, 3 eggplants, 2 lettuces, 2 lemons, 6 nectarines, dates, cucumber and 5 oranges…Unbelievable value!

The market is really crowded, you have to prepared to push through people to get your produce. You also need to be careful of your valuables as the area is popular and its always very busy. This is not a posh area in Paris, so be street smart. Having said all that, the prices here are so cheap, so its definitely worth making the trip.

Deguisement et les francais, oui bien sur

‘Le Bal de Princesses’

If you are invited to a dress up party in France, you better be in costume; the French take these seriously! A friend of mine invited me to Le  Bal de Princesses, at the nearby the Bois de Boulogne.
I found a costume on the day of the party,very easily. I started in Monmartre, as there are lots of ’tissu’ material and costume shops there.  I told the shop assistant what I wanted, and she kindly told me for princesses it was the shop across the road.   Fake corsets in a range of colours, all different type of skirts, tiaras, lacy gloves, masks, fascinators, it was costume shop heaven!

I started trying on outfits in the makeshift changing room.  I settled on a long, layered black tulle skirt and a black and silver corset, accessorised with long black lacy gloves, and a tiara.  I bought this for 80 euros, a bargain.  We were lucky to stumble across the shop, meaning we could go home at lunchtime and relax like proper princesses before our party!

A couple of champagnes later, we were ready for the ball and full of anticipation. We walked up the red carpet leading to the pretty, pink fairytale chateau.  Looking around I felt transported back to the time of noblemen and princesses, with edgy pirates thrown in there to spice things up. Princesses played hide and seek to suitors, behind their masks, while court jesters tried to impress with their charms, the atmosphere was electric, and there was much to discover amongst the many colourful characters at this party…
Don’t miss Le  Bal de Princesses in 2013, for an unforgettable night of music, dance and spectacular costumes in a gorgeous Paris location.

Dreaming of sq metres

Apartment hunting in Paris is no easy feat, in fact, it was the aspect that challenged me the most.  Parisians sometimes say it’s easier to find a job than an apartment. I would have to agree and what’s more the documentation needed for a flat lease is much more than a 2 page CV for a job! You could be asked for bank statements, months of payslips, a guarantor, letters from your employer, plus proof of all your previous flat leases.

Finding a place to stay can be a lot harder for foreigners not on a permanent French contract, CDI, as the French prefer their tenants to stay as long as possible, or 2 or 3 years. It’s miles apart from the rental market in London, where a reference check and application should see yourself in an apartment within 1 or 2 weeks, and where its understood that travellers come and go, and may only stay for 6 months in total.

Craigs List was helpful at the start where I found a small studio of 17 sq metres, nearby Parc Monceau.   This may seem abnormally small, but apartment sizes are smaller in Paris and you adapt to this.  I was living in the 17th arrondisement, a posh and tranquil family area. A 5 minutes walk from Parc Monceau was a highlight and just 10 minutes to work on the Champs Eylsee, by metro.

Parisian appartments are clever for making use of every bit of space, so despite having a tiny kitchen, it managed to fit everything I needed, just in a miniature version. 6 months was enough in this small space, I then used to find a flat share.   The site is easy to use even for a foreigner and puts you in contact with lots of potential flatshares. I used this site to replace me in an apartment, and it took not even 2 weeks to find someone. Se loger, is also a good site to find studios or apartments.

As to be expected, meeting random people online can be a complete mixed bag.   You don’t know what you will get until you meet them and it’s important to keep your wits about you. I heard stories of lonely older people using this site to meet potential girls for a drink etc, so it always pays to be careful. On the whole, it works well, I moved into a much larger apartment sharing with 2 girls in the 18th arondisement. I had a big room, with a view of Sacre Coeur.

Supposedly, my room was very Parisian, consisting of wooden floorboards, a chimney and light ceiling decorations, a friend told me.

If you are going to Paris on holidays, try and book a place well in advance, to secure a good location at a good price. Some sites to consider are Airbnb, a site where you can stay with locals, you either pay a price to have the entire appartment or a room hire within the hosts’ appartment.   It normally works out well, with the hosts giving valuable local advice to see the best in the city. I know of hosts’ renting out a whole appartment on this site for tourists, and this worked out to be better value than the cost of staying in a small room in a hotel.

Vacation in Paris is another site I used to have a small appartment for a holiday. Although I think you can find better value on Airbnb, if you allow enough time and do a thorough search.

Crepes, crepes, crepes…

Learning french verbs and grammar at school got a little tedious, but there was one day a year I looked forward to, when the Crepe man would visit us at school.   This enabled a different type of learning, a very important one, the appreciation of the french food culture.  I was fascinated by the one man show crepe man, who made delicious crepes right in front of our eyes.

Before moving to Paris, I could never imagine having a savoury crepes, with cheese, eggs and ham etc.   What is better than a crepe with nutella and cream anyway? My opinion soon changed after discovering some creperies in Paris…

I tried the traditional, Creperie Josselin, a popular restau in a street filled with creperies, the closest metro is Edgar Quinet. There was a queue on arrival always a trusting sign, this passed quickly.  The decor is of Breton style, filled with dark wood and traditional lace touches. It was impressive watching the crepes been made in front of you in the open kitchen.  I ordered a Crepe Josselin, a buckwheat crepe of mushrooms, eggs and different types of cheese.  The service was excellent, and food came within 10 minutes. We went traditional, drinking cider as they do in Brittany.

West Country girl– Metro Parmentier

The small creperie is a little hidden, down some side streets, making it a perfect place to enjoy some quiet away from the Parisian streets. I tried a crepe with scrambled eggs, salmon and chives, and a sweet crepe of caramel butter sauce accompanied with ice cream and a poached pear for dessert.  It was delicious.

Breitz cafe– Le Marais
Always seems to be busy with a queue at the front, this cafe has beautiful traditional crepes.

Framboise Creperie– Metro Franklin Roosevelt

The ambiance is lovely and the waiters are friendly.  If you fancy a traditional meal off the touristy Champs Elysees, look no further. I tried a rich crepe here for a Friday lunch with my colleages; raclette cheese, potatos, eggs and proscuitto in a buckwheat crepe.  I was still full at dinner time.

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