Author: Lindsey Skala

(Mal)Functioning in a Foreign Language

1) Fact: It is hard to be funny in a language that is not your mother tongue. Believe me, I’ve tried several times. Doesn’t matter if you fancy yourself the French Tina Fey , you will never be sure that your audience is laughing for the right reasons.

2) L’accent. Having a strong American (or as easily, English) accent when speaking French can be troubling. One of two things can happen when you open your mouth: Either, people will stop listening to you as soon as you start talking, or, they will proceed to use you as a way to practice their (often bad) English, instead of vice-versa.

3) That being said, don’t try and cover it up!  As long as your grammar is ok, having an accent when you speak only makes you more charming, or at least so I’ve been told. Hey, Jane Birkin made it work, so can you!

4) Never forget that you will never be a native speaker, regardless of how much you want to be or how good your French is. Accept it, and move on!

5) Accept failure. Frustration, miscommunication, and defeat are facts of life, and even more probable while studying/living abroad. However, this is no reason to panic, or shy away from oppurtunities to desert your comfort zone…in fact, the contrary is true. Having studied,worked, and well, lived as a foreigner in France, I can tell you that yes, discomfort and misunderstanding are part of the game (hello, language barrier). I was not always able to communicate as easily as I would have liked, and as a result, perhaps missed out on having relationships that would have been more fruitful had they been in a different context (i.e. my native language and country!) Not to say that having meaningful relationships isn’t possible, but it usually requires much more effort, and indeed more time, to develop, (problematic in a 4 month study-abroad scenario!

6) When you reach that plateau…Anyone who has fervently worked to master a foreign language and/or live in foreign culture has experienced this kind of heartache…the horrible but necessary plateau one reaches after the brain is oversaturated with new words and new ideas. It’s as painful as it is necessary, but once it’s overcome, you can breathe, for you can speak again. YOU HAVE ARRIVED!


Paris, tu me manques déjà! (Top 10 Things I’ll Miss about Paris!)

Alright. Bon. Alors. For the past four months I have been privledged enough to reside (if temporarily) in a pretty great city, known not only for it’s fine cuisine, but its unsurpassed ability to inspire incredible artwork, music, and romance. Mesdames, Messieurs, je vous present Paris, France. (Ladies & Gentlemen, I present to you: Paris, France). While I can’t  cry too much, as I am staying in France until June, forsaking my beloved Paris to study in a smaller (and possibly less magnificient) suburb (Cergy-Pointoise) is going to be an adjustment.

To commerate the first leg of my séjour (stay) in France, I’ve compiled a list of the things I’m going to miss about Paris, and France in general.

1) Hearing the accordian everywhere. On the metro, in parks, cafés…Something so undeniably Parisien that ya just don’t see in the states.

2) Boulangeries every 10 ft. When I go back home, my choices are going to be Jewel Osco and…Jewel Osco. Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but procuring a fresh buttery croissant is so much easier in Paris!

3) À Paris, tout est <<petit>>. Problèmes, coffee,

<<Houston, on a un petite problème…>>

4) LA BISE. Who DOESN’T like getting kissed on the cheek ten times a day? We Americans are missing out!

5) les marchés. Markets. Wide selection of produce, cheese, meats, clothing and entertainment, several times a week!

6) Le chèvre. Goat cheese. Man oh man…chaud…sur toast…c’est incroyable.

7). Café au lait. Sure we have it in the States, but Starbucks ain’t got nothin’ on sipping coffee and milk from a tiny cup while peoplewatching in a Parisian café.

8). Entertainment on the metro: Karaoke singers, baladiers, marching bands…a brighter daily commute in exchange for your spare change.

9). La Tour Eiffel sparkling every hour on the hour. Doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it, it’s a sight to behold.

10). Little kids, scooters, and cigarettes. (Frencher and thus chicer than their Americancounterparts)

Les Tendances à Paris

Upon my arrival in Paris, (for the first, second, and third time), once of the first things I noticed was how incredibly well-dressed its natives were. Even the children were dressed to the nines, decked out head-to-toe in designer duds. Needless to say, my dirty canvas Keds were suddenly lookin’ insufficient.

Having lived among Parisiens for the past three months, I can honestly say that my first impressions were spot on; I’m here to tell you that they look this good all the time. Bravo, sexy librarians on the metro and svelte looking hipsters in scarves and red pants smoking nonchalantly while taking out the trash.

However, if you, like me, don’t happen to belong to either one of these categories, fear not! I’m here with five tips for lookin’ French or at least blending in.

1) Red pants. An absolute must. (If you want to be fashionable, that is)

2) Wear glasses, even if you don’t need them. In fact, especially if you don’t need them.

3) If you are a woman, carry a Longchamps bag. If you are a man, carry a man-purse.

4) Wear a trench coat!

( hound dog and magnifying glass,  optional) 

5) Ride a scooter! Be you child, teenager, or married mother of three. Wee!


Alas, have I followed any of the above advice? Well no. I am still wearing my dirty Keds and I may or may not have went to Vogue’s fashion Night Out wearing a Levi’s jean jacket. Do I ride a child’s scooter to work or to the market? Ya know, it’s really not practical. Plus, I can barely ride a bike, so why complicate things?

It’s possible that by not following the French fashion code, I may appear to be slacking in the cultural assimilation and understanding department. But that may be too hasty of a judgement. If I’m reading French newspapers, eating French food, and talking to French people, does that not demonstrate appreciation for the French way of life, regardless of whether or not I look good in red pants?

5 Books You Must Read before Visiting/Working/Living in Paris…

Bonjour tout le monde! (Hello everybody!)

If it’s been awhile since I wrote it’s only because I’ve been finishing school, taking a week’s vacation in Barcelona & the South of France, and starting work in a non-profit here in Paris (more about that later!) Needless to say, this semester is flying by!

Anyways…back to the reading list!

First, a bit of background. In order to help me “prepare” (mentally, physically, linguistically!) for my year abroad, various family members (namely my mother) would present me with a new French”guide” book for every holiday and birthday. I picked up a few as well, as I knew dealing with the notoriously “difficult” French (namely Parisiens) was going to be no easy task for an alternately spunky and shy American girl like myself. I thought that if I had some insider information about the little known-nuances of French culture, I might have an edge over other foreigners, or at least maybe win some respect. While the jury’s still out on whether or not I’ve succeeded, these books provide humorous (and useful!) insight into French do’s and don’ts!

1) French or Foe: Making the Most Out of Living & Working in France by Polly Platt

Long regarded as the ultimate guide for foreigners living in Paris, French or Foe is written by a woman who herself made the transition from life in America to living and working in France with a French husband and French children. Incredible detail and witty explanations of everything from dinner etiquette to romance!

2) Pardon My French: Unleash Your Inner Gaul by Charles Timoney

The reviews say this Brit’s manual for decoding the French and their language will make you “so convincing that French people will talk very fast to you”…hence why it’s currently on my nightstand.

3) Savoir Flair: 211 Tips for Enjoying France and the French by Polly Platt

The followup to the popular “French or Foe” (see #1 above), Savoir Flair is the abbreviated version of its predecesor. Personal Favorite chapters: Enjoying Finding Something You Lost: Don’t Give up (p. 146), Enjoying Being a woman in France (p. 167): American girls, take note!

4) Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France by Kristin Epinasse

Written by a young woman from New Mexico who met her future (French) husband while studying abroad, Words in a French Life is the literary incarnation of the popular blog with the same name. Each chapter is short, pertaining only to the definition of a single French word, couched in anecdotes of her children, family, and daily life as an American living in Provence.

5) Dessine-moi Un Parisien by Olivier Magny (available in English under the title Stuff Parisiens like)

As I didn’t discover this gem until it was recommended to me by one of my French professors here in Paris, Dessine-Moi un Parisien is a funny and short (and illustrated!) half-celebration, half -mockery of the hoity-toity Parsien culture we all simultaneously love and hate, and has of late, become my reading material on the Metro!


Pick up one of these, and may you be enlightened and entertained!

Street art!

Translation: One learns more in one white night than in a whole year of sleep. All-nighter, anyone?

Coming from a fairly urban background, I’d like to think that I’ve seen my fair share of graffiti in my twenty-one years of existence. In the States (well I can mostly speak about my home base, Chicago), street-art is often gang related and while always colorful and interesting to look at, disappointingly homogenous.

Saw this on a sidewalk not too far from where I live. What does it mean? well, long live the sh*t, essentially. Instead of seeing this as negative, I’m taking it as a cheeky nod to the copious amounts of dog excrement on the street.

Thus, whenever I find myself in a new place, I always make it a point to scope out any  specimens of uh, self-expression that are a bit different–more creative, more humorous, more uplifting. I’m happy to report that, in Paris, I’ve found just that. All but one of the photos posted here were taken in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, which is home to both the Pere Lachaise cemetery (home to Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde) and happens to be the birthplace of famous Parisian chanteuse Edith Piaf (as immortalized in the movie La Vie en Rose). More about the 20th later, back to its street art! While some may argue that these are nothing more than examples of spray-painted concrete (and indeed that’s what they are!), I’d like to think that there’s more to them than meets the eye!

Translation: Where will you guide your boat?

Graffiti, above all, offers information about the most important part of any city–its inhabitants! You don’t have to look far to get a general sense of the thoughts and feelings and above all, SPIRIT of the people that live around you. Public defacement of property or not, street art adds a little bit of grit and character to places that might otherwise be a little mundane or even a little too pristine. In the same way that some people plant flowers to brighten up a space, others create public art (call it what you like!) to make other people smile, laugh, and most importantly, THINK. A mon avis, (in my opinion), the world’s urban playgrounds would be boring without it! If you’re interested in seeing more, check out my Picasa album Ciao for now!

This was taken in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, called Belleville (Beautiful city). While I have yet to encounter a Parisian who considers this the most beautiful part of the city, it is definitely one of the most diverse and interesting.



My first weeks in France, I had this reoccurring (and curious) thought: that

Une boulangerie. In Paris, you can find one of these babies about every 10 feet.

somehow all the Parisians I saw in my daily comings and goings were TOO French. French to the point that they must have been acting. The more I observed, the more I was convinced that all these cigarette smoking, baguette buying, and small-dog toting people existed only to reinforce all the stereotypes that exist about French people. It had to be a farce! Un petit spectacle du théatre! And I am here to tell you that it is anything but. It’s life à la française! In Paris, daily living is art. Everything from self-presentation to meal preparation is a delicate process which requires much time and attention to details.  And the thing about the French is that they don’t apologize for their Frenchness, which is interesting to me, an American in Paris, who, for better or worse, is constantly apologizing for the supposed shortcomings or “unculturedness” of her home country. Having been here a little over a month, I’ve since decided to “laisse tomber” the apologies and instead take full advantage of my current (if unofficial) position as American ambassador to France and soak up as much Frenchness as possible,  and if in doing so, I happen to leave a little USA behind, so be it.

For my smoking specimen, I've chosen mon ami Mathieu Brandisi, who was, interestingly enough a French exchange student at Valpo 2009-2010.


Où j’habite ! (and other gentle reminders that I’m not in the US)

Quite excellently, my homestay assignment is in the 18th “arrondissement” (=French term for the districts in which the city is divided) of Paris which is called Montmartre. Home not only to the famous Sacre Coeur cathedral but also the vampy Moulin Rouge cabaret, Montmartre is generally regarded as the sort of artist’s quarter of Paris. But we’ll get back to that later! Right now, I want to give you about more of an idea about the building in which I live! When you think of Parisian architecture, you undoubtedly picture ancient and ornate apartment buildings with intricate iron balconies and flowering windowsills. And in doing so, you would be spot on! (Here, see for yourself!

The view from my bedroom window! Typical Parisian landscape!

ANYWAYS  i live on the 6th floor of a wonderfully old brick immeuble (apartment building!) with two wonderfully hospitable host parents. The apartment is small for our standards, but for Paris, it’s just about right! It’s quaint and intimate and I have a little upstairs loft to myself. These little upstairs fixtures are remnants of post 1860s additions to buildings (Haussmann! to create more housing in the city. Thus, back in the day, my little space would have been used as servant quarters! But today it’s perfect space for housing exchange students like myself! Have a look!

La baignoire (bathtub!) Note the lack of shower curtain!

The beautiful little parlor area! I suppose our equivalent of a living room!

The view from the dining room table!

European specialty: le WC (water closet, gotta keep that toilet separate! it's both a matter of sanitation and space!)

My whole back wall is covered in empty Camel packs. What can I say? The French love their cigarettes!

Je suis ici!

Seeing how I’ll be approaching the one-week anniversary of my arrival here in Paris, France, I PROBABLY should have begun this travel blog (tralog?) sooner. MAIS, ALORS…je commencerai maintenant (Cela veut dire…(that means) that I begin now. While this is not my first visit to Paris,  this particular trip will be different, as I will be approaching the culture not as a tourist, but as a FOREIGNER ATTEMPTING TO LIVE WITHIN AND TRULY BE INTEGRATED INTO ANOTHER CULTURE. That task will be, and I believe already has proven to be, enormously difficult, but richly rewarding if completed successfully!

That being said, bear with me as I reveal les pétits détails, little observations and lessons as I sift through the mystery, charm, and complexity of French people and French life.

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