January 25, 2008

Baby talk – in English, please

Posted in Babysitting, Daily life, Les français tagged , , , , at 1:28 am by Lauren

While I’m on the topic of babies, I’ve got a bit more to say. Actually, what I have to say applies more generally to my language experience in France this year.

When we first decided to move to France, I was motivated by two goals. 1) I would become more active and thus become more fit (as I did when I lived in Montpellier). 2) I would speak French constantly and improve my language skills to the point of fluency – finally (as I did not do when I lived in Montpellier).

I looked back to my time in Montpellier as a measure for what my time in Paris might be. During my (wonderful) ten months in Montpellier, two major things happened for me. I lost thirty pounds just by integrating walking into my daily routine and left there in the best shape of my life. And I made some of the best friendships of my life with other Americans. It was a high point in those two arenas.

And yes, my French did improve. It improved a lot while I was there. I have always been a reluctant speaker, excelling instead in the other domains of language. But my French improved so much in Montpellier, that when I had to take an oral exam in Medieval History, I not only passed but the professor thought I was European.

Still, I left Montpellier with no French friends except the family whose children I’d tutored. My social French use was not what it could have been, to say the least. So when I knew I’d be coming to Paris, I just knew I’d make French friends and fearlessly plunge into the world of spoken French.

This is where the babies come back in. My job is to play with babies. (My other job is to speak English to French girls.) Because English-speaking babysitters get paid significantly more (almost $5 an hour more), my job is to play with English-speaking babies. So not only am I speaking English, I’m speaking it with beings that can’t talk back! (Or maybe: So not only am I speaking to babies, but I’m speaking to them in English! I’m not sure which is more appalling for the state of my French.) I circulate in an English-speaking bubble.

We have a few French-speaking friends but don’t see them more than once a month. My exchange partner (see – I am trying) and I meet once a week, but she’s busy with exams right now, and we switch off between English and French.

It has always been very hard for me to put myself out there. Though I may come off as confident and social in my adulthood, inside I still feel like the awkward 13-year-old starting middle school in a new district. (For the record, I made one friend that year. One friend. The whole year. And it’s because she talked to me.) So the question becomes: how do you make new friends when you have no social circle to draw from? (No school, not even work?) I plan on getting another exchange partner or two and keeping my eyes open for classes or groups. My French-speaking year isn’t over yet!

For those of you who have recently (or not so recently) moved to another city and had to make a whole new group of friends, how did it work out for you?



  1. I knew that awkward 14-year-old when I was an awkward 14-year-old!

    I have struggled with that same question. In my 7 months in the Bay area, I have met many people, but I have not taken the initiative to go to that next level of acquaintance-y.

    I really wanted to join a soccer league, but it seems that in the immediate area, I am too old to play with the college kids and I am too young to play with the old guys. They have rules for these things.

    Things are coming along though. I have met some good prospects through some professional societies.

    I think the classes or groups are a great idea. Expanding your horizons while meeting people. Plus it is forced, so no need to feel awkward!

    Wow, this is longer than my last ten blog entries!

  2. Scott Parker said,

    You love to read, how about a book group at your local french bibliotheque, I know this sounds like an old person thing, but check out the group, age wise. Some are young and vibrant, with great discussions, in French I would think! And sometimes they actually go out for a coffee or maybe a cafe au lait afterwards. Just a thought, take it from the source, with a grain. Scott
    by the by, love the blog. Are you writing a journal also?

  3. chezschmanz said,

    Elliott, after knowing me as an awkward 14-year-old, I’m lucky we’re still friends. I’d like to think we’ve grown a little in the interim! Maybe sometime in the NEXT 12 years, we will live in the same city again and the four of us can hang out.

    Uncle Scott, I hadn’t thought about checking out the actual library (duh) for a book group. I’ve heard that reading a book with a conversation partner works really well too – pick the same book and read it in the language you’re trying to work on (and vice versa for your partner) and then discuss it together and explain the parts that don’t translate well to each other.

    I’m not writing a journal. This is as much as I can keep up with! But I may try to maintain it when I get back to DC, too.

  4. Lynn Thompson said,

    I met your mom! That may have been all the friend I needed – at least your dad thinks so! Sometimes it seems we are joined at the hip – thank God we are on the same cell phone plan.

    No seriously, I have always moved to cities and joined groups based on my interests. In Florida, I joined Sierra Club and Audubon. In the three cities I lived in MS., I joined Audubon, and here in New Braunfels, I joined the quilt guild. I met your mom at a quilting class. Then I met Phyllis when I admired her purse, also she gave me a lot of Interlibrary Loan orders.

    I am in a knitting group, a local birding group, and of course your mom, Val, Sharon, and I go cross stitch on Friday nights, though that may just be an excuse to spend money on nice linen, overdyed threads, and drink Starbucks’ finest.

    Lynn the librarian

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