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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Magical Biarritz

Travel seems to come so naturally here in France that I'm often astounded when I sit down and account for all the places I've been recently.

I was reviewing client e-mails in order to update them on my whereabouts and saw one where a client wrote, "Have fun on your trip." I was momentarily startled that I'd already told him of my trip to Portugal. Instead, it was the six-day trip to Normandy and Paris that I'd taken in October/November. He didn't even know that I'd headed off to Portugal by way of Biarritz and Salamanca (Spain) for five weeks.

My friend Innis and I decided that we could pay for the month of February in southernmost Portugal, actually the westernmost section of Europe, for essentially what we would jointly pay for our heating for the month. Mind you, February is hardly the severe month that I've grown up knowing in New Jersey, New York City and Connecticut. When I left the last week of January, my daffodils were already about five inches high, leaving me to wonder if I'd miss their entire blooming period if I didn't come back until the first week of March.

But leave I did, heading first to Biarritz for the first time for several days. I knew of the reputation of Biarritz as a long-reigning spa resort and indeed it still is although it's a shadow of its former glory in a day where such places were completely out of reach of 'regular folks.'

We stayed in a dog-friendly hotel just a block or so from the beach where a stunning compound lies, one which my friend told me was frequented by Napoleon and his Josephine.

One visit and I could see the magic of Biarritz. It was but a short stay but it surely won't be my last.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Learning a New Language

As usual the days, no the weeks...no, in fact, the month has gotten away from me.  I did return to the Martizay French class and had a blast teaching this terrific, enthusiastic group basic English. It brought to light one fundamental fact, however.

With the profusion of Brits in this region and the dearth of Americans, it is as if oftentimes we speak a different language. I bumped up against this in the French class when I realized the vernacular I took for granted wasn't quite so common because the French learn British style English. A sweater to Americans is a pullover to Brits; pants to them are underwear while our version of pants are what they call trousers; what we call suspenders they call braces and what they call suspenders are something men wear to keep their socks from falling down. Suit vests to us are waistcoats to them; their version of a vest is an undershirt.

Since I've moved to France, I'm learning an entirely different language   English. And I'm someone who's grown up with a reasonable exposure to Irish English so I'm hardly as uninitiated as the typical American. I grew up reading English and Irish books and spending summers in Ireland. My mother still remembers how cross she was one September  when one of us   either my sister, Eithne, or I   had been marked off on a spelling test for writing 'colour' instead of 'color.' (Of course our revenge was going on to become local and state spelling bee champions respectively at the age of 14 at that same school.)

Now, surrounded by Brits, I've found myself adopting much of the dialectic slang, a sort of 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do' communication attempt. I stop off to fill my car with petrol, I reach for kitchen roll instead of paper towels, cling film instead of plastic wrap, aluminium instead of aluminum foil, and indicate something's a one-off when it happens but once.

Expressions I still struggle with are numerous: rawlplugs instead of anchors (the plastic plugs you put into plaster when you drill holes to hang pictures and such; rawlplug is apparently a trade name, much as using Kleenex or Xerox in lieu of tissues and photocopies); a crosshead is  a Phillips screwdriver while a slotted screwdriver is what we call a flathead. Aren't all screwdrivers technically slotted?

Words that are not readily apparent are the ones that naturally baffle me the most. "That's completely naff," has me running for the internet dictionary to remind myself that it means inferior, less than desirable or, in more extreme applications, an alternate to one of the more internationally recognized four-letter words. 'I'm chuffed' always makes me pause because it means you're delighted when somehow to me it sounds like I'm chafed or completely annoyed.

Some that are at least potentially fathomable are 'taking the piss out of someone' (making fun of them), or 'chucking it down' (it's raining hard).

It's no wonder that I'm still struggling here to learn French. I'm still learning English!