One of the most challenging things about living in a foreign country is learning their language and culture. I’m not sure out of those two which is the most difficult in France: the language takes time to learn, with exceptions to every rule (and exceptions to some of those exceptions), but the culture really has to be observed rather than taught. It’s a time-thirsty task, and a very enjoyable one, although at times it can be just as confusing as all those language exceptions.
Some aspects of French culture, such as song lyrics and plays, are impossible to understand until you have a grasp on the language that is good enough to get you through. Song lyrics are hard enough to catch in English let alone French, and I’m still often lost trying to figure out what some songs are about. You can be sure, however, that every song will mention birds at some point. Why birds? I have no idea, but try finding a song that doesn’t mention them; it’s tough.
I’ve been putting off seeing a play for years, worried that I wouldn’t understand what was going on. Last weekend in Paris, that all changed when I attended a play called ‘Une semain… pas plus‘ (One week… no longer’). The story was about a guy whose girlfriend said she loved him and he got scared about being in a relationship. He wanted to keep the house they moved into together, so he had to make her the one to want to leave. He begged his best friend to stay for one week (no longer) so that she would get jealous, but as you’d expect, things backfired.
Relief overtook fear as the play carried on and I understood the storyline. Some of the jokes were still lost on me, but the play was humorous enough for that not to matter. Indeed, I was impressed — and not at all surprised — when the actress legitimately used the phrase ‘menage à trois‘ during the closing scene of the play. Given that so many French movies seem to revolve around threesomes and it all working out in the end, getting the phrase in seemed appropriate. Sadly, the ending was less happy for one of them, but the closing line was hilarious, so nobody minded. The audience clapped emphatically, and as the actors took their many bows, the claps became uniform beats, in typical French style. I’ll write a blog entry about French clapping another time. For now, I’m still reveling in the relief that my 26€ on a play was well spent.