Olivier and me, very early days. We’re there with some of his crowd, everyone French. At the end of the night, we’re all saying good-bye. The friend I’ve heard Olivier speak about the most says something funny. “I love you!” I gush.
We get into a taxi. Olivier is apoplectic. I chalk this up to a jealousy problem, tallying a mark in my mental column of cons…I insist that “I love you!” isn’t a come-on, but a nicety, an unmissably hyperbolic “You’re hilarious,” or “That’s great.” I don’t know that aimer, “to love,” is in French the realm of deep feeling.
…I have no way of foreseeing that French will reshape the contours of my relationships, that I won’t always consider people intimates until proven not to be. I love my parents, my friends, my colleagues, the woman who gives me extra guacamole at Chipotle, hydrangeas, podcasts, clean sheets. Olivier has only ever loved me.
–from Lauren Collins’ When in French: Love in a Second Language
There must be a lot of suckers out there eager for the latest book on why life is better when lived in French. At least, I’d like to think I have some company.
Lauren Collins begins the book by complaining that Geneva is the pits. At first, I don’t have much sympathy. There are many shabbier places than Geneva. But then she explains that she can’t understand a word of French, can’t even summon up the local version of dialing 911.
There’s a certain helplessness that reminds me of a former Chinese-American colleague. She told me that her elderly mother–who couldn’t speak a word of English–had wandered out of their immediate neighborhood of Flushing one day. Suddenly, she found herself totally disoriented. She walked around for hours. Finally, she entered a McDonald’s and there was a policeman inside who was able to help her.
I like Collins’ anecdote about how overeager Americans can be. I remember an Italian saying once that he would never say, “Amo la pizza!” unless he was planning to marry a cheese pie. Americans love everything. The French think we smile too much.