Westworld Saskatchewan

Winter 2014

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10 w e s t w o r l d | w i n t e r 2 0 1 4 sylvia westermann/maxx images When Foreign Words Fly Learning the lingo at Franglish by Wendy Glauser t feels like a speed-dating event. e first arrivals of the evening stick on their name tags and sit at their assigned tables. The majority are students or young professionals – many have taken the metro here straight from work – but there are also a few retirees and 40-somethings interested in a life change. e Mécano bar in Paris, on the city's hip rue Oberkampf, is typical of the area's trendy hangouts: red and black accents, wicker chairs and mirrors galore. (As my American friend tells me, "French fashion hasn't changed since the '60s! e French aren't fashionable, they're chic.") e only deviations from the brasserie aesthetic are the clunky old vinyl barber chairs and antique tractor seats along the bar. Seated in the back room, we nervously smile at one another – waiting, not engaging in small talk. We know that for the next hour and a half, we'll need to make conversation with a half-dozen strangers, switching every seven minutes from English to French. Called Franglish, this language exchange event held three times a week in Paris was con- ceived four years ago by friends Nicolas Saurel and Steven Annonziata. The Parisians had studied in the U.K. and didn't want to lose their English upon returning to a city that's known for its separate social worlds of Parisians and foreigners. Franglish, now also offered in 10 other cities in France, four in England and most recently New York, is designed to allow both French and English speakers to improve their respective foreign languages. I've been living in Paris for more than two months, joining my Canadian husband on his semester abroad. We have some French friends, but we tend to settle on speaking English because their second language is better than ours. But it would be nice to have a conversation en Français without worrying I've said the oppo- site of what I meant. And to talk with someone without watching them tilt their head and sup- press a smile as they might with a child. During tonight's session, I meet a radiogra- pher in his sixties who suggests France has a lot of alcoholism because "we produce a lot of wine." It's a topic we somehow get onto when I mention the glass of wine (included in the 12-euro admission price) helps me speak my very broken French a little more fluidly. A bank auditor tells me he would like to date someone from England or North America because, he says, "ey're more relaxed, they're more . . . feeling." He winces and slaps his hand against his chest, as if trying to demonstrate the word he can't seem to find. "Open?" I sug- gest. "Yes," he says, "open." Later, when I ask Annonziata if the event is also intended to be a mixer of sorts, he smiles and says they try to discourage that attitude. "Sometimes people come and say I just want to talk to girls, but we say non." In fact, most of the participants are here because of career expectations. Robinson Revorlus, an airplane mechanic, tells me he wants to improve his English because he's required to report to his supervisor in that lan- guage. "When my boss come, I run," he jokes. He asks me how to say "avoir peur" in English. I write, using the pencil and paper provided at each table: "to be afraid, to have fear, to be scared." I could have also added: "to be freaked out." French, with its strict enforcement of vous and tu and its gendering of objects, is frustrat- ing, but English, with its colloquialisms and grammar, is no walk in the park either. After the event, I chat with Nathan Rizzo, an American student interested in going into inter- national politics. "I think Paris is the toughest place to learn French," he says. "You really have to make an effort, but I like that about Paris." I can commiserate. It's difficult to meet friends when you're new to any big city, espe- cially when visiting each other requires switch- ing three metro lines. So is finding an apartment and navigating the irrational bureaucracy to get a library card. But there are things I love too. e ritual around eating, for instance. But more than anything, I appreci- ate how Paris has tested me. To be resource- ful with my limited vocabulary, to be bold like a child – and just as proud about the new skills and knowledge I've gained along the way. franglish.eu W PostCards I

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