When we decided to go to Paris two years ago, I “prepared” myself by reading as many French authors as I could (that’s how I found Proust), listening to French singers and trying to learn to speak French. I had taken one semester of French way back in my first year of college (27 years ago, and I think I got a D) and since then had sporadically tried to “self-teach” myself with language tapes, but would give it up quickly. This time I got serious. My husband helped me supplement my language tapes with CD’s and DVD’s to use on the computer, and I gave myself lessons every day. By the time we left for Paris, I felt fairly confident that I would be able to at least understand what was said to us in French, and maybe be able to carry on a conversation myself, as long as it was a simple conversation.
When we arrived in Paris, a strange thing happened. I found myself shy about using my newly acquired French. I’m still not sure why, but I was able to understand things that were said to us, which helped. It also helped that many French people, at least in Paris, speak some English and are not shy about using it. We were in Paris for 6 days, then left for Italy and Andorra, then back to Paris for our remaining 5 days. I was determined to use my French and felt more comfortable about speaking to the Parisians, so…I got my chance at the Clignancourt flea market. We had found a fascinating shop that sold all kinds of old hardware and other miscellaneous items like chandelier parts, doorkeys as big as your hand, cut-glass doorknobs- things just piled around in bins and on the floor and hanging from the ceiling. In one bin I found the bracelet pictured above, liked the old brass look of it and the scenes of Paris on each panel. There was no price on it so I went to ask someone- in French.
Nearby was a man who seemed to be the owner of the shop. I approached him and said, “Pardon, Monsieur, c’est combien?” He took the bracelet from me, looked at it a minute, then handed it back to me and said something in French that included the words “ma coeur” (my heart) and “une cadeau” (a gift). Not sure that I understood, I said “Pardon, Monsieur?” He repeated what he had said, and held his hand over his heart and then extended it towards me. I realized that he was telling me he was giving it to me as a gift, with gratitude. I said, “Merci, Monsieur! Merci beaucoup”. It was my first complete conversation in French, in Paris, and although I wasn’t sure why he’d given me the bracelet, I was happy with it and with getting over my shyness.
When we got back to our hotel, my husband pointed out to me something about the bracelet that I hadn’t noticed back at the shop. The center panel of the bracelet says “Paris Liberation 1944”. Apparently it was made to commemorate the liberation of Paris by the US military from the German occupation of WWII. That explained why the man in the shop had given it to me, an American, with gratitude from his heart. Not only was this conversation special because it was my first entirely in French, it was meaningful in being given a gift from a Frenchman to an American in Paris, with gratitude from 63 years past.
My thanks to my husband, Rod, who took the picture above (and took me to Paris).