la france!
June 4, 2006 12:38 PM   Subscribe

I'll be going to France in a little under 2 months, to stay 2 weeks with a family that doesn't speak much English at all, in a relatively small town that doesn't speak much English at all. I'm decently proficient, but not confident, and definitely lacking in the listening/speaking end. I have, however, 9 days coming up where I will have more than enough free time. I won't have an internet connection, but I'll have a laptop I can put stuff on. What is the best use of the next 2 months in terms of preparing for functioning well on the trip?

As a point of reference for my current skill level, I just finished reading L'Etranger in french, & usually had to look up 5-10 words per chapter for good comprehension, although it was a fairly slow process. I can comfortably write longer essays/etc, albeit with some grammar/usage mistakes.

Also, any general advice about the trip would be great.
posted by devilsbrigade to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

[Sorry for the unintentional bold face.]
posted by beniamino at 12:50 PM on June 4, 2006

When I was learning French, my favorite activity was to watch French movie DVDs with the French subtitles also on! If you miss something you can just go back (unlike with radio) and if you really don't get it, you can switch the English subtitles on.

An obvious answer: I'm sure there are also DVDs out there (Pimsleur, etc) that you could use. Hopefully you can find some at your local library as those things are really expensive.

As for general advice: When you do the bises (cheek kisses), you put your cheek against the other person's cheek and kiss the air (some people do actually kiss the check, but by far the majority don't). Then switch sides. There's no rule about which side to kiss first, but mostly people start with the right side.

When you enter a shop, say "Bonjour" loud and clear. Not to do so is rude, and more so in a small town. In the evenings, say "Bonsoir" but not "Bonne nuit" except to the people in the family you're staying with.

Take a gift for your host family. Food gifts are usually best - maybe some maple syrup if you're North American, or some nice tea if you're British?

If you have any specific questions, post them and I'll try to check back and answer (I've lived in France for about 5 years).
posted by hazyjane at 1:19 PM on June 4, 2006

Response by poster: I know the general rules about tu/vous, but in this particular situation... I'm 18, the person I'm going to see is 17, and I'll be staying with her and her parents. Do I use vous with their parents, or at least start out that way?
posted by devilsbrigade at 1:46 PM on June 4, 2006

Yes, you start out using "vous" with the parents and "tu" with the 17-year-old. Very likely the parents will soon say something like "on peut se tutoyer" but that should come from them, not from you.
posted by hazyjane at 1:53 PM on June 4, 2006

You already know some French, so don't concentrate on learning more. Put yourself in a situation where you're forced to use the French you know. You need conversation. Find someone who speaks French, or go to a conversation class.

hazyjane is right about everything she says. One thing to add: it's entirely possible that they will use "tu" with you and still expect you to use "vous" with them. You should stick to "vous" even if their daughter uses "tu" with them.
posted by fuzz at 4:16 PM on June 4, 2006

Just dont worry about it, and when you are there, do yourself a favor and stay away from your laptop, and at most just bring a larger French-English dictionairy you can come back and consult if you need to. You have a fantastic chance to really immerse yourself in another language for a period of time and the best way to do so is just to dive right in.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:50 PM on June 4, 2006

I agree with fuzz completely. You need conversation. Or at least some way to become more comfortable with speaking French and being able to understand it when spoken to you.

A conversation class would be great, and you may be able to find local francophiles willing to get together and speak French. Try

Radio France is a great idea, as is watching French movies. I have a penchant for French television and American shows poorly dubbed in French because they tend to be easier to follow than movie plot lines.

Should be a blast anyway. What town will you be in?
posted by killjoy at 2:00 AM on June 5, 2006

"Tu" for people your age, "vous" for everyone else (and clerks, cashiers, cooks, what have you, even if they're below your age, as a mark of politeness/respect).

I only "tu" elder people when I feel close enough to them, which usually involves them doing silly impressions of animals on the swimming-pool :)
posted by XiBe at 4:38 AM on June 5, 2006

I had a similar situation some years ago with a more poor level of French, as a Brit going to meet my French girlfriends parents for the first time. Sitting in a restaurant opposite her dad on the first night all nerves I pointed at the food and opened my mouth to say how good it was. Had the sentence all in my head which as soon as I started talking actually came out as "Je t'aime", I love you. He of course thought it hillarious. I am no longer with the girl but I am still firm friends with the dad!

If you are making and effort and do it with good humour and an element of self deprecation, in my experience you will be warmly received. Your mistakes will be funny for everyone including you and what you really want is not to have a perfect conversation but to get on with them right? Also drinking French wine in the company of the French vastly improves your skills in my experience.

Relax and have a great time. The French are pretty good at that also in my experience!
posted by merocet at 11:59 AM on June 5, 2006

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