The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Tag Archives: World of Words

WORLD OF WORDS: On a Mary Morris-inspired kick down in Mexico, writer Marianne Bohr feels entirely at home

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Columnist Marianne Bohr in her World of Words

Cinco de Mayo is fast approaching, a holiday that is virtually ignored in Mexico but, for some reason, has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage in the United States. Here, Marianne Bohr tells a rather different story of heading to Mexico to celebrate her Mexican heritage in situ—an adventure that of course involves immersing herself in a world of (Mexican Spanish) words. —ML Awanohara

Me llamo Mariana Cañedo. My name is Mariana Cañedo.

“Did you know that Mayan Indians have crooked fingers?” my grandmother asks as she rubs my oddly shaped adolescent pinky. “It’s true,” she says as I wince and look at her quizzically.

“Your grandfather was born in Mexico, so you never know. You could be an Indian princess.” She gives a quick laugh that ends in her characteristic snort.

My Midwestern grandmother has a penchant for coming up with all sorts of interesting, random tidbits of information.

“Don’t cha know,” she says, “one day you’ll go to Mexico and find out for yourself.”

* * *

Going to San Miguel de Allende is a calling. The city has been tucked away in a cobblestoned corner of my imagination for 25 years. Mary Morris’s courageous chronicle Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone put it there. Her soul-baring tale of living in San Miguel, 6,400 feet high in the Sierra Madre of central Mexico, captured my heart and gave me even more courage than I already had to travel alone.

And now I’m finally here, lucky girl that I am, on my own for a week-long writer’s conference.

Mary Morris’s soul-bearing tale of living in San Miguel captured Marianne’s heart at an early age.

The place is everything I’d pictured, painted in vivid, brilliant color: greens and golds; mango, mustard, and lemon; and of course, every shade of red imaginable—burgundy, cayenne, paprika and raspberry. Ceramic pots filled white, purple, and blue blossoms set off the pueblo colors.

Brimming with boisterous gardens and with a temperate, year-round climate of brisk mornings, warm afternoons, and cool evenings, San Miguel is eternally spring. With more than 140,000 residents, it can certainly be labeled a city, but deeper down, at its heart, it’s a delightful, lively village.

There are many places in the world others consider lovely but leave me feeling cold. San Miguel, on the other hand, embraced me the moment I arrived. I feel I belong here, with these people of my tribes.

“The place is everything I’d pictured, painted in vivid, brilliant color…” (Photos supplied.)

At home with her two tribes

One tribe is the writers I commune with during the day—novelists, poets, essayists, playwrights, memoirists, and screenwriters. And when I escape into the long shadows and crystalline light of the late afternoon to wander narrow lanes between high, painted stucco walls and monumental wooden doorways, I find my other tribe, the people who look like my father and my grandfather before him.

The men are short and the women shorter. Just like my Dad and just like me. I recognize my siblings’ body types in those of the flower vendors and musicians on the square in front of the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. The features set in their silky brown complexions—heavy-lidded eyes and full lips—are the very same features that look back at me and my easily tanned white skin in the mirror.

These people are my ancestors, those in the sepia picture of my grandfather’s 1906 First Communion, his mother and his sister beside him, multiple aunts and cousins in the background.

Yes, indeed, I feel at home here.

The faces of people in San Miguel remind Marianne of the photos of her ancestors. Photo credit: San Miguel de Allende, by Christopher Michael via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

What if my Mexican grandfather…?

I stop for breakfast one morning on San Miguel’s central square. I choose a table in the shade, the breeze already warm. My mouth waters as a beautifully arranged platter of fresh fruit is set in front of me—mango, melon, banana, pineapple, and papaya, with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of granola.

The waiter could be my brother with his sturdy Cañedo silhouette. My years of Spanish classes serve me well as he and I chat, even though I admit: “Comprendo mucho, pero hablo solamente un poquito.” I understand a lot but I speak only a little.

Fruit juice drips from my chin and my thoughts drift to a “what-if” of my family tree. What if my Mexican grandfather and my American father after him, hadn’t both married Irish women, Mae Duffy and Mary Darby? I would likely look just like her, this woman who passes by in a hot pink dress and turquoise apron—traditional dress worn to help sell the handmade dolls and woven flowers spilling from baskets looped over her arms. My long, dirty blond hair, while still long and straight, would be lustrous and dark, just like hers. Mi hermana mexicana. My Mexican sister.

My new friend clears my empty plate and asks if I’d like more coffee. “No, gracias,” I answer and smile. It’s time to get back to my other tribe—my writing tribe—but I’m reluctant to leave this comfortable spot where it’s so easy to watch the world of San Miguel pass by. I pay la cuenta and leave a tip worthy of family.

“Hasta mañana?” he asks as I swing my bag over my shoulder. Will I see you tomorrow?

“¡Claro que sí, señor, hasta mañana!” Of course you’ll see me tomorrow!

I step from behind my table, my crooked pinkie waving goodbye in the sunshine.

* * *

Marianne, I understand that San Miguel has thousands of Canadian and American expatriate residents as well as an untold number of snowbirds in the winter months, many of whom simply use English, which is widely spoken in the city. I love it that you went to that part of the world for creative purposes and to explore your roots. And of course you spoke in Spanish! (I’d expect nothing less…) —ML Awanohara

Readers, have you ever had the experience of recognizing the faces of your ancestors in a foreign country? Do tell in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published in September 2015 with She Writes Press. She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. The couple has taken early retirement in Park City, Utah, where Marianne is now working on Book #2. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The biweekly Displaced Dispatch, SO much more than a round-up of posts from The Displaced Nation. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Photo credits: Top of page: Marianne Bohr (supplied); world map via Pixabay. All other images via Pixabay except the one of red tape: Tied up in red tape, by James Petts via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Advertisements

WORLD OF WORDS: When words fail you: i.e., you have a throbbing toothache in a foreign country

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

Columnist Marianne Bohr traveled to Corsica last summer to do the GR20 two-week hike across the island, said to be the most grueling long-distance trail in Europe. (She was also, btw, collecting material for Book #2!) When she told me this, I remember thinking: she’s chosen such a curious location! As some readers may recall from Lorraine Mace’s interview with novelist Vanessa Couchman, Corsica exudes a sense of displacement. Annexed by France in 1769, it retains a distinctly Italian flavor. Marianne told meshe read Couchman’s novel, The House at Zaronza, which is set in Corsica, when preparing for her trip. But nothing, readers, could have prepared her for the adventure she shares with us below. —ML Awanohara

My worst travel nightmare has materialized: a throbbing toothache in a foreign country. From experience, I’m sure it’s a dead nerve and I need antibiotics tout de suite.

After two days of downing pain relievers—I am miles from a town of any size on Corsica—I know I must deal with this immediately. Certainly before boarding a ferry from France to Sardinia, Italy—if there’s going to be any chance of me communicating with the doctor.

Readers, as you know I love immersing myself in the world of words. Can you imagine how I felt being in a situation where I was about to have no words?

throbbing-toothache-nightmare

We arrive in Bonafacio, a striking city with a stout hilltop fortress and stunning white chalk cliffs on the southern tip of the island. France is famous for its red tape and I’m ready to tackle it with respect to healthcare.

We reserve a late afternoon ferry for my emergency journey to Italy. Close to tears from the ache, I tell our hotel desk clerk what’s wrong and ask if she can get me a medical appointment. She picks up the phone and dials the local doctor whose office is down at the port. “Yes, he is seeing walk-in patients this morning. Here’s his address and our shuttle will take you.”

We enter his bare-bones, second-story walk-up office in a pastel 18th-century building overlooking the sparkling harbor. I wait ten minutes until his current patient comes out and then in I go. All he asks is my name. No ID, no insurance paperwork, nothing else. I’m in need and he’s treating me. A couple of questions, a quick look in my mouth, a few taps on my teeth, and he writes two prescriptions: one for an antibiotic and one for pain (a drug not available back home). Total damage: $33.

We head to the pharmacy next door, shell out a whopping $16 for the meds, and we’re on our way. Less than an hour after my plaint at the hotel and just shy of $50 for an impromptu doctor’s consult and the cure for my pain. I pop the pills and by the time we board the ferry hours later, my jaw is no longer on fire.

I can only imagine how long visitors to the US would wait, what documents they would be required to provide, and how much they would pay for the same treatment. Red tape and unconscionable fees in France? Not when it comes to healthcare.

french-health-care

* * *

What a harrowing tale, Marianne! But the happy ending reminds me of the first time I went to a doctor in Britain. I was astounded that there weren’t any bills and the doctor simply tried to help me. After that, I became a national-health-service convert. It was a formative moment. It’s also a timely reminder of what we may be giving up in this country—I’m thinking of our post-election debate! —ML Awanohara

Readers, have you ever had this kind of nightmare in a foreign country? Do tell in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published in September 2015 with She Writes Press. She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. The couple has just now taken early retirement in Park City, Utah, where she plans to spend her time working on Book #2. Marianne has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The biweekly Displaced Dispatch, SO much more than a round-up of posts from The Displaced Nation. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Photo credits: Top of page: Marianne Bohr (supplied); world map via Pixabay. All other images via Pixabay except the one of red tape: Tied up in red tape, by James Petts via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

WORLD OF WORDS: The travail of travel abroad with a group of middle schoolers (2/2)

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

What is it like to tour France with a bunch of American middle schoolers? It involves travel, for sure, but also no small amount of travail, as Marianne Bohr, who besides being a writer is a teacher of middle-school French, discovered this past spring break. This month we present Part Two of her lively travel/travail-ogue; anyone traveling with kids this summer should appreciate. (Miss Part One? Find it here.)

We are now four days into April and my students and I have been to Paris and to several chateaux in the Loire Valley. Amid some moans, groans and yawns, I’ve been reminding them that the English word travel comes from the French word travail. Work. Yes, travel can sometimes be a lot of work.

That said, we’ve already had plenty of enjoyable moments, including the rare sight of a rainbow over the Château de Chambord. Our French tour director, Nathalie, suggested this as the title for my next book: A Rainbow Over Chambord.

And now we’ve made it to gentle, lovely Normandy and Brittany. Apples and butter, Camembert and cows. No drama, no high emotions today—not until we reach the D-Day beaches tomorrow. We’re in the land of crêpes and galettes.

And what would our nine days be without a rude French waiter—actually quite difficult to find these days.

Monsieur Méchant, my students call him. They’re using one of our vocabulary words! Mr. Mean.

While they’ve learned to appreciate some French delicacies (poulet confit, profiteroles, pork rillettes, chicken liver pâtéun croque monsieur), they occasionally fall back on the familiar.

“That may be the worst sandwich I’ve ever had.”

“Ah, so you’ve learned an important lesson, non? Never order a baguette called The American in France!”

We have reached Mont Saint-Michel, a spikey medieval stronghold and pilgrimage destination jutting out into the English Channel. I revel in the calm of its cloister, three arches of which are open to the sea.

This place looks like a French Hogwarts, and this would be the dining hall. Perfect.

Dozens of seagulls soaring overhead—look how cute they are up close!

So, Mont St Michel was first built in the 700s? That’s over 1,000 years ago!

“Your math skills astound me,” I say with a smile.

We amble down the steep, corkscrewed lanes of the abbey and then through the village below. As I point out the rustic La Mère Poulard Café, famous for its fluffy omelettes Normandes, we manage to bump, very literally, into a working film crew. They push us aside. Make way for the star.

“Hey, they’re shooting a film—wow, a French actress!”

“Do you know her, Madame Bohr?”

“I think it’s just a commercial or there would be more cameras, right?”

We stand and watch two takes, gawking from the sides of the cobblestoned footpath, as the thirty-something beauty performs a soliloquy on a cell phone. Our brush with Gallic fame for the day. I google the actress that evening—redheaded French actress with blue eyes. How many could there be? And there she is: Audrey Fleurot, of Les IntouchablesMidnight in Paris and a yet-unknown film shot on Mont St. Michel.

“I had no idea you spoke so much French, Madame Bohr. You can ask directions and read the signs and talk to our guides and order food. And you can even order wine!”

Thank God for that. J’ai la patate (I’m in the mood).
Brittany and Normandy

Our longest day

“I thought our room was on the first floor. She said premier étage, didn’t she?”

“Why do we need the elevator?”

“Because in France, the first floor is on the second floor. We talked about it in class, but now you’ll remember,” I say. 

Our coach puts dozens of kilometers of narrow country roads behind us, weaving past stone buildings in various states of disrepair. They’ve been here for centuries—long before World War II came close to obliterating them all. Houses, barns, stables, outbuildings, storage sheds, churches. Some appear to have come through the war unscathed, their bucolic charm intact. Others lie in pieces, barely recognizable under gold and milky lichen, thick grasses and specks of blue spring wildflowers.

Who were the people who lived here during the war? French country homes are rarely sold, customarily passed down through families, so it’s likely those who live here now, lived here in the 1940s, or at least their forebears did. Stories of Allied sacrifice and bravery were shared across generations, thus, many yards fly both French and American flags.

“Madame Bohr, it feels like we’re at the seashore.”

“We ARE at the seashore. We’re in Normandy, close to the D-day BEACHES,” I say. “Don’t you remember what Nathalie told us and what we discussed this morning? D-day, Jour-J, to the French, took place on the English Channel, La Manche. You’ll see where the battles were fought as soon as we get off the bus.”

I find the beaches of Northern France melancholy by nature: cold, gray, rocky. Add the D-day landings and my heart wants to break. There’s salt in the air, and humidity. Remarkable humidity. Seagulls scream overhead. The landscape at Pointe du Hoc, virtually untouched since 1944 and pockmarked with deep bomb craters, is dotted with dense, low-slung bushes of tightly packed yellow beach blooms. A tiny ginger-breasted European robin twitches its head in the brush, trilling morning song. The inexorable persistence of nature on such a blood-soaked bluff.

Do my spring-breakers understand what happened here seventy years ago? For that matter, do I or any of us truly understand?

It’s an emotionally gloomy day, despite blue skies and a crisp wind. We arrive at the Normandy American Cemetery, honoring the Americans who died in Europe during World War II, and the yellow roses have changed to spiky mauve and burgundy heather. I’ve visited this sacred spot multiple times, yet it never fails to make me cry. How could it not? Seeing the black and white photographs of the fresh, young faces of men—boys, actually—displayed on the walls of the Visitors Center is all it takes.

I reiterate to my charges Nathalie’s suggestion that each of them find a soldier from Maryland, or the state in which he or she was born, take a picture of the grave marker and research him when they return home. Say a prayer, be grateful, say thank you to him and his family.

My students gaze out over Omaha Beach to the English Channel and I wonder what they’re thinking, dreaming. Are they imagining a war that seems so very long ago? What was I thinking at their age? As I recall, it was always about the future. About all that lay ahead. Life yet to unfold. Now, however, with decades and so many of life’s major decisions behind me, I’m in the present, appreciating the privilege of sharing history with students, watching it come alive in their eyes.

As we stand on this promontory where what happened changed the world, my wish for my charges, as it is for my children: put the important things in relief and let the trivial falls aside. Appreciate what they have and what was secured for them on this cliff in France.

Omaha Beach

“Do my spring-breakers understand what happened here? For that matter, do I or any of us truly understand?”

In the end, what will they remember?

The end of our nine-day trip looms.

I recall being enchanted, smitten, after my first taste of France. Have my students fallen in love as well? Have they caught the very same Francophile bug?

“Are we taking the metro or the RER into Paris?”

 “Bravo! You know the difference.” I applaud their progress.

There has been plenty of hilarity and silliness followed by moments of reflection and illumination.

Our final evening in Paris. A cruise on the Seine. Notre Dame soars, the river banks crawl with revelers, the Eiffel Tower glitters. My students shout with glee, their voices echoing, each time we glide under one of Paris’ many bridges.

“I’ve never laughed so hard.”

“I can’t believe I ate chicken liver. I really can’t believe I actually liked it!”

“This is the best meal I’ve ever had.”

“I’ll remember this trip for the rest of my life.”

“I’ll never forget how beautiful Paris is. I’m so sad we leave tomorrow.”

“I want to stay. When I come back to France…”

French music to my ears.
Eiffel Tower by Night

* * *

Brava, Madame Bohr! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this account of your travels/travails with your students. C’était très drôles! Like you, I also wonder whether this trip will have a long-lasting effect. If only we could track your charges over the next ten years: how many will take gap years, become expats? You’ve certainly done your bit to point them in the right direction! —ML Awanohara

Readers, have you ever had this kind of adventure with a group of young people abroad, and if so, were your travels full of travails? Do tell in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer, editor and French teacher whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published in September 2015 with She Writes Press. She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where after decades in publishing, she has followed her Francophile muse to teach French. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, SO much more than a round-up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Photo credits: Top of page: Marianne Bohr (supplied); world map via Pixabay. First collage: (clockwise from top left) Audrey Fleurot à l’ouverture du Printemps du cinéma à l’UGC La Défense, by Georges Biard via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0); Normandy cow and glass of wine via Pixabay; Tidal Plains from the Cloisters Mont St. Michel Abbey France, by amanderson2 via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); La Mere Poulard, Mont St Michel, by John Mason via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); and view of Mont Saint-Michel via Pixabay. Second collage: Normandy American Cemetery via Pixabay; and [untitled – Pointe du Hoc], by Scott via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Photo of Paris by night via Pixabay.

WORLD OF WORDS: The travail of travel abroad with a group of middle schoolers (1/2)

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

What is it like to tour France with a bunch of American middle schoolers? It involves travel, for sure, but also no small amount of travail, as Marianne Bohr, who besides being a writer is a teacher of middle-school French, discovered this past spring break. This month we present Part One of her lively travel/travail-ogue; Part Two will appear in August. Anyone traveling with kids this summer should appreciate.

It’s departure day, Friday, March 25, and our long-awaited trip to France is about to begin. We arrive at Dulles with our navy and silver Education First (EF) backpacks, excited but subdued. The violence in Belgium just days ago hovers.

The exuberance of the youth I’m accompanying, however, quickly overcomes any pallor and my excitement rises. Delta whisks us from Dulles to JFK to begin the five-hour layover for our flight to Paris. My always-hungry adolescents make multiple trips down the interminable airport hallways in search of their next round of Panda Express, Shake Shack and Jamba Juice, despite my reminders that we’ll have dinner and breakfast on our flight.

While my charges explore, I stay put to watch a blood red sunset to the west. “It’s a beach sunset,” declares an adorable French youngster, face pressed against the terminal window. I’m grateful for his mellifluous chatter that readies my ear for the nine days of French to come.

We board the 767 and my Tylenol PM kicking in, I can’t wait to pass out for seven hours on my travel pillow, under a red felt blanket. My students are of a different mind.

“OMG! Mockingjay!”

“They have The Walking Dead. I can’t believe it!”

“Look at all these movies!”

“Are they FREE, Madame Bohr?”

“I am so binge-watching all night!”

So much for my entreaties to get some sleep.

“You’ll all be walking zombies yourselves tomorrow morning,” I lament. Full bellies notwithstanding, they speculate about what’s for dinner and plan their watching strategies.

An overnight flight between us and the exuberance of the evening’s departure, I awaken semi-refreshed to glum faces, tussled hair and bleary eyes. We snake for well over two hours through the post-Brussels passport control maze at Charles de Gaulle and then finally, after spying and retrieving a temporarily lost suitcase that has inexplicably landed in a pile of unclaimed bags, exit the confines of the terminal for our entry into France.

Amid some moans, groans and yawns, I remind my fellow travelers that the English word travel comes from the French word travail. Work. Yes, travel can sometimes be a lot of work.

How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?

Wide-eyed wonder abounds as we tour the City of Light.

“I saw the Eiffel Tower first!”

“Look, Notre Dame!”

“OMG, Nutella! Nutella crêpes! Nutella milkshakes!”

“Is she a supermodel? She’s definitely a supermodel.”

“He must be French. He’s wearing a scarf.”

Having endlessly extolled the virtues of a genuine French baguette—crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle, ever so slightly burned on the bottom—I suppose I’m to blame for two students buying two-foot-long baguettes and downing them as we stroll the boulevards. All part of the culinary adventure that is France.

“I thought the Mona Lisa would be bigger.”

“That statue’s just famous ‘cuz she has no arms.”

“Hot chocolate is only two euros! And they serve it with whipped cream!”

“I definitely want to study in Paris.”

“I just love the Seine. Can we do a boat tour?”

Paris impressions

A rainbow over Chambord

Time to leave the hurly burly of the city and her anxiety-producing, camo-clad, machine gun-wielding guards, for the Loire Valley. So many châteaux, churches and country pleasures await.

“Why don’t Chartres’ spires match?”

“Is the stained glass really 1,000 years old?”

“Did people actually live in these châteaux?”

“It’s freezing inside! But look at the size of the fireplaces.”

At Chambord we’ve escaped a quick spring squall just in time, retreating into a mellow-lighted salon de thé. In the shadow of the romantic castle, I’m enjoying a crêpe with a student: crème de marron (chestnut cream) for me, caramel du beurre salé (salted butter caramel) for him. We savor our final bites, the skies clear—and a perfect arc en ciel (rainbow) materializes from one horizon to the other across the grounds of the chateau.

Nathalie, our French tour director, stops at our table and suggests a title for my next book: A Rainbow Over Chambord.

Pourquoi pas? (Why not?)

“What are those huge trees?”

“Why is their bark peeling so much?”

“Are those trees in the square dead?”

“They look like angry old people shaking their fists.”

“Why do they cut off all their branches?”

I recall the first time I saw the closely pruned—pollarded—French trees in the seventies. They made me sad, looking as if they’d been abused, the barren sentinels barred from reaching their natural height and breadth. But as I learned back then, such drastic cropping yields lush lollipop trees in summer, providing thick, summer greenery and dense, cooling shade.

I explain to my students about the trees and this leads to discussions of French rationality and affinity for order, English versus French gardens, the philosophes, and the French penchant for debate.

All because of an angry black tree in a village square.

“I love this hotel!”

“The one in Paris was way too modern.”

“This one has charm.”

“Our room is so cool. It has a back door!”

On peut sortir? Can we go out, Madame Bohr?”

I steal away on my own after dinner—I leave through my own back door—to lose myself in reverie and take a solo look at the château. Azay-le-Rideau, built on a human scale, one of my favorites. Grand enough to be called a château yet small enough to be accessible. I imagine myself living there, tapestries warming the walls, carpets softening the floors, surrounded by a duck pond. On my own for a few minutes, I’m transported back to the ’70s, conjuring the feelings of the romantic young student I was. Smitten then; I’m smitten now. My beloved France.

Once again, time to board the bus. This time amid uncontrolled giggling. “Qu’est-ce qui se passe?” What’s going on?” I ask.

They can barely speak. “The bus driver. Peeing by the tree. I saw things I didn’t want to!” Cackles. Guffaws. Innocents abroad. Innocence in France.

Loire Valley Tour 1

Vous avez la patate?

“Our shower only has half a door!”

“Are all bathrooms like that in France?”

“The whole floor is soaked!”

“How much butter is in this croissant? Is it okay if I add more?”

Our Loire Valley tour continues. Each morning as we load the bus, our guide asks how we are.

Ça va? Vous avez la patate? Vous avez la pêche? Vous avez la banane? (Do you have the potato; the peach; the banana?)

Each is a clever way to ask: Are you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed today? Oui, j’ai la patate. Every language has its apt idioms.

Students scrutinize the fashion of their French peers. While I see few differences, they are keenly aware of every one and school me on the distinctions.

Their shoes: “They just look like sneakers to me.”

Their jeans: “Everyone wears skinny jeans, even the boys.”

Their jackets: “They’re longer and actually match their outfits.”

Their hair: “The guys have a lot of quiffs.”

(What’s a quiff? It’s like a whoosh or a puff, they tell me. Oh, you mean like a pompadour? I say. My fashion eyes are definitely too old.)

The students negotiate the topiary labyrinth at Chenonceau, more interested in the grounds than the interior of the château. While they visit the donkey farm to the side of the sycamore-lined entryway, I discover an elegant orangery-style restaurant tucked behind the cafe. I’m off in a daydream, imagining a romantic dinner with my husband in the not-too-distant future.

Although this is my fourth visit to the castle (my first was in ’78 with Joe, as students freezing on motorbikes), Chenonceau never fails to charm. I send my stateside travel partner a text:

We must return and stay at one of the village’s ivy-covered inns; Chenonceau now has a gourmet restaurant!

The château boasts two magnificent gardens designed by the two women in King Henry ii’s life: one by the mistress and one by the wife. I choose the one that’s more shaded and compact, that of her majesty, Catherine de Medici. Daffodils, hyacinths and other early spring blossoms have made their way into full color, so different from the austere, pallid portraits of the queen inside the castle.

But the persona I assume is that of Diane de Poitiers—the beautiful, fashionista mistress of the king, twenty years his senior. The original cougar, I think with a chuckle; a fitting observation by a woman who just turned sixty. One day, some day, I’ll morph into Diane at a costume ball, despite the fact that her calculating ruthlessness is about as distant from my personality as I can fathom. But that’s what masquerades are about, no doubt.

The gardens are now under a soft, spring drizzle. I envision royal steeds trotting up the sandy lane to deposit me at Chenonceau’s drawbridge from a gilded coach. But I’m brusquely yanked back to the present as a student calls from behind a colossal planter:

“What time do we have to be back on the bus, Madame Bohr? Are we late?”

My travelers are astounded by the size of the four châteaux we’ve visited.

Wait ’til we see Versailles, I say.

“Versailles? I can’t wait to go to Versailles. Part of Kim Kardashian’s wedding was there!”

Some things my students say make me less proud than others.
Loire Valley Tour 2

* * *

Très drôles, Marianne! I love that you snuck in a Diane de Poitiers moment just before your charges brought you back to the 21st-century by bringing up Kim Kardashian’s nuptials at Versailles. So, did the sight of that rainbow over Chamboud compensate for your travails? And did any of your students show the potential for taking a gap year, or perhaps even choosing the expat life, one day? I can’t wait to read Part Two. —ML Awanohara

Readers, have you ever had this kind of adventure with a group of young people abroad, and if so, were your travels full of travails? Do tell in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer, editor and French teacher whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published in September 2015 with She Writes Press. She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where after decades in publishing, she has followed her Francophile muse to teach French. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and SO much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Photo credits: Top of page: Marianne Bohr (supplied); world map via Pixabay. First collage: Photos of baguettes, boat on Seine, and Mona Lisa via Pixabay; just how French, by thellr via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Second collage: Rainbow, Azay-le-Rideau, and Cambord via Pixabay; Crepes pomme/poire du caramel au beurre sale, by Cyril Doussin via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and Pollards, by Garry Knight via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). Bottom collage: (clockwise from top left) Chenonceau gardens, by Adam Kent via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); [French boy with quiff], by Reims Media Agency via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Kim Kardashian, by Eva Rinaldi via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and Diane De Poitiers (1499-1566), via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).

WORLD OF WORDS: Oh, those faux pas! Those you commit, and others that are committed upon you, during your travels abroad

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

Columnist Marianne Bohr’s first book, Gap Year Girl, about an adult gap year she took with her husband, came out last September with She Writes Press. Here she recounts some amusing faux pas from their travels, and owns up to one of her own (from her first time in France).

In the world of words, language is a subtle art. So what happens when non-native speakers miss out on linguistic subtleties? To what extent does it rock the native speaker’s world?

Over the course of 12 months backpacking across Europe on an adult gap year with my husband in 2012, we were frequently amused by the quirky use of English we encountered. Indeed, while we would never want to discourage non-native speakers from giving English a try, hearing translations of our mother tongue that weren’t quite right was, more often than not, a source of entertainment.

And sometimes the results of such attempts were downright, flat-out, laugh-out-loud funny.

I’ll elaborate on those examples—that’s after I own up to one of my own French faux pas.

Pas de tout or pas tout? There’s a difference?!!

The delicate nature of language was highlighted for me when teaching a middle school French class a couple of weeks ago. I asked one of my best students if she understood the lesson we’d just completed on the formation of the passé composé. She looked at me guardedly and replied with a crooked smile, “Pas de tout.”

I was deflated. Crushed. One of my stars had freely admitted she’d understood nothing at all of my lecture. How could that be? Was my explication really that obtuse?

Vous comprenhez Pas de tout

Photo credits: Studying French at home and in Paris, by Modern Languages @ Finger Lakes Community College, by The LEAF Project via Flickr (CC0 1.0).

But then, like a flash, I remembered something from my own life that occurred almost 40 years ago, during my initial entry to France. I was a youthful 21-year-old backpacker, not the gap-year backpacker I would write about later, and was having my first authentic conversation with a native speaker. Instead of a husband, I was traveling with several companions, not one of whom spoke a word of the language of love.

We were checking into a seedy, Parisian budget hotel on the right bank. The front desk clerk spoke at a speed beyond my college ken, and from what I understood, yes, he had a room, but just one for the four of us (one boy and three girls).

My hesitation to reply, searching for the right words, and the panicked look in my eyes, stretched beyond the limits of his harried patience, and he demanded: “Vous comprenez, alors, mademoiselle?” Do you understand, miss?

Pas de tout,” I replied, so pleased that I’d managed to tell him that I understood most of what he’d said.

Oh, la,” he replied, straightening his posture and rolling his eyes in that distinctively Gallic way. “You understood nothing,” he said, in heavily accented English.

“No, no,” I countered, not even aware of how quickly I’d collapsed, reverting to the comfort of English. “I meant, I didn’t understand everything.”

I didn’t want him to think I was a complete imbecile. But the damage was done. I’d told him I hadn’t understood a word, when what I’d wanted to convey was that I’d understood, but perhaps not every word. The simple insertion of the little word “de” had completely changed what I’d said. “Pas tout.” Not everything. “Pas de tout.” Nothing at all. My merry band of four American youth did settle into a single room that night, but my faux pas would haunt me for the balance of our stay in Paris.

Fast-forward to my present-day classroom. “Did you understand today’s lesson?” I ask. “Pas de tout,” is the response, and now I smile. “Not everything,” is what she means, and not, “Nothing at all.”

She’s making the same mistake I did forty years ago. How can I possibly fault her?

A Catalan breakfast a la Cee-lo Green

Two months into our year-long gap-year journey, my husband and I have arrived in Barcelona after having spent seven weeks in my beloved France.

The familiar doorbell chime greeting of “bonjour, messieurs-dames” each time we walk into a shop or hotel has been replaced with a simple, straightforward “hola.” And we’re reminded at every turn by the abundant bright red-and-yellow striped flags and the street signs and billboards (the words of which I can decipher only a few), that we’re not yet fully in Spain; we’re in Catalonia, as we were in Andorra on our way here.

Now and then, I’ll spot a familiar word, like bella for beautiful, carrer for street or gambeta for shrimp.

Ordering food off a Catalan menu can be a real adventure!

On our very first morning in Spain, we experience one of those unexpected, laugh-out-loud moments that surprise you when you travel. In the well-lit hotel breakfast room, painted pale green and decorated with plentiful plastic oranges and daisies, we are the only two Americans filling our plates from the buffet. Imagine our surprise when the English-language rock music playing in the background launches into Cee-Lo Green’s original “Forget You.”

We practically drop our huevos in our laps. Are they really playing the uncensored version? “I’m like, 
f*** you! And f*** her too!”

No one else in the cantina even flinches. Ah, the beauty and innocence of enjoying another country’s music while you have no idea what the lyrics mean.

Breakfast in Barcelona

Photo credits (clockwise from top): Cee-Lo, by Pat Guiney via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Hello sign, by Oh-Barcelona.com via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Manifestació Som Una Nació, Nosaltres Decidim! 50, by Merche Pérez via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and Breakfast (Barcelona, Spain), by PunkToad via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

The Golden Virgin & Kid

Marseille was founded in 600 BC. As the oldest town in France, it’s now the second largest city in the country (although the residents of Lyon often like to challenge this claim). My husband and I have an early seafood dinner along the lines of yachts and fishing boats and are pleasantly surprised that the wharf area isn’t half as gritty as we imagined.

Despite the sea breezes, the day is extremely hot, lethargy prevails and we find ourselves purchasing the most touristy tickets of our year. We take the miniature baby blue train on wheels that wanders the city and up to the top of a limestone peak with a panoramic view over the city.

As we approach the summit, the electronically generated (and apparently translated) French commentary announces we’re arriving at the Notre Dame de la Garde church, famous for its 30-foot high gilded Madonna and Child atop the steeple.

So far, so good except that the English translation that follows suggests that we “fold our necks and look up to see the golden Virgin and her kid.”

We must be the only English speakers aboard because we’re the only ones laughing.

* * *

Thank you, Marianne, for sharing these très drôles d’histoires (gosh, did I get that right?), one of which was at your own expense.

Readers, any faux pas of note to report from your travels, yours or others’? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer, editor and French teacher whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published last September (She Writes Press). She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where after decades in publishing, she has followed her Francophile muse to teach French. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and SO much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

WORLD OF WORDS: At least know the meaning of “gauche” before you travel abroad

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

Columnist Marianne Bohr, whose first book, Gap Year Girl, came out in September with She Writes Press, recounts some of the bad elements she and her husband encountered during their travels.

When living in or even just briefly visiting a country not your own, bad behavior often involves words. Or sometimes, the lack of them.

Over the course of the adult gap year I took with my husband to explore Europe, we frequently witnessed what we considered bad behavior by expats or tourists. There’s no excuse for being in a country without learning the basics of its culture and at least a modicum of words for pleasantries. To do otherwise selfishly places you and your mother tongue at the center of the language universe and disrespects the country and the people you’ve chosen to visit.

Rude Americans in the City of Light

Our 365 days of travel began with a month in Paris. In the space of two evenings, we observed very different, yet equally disappointing, back-to-back dining experiences. The food was terrific but our neighbors were not. Both incidents involved Americans in the City of Light for long stays.

Parisian cafe bad elements

Photo credit: Parisian bistro at night, by La Citta Vita via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The first took place in a bright busy bistro where we were seated next to a retired married couple from Reno, Nevada. They had been coming to Paris for six weeks at the end of every summer for several years.

The second was in a dim crêperie where we sat across from a middle-aged man and woman from U.S. parts unknown (although her accent gave her away as coming from the deep south). He taught something somewhere to students in Paris and she stated indignantly as we ordered our drinks that she, “could not take another year over here—twelve months was more than enough.” Everyone has a story.

Some of the two couples’ background they shared with us and other bits we overheard. What absolutely amazed me—in fact made me wince—was that none of these four Americans even attempted to speak French to the wait staff.

I completely identify with not knowing a language; we traveled through multiple countries whose languages eluded me, yet we always learned to say hello, please, thank you and you’re welcome.

But all four of these people had spent significant time in France. Would it have been so difficult to read off the menu and say, “la salade” and ”le poulet” instead of “the salad” and “the chicken?” Could the guy who’s been teaching here for a year at least have learned to say, “l’addition, s’il vous plaît” instead of “the check, please?” Might they all have been able replace, “Thank you—goodbye,” with “Merci—au revoir?”

I’m sympathetic towards tourists who travel for brief visits, but after six weeks every year and a full twelve months in Paris, there’s simply no excuse. That’s behaving badly in my book.

Blatant bad behavior in Aix

Well into our sabbatical year having traveled through 20 additional countries, we were back in the pleasures of France. And yet again, we found ourselves observing a more blatant brand of bad behavior.

We had settled in the stylish university town of Aix-en-Provence at the height and in the heat of a south-of-France summer. One of our favorite pastimes was sitting for long mornings under the dense shade of sycamores—les platanes—their green canopies arching over appealing squares filled with tiny bistro tables. The unique mosaic of the sycamores’ peeling bark intrigued us—uneven patterns of pastel yellows, tawny russets, avocado greens and dull grays—and we never tired of studying the colors.

Aix plantanes

But on one morning, our idyllic interlude under royal sycamores was marred by the manners of plebeians.

Enjoying cafés au lait, croissants, and the daily chatter of French summer school students in the outdoor shade, we were startled when an Eastern European quartet of two tanned Moms and their Mini-Me daughters, each one more rude than the other, unceremoniously marched onto the terrace.

There were no “bonjours” and no smiles in response to the sweet greetings of the waitress. The women’s bravado more than upset the drowsy morning ambience.

All were similarly clad in skinny jeans, patent leather stilettos and Jackie-O shades with “spoiled” plastered across heavily made-up faces. Distressed that the cafe served no food for breakfast and when politely urged, as we had been, to run up the street to the local boulangerie for croissants, the most vocal of the four retorted brusquely and loudly in accented English, “What, the French don’t eat breakfast? Ridiculous.”

We so wanted to see her wobble up the cobblestoned hill in search of pastries in those heels.

stilettos in Aix

Rather than rebuke the vocal twenty-something for bad behavior and creating a scene, however, her mother barked an order for orange juice—“freshly squeezed.” The OJ not forthcoming, they settled loudly for espressos, plopped down in their chairs and insolently picked up their Blackberries with identical pouts.

Bad-mannered people come from all corners of the world, and, unfortunately, they sometimes chose to sit next to us.

* * *

Thank you, Marianne, for sharing these horror stories! I agree, more people need to join your world of words!

Readers, have you ever met the tourists from hell, and were they using English in a non-English-speaking country at the time? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer, editor and French teacher whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published in early September (She Writes Press). She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where after decades in publishing, she has followed her Francophile muse to teach French. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and SO much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

WORLD OF WORDS: She spoke in Italian to me, I spoke in English to her, and we had a perfect conversation

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

Columnist Marianne Bohr, whose first book, Gap Year Girl, came out in September with She Writes Press, has a story for us about one of the pleasanter linguistic surprises that occurred during year-long travels. Naturally, it happened on an Italian train!

Sometimes the basics of another language are all you need.

For this month’s post, I’d like to share a story about the time when my husband, Joe, and I were on a train from Naples to Sicily.

* * *

All aboard!

We board the train in Naples behind a pack of uniformed, fully armed carabinieri—images of the Italian Wild West, Michael Corleone and Tony Soprano dancing in our heads. We picture the potential for some seriously illegal transactions on this particular itinerary: Naples bound for Sicily.

Photo credits: Train station sign, by jm3 via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/jm3/960186/ (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/; La Muerte Tenía un Precio, by jablagu via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en; Man with shotgun in Sicily[https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Man_with_shotgun_in_Sicily.jpg], by archer 10 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.

Photo credits: Train station sign, by jm3 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); La Muerte Tenía un Precio, by jablagu via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0); Man with shotgun in Sicily, by archer 10 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Our train travels down the boot to its toe and eventually on to Taormina, our Sicilian destination. The trip will take seven hours including the two-mile ferry trip to the island across the Strait of Messina. We discuss the merits of building a tunnel but it makes no seismic sense, our guidebook says; the earthquake-prone region categorically rules out the possibility. But then we read the real reason is that organized crime controls the crossing—and they like the status quo.

Next station stop: Villa San Giovanni (after which the train will board a ferry to the island of Sicilia!)

We stop at Villa San Giovanni, the town at the western tip of mainland Italy. She, Italian, 30-something, boards the train with great flourish and an oversized valise.

Joe and I are in deep conversation about the logistics of our arrival in Taormina and simply say, “Buongiorno,” after helping her hoist her bag onto the rack overhead.

We finally arrive at the terminal where they split the train into two and roll the cars onto rails in the ferry’s cargo hold. This impressive engineering feat can take some time and during the process, our carriage loses power (no lights or air conditioning), adding an element of the sinister to the experience.

Photo credit: Train ferry to Sicily[https://www.flickr.com/photos/comprock/5292490503/], by Michael Cannon via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.

Photo credit: Train ferry to Sicily, by Michael Cannon via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).


Joe, a ship engineer, ever interested in anything marine, goes off to observe the transfer logistics. I stay in our darkened train compartment to chat with the young woman sitting across from me.

Once it’s just the two of us, she asks brightly, “Dove alloggia lì Sicilia?” She wants to know where we’ll stay once we arrive on Sicily.

“We have a hotel in Taormina,” I reply, “the Bel Soggiorno.” And just like that, we establish an understanding for the conversation that ensues. She will speak in her melodic Italian and I will respond in English, each of us knowing just enough of the other’s language to understand but not speak.

She gushes that she loves the Bel Soggiorno, telling me the views of Mount Etna are spectacular and the terrace looking over the sea is so romantic.

“I’m happy to hear that,” I respond, “because our room is only $80 and I was afraid it would be a bit dumpy.”

“Oh no,” she tells me in Italian. “It’s just that it’s early March and rates are very low.”

Her name is Carolina, the Italian version of our daughter’s name, so I like her right away. She’s of that breed of seriously overweight women who don’t behave like they’re heavy: she’s confident, has perfect makeup, is dressed to the nines in bright colors, wears high-heeled suede boots, and carries herself with panache. She knows what to do with what she has, maximizing her assets, as the Italians like to say, in true Italian bella figura style.

Photo credit: Untitled[https://www.flickr.com/photos/lovemaegan/4532998717/], by Maegan Tintari via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].

Photo credit: Untitled, by Maegan Tintari via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Our conversation is a particularly satisfying lopsided exchange because we manage to share so much in spite of our Italian-English volley. I fill her in on Joe’s and my gap year traveling through Europe, she teaches me the lovely, lilting Italian pronunciation of Sicily (Sicilia–See-CHEE-lya) and I explain the geography of the States.

Like many Europeans, the two places she is most anxious to visit are New York City and California. She asks if she can see them both in a week. I smile, draw a map on the back of her ticket and explain just how far apart they are, suggesting she needs at least three weeks to see them properly.

“It’s almost 3,000 miles from New York to San Francisco,” I tell her and California is a big state.

She responds with a laugh, “Allora, mi prendo tre settimane!” Then I’ll take three weeks!

Passengers may now go on deck to view Straits of Messina…

We leave the train for a quick look at our passage across the water, but the wind is fierce, kicking up whitecaps, and we quickly return to the dim warmth of our compartment. I learn that Carolina lives in Naples—she’s a native Neopolitana—and works in an art gallery. She is headed for a long weekend in Taormina to visit her boyfriend. She makes the trip once a month and he travels north with the same frequency to see her.

I ask if she thinks she’ll marry him and she tells me with a wink that she hopes they’ll get engaged this weekend.

“Bravo,” I respond with a giggle and a clap and then ask about a luna di miele—a honeymoon.

Before I finish asking, she says, “Capri,” accent on the first syllable. “Andiamo a Capri.”

I mentally say a quick thank you to my French and Spanish teachers over the years. Knowing these two Romance languages paved the way for this delightful conversation in Italian.

Photo credit: More gossip[https://www.flickr.com/photos/duncanh1/5893263199/], by DncnH via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].

Photo credit: More gossip, by DncnH via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Next stop: Taormina, Sicily

Joe finally returns to his seat once the train is reconnected in Messina for the last leg of our all-day journey. After another twenty minutes, we descend with Carolina onto Taormina’s platform as she drags her bright pink, hard-shelled suitcase, the travel of choice of so many young Italian women, behind her.

She kisses my cheeks, turns and waves, warbling, “Goodbye,” and I call, “Arrivederci!

She embraces her beloved and then ducks into his red sports car.

I follow Joe to the taxi stand, imagine a honeymoon on the horizon, and soon we’re winding up the hill to the Bel Soggiorno.

Photo credits: Wedding (inside restaurant on Capri)[https://www.flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/20298529790/], by Moyan Brenn (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/;Waving goodbye[https://www.flickr.com/photos/wherearethejoneses/1341937768/], by The Jones via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/; Volcano Etna at sunset[https://www.flickr.com/photos/gnuckx/4692956069/], by gnuckx via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].

Photo credits: Wedding (inside restaurant on Capri), by Moyan Brenn (CC BY-SA 2.0); Waving goodbye, by The Jones via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Volcano Etna at sunset, by gnuckx via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

* * *

Thank you, Marianne, for this enchanting story! I must say, I admire the way you reach across linguistic barriers and find words in common. In situations where others might give up, you are undaunted. I guess that’s the advantage of living in a world of words?

Readers, have you ever, like Marianne, enjoyed a conversation with someone even though you were both speaking in different languages? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer, editor and French teacher whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published in early September (She Writes Press). She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where after decades in publishing, she has followed her Francophile muse to teach French. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and SO much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

 

WORLD OF WORDS: There’s a word for that homesickness that grips expats and overseas travelers, and it’s French!

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

Columnist Marianne Bohr, whose first book, Gap Year Girl, came out at the start of this month with She Writes Press, recounts a time during her travels in France when she and her husband felt suddenly out of place and full of longing for home. Ironically, however, the most apt expression she could think of to describe this feeling was French!

They’re inevitable. Those days that occasionally, and sometimes from out of nowhere, invade the life of a long-term international traveler or expat. You miss home, you’re a stranger in an alien place, you’re gripped by le cafard.

While French has an expression for homesickness (mal du pays), I prefer the other term, le cafard, to describe this dark visitor. It literally means “the cockroach”.

Le_cafard_cockroach

Photo credits: Alone In The Dark, Nobody Waiting, by Môsieur J.; (inset) Gaspard le cafard, by InOutPeaceProject. Both images via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The creepy cockroach of homesickness

Seven weeks into our year of living in Europe, homesickness hit and hit hard. My husband, Joe, and I were in southwestern France. The fall weather had turned decidedly cold under steely gray skies and thick cloud cover—never good for lifting one’s spirits. Though we never imagined our adventure abroad would be daily champagne and constant merriment, we didn’t expect the blues to make their appearance so soon.

Exploring endless desolate, medieval stone hamlets had darkened our mood. Everything had been touched not only by the savagery of the Hundred Years’ War between the French and English in the 14th and 15th centuries but also by the 13th-century Cathar Crusade.

Prior to leaving for Europe, I’d read extensively about the Cathars and decided that we had to visit the region in which this shameful yet fascinating period of history took place.

The bloodthirsty military campaign of the pope, ironically named Innocent III, to eliminate the dualist offshoot of Catholicism in Languedoc-Roussillon was conducted with abandon against the heretics. No one was spared—men, women, children, and the elderly were all slaughtered. And when Catholics refused to give up their Cathar neighbors, one religious leader (a monk, no less) famously declared: “Kill them all. God will know his own.”

In a sunnier clime, this history might have been remote and intriguing. But against a backdrop of unrelenting gray with no access to the Internet, it left us feeling fogged in and low. Very low. After visiting so many places that witnessed sieges, starvation, plagues, pestilence, and butchery, even the cheeriest of souls would have succumbed to its grip.

Cathar Crusade

Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Pope Innocent III wearing a Y-shaped pallium, by unknown 13th-century artist; “Saint Dominic presiding over an Auto da fe” (detail), by Pedro Berruguete; Expulsion of the inhabitants from Carcassone in 1209, taken from the manuscript Grandes Chroniques de France. All images via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s a bug that thrives in the dark—and in the Dark Ages!

Melancholia, tinged with some serious mal du pays, reared its ugly head without warning. Perhaps we’d had our fill of cold, antiquated spaces and lonely, abandoned stone villages. Or perhaps the total absence of others to provide even a bit of people-watching diversion had brought us down. But maybe we were just in a trough of the normal vicissitudes of travel.

To put it simply, we missed our children and we missed our country—we’d come down with a serious case of le cafard.

Despite knowing that immersing ourselves in the brutal extinction of the Cathars might not be what we needed to improve our dispositions, we plowed ahead toward our next destination: Caunes-Minervois, just north of Carcassonne. On the way, we stopped and hiked the steep Cathar hill town of Cordes-sur-Ciel, where the region’s alleged heretics had taken refuge, and took a long midday break for a sunny, outdoor lunch in Albi (home of Toulouse-Lautrec), with its austere, imposing redbrick cathedral of Sainte-Cécile, unlike any other church in the world. We noted that the cylindrical exterior of its nave looked like a space shuttle ready for launch. Sainte-Cécile was built after the Cathars were wiped out as a visible reminder to those who might be thinking of defying Rome not to forget who was in charge.

Sainte-Cécile Cathedrale

Photo credit: Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile d’Albi, vue de la rive opposée du Tarn, by Jean-Christophe BENOIST via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Back on the road, we drove farther south into the Montagne Noire to our ultimate destination: the constricted streets of Caunes-Minervois, where our Internet-enabled hotel awaited. It had been over a week since we’d communicated with our children, and we were lost in reverie about what we would learn when we fired up our laptops. Our son had had an interview the last time we spoke. Did he get the job? we wondered. Our daughter was coming down with a cold. Was she feeling better? Did my latest Amex payment process, and was the house we hoped to rent in Spain still available?

Just can’t get rid of it…

Our home for the next three nights was the Hôtel d’Alibert, an age-old townhome in the heart of the medieval quarter. The affable but quirky owner (you cannot arrive at the hotel between 2:00 and 5:00 p.m. because he is napping—it says so right on the door) lets us in through the French doors of the hotel’s restaurant at just after five. (The front portal remained inexplicably locked all day.)

The coda to our arrival in Caunes-Minervois was this: “Yes, the hotel has free Wi-Fi,” the proprietor confirmed, “but I’m afraid it’s not working; there have been problems.”

Wifi problems at Hotel dAlibert

Photo credit: Hôtel d’Alibert à Caunes-Minervois, by Gaël Gendrotvia Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

We were enraged and on the verge of tears. Here we were in yet another deserted town with no means to connect. We dragged our devastated spirits up the spiral stone stairway to our room and dropped our luggage. Le cafard attacked with a vengeance. For the rest of the evening, in a fit of pique, we seriously contemplated the possibility of returning home—of giving up on this gap year business—but finally agreed that all would be better in the morning.

After our night of frustration and reflection, the morning light bolstered our resolve to rally.

* * *

Now back stateside, I still refer to a bout with the blues as le cafard. It just seems so perfect a term. How do other languages express this feeling of profound melancholia? Are there expressions in other languages as accurate as the French?

* * *

Thank you, Marianne! How well you’ve described, with the help of that vivid French metaphor, the sense of alienation that at some point or another plagues all of us who venture beyond borders to travel or live. The word we use on this site, “displaced”, simply isn’t strong enough! Readers, do you have any suggestions for words or sayings in other languages that can convey these feelings? Do let us know in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer, editor and French teacher whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published in early September (She Writes Press). She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where after decades in publishing, she has followed her Francophile muse to teach French. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and SO much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

WORLD OF WORDS: How a mysterious passion for learning French has shaped the life of writer Marianne Bohr

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

New columnist Marianne Bohr, whose first book, Gap Year Girl, is about to come out with She Writes Press, is here with her second post attesting to how a passion for learning languages can engender a passion for travel.

I decided long ago that I was born in the wrong country. There must have been some mistake. But then again, if I’d been born in l’Hexagone, my passion for all things French wouldn’t exist. I’d have been raised with the language’s romantic euphony, and the fluid succession of words would be part of my everyday world. Some other tongue and faraway culture would have caught my fancy—so perhaps, just perhaps, it’s fortuitous my birthplace was Fort Wayne, Indiana, and not Paris.

Passions are essential to a happy life. When we care about something, it shrinks the world to a human scale, breaking it into wieldy pieces to love and nurture. My passion for French shapes my world, yet why I love this lyrical language so dearly is an essential mystery I’ll never fully understand.

In my first post I spoke about the decision my husband, Joe, and I made to do a senior year abroad at age 55. For the final six weeks of our “gap year” traveling through Europe, we settled into Aix-en-Provence, a stylish, sun-kissed university town in the south of France. We delighted in the daily outdoor markets and spent hours in cafes along the Cours Mirabeau, sipping rosé wine and listening to the mellifluous French chatter around us.

Photo credit: Les Deux Garçons, by tpholland via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

I signed up for daily French conversation classes, hoping to further exercise my sometimes-lazy American jaw in preparation for the new career that awaits me back in the States. Over thirty years in book publishing is behind me and armed with the degree I completed before we left for our gap year, I’m ready to embrace being a French teacher, full throttle.

First day of school

I’ve always loved being a student of French, no matter my age, but on the first day of my class at IS Aix-en-Provence (a language institute that specializes in teaching French to adults), I’m predictably nervous, as I’ve been on day one of every school year of my life. I lay out my clothes the night before and imagine first days of school gone by: my freshly ironed plaid uniform, crisp white blouse, just-purchased navy knee socks with tags still attached, and newly polished oxfords. I pack a snack, just as I did in grammar school, and I’m ready to go.

My giddy younger self emerges the moment I cross the classroom threshold, polished floorboards creaking, where I am once again a wide-eyed schoolgirl eagerly poised over a blank composition book, pencil sharpened and my ardor for the subject on my sleeve.

My class of ten includes students from Australia, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden, none of us a youngster and all on an educational vacation in summertime Aix. I introduce myself and stumble on the choice of tense. Do I use the present or the future tense of “to be”? Do I affirm I am a French teacher, or do I demur and say I’ll soon be a French teacher? I opt for the former, Je suis prof de français. It bolsters my confidence with a frisson of pride.

My prof is Céline—gorgeous, funny, and particularly warm. I so wish I could be like her—une jolie française who speaks lovely French. As I walk home from class, it hits me, as it has so often before: yes, I am a newly minted French teacher, but no matter how I try, no matter how I practice, no matter how fiercely I study, I’ll never be French. I’ll never be française. I’ll never sound like Céline. I’ll forever be on the outside looking in, my face and palms pressed against the linguistic glass. I plunge into a microflash of depression. But I proceed across town, under soaring sycamores, content to have a passion I can call my very own.

The French and their apocopes

The French often truncate words by dropping the final syllables and adding an “o.” Apéro, McDo, and resto (aperitif, McDonald’s, and restaurant) have long been staples of my French vocabulary, but thanks to my classes, I add abbreviations to my repertoire:

  • accro hooked on
  • les actus (the news),
  • un ado (an adolescent),
  • bio (organic),
  • un dico (a dictionary),
  • perso (personal), and,
  • (my favorite) Sarko (Nicolas Sarkozy).
Shortened French words

A few examples of the Gallic fondness for apocopes. Photo credits: Apéro au coin du feu, by Sébastien Bertrand via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); English-language dictionary via Pixabay; _EPP Summit, by European People’s Party via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Each week in class, we prepare presentations about les actus, and I do one on social media. Twitter and blogger have now entered the daily lexicon as regular “-er” verbs. We learn the quirky French term for “walkie-talkie” (talkie-walkie), that the expression vachement bien (amazingly good), which was very popular thirty years ago, is much less in vogue nowadays, and that it is très chic to say super (pronounced “sue pair”—accent on the “sue”), especially if you’re a woman.

The café was super-bon; your dress is super-chic; he looks super. I imagine the French language police, the Académie Française, must be super-fâché (very angry) about all the new Franglais.

Why won’t anyone speak French with me?

Indeed, much has changed in France over the past 35 years. There’s a new generation with kinder attitudes, more customer-service orientation, and lots of English spoken, so unlike the France of days gone by. Everyone wants to speak English, but I want to speak French. I’m bolstered by Joe, who always encourages, “Make them speak French, babe,” so we have uneven, lopsided exchanges:

“Good evening, madame.”

“Bonsoir, monsieur.”

“Would you like an aperitif?”

“Oui, je prends un kir, s’il vous plaît.”

“Very good. And you, sir?”

“Un kir aussi, merci.”

It’s initially disconcerting, but they eventually get the point and give us what we want. They speak to us in French! We really do appreciate the attempt to be accommodating and their eagerness to practice our language. If only we Americans would exhibit the same passion for learning new tongues.

* * *

Thank you, Marianne! How about the rest of you out there? Do you have a passion for a foreign language and if so, what kind of lengths have you gone to in its pursuit? Do let us know in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer, editor and French teacher whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, will be published in September 2015 (She Writes Press). She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where after decades in publishing, she has followed her Francophile muse to teach French. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

STAY TUNED for the next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and SO much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

WORLD OF WORDS: For writer Marianne Bohr, travel is a way to indulge a craving for language

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Today we welcome new columnist Marianne Bohr, whose first book, Gap Year Girl, is about to come out. Marianne contributes a post showing how her love of languages intersects with her love of travel.

At age 55, my husband and I took a “senior year abroad.” We quit our jobs, sold the house, the car and most of our belongings to travel across Europe in search of adventure.

Part of that adventure was physical. Highlights of our 12-month sojourn across 21 countries included running the Paris Marathon and doing a seven-day hike along the Tour du Mont Blanc.

Part of it was about meeting new people and trying new foods.

But for me the adventure also had to do with words. Having always been a “word” person, I was fascinated by the myriad languages we encountered. So often I’ve wondered: Is it possible to overstate the importance of language in forging friendships across borders? And my response has always been, I don’t think so.

Language itself can be a window on the world, one that opens wide when either a common tongue is shared or you look behind the vocabulary of a language other than your own.

In future posts, I’ll look at specific words and expressions, especially those in French, since I’m a Francophile through and through. But for now, I have adapted a few passages from my book that contain a few observations about language that I made during our year abroad. Enjoy!

* * *

The trip from Grindelwald, Switzerland to Chamonix, France, requires four train changes and one bus. As the crow flies, the distance isn’t far, but crossing the Alps can be a multilegged, many-houred proposition.

On one of the neat and tidy Swiss mountain trains, a Japanese couple traveling alone takes their places across from a dapper, middle-aged local gentleman on the banquette seats next to ours. He jumps up to help them with their luggage and once the bags are in place, proceeds to initiate a friendly conversation in Japanese. The look of pure, unadulterated joy on the couple’s faces lights up the train. They’re on their own, far from home, and the serendipity of selecting seats next to someone who speaks their mother tongue is priceless.

Lively conversation among the three fast friends ensues as the Swiss gentleman moves over to sit facing the twosome. He animatedly points to features of the surrounding peaks and comments on the houses we pass by as our train proceeds down the valley. I’m transfixed by the exchange. The travelers laugh, heads nodding and smiles widening, and my heart warms as I imagine the talk turning from our magnificent Alpine surroundings to families, travel, and Japan.

When the train slows for the native son’s stop, they exchange cards and, hands at their sides, quickly bow their goodbyes. Surely the encounter will be one of the most memorable of the visiting couple’s trip.

*

In Grindelwald, where we’ve arrived for eight days of hiking, we attend an evening barbecue at our hotel in the shadow of the Eiger and meet a couple that hails from Dresden, in the former East Germany. They speak passable English (which was significantly better than our almost nonexistent German). They tell us that nowadays, all schoolchildren learn English from a very early age, but that they didn’t take it up until they were adults. They apologize for their lack of fluency, acknowledging that Russian was the requirement when they were growing up. Subjugators, of course, demand that the subjugated learn their language in a decisive power play.

We end up thoroughly enjoying our outdoor buffet in the company of our new friends, having learned much about their formative years behind the Iron Curtain—all because our companions have breached the language barrier.

*

Language is key for forging ties across boundaries but it’s a delicate art. We were also amused on occasion during our gap year by the quirky use of English by some of the people we meet.

  • I overhear an Italian traveler in a quiet Roman museum triumphantly exclaim when his English friend caught up with him, “The bull has now entered into the china store.”
  • Our pretty young guide in Dubrovnik, after she asked us if we were familiar with an anecdote she shared about her city and St. Blaise inquires, “Is that bell not ringing for you?”

Such endearing errors highlight the subtle nature of language and the translation of idioms in particular, but they shouldn’t inhibit us from giving another tongue our best effort. Learning other languages has always helped me listen to and use my own language more carefully and to pay closer attention to expressions that could be difficult to understand by non-native speakers.

*

I snap back from my linguistic reverie as our Swiss train slows and we pull into the station near the French border. It’s time to transfer to the next train that will drop us at the bus depot for the final leg to Chamonix. We are our way to Provence, where we’ll retreat for the summer.

My heart flutters knowing we’ll soon be back in the promised land of the quintessential romance language—my beloved French—where once again my language window will be open on the world. I may at times speak it like a bull that’s entered into the china store, but le français will always help keep my language bell ringing.

* * *

Thank you, Marianne! How about the rest of you out there? How do you look at languages other than your native tongue: are they an impediment or a lure for overseas travel and/or living adventures? Do let us know in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer, editor and French teacher whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, will be published in September 2015 (She Writes Press). She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where after decades in publishing, she has followed her Francophile muse to teach French. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

STAY TUNED for the next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and SO much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

%d bloggers like this: