Recently someone asked me why I love Paris.
The answer is simple. I love weddings and I love cake, and Paris looks like a giant wedding cake.
Who wouldn’t want to spend the day walking around a cake listening to people speak the language of love, wearing scarves and eating croissants? It’s the most beautiful city in the world. I did my semester abroad there. I lived with a French family and I became obsessed with French culture. When I came home to New Jersey after six months in Paris, the first thing that caught my eye was a huge Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips sign and I wanted to kick myself for ever coming home.
Paris taught me how to eat, how to dress and how to say hello to someone when you walk into their store or restaurant. In fact, if you don’t say hello, you might as well walk right back out, because no one is going to help you.
I wasn’t surprised when my son met a French girl and announced he was moving to France. It was a fait accompli.
Before we visited him, I decided to relearn French to the point that I could have a full conversation with his new girlfriend, and order my entire meal in a restaurant without resorting to my usual Franglish, as in “Je voudrais the chicken.”
My goal was not only to understand and speak; I wanted my accent to be perfect. I especially didn’t want to have to say, “What’s so funny?” every time I said, “Merci” to a French person. Or, in my version of French, “What’s so fucking droll?”
“You’re not rolling your R,” my son said.
“Yes I am, Merci.”
“Mom, you’re saying an entirely different word.”
“Merci, Meckci, Micksi.”
I practiced it day and night. I listened to audio tapes. I bought a French novel and tried to translate it. I only spoke French to my husband for weeks before our trip and I only shopped in French stores.
At a certain point, I heard myself saying,
“Bonjour Madame, Je voudrais une omelette fromage s’ils vous plait and I swear to God, I sounded French. I started speaking only in French in cabs all over New York City. Mostly to myself. And then, the ultimate test, I dreamt in French. The whole dream was art directed by moi in shades of that satiny French pink that I love while French words flowed out of me like pink champagne.
We stayed in the most beautiful hotel right near the Arc de Triomphe. Our bedroom had silk paneled walls with the traditional wedding cake mouldings that I die over and the curtains looked like something you’d see in Versailles.
“I feel so French,” I said to my husband. I had a little pile of pastel macaroons in my lap.
“Oui,” he said.
That’s all he said for two weeks leading up to the trip, whereas I was speaking French in full paragraphs by the time we arrived. It’s amazing what you can learn if you focus on it full-time.
The next morning, I was so excited to order breakfast in French, I practically ran down the street to the nearest cafe. I was twirling in the streets like a ballerina.
“Allons-y” I said to my husband.
“Oui,” he said.
And then we walked through the door of the most adorable restaurant in all of Paris.
“Bonjour, Madame, pouvons-nous avoir une table pour deux s’il vous plait,’’ I said.
She looked at me for a split second too long.
And then she said,
‘‘Good Morning, I’ll get you a menu in English.’’