Today, a guest post! While visiting my favorite Mediterranean town of Valbonne last month, I stopped in a darling English bookstore. It turned out the owner, Amercian Lin Wolff, is one of our readers. Lin's own story was so interesting that I asked her to share it with us.
Not a week goes by that I don’t think of my high school French teacher’s warning, “You’ll never know when you might need to speak French,” to her bored class of young Texans struggling to get their lazy tongues wrapped around the simplest of French vocabulary – Oui! (Wah!) Non! (Nowh!) Je m’appele (Gee mapple… ) Most of us struggled and lost the battle. I lasted one semester. And now I find myself having lived in France for over 10 years, still struggling with my “toddler” French and terrible accent. But every day is a joy, every day is a learning experience, and almost every day reinforces my faith in humanity, particularly the French kind. Watercolor of her shop by Lin's dad, artist Hunter George.
I own a little English bookshop in the south of France, half an hour from Nice, 10 minutes from Grasse, and with a constant view of the Mediterranean.How did a little girl from Houston end up here? It all started with leaving Texas for Los Angeles as fast as I could and falling into jobs for National Geographic and Disney, then meeting my future husband, Marc, while we were both on location in Tahiti. Marc has managed to turn his flying experience in Vietnam into a successful career of flying for films – you’ve probably seen his work in everything from the Star Wars films to the latest James Bond, SKYFALL, and if you’re watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics this summer, you’ll catch his involvement in that, too.
I traded L.A. for Marc’s flat in London and then the Cornish countryside . We started our family there and lived happily for 13 years, until the rainy winter of 2000 when I began to dream of living somewhere warmer, drier, sunnier and a colour other than gray. So, we joined old friends here in France the following summer and after the move Marc and I each took intensive month-long French immersion courses in nearby Villefranche. His already good French became excellent, while my non-existent French became toddler French.
Having discovered an adorable English bookshop in nearby Valbonne, I tended to hang out there among beloved books, chatting to owner Jill, and other ‘refugees’ taking a break from the intensity of mangling French. When I finally worked up the courage to ask if she ever needed the occasional help, Jill put me on her list of ‘fantasy booksellers.’ I’d never worked in retail, didn’t know how to work a cash register or a credit card machine, got the shakes when counting out customers’ change, but she kept me on anyway.
And after 5 years, Jill decided she wanted to sell up but not having much luck finding a buyer. We’d just bought a little lake house in northern Vermont, where I was planning to spend some quality time enjoying a very different sort of life from my French one, especially as the kids were going on to university and I could finally have my very own timetable. However, I just couldn’t imagine life in my corner of France without this bookshop, so I said yes to it (quickly, before I could change my mind) and have embarked on a very different sort of adventure ever since – accounting, taxes, employee benefits ad nauseum, all in French! It’s never dull, my French is improving, slowly, and my admiration for the French continues, unabated. Photo below: the main square in Valbonne.
As for advice regarding the learning of the language, I’d say LEAVE YOUR EGO BEHIND! Don’t worry about how you sound – just try! Nothing pleases the French more than someone who is really trying to learn their language. And persist! Don’t let responses to you in English deter you from continuing to try in French. Keep at it! My husband is the world’s best at stubbornly sticking to his French during an otherwise-English conversation. It helps him – he always learns something new. And I always show my pleasure in being taught better vocabulary by helpful strangers. It’s a connection – and often a shared laugh.
Favorite Reads: Felicitations to our reader, author Karen Chase: her book Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log (40 years. 40 days. 40 seconds.) has won three eLit Awards. A silver medal for best travel essay non-fiction book, silver for best book trailer, and a gold medal for best author website. The eLit Awards is an international awards program, focusing on e-books only, and open to all e-publishers. To celebrate, she's putting the book on sale with Amazon, B&N and iTunes for 99¢ for the month of May. Especially since it's the one-year anniversary of her 40th birthday trip to Paris that inspired the book.