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The Best Reason to Learn French

April 5, 2016

My September itinerary includes just four days in Paris–and that first day is actually a travel day from London, so, really, we’re just talking about three and a half days. That’s not a lot of time to spend in one of the most amazing cities on Earth, admittedly. But I plan to make the very most of it, and I’m going to be honest with you: my no. 1 goal for Paris is to eat my way through the entire city.

I’m not joking. You remember that feast scene in the animated Charlotte’s Web when Templeton the Rat eats all the leftovers at the fair and basically becomes this giant, rolly polly bag o’ food? Yeah. That’s the level of French eating I’m talking about. I want to go into every fromagerie, pâtisserie, and boulangerie I come across, not to mention bistros and brasseries and cafés. Does Paris do street food? I don’t even know–but if it does, I’ll pack that in somehow, too.


Pictured: Me, probably, dinner cruising on the Seine.

The point is, I want to try a lot of food in a lot of different establishments. The tricky part? I have really obnoxious social anxiety and it ramps up hardcore in new situations. So imagine an entirely new situation–trying to buy cheese, say, in a cute little fromagerie–but with the added bonus of language barrier. That’s my literal nightmare, and it means I have a big obstacle between me and all the things I want to accomplish while in France. I know that lots of people in any world city speak English, but I’ve also heard the French are finicky about English speakers, and Americans in particular.

Is this just a stereotype perpetrated by “Ugly American” travelers who bulldozed their way around France? Who knows? But it actually doesn’t even matter. Everyone could speak to me in fluent English the entire time I’m in Paris, and it wouldn’t change a thing. That’s the problem with social anxiety: logic and reason go totally out the window, and suddenly you find yourself succumbing to primal fears about being humiliated and ostracized. (This, by the way, explains why I’m being so intensely weird about planning every minute of my trip; anxiety forces me to compensate by being super organized, with Plan Bs and Cs ready to go just in case something goes wrong.)

So all this is why I’m brushing up on my nearly non-existent French language skills. (See, I finally got around to the point of this post’s headline! It only took me 400 words.)

I took two years of French when I was in high school, but that was about 15 years ago. So aside from the basic vocab everyone knows–oui! non! bonjour!–the only other words I can pick up are thanks to my knowing Spanish, another Romance language with many of the same Latin roots. But that’s mostly helpful in written French. Spoken French is a whole other world, and obviously that’s the world that will most concern me.

To tackle this, I’m trying out some free apps and podcasts and exploring what works for me–but if you have a favorite free or paid way to learn a foreign language, let me know! And especially let me know if you have great foreign-languages-for-travelers resources.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep browsing and testing…and I’ll be back real soon with reviews of what I find, I promise!

Imagine an entirely new situation–trying to buy cheese, say, in a cute little fromagerie–but with the added bonus of language barrier. As someone with lots of social anxiety, that's my literal nightmare.

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