When in French

When in French

Love in A Second Language

Large Print - 2017
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"When journalist Lauren Collins moved to Geneva, Switzerland, she decided to learn French in order to be closer to her French husband and his family. Her hilarious and idiosyncratic memoir about the things we do for love is an exploration across cultures and history into how we learn languages, and what they say about who we are"--
Publisher: Thorndike, Maine : Center Point Large Print, 2017.
Edition: Large print edition
Copyright Date: ©2016.
ISBN: 9781683243014
Characteristics: 318 pages ;,23 cm.

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Indoorcamping
Jun 21, 2019

New Yorker writers write beautifully. There's no doubt about that. You can find yourself enraptured in a story about walnuts and an hour passes before you think about looking at your phone. You learn more than you'd ever thought possible about the history, the culture, little stories about people whose lives intersect with walnuts, for example. All full of pretty words, not big ones that make you feel stupid, but words that smack off the page and make you feel like life is good and civilization is going to be okay.

This New Yorker writer writes beautiful stories about early dinners and other adorable, light topics. She's someone you think you'd want to meet in real life. In fact this book was recommended on the New York Times Book Review podcast by one of her friends. And with this title, you're expecting happy words about love and a beautiful experience in a new country, full of delight and unexpected adventures.

This was not my experience. I found the author to be about as fun to be around as the privileged sorority girls at my university. You know those people; you know they look down on you and will find something to criticize, whether they say it to you or to their friends or under their breath as you walk by. They're all smiles but they never seem happy, relaxed, or just enjoying the moment.

About a hundred pages in, I felt like this woman was too privileged, too comfortable, too conflict-free to see all the incredible experience around her. I started feeling sorry for her husband as she seemed to be critical no matter what he said. As if she'd never be happy with anyone. Since she's the author and this is her perspective, I kept pushing the idea out of my mind. She can't be that picky, can she? I read the whole book trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. Once I was done, I left it for a few days and tried to let it sink in and make me feel good, as you usually do after reading a travel story, or a love story, or a good story in the New Yorker.

I looked up and read more of her stories in The New Yorker and I saw several of her talks on YouTube. She seems nice and adorable. Or rather, she seems like a blond rich girl who has it really good but has a lot of complaining to do about issues you wish you were lucky enough to have.

It's beautifully written but I wish I hadn't read it. Now I don't want to read anything French-related and that makes me sad.

IndyPL_SteveB Nov 23, 2018

A fascinating and funny narrative of an American writer who marries a Frenchman she meets in England. They move to Switzerland and only then does she realize she needs to learn French. But this is not just a book about love or learning French. Collins discusses the history of language, the arguments over how we learn language, the history of French, and the boringness of living in Geneva. Collins points out that learning a new language changes the way you think, because languages both reflect and influence the culture. Part of the reason she needed to learn French was discovering that her husband, although fluent in English, had many habits, phrasings, and attitudes about life and love that are inseparable from the language he grew up with. They needed to be able to communicate in both English and French to truly understand each other.

The book is filled with an astonishing variety of concepts, as Collins tries to translate her own thoughts for the reader, to get us to see how important language is – how important understanding of *other people’s* language is.

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maggie0287
Jun 06, 2018

Typically a reader of fiction, historical fiction, and sci-fi, I was surprised to find I really enjoyed reading this book. It was slow at the start, but once I got into it I found it to be a fun and engaging read. Not only that, I've found myself on a handful of occasions mentioning concepts from this book in conversation with friends, co-workers, strangers at a dinner party, etc. Some really interesting food for thought in regard to how our language shapes us culturally and personally. Worth the few hours it takes to read!

g
GAKeck
Dec 17, 2017

This book is not only boring, it's boring in great detail. Nearly half of it is about the author's unremarkable U.S. childhood (ex: a trip to Disneyworld and Epcot Center with such stunning revelations as the fact that Epcot lumberjacks' plaid shirts were made from lightweight fabric, due to the Florida heat). She spends a great deal of time griping about Switzerland, where she lives with her French husband. The author describes herself as so inept at French that she can't even manage to shop at Ikea - then when she gets around to taking a language class, she tests into an intermediate level. Hmmm. Bottom line? Your valuable reading time would be much better spent on a more worthy and interesting book.

d
diannehildebrand
Jul 07, 2017

Beautifully written memoir about language acquisition.

t
TheresaAJ
Jul 03, 2017

When Lauren Collins falls in love with French Olivier in London, she believes that love can overcome all obstacles. When they move to French-speaking Lausanne, she decides to learn French so she can converse with her husband in his native language. What follows is a challenge that keeps on going and going and going to the point of calling her mother-in-law a coffee machine. Chapters are titled with verb tenses and explore the history of language as well as Lauren's personal struggle to speak fluent French with her husband and his family. Idioms take on a whole new meaning. The American "having your cake and eating it too" becomes the French "to want the butter, the money, and the ass of the dairywoman". A fancy restaurant in France has an English sign that reads "In hamburgers we trust. Because we like it. When it's hurt hard." Even simple words can take on different meanings -- being special in English translates into being weird in French. As much a history of language as a memoir, Collins explores life in a new culture by learning a second language. In a world dominated by Mandarin, Spanish, and English speakers, the author shares the French dedication to maintaining a pure French vocabulary through sheer persistence and dedication. A good choice for the language lovers in your life.

l
laurakramer22
Mar 22, 2017

This book had some interesting information about languages throughout history and cultures. However, the book just made me mad: at the author, at French language and culture, and at what the author believes are universal truths about people in bilingual relationships. I myself am married to a person who speaks a different language than I do, so I really found some of the author's anecdotes about bi-cultural marriages off-putting and untrue.

b
bluehydrangea
Mar 07, 2017

For me this has become a kind of stealth book that makes a persuasive case for learning another language. I found it deceptively low key but days after finishing the book, my mind kept turning over some of the ideas in here. This is also a beautifully written memoir about creating a new family. It’s got a really nice feeling about it.

ArapahoeJane Feb 17, 2017

It's rare for me to read a book and be faced with (English) words that I've never run across. In this way, the book was a fun challenge. Beyond being an interesting read, it has the potential to expand one's vocabulary.

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exie3
Dec 09, 2016

Very good from a New Yorker staffer

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