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C’est la vie might cure all your problems… for now anyway

Photo: Private

Go on exchange |   08. Dec 2022

Sanja Ninkovic


What if I told you that I went on exchange to Paris (France, not Texas), have been here for two months, and still have so many things left to explore?

Just short of everything being new and exciting during my exchange semester, and feeling like I am constantly running into new people, means that having to introduce myself to someone new has become part of my not-so-mundane daily routine.

Still, I must confess that quite possibly one of the most dreadful questions I get asked in most conversations outside the supermarket is “Do you speak French?”.

It’s lurking on the please- don’t-ask-me-that list right below the “So… where are you from?… No, I mean, ACTUALLY?” interrogation that comes after replying that I am Danish and hoping for the best (hint: this comes off as xenophobic, so I suggest waiting for people to open up about their cultural background to you, when they feel comfortable doing this).

The answer to the French speaking question is always an embarrassing and apologetic “no”– especially to a Frenchman.

As your friendly, oversharing, fellow CBS student, I strongly advise you to learn the basics before going on your exchange semester– it’s a no-brainer.

I didn’t do this, because well, you might have read the semi-formal complaint that was my previous blog post of how stressful this summer was.

I wasn’t really left with much of a choice–even though “being busy” sounds like a bad excuse– since I had to prioritise my health over learning how to conjugate.

Don’t fret, though! I am met with politeness and friendliness even if I don’t speak French. It does pose some obstacles for me, however, as it gets me in some awkward situations, where people first assume that I’m French and go on to ask me very elaborate questions, only for me to answer with a dumbfounded “Désolé, je ne parle pas français”.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been stopped and asked for directions on the street or in the metro so far and been reminded of the crippling inadequacy of my language skills.

The Parisian metro has made me realise that I underestimated how underwhelming it feels to not be able to speak the language.

It’s lurking on the please- don’t-ask-me-that list right below the “So... where are you from?... No, I mean, ACTUALLY?” interrogation that comes after replying that I am Danish.

It might be a personal thing, but it does make me a bit sad that I cannot just join in on every conversation and not be confused about the loud and incoherent announcement over the intercom.

For my own sanity and the sake of others (including my friends who have to listen to me stating that ”I really need to start learning French” approximately once every hour), I have finally started learning French.

Illustration: Giphy

Remember how the phrase “that’s life” was this summer’s hottest coping mechanism? It still works, but now I feel like I’m in a magical twilight zone where my every day, objectively boring Copenhagen life doesn’t exist; I am ’c’est la vie-ing’ all over the place.

That’s what I said when I realised that I won’t have time to learn enough French to save my life.

I won’t be in Paris long enough to learn more than the basics, but I sure am enjoying that while I am here.

This has been my longwinded way of telling you to not repeat my mistake of knowing only a total of ten words before you pack your suitcases.

What was not a mistake, was my resolution to go on exchange. I never had doubts about that, and I do not think you should either.

If you are having cold feet about going on exchange in the future, take this as a sign to apply to that place that intrigues you, or that you see yourself potentially relocating to in the future.

Again, it’s not the end of the world to not speak the local language, at least not in France. People do appreciate it when you try, however, and a simple acknowledgement of your lacking skills (and a “bonjour/bonsoir”, are essential) means that people are still polite and willing to help. That’s the best advice that I can give you for now. Bon courage!


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