Along the same lines of realizing that the story of how I ended up living in France was missing, I noticed that I never posted about Saintes, Biarritz, Lyon or Annecy.  Since I was a little burnt out by then, I’m not sure that I really gave them a fair overview anyway.  I really liked both Biarritz and Annecy, but I was so drained from long days at work and traveling EVERY weekend that I actually skipped my plans for my final weekend in France and just stayed home.  I have a few lovely photos, but I plan to return to all four cities and see what I missed, so I’ll wait and share photos and stories from both visits when I’m able to return.

I also realized that I keep making “bonus” posts because there are still so many new things happening.  In light of that, I’m going to make a post every Tuesday and Thursday for now – one to share stories about the general culture of France and one to share about “how I spend my weekends.”  Welcome to this Tuesday’s cultural edition!

My French Name

I have learned that it is very difficult to change your name in France compared to the US; however, you are given the grand opportunity to pick a French name when you become a French citizen (to help you integrate into French society better).  I’ve read of a few ex-pats who didn’t change their name and wish they had because they are forever “the English” or ” the American” and their name gives them away as foreign no matter how good their French is.

I think there is a possibility that I will become a dual-citizen in the future, so I’ve started speculating on what French name I might like.  If I’m going to change it, I need some feedback from the French, of course, so I’ve sought out the guidance of my colleagues.  I started with my old Spanish class name, “Isabel;” however, PB made a terrible face and vetoed it immediately without giving a reason . . . ok, so perhaps not Isabel if my GM dislikes it so much.

For additional ideas, I looked at French name days (each French name has a day associated with it, often the old Saint’s day).  I selected “Ella,” which strangely has a name day, but is not at all French!  Half in jest, I suggested Céline, which passed the first round of approvals.  I recalled that the French also seem to know the meanings of names though, so I checked that out . . . yeah, Céline is perhaps not the right fit either.
One problem for me is that the French typically do not have middle names and I am struggling with giving up mine since it came from my grandmother.  I thought that converting it into French might work and it sounds lovely in French, but in English it is “Helen.”  Sorry, but I’m not a Helen.  My American co-worker agrees that I am not a “Helen,” but this is still the favorite of my French co-workers so far (it sounds, and looks, much prettier in French – Hélène pronounced eL-en).

At a work dinner, we were discussing the topic of a suitable French name for me and another co-worker, CB, very sincerely suggested Marguerite (the name of a daisy in French).  GO (also a co-worker) starts laughing when I say it’s a pretty name.  Of course, GO wouldn’t tell me why he was laughing, yet continued to do so every time I said the name was nice.

I learned the reason later – I would like to introduce you to Marguerite!

Yes, a cow!  I learned this the following day when PB told me that I could not be Marguerite, no matter how pretty I think the name is, because he will NOT call me the name of a cow.  Of course, CB claims he was tired and forgot about the cow.  GO still thought it was quite funny that I wanted to name myself after a cow.  It was very clear that they weren’t implying that I *am* a cow though because they both looked horrified when I teased them about it and were very thorough in ensuring that I knew they weren’t trying to insult me.  Apparently, it was only funny because I’m American and didn’t know about the cow.

The French Comedy Routine

I made the mistake of telling PB that I like the way French people say my name, which was the first time he realized that they weren’t actually pronouncing it correctly.  Even though I said I liked it, he was quite insistent that he needed to learn how to say it properly; however, the first time I tried, he told me he couldn’t hear the difference between what he was saying and what I was saying . . . which is when I learned that we not only lose some ability to pronounce sounds from other languages, but to HEAR them.  When I returned this time, I realized they were saying my name like it had a French U in it (rounding their lips), so I told him he had to keep his lips flat when pronouncing the vowels.  He tried this and said it exactly right with no accent!  Of course, it didn’t help that he immediately made a terrible face, shook his head and said, “I don’t like the way it sounds; it’s too harsh for a woman.  It’s better in French, no?”  Yes, French people will say EXACTLY what is on their mind – it takes some getting used to. 😊

It was only mildly amusing at this point, but it became hilarious when he tried to teach others how to say it at dinner.  He proceeded to make a “duck face,” pinch his lips flat with his fingers and basically growled my name in the deepest voice he could and REALLY over-enunciated.  This was then repeated several times while some of the others tried to sort it out.  I was laughing so hard my stomach hurt.

The next day I had the pleasure of again watching one French man try to teach another Francophone to say my name correctly.  Apparently, keeping your lips flat means you must also stick them out in a pronounced duck face.  AM, “It’s Brouk, no?”  PB, “No, you have make your lips flat like this,” insert duck face, “Brrrrooook.”  I couldn’t help it, I started giggling, which caused PB to throw his hands up and declare that I need to hurry up and get a French name because my name is too difficult.

I’m beginning to think it’s funnier to keep my English one (and they have 5 years to wait before I’m even eligible for citizenship)!

In the end, the guys declared that I should keep my name, but pronounced the French way.  They seem to think that people knowing I’m an American, educated and trained in US business practices, will be an advantage over here once I learn French.  And I’ve now had four different French people (men and women) tell me it will be an advantage in dating because French men see American women as “exotic.”  As an American, I find it hard to believe that we’re seen as different in a positive way, but we are certainly different from French women in many ways!