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Archive for the tag “French”

30×30: Lesson 28: The language of self-erasure

Students in Paris, June 2014

Students in Paris, June 2014

When I was teaching French this summer in Nantes, France, my students made one mistake above almost any other: when in French to say “I’m sorry.” Rather than expressing empathy (“I’m so sorry for your loss!”) or shame (“I entirely regret my actions!”), my students were constantly attempting to use the French phrase Je suis désolé to express something else.

Sometimes they wished to say politely, “You’re blocking the Monoprix grocery aisle with your cart; could you please move?” Other times, they had just interrupted a stranger to ask them the directions to the Place du Cirque. In both circumstances, Excusez-moi or Pardon would best expressed their desire to briefly assert themselves into the life of someone whom they did not know.

But instead, from my students’ lips escaped — as we do in American English — the same words that connote deep apologetic shame: sorry, sorry, sorry.

Especially the female students.


What are the implications of a language that allows its speakers to merge the usage of such an intimate, humbling phrase as “I’m sorry” with other, more public phrases? It’s a phrase that has become coded as respectful (“I’m sorry to interrupt”) but hides a quiet self-erasure, a removal of one’s importance. I’m sorry to have bothered you. I’m sorry because you are somehow the most important.

Another example is the word “just.” Rather than summarizing (“I just want you to be happy”), the word diminishes the meaning of everything that has previously been said.

On the sidewalk in Pittsburgh, I’ve begun refusing to say “I’m sorry” simply if I am taking up too much space (I opt for “Excuse me”). I also delete “I’m sorry” from all the emails that I write that are suggestions and not apologies. When summing up my day with Jon with the phrase “I’m just… frustrated,” I now try my best to remove the “just.” I’m frustrated. Period.

My body belongs on the sidewalk, my apology can be heard without groveling, and I have feelings. “I’m sorry” is a phrase that should be reserved only for moments of sincere empathy or deep shame.

Using words wisely is a simple way to respect those around me and believe in my own strength.

Find an introduction on this series here.  Dig into other life lessons here.

Friday Photo: Macarons over the rainbow, Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery, Millvale


Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery, Millvale, February 2014

Light and dense, chewy and crunchy: these macarons from Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery, Millvale, are as colorful as they are delicious.

With flavors ranging from the familiar (Nutella, vanilla, orange, peanut butter and jelly) to the exotic (pistachio, raspberry balsamic vinegar, lavender), buying an array seems to be required.

Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery
213 North Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA
(412) 821-8533

Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery, Millvale, reinspires

Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French bakery in Millvale, PA, is just a stone’s throw across the river from Pittsburgh’s other well-known French boulengeries: La Gourmandine in Lawrenceville, Gaby et Jules in Squirrel Hill.

However, in contrast to La Gourmandine’s rustic coziness and Gaby et Jules’ glittering elegance, Jean-Marc Chatellier’s bakery better gives the impression of being a small-town cake shop of 20 years ago: a turquoise-colored awning, neon OPEN sign, florescent indoor lighting. There’s no “bonjour” when you enter; there are no frilled aprons or chef’s hats; there are just pastries — and good ones at that.

Paris-Brest, Jean-Marc

Paris-Brest, Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery

My purchase of the Paris-Brest — made of hazelnut or praline cream between two rings of choux pastry — was supposed to be the last time I was going to try this traditional pastry (which was inspired by a bicycle race between the cities of Paris and Brest in 1891). All too often, I’ve been let down, finding the choux pastry unable to live up to the flavor of the filling, due to the pastry having been too old or too refrigerated for too long.

Jean-Marc’s Paris-Brest proved me absolutely wrong. The light, firm pastry was the vehicle for the rich, powdered-sugar-dusted cream. Too big for my hands, I ate my Paris-Brest with a spoon. It was like eating a cloud occasionally studded with toasted almonds.

This pastry was not just good enough to revive my hope in pastries in general, but also to reignite my belief in humanity. Who would have guessed that such a jewel of a pastry could sit in the case next to humble American favorites like key lime pie, and be served so cheerfully in the corner of this town?

Did I really not realize that French pastries can sell not just because they are French — but because they are good?

I will be back to Jean-Marc Chatellier’s — and be back and be back.

Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery
213 North Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA
(412) 821-8533

Friday Photo: Backstage pastry pass, Gaby et Jules, Pittsburgh

Chef Dimitri

Chef Dimitri, December 2013

On Wednesday, December 4, 2013, Gaby et Jules — a Parisian-style patisserie in Pittsburgh — hosted my French 1 class for a kitchen tour and chocolate demo.

Here, Chef Dimitri constructs a white chocolate bow using white chocolate ribbons, melted chocolate, and condensed air for a instant freeze.

Gaby et Jules
5837 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
(412) 682-1966

Tuesday-Saturday: 8am-8pm
Sunday: 8am-5pm

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