Why learn French

On several occasions, I’ve noted the many reasons to learn Spanish. But I have never done the same for the language I’ve devoted far more time to learning. So, here are ten very good albeit very personal reasons to learn French:

1. If you know French, you’re one step closer to retiring in one of the most pleasant places on earth, the South of France. (Or in my case, you’re one step closer to living out a faux-retirement in the South of France until you run out of money and have to go back to New York to earn more.)

2. Depending on whose count you trust, there are between one-tenth and one half as many words in French as in English. I estimate I’ve learned about 6,000 of French’s approximately 30,000 words in common usage. I started learning French at age 13. At this rate I should know all the words by the time I’m 109!

3. Because it is the 6th most widely spoken language. Between 200 and 300 million people speak French and it is an official languages in 29 countries. I.e. it’s useful.

4. I have a theory that people whose mouths know how to make French sounds are better at French kissing. It’s just a theory.

5. Because Paris is, on average, 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than New York City in the winter. (It’s also significantly grayer than New York but I’m sticking my fingers in my ears about that.)

6. Because if you speak fluent French you could read Colette, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Cocteau and Sartre in their native tongue, and you could also watch all the gorgeous images in New Wave films without worrying about simultaneously reading the subtitles.

7. Because it is one of the most beautiful-sounding languages in the world. Not when I speak it, of course, oh God no. But when a native French speaker opens their mouth, a little slice of heaven pours mellifluously out. Which is why I sometimes have a problem with French men. If you put Donald Trump’s words in a handsome French man’s mouth I might be like, “Oh, aren’t you charming, let’s get married and have babies.”

8. Because the French are unapologetic bon vivants. When I was in France two years ago I experienced sensory overload on a perpetual basis: from the scent of marzipan wafting out of the bakeries, to the explosion of multicolored macarons in the shops, to the opulence of block after block of Haussmann buildings, to the sound of the French language itself. The French know how to surround themselves with sensual pleasures. I couldn’t help feeling disturbed by the bounty of it all while so many people around the world are in need, but that’s because I’m Jewish. The French don’t seem to have quite the same taste for guilt, and I could learn a thing or two from them about wholeheartedly embracing the good things in life. (Which is in direct contradiction to my previous post but whatever. The French probably know how to embrace contradiction better than I do.)

9. The French also don’t seem to have the same taste for moderation as my American brethren, and I admire that. I was having dinner with my Senegalese friends and they were checking out a table of four handsome men and two beautiful women, all of whom were white, i.e. foreigners. My friends asked me if I thought they were American and I replied, “I can tell you with 100% certainty that they are French.” Why? Because every single one of them was smoking. (Also, the women both had messy buns, a French specialty that I have tried and failed to copy.) It wasn’t until I got to Dakar that I realized Americans have basically stopped smoking. The French, not so much. It’s like they never got the cancer memo. Or rather, they got the memo and they were like, “We are French. We live well until we die. Fin.” Similarly, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a meal in France in which I couldn’t feel the fat streaming down my throat – in the most pleasant way possible. Which brings me to:

10. Because in France, you have access to all the French cheese. A Parisian guy once asked me what I liked about France and the first word out of my mouth was, “Fromage.” He said, “Oh, I thought Americans don’t like cheese?” I responded, “We LOVE cheese. We put cheese on top of cheese. Have you ever seen our pizzas?” He looked at me like I was a child and merrily laughed, “But that’s not real cheese.”

This man smoked like a chimney, he casually insulted my country’s cheese, and I couldn’t understand an uncomfortable amount of what he said, but I was ready to run away with him to the Alps, where his brother – no joke – owns a raclette restaurant. Which brings me back to my 7th point. If being able to eat good cheese with sexy people isn’t an excellent reason to learn French, I don’t know what is.

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7 thoughts on “Why learn French

  1. Beautifully written!! Very nice reasons! I must agree mostly with number 3 and number 6. One of the most widely-spread languages gives you access to many different cultures, besides the one France. Also massive amounts of new literature to dive into.
    Merci beaucoup !

      • I just get flashbacks with the verb conjugations and the ”en”, ”y” usage that overshadow a bit the romanticism, haha. Kidding! It’s a beautiful language that can be romantic, I could say. It comes down to personal taste. Also to previous language knowledge – I already speak a Romance language (Romanian) so I know that with the beautiful rich vocabulary comes a complex grammar, to say the least.

  2. Hi Ruth
    I laughed my socks of with this piece. Beautifully written.
    Oh yes, and I totally agree with ALL of your reasons for learning the wonderful French language.
    Regards. Marie.

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