I find Kath as I usually do, waiting for me in a café on Rue Cler, sitting with her book, a French edition of the popular children’s series, The Famous Five or Le Club des Cinq, by Enid Blyton.
She sees me at the entrance and smiles warmly, raising her hand to give me a little wave, not unlike a wave the Queen might give at a parade. She reminds me of home.
As my closest Anglo ally in Paris, we meet often, three times a week or more, and exchange our various stories to tell— newly discovered quartiers to visit or an entertaining encounter with a Frenchy; we generally evaluate and monitor each others Parisian lives over coffee. It’s one of my favorite times of the week.
When Kath announced she wanted to start a small business helping French students with their English in the casual setting of a local café, my instinct was not just to help my Anglo friend get the word out. Admittedly, I was more interested in getting this great little story for my blog.
Because Kath’s story is a great story.
She came to Paris over a year ago on a whim and was very much alone during her first winter in the city. She sat in cafés reading French grammar books and talking to strangers to improve her conversation. She had a thirst for learning language that outweighed anything that came against her in Paris.
Today Kath is (presque) fluent in French, has dozens of Parisian friends and doesn’t need to sit alone in cafés anymore. She’s inviting French friends of friends of friends (and their friends) to sit in a café with her for an hour or two each week and speak only english. Together, they will look at newspapers, magazines, any books they may bring or just gossip about life. There will be no language exchange, just english; one on one or in groups of up to five people for 10 euros each per hour.
Perhaps you’re a Parisian following my blog, a regular reader curious to meet MessyNessy’s closest ally in Paris or you just stumbled upon this page and fell in love with Kath’s wild red mane of hair…
I think it’s time to meet Kath.
Last Christmas when I was still pretty much a loner in Paris, I spoke to a young Parisian student in the library and asked if she would go for a coffee and speak French with me.
I was desperate. I was on the brink of going to one of those public speed-dating style conversation exchanges where you converse in a noisy room with up to 30 strangers on rotation for five minutes each.
But I didn’t go, not because I was scared, because I’m not like that. But because I just didn’t enjoy the concept. You need a flow and you need to get a discussion going. You can’t do that in five minute slots with total strangers that you’ll probably never see again.
Fortunately, that lovely girl in the library said yes to the coffee.
One year later, I’ve decided to put the shoe on the other foot and offer the opportunity for Parisians to learn English the way I learnt French.
And I’m living in a city full of people eager to improve their English. A lot of them have a grasp of English already from school or western music and cinema, but the minute they’re put in a real conversation they can get lost.
Exactly, we can take a coffee instead! It’s halfway in between formal and informal. We’re in a café and we’re not regurgitating lines from a textbook. But I am strictly there to correct and help them elaborate on things– over a creamy cappucino!
They can bring homework for me to help them with, specific topics they want to talk about; so it is a sort of half way house which I think is a nice idea.
It might not necessarily be an innovative idea– there are things similar out there, but none with the same twist. They’re all a bit formal, a bit clinical– not how language should be learnt. It should be fun.
Steady the buffs.
It’s what my grandpa says. It’s similar to ‘hold your horses’. ‘Don’t get too excited’ sort of thing.
Ooh. I’d really really like to have coffee with Julie Delphy, the actress/ director.
That’s her! I think she’d be a real barrel of laughs and we could have a conversation quite easily… over some wine.
I find that living in Paris allows you to release your inner snob. Fortunately I always had one [she sniggers].
Parisian culture is certainly more refined, they’ve got a huge appreciation for quality.
It’s also a culture of love more so in Paris than in England. Without a doubt. The boys want love, the girls … I think want love. It’s just more romantic full stop.
A few other French vs. Anglo differences off the top of my head would be things like wine vs. double vodka red bulls, plimsoles vs stilettos, boutiques vs Tesco 24/7, French politics vs. The Daily Mail showbiz column.
Well believe it or not but the French are funny. It can be slightly different humor but it’s funny. And actually when you find the French that have that dry english humor, it’s really exciting!
The younger generation certainly embraces the French ‘joie de vivre’ culture that I so enjoy, but I was impressed to see how hard-working and driven they are to be sucessful at the same time. I think I’m pretty self-motivated and so that’s somewhere we automatically find common ground.
Well because I’ve always lived and worked in the 7eme, Rue Cler feels genuinely like home. And that feeling is important and special, especially when you’re not a native.
“Rue Cler Feels genuinely like home”
So despite it not being the most trendy of spots, I really enjoy the cafés there because you can sit for hours– days, if you would like. And they don’t notice.
My hope for the near future is that students and young professionals living in Paris simply get word of it and are excited by it.
What I would like is for it to be by word of mouth because I think that’s the way it will be successful. It’s all just social and nice and why wouldn’t you want coffee with kathy?!
Nationwide would really be the tip of the iceberg, crushing my competitors on the way. I mean I’d be disappointed if this succeeded only for the entirety of France. No, I’m really thinking the real aim here is worldwide domination. Steve is gone, there is a place available. Yes, I can see it now. Café chains dedicated to the concept, coffee beans named after the founder (me). Basically a Starbucks but cooler.
[A perfect example of Kath’s sarcasm here]
Be really determined to integrate yourself. It can be hard if you’re not lucky. It’s always easier to meet people if you know just one person which is exactly how I did it. You have to immediately start branching and networking. Maybe you’ve known someone who’s lived in Paris before and you can message them and say ‘look, is there anyone you could introduce me to?’. Because you would be surprised how willing people are to help you.
And be gutsy.
Photographs by MessyNessy 🙂
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