A typical Saturday morning in Paris

Most things in France can be described with respect to how they are "in theory" and "in practice."  In theory, the small apartment that I rent is super-cute.  In practice, it is usually draped with drying laundry.  Here is my kitchen--the sheets are draped all over the bathroom.
Most things in France can be described with respect to how they are “in theory” and “in practice.” In theory, the small apartment that I rent is super-cute. In practice, it is usually draped with drying laundry. Here is my kitchen–the sheets are draped all over the bathroom.

In general, private time is valued more than work time here, much differently from in the United States.  People are generally not willing to give up their personal time in exchange for a small amount of extra money, so the vast majority of Parisian businesses close quite early, by American standards–by 7 PM, or 8 PM at the latest.  This means that if you work at all past 6 PM and you have a significant commute home, you’re going to have trouble doing any normal shopping.  Additionally, most businesses are closed on Sunday.  So, Saturday is a day when many stores are crowded with people buying all of the stuff that they weren’t able to pick up during the week.

By noon today, I had done two loads of laundry and had been to the fromagerie (cheese shop), the fruit marchand (stall keeper, shop keeper, merchant), the boulangerie (bread bakery, as opposed to a patisserie, or pasty bakery), and the fleuriste (florist), with a final stop at the supermarché (supermarket–actually a very small one, rather than the Monoprix, which, as you may remember from previous posts, is a horrid experience) for the stuff that I couldn’t find anywhere else.  Along the way, I popped into a Middle Eastern restaurant for a quick lamb tongue sandwich–yum.  This leaves me time for a long Saturday afternoon of grading corpus linguistics papers–yay!

  • le/la fleuriste: florist.

Vignettes II

2014-11-30 17.16.59Americans constantly complain about how rude Parisians are.  That’s funny, because Parisians are generally actually quite polite–you just have to know what the rules of interaction are here so that you can recognize them, and so that you can reply appropriately.

One aspect of daily politeness here is that when you enter a shop, you say bon jour (good day) or bon soir (good evening), even if you don’t see anyone.  It’s a little awkward in a big place like a supermarket or a department store, so instead you say bon jour/bon soir to the cashier.  This morning I was in a supermarket line.  When I got up to the cashier, I greeted her with bon jour in my horrible American accent.  Apparently the matron in line behind me was astonished to witness good behavior by an American, because she said élégant!, and gave me a big smile, as well as an au revoir when I left–not typical.


This morning I was waiting for the metro when a middle-aged woman walked up to me.  We were alone in the metro station, so this felt odd.  “Excuse me–you really shouldn’t keep your phone in your pants pocket when you ride the metro,” she said.  “Someone will steal it.  You should keep it in your buttoned jacket pocket.”  (I think that’s what she said–my French got weak at the end of the last sentence.)  I thanked her and put my phone in my jacket pocket.  “Really, not on the metro,” she said, and smiled and walked away.


I stopped at the florist the other evening to buy some flowers.  Leaving, I fumbled with my change, and dropped a 1-Euro coin (about $1.35) on the ground.  It was dark, it was raining, it was cold, and I couldn’t seem to find it, so I shrugged and walked off.  “Excuse me, mister,” said a middle-aged man, and pointed at the ground–right at my coin.  How nice.  I think he might have been carrying a bag that said “judo,” but I was too shy to ask him about it–Parisians typically don’t like to interact with strangers–and have regretted it for days.


As you might recall from previous posts, I climb a serious hill on my way to work every morning.  The other day, I’m working my way up the hill when an elderly gentleman pokes his head out the window and says:

Elderly Gentleman: ça va?  (How are you?)

Me: ça va bien.  (I’m fine.)

EG: ça va bien?  (You’re fine?)

Me: oui, ça va bien.  (Yes, I’m fine.)

EG: bon courage!  (No exact translation–you say this to encourage someone who’s taking on a difficult task.)

Where do people come up with the idea that the French just aren’t friendly?


The steepest part of the hill that I have to negotiate going to and from work is so steep that it’s even hard to get down.  The other day, I’m working my down it after work.  As I gingerly pick my way downhill, I hear a clop-clop-clop-clop coming down the hill behind me, and a woman passes me, running down the hill in heels.  Only in France.  Well, maybe also in Romania or Albania.  But, mostly just in France.


Useful words:

  • chaussures à talons hauts: high-heeled shoes.
  • escarpins (m. n.): also high-heeled shoes.
  • Bon courage: said to encourage someone who’s taking on a difficult task.

Switched at birth. No, really.

The front-page story on the free newspaper that someone handed me as I got on the Métro was about a court case that just started.  Two families of twenty-year-old girls are filing suit because their daughters were switched at birth.  With such an unlikely occurrence, why wouldn’t Zipf’s Law strike over and over?

  • le procès: trial, lawsuit, (divorce) proceedings
  • intervertir: to switch, invert, exchange
  • la maternité: maternity hospital; motherhood, maternity; pregnancy
  • épuisant: exhausting
  • afficher: put up; post; display; exhibit; reveal
  • le sourire: smile
  • le sien: his, hers, its
  • les siens: one’s loved ones
  • accoucher: to have a baby, to be in labor
  • accoucher de: to struggle to produce
  • accoucher d’un garçon: to give birth to/to have a boy
  • une enquête: investigation; inquiry; (sondage d’opinion) survey
  • la jaunisse: jaundice
  • la couveuse: incubator

All in a day’s work

I’m getting settled into the office after having been gone all fall, which means paperwork.  Here are some words that came up in the course of my work day:

  • la formation permanente: in-service training.
  • une attestation: certificate, certification, proof.  I have to bring an attestation of employment to the cafeteria in order to get my meal card renewed.
  • un exemplaire: among other things, a copy.  I need an exemplaire of my contract to bring to the bank.
  • se tromper de + nom: to get the wrong [noun].

Proof of address

hsbcI took the day off of work today to open a French bank account, which for various reasons turns out to be crucial to my ability to function here, even for just a few weeks at a time.  I walked into the bank and learned that you don’t just walk into a bank and open an account–you walk into a bank and make an appointment to open an account.  This actually isn’t as crazy as it sounds, since it gives the bank a chance to prepare the paperwork ahead of time (e.g., I have to fill out an American W-9 to open an account in a French bank, believe it or not), and it lets you find out what kind of documentation you will need to provide, not all of which would have occurred to me (e.g., I have to bring a copy of my employment contract).

Zipf’s Law struck, of course.  It came in the form of the word justificatif, which is written proof or written evidence.  I have to provide a justificatif d’addresse–written proof of address.  For some reason, I have enormous amounts of trouble pronouncing this word, which the bank clerk was very kind to say slowly for me when I stumbled over it repeatedly–ju-sti-fi-ca-tif.  When I left, she said that my French is great, to which I responded that I wish it were, but it isn’t, to which she responded: “Well…for an American.”  Smiles all around.

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