One of the first French sentences I learned was “Je suis journaliste.”
While the phrase may be useful to explain why I’m lugging camera equipment through Perpignan, I quickly learned there’s not much utility to it in everyday conversation.
After teaching us how to conjugate the verb and pronounce the words correctly, our French instructor Nathan Fardet told us that it’s uncommon for people to ask, “What do you do?” when they’re first becoming acquainted. They’d much rather talk about what you ate, what you did that day or current events. In general, they don’t care about your job. In fact, Courtney O’Brien-Brown, our local program coordinator who lives near Perpignan for half of the year, has yet to be asked by a French person what she does for a living.
Personally, I appreciate that their self-image is not defined by their occupation. In France, I’m not “Alicia Cormie, a journalist.” I’m just Alicia Cormie.
Charmed by this concept, I decided to put into action. I pledged to no longer ask people about their occupation at first. That night I was talking to some people from England and out of habit the second question out of my mouth was, “So what do you do in England?” My plan failed as quickly as it was born.
Determined to carry this bit of French culture with me, I’ll bite my tongue next time I talk to a stranger. Perhaps the French mindset will sink in before I leave and it will be second nature by the time I arrive home.
However, I’ve got to admit the idea of asking a stranger sitting next to me on the light rail what they ate for dinner still sounds foreign to me.