Langues Étrangères et Cuisine

Yes, that means foreign languages and cooking. Since COVID took hold, I vowed to learn a foreign language. I was coming off a bad head injury and was regaining my brain bit by bit, so learning something new and taking up crossword puzzles again was my plan to regain function and also plan for old age.

First I must say that I love to travel, and that Europe is my favorite destination for its history, culture and food. My first stab was five levels of Italian. It took a year, and I ended up learning a lot but unable to easily converse with anyone but the most patient Italian speaker. Sorry, Duolingo. So I took up French to help me understand the European mind. Permit me to explain.

Both Italian and French are Latin-based, so many of the roots of the words we use in English harken from how these languages evolved. That’s a plus for me. Of course there are many verb tenses to learn, also a ton of vocabulary, and that’s a given. Where I messed up was in possessives and genders. In English our nouns are not masculine or feminine, and that makes our difficult language easier, especial as one who grew up speaking English.

“I would have given you some of them, but you will have already bought some while you were there.” Try translating that into either French or Italian! Beats me.

It’s now been 2.5 years and I’m doing well at crosswords, not NYTimes level but hard enough. The French is a slog and when this is done I have to go back to Italian because of things like “I you go there to see” or “Can I borrow your pretty dress red.”

What is a blog but opinions? Sorry, Frenchies. I prefer Italian. It’s mellifluous and not as fussy as French. Interestingly, I find the people and cuisine the same. I quit my job in the 80’s and went to French cooking school and we had weeks just on butter, cream and eggs. Yes, I still do my mise en place and I know how to shop a grocery store. I love French stews like Carboonnade and have even made Cassoulet once for my Dad. But the cuisine of Escoffier began as ways to create sauces to cover rotting meat, because there was no refrigeration. Fussy.

Italians are easier. Few ingredients, only the best, and don’t screw it up. When I first traveled to Europe I started in Italy and Greece, the next year for my 25th birthday I started in England and ended up in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. A fellow traveler told me that people get nicer the further south you go in Europe and I found it to be true.

So, learn a few words before you go. Hello, good morning, good evening, please, thank you, excuse me, check please, sorry, where’s the loo? Also familiarize yourself with the cuisine so you can order dinner in a restaurant. People will know without a doubt that you’re a Yank, but they’ll be pleased that you tried, well, except in France! Mangia bene! Dee

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