Beyond our genetics — similar half-smiles, brainy dispositions, and below-average eyesight — my dad and I share another fundamental trait: our absolute adoration (perhaps obsession? idealization? fixation?) for all things French. We’ll spend entire conversations, even hours, waxing poetic about the Parisian lifestyle, flaky croissants, and the dream of owning a pied-à-terre somewhere—anywhere!—in l’hexagon. We were certainly not the first to fall for this enchanting language or country. But this mutual passion has become an integral part of who we are.
My relationship with France began shakily in a middle school classroom, where I chose to study French over Spanish because it sounded marginally more poetic. I enjoyed Mary-Kate and Ashley’s cinematic masterpiece Passport to Passport, but my inability to remember verb conjugations or those godforsaken articles made me lukewarm towards the rest of it.
My dad had a similarly tenuous history with the language, starting in college with a miserable attempt at French 101. He recalls spending hours with his textbook, urging his brain to accept the unfamiliar gobbledygook as words with meaning. “Mais Robert,” his French professor asked him in dismay after his final exam, her words coated in the thick French pronunciations he could never imitate, “deedn’t you stoo-dy?” Bien sûr, he had studied — but it simply didn’t take.
Clearly, it was not our natural linguistic abilities that sparked our French obsession.
Despite my rocky beginnings, I stuck with French throughout college, while my dad went back to his textbooks around the same time. I spent a month in the Loire Valley, realizing, in garbled Franglish, “hey, French isn’t so difficile after a couple glasses of vin!” My dad headed to the Upper East Side’s Alliance Française for after-work classes, still waiting for the left side of his brain to kick into high gear.
Slowly, but surely, we were both hooked, and this mutual hobby morphed into a shared passion. Sure, we weren’t yet ready to banter with Parisian waiters, but we each felt growing confidence in our cultural knowledge, and hoped that one day we could wax poetic in French, and not just about French.
My dad and I started watching French films together. We laughed uproariously at Danny Boon, pondered why all French dramas have so much random silence, and bemoaned how fast everyone seems to speak. We tested out French restaurants in New York. Did Balthazar truly deserve the hype, and did any place serve foie gras quite like Toulouse? (Yes, and no, we discovered.)
This “field research,” we reasoned, was imperative for our growth as true Francophiles. We even marked special occasions through our perfect French-themed days, traversing Manhattan in search of Paris. These outings let us indulge our devotion to France, one buttery pain au chocolat and glass of Malbec at a time.
And on several occasions, we actually went to France together, taking our self-proclaimed “French Club” on the ultimate field trip. After tracking countless flights to Paris, searching for the best French wine bars in NYC, and comparing notes on our favorite French authors, it was a surreal experience to look up and see Haussmannian buildings and boulangeries en vrai.
My dad and I might never speak the kind of flowing, rolling French that we so idealize. We will almost certainly not own real estate in Paris (dommage, I know), or completely understand a French film without subtitles. But at least we can falter and triumph, daydream and taste-test, and bemoan our shared commitment to this impossibly complex — and wonderful — French ideal together.
I’ve come to realize that some parents and their adult children bond over sports, or memories, or careers paths. My dad and I have France.