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The First Noel

Jan 12 2007 13:48
Oliver Broadbent
The latest from our French correspondent

The days are short, it?s cold and people are scuttling around in the Metro with enormous shopping bags: it must soon be Christmas ? my first Noël, in Paris. The advent of Christmas does not however mean the end of the term and the concomitant workload and deadlines. In fact the semester doesn?t finish until February, so there?s loads of time yet for an impossible amount of work to pile up.

Even though it has to be written in a foreign language, coursework is not a scary prospect as I can take my time doing it surrounded by a Manhattan skyline of dictionaries. No, an altogether more frightening prospect was my first exam in French! This little quiz on the application of EC2, my new best friend, the Eurocode for concrete. It was an open book exam and most of the solutions were calculations so once I had got used to writing commas instead of decimal points, and full stops instead of commas to denote thousands, I felt quite well prepared. Indeed the only problem on the day was that I didn?t understand the wording of some of the questions. I therefore used the shotgun approach to answering exam questions: when unsure as to what the examiner wants, write as much as you can about anything that might be relevant and hope that the marker can extract the correct solution on your behalf. Well, it always worked at Imperial?

Outside school, my Paris experience has become more and more local. You are quite likely to find me propping up the bar in my local. No, I am not turning to alcoholism. Rather, it is all part of a plan to speak more French with native French speakers. The bar has a piano and I have been trying my hand at a few French chansons. There is even talk of a gig in January. The plan is working, I am speaking plenty of French and I don?t seem to be offending anyone. The proof however will be this evening when we are having a Noël house warming party to which I have invited my new-found chums. If no one comes, I will know that my polite conversation about their holidays and how many brother and sisters they have has been boring them to tears, and I will have to either learn some more vocabulary over the holidays, or find a new bar in the New Year.

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