A NEW YORK TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR
‘Talking to you in English’, he said, ‘is like touching you with gloves.’
A language barrier is no match for love. New Yorker journalist Lauren Collins discovers this first-hand when, in her early thirties, she moves to London and falls for Olivier, a Frenchman. As their relationship begins to grow, Lauren senses that there are things she doesn’t understand about Olivier, having never spoken to him in his mother tongue. (Does ‘I love you’ even mean the same thing as ‘je t’aime’?) And when they move to French-speaking Geneva, Lauren suddenly finds herself no longer able to talk to the local handymen or shop owners, let alone her husband’s parents.
Fearful of one day finding herself unable to communicate with her own children, Lauren decides to learn French. Along the way, she faces a series of challenges, from awkward role-playing games at her Swiss language school, to accidentally telling her mother-in-law that she’s given birth to a coffee machine. But there are also unexpected pleasures: the delights of learning French words that have no English equivalent and the joys of winning her first argument against Olivier in his native tongue.
A funny, thoughtful memoir, When in French considers how language shapes our lives, from how we think, to how we fall in love, and what happens when two languages, and two very different cultures, collide.