The other day I was on the phone with my father, who I don’t call nearly enough (not calling enough is probably one of my biggest faults), and I was trying to communicate just how much I loved him.
“Papa, I love you!”
-Yes my dear?
- I love you!
- I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. What did you say?
- Ummm. Ok… I miss you!
- Yeahhhh, yeah yeah yeah. You too my dear. I miss you a lot.
No, my father and I aren’t having any relationship issues. We love each other! It’s just that in France, you don’t really say “I love you” casual like that. My father didn’t hear me right because “I love you” (how American of me) just didn’t register. In France, “I love you” is strong. “I love you” is dramatic. “I love you” runs deep.
Of course, there are degrees. Some families never say it amongst themselves (which isn’t to say they don’t love each other) and some families, like mine, only say it in special moments in life. Some say it often too, but in my experience, those families are more rare.
Imagine my surprise when a year after I moved to the States, I got an e-mail from an American friend who ended her note with “I love you!”
Wait, what? I spent a half-hour re-reading the e-mail.
“I love you,” wait like you “looooooooove me.” How exactly do you mean? Do you mean like, LOVE love? Like friend love? You love me like you want to kisssss me? You love me like a sister? You…
I started drafting a super long e-mail to her telling her that yes, I loved her too, but not in the same way, but that I wouldn’t let any of it effect our friendship and that I ….
And then I just let it go. And phew! I did good there.
Love or Love you is a common way to end an e-mail here.
Aaaaahhh, I was so dumb before.
I just didn’t get it. I still had a super Parisian way of speaking which I’m sure raised a lot of eyebrows when I first was assimilating into New York society. There’s a whole new language to master.
And just because you “love!” someone doesn’t even mean you necessarily want to have lunch with that person. Like here are a few examples…
In New York : “Oh my gaaaaaaad so happy to see you! How aaaare you?”
In Paris : “Hey! How’s it going?”
(It works with non-verbal communication too….
In New York : Big hugs.
In Paris : You give kisses on the cheek. If you really want to show affection for someone, you give them their cheek kisses with your hands on their shoulders. Wow. Best friends forever.)
In New York : “Wow. Your dress. OMG I love it! Where did you find it???”
In Paris : “Your dress isn’t bad (Not bad = pas mal = very French expression). Where’d you find it?”
In New York : “Garance? She’s my BEST friend!”
In Paris : “Garance? Yeah. I know her.”
In New York : “Beyoncé? She’s hilarious!!!”
In Paris : “Beyoncé? Yeah, she’s funny.”
Voilà. Now you know one of the most important and foolproof secrets to Parisian coolitude, which is not to “love” anything too much. Which is not too bad (hehehe), because when you say “I love you,” it carries a lot of weight.
And so if one day a Parisian comes up to you and says she “loves” your dress, I give you full permission to jump up and down and get the dress framed.
As for me, of course, I’ve adapted. I hug all the time, I love everyone, even my father, even my accountant (Love… Oops, I mean, Best!) and I’ve come to find it pretty fun. It’s cute, this collective vocabulary hysteria.
But here’s the thing. I’m a little confused.
In the US, when do you get to that big first “I love you”?
How do you end an email with your boyfriend?
What do you say between two lovers?
Patiently awaiting your responses….
PS: It should be noted as well, our strange usage of “J’adore” in France. It’s almost become weaker, more casual than “j’aime.” I suppose we’re not so far from the New Yorkers…
PPS: This past time when Alex and Emily and I were talking about the titles for our mini-posts, without really thinking we called the new section “Obsessed!” Then one day we said, hmmm, ok, we love this pair of shoes but we’re not OBSESSED with them.
“Obsessed is a little strong. No?”
“What should we call this little section?”
“Pretty cool but don’t lose your shit over it?”
PPPS : If I ask you the question, I’ve got to give you my answer :
The “I love you” slipped out of Scott’s mouth the first day we kissed. I looked at him and said, “But Scott, you don’t say ‘I love you’ on the first kiss!” (How very French of me)
He told me : “What if I know I love you already?”
I was kind of shocked, but I thought, aaaaah, these Americans are too sweet.
Translation : Tim Sullivan