The Scariest Four-Letter Word

All great conversations start over a bottle of wine, am I right?

OK, maybe not all of them, but many certainly do, like the one I had last week at a friend’s potluck.

Whenever the word “date” is dropped in a conversation, it seems like every head in the room turns to be a part of it. We all have something to contribute, even if our personal dating experience is limited.

In this particular instance, a girlfriend and I were sharing our frustration at many guys we knew who couldn’t pluck up the courage to ask someone out. One of our guy friends overheard this and immediately put his two cents in. Soon, the entire party – 10 or 12 people of different backgrounds and ages – sat in our hostess’s tiny living room debating until late into the night. Who should make the first move? Why are men so terrified to ask the question? Why do women guard themselves and expect others to read their minds? How does dating even work nowadays?

I do not have the answers to these questions. Sorry. However, the one thing I took from that discussion is that “date” is the scariest four-letter word. And we need to use it, now more than ever.

It’s no secret that the dating world is confusing as anything and no one’s clear on how to navigate it. Therefore,  more than anything else in our relationships, we need clarity. Across genders and sexual orientations, all people, we drive ourselves crazy trying to classify our relationships: “Well, we’re seeing each other, but we’re not together, and we’re hooking up, but he’s not my boyfriend, but he asked me to hang out tonight so I guess we’re a thing …”

Ugh. That was a frustrating sentence to type. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if one of them had said, “Will you go on a date with me?” or even “Is this a date?” Boom. Problem solved.

I and others I know have been on way too many “non-dates”: meetings that seemed like dates, but neither party used the word “date.” And let me tell you, there is nothing more maddening than trying to figure out what that non-date meant.

Let me be clear: I’m not attacking men in particular. Women, or the person on the receiving end of the offer of a date, should be able to demand clarity. I’m also not saying that men and women can’t go out as friends. I’ve gone out with men as “just friends” and had a great time! In those cases, the guy’s intention was clear, the pressure was off, and I could just relax and be myself. And the same goes for actual, romantic, I-like-you-that-way dates.

A date is just a date. It’s not a marriage proposal, and it doesn’t even mean you two want to be in a long-term, committed relationship. It’s just a date.

So if you are planning on asking someone out, please, please use the word “date.” Conversely, if you receive an invitation, please ask for clarification: “Is this a date?” It’s a scary word, but we need to use it. Even if someone says no, I guarantee they will appreciate your courage and honesty. And, if that person says yes, congratulations! Now your first-date jitters will stem from butterflies when you see your date coming toward you and not asking yourself whether you’re on a date at all.

Bonne semaine!

– Vicky

What’s your most awkward first date story? Share in the comments below!

Advertisements

My Accent is Weird, Part 1

A few weeks ago, I was in an organic market in town buying ingredients to make a red velvet cake. I had my shopping list with all the items written out in French so I could find them easily. I found everything except the buttermilk. I had written two possible French words for this one, so I confidently went up to the cashier and asked where the buttermilk was.

She stared at me blankly. I tried the other word. No good. As I was about to end the conversation, she signaled one of her coworkers to come over, saying, “Je ne parle pas anglais.” 

Mortified, I quickly paid for the rest of my stuff and left. I haven’t gone back since.

***

Many French people have told me that I speak very good French, and I’m always genuinely flattered by it. When someone makes a concerted effort to not just speak their language, but to speak it well, the French appreciate it.

However, I have never made it through more than a minute of conversation with a new French acquaintance without that person asking, “Where are you from?” or saying, in true matter-of-fact French fashion, “You have an accent.”

As an avid traveler, I’m constantly worried about falling into the “obnoxious American tourist” stereotype. I feel like I always have to prove that I’m trying to speak the language well and learn about the culture and not just ask where the nearest McDonald’s is.

It’s probably all in my head, but I hate the sound of my northeastern U.S. accent trying to finagle its way around all those beautiful French vowels and not-so-beautiful nasal vowels. It’s even worse when I make a grammar-related faux pas.

Last night, I walked home with two French friends from a meeting at the aumônerie. It was very cold and the wind blew my hood right off. What I should have said was, La capuche ne m’aide pas,” or “This hood isn’t helping me.” What I said was, Le capuche ne m’aide pas,” using the masculine instead of the feminine pronoun.

I quickly corrected myself, but one friend caught the error, laughed, and said, “It’s cute. It makes you charming.”

UGH.

I don’t think that’s the right response to a compliment, but instead of feeling flattered, I was frustrated that I had accidentally let my American freak flag fly again. Why? Is it because Americans have a bad reputation as tourists? Or do accents have the same effect as listening to a recording of your own voice?

Since then, I’ve been trying to answer the age-old question: why are foreign accents so attractive? I’m not just talking about people with accents being sexually attractive; admit it, even an accent you find grating or annoying catches your attention at first. The best answer I can come up with is that it’s an immediate conversation starter. Humans are curious beings. When someone speaks differently than you, you automatically ask yourself, “How did this person learn to speak like that? Where are they from? What’s their story?” Plus, you avoid the awkward moment of thinking of a conversation topic, because it’s ringing in your ears.

So if my American accent speaking French is “cute” and “charming,” why do I resent it so much? Perhaps it’s because I’m trying to assimilate as much as possible into the French culture, and my accent is one thing that immediately gives me away as not French. So much of our identity is engrained in the organs that allow us to speak, including the language centers of the brain. Even if I lived in France for the next 40 years and learned to speak perfect French, I might never lose that certain American something in my voice that the French would be sure to notice. Sometimes I feel like people hear my accent and not the words I’m speaking, or they see an American rather than me, Vicky.

It’s true that it takes some getting used to when you’re not familiar with a regional accent. But next time you meet someone with a different accent than you, I’d encourage you to listen carefully to their words, not just hear their voice. An accent is just a small part of a person’s identity. Differences should be celebrated, not fetishized.

Oh yeah, for the record, a sexy accent doesn’t necessarily indicate that this person is boyfriend/girlfriend material.

Good. Glad that message rang loud and clear.

À bientôt!

– Vicky

Question: Why do you think people find different accents attractive? Share your thoughts in the comments below!