Inspiration all around as a Frenchman talks about cooking, childrearing, embarrassing language gaffes, and writing... in today's entretien with Marc Levy
Marc Levy's books are available now, for the first time, in English! Learn about this former Red Cross worker who, in the decade since he began writing, has become most-read French author in the world. To all who dare to follow their dream... may today's interview give you wings!
un entretien (ontr-tee-en)
1) an interview
2) management/service (a car check-up, etc...)
Audio File: Listen to our daughter, Jackie, read the following sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file
Aujourd'hui, lisez mon entretien avec l'écrivain Marc Levy.
Today, read my interview with the writer Marc Levy.
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
Do you find it enormously reassuring to learn that someone's remarkable success happened later in life? Does it fill you with hope to discover that the respected novelist or chessplayer or... started out as a first-aid worker—unaware of a nascent talent within him?
As a lifelong student of writing, nothing motivates me like another's bumpy or unlikely journey to literary success. It makes me believe that it's not too late to pen The Classic and Universal Story... the one that could be enjoyed by all generations till the end of time!
Reading about French author Marc Levy, and how he changed professions several times before happening upon his calling—as a writer, I am encouraged to plumb the depths of my own vocational well. Could it be that in this mad pursuit of writing, chess is really my calling?
One thing's sure, French will open doors either way. So it's a safe bet to continue pursuing language! I think even Mr. Levy would agree. Enjoy his words, below, about France, culture, and writing.
...And, after reading the interview, take time to consider: the dream job you are so passionately pursuing (or currently practicing) may be, after all, but a means to an even more stimulating and meaningful métier--the one your heart is diligently fine-tuning, while you are busy chasing your dream!
:: Entretien avec Marc Levy ::
1. Why did you choose to leave France and make a home for yourself in the States?
Believe it or not, I originally left France to go to England, which makes me a terrible Frenchman. (There is a rivalry between England and France that dates back several centuries.) I had fallen in love with London and the British sense of humor, and I lived quite happily there for ten years. I then moved to the States because I also harbored a deep love for New York City. My son had also decided to study in the U.S., so my longstanding desire to be in New York provided the perfect pretext for me to follow him and play the overprotective parent! But in all seriousness, I was attracted to the multicultural, multiethnic aspect of New York. 163 different communities and ethnic groups shared their lives there—it was as if the whole world had gathered in one place, and that place was New York. It was a city in color that I wanted to be a part of.
2. You have a love for food and cooking. What differences do you see in the American vs. the French approaches to cooking and dining?
The French cook with less of everything: salt, oil, sugar, sauce, etc. It is fascinating to see, in fact, how much flavor you can produce when you do this. But I’ve noticed that many new French restaurants are now adopting the trend of overusing ingredients.
The main difference between restaurants in Paris and New York? The noise. I’ve been in some restaurants where there is more noise in the dining room than food on your plate. A restaurant in Paris that played its music as loudly as New York restaurants do wouldn’t last more than a week. When we invite friends out to dinner, we usually want to talk to them, not yell at them.
3. You have an older son who was raised primarily in France and a young son whom you are raising in New York. What differences do you see in the French and American parenting cultures?
My older son was actually raised primarily in London. It's a bit difficult for me to comment on contemporary French parenting culture, since I've been living outside of France for the past 15 years, but as far as I can tell, there aren't too many differences. As parents, we all love our children with the same heart and want the best for them.
I suppose one subtle difference might be that in France, we focus less on the psychology of the child and more on his or her practical education. For example, when I was at a friend's house, she had told her son he couldn't do something and he responded, "You're hurting my feelings!" Our French friends laughed, as this is not very French—it would not garner a French child much sympathy when being scolded or told no. Perhaps French parents are more old-fashioned, stricter in this way...or at least, mine were with me.
4. Some language learners are fearful of speaking English to a French person, afraid they’ll make an embarrassing mistake. Did you ever humiliate yourself in English? Any examples you are willing to share?
I do this every day. One example that comes to mind is something I once said to a woman in the street. She was trying to light her cigarette, but her lighter wasn’t working, so as a proper French gentleman would, I offered her my own. I asked her, “Do you want my fire?” After she had left, the American friend I was with burst into laughter. When I asked him what was so funny, he explained to me why that had been a ridiculous thing to say. I was absolutely mortified!
5. Humor, or a good joke, is often “lost in translation”, making it even more difficult to adapt as an expat. Did you ever find it difficult to appreciate the sense of humor in your adopted country, or to share your own sense of humor?
Yes and no. Humor is one of the most important things in my life—it’s like a drug to me. I have watched so many comedies and read so many books to try to better understand American and British humor. What I have discovered is that the jokes we make are often very specific to culture, sometimes only understood in the country they are from. For example, a joke about cheerleaders that Americans find hilarious would be confusing to the French, because we don’t have cheerleaders in France.
Living in a new place, you come to understand that it is much more difficult to share your sense of humor, but as implied in my answer to your previous question, sometimes you can make people laugh without knowing why.
6. There are some colorful expressions in French, such as “faire du lèche-vitrines” or “avoir un oursin dans sa poche”. Can you share a favorite French expression?
One of my favorites is “Ce n'est pas tombé dans l'oreille d'un sourd”. The English equivalent is “It hasn’t fallen on deaf ears,” or that the information has been fully understood, but translated quite literally, it would be “It hasn’t fallen into the ear of a deaf man.”
7. Regarding pronunciation, what do you think about accents? (i.e. when speaking English, do you strive to lose your own French accent? Conversely, what do you think when hearing someone struggle to pronounce French?)
I would love to do that—if only I could get rid of the “z” and say “the” one time, as it should be! But in regard to hearing a foreign accent in French, I find it very charming, and never ridiculous. Especially when an American woman speaks French, it’s so sexy.
8. Regarding things getting lost in translation, how do you feel about having your French words—so thoughtfully chosen during the writing process—translated into English, or another language, now that your books are being made available worldwide?
It’s a real concern. The initial English translation of my first book was so bad, it really killed me and almost ruined the story. For a writer, finding a translator who understands your writing is as difficult as an actor finding the voice that will dub over his own. (Dubbed voiceovers for foreign movies and television shows are very common in France.) Translators are constantly underpaid and underappreciated, but their role is so important that they should really get a part of the royalties. They aren’t just translating, but adapting the text, and to do so, they must be good writers.
When I received corrections for the English translation of my second novel before it went to print, I sat down with both versions in front of me, trying to go through and compare every word. In the middle of this, the doorbell rang and the mailman arrived with the Chinese manuscript. I went back to my desk and closed everything. I learned that day that after a certain point, you must trust that the translator likes and understands your work, and wants to accurately reproduce it.
9. It is both fascinating and inspiring to read about your path to writing, and the failures that brought you there. In one interview, we read about some of the words of wisdom you shared with your son. You said, “The biggest mistake you can make in your life is to avoid any mistake by not doing anything.” Could you please translate that into French for us, and so leave us with the courage to pursue our own dreams?
“La plus grande erreur que tu pourrais faire dans ta vie serait d'avoir évité toute erreur en n'ayant rien fait.”
Please help me to thank Marc Levy for taking the time to talk to us today. Click here to leave a message and keep the conversation going in the comments box. Which answers, above, interested you the most? I'd love to read your response to Marc Levy's words, here.
A little more about Marc Levy + Win a trip to France!
With 13 novels published over the past 12 years—all of which have been #1 bestsellers in France and many other countries worldwide—Marc has nearly 30-million copies of his books in print in 45 languages.
Before his first novel, If Only It Were True, was published in the U.S., Steven Spielberg acquired the film rights for DreamWorks. The movie, Just like Heaven, starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo, was a #1 box office hit. Since this remarkable introduction, US readers have not had easy access to Marc's subsequent work. That is, until now.
International e-book publisher Versilio is now releasing the English translations of Marc Levy's novels through Amazon, iTunes, and Kobo. Lovers of all things French—as well as fans of authors like Jodi Picoult, Sara Gruen, and Anita Shreve—should be thrilled for the introduction to this treasure trove of novels by France's best-known writer.
What's more, Versilio is running "The Marc Levy Paris Getaway Sweepstakes" in the US from Monday, December 1st through Sunday, February 10th, 2013. First prize is a long weekend in Paris for two, including roundtrip airfare and hotel. Other prizes include an iPad loaded with Marc's novels and a full library of Marc's novels in ebook. To be entered to win, participants need to answer 5 questions about Marc Levy's novel All Those Things We Never Said. Winners will be announced on Valentine's Day.
Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi