In Search of French: From Tahiti to Nice

By Tony and Laura Bushman
Tuesday December 23, 2008 - 10:36:00 AM

Where can you learn French in the winter where it is warm? In Tahiti. So we set off for French Tahiti. The weather in Tahiti was sticky and hot, but the water was perfect. The yellow and red hibiscus plants were captivating and the azure ocean was stunning. We lay on the beaches, swam among the coral and admired double-breasted white-throated warblers. With all this beauty surrounding us, it was clear we would not be learning much French in Tahiti. Two weeks were up before we got fully acclimated in our search for French lessons. France seemed the better place to learn French. The trip from Tahiti to France was a three-day nightmare, which left us dizzy from lack of sleep. We were met at the airport in Nice by Christian, our host, with a very warm welcome. 



We continued our learning of French in Nice. Nice is a fancy Mediterranean city made famous by the Hollywood set and the rich from the world over. We were definitely not in this group, although we were lucky with the location of our accommodation and our new French family. Our apartment was located in downtown Nice, about a five-minute walk from our French school, Lingo Planet. We truly enjoyed our family, Dagmar and Christian, our hosts, and Angela, our housemate from Bath, England. Part of our experience was getting to know our family and having dinner meals with them. 

Dagmar and Christian have been married 40 years and have a huge and lusty family. They have five children and eight grandchildren and seem to interact with them daily. Dagmar is a great cook. We never had a repeat meal in the two weeks we stayed with them. Christian is one of the perfect husbands in the world. He got up every morning and made breakfast for himself and Dagmar, and they enjoyed having a few minutes and breakfast in bed. He then cleaned up their breakfast items and fixed our breakfasts. Each evening we shared the dinner with Dagmar, Christian and Angela. Angela was such a special gift to us during our stay. She majored in music during her college days and got a job at a local Bath university, teaching English as a second language. She was in Nice to learn French so she could do a better job. She was on a six-month sabbatical and had stayed with our hosts for three months already. What made our time with her so special was that we played flute and recorder music most every evening. Because Angela was still in her 20s she would often go out with the younger generation. She was also generous with her time and helped some of her classmates with their English. 

The Lingo Planet language school, about two blocks from our apartment, was a good school. We found the perfect classes for our needs. We had homework every evening and still found time to explore the city. 

Nice has changed tremendously in the last 10 years. You would not recognize it now. Most of the big streets were torn up to put in a tram system to relieve the downtown congestion. Only a few construction barriers and holes remain. 

The best part of Nice is walking on the Promenade Anglaise. This was built in the 19th century by the English who used to winter here to get away from the London winters. It has, of course, been expanded, but there is still a feel of elegance about the beach and the Mediterranean. We had some cold and wet days while we were there, but our walks along the promenade made our stay memorable and pleasant. The one unchanging feature about Nice is that you always have to dodge the doggie droppings in spite of the fact that, every night, street workers are hosing off the sidewalks. We understand that Paris has laws requiring cleaning up after your dog, but they are unenforced. Another law that is unenforced is no smoking in public places. Smoking in restaurants is particularly distressing to nonsmokers. It ruins the whole ambience of the restaurant and the flavor of the food. 

There are a number of treasures in Nice. Although we have visited Nice several times, there is always something new to discover. The most special discovery this time was the Museum of Asiatic Art, located in the Parc Phoenix. The museum is ultramodern and feels like a Zen meditation center. The architect made the building more of a sculpture than just a museum. The museum hovers over a lake in the middle of the park, and its exhibits are divided into individual cubes, which all fit into a harmonious whole. We were fascinated by all the beautiful pieces of art. The museum was small but perfect. 

Another glorious building is the Orthodox Russian Cathedral. St. Nicolas is an easy walk from the main train station. Being in the cathedral is just like being in Russia. Sadly, Russia is suing France to get the Cathedral artifacts back again. It was built as a gift by Nicolas II early in the 20th century. Since the fall of the USSR, we understand, Moscow wants to sell off the treasures in order to pay some Russian debts. The matter is still in the French court.  

We decided to take in some real southern French entertainment on our last night in Nice. We went to the Ruhl Casino to have dinner and see the topless girly show. The French have a lot of fun at these spectaculars. We started eating at 8:30 p.m. There was a lovely three-piece band playing throughout dinner. We had a pre-show entertainment at 10 p.m. and the real show didn’t start until 11. It was a typical bare breasted Las Vegas-style show. It seems that over 90 percent of the French show consisted of American songs. The dancing was tremendous. This was our only late evening in Nice. Seems we are not up to long nights out on the town.