True stories with a twist!


The “Zipped and Unzipped”  book club held its monthly meeting this week. The name of our group reminds our members that we are all here to share our comments and interpretations about the book, not to  exchange news and gossip among members. Not an easy task to enforce when 10 women meet one afternoon a month. So much news to catch up with; so much to share.

Obeying the rules and keeping on subject, this month’s book, DREAMING IN FRENCH by Alice Kaplan, describes three young women in the 1950s and 60s spending part of their youth in Paris. Jacqueline Bouvier, Susan Sontag and Angela Davis were the subjects.

This book led to a discussion none of us ever faced or were offered in our college days. Being offered that choice is one of the differences between the last generation and ours. It is common in this generation to study abroad for a semester, because universities sponsor such programs. But the courses are taught in English and students room in dormitories. They all speak english to each other.

In Dreaming in French, though, the universities did not sponsor the programs. These three women, each 18 or 19 years old, decided on their own to go to France. They were completely independent; each one lived with a French family, attended classes conducted in French and became totally submersed in the french language and life style.

If we, as teenagers, had the opportunity to fly off to Paris alone, would we do it?

“Yes,” said Robin. I wish I had been offered that opportunity. Having that level of freedom and responsibility would have forced me to develop into a stronger, more independent woman.”

“Imagine the freedom of making decisions without the advice or approval of my parents,” mused Michaela.

“I would have become a different person if I had that chance to function by myself,” said Mazie.

But the opposite opinion was also expressed.

“No,” said Amanda; I would have been terrified at the thought of leaving home at that age and living on my own.”

“I can’t imagine doing such a thing back then,” said Brenda.

“Nowadays, said Babs, young people toss on a backpack, jeans and tee shirt and travel around the world by themselves. And Universities offer study semesters abroad.”

Those divergent opinions said much about the women expressing them. They were demonstrating their levels of independence even without having the opportunity to live alone in a foreign country.

The question made me think of a line from “Fiddler on the Roof.” As Tevye says, when his wife tells him she loves him, “Not that it matters after all these years, but it’s nice to know.”

If, as a young person in college, you had the chance to travel to a foreign country, communicate in a new language and live with a local family, what would you do?”

Comments on: "BOOK CLUB MEETING" (30)

  1. I never did an exchange program in college, but now I live in a different country. It has opened my eyes to many new things. I didn’t have to learn a new language though–just had to get used to accents.

    • Accents can be as confusing as different accents. I remember taking a car trip with my parents when I was a child. We stopped in a town in Georgia and my father asked a man what the name of the town was. It sounded like, “Haysin.” It made no sense until we came to a school telling us the name, “Henderson Elementary School.”

  2. Blood-Ink-Diary said:

    Superb post, dearest Ronnie!
    Ah, yes, i did this after university — went to Havana Cuba – with literally peanut money to my name at that time! I was young and an idealist – wanted to explore another culture (as if growing up in Africa and travelling to many places in the world with my family was not enough!), but, that travel to Havana was the best in my life! Learnt Spanish, slept on the beach, learnt some frets of acoustic guitar – well, was there for one month! After few days of making new friends, they invited me to stay in their house – we would talk about our lives, countries, etc… and to present day after 15 years – that family and I are in touch on monthly basis! A very very interesting trip — I should pen it on my blog one of these days!
    Your question took me back in memory lane! Truly a delight.

    • What an amazing experience! I loved hearing about it and agree it would make a fascinating post.

      • Blood-Ink-Diary said:

        Well, dear Ronnie, ’tis you has provoked an inspiring pulse to pen a long-time ago memory. Hoping one of these days I acn pen it – shall let you know once I post it ! Have a great week, my friend! Cheers

  3. […] If you’d like to explore that premise, check out Ronnie Hammer’s blog. She writes about her book club’s discussion of “Dreaming in French” by Alice Kaplan. Her book describes three young women in the 1950s and 60s – Jacqueline Bouvier, Susan Sontag and Angela Davis – who spent part of their youth in Paris. Here is the link: […]

  4. Thanks for stopping by to comment on one of my posts. I’m glad you are NOT judgmental, narrow minded and opinionated!

  5. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t study abroad when I was in college. My program of study was so tightly packed that I had no room for electives. Studying overseas would have essentially meant paying for an additional semester of college. That just wasn’t an option at the time, but I sure wish it would have been.

  6. The fact that I have no sense of direction and easily lost in a new place I wouldn’t take that chance without a sister or a friend with me…unless I have lots of free cash in my pocket 🙂

  7. I wish I would have had the courage to go to France and live there, immerse myself in the culture and the language. Ronnie, that sounds like a bit of heaven. We’ve visited Paris 3 times, but the longest was just a week’s stay. Not enough time.
    Now, you’ve got me dreaming in French. Ironically, my next post will be about France.

    • I look forward to reading it. The first time we went we wanted to see everything, and by the time a week went by my feet hurt so much from walking that there was nothing anyone could have tempted me to see.

      • I just posted the story and linked to your blog because I enjoyed your take on a similar topic. Believe me, Ronnie, I understand about being footsore while on vacation. My husband views every new location as a new place to explore, and by explore, I mean by foot.

  8. My apologies for the mess up from my mobile browser. Can you please edit it away?

    Here is what I wanted to say:

    You always have unique topics to bring to the table. Visiting your blog is like going into a big forest just to marvel at the beauty of each big tree! Okay, to your question…

    Well, I honestly think that it would’ve been a privilege at such an age–to explore the world and get the chance to live with a family who speak a different language from mine. Five years ago, I was on nation assignment (NYSC) to the northern part of the country. This one-year programme for some reason led me to staying with a family who basically communicated in their native tongue, Hausa (another major tribal language in my country). Their English was pidgin English in its worst state! For the first few months, living with them was a struggle. We all would smile, trying to make up for what was not understood when we conversed. The second quarter was better. I learnt some things, this included some of their native conversational words like ‘come’ ‘go’ and ‘good day.’ The third quarter was quite eventful and even when it was finally time for me to return to the east, I didn’t want to. Life in the region was exciting contrary to what I thought.

    Thanks for the post, my dear friend. Sometimes I wish I had gone there when I was younger. By now I should’ve been able to speak at least two different ethnic languages like some of my friends.

    Again, my apologies…

  9. Well written and thought provoking piece, Ronnie. We’ve been searching colleges for my oldest daughter, and one of the top selling points for many of these schools is their study abroad programs. These weren’t as popular when I was in college, but I did go on my own in my early twenties to Costa Rica to hone my spanish language skills. It was hard being so far away from family and friends, but I became a lot more independent. Now I would encourage my kids to study abroad when they’re ready.

    • Good luck with the selection of schools. My children also studied abroad and gained hugely from the experience. Too bad they didn’t break the ice for me before I became their mother. Wait: that wouldn’t work, would it?

  10. DAVID LERMAN said:

    Hi, great piece, it ‘s so wonderful to share that special “space”…be happy..see you soon. love, m

  11. I did a semester in Ireland so dreaming in the language was not an issue. But for about 6 weeks my dreams still took place at home…

  12. I spent time in Paris between leaving school and going to art school. It’s what made me eventually come and live here.

  13. Sounds like an interesting book club that you have. I will chime in with my two cents. After being brought up on a farm, I moved to NYC to study art. There I met and married a Pakistani. We planed to tour Europe and then fly to Pakistan, but because of the war between India and Pakistan I thought we should take our time and drive there. Ignorance is great. I had the equivalent of one semester of college and my husband had a master’s degree but we were both geographically challenged. If we had wisdom and knowledge we probably would not have been so independent but it was a great adventure. It is great to take chances. The rewards are unquantifiable.

  14. I wish I can have a book club someday with my friends. Unfortunately, some of my friends here in L.A. don’t read books. They’re all too stupid to even know what I book itself means.

    Thank you for discovering me…curious, how did you find me?

    Oh! Don’t forget. Tomorrow…My new blog post will be up. I can’t wait for you to read what I have been working on. 🙂 I’m so excited and nervous…:)

  15. I didn’t go abroad in college and have had the experience of living and traveling overseas. My kids didn’t go abroad during college- though my sons studied in Israel before and after.
    I think for some students these are good opportunities but for most college kids these days they travel and do so many exotic trips that sometimes the study abroad can be superfluous. That said, it’s still a great experience they can never have a chance to repeat.
    good post- like how you captured the book group flavor!

    • Thanks, Lisa. I’m afraid I was one of the ones who said that she couldn’t have done that alone at age 18. In a few years after that, though I was raring to go! All of my children travelled in college days, and it was a mind-altering experience for each one.

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