365 Days In Paris: Got Game?

Bonjour, mes amis. It is I, Leonora, your faithful heroine on zee mission ov finding her one true love à Paree. So, it ees wis great disappointment zat I muss tell you that this week, I haf made très peu de progress. I am, how you say, a leetle stuck in zee matters of zee heart.

OK, so actually, the truth is just that I had a rather uneventful week. No word from any boys. Stayed in most nights, preferring to take walks and cook dinner alone. I’m not feeling too sad or lonely, just experiencing a slight lull in entertainment. But in general, I’m cool and calm, and have been focusing on appreciating Paris for the amazing city that it is.One thing that’s been particularly cool is my new addiction to tennis. I found out about a free city-sponsored tennis clinic (how awesome is France?) that happens every Thursday in the Luxembourg Gardens, one of the most spectacular parks in Paris. I’ve always wanted to play tennis, and had literally never held a racquet in my life the first time I went to the courts. I was actually pretty nervous that first time, realizing as I was on my way to the Gardens that I didn’t even know the words in French for “backhand,” or “serve.”

Predictably, that first lesson was extremely awkward, and the people participating in the clinic were your average variety of kooky Frenchies, who all think they know everything about tennis. After sorting us out, an instructor led me and an older man to an empty court for our lesson. My fellow student was straight out of “The Royal Tennenbaums”: in his mid-70s, with slicked back hair and a mustache and a paisley ascot tucked into a ’70s nylon track suit with sharp creases down the legs. I took one look at him and instantly felt relieved. I doubted that Grandpa was an expert player, so maybe I wouldn’t have to worry about being a sucky tennis player. Turns out, he was quite advanced, and had a style of hitting the ball with one arm behind his back and his nose in the air. Grandpa Tennenbaum was none too happy to have been paired with an absolute beginner, and each time I missed the ball, he became more irritated, saying in just a loud enough voice, “Mais non … c’est pas vrai. Qu’est-ce qu’elle fait, la fille! Ah, mais non, pas encore!” Oh no … it can’t be true. What does this girl think she’s doing. Missed? Not again!

I was feeling horribly embarrassed and upset. This thing of feeling so small and stupid is actually something that happens a lot when I’m around French people (a common expat dilemma), and all of a sudden, I felt irritated by it. I realized—why did I have to take this? Wouldn’t it be better to just get angry and do something about it? How else will I ever grow here if I remain totally passive? So I turned to the old man, and in my best possible French told him, “Look. I’m sorry you’re upset that you got placed with me, but I’m a real beginner, and this is my first time playing tennis in my life, so, please, your remarks aren’t constructive.” And voilà … he nervously stumbled through some excuse of how he didn’t mean to offend. After that, he continued making commentary after every mistake I made, but instead, they were tips. “Hold your racket like this … You must approach the ball … ” And actually, he had some pretty good advice.

The next week, the old man was again at the tennis clinic, but we weren’t grouped together. He acknowledged me from across the court with a motion of his racket. During my second lesson, I began to see a huge improvement as my body started recognizing how to maneuver itself around the court. I made an effort to be braver, both in the sport and with my players, reminding myself each time I wanted to shrink in shyness about how well last week had worked out with my old man friend.

My efforts paid off. At the end of the lesson, the instructor shook my hand, telling me, “Pas mal, tu commences à améliorer et maintenant, t’es un peu moins nul.” Not bad, you’re starting to improve, and now, you suck a little less.