When I was 11 or so, I had the good fortune of taking my first trip to Paris. A glimpse into the travel diary I kept during vacation reveals, among other things, my awe upon seeing the beautiful architecture, a list of every scrumptious thing I ate and a rather charming commentary about the differences between McDonald’s in the US and in France (my culture comparing tendencies kicked in young! Or perhaps were sprouted young, due to trips like the one to Paris. Chicken or egg? Hmm). The Paris trip was taken during a phase of my life when I collected dolls as souvenirs, and sure enough I ended up with a tiny plastic doll of a can-can dancer before we left. Because can-can dancing epitomizes French culture, obviously. But, alas, a dancing doll wasn’t enough for my childhood self. No, I was jealous of my brother, because HE got a shirt that said “J (heart) Paris.” J’heart Paris, I suppose, would be more exact: it had a big J, then an apostrophe, a heart, and the word Paris. My brother’s first name starts with a J, and I didn’t think it was fair that he got to buy a shirt with his initial on it and I didn’t. There weren’t any F’heart Paris shirts to be found! Even at the tender age of 11 I was used to not finding my name on souvenirs, but this level of unjustness was more than I could take. For quite a while, I remained incredibly jealous of that shirt, and felt rather cheated whenever he wore it.
Thirteen years and a French degree later, I completely understand why there weren’t any shirts that said “F’heart Paris.” You see, in French, “Je” means “I.” The “heart” was meant to represent the word for love, which in the first person is “aime.” And in French, “je” is abbreviated to “j’ before words that start with vowels. So, in a case of extrapolated meaning where you were expected to know that hearts = love (duh!), the shirt really read “J’aime Paris.” And putting a F in front of that heart would have made absolutely no sense whatsoever. These days, I understand and approve the choice not to make a F shirt: that would have been grammatically incorrect, and I simply can’t stand for that! But my 11 year old self saw the lack of F options as yet another attempt to deprive people with F names of fun, personalized souvenirs. As the French might say, quelle tragedie!
Why am I telling you this story? To be honest, I don’t have a very good reason. I just find it curious to think about all the misunderstandings that happen when you don’t understand a language’s structure. And deep down I really hope that right as I complained about the lack of F shirts in Paris, a French girl named Juliette complained about how all those “I heart NY” shirts were biased against people with J names. Quelle tragedie!