“Coucou, what do you want to do on your last night in Paris?”
The first time I ever saw the word was in a text from a French boy this summer. I had to Google it. It essentially means “hey,” but in a flirty, fun kind of way. It’s our American equivalent to “hey you.”
The second time I saw it was when I was back in America, looking up places in New York that I could take French classes.
I took French from the time I was twelve until twenty-two. When I started in middle school, it was a small group of us and over the years we became a little family. We grew up together, hit puberty together, discovered Nutella together, struggled with verb tenses together.
In high school, we got a point where we’d mastered all the technical aspects of the language and moved onto actually using it. We studied French history, in French. French literature, in French. It was fabulous. I wrote reports in French on the revolution and interpreted Charles Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal. It was this all-encompassing education that really made me fall in love with France.
When I studied abroad in Paris, my French class was small, yet again, and we bonded quickly. Class often took place in a cafe, or at the market, or in a museum, and we had to put our language skills to the test.
I never wanted to stop learning, and never intended to stop practicing, but outside France the opportunities to speak French are limited. My vocabulary for food, directions, shopping, and general pleasantries remained intact, but everything else faded. When I found myself back in France this summer trying to have real conversations, I realized how much I had lost and became determined to get it back.
When I put my mind to something, I don’t rest. So upon my return to New York, I looked into classes. There were several places to choose from in the city, but Coucou caught my attention. Just the name brought back happy memories of summer, and they offered small group French classes, just like I was used to. They also happened to be on one of my favorite streets in Manhattan, in between an excellent French bakery and a French wine bar. What could be better?
While some language schools offer everything, Coucou only offers French, and everything about the charming little school is on theme. The door has croissants drawn on it, a little salon has every book you could ever want, a little bar offers coffee, wine, and sparkling water, and each classroom is named after a French hero.
I had been desperately missing France since I returned to America. I longed for everything about it – the food, the language, the romance. The mere sight of a French flag sent a pain to my heart! I tried restaurants and bakeries in New York, but they didn’t provide the feeling I was chasing. I thought I was doomed to live in sorrow until I could return in January! But here in Nolita, I knew I had found my little Paris.
Coucou has 7 course levels, and allows you to audit a course before you sign up, so you know you are choosing the right one and that you enjoy the teaching method. This was really helpful since I assumed I was in between 4 and 5. I audited 4 and felt just lost enough to know I had found the right level. Those verb tenses always threw me for a loop – I needed a refresher.
I couldn’t wait to start school, and on my way there for my first class, I felt like a child again. I clutched my workbook in my hand, had a freshly sharpened pencil ready, and little notebook that I planned to turn into my own petite dictionary of useful words and phrases.
Thursday from 7-9 quickly became my favorite two hours of the week. With just 8 people in the class, I had a little French family again, the head of the household our fearless prof – Laura – a thirty-year-old ex-pat who I instantly wished was my best friend. We were all there for a different reason, all from a different background and experience, but all passionate about learning French.
While courses like Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur are certainly easy and accessible, I find it is essential to learn from an actual person. You need someone there who is going to force you to try, even when you don’t know the words, and correct every little pronunciation, and teach you the way that native people actually talk, not just what the books say.
Real conversation is ultimately what you’re trying to master – so what better way to learn than by having it, weekly, with a real Parisienne.
The course book is actually written by the team at Coucou, and full of fun ways of learning not only the language but the culture. We practiced the subjunctive tense by doing a quiz of “how French are you.” (I scored – you should check your nationality – you must be French!)
Coucou also offers ways to learn outside the classroom. They have cheese tastings, style workshops, slang workshops, book club, and even Saturday morning yoga in French. They bring a heavy dose of fun, joy, and excitement to learning – which I always had a child in class, and valued even more as an adult.
Our last class was a fete – everyone brought something to share so we could eat and drink and celebrate our graduation together. Macaron, pain au chocolat, and of course a lot of wine was my parting meal.
I found myself quite sad I could not continue to level 5, though I knew there was no better way to continue my studies than to just be in Paris.
But I consulted my homemade dictionary the other day. I remembered writing down the different ways to say “I like you/I have a crush on you” and wanted to make sure I got it right. (These things can’t be messed up!) As I scanned through the pages, rereading my scribbled notes, hand-drawn charts, and little doodles, I realized I really missed my class, mon prof, and the little community that exists in New York’s “Little Paris.”
253 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013
Phone: 917 675 6191
Coucou currently offers classes in New York, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. They offer group classes, workshops, and private instruction.