If you are an expat in Paris (or not!) you may well have crossed the path of Youtuber Damon Dominique. He’s a world traveler who has somewhat settled in Paris (although he was in NYC when he did this interview!). His videos give insight into travelling experiences in general and living in Paris where he covers the language, the quest for an apartment or bank account, meeting people… many subjects tackled with a wry and wild sense of humour. His style has many facettes and is not for everyone, but he is certainly not boring and has some interesting tips and observations that he has culled from his personal experience. He in fact just created a video series French class called “The French I Wish I had Learned in French Class”. Again it is from his point of view, as a learner of French, rather than as a teacher of French. It’s not dry or boring, plenty of pop culture references, and has a built-in exasperation (a natural part of learning French!). French Course: All The French I Wish I Had Learned in French Class
Damon very kindly accepted to answer a few questions for FUSAC. Enjoy!
Damon Dominique: YouTubers make money the same way FUSAC makes money. We attract an audience who connects with the videos we make. Brands and opportunities reach out to us to advertise and it’s our job to make it a win-win for everyone. In short, YouTube pays me monthly depending on the number of minutes watched of my videos (not subscribers, or views!) and in addition to that, I’ll earn income via brand partnerships on my videos and Instagram pictures.
FUSAC: How many videos have you made? Which one is your favorite?
DD: Wow – I’ve been doing this for six years full-time (and that’s just counting the years I haven’t had any other jobs). I’d say I probably have 500+ videos from around the world – from Japan to Ecuador, Kenya to Iceland. Of course, each year I feel I get better and better, so each last year of content is the best. These are my favorite videos on my current channel.
FUSAC: You grew up in Indiana, did a year abroad and have traveled extensively… Why settle in Paris? Any particular French connection from family?
DD: I always wanted to travel the world and Paris seemed like the most magical place. Everyone knows of Paris.
FUSAC: Is Damon Dominique your real name? (The surname Dominique is unusual. What are the origins?)
DD: Damon Dominique is my real name. To this day, my landlord thinks my first name is Dominique – same with the cashiers at Naturalia. It’s to the point where if I step into Starbucks in France, I just say my name is Dominique. My family is as American as it gets, but I did do a video where I tracked my family name from Indiana to Ohio to Belfort, France; Going Back to my French Ancestors’ Hometown 200 Years Later.
FUSAC: Your latest project is a set of videos for teaching French called «The French I Wish I Had Learned in French Class». Why would someone want to learn French from an American?
DD: You should learn from whoever you like, but it’s kind of that feeling you have when a tutor or classmate can help you understand something better than the teacher. They understand what’s going on, but they also understand you. I actually used to teach French at a language school in Brooklyn where the entire education was based on the idea of starting your language education with an American… because they have been through all the struggles you are about to go through. They’ll know all the questions you’ll have before you have them. They’ll have come up with all the shortcuts to take, or which concepts to spend more time on. An example could be that a French teacher might not understand why you keep messing up on J’attends pour le bus, when it’s J’attends le bus, but an American teacher would know that you’re translating from English and trying to say “I’m waiting FOR the bus,” Aside from that, I never saw a French course that felt… modern. In Level 1, I have my students translating a verse from a Beyoncé song where someone is speaking French – so I’m combining modern pop culture references, but still teaching you, you know, what an indirect object is.
Of course, once you get to an advanced level, I still recommend a native French speaker! Until then, I think if your teacher is skilled enough, whether American or French, you can reach the same level.
In short, you can’t escape your native language and an American already understands how your brain works, so I’ve always though it was a smart way to get started.
FUSAC: Where did you get that orange couch we see in your videos? My family had one just like that in New Jersey in the early 80s.
DD: I bought that orange sofa from Emmaüs in Neuilly-Plaisance! They have all warehouses full of furniture, antiques, and all kinds of knick-knacks. Just about everything in my apartment is from an Emmaüs. The one at Riquet and in Le 104 are nice and close, but definitely chaotic.
FUSAC: When, where and how did you find your first FUSAC?
DD: I was 19 and fresh in Paris for a year abroad. I needed a job, an apartment, and friends and FUSAC was the first resource my study abroad program, MICEFA, recommended! It’s now been ten years on and off in Paris and I have consistently checked the site for apartments, gigs, general get-togethers. It feels nice to know that there are others in Paris who understand where you’re from, what you might miss, and why you left (And what’s better about life over in Paris). The expat community anywhere feels like a secret society.
FUSAC: What is the most satisfying thing about teaching?
DD: I think the reason my French course has done so well is that I don’t consider myself a teacher, but more of an entertainer? If you go into class thinking “this is about to be fun, or interesting at the very least” – I think you’ll get a lot more out of it, and be more inclined to return to class, which in the end means more learning. My teaching style, which includes a lot of cultural references, dating stories from Tinder, arguments I’ve been in with Parisian waiters and deliverymen, is what makes the course real and tangible. You can see yourself in my stories, and I think what will motivate people to actually learn French is exactly this: being able to see a future for yourself, a life, in that language. I want to help people get there – I want to help people to have a good time, and sometimes it’s just the language barrier is in the way.
FUSAC: What is the oddest request a watcher (what do you call the people who watch your videos?) has made?
DD: One time in Brazil, a subscriber found the building I was staying in based off the angle of a photo I took through the window. I thought I was being safe – it was a just photo of the ocean. She waited downstairs for four hours for me to walk out of the building – meanwhile, I was just cooking and not checking my phone, but the entire time she was messaging me saying “I can see you in the window.”
There have been other times where I’m alone on the metro at 1:30am and a subscriber will be excited that I’m on the same train and make a scene. It’s all super sweet and of course flattering, but then when they get off and you’re still on the train, everyone on the train is looking at you like…”Who is that?” and the last person you want looking at you like that is a mugger looking for a target. Those moments are a bit off, but again, that accounts for maybe 2% of the interactions. My entire friend group in Paris consists of people who stopped me on the street after recognizing me from YouTube. There are times when we just hit it off so well and I have free time, so our little interaction turns into coffee, a club, or a concert and boom: a new friendship. The nice thing about making videos online is that it acts as a friend filter. The people who stop me on the street already like what I do, so we’re already at a nice starting point for a good connection! I’m very grateful that I’m able to meet some like-minded people so easily.
FUSAC: What proves you are American?
DD: I’ll have one drink and want to talk to anyone and everyone at the bar. One time a French guy told me it was desperate of me to always want to socialize with others beyond “our group” and questioned why I was always trying to expand my social circle. I was coming from the “The more the merrier” perspective, whereas it seemed like he (and many other French people) really value and honor those they went to school with.
FUSAC: Your favorite occupation other than making videos
DD: I worked at a retirement home for two years in high school in Indiana and it gave me such an appreciation for aging – what a privilege it is to have more time to be able to be with friends and family, travel, do the things we love. In American society, it often feels like the emphasis is on youth and staying young. I wish we would prioritize those who have spent more time here on Earth! Just to think of all the stories they must have…of friendship, heartbreak, love, all of it.
FUSAC: Your motto
DD: You’ll never know until you go.
FUSAC: What is your favorite building in Paris?
DD: I love the Musée Jacquemart André. I posted a random IG photo there, and they actually reached out to me asking if I would like to use their space for a video…so I shot a video for my 29th birthday inside. Definitely felt like a Beyoncé moment. [See FUSAC’s article on the Musée Jacquemart-André which we too love to visit.]
FUSAC: A good reason to like the French
DD: Your average French person seems to already have a heightened register of general culture. It’s like they all have a favorite author, museum, painting, etc. I also am very open about how I’m a very lazy cook, and anytime I’m warming up my food in a public French space (WeWork, for example), I get very self-conscious because I know the things I eat often look inedible (haha). The French people I have met seem so knowledgeable in cuisine… like it comes to them so effortlessly. I think what they consider an okay level of knowledge in those subjects is already a lot more advanced than your average American. But that’s not to bash the States. We tend to dominate in media, tech, and sports. My French ex who worked in event production used to say that the French should handle the venue and food, but the Americans should handle the entertainment.
I also love that philosophy is part of the course curriculum in high school. I think it really helps develop one’s critical thinking skills…and it’s probably why the French are so keen to protest when they want to question the status quo. All the protests are annoying at times, but deep-down I agree that they’re doing the right thing.
FUSAC: What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
DD: Well to keep this Paris-specific, there have been many challenges – most of which I’m able to create videos about – trying to get my building repairman to show up, how I finally opened a French bank account as an American, trying to convince Parisian landlords I actually do make an income (and have for the past six years) as a full-time YouTuber, trying to get a hold of the Préfecture, etc. These all major annoyances I’ve had in the past few years (as I’m sure all your readers can relate), and after each feat, I’ve had the same thought: that did not need to be that hard.
FUSAC: Thank you Damon for talking to us. To conclude… If you were to send a postcard from Paris what image would you choose?
DD: I always go for the over-the-top, extremely cheesy ones. No one wants to receive those – which I find funny.
Get to know Damon Dominique further: