I’ve decided that I need more opportunities to speak in French. It is far too easy for Scotty and me to revert back to English when we’re at home, so I’ve signed up for an additional two hours of class each week. The twist is that these two hours are supposed to be entirely conversational. Yesterday was our first class and I am definitely on the lower end of the conversation skill spectrum. Anyway, after watching our instructor spend the first ten minutes of class writing our names on a piece of paper (there are nine of us in class), and then copying them again on to another piece of paper, we were instructed to answer a few standard questions about ourselves: How long have we been in Paris? Why are we here? What do we like about the city? What do we not like? Your usual stuff.
After seven students introduced themselves and said that what they like about Paris is that there are “beaucoup de museums et beaucoup de jardins” and the pastries are delicious, I knew I had to come up with something a bit more original. But my vocabulary isn’t varied enough to talk about the relaxed pace of life, the walkability, the Asian markets, the friendliness. No, I had to think of something that I could actually say. So I settled on Paris at night. And it really is one of my favorite things about this city. I mean, where else is light so effectively used to create an atmosphere of pure romance, mystery, and beauty? I tried to say that I loved the way the bridges are lit at night. Well, the instructor could not understand what I was saying, specifically the word “pont” or bridge, so that made it all quite confusing and I turned all red. Oh well. I think I eventually got my meaning across and she suddenly burst out with “Ahhh, PONT!” Which is what I thought I’d been saying all along.
In fact, that is one of the most frustrating things about being in a country where you don’t know the language. I often find myself met with looks of complete bafflement when I say something in French. So, I think about it, repeat what I’ve said. It sounds alright to me. But, again, the only response is a blank stare or a furrowed eyebrow. So, I repeat myself, two, three, four times. And then suddenly, you hear, “Ahh…..oui!” And then I hear my words repeated back to me. And it sounds the same to my untrained ears.
I was telling a friend that I wished there was a device that recorded what I was saying and then repeated it back to me in a literal English translation – that may be funny and possibly helpful. For example, the phone rang a couple weeks ago and I’m pretty sure that instead of saying that our landlord wasn’t here, I’m pretty sure I said, “No, he is not sleep.” And while I haven’t ended up with anything I haven’t wanted at the markets and grocery stores, I’m sure I’m bungling the pronunciation of epinards when I ask for spinach, or that I end up requesting 5 grams of “the beans, the green ones” instead of 500. So far, confused looks aside, every has been very helpful and willing to make an attempt at comprehension. And I’m really grateful for that and a bit humbled by it. I mean, it is a bit humiliating. I now have the vocabulary of a young child. And I’m talking 2-3 years old. I’ll be thrilled if I ever reach the proficiency of an 8-9 year old. I’m just waiting for that day, when it all clicks, the lightbulb flashes, the pin drops, and everything comes together. That will be great. In the mean time, my lack of language proficiency will not prevent me from enjoying the beautifully lit pontes.