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learning the language

Comme tu dit “idiot?”

qu'est que tu dit?Reading French and speaking French are totally different.

It hasn’t been a week yet, so right now, I get excited when I recognize a word or two in a sentence. Unfortunately, I am totally unable to comprehend the words strung together in context as a cohesive thought.

Here’s an example of how I hear French as of my fourth day:

“Je suis desole (hey, I know that word–Sad!) dans l’hiver (hiver, hiver, it’s a season, I know it’s a season) par ce que tout le monde (world, all the world) est gris, il pleur et on peux prends (that’s takes, to take, conjugated) le parapluie (damn it’s on the tip of my tongue…it’s Umbrella!… or Cat!)

Now if they’d stop there, and maybe give me some time to put it all together, but noooooooooooooooooooon (that’s me doing John Belushi in French) they just rattle off a whole new string of words for me to try and process.

At the grocery store, when the girl at the butcher counter says something to me in French. I nod, smile and either say “merci” laugh and shake my head knowingly, or say “non”, depending on her tone and gestures. My nodding means, yes, I did understand a word or two of what you’re saying. The more words I know or recognize, the more I nod emphatically. And then I rush home to look up “dinde” to make sure that I’m having turkey for dinner and not some cute forest creature’s brains or something.

In the stores, they often wish me bon voyage at the end of a transaction which seems like a pretty good indication I’m not fooling anyone. I tell myself it’s because I haven’t perfected that subtle rolling back of the throat sound on the “r”s that always makes me feel foolish when I seem to be doing it right.

If they were to shake their heads and say “pauvre bete”. I’d be so thrilled that I understand both words, I wouldn’t know to be insulted.

Judging by the expressions on some people’s faces, I’m pretty sure I’ll live to miss these days of ignorance.

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3 Responses

  1. Lesley,

    Your piece on dyeing in Avers reminded me of an incident in college French class you might enjoy. Madame Pouteau asked this pompous guy named Howard to translate (on sight) a passage from La Machine a Lire Pensees which went:

    Ce matin j’ai rencontre une demoiselle descendant l’escalier en cheveux.

    After much lighting and tampng of his pipe he managed “This morning I met a girl coming down the stairs on horseback.”

    Unforgettable. What a mental image. The cleverly hidden message in all this is you were asking the girls to dye your horse, but they understood anyway and did not want to embarrass you by correcting it.

    I am smitten by your unparalleled creativity and
    good cheer in the face of adversity. BTW, a really fancy hairdo is une cheveleux; just thought you might like to know.

    • Thanks for the kind words and reading my stuff. I’m smitten by your smitten-ness. Yes, I probably asked the hairdresser to kill the roots of my horse, or something. Judging by my finances, I don’t think I’ll be getting une cheveleux in the near future. Have a happy holidays! A bientot. Lesley

  2. Twenty years ago (my God, has it really been THAT long?) I got a job that landed me in Antibes where I stayed for the next three years. When I landed in Nice my grasp of the French language consisted of being able to count to 10 and I knew that Merci meant “Thank You.” When I left I was PROFICIENT in the language, not fluent. But in the early days of my residence there I learned what it’s like to be a functional illiterate. In Carrefour and Monaco you can guess at what’s in the can by the picture it sports, but how do you figure out what “savon’ and “javel” are?

    When I returned to the States people would say, “Oh, the French, they hate Americans.” I’d tell them, “No, that’s not true. The French hate EVERYBODY. They even hate each other.: There were many times I’d tell my French friends at the end of the day “It’s a good thing I’m not allowed to own a gun in this country.”

    But, all things considered, it was a great experience I’m fortunate to have had.

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