Tuesday, April 27, 2010

French Lessons

One step forward, two steps back. That's how I feel nearly every day here in France. At times I am super confident and fancy myself to be learning something. Other times I feel like a bumbling idiot with a big letter A for AMERICAINE stamped on my forehead.

Last week I spent nine hours with my fantastic French tutor Michele. She always comes to the house and we talk. In French. For three hours. It is amazing, mind bending, and fun. She's a wonderful person as well as teacher and I love every halting, sputtering minute I spend with her. Since the weather is so nice all of our 'lessons' have been outside while the kids run around and play, eat, play. Michele and I sat on a blanket with our Perrier and notes and talked. On Thursday we went to the beach. French lessons on the beach. Kids jumping over the waves, rolling in sand, the baby eating sand and still more French.

Now with all this idyllic time spent absorbing the language you'd think I've learned something. Well, I guess I have but like Michele says, once you learn some you want to say more so you feel like you know nothing. Very French.

On Friday I went to buy my kitchen appliances and feeling rather chuffed from my 9 hours of talking, I was prepared to do it all en francais. And so I did. It wasn't pretty and it wasn't smooth. I've never been much of a public-talking-eloquently-to -strangers person anyway, but it wasn't awful. The guy understood me, smiled, chatted, and I walked away having bought un réfrigérateur, un four, and un lave-vaisselle. I was even able to arrange for delivery the following Friday morning! Ha!

Then today I needed to rent a moving van for all of our boxes and decided I could handle it. Da, da dum….over the phone. FYI, it is very difficult to have a conversation in another language over the phone. First of all if you get an automated answer with numbers to press for different areas it puts you right off your game. 'Un pour something, something, something. Deux pour blah, blah, blah, and trois pour I feel totally stupid and way over my head here.' On a whim I pressed four. More fast talk, less confidence. I tried to do it, I really did, but by the time I stumbled through what I had to say my brain was in no condition to comprehend the answers I was rapidly given. Without context, gestures and facial expressions I was lost. I got what little I could and decided to just pack it all up and go in there. 

We arrived during the lunch break, duh, and had to walk around the mini-mall and giant store (Hyper-U) while we waited for 2:30. When it was time, we walked up to the desk and I began again. This time was a bit better but we weren't in the right place. We had to walk outside and around the back of the store. We waited our turn while the baby screamed, big kids fought, and people stared. When it was my turn I launched into it again and something miraculous happened. I was okay again. He understood me and answered me in understandable French and we had a sort of conversation and he didn't look at me like I was some sort of imposter. He didn't even correct my horrible pronunciation. He just talked to me as if it were the most natural thing in the world for me to be sitting in the back warehouse of a Hyper-U in the South of France with my kids, arranging for the rental of a van.
Michele will be so proud.


  1. Aidan, if you could do all this already, you deserve some sort of medal of honor. I've been here in France for over a year and I just managed to make reservations for a restaurant over the phone. I'm so scared of that phone that I will walk for miles to make my requests in person. My hat's off to you. You'll be fine and yes, Michele will be proud.

  2. Yes, on the phone.. I think I have pretty good English and I still don't like to talk on the phone.. And if I could decide, I wouldn't do it in French (but sometimes I just have to).



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