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Monday, April 19, 2010

Imbecile Americain

Every Saturday my boys and I go to French school. We spend the summers in France and learning the language has become a necessity. Last summer was completely frustrating for me. I had made the transition from tourist to transplant, thereby losing my right to totally depend on others for navigation and interaction with the locals. For example, I had to enroll my boys in summer camp and take them to the doctor for physicals. I had to keep up with the grocery shopping and the social calendar and cart the boys everywhere they needed to be.

There's nothing like not speaking French while living in France to reduce a person's ego to the size of an amoeba. I remember standing in a bakery pleading with a woman for a fork (to go with my salad). My nerves had overtaken me so much that I'd forgotten the vocabulary and left prepared to eat with my fingers. Saturday was like that.

We began discussing the recent volcano in Poland and one sentence into the dialog I was lost. You have to understand that my professor won't speak a word of English—not one, under any circumstances. If I burst into flames and beg for water, he'll make me ask in French. You also need to know that there is a haughty woman who sits next to me and informed me (on my very first day of class) that she grew up in a Swiss boarding school and lived in France for five years. She dominates the conversation, looks down her ski-jump nose, and prescribes sentences I need to use when I go to France: phrases that translate to things like "I'm an American Idiot. Forgive me for living and please sell me a latte."

At any rate, I adore France and despite my intense insecurities, the locals are really nice to me—and patient too. The lady in the bakery worked with me for a long time before another French customer got involved and, through sign language, figured out I wanted a fork. But in spite of their generosity, I still left the place mad. Why? Because I felt like a fool. Nobody made me feel that way, I did it to myself.

It's really hard to admit that I studied French for three years in college and still can't speak it because I wasted time and was a lousy student—that I'm defensive because of my own short-comings. I wonder if fewer people would not get on my nerves if I believed in myself more?

1 comment:

atw said...

ah...i feel your pain. never mind that my language skills are so temporary that i can't proficiently speak the language of the country I grew up in unless i'm actually currently in a class. technically i should be trilingual, but sometimes i feel i can hardly speak english. indeed, nothing like a language-mangle moment to keep one's ego in check...