Feeling frustrated with a new language? Blogger Lady Lux knows just enough French to cause more harm (or confusion) than good.
French is hard.
And I find that living in a French-speaking country is hard, too.
Two days ago, I almost wrote “I will never speak French again!” as my Facebook status. But then I decided that that was silly, so I decided to keep my peace.
But really, I do feel like declaring “I will never speak French again!” and meaning it. Although that would be sad, because then I’d never be served a cappuccino, Pizza Hut pizza or have my nails done ever again. (I’m noticing, as I write this, that living without all three of those things would probably be a good thing for my waistline and my pocketbook.)
I’ve taken two semesters of beginning French, and although I never thought I would say this, it was the teacher’s fault that I didn’t continue. (I would have never thought that I could be demotivated in learning a foreign language, but take a snooty French woman who wore all black and explained grammar by saying ‘c’est clair!’ and it’ll happen.)
Although I made good progress at the beginning, I’ve now forgotten quite a bit of what I’ve learned and I’ve grown awfully frustrated with the whole thing, which (as we all know) is not particularly conducive to learning. And the worst part is that some of the French speakers I know haven’t exactly given me a good feeling about the language, if you know what I mean.
So I’ve become one of ‘those people’ that I used to get angry at in Germany for not speaking the language. I avoid eye contact on the street and don’t go into certain stores where I know they only speak French, smile and nod when I don’t understand a thing, and ‘fill in the blanks’ as I go along.
By ‘filling in the blanks’, I mean that you catch certain words in the conversation, and your brain fills in what you think you understand. You don’t do it on purpose; your brain does it for you. (Turns out that native language conversation is the same way: we’re not as good at listening as we think we are; our understanding is largely due to what we expect to hear.)
For example, the day I signed up for my French class, the person at the desk said to me, “Likkiiiimuuutuuuriiiikiiiimmmmoooooruuuuummuuuu?”
But what my brain heard was, “Can you speak French?”
So I said, “No.”
Then they asked me (in English), “So...you don’t want to take a French class?”
Or , when we were at Pizza Hut a few weeks ago and I ordered caramel and vanilla ice cream, the waiter said,
“Iturtirierreiiiiweioooooouduuuudusiiiioooouuiosooooouudiiiisssiiiiooooouou,” which I understood as, “I’m sorry, we’re all out of caramel and vanilla ice cream,” so I said, “Okay, I’ll have the passion fruit and mango ice cream.”
And he said, “Kruuuuuiiimmiiioooouuuuooluuutiiiiiiououuu? Ou “Kruuuuuiiimmiiioooouu?”
And I heard, “We don’t have any ice cream at all. The machine broke down.” (You can tell I’m used to that sort of thing happening here in restaurants.) So I said, [unpleasant sigh] “O-KAY...well then I’ll have the crème brulée!” (The nerve of this guy!)
Whereupon my husband felt compelled to tell the waiter I’d have the caramel and vanilla ice cream. Turns out he had only tried to repeat my order.
So you see how this works. I know that some of you probably get angry or frustrated with people in the States who can’t speak English, just as I did with people in Germany who couldn’t speak German, but now I finally understand what it’s like. And I’m a person with a college degree who likes languages...so it must be even tougher for others.
The hardest part, though, is working in a French-speaking place. The company that I work for is English speaking, but we do have some people who speak French.
I have now learned my lesson when it comes to making conversation in French: say absolutely nothing except “I don’t understand.”
We were sitting in a restaurant eating lunch. I was with my boss and two co-workers. My boss and one of my co-workers begin having a conversation in French.
Boss: “Djfaijdfopjasodjfoaisdjifajisdjijiiodioioooooooooouuu Michael uuuuuuuasi?”
Co-worker: “Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiissssssoooooo Greg oooooouuuuuuuuuoo.”
Boss: Did you hear from Michael about whether or not your contract will be renewed?
Co-worker: No, but I haven’t heard anything from Greg about it, either.
So I said to my co-worker afterwards, trying to make conversation, “So you don’t have a permanent contract?” (Note to self: don’t do that.)
My co-worker started dripping with sweat. [In French] “Permanent contract? I don’t have a permanent contract? Do you know something I don’t ? Am I getting fired? Have you heard something? Are you serious? I’M FIRED!?!?!!?”
Me: “Uhhh....I think I misunderstood something. Just forget it. Never mind.”
But he was gone. He had already run to my other co-worker to ask him about when he was getting fired. Oops.
The next day, my French-speaking co-worker confronted me. In French, of course. As if things weren’t difficult enough. He asked me (again) about what I had heard, what I knew, what I had said... And I again tried to tell him that I didn’t hear ANYTHING, that my French is just REALLY, REALLY BAD.
Whereupon he said (at least I THINK this is what he said, as he was still. Speaking. FRENCH!!!), “You know, if you know something, I would prefer you would say it to me instead of talking about it behind my back!” Oh for cripe’s sake.
You know something? I try. I try really hard. I try hard to be nice, I try hard to think positive, I try hard to not complain, I try hard to be the best person I can possibly be.
And then I misunderstand a stupid conversation (the topic of which I shall never know!) and my co-worker is accusing me of being a back-stabber.
Which is why I give up. NO MORE FRENCH. Or maybe I should just quit speaking to people at work. Makes for a quiet work environment, at least.
Reprinted with permission of Lovely in Lux.
A native of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Libby moved to Germany after finishing college and enjoyed four years there. In 2008, she left Germany for itty-bitty Luxembourg. Follow her adventure and her journey to happiness – no matter where on Earth she may find herself – on Lovely in Lux.
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