Bonjour! I am back from Quebec. Unfortunately I still have a feeble repertoire of French words. You guessed right, bonjour, bonsoir and merci. They serve me well, especially merci which I can interpret into all manner of answers to rapidly delivered French phrases. I know I sound gormless but bear with me. Here is a scenario.
Scene-grocery store. After the customary bonjour or bonsoir and a huge smile (because a smile has so many words and they’re all good ones) to whoever may be facing me. A flourish of words are bestowed upon me none of which I understand. Queue goofy smile and “Merci?” There has to be the connotation of it seeming to be a question (even though thank you isn’t a question work with me) otherwise it doesn’t progress. A curious look is delivered from conversation partner which translates to; is this person not very bright or foreign? It doesn’t matter because they take the initiative and the transaction proceeds.
Meanwhile bagging person may not have noticed what has gone on with the cashier and deluges an exuberant exchange of words to which my response is extra large grin and “Merci?” He now looks at me as if I’m from another planet continues bagging and hands me the groceries. This time I know the correct word. “Merci!” I pronounce with a flourish as if I have just deciphered everything said at a Nato summit meeting. The smile is still there and is querulously returned as he tries to decipher if you’re on day leave from the hospital or you’ve wandered off the mother-ship by mistake. In which case he’s probably glad you’re leaving because you obviously are just plain weird.
Honestly, I used to be able to speak phrases in different languages. I don’t know why my brain goes into slow-mo when I’m trying to wrap my head around another language but it does. There was a time when I could walk into a Parisian cafe and say “Garcon, deux biere si vous plait!” and waltz to a table with the assuredness of Juliette Binoche (she is French isn’t she? Don’t tell me she’s Spanish or some other nationality and I’ve just fallen flat on my face! Nope, Googled her and I’m right). Now I sit down and give the waiter a dumb look. Although I still drink beer wine is my preference. This takes me slightly off topic for a moment.
As I said previously I’ve been told red wine is good for you and my son tells me it can prevent Alzheimer’s. However, it hasn’t improved my brain function for speaking foreign languages but I’m game to keep trying.
I know that when you speak another language you correlate to the meaning in the language itself rather than translate it from the language you speak. I have problems with that. Unless someone holds up a green apple and slowly says “une pomme verte” I just can’t follow them, even though I recognize some of the words my brain goes thick. Maybe if I were in a situation where the language was around me all the time I would in time understand. Body language and situations can help determine what the conversation is about and the French do body language with the excitement of a gold medal winner.
Of course these days it’s easy to be lazy. It seems no matter where you go people speak English and falling back to what we know is natural. I feel embarrassed though for not knowing their language as if I have a major failing (to add to the many I do have). I do converse with them in English, usually pronouncing apologetically “Anglais” (okay I know that’s added up to more than three words) but not everyone can speak English well. When I want to purchase the best French cheese and wine, I want to be able to understand the feelings for those products and here, the French language truly captures emotion as do their articulate arm manoeuvres.
I love listening to the French talk, there is so much passion in their conversations, even if it is only someone asking if anyone bought milk. Everything is important hence the outspread arms during discussions. No, I’m not being facetious I truly do enjoy how vibrant the French are, how could I not love a nationality that has such fervour and delight in everything around them?