I really wanted to improve my French on this trip. I’ve been intimidated on previous trips and always lapsed back into English when my halting attempts were met with quizzical looks, laughter or English.
But with eight days straight in France I really wanted to practice. So without the aid of a dictionary, relying only on my memory, I invoked all my vocabulary and plunged in.
I know no verb tenses, and the only conjugations I can recall are for -er verbs. e -es – e – ons – ez – ent is burned in my memory from memorization drills in 10th grade French. Unfortunately I don’t know which verbs end in er so I basically treat them all like they do.
I managed quite well in Normandy – most of our waiters either didn’t speak English, or played along and spoke French with me. I managed to learn what the specials were, determine if they had meat, and order several course meals plus wine and water every night, all in French.
Shops were a little harder. I did have my Marling Menu Master for the restaurants, but no such shopping companion. As a result, my sentences came out something like “Maybe something for me. I looking.”
When we got pulled over by the police (they thought our GPS was a radar detector) I understood nothing except they wanted to see papers so I obliged. Luckily they soon realized we were breaking no laws with our Hertz NeverLost system and waved us on.
When we got to Paris I got a little more timid, but still tried to persist even when it meant I was speaking (my version of) French and the person I spoke to answered in English. This was actually probably fortunate, as when they did rattle off a lightning fast response in French I was left to reply “je ne comprende pas.” This happened often because my favorite phrase is Qu’est–ce que c’est – what is that? I rarely understood the answer but when I did I could see the scoreboard in my mind light up with a point for Dana.
I wish I could hear a person speaking English in the same way I butcher French, just for laughs. I got excited once about how good dinner was and said in French to the waiter (instead of it is so, so good) “It is it is good.” I said to a taxi driver when pedestrians were moving faster than our car, “here, we are walking, good.”
We spend a week next summer in Provence. I am determined to talk real bon French next year.
- [nod to David Sedaris for his book title Me Talk Pretty One Day which I have totally ripped off]