Saturday, February 10, 2018

My French

I've been getting that question lately, "how's your French?"
Before I came, I would have predicted that my French should be fairly good after two weeks.
Last time I arrived in France for an extended stay, I started understanding the conversations around me after about two weeks. No longer could the French family talk about me while I sat ignorant. And what was it they said, "She must really enjoy French food!"
"No, she arrived that way." Indicating that my weight was more American than French.

Anyway, now, nearly five weeks in, my comprehension of French is not where it should be.
I blame country living. Earl and I can spend the entire day in only each other's company rather than stumbling our way through French conversations.
Of course, we eat out on many days and must make our way through the minefield of French menus and waiters, but we can usually clutch onto something that we recognize and move on from there. And when we don't recognize it, I try to figure it out with the waiter's help.
The other day, I asked a waitress, "C'est quoi 'pintade'?" The menu du jour said "cuisse de pintade" in a celery sauce.
I knew cuisse meant thigh, because I order cuisse de canard (duck thigh) eagerly. But I'd never heard of "pintade" and of course the word was not in my pocket dictionary.
Like chicken, the waitress explained.

So we ordered it, and it was fine. When I looked it up online, the dictionary actually said guinea fowl rather than chicken, but let's be honest, it tastes like chicken.
And another day, the menu said spaghetti de spianata, which it turns out is actually Italian, and means sausage, like chorizo, but the waiter assured me it wasn't too spicy.
It was with some trepidation that we walked into a tech shop to see if they could fix Earl's computer. It's a laptop that turns into a tablet when it's opened backward. The keyboard stopped working the other day. Truthfully, I figured any tech people would speak English, but this guy did not, so I ended up speaking French and using some gestures. He guessed that it was a connection that could be easily fixed. We left the computer after he recommended a restaurant for the afternoon, and I left feeling fairly good about my French.
Next we stopped at French clothing shop for a new chapeau for Earl. He had a knit cap that he wore on outings with the dogs, but we were attracted by the spiffy men's hats with brims, a 1940s throwback. Earl tried on several hats, once we found the extra large sizes. We liked the brown hat with the broad brim, but maybe it looked too much like a cowboy hat. When he tried them on,  he tended to pull them down too far, as if they might fly off his head.
When the saleslady finished helping another couple, she joined us to discuss the merits of each hat. "Il a une très grosse tête," I explained and the woman nodded as she checked the size to make sure it was big enough.
He tried on a smaller hat and the woman tactfully explained that since he was a big guy, he needed a more substantial hat so it didn't look ridiculously small on his head.
Again, I left feeling confident in my language skills. The day continued with French interactions, until we returned to the tech shop. The other technician spoke in a quick French that left me confused. "We needed to reset the computer or they had already reset it?" I asked. We needed to do it, or take it to someone in the U.S.
"We won't be back in the U.S. for a  year," I told the technician who looked worried.
So, my French is better, but nowhere near fluent.
At the barber shop for Earl's first haircut, I explained that his hair should be short on the sides and longer on top. "Mais pas trop?" the barber asked. "Oui," I agreed, not too much.
The finished product
As the barber took a razor to Earl's hair, I worried that my lack of language skills might be a real problem, but it came out fine.
Coming up, we have two weeks in the middle of a village where my French will hopefully improve, before we take a three-week break to housesit in England. I hope my language skills don't slip backward as I try to decipher British English.

6 comments:

John and Lynn Phillips said...

I think the hardest part of using your French while you are there is because the French generally very reticent to talk much with strangers. You have to find a"hook" .. Something to start a conversation that doesn't leave them thinking you are crazy! Lol all of a sudden one day you will realize you are thinking in French et voila 😉

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Keep going you will be fine with your french when you finally settle down . I always have said that NOT everyone speaks English. .not sure why they should ..they most probably don't have too. And then you made me laugh. . "Decipher Britush Rnglis" . 😁😂😃

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Oops British English ..😁

Anonymous said...

One thing that helped me when we first moved here: watching TV with the subtitles for the hearing impaired. So I was listening to French and seeing the words in French (NOT English subtitles). It helped me separate the sounds. Also helps with new vocabulary--you hear something and line it up with what you know, but it's something completely new. One example was that when my husband wants to swear, he says what I initially thought was "singe," and I thought it was so cute, like the way people say "mince" instead of "merde" or "punaisse" instead of "putain." I didn't know what "singe" would have replaced, though. Eventually I found out it was "saint dieu" or "holy god." So he was swearing for real. Anyway, on TV that sort of thing is spelled out for you, so you get lots of light-bulb moments.
Another thing is exercise classes. The instructor talks, and you figure it out by watching and listening. And usually people in the class chat, so it's an opportunity for conversation. Organized hikes also are popular, and give you a chance to talk to folks for a while.

Paulita said...

Thanks for the advice, everyone. One of the benefits of being in a rural place is that people are more inclined to speak to us then they would be in a city. On one of the first days we were here, we went into the pharmacie, and the woman in front of us regaled us with something she found very humorous. We didn't understand much of it.
On our frequent walks with the dogs, we pass the same people, and the other day one man stopped in his little white truck/van to pass the time, making jokes about how we would need skis to walk the dog if it snowed and saying that he had seen me taking pictures of the swans, so lots more opportunities in the country. Now to figure it all out. I'll try watching TV with subtitles -- eventually.

Jeanie said...

I'd say you are doing just fine. You're right -- being around people more often will help. And TV subtitles. There's some online service where you learn a language from listening to Slow News. If you google slow news, I think it will come up. Not sure how much but I always thought that would be helpful.

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