Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

French in a Nutshell

I’ll give you my first born child, all my life’s possessions, and the contents of my bank account if you can engineer a micro-chip to be placed directly into my brain so I will never have to open up a French grammar textbook ever again.

Despite years of dedicated formal study, I am still exceptionally non-fluent in French. Ok, dedicated might be an overstatement. But I did take classes all through middle and high school and even two semesters in college. It’s just that I may have had emergency verb conjugations printed on my shoe during exams. And I may have stooped to sneaking into a high school SAT 2 test to try to pass out of my university’s language requirements. (No, I did not pass.)

The point is, I may be headed to hell in a hand basket, but it seems that speaking in tongues is not my forte.

Oh, I have the basics mastered. I can say hello and order food and generally make my way around the city. I can express opinions: Le fromage, bon! Le football, mal! I can even fudge my way through basic conversations about the weather or the news or what’s for dinner.

“Fudge” being the critical term here. Because I’m now at a point where I may not understand everything people are saying to me, but I get enough to fill in the gaps with contextual clues or good old guesses and come away with the gist. I think.

Take for example the coffee table I ordered. Emboldened by an afternoon with Rosetta Stone, I bravely strode into a shop and successfully made it known that I wanted a table and that I needed it delivered. I was still beaming from that grand coup when we slipped into the dangerous conversational landscape of delivery options. Here’s what I heard:

Do you have a car? Because that would be easier.

Sorry, I don’t have a car.

Ok, well then blah blah blah poste. Blah blah call you but blah blah when it will arrive.

Um, quoi?

Blah blah delivery blah blah POSTE.

Uh, right. So when will it be delivered?

I just said I don’t know. Blah blah blah blah!

Clearly we were at a linguistic impasse. So rather than mining for critical details and frustrating the saleslady even more, I took stock of what I understood and handed over my credit card. Poste. Delivery. Got it. I said merci and headed home to tell Husband that I paid for a table and we may receiving it in the mail. Someday. I think.

It did spontaneously arrive a few days later in a package marked ChronoPoste. So all is well. But do you see where things could have gone terribly wrong here?

This kind of vague, patchwork comprehension leaves a whole lot of grey area in every conversation. And it’s this aptitude for complex misunderstandings that makes me a danger to myself and others. I’m starting to think I should just stick to loud English and hand gestures.

This sad sentiment is only reinforced when your French teacher meets your attempts at speech with a withering stare and a few choice words. Well, I think they were choice. I know they were words.

Because after all of my very proficient-sounding classmates introduced themselves, they got a tres bien or some other friendly quip. I got:

Your accent is American. I know it’s hard for you.

The nerve! I was embarrassed and even a little outraged. I think. Because it also could have been:

Your accent is good–for an American. I know it’s hard for you.

Jury’s still out on which interpretation is more accurate. But clearly he wanted me to know that my Americanness puts me at some inherent disadvantage when it comes to the French language. Of course this hurts my pride and makes me angry and sometimes makes me want to cry a little (ok, a lot). But I can tell you from experience – that’s exactly what learning French is all about, in a nutshell.

JENNIFER WILLSON lives (and eats) in Paris, France.

 

 

 

More articles by:
May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
Lawrence Davidson
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail