everybody always tried hard to understand, and only after repeated pleas to help me improve did people offer the occasional comment. mainly on choice of words. sometimes grammar. no one ever bothered correcting my pronunciation. which makes sense. English is spoken all over the world and not all of the people doing so understand each other. so why bother?
and usually, wherever I go, any attempt to communicate in the local vernacular is met with appreciation. English natives often regret not being as exposed to foreign languages as us Europeans. most everyone else is surprised that you picked their language, even if it’s one of the more obvious choices like Spanish or Mandarin. learn something random like Dutch or Swahili, and you most likely end up with a dinner invitation or a marriage proposal. saying thank you in Thai, one of the three words I’m able to pronounce in this language [aside from a long list of Thai dishes I’m able to enunciate perfectly even while half-asleep or drunk], caused a whole group of Bangkok motorbike taxi drivers to get up and shake my hand. which is, now that I think about it, a poor reflection on the laziness of most tourist. it’s really not that hard to learn hello, goodbye and thank you in whatever the local language might be.
but alas, I’m in France, where you are better off not saying anything unless you say and pronounce it perfectly.
I give monsieur the benefit of a doubt. even though he claims to love my German accent and tells everyone that my French is already perfect, he clearly wants to help.
while camped out on the sofa, every so often, he glances at the book I’m reading and asks if I understand a particular word that catches his attention. nine times out of ten, I don’t. but I can follow the story – which is all I care about for now. context. it’s all about context. we watch a movie and halfway through he asks me if I understand. nine times out of ten, I’m fast asleep. but aside from not being able to pronounce demain properly, DEmain, deMAIN, de-MAAAAHN, my French is obviously perfect. my German accent adorable. bien sûr.
I don’t understand this very French attitude that has everyone, from the lady at the bakery to my smartly dressed banker, bark at me. c’est une baguette! une!!! would it really kill you to sell me un baguette? un!? the same goes for monsieur. by now, juice is not just something you wear on your feet, it’s apparently also living in Israel. lots of juice everywhere. my skin is sweet more often than it’s soft, and I had to explain three times that lukewarm water is not getting colder because it’s being looked at. but do I complain?
I know that most of what I try to say in French doesn’t come close to how it’s supposed to sound and a third doesn’t make any sense at all. yet! but what do you expect when you cultivate a language in which only half of the letters, randomly chosen, are pronounced? in which half of what you say is meant to cover up the fact that you have nothing to say at all? euh. alors. allez. eh bien. bon ben. tu sais? no, I don’t know!
it gets even more complicated during private moments. every time monsieur tells me I want your body, not just the linguist but also the feminist in me take a little step backwards and prepare to unleash their combined wrath. I’m particular in that respect. say you want me as often as you want [me]. tear my underwear off with those sexy French teeth of yours. whisper the French constitution into my ear with this raspy baritone of yours, as long as my French is what it is I’ll find it hot. spill red wine all over me and cover me in chocolate croissant crumbs. your French. most everything you do is bound to be irresistible. but don’t tell me you want my body. because my head really doesn’t like it.
but what am I to do? what if this is all just another misunderstanding? the biggest compliment or declaration of love lost in translation? but then again, do French men really say je veux ton corps? je désire ton corps? sounds too much like corpse to be even remotely enticing.
to be continued…