After a long time, 30 plus years and numerous visits to France, I am still only able to use about 15 French words. I can’t believe how difficult learning this language is for me. I adore France. I love the county, the culture, the food, the coffee, the wine, the cheese, the people, and the language – however, I can’t understand a thing these people say.
I had big hopes for our most recent trip to France; I truly thought that all my hard work this last year would have made a difference. It didn’t. At least not to the one person I really wanted to impress, my French father-in-law. He and I have known each other for over 30 years…yet we’ve never had a conversation (as my French stinks and his English is worse). So, during a recent visit to France, I really tried to speak slowly and deliberately to him. Using phrases and words I felt comfortable with. But apparently even after months and months (truth be told – years) of classes and practice, he still can’t understand a flipping thing I say.
It was one hilarious happening after another. The latest incident and there were several memorable moments on this trip, occurred one night at dinner as I tried to make small talk with my father-in-law. I gathered all my courage and said, “il mange beaucoup de nourriture.” I was speaking about my husband or should I say I was trying to speak about my husband. I was trying to say he eats a lot. I just wanted to say something simple. It wasn’t even a true statement; I only wanted to engage in conversation. I planned the whole thing dans ma tète (in my head). I thought about how to say the sentence dans ma tète. I said it dans ma tète. Then I said it fearlessly out loud “il mange beaucoup nourriture.” “Quoi,” he quickly responded back to me. I said it again, this time a little louder, “il mange beaucoup nourriture!” And he repeated with a smirk “Quoi.” I said it yet again, this time a little slower “il mange beaucoup nourriture…” He then mumbled something in French. My husband sat there wide eyed. I sat there thinking what the heck did this man not understand about what I just said – I said it slow and clear and it was a very simple sentence.
Then…I heard ma belle-mère (my mother-in-law) yell sternly to him in French from the kitchen. She was obviously scolding him. I cringed and thought oh goodness this is not good. I tried to change the subject by saying in French “regard le ciel,” (look at the sky) as we were on the balcony and it was a beautiful evening. My husband looked at me oddly and said “what?” I replied with a coy look, “changer de sujet…” Half laughing my husband corrected my pronunciation of the word sujet; half crying I took a GINORMOUS drink of my wine.
When ma belle-mère walked back into the room, she continued to reprimand my father-in-law. At this point, I felt really bad and just kept awkwardly saying “regard le ciel.” he responded to her lecture with the typical French “bof.” We all laughed it off and went back to our typical pattern which looks like this – 4 people are in a room, but only 3 can talk at any one time…my husband, his mom and me or my husband, his mom and my father-in-law.
Although strange, this is our norm and it works. Truthfully, we have a great relationship and get along for long periods of time very well. We’ve traveled all over the United States and France together – it’s just that – you know…he and I have never spoken to each other.
Long story short – my father-in-law and I still haven’t had that conversation. We probably never will. As we said our good-byes at the airport he smiled and hugged me tightly and said something in French – but seriously, I have absolutely no idea what he said. But I’m sure it was said with love…then again for all I know he was saying “thank goodness you are leaving and I can have my house back to myself.”
On the other hand, I ordered successfully in the restaurants and I communicated really well at the market and in the stores. In addition, while visiting my husband’s cousins they seemed truly impressed and mentioned my improvements several times. Moreover I picked up several new practical phrases to add to my growing list of words. Most importantly, my sweet half French husband remarked numerous times how proud he was of me for trying so hard.
I’m hoping for real language growth over the next 6 to 12 months. However currently, I’ve plateaued. My mind is just exhausted.
If anyone has any ideas on how I can improve my French, toss them my way.
Ok come on – truth be told, it’s been 30 plus years – who am I fooling. I’m probably never going to get any better; regardless, I’m addicted to France – It’s a beautiful country! Where I am able to rest my mind and simply be me – quiet, still, unrushed and free.
Originally written as a guest blog for one of my favorite travel sites. Edited here to shorten.