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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Are You There Yet? Sucking It Up and Speaking French.

I found myself, last night, sitting in the front seat of Gui Gui's car, as he whipped around the streets of Paris, simultaneously screaming French obscenities, checking his iphone, and leaning into kiss me at each red light. As we took a right past the Place de Concord, I looked up to see the lights of the Champs d'Elysees marching obediently (decidedly not French) towards the Arc de Triumph, and I had that thought.

How the hell did I end up here?

I looked over at Gui Gui, who was mumbling under his breath about les connards of Paris, which translates to something very vulgar in English. He saw me looking at him and smiled at me. I couldn't help but smile back. If there's one thing Gui Gui is, it's attractive. He has what has to be the best jawline known to man, it's square and distinctly masculine. He also has one of the most perfect mouths I've ever seen, wide (huge actually) with a cute little cupid's bow. The bastard also has perfectly square, large teeth, which he deceitfully presses against his bottom lip when he's trying to convince me to do a betise.

He has that classic darker French coloring, and wears his hair a little longer than would be acceptable had he not been a student. "Quoi?" He asked me, "Pour quoi tu me regards comme ça?" "Parce que je te trouve beau." We came up to another red light, he leaned over, "Ah bon?" and kissed me.

There are worst things in life, I suppose, than to be young, in Paris, and dating a French adonnis.

But, if you had told me fourteen months ago that I would be dating someone I call Gui Gui, and doing it in French, I wouldn't have believed you. And although I would like to spend pages and pages writing about how obsessed I am, I'll try to focus on the point of this post, and that is--Getting over your fears, sucking it up, and infiltrating the French.

When I came to France, as it proudly declares on my "About Me" section of this blog, I spoke about four words of French. After a month or two, I didn't really think I would really ever get the point where I could even be conversational. But, after a few months I became a little more determined. I had two very important motivators, and they were: Antoine, and my pride, more specifically, Antoine's constant abuse of it.

Antoine used to give me hell about speaking French. He couldn't understand how I didn't speak French as well he did, even though I had only been speaking the language for about 10 days when we met. Everytime we met another foreigner who spoke better than me (everyone) he would tell me that they spoke better and ask me why I didn't speak like they did. I explained, time and time again, that my only French interaction was in my class, and of course when I heard it around the house. Language, just like everything else in life, does not come easily.

He also used to get pissed off regularly because I didn't have any French friends...because comme ça je pourrais parler français. What I had to point out then, (that I seem to have forgotten now, as I try to force my friends to hang out with more French) is that spending time with a bunch of people who are talking in a language you don't understand just isn't fun. And even if I did find some Frenchies, we would have to speak in English and that wouldn't be that great for my French either.

Don't get me wrong. I gave it a go. I went on a date a month in with someone who spoke very poor English. It was fun to do once, but after it takes forty five minutes to say one sentence, it gets old. I went to a party at my friend Dennis', and made an effort to go out with a friend who has primarily French friends. But it was true, I preferred to have a good time with my friends that I could actually communicate with.

But somewhere between binging with Anglophones, and being chastised by my French boyfriend, the French starting coming along. Speaking wasn't so great, but all of a sudden I could understand my kiddies as they spoke amongst themselves. Things went from an annoying jumble of consonants to defined words. But I still wasn't ready.

A new crop of filles rolled into O-town, interested in speaking French , although we joked and laughed mostly in English. I was out with one of these O-townians on Armistice Day's Eve in November playing pool in a bar in St. Germain, drinking overpriced pints of beer and laughing at a group of garçons. Somehow we ended up talking to the group, and back at one of their houses. And it was fun. We spoke in French, they spoke in French and something finally clicked. I started having tea with Alexis, and meeting more of his friends, and suddenly people were speaking in French, "Because it was easier."

And now here's where my arrogance and pride comes in. I hate, hate, hate, the stereotype that Anglophones are incapable of speaking any other languages. More often than not, following an English conversation, if I speak in French, I am met with gawks of shock "Oh, vous parlez Français!" or my personal favorite question from friends' of friends who ask "Tu parles un petit peu de français?" with a look of doubt and anxiety on their face. (I usually respond with something along of the lines, well I hope so, as your friend DOESNT SPEAK ENGLISH) Before getting indignant, I do, however, have to remind myself that a few months ago, the answer would have been "Non, pas de tout"

I still struggle with spelling, a lot of vocabulary, most grammar, indirect/direct objects, and following conversations, as a third party. But the question at this point is, will this get any better in a classroom? Maybe the vocabulary, and the spelling of course. But as far as everything else, the only thing to do is getting OUT there. It's about losing the fear and realizing that for as dumb as you may look when you're trying to navigate around the intricacies of the French language.....

You look a whole lot worse when you are only speaking English.

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