Trying to learn interact with people in a language you just barely understand and can hardly speak does a real number on your emotional health. The elation I experience when I've successfully navigated an encounter in French is pretty awesome, but the embarrassment, frustration, and self-flagellation I feel after an unsuccessful encounter are pretty darn awful. I've decided to document some of my wins and fails, in the hopes that it’ll cheer me up, motivate me to improve, and perhaps diffuse some of the embarrassment.
Fail: Pretty much any social encounter. The structure, grammar, and topic of normal everyday conversations are beyond my comprehension. I get maybe 1 in 10 words and have no concept of the flow of conversation.
Win: I needed to obtain proof of registration at Laval in order to obtain a student bus pass. I had printed a form, and was dropping it off at the registrar’s office. Turns out it was the wrong form, and I needed to specify why I needed it so that she could get the correct form. I understood what she was saying, she understood what I was saying (en français), and it was good. It might have helped that I prefaced it by saying “Je parle un peu de français”.
Fail: A new person started at the DUC office a couple weeks ago, and I don’t think he knows I’m a stupid Anglophone. He came into the packed lunchroom one day so I got up to give him my seat, thinking the message was clear. I had misjudged, however, and he was standing near the sink waiting for his meal to microwave as I washed my dishes. He said something to me, which I interpreted to mean either “Are you done with your seat?” or “Can I have your seat?” or something along those lines, but because I didn’t know the specific question he was asking, I didn’t know the specific answer. Solution? I grunted and waved my hands. He seemed to get the message because he left and took my seat. Utter failure.
Win: Actually obtaining the student bus pass required a trip to the mall. We had no idea how this was going to work out, but I started with my usual preface and then stated “Nous avons besoin de le carte OPUS” (recognizing that the grammar was incomplete, but that this was the best I could pronounce). A look of understanding on her face and a bit of an awkward pause prompted “Nous sommes etudiants.” (pronounced improperly b/c I forgot la liason). She handed us a couple forms, charged us the correct amount, we got photos, and voila! Bus passes! Total win, even if I was having a minor panic attack at the time…
Fail: I was at Le Pub for dinner with 4 francophones, and decided that the only thing I felt comfortable ordering was des frites. Seemed simple enough. Turns out the pronunciation is super specific and I can’t say it properly. Two of my francophone friends jumped in to clarify. Super fail. I should have just gone with poutine.
Win: I needed to send a blanket to Mike & Megan’s baby, and had been procrastinating as long as possible. Once Jack was born though… I really needed to send it. I got my phrase ready, based on what I’m comfortable with (I’m uber-polite b/c it’s habit/easy to start ever request with “Je voudrais…”): “Je voudrais d’envoyer ça” and shoved the box on the counter. He asked what service I wanted (well I figured that’s what he was asking, since I didn’t understand him) and I said (totally faking it): “Moins prix”. He repeated, in proper grammar, “Moins char”, to which I nodded. WIN!
Fail: Today, I tried to send a book. I thought it would be much easier than the package b/c it’d be letter mail. Um, no. The guy decided that I was an Anglophone and he’d try to make it easy on me by showing me the different prices and holding up fingers for the number of days they would take. Unfortunately I didn’t understand what he was doing and didn’t pay attention to the first price he showed me. So when he showed me the second, I was like “erm…” and figured that the prices were close enough that I just wanted the second price. But I didn’t know how to say that. I tried to just point and say “ça” but he didn’t understand (understandably), so he switched to English. I always classify an English switch as a fail. I think I amused him because I kept trying to speak French even though I clearly couldn’t. He asked me what the package was and I was like “huh?” but he said “livre?” and I was like “oui!” and he asked how much (because insurance is included) and then said “twenty dollars?” and I was like “nah, un dollar” and he laughed. Then he smiled when I said “merci” as he handed me my receipt. So… fail because of the English-switch, but at least he doesn’t hate me for being a stupid Anglophone.