Tuesday, July 29, 2008

En français!

Trying not to have a complex about the languages you speak (or don't) is difficult in France, where, as we discovered on our recent first visit, the clichés are true: they do not like to (or won't) speak languages that are not French. French, as we all know, though easy to imitate (mon dieu! zhey haf feenished zeehr meal en just deux houroz! zhat vill vreally make zhem fet!) is much more difficult to fake in real life, and even more difficult to use properly. What you know of other languages may make you a good reader of museum placards and menus, but it will not make you a good communicator at the pharmacy or at the newsstand, where blank stares are the lingua franca. (Even French you thought you knew, like croissant or concierge, will turn out to be useless in this nouveau monde.)

Out of all the languages I would like to pretend I know, French ranks the highest. I know this is very liberal and elitist of me, but it is just an aurally lovely language that I have always wanted to know, even before I knew that the smart prep school kids learn it to read Proust or whatever and (though secretly at this point) even while I was learning Spanish, "a much more useful language," in high school (in fact at least since the time of Kylie Minogue's one US hit, if you'd like to get technical).

At least at the Marseille police station, English turned out to be the next most useful language, but really only because there was a smart 10-year-old there able to translate to the very CSI-looking receptionist that we needed to file a report for our stolen license plate. Somehow our being American was very remarkable to everyone we met. I couldn't get a read on why exactly this was, but eyebrows always went up and américain! was exclaimed. But anyway almost everyone during our visit was exceedingly nice and only mildly disdainful of our good faith yet apparently pitiful attempts at their language.

2 comments:

Li said...

woooh! Can't believe that you were so lucky that found a 10-year-old translator there!;)

Swiss Ms. said...

I know! We were so lucky!