When Mr and I made the decision to give up real life and have a bit of time out here in France obviously one of the main considerations (for me anyway, not Mr) was the language. For us English we get taught French at school from a reasonable age but generally come away from school not knowing anything more than “hello my name is…….” and the favourite line of “ou est la piscine?”
We get taught at an early age that French grammar is based on the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ and I don’t think I know a single person who can actually explain what on earth that is all about. But determined not to become another embarrassing Brit abroad, pointing and talking loud and slow, last year I set about trying to learn this language.
I had cd’s in my car and spent the best part of a year driving an hour or so a day backwards and forward to work repeating the words, sentences and phrases. I did not expect to learn the language fluently but I thought it might help and that once we got here then I could build on the little I knew.
I know that tourist hot spots the world over often speak very good English and that Val d’isere was no exception but I wanted to try, when in Rome (or Val) and all that. (Especially as I was always moaning about immigrants not speaking English in England!!)
So this brings me to the question that I have been asked many times by friends and loved ones back in the UK, “how’s your French coming along??” and this leads me to the answer “terribly”. I actually think I spoke more French when I was in my car in England. I do try, I always order food and drinks in French and say “bonjour” “ca va” “merci” “auvoir” “bonsoir”, you get the picture, but I am almost always answered in English or am being served by an English person or a Scandinavian (who all speak impeccable English and almost no French!). So what is an English girl to do??
And what is annoying is when I do order something speaking ‘a la francais’, like a coffee for example, it can be infuriating because the different staff all tend to have different names for the same bloody beverages/food/etc etc, which then makes it near impossible because neither of us understand what on earth is going on. One example of this was the other week, I ordered ‘un grand café noir’ which was clearly stated on the menu as a large black coffee/Americano, the waitress asked if I wanted “lait” (milk) an I said “non merci, noir sil vous plait” (no thank you, black please) you will notice I had already asked for “noir” (black) originally, but that was good of her to check, I paid then she put the cup down on the tray and went to pour bloody milk in. If she does’nt know what’s what then how the hell am I meant to learn or understand this most frustrating language.
Some months back when we first arrived we were at a party and I ordered “un grand bierre” (large beer for Mr) I got moaned at by the barman and he stressed that it was “UNE bierre”, that is fine, I do not mind being corrected but to be shouted at over this masculine/feminine stuff was a step too.
One of our local haunts is French owned and run and the barman is great (his actual name is Fab), he actually speaks back in French and teaches us what to say, that is more like it but unfortunately he is the only person in the whole place that does this.
I should feel a bit of a failure having failed to grasp the basics of another language whilst being surrounded by it but (even worse) I am not ashamed to admit that I don’t. I am even a tiny bit suspicious that the French don’t really understand it all of the time, really how can they when they have 3 different meaning for the same word or 3 different words for the same meaning?? It is generally appreciated when I try though but I get the feeling that it does’nt matter much either way, which is terrible really. Mr speaks almost none and does’nt have any problems whatsoever (story of his life!!) but I will carry on regardless after all some is better than none. What I do know for definite though is that not once in 3 months have I had a need for the phrase “ou est la piscine?”