It’s inevitable. I end up speaking to somebody new at a party or BBQ and within about a minute of striking up a conversation, the questions come up – ‘How long have you been here?’ and ‘Do you speak French?’
This is when I get a trifle embarrassed. I’ve now been in France for over ten years and whilst I can get by in a conversation, if anything complex is discussed, such as asking the time or buying a loaf, I’m completely lost.
Why is this? I studied French at senior school and was quite good at it and even got some sort of certificate! I studied it in BT when they provided language lessons for their employees and again was good enough to get a ‘Credit’ in some sort of Business French Certificate and I went for French lessons in the first few years when I arrived in France - but not much has stuck unfortunately.
I reckon it’s a male/female thing. The women all speak it terrifically well whilst most of the men I know, just mumble the few phrases they know and hope nobody notices that their vocabulary is restricted to about twenty words.
The females of course, and I’m not being sexist (well, I hope not)really do have to learn French as they need to enroll the kids at school, attend parent/teacher meetings, deal with all the forms a French school sends on a weekly basis whilst all us guys have to do is order the beers and make sure we have a reservation at the local restaurant.
And something else which amazes me is that American females speak the best French. For some reason they seem to pick it up and off they go – perfect pronunciation and grammer. Why is this?
I reckon it’s a gene thing or a brain thing. Or maybe us guys are just too lazy? Or maybe it’s the stupid French language – I mean a battery for your car is a ‘batterie’ but a battery for virtually anything else is a ‘pile’!
So, ten years after arriving (maybe it’s eleven – who’s counting?) I can start a conversation but have trouble ending one. Only last week my electrician refused to speak French to me because, despite the fact that he hardly spoke English, he understood that more than he did my French!
With Frenchies like him, I’ll never learn the lingo.
But then I was in the Midi last Friday when the waitress delivered a plate of food to me which I hadn’t ordered. Amazingly, I said’ ‘pas moi’, without even having to translate it from English. I’m getting there.