I’ll never forget being on holiday in France as a kid and overhearing a British man ordering “2 PORTIONS OF CHIPS” in a French restaurant as if he thought the waiter would suddenly understand English if he yelled as loud as possible. I’m not going to lie, I was so embarrassed to be British at that moment.
I haven’t yet resorted to shouting or just defaulting into English yet but I would say that from one day to the next my experiences of being understood vary from good to wanting to curl up in a ball right there because I just do not know what to say.
Here’s a few examples:
- In the supermarket I literally acted out having “squeaky cheese” in my mouth when trying to describe to the man at the counter halloumi cheese. “er non Madame” he said and I moved on, sans halloumi
- Today even, I told the amazon delivery man that “je suis 45”, meaning that I live at no. 45 if he wanted to leave my neighbour’s parcel with me. You would say “j’ai 45” if that was my age (which it isn’t!, or “j’habite á numero 45” so “je suis 45” makes absolutely no sense. He smiled and nodded and let me look after the parcel
- On Saturday a young lad came up to me as I was waiting outside a Boulangerie for Roger and as he began to speak I just said “non merci, non merci” thinking he was trying to sell me something. The poor boy only wanted directions (which I couldn’t help him with either)
It’s a huge battle. Something you take so much for granted in your own country, understanding people. You can walk down the street in most places of the UK and overhear and understand conversations, even in deepest darkest Northumberland I discovered recently. When having conversations with people you meet you can talk about more than where you live and what you do for work. In France I just constantly feel like a foreigner…cos I am.
Oh to be fluent. Some days I think it ‘aint never gonna happen then other days I know that I am gradually, step by step, improving.