Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Je suis la jeune fille.

You guys, my face hurts. I just got home a little while ago from a French Meet Up, and apparently speaking French uses face muscles I'm not used to using (million dollar idea: French Women Don't Get Facelifts). Or maybe it's that feigning understanding uses all those unfamiliar muscles.

I've been a Francophile as long as I can remember. As a young child my career aspiration was to be a starving artist and live in Paris. (I like that I was specific about the starving part, clearly my art would be inspired by my circumstances.) I remember learning a few French words and phrases in elementary school. And I remember my aunt coming back from trips to Paris with exotic candies, and photos of the most beautiful city I'd ever seen.

I remember the first time I went to Paris. I was with a group from my high school, and we spent most of our time on a tour bus with a bunch of other high schoolers. In spite of that, the trip fueled my love of all things French. And it was a thrill to actually communicate with someone in another language, whatever small exchange it might have been.

A few years later I made plans to spend the spring of my junior year of college in Paris. Just a month before I was to leave, my father died. At first I thought I couldn't possibly go. I could barely leave the room my mother was in, how could I even contemplate leaving the country? I credit my aunt with convincing me to go. We were in her office at the high school and there was a poster with a picture of the Eiffel Tower on it. She saw me looking at it and said "You can be sad in Pittsfield, Mags. Or you can be sad in Paris."

I had a pretty rough time at first, missing my family like crazy, grieving for my dad, and stumbling through life in a foreign country. But my aunt was right. If you have to be sad, at least you can be sad in the most beautiful city there is.

I remember being completely exhausted by the constant translation at the beginning. And then totally amazed when I found I wasn't translating anymore - I was just communicating. It was pretty magical.

So I'm sad that I've lost that level of skill with the language. I haven't taken advantage of the chances I've had to practice, and as a result I'm back to beginner.

That was pretty clear tonight, when I stumbled over simple vocabulary, failed to conjugate correctly, and slipped into franglais over and over. But the folks at the Meet Up were patient, kind, and fun. The hardest part for me was comprehension. I'll blame some of it on being in a crowded bar, but I really struggled to follow what others were saying. I'm certainly motivated to bring some French back in to my life (and not just in the form of baked goods).

So basically a great excuse to watch this little movie over and over:

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