Monday night, back at the French Meetup for the first time in quite awhile, I got into a conversation with a Parisian whose parents are from Côte d’Ivoire. It started with a discussion of the cultural and philosophical underpinnings of my embarrassment ‘vous‘ing strangers who are peers as opposed to elders or respected figures. Which led to a consideration of whether the United States or France has deeper ‘fractures sociales‘ between classes and races. Which led to him telling me the story of why and how his parents left Côte d’Ivoire for France. Which segued into a conversation about the weird rules of French colonialism. Which was followed by a summation (his) of the hundred-year social history running up to the Liberian civil war. Which brought us, in a roundabout way, to my Senegal dreams. And on and on…
When people ask me whether I speak French my answer is always no, because there’s so much French I don’t know, and so much I do know but muck up anyway. On nights like Monday, though, I marvel at all that I can say and understand, and I find myself thinking, “I do speak French.” No disclaimer or modifier necessary.
[Photo: Sputnick; terrible photoshopping: me]
First, as is my Meetup wont, I delayed and dilly dallied. The result of this procrastination was 1. a très chic little black dress from a boutique within a stone’s throw of the Meetup location, and 2. the sinking feeling that the only French I would be hearing all night would be the lovely refrains of “Bonnie and Clyde.” I spent so long biding my time in the shop that the CD looped and the song played twice.
When I finally arrived at the bar it was 2 hours into the Meetup and I figured if anyone were left they would surely be packing up by now. I tried to make myself feel less guilty by reasoning that LBDs are a very Parisian concept, so even if I hadn’t spoken the language that night, I had still practiced cultural immersion. That logic was not very sound, but I’m happy to report that since there was a small but still-going-strong group of people in the bar, I didn’t have to make excuses after all.
Among the crew were a few people I had met before – Dykeman, Anney and Igor (the Parisian-bred teacher from this post).
Above: Dykeman and Rohan, a student from Beijing who was braving a Meetup after only a month of French study. Inspiring!
Above: Anney’s got a lovely smile, n’est-ce pas?
Here are two fun facts that I learned in the course of our conversation:
- En fer (of iron), en faire (do it), and enfer (hell) are all pronounced the same way. You have to tell the difference contextually. Also, enfer is almost always proceeded by “the,” as in l’enfer.
- In English, you’d say, “kill two birds with one stone.” In French, you’d say, “d’une pierre, deux coups.” (Two blows from one stone.) It’s interesting how similar in concept and structure idiomatic phrases can be, while still quite different in language. When I noted the resemblance, Igor joked, “Yes, but the French, we don’t kill” – an inadvertent political commentary.
That’s Igor, above.
Speaking of American gun violence… here’s Luna’s cover of “Bonnie and Clyde” for your evening singalong.
I only remembered yesterday that I had taken today off from work, which was a very, very pleasant surprise. I’m about to pack up my laptop and head to a neighborhood cafe in the hopes the cute environs will make my apartment searching just a little more palatable. I also used the morning to sign up for not one but two language chat programs. I learned about both of them – Conversation Exchange and Shared Talk – through people I interviewed for this blog. I knew this little enterprise would pay off!
I didn’t actually do any chatting through the chat programs today. I just signed up for them and called it a (baby steps) day. I couldn’t even get my mic to work with one of the sites but whatever, it’s a good start after many weeks of moping around doing not an ounce of anything language-related.
May the weekend bring lots of joy and plenty of bavarder!
(Photo: Detail of Louise Campbell’s “Blah, blah, blah,” by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)