I needed to register our car today.
Two weeks ago, I went to the sous-prefecture (the government office where one does this sort of thing) to pick up the forms necessary to take care of this chore. I knew what I needed to say, and I’d practiced my lines carefully, but didn’t even get three words into my second sentence before the lady asked me to wait, only to return with an anglophone. She explained, in English, everything I would need to fill out and bring back with me, not once encouraging me to use my limited French.
I’ve been told that to the native, French spoken poorly is like fingernails down a chalkboard. They appreciate the effort, but they’d prefer you stop as soon as possible. *1*
My usual habit is to tell whomever I’m speaking to that I understand much more French than I can speak, which is generally true. I would prefer them to speak to me in French, even if I can’t understand everything, and even if I may have to respond in Frenglish. I need to hear French, as often as possible, and I need to try to speak it, even if it offends their ears.
I am a little amazed by how much I’ve learned in a relatively short amount of time, though there is still so much to learn. Yesterday, I was able to ask our butcher if the items in the window were sweetbreads. *2* She understood that, but then didn’t understand me when I asked her for the price. In all fairness to me, I think she might be a little hard of hearing, but it’s a good reminder to keep studying if I don’t want to overpay for organ meat.
Anyways, back to this morning. I came in with all my forms, but this time, I didn’t have any phrases prepared. I just expected them to pass me off to the English speaker, the same as before. Except, this time, the lady behind the counter must have been satisfied enough with my questions to deal with me herself. Which was awesome, it means I’m getting better, except…
Except when the French think you understand them, they speak French to you like it’s a sprint, and they must win. I’m sure English is tough to understand when spoken rapidly as well, but with French, they don’t pronounce at least half of the letters in a given word, and then they purposefully run words together, and pretty soon, I’m left standing there with a goofy smile on my face, and little else to show for it.
Fortunately, everything she said was also written on a form. I think. I guess I’ll find out when they send my registration in the mail. Or they don’t send it. Either way. Donnette says mornings like this one get to count towards the language learning process. Like homework, without the credit.
Thank you for praying, and thank you for the encouragement. It’s always good to hear from people back in the States, so please don’t hesitate to keep in touch. It’s nice to get messages that I can understand! *3*
*1* This is why, if you’ve ever visited France, you’ll find this strange phenomenon to be true. If you ask someone if they speak English, they’ll say no. They do, but they aren’t interested in speaking English to you, they think you should speak French. But, if you try to speak French to them, they’ll smile, and then usually respond to you in perfect English. They appreciate the effort you’ve put in, but they can’t take it all the same. It’s like letting a four year old fold the laundry.
*2* They’re delicious!
*3* Though, oddly enough, spelling English words has taken a hit. If there are dozens of typos in this post, don’t blame me, blame the French that is currently elbowing out 18 years of public education.