When I was 15 I made my first short visit to Paris. I remember sitting alone on the edge of a concrete flower-pot, far away from the more touristy areas of Paris, when an old lady came to me and started scolding me in French. I was startled and felt incredibly guilty because I couldn’t explain to her that I didn’t know you were not allowed to sit on the ledge. But at the same time I loved how this old grandmother felt that this was her Paris, her flower-pot and her street. So I pantomimed my apologies and escaped from the scene of my crime.
After a while, I started to get a bit thirsty and thought I’d go to a Parisian Burger King, since there, for sure, I could order by just pointing at the menu. Little did I know. Turns out nobody at the counter knew, or refused to know, what “bottle of water” means. So I pantomimed drinking from a bottle, thirst, and water molecules (I seriously did this in a busy Paris Burger King). The Burger King staff gathered around to solve the puzzle and everyone looked utterly clueless. Coca cola? Burger? Sprite? Non! Non! Mickey? Disneyland Paris?? Non!
I pantomimed more and more until there was nothing that could have done to save my face. Then it struck me, not eau but “aqua!”, I shouted. “Aqua!” — and the water taps of heaven opened and I was dehydrated no longer. Since that day I have hoped that one day I would speak French fluently, march into a Burger King and order an entire meal, with no pickles and extra onions, and quote a bit of Baudelaire while handing over the money.
(Now, you must be thinking; who on earth pantomimes water molecules? I wish could say that I was only 15 at the time and had never been abroad before, but truth be told; it just seemed like the better idea right after considering the story of the thirsty bedouin and her faithful camel.)
I have always loved French, although in my school the only two languages, in addition to English and Swedish, were German and Russian. I studied all of them for most of my school years, but secretly longed for French. I even joined community college beginners classes when I was 16 and learned how to order a croissant, an orangina and to ask where the toilet was. Basic survival skills acquired.
When I met my husband (who has French as his second language), I again felt I would love to be able to speak French, but I also became a bit lazy: Now I had someone who could speak for me and so I took solace in that at least one of us spoke perfect French. But also, French has always had a special place in our lives. French songs, food and wine, and generally hearing French, all just make us both feel happy, and; it is one of the languages in my family. So yesterday I took out a book called ’30 Days to Great French’ that I have had in my bookshelf for years and began studying.
I might be actually writing in French in thirty days, if all goes well, but hopefully at least my pantomime days will be fully over.
Before that, here is some French-Canadian music by Coeur de pirate: