I read a blog recently that talked about how Facebook has caused a lot of us to edit our lives, only depicting the happy, exciting, entertaining moments we have, and another that echoed similar thoughts about how inauthentic we are when portraying our lives via social media. Though I’m certainly no expert (and definitely am not interested in sharing all of the intimate details of my life with 500 Facebook “friends”), I would guess this behavior is derived from a desire to be thought of as witty, fun, cultured, [insert your personal list of ego-boosting adjectives here], etc. This got me to thinking that I could probably stand to be more honest in my writing. After all, much to most of your surprise, I am not perfect (but see how witty I am??).
A lot of my posts thus far have focused on the cool things I’ve done or seen, the interesting places I’ve been, or the funny moments I’ve encountered. But not everything in Paris is peachy. I’ve been here nearly five months and my French is still extremely basic (like, “my French friends/co-workers are still ordering my lunch for me,” kind of basic). Fail.
And sure, maybe this is to be expected considering I haven’t had the chance to take any French lessons yet, and I do all of my work in English every day. But it doesn’t stop me from feeling like I am the biggest failure alive. Here’s why:
- I know it was only high school, but back in the day I was one of the few language nerds at my school. Got awards, hung out translating all day, made up my own classes with a few other students when our level exceeded the school’s offering… You get the point. And yeah, one of the languages I studied was French.
- I studied abroad in college and specifically chose the program I did because it had a required language component. I studied Xhosa. By the end of my three-and-a-half-month stay, I was easily having basic conversations with my home-stay family.
- I can only half-read the signs around me.
- I can’t do many important things (like finding out where my French social security card is) without help.
- I can’t pronounce my boyfriend’s name properly.
All of these factors culminate into what I can only describe as extreme embarrassment. At this moment in time, I am largely illiterate, can’t do things that I need to by myself, and am constantly being corrected on the things I try to say. Sound familiar? Of course it does. You’re being reminded of when you started the first grade.
What’s worse is that, as I mentioned in an earlier post, the rumors about the French hating Americans or hating people who only speak English are false. “How can that be worse?” you must be asking yourself. Well, because they are SO nice to me here that even during my attempts to speak French at stores or restaurants, my Americanism is detected and people automatically start talking to me, pleasantly, in English. And nothing adds to the sting of the existing embarrassment like making an effort to speak the language and having it be completely rejected.
Or how about sitting in a room full of people, all of which are engaged with each other in conversation, while you sit there, alone, trying to understand any part of what’s being said (or in my case, making up songs in my head as I stare out the window)? It becomes even more embarrassing when a joke is made and the room erupts in laughter while you’re sitting there, stone-faced, unsure of what just happened. And of course you occasionally think to yourself, “maybe they’re laughing at me” because really… you wouldn’t know if they were.
Despite all of this, I must admit (not for the sake of seeking an ego-boosting adjective) that my frustration level remains surprisingly low most of the time. Perhaps it’s because I have hope that I’ll be starting lessons soon, or the fact that I’m living in Paris (!) so nothing really seems that bad, or maybe it’s pure ignorance on my part. But I just keep thinking that the more I try and the more I’m exposed to, one day something in my brain will just click and French verbs will conjugate flawlessly, pronunciations will flow out of my mouth correctly and with ease, and the girl at Subway will continue taking my order in French instead of switching to English half-way through. (And yes. I eat Subway while living in France. Don’t judge. I’m trying to be honest, here!).
Until that day, my face will continue to turn red when I try to speak French, I’ll still buy the wrong things at the store, and I’ll keep waiting for that French social security card to magically appear without me having to chase it down. Here’s hoping I don’t break a leg…