Sunday, April 20, 2008


"You will learn to speak it better from women and children in three months than from men in a year." --Thomas Jefferson on the French language in a letter to T.M. Randolph, 1787

I thought by having a French husband, I would learn French easily. I mean, I have a native French speaker living right under my roof! PERFECT! I dreamily pictured the long, complicated, philosophical discussions we would have in French about art, religion, politics, love, life... And if I slipped up the French language, he is right there, gently correcting yet succinctly explaining the hows and whys of his mother tongue.

Sigh, oh how naive I was.
It simply does not work that way.

My questions about French are met with either silence, dead eyes or the "you can't touch me in my special place" look, or a mumbled answer too fast for me to catch one word of. Or, more often than not, a mumbled answer too fast for me to catch one word of that also has 25 parts, 46 subsections and a 34 minute explanation spiraling into another 65 unrelated topics, rendering everything he just said completely useless.
Why is asking what the plural is of a word so often painstakingly complicated?
I don't want 87 answers.
I want one.
Spoken clearly and preferably in slow motion with your lips moving like a cartoon.
I want black and white.
Right and wrong.
And some straight lines while you're at it.
I adore him dearly, but a French teacher he is not.

OK. After only four months, I KNOW I am low on the patience. I am frustrated and cranky that my comprehension lies below that of a two year old. When I am at a party like I was last night, where everyone is speaking French, I cannot make out one word above the white noise. Even though everyone I met spoke perfect English and I had a lovely time, I still INSISTED on making each person I met suffer through at least 5 minutes of my 2 year old talk. It's as though I am more embarrassed that I only speak one language. Who cares if all I can say is the equivalent of GOO GOO GA GA? At least it's in FRENCH.

How many languages would a Kung Fu master speak? More than one.
An international jetsetter? DEF more than one.
A dark haired woman of mystery who might possibly be involved in international espionage? AT LEAST FOUR. DUH.

So I will continue to ask as many questions as I have. I will continue to try and decipher the whispered/I'm speaking in code/Merlin riddle answers and I will continue to say "GOOGOO GAGA ME LIKEY YOUR CHEESE" to strangers at parties.

Why? Because one of these days, the airplane I am traveling on from New York to Moscow will emergency land in a small village in France. The passengers will all panic and the pilot will announce "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DOES ANYONE SPEAK FRENCH?!@#"
I will quietly rise from seat 1A in first class, gently set my my champagne cocktail down, brush off my black Chanel suit, flip back the hair from in front of my giant dark sunglasses and huskily proclaim while turning 3/4 to catch the optimal light...


jessica said...

we were at a party where everyone was speaking french and i nodded and answered in english. sometimes. except this one guy - he told me something twice. very kind. i squeaked out 'je ne comprends pas.' his girlfriend repeated what he said - annoyed - he was speaking english.

MaTaCo dot com said...

that emergency landing is the world's best reason to learn french.

PromBoy said...

I'm having the exact same issues with my Chinese studies. I'm starting to think that learning a new language is like learning how to drive, or getting a haircut: you need to go to someone OTHER than your partner.

Pimsleur CDs have been working well for me so far.