Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Higher Learning

By Tracy Kiely

If I were given the opportunity to go back to school and take any class, I know I should choose wisely and learn Mandarin or basic economics, or barring that, how to incorporate vampires into my writings for fun and profit.
However, I would not choose wisely. I never do, so why start now?
Instead, I would take French. I would become fluent. I would OWN that damn language.
A few years ago, my husband and I went to Paris. I took French in college, and while I am by no means fluent, I can speak a little. Just apparently not to French cab drivers. This was made evident to me when I hopped into a taxi and stated the address of our hotel, “10, rue Cassette.” It’s not that hard to pronounce, and I thought I said it pretty well (“deece rue cassette”). However, from the puzzled expression on our taxi driver’s face, you would have thought I had mumbled something at him in Russian. Or Vulcan.   
So I repeated it. Slower. “Deeeeece ruuuuue cassette”
This went on for some time. Finally, in frustration I pulled out the hotel’s card and showed it to him. His face cleared. “Oh,” he said with a smug smile. “Deece rue cassette.” Except when he said it, he kind spit on the last word.
That, apparently, is the trick. 

 "Vous me parlez?"

For the rest of the trip, my husband and I managed to horrify numerous French citizens with our attempts to converse in their language. (Of course, my husband won a special honor during a rather wine soaked dinner with friends when he proudly informed the waiter “Je suis France!” (“I am France”). The waiter referred to him as “France” for the rest of the meal. So did we for that matter.
I think my love for the language began when I first started reading Agatha Christie’s Poirot mysteries. There would always be a few lines in French, and I would revert to my non-reading four-year-old self watching The Electric Company (“Tune in next time when Easy Rider says…”). Just like then, I’d yell, “Mom! Quick, come here! What’s that say?” 

   (And yes, that IS Morgan Freeman.) 
And then my love kept growing. Remember the scene in Groundhog Day when Bill Murray’s character memorizes and recites an obscure French poem to impress Andie MacDowell? She stares at him in amazement and asks, “You speak French?” To which he replies with that perfect smirk that only Bill Murray can do, “Oui.”
Really, how do you watch that scene and not want to learn the language if only so you too can recite the poem and ape the smirk?
As I type this, I can see the Rosetta Stone French language box my husband got me five Christmases ago. It is opened, but it has not been used. I have the best intentions of downloading the disk and getting started, but as my mother always said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Apparently, my road is a super highway.
I love the language. It’s glamorous. It is like a fabulous pair of Jimmy Choo shoes or a standing monthly facial appointment; both lovely and unnecessary to my daily existence.
            And, yet it still calls to me, “Traceee! Comment allez-vous? Voulez-vous apprendre le fran├žais?
            And I say, “Oui!”        

(Oh, and MURDER MOST AUSTEN is now available!) 



Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

You are a brave soul! I took one year of French in high school and barely survived. I'll remain an stupid American who just lamely points to whatever I need, or stay away from France (and Quebec) altogether.

Gina Fava said...

I can relate. After four years of high school French, I still retain: Je vous en vacance en ete! (I go on vacation in summer!) I have no idea why that's the only phrase still stuck in my brain, other than the spattered bit of polite niceties I was taught on the first day, but now that my daughter has started French this school year, she begs me to repeat it with all the joie de vivre that I possess ;)
I miss using that language; hopefully she'll converse with me and it will all come flooding back? Je ne sais pas.

TracyK said...

Gina, sadly one of the only phrases I remember is "moi aussi" (me too)- mainly because I got it wrong on a test and it stuck. Granted the phrases I got right melted into the abyss never to be thought of again.

TracyK said...

Sue - I wouldn't use the phrase "brave" - more like naive. Really, really naive.

Alan Orloff said...

I took French in high school and learned nothing, except how inept I was in a foreign language. The only French I remember is from an episode of I Love Lucy: La plume de ma tante est sur la table. Whatever that means.

But you're right, it's all in the smirk and the spit.

Vicki Delany said...

Oh, yes, Tracy. Me too. I am hoping to go to Paris next year and dreading not being able to speak the language. I took French all through high school, but I have no ear for languages at all. It's embarrassing some times.

Maureen Hayes said...

What a delightful post! I have ALWAYS wanted to learn french as well, and like you, have done nothing much about it. Maybe this will inspire me? Perhaps after I read "Murder Most Austen"?!!