It’s funny how little things can make your day. One morning recently, I went outside to open the shutters and the woman across the road was sweeping. The women in the village are always sweeping. Not a trait I’ll probably adopt. We both said hi, then she said, “Bien dormez?” Sleep well? This was easy enough and I certainly know those words, but it always takes me a moment when someone addresses me for the words to sink in. This time though, I came right back, ‘Oui, Et vous?” I’m still better at using the formal terms, vous instead of tu, but for most of the people in the village, that’s fine.
Yesterday, I had a doctor’s appointment in a neighboring village, got a prescription filled, did a few other errands while I was there, had a beer at a sidewalk cafe, got lost wandering around (nothing to do with the beer!) which required asking for directions. I understood and found my way back to where I parked the truck. Later, I realized that I hadn’t spoken English all day. Felt quite pleased about that too.
Funny too, the whole thing about learning a language. My stock in trade–really my identity–is my facility with words. In a foreign country where I don’t know the language, all of that is lost. I’m like a toddler, pointing at things, using the most basic construction. I once read that the good thing about a nudist colony is that people don’t judge you on your clothes. There’s an analogy with language. In an English speaking country, I might make judgements, would make judgements, on the way people spoke, how they expressed themselves, whether they used double negatives, all that. Here, I don’t know enough to make those judgements. At the village dinner for Bastille Day, a guy sat next to me who had just a little English–about the equivalent to my French. He seemed to want to tell me his stories, especially after I told him I was a writer, and he was very passionate and, I thought, quite engaging. I told Julie about him and she said, ‘oh he’s nuts. He just goes on and on.” Had we both been speaking the same language, I could have probably picked that up myself, instead I spent much of the evening listening to him. Probably the best audience he’s ever had.