I took the bus into Montpellier last week for a course in immersion French. A bargain basement sort of course with accommodations thrown in. Perhaps the price should have been a clue, but I was excited. I could envision it. One week of immersion French then, back in Montpeyroux, chatting easily with the butcher, the baker, the guy in the epicerie. No more pointing, stuttering, smiling as though I understood. After immersion, I’d be able to ask complex and intelligent questions. Understand complex and intelligent answers. Past, present, future– you name it. What is the actual difference between creme fraiche and fromage blanc? Something about the process, is it? And what about fromage fraise? Of course, knowledge wasn’t the point; I already knew the answers. I was after fluency.
Sad to say, my French as I write this is still far from fluent. I looked up the word fluent. L.fluentum.fluid, to flow. By that definition, my French is about as fluid as a tub of fromage blanc. Or fromage fraise. I did not immerse. I barely dipped. Conjugating French verbs with newly minted high school graduates traumatized my 60-something year-old confidence. After class, I drank a lot of beer. I couldn’t do my homework. Unable to sleep, I paced my cell-like room. I popped antacids. By the third day, terrified that I’d be called on to demonstrate my incomplete understanding of les pronoms compléments, I spared myself the humiliation and dropped out.
Yep, I flunked immersion French, or would have if I’d stayed to take the test. Instead, I popped across the road to the hair salon, explained, in French, how I wanted my roots touched up (they did quite a good job) then went to the chemist and refilled my prescription for heartburn medicine. Funny though, once I dropped out, the heartburn disappeared.
So, I don’t know, maybe I’m immersing myself in my own way. I wish the progress was . . . a bit more fluid. Less clotted with confusion. Be patient, everyone tells me, it takes time.
Fortunately, the week wasn’t a complete loss. I still had my cell-like room, the French landlord was happy to chat to me. One night he invited me to go with him for dinner at the house of some friends. He was grilling anchovies, he said. Would I mind riding on the back of his BMW motorbike, he asked. I didn’t mind at all, I told him. It all seemed quite in keeping with my immersion school drop out persona.