I like to think of my French language status as the verbal equivalent of “wheelchair restricted”--I may not enter gracefully into all environments, you might have to keep an eye out to ensure I don’t get hurt, take me to a party and I'm liable to illicit loud, hyper-enunciated talking from guests--Alooors, vous-venez D'OU?--and maybe some staring, but for all intents and purposes, I get around pretty well, thank you.
Friday, I had an appointment to get my eyes tested. I had to look up the word for ophthalmologist, call the ones in my area via the pages jaunes, find out who tests eyes the cheapest and make the appointment. Then, when I was in the exam room and Docteur Besse covered my left eye, I said “Euh, Bay, Jay,” for E, B, G. The phrases that I had to read were obviously in French, and the chit chat with the doctor as she drew up my prescription? That was in French, too. It’s not like I gave a dissertation or wrote a story for a French newspaper, but I have to celebrate the small things, like eye exams, because otherwise, why am I not in the US getting an MFA right now?
To be honest, I’ve lived here one year and, that whole speaking in French thing? It’s still really hard. Sometimes I’m around other expatriates (expatriates who don’t even have any French in their blood, or a last name that ends in the “awhn” sound), and their accents are so much better than mine, and they throw around the subjunctive tense--a tense which DOESN'T EVEN EXIST IN ENGLISH--as if it were easy as pig latin.
I want to say to these people, yes, fine, but can you express so much as I in a mere hand gesticulation? Did you spend the summer of 1986 saying “AH ben dis DONC!” because you wanted to be just like your grandfather, Pépé? When it comes to cheese, has your motto always been, the stinkier the better? As a child, would you happily drink watered-down wine that was older than you were? (Yes, they let children drink wine here, and have you seen how tame their college parties are? MY FRENCH FRIENDS KNOW NOT THE MEANING OF THE FOLLOWING WORDS: ICE BLOCK, KEG-STAND, POWER HOUR, ALCOHOL POISONING.)
I digress. The point? The point is, FRANCE IS IN MY BLOOD, you overachievers. So step off with your perfect language skills and correcting my pronunciation of "Buttes Chaumont," before I smack you upside yo' head with that French in Action book.
Maybe this would be a good time to address why my own father, the man who got me into this whole mess, didn’t try to teach his daughters French. He did. He spoke it with us on the way to pre-school every morning. And then he went and worked all day. Little kids go to bed early. Could we have learned French on the weekend and at nights? There are countless families that make it work, but ours was set up so that we spent more time with our mother. Our American mother who spoke no French.
But I am here now, and while I may still be handicapped in the language department, I just took an eye exam in French, and that’s something neither my high school French teacher, nor I, nor my grandfather Constant Victor, may the man rest in peace, would ever have seen coming. I’ve never said this to anyone before, because I know it's so very attractive to make proclamations about what one will do to one’s children (especially when "one" doesn't even have a boyfriend), but it’s my dream to teach my kids French someday.
We may end up in Tupelo, Mississippi, the father may be from Spain, Denmark, or perhaps even Kentucky, but my God if I wont have 'em consuming stinky cheeses, watered-down wine, and the adventures of Tintin. And they will like it. Because Mommy likes it. That’s how these things work, right Mom?