Saturday, June 17, 2006
"So, Rufus, why do you have so much trouble with French if you're a grad student in French history? What's your freakin' problem?!"
I'm glad you ask. The strange thing with me and French is that I've only learned to read it; I'm just now learning (slowly) to speak it. Unlike Spanish, which I actually can speak (pero no como un hablante nativo!), I learned French so that I could read and translate French. And I did so on my own in the year between university and grad school (thank you very much!) What this means is that I can speed-read French texts, and do so relatively accurately. But, I can barely speak it or understand it when I hear it spoken. So, as far as literacy goes, I'm pretty bright, but outwardly, I'm a moron.
Part of the problem, no doubt, is that I'm fine with Spanish, and do okay with Latin. So, I'm used to speaking words that look like French, because they're latinate, but with entirely different pronounciations. French is very difficult to pronounce because much of it is actually silent. So, something like "très" which looks like "tress", is as we all know pronounced "tray". French text books like to say that all of the words have silent endings except for ones that end in the letters C,R,F,L "So, remember to be CaReFuL!" Not surprisingly, that doesn't help much. I have a theory that every American who says they hate the French probably took French in High School. It's a hard language, but if you do it right, it sounds beautiful. Listen to an Edith Piaf record some evening and you'll see what I mean.
I'm getting better, but only with things that I do every day. I can now fool a Pâtisserie employee into thinking I'm French, for example. But, ordering movie tickets tonight was a real chore. And unfortunately the 22 year old blonde girl working the ticket counter was... well, a 22 year old blonde girl, and therefore très impoli! It's when you deal with someone who's rude that you feel like an asshole. You start thinking to yourself: "What am I doing here? I don't belong here. Who do I think I am? I'm just insulting these people and making a fool of myself!" People, as a rule, are annoyed with tourists, and immigrants, and outsiders. And, in a way, I'm going to be all three. But, I just don't think that staying in the same place your whole life entitles you to a sense of superiority.
The thing I need to remember is that I can read French, so I know what's going on around me, and I can read the newspaper in the morning. Also, I can now understand about 70% of what I hear on the television, so I should be able to hear French before too long. Most importantly, a word like "avec" is starting to look like avec to me, instead of automatically becoming with. Again, I'm a translator, so it's hard to break the habit of translating.
Lastly, it's only been deux semaines, for crying out loud! If I'm going to spend a year here, I'm going to have to learn this stuff, but it's going to take longer than two weeks. I'm too hard on myself, I think. Part of this whole process of learning is learning to be willing to look foolish and make mistakes. And to keep doing so. There are some very brainy people who put a lot of stock in feeling and acting very brainy at all times. I think we all know a few of them. But, I just look pretty ridiculous about 95% of the time, and I've accepted this fate. There are so many things that I don't know about that it's just staggering.
So, it's off to see the movie. It's the new Almodovar, so it should be in Spanish with French subtitles- no problem. And, the hell with them- I'm ordering un mais explosé avec beurre, and I'm going to say every word really slowly. So there!
Posted by Rufus at 11:19 AM