Tag Archive for Travel writing

Learning French with Dignity

Here’s an excerpt from my travel journal. It doesn’t really fit the business angle I’d intended for this blog, but hey, this is where the humour’s coming from so I’m going with it.

Yesterday, I headed up to Vence (a mountain town close to the coast). There’s a lovely old town there but I really went to have tea with the friends of parents of a friend of mine in Vancouver. How do you like that for 6 degrees of separation? I was concerned that they might be a little French and formal, especially the parents of my friend, who’s but 30, is quite formal—almost regal in his ways. But his parent weren’t and neither were the hosts and it wasn’t long before we all sitting in the study drinking coffee and eating homemade orange merengue (oranges courtesy of the neighbour’s orange trees) and having a roaringly fun time.

The hosts are both visual artists and art collectors so their home is a veritable gallery. Helen is English born, but has lived in the Cote d’Azur since her teens and her husband, Joe, a witty Sicilian has a genius for tending the conversation with word play and other trickery like it was a fire. When I left, my stomach hurt I’d been laughing so hard.

This contrasted strongly with my experience at the French school where I’ve been studying. Maybe, in the greater scheme of things, I’ll conclude that coming here was a really bad idea, but for now, I’m adapting myself to the situation as I go. It’s a little bizarre for me as everybody is about 20 to 25 years younger and not nearly as amusing as the crowd in Vence, who is about 20 years older (okay, maybe 15).

At the school today, I was compelled to join in with our class to sing Jingle Bells in six languages for the faculty. I was the only male singing as all the other classmates were girls. I thought, “how much more humiliating is this going to get?” I’d just bite down on it and endure, and in the end it really wasn’t that bad as everyone was laughing and nobody was really listening to the quality of the music. Just festive fun. Who’s the formal one here?

If the courses weren’t so good, I’d probably complain about the hostel where I’m housed—it’s quite a dump. I’ve been waiting for five days to have my shower fixed, the shared kitchen is filthy and very run down, and the internet barely works at all.

But now my French is so improved I’m comfortably ordering food in restaurants, asking people for directions, and exchanging pleasantries with a high degree of efficiency. Although, today on my walk downtown, I had to go to the washroom really badly and finally simply walked into a cafe to ask to use their WC. In my urgency, all I could come out with was, “Je dois faire les toilettes”, which either doesn’t mean anything at all, or roughly translates into “me make do-do”. Whatever I said, the owner gave me a dead metallic look and just said, “Allez”, which I took to mean “just do your business”, not “get out”.