Our first few days in our nouveau, petite maison have been exciting. It feels like we walked into a model home, where we have ooh’ed and ahh’ed over the building, the windows, the floors, the shower, the ingenious ways they use space and provide storage. And the wine fridge that is at least (if not a wee big larger than) the size of our refrigerator. Now that our small air shipment is here and the furnished place has a few Thompson touches, I believe we are going to be very happy here. That is, until we speak…
We have been going around the city, practicing our French and testing our mettle to city living (which was pretty much non-existent before we moved here.) Wade and I have been quietly proud that Liam has quickly adapted to cutting all his meals with a knife and a fork…and then actually using the fork to eat. We have glowed when he says, “Merci“, unprompted, even though it sounds more like, “mercy”, (which is what I need). And Wade and I fill the interloper role, quickly adding, “merci beaucoup” after Liam’s thank you. Except, apparently, we haven’t.
The French are very polite and have been extremely helpful, despite our lack of conversational (and utility) French. They are patient as we smile and try our phrases again, willing them to jump in and say they know exactly what we mean. But after learning what I learned yesterday, I now know they are good at laughing on the inside. And it took an Italian to point it out.
So Wade officially started work here yesterday. Officially, as in he went in to the office as a regular and not just on travel. He was chatting with an Italian over the coffee break, answering questions about how we were faring with the move. Wade mentioned that we have “merci beaucoup” down without hesitation, and the Italian just stared at him, and then began to laugh. Wade asked if everything was okay, thinking, “Surely, this person knows that merci beaucoup means thank you very much.” As Wade finished his inner thought, the Italian said, “Beaucoup.” Wade smiled and said, “Oui, beaucoup.” The Italian said, “Non, non, non. Beaucoup. Coup. Like an owl’s hoot. Coup. Not coup.” So Wade received an impromptu diction lesson, thinking this is really crazy, until the Italian laughed again, practically spitting out her espresso, and told Wade that the way we have been saying, “merci beaucoup” means, “Thank you, you have a good butt.” Lovely. I am grateful all of our waiters, delivery people, clerks, landlords, real estate agents, taxi drivers and whoever else we’ve met along the way have had decorum. At least in front of us.
With that faux pas, Liam and I have been walking around the flat hooting beaucoup, trying to make it part of our vernacular. We have been on our devices with dueling Duolingo lessons. I have two translate sites going as I decipher the food preparation directions, appliance manuals and lists to ask when I shop. I am embarrassed that I don’t speak French and get very frustrated with myself when they don’t speak English and don’t know what I am asking when I do try to speak or resort to gesticulation. They are all helpful, it is I who has the issue.
We are practicing each day though, and once the holidays are done I can start French lessons. I have five different media to help me learn in the meantime so I’d better just get over feeling frustrated and insufficient and just plug away. The grace in this has been overwhelming to me. It is good to be humbled. It is good to watch and learn and not just jump in with speech. It is good to recognize how little I know and be prompted to do something about it. I was thinking of that on the Metro and it hit me that this is what many coming to a new country experience. Now each little inner panic, flush of my cheeks or ears, and extended hesitation makes me think of how the refugees must feel. Trying to communicate, knowing what they are looking for but unable to find it, wanting to make this feel like home right away…And yet, it is different because I didn’t have to move here (well, kind of I did) but I didn’t have to move here because my homeland is being torn apart by war. I am not setting out to make a better life for my family but enjoying more of what life offers here. We have been so blessed ~ and with that little revelation, I have begun to see things from others’ eyes. Maybe not for long, but enough to offer a prayer for them. For us. For us all.
The other day there were a bunch of younger school children racing through the park, babbling about whatever was in their heads. In French. I turned to Wade and said, “Really, even the little kids can speak French. Surely if they can, we can. How hard could it be?”