Thanks to the quirky title, I have managed to get your attention. Thank you for that.
As you might have already guessed by now, I am in France.
Now what am I doing here – I was lucky enough to land a job here (to do what I love to do – teach!) and thence I came in with a lot of luggage, apprehensions and of course, tiny bits of the French language I had learnt years ago, out of mere curiosity.
Like the ‘new babe in the woods’, clueless, lost and hurried, I tried hard in the beginning to hide my worry. The worry about not being able to sync in with the general French ways, or the judgement I could possibly face when people here realized I did not speak their language or for that matter, glances at the color of my skin!
I’ve been here two weeks now and trust me, the color of my skin appears too regular for anyone to notice. Dressed in Western formals (office and casual wear), I have managed to sail through without attracting unnecessary attention. Will update you when I wear a saree here (ha-ha!)
Anyway. Now about social experiences.
So far, I have met here people of different nationalities, different religions and faiths, different colors of the skin and different styles of dressing. However, there is something that is strikingly common in all of them – their desire and commendable effort to integrate with the French ways, to become one with the system. And this probably also explains why this country and its people have opened their arms to all of us, coming from countries they may never even have heard of.
You will be surprised to know this – while I have managed to make friends with a lot of people I met since my arrival, there are two people most worthy of being mentioned. Here comes the detail – one is a professor from Pakistan. A gregarious individual, he comforted me by speaking to me in my mother-tongue (Hindi) when I arrived, also showing me around the city to help me find a house. This was when I was frantically searching for a property nearby.
The other one is a Tunisian man who settled in this part of France nearly six years ago and who with his family, has been the kindest and the most considerate host one can think of. Every now and then, they have me over for lunches and dinners only so that I do not have to eat by myself on the weekends. (By the way, you may want to know that I am currently here by myself and waiting for my family to arrive.) The catch here – both these men I mentioned are Moslems from two different countries!
This is important for me to state because sometimes (in fact, on most occasions), we tend to assume things based on how we have been conditioned and which geography we come from. Had I colored my vision with such biases when I arrived, I may never even have known the magnitude of the loss caused by not knowing such wonderful people.
Coming to language – French is a beautiful language with its unique nitty-gritties about never-pronounced letters, nasal sounds and sentence formation. Luckily, its script is the same as the English language as in the letters A to Z, the pronunciation and vocabulary being different.
I have known few French words since couple of years, something my friends and family have made me feel proud about. However, it is only after landing here that I realize what a jerk I have been at least in terms of pronouncing the words in my own head (thank God no one has heard that mental pronunciation of mine – it’s lame to the core!).
Let me give you an example. Bread in French is called ‘pain’ and pronounced as paa-aan (the ‘n’ in the end is not pronounced, only sounded). Think of the reaction you were to evoke if you went asking for ‘pain’ with the Indian pronunciation! First, you don’t feel too comfortable about asking for ‘pain’ and secondly, the young woman at the bakery laughs like there’s no tomorrow. It can be embarrassing you see.
Initially, before that realization dawned on me, I did try to speak what I knew. All it attracted was confused gazes and exchange of expressions. I just hope I had not sounded offensive or inadvertently, uttered swear words.
On other occasions, I realized that after I had finished spilling out all of my French vocabulary, it was time for the other person to speak. With the speed of the speech, I knew not when one word ended and the other began. Gulping a big dose of saliva down my throat, I had to escape with a desolée (sorry in French). That by and large put an end to over-smartness. After speaking, it was necessary to listen and understand and for that, greater learning effort was required.
As I met with members of my department and the administrative staff at the school who I have been in touch with over e-mail and who also speak very fluent English, I have found an excellent company to practice communicational French (writing for me really comes much later). They speak to me as they would to another French person, albeit slowly to prevent complete destruction of my inclination to learn the language.
‘Why are you so keen on learning French so quickly, Akanksha?’ they often ask me. I smile, blush, contemplate and finally blurt out the truth – ‘To be able to understand what my three-year old son will be speaking after couple of months!’
They laugh out loudly and then ask ‘What about your husband then? Will he not learn?’
‘I don’t think he will’, I say. ‘Also, I will try that he doesn’t. He shouldn’t understand what me and my son talk!’
This time the room bursts into fits of laughter. ‘We can understand your feelings’, they say and we, without delay, resume practice of the language. They have probably understood that it is in fact a very urgent need for me!
Image taken from Google images