• Richard Scrimger

tant pis pour moi

So I was having a marvelous conversation in French the other day -- and by marvelous I mean that I understood what was going on. The topic itself (local rental properties, their location, cost and availability) was pretty dull, but I was working hard and catching on and basking in the radiance of my own linguistic competence ... and then it emerged that my interlocutor was an anglophone. Quoi? I said, my bouche hanging open. But it is the truth, he said. You are making a blague, I said. But no, he said, his sourire illuminating his visage. And you speak Francais so bien, I said. He shrugged. He had a French name. He came from Montreal. And he looked French, if you know what I mean -- kind of darkish, with a hidden lazy power. Like Jean Reno. When he shrugged he looked more French than ever. So we could have been speaking Anglais all this temps? I said. You betcha, big guy. He punched me on the shoulder. Merde, I said. My words flowed more smoothly in English, but the thrill was gone. The conversation was dull, not marvelous. After a minute I shook Guy's (I wasn't pronouncing it Ghee any more) hand and left the rental property office. I should not have been surprised. This has been a personal Catch 22 for me going back to a high-school band trip to Quebec City, where local girls dissolved in laughter and my initial confidence turned to blushes and stammers. I can speak French -- but not to French people. Any francophone over the age of about six is going to go too quickly and idiomatically for me. And most non-francophones have English as a second language. So my French is adequate only when there is no need to speak it. I've been invited to join a club that never meets anywhere. Merde indeed.

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