Failure to Communicate

Sunday, August 31, 2008

After two years, my spoken French is merely pathetic. I try, on occasion, and usually am met with the stunned looks of the Quebcois wondering why I am chewing on gravel and attempting to gesticulate At them.

I then retreat to pointing and using the vocabulary of a two year old to describe what ever I am attempting to communicate. If I get really flustered, I will eventually splutter "I don't speak French!" and then hand over a $20 dollar bill and run off.

My receptive French is Much better. If I am concentrating and focused I can make out 80% of what is being said to me. This makes the show of nodding and saying "Oui" or "bon" almost convincing. Of course, the instant I spy a shiny metal object, my attention is dragged away from the speaker and I am lost once again.

Terrance, however, makes real and authentic attempts to speak in French. To people. Who may or may not understand what he is saying...but he tries. He listens to tapes. He watches French Television. He speaks with shop clerks and wait French.

However, as any non-native language speaker, he struggles with the speed at which people speak to you. And the Quebecois talk FAST.

One afternoon I watched my husband walk out of a gas station looking a combination of horrified, puzzled and slightly angry. He had gone in to pay for gas.

He sits in the drivers seat. I ask him what is the matter, for it is clear something has transpired in the Esso station.

and this is his tale:

"I went in to pay for gas - and the clerk saw me come in and asked me if I wanted "69" - which I couldn't understand since the gas didn't cost that much. So I said "What??" and he repeated himself - Did I want 69? And I thought, is this man propositioning me? Does he think I am gay? Is he offering to give me some kind of sex act here in the Esso - and if so, I am not interested since I am definately NOT GAY....So I look at him and I give him a look and said "WHAT, MAN? to let him know I'm not a punk and he must have understood since he said "69!, 69!" and held up a lottery ticket...which is the 6-4-9...but I didn't hear the four since he was saying it so fast and I thought he was asking me to engage in a sex act with him...."

My laughter needed no translation.

4 Baleful Regards:

Anonymous said...

At least you are trying. We have people in Texas who have never even attempted to learn English and its so frustrating. They expect us to learn Spanish. I applaud you for making the attempt as any normal rational person would do.

When I worked for a Pier1 I occasionally had to talk to the sales girls in Quebec. All I remember was how sexy they sounded.


Jaelithe said...

Heh. Heh heh heh.

My (miniscule amount of) French is terrible. People tell me I speak French with a Spanish accent. I can't help that I learned Spanish first.

mamatulip said...

This is AWESOME. Having both of my kids in all-French schools and not being able to speak anything much past "Je suis un anana!", I really relate to this post.

Reminds me of the time my father took my brothers to Quebec and they watched this video about seals at some attraction. My brothers are MUCH younger than me and at the time they were quite young so they didn't find the video as humourous as my father did...

...the French word for seal is 'foque'.

Which, in English, sounds like a very fancy way of saying 'fuck'.

Anonymous said...

I am too cheap to pay for NESN and the Sox are in Toronto this weekend on CBC (which I get for free).

Behind the batter is a prominent ad for the 649 Lottery...and I find myself giggling like a little girl thinking of your story.

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