I braved yet another Maison Francais meeting last month. As you may remember, I tend to be initially enthusiastic about going, but chicken out on the day of. Speaking French when you don’t remember how just takes so much gosh-darned effort. But, like violin lessons, it’s another one of those things we must do to keep our minds sharp.
This meeting was to be a non-threatening dinner/lecture affair. I figured if I could get through the dinner part by sitting next to my friend Lauren and just adding “le” to the beginning of English words, I would be home free. In retrospect, I believe I should have brushed up on my vocab before leaving the house.
They had a little table set up at the entrance where you were supposed to pick up your name tag and pay for your ticket, so I marched right up and said “Bonsoir! Je suis Rima Rama.” The lady behind the table responded with a jumble of French words that I could make neither head nor tail of. And since it would have killed me to ask her to repeat herself, I decided that she had welcomed me and invited me to go inside. So I said:
And then she said, “Do you speak French?”
So that was a real confidence builder.
I found my friend inside and we struck up a conversation. Thankfully, the room was like a sauna and we were able to kill a lot of time just talking about the weather.
“Il fait chaud ici, n’est-pas?”
“Oui! Il fait vraiment chaud.”
“Je suis sweating like a pig.’
I find that it’s much easier to ease into speaking le Francais when you drink a glass of wine and wade in slowly using Frenglish. So after Lauren and I helped ourselves to some vin and hors-d’oeuvres, we burdened the two women sitting on either side of us with our textbook language skills.
Luckily, one was a teacher who spoke French like a Rosetta Stone CD and was used to hearing a lot of stuttering. The other was a native speaker whose language skills had atrophied over time. She was very patient with me as I took it upon myself to opine about Stephen Hawking and Black Hole Theory. Because if you haven’t spoken a language in going on two years and wish to ease the tongue gently into its waters, you’re going to want to begin by talking about quantum physics.
An old familiar thing started happening the more I spoke: neurotransmitters that hadn’t seen action since 2008 started firing away, re-energizing pathways long dusty with disuse. Words, phrases, figures of speech began coming back to me and I realized I was no longer hunt and peck translating words, I was thinking in French. I was no longer a self deprecating housewife and wanna-be writer, I was a French speaking self deprecating housewife and wanna be writer! Which makes all the difference.
In the spirit of accurate reporting, I feel I must tell you that the lecture portion of the meeting was a bust. They had a prof from the Sorbonne talking about an archeological dig he did in Lebanon, but his presentation was on the dry side, especially for those of us who couldn’t understand a word he was saying. He had a pretty good slide presentation, but I was sitting off to the side and his assistant was blocking my view. It took a lot of exaggerated and passive-aggressive neck craning on my part to get her to move over, and by that time it was time to go home.
The moral of this story is you should occasionally do things you’re afraid of. Because it’s always worth it.
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