les petits échecs

by jemma margaret

Thank you Google Translate for the above colloquial expression.

While English is the language of choice for all professional conversations, otherwise I am trying to speak French. This works and doesn’t. Every conversation maintained entirely en français counts as a minor victory and conversely, I am afraid, all reversions to my native tongue are considered as minor failures.

Le sigh.

Three in the last 24ish hours–two of which, perhaps, don’t count.

First, a call to change a reservation in which “le treizième juin” was immediately translated back to me as “the thirteenth of June”. Either this phone answerer (who was not the reservationist) was, in fact, American. Or he had watched television long enough to erase all semblance of French accent. Anyway, well, that counts as one.

Second, this morning collecting my Ruche order and stumbling over 126. Turns out I was saying “vehnt” instead of “vent”–but the woman who corrected me and then handed over my “five hundred grams of spinach” also sounded suspiciously unaccented. I must admit that I cannot distinguish with any skill between the various accents of native and learned French speakers. I am too busy trying to parse through the words.

Third, now this final instance, though leading to a fairly amusing one-sided conversation, was rather humiliating. At the organic grocery store I had bought small amounts of tomatoes, garlic, and lemon. Rather than waste three different plastic bags, I weighed each one separately and fixed all three price stickers to the same bag. The cashier remarked upon this tactic, but my monosyllabic response immediately signaled that “you do not speak French.” I explained, in a very muddled French, that, in fact, I speak a little and I can understand better than I can speak. This failed to reassure the cashier who continued in English to ask where I was from. Giving up, I told him California, upon which he told me that he would like to go to the United States since it was cool. But not to Texas because of the politics. This did not seem like a wise time to correct his regionally specific misunderstandings, so I paid, smiled, and left. Considering this is my current milk purveyor, I will return in short order and perhaps will have later opportunities to inform my new acquaintance that I would happily live in Paris “si il n’y aurait pas les cigarettes, les touristes, le poubelle, ou la grisage.”

Lack of fluency leads to amusing generalizations. I am as guilty as anyone.