I’m learning French. What began innocently enough as a goal to pick up some conversational basics has evolved to an all-out obsession. I have CDs in my car that sing me through various scenes in which otherwise normal individuals break out in song (French songs, at that) about the most mundane things. It isn’t every day, after all, that full-grown men and women sing their one, two, threes. Picture Big Bird wearing a beret and you can get an idea of what it sounds like.
I’m not alone in my endeavor. My daughter, Torri, is along for the journey, and with good reason. As a graduation gift, I’m taking her on a mother/daughter trip to London and Paris. We’ve got a full itinerary planned, including taking tea in a proper English tea room, touring Buckingham Palace, and pedaling our way along the pathways in the gardens of Versailles. The first half of our trip is a no-brainer. While the absence of British accents is sure to set us apart, we’re not overly concerned with assimilating to the culture in London. But Paris? Paris scares me. Something that happened when I was twelve left me scarred.
My family was vacationing in Yosemite. One afternoon we took a break from the grandeur of the park to swim in the hotel pool. Having emerged from the water to a somewhat cool breeze, I quickly ran to our table and grabbed my pool towel. In the rush to do so, I inadvertently knocked a pair of eyeglasses to the concrete pool deck below and they broke. Before I even had time to bend over and pick them up, a man appeared from somewhere behind me and started spewing at me in a language I couldn’t understand.
To this day I have no idea why he chose to set his eyeglasses on the edge of a table already overflowing with my family’s things, but he did. And when his glasses ended up in pieces on the ground, instead of addressing the situation from a cool and collected standpoint, he chose instead to rather loudly berate me—inches from my face—in his somewhat spitty native tongue.
My father—who was standing nearby—did not take well to the Frenchman’s approach.
I can happily report that the situation was peacefully resolved. That’s not to say, though, that I didn’t walk away feeling more than a little intimidated by that sharp-tongued Frenchman.
Fast forward some twenty-odd years and here I am, preparing for my first trip to France. Extra cautious about extending the utmost courtesy to the locals, I’m doing my best to learn their language. I’m paying close attention to the pronunciation of certain phrases like, “pardon” and “excusez-mois” because—while I’m not planning for any poolside afternoons—you never can be too polite, right?
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some pronunciations to polish.