Friday, August 8, 2008


I was lying on the floor in Pilates class when it hit me. First of all, that I am really enjoying Pilates these days, after being initially so bored with it I didn't think I could continue. When I'm away now I really miss the good it does and then there's that chance to just lie there for a few minutes at the end - that alone makes it worth something. Anyway, I realized that I've now lived in France longer than I lived in Cleveland.

It feels like some kind of accomplishment, or as if a spell has been broken. Not that I lived in Cleveland that long - it was exactly seventeen months. And even though it was one of the loneliest, bleakest periods of my life, it was also the last place Hazel and I lived before she went off to college. And where I was holed up when Eric and I got together. I'll always have a soft spot for the place. Like an old army buddy, someone you were stuck in a trench with. Every now and then you want to meet up, have a beer and remind each other how tough it really was. I reflected as I was lying there on the linoleum of our local Ecole Maternelle that I was happy to be where I am. But actually looking forward to playing at the Beachland in Cleveland in September.

Another thing that occurred to me was how, in a class of nine or ten women, I was the only American. This sounds a little like one of those simple arithmetic problems - if there are ten women in a Pilates class in France, and one of them is American, how many Frenchwomen are there? The answer - zero. They were all English, except the instructor, who was South African.

Which might explain why I've actually been learning not one but two new languages in the last few years. In addition to our French neighbors and friends, I'm surrounded by Brits.

There's Eric of course, and anyone who's ever heard him knows he has, colorful way with language. I always thought Americans were the blunt, coarse ones but we're kindergarteners. I can't even ask someone to tell me where the toilet is without blushing. It just feels so wrong. But as it is with French, so all these English English phrases go through my mind now. The other day, some promoter told me what kind of deal they were willing to do for a show. "They're taking the piss!" is all I could think. I don't even know for sure what it means. It just felt accurate.

I go back and forth between American, English and French. Nowadays I don't even know what to call most things. The "American" pronunciation of basil sounds so bad, but if I use the English pronunciation I sound like a pretentious twat...I mean asshole. Anyway, you get it.

So I just use the French word. Maybe it's a convenient way to be forced to learn French - it's a completely different language rather than a partially different one and therefore I have to take on a whole other persona to speak it rather than sounding like someone in a suburban high school production of "Oliver". But it might reach the point where I am barely fluent in three languages.

So when I see you, please forgive me if all I can do is smile, nod and wave.


Tom said...

My daughter just came back to the States after spending 10 months "studying" in France. Her language skills seem to be somewhat the worse for the wear, but she promises that that is just because she now thinks in both French and English (oh, and sometimes in Spanish).

I don't know if she has issues with pilates.

Rosie said...

I know what you mean. Every now and again I have phases when I cant speak English or French...

Andy S said...

It seems so odd and silly to me that Americans ask for the bathroom in a restaurant or a school!
Mind you us Brits are good at making up new words for it, Like Loo or even Karzee or bog!
I like the Auzzie word, Dunny!
OK enough of that! I don't want to offend.

travelling, but not in love said...

My Aussie friends on holiday kept taking the p*ss out of my request for yogurt (soft 'O') at breakfast. Apparently, it should be yogurt (hard 'O'). Like Yo! Gert!

Like I'm EVER going to take pronunciation advice from an Australian!

Andy S said...

He is right as it happens.
I should know, I'm English!

amy said...

Maybe it all starts to make more sense somewhere along the way Tom. (except Pilates that is...)

At least we have a convenient excuse for being inarticulate,

no Andy! No cute words that end in -ie or -y...ever! That includes "prezzie" and "sarnie".

TBNIL, I'm sure they were only trying to deflect attention and comment on their own use of the language. Wankers!

Michele said...

"They're taking the piss!" I like it!! If it's not already a part of the French language (you said it French, right?), it should be.

My mom's been in France about eight years now, and, initially, she struggled with her high school level French, charades (silly hand motions) and her own French words. She swore that just saying American words with a French accent seemed to work sometimes. And, apparently, she just made up some words.

Today she's actually very fluent. So there's hope!

Keep it up. I bet in time you will be be asking for bathrooms and basil fluently.

Which reminds me... last time I was in France, I was alone on my mom's boat when a French man I didn't know knocked on the door and asked me in French if he could use the boat's bathroom. Because I was alonem I answered "Je ne parle pas Francaise," as if I couldn't understand him. He curled his lip in disgust and stomped off. I felt like a paranoid American, but oh well...

That story doesn't have a lot to do with your post other than being about speaking French and asking for the bathroom. Sorry!

Andy S said...

I hadn't put Dunny in the ending with y/ie category (though it obviously is) The one I that gets me is Bikey, (instead of biker) how lame does that sound?
Anyway you can speak, you Americans wear your pants on the outside! Never heard of trousers? Strides is a good descriptive kind of Crocodile Dundee sounding word though. And how gay is the singular term pant or trouser? If I see a them labeled that way in a shop I make a point of not buying them!