Friday, October 26, 2007

Somewhere around here

Ca y est, I've crossed some sort of threshold of belonging, and look more like a vraie parisienne than ever before. I've apparently shed my American skin and now look at home enough that people, everywhere, wherever I go, are asking me for directions.

Am I finally chic enough to fit in? Is it the haircut? My new Prada glasses? Have I finally figured how to knot a scarf à la française? I'd like to flatter myself, but it is probably just because my new status as mother is making me leave the house more often during the day, and almost always with le Petit in tow. Everyone knows that a young mother with a baby is usually not too far from home, and likely knows the neighborhood.

I've always dreaded that part in a language course when you learn to give and understand directions. I'm bad enough at giving directions in English; I forget street names, I mix up my left and my right, so my troubles start before I even tackle vocabulary. Trying to keep track of words for landmarks, of when and where to turn gauche or droite, all quickly escapes me and I feel trapped in a linguistic labyrinth as well. It doesn't help that I still don't know how to say block in French, so I can't translate my only accurate measure of distance.

So, when someone comes up to me with a friendly, "Excusez-moi, madame, mais savez-vous où se trouve..." I'm flattered that I look knowledgeable, but I also cringe. I try to pay close attention what, exactly, they're looking for. I repeat it back to them, partly to gain a bit of time. Then I slowly start explaining the route as best I can.

"Uhmmm, the Marroniers retirement home? Okay, well, you start going in that direction," I indicate one of the gates to the park. "Then, it's right away on your left." Whew, that one was easy.

Once I'm thanked and the person is on their way, I panic and wonder if I didn't screw up and send them in exactly the wrong direction. I repeat my explanation to myself while tracing the route in the air, which may make the person think twice about trusting me if they happen to glance back.

A couple of times I've judged the request too complicated and my knowledge of local geography too shaky for me to even attempt to respond.

"The cemetery? I know that it's that way, somewhere," I say, vaguely indicating a direction. "Against the train tracks," I add, hoping the only piece of information I was certain of might prove helpful. "I'm sorry, I can't tell you anything else."

Once my lack of confidence was so patent that, despite a perfectly good response (with a street name for once, to boot!), a woman turned and headed off in the opposite direction. She left me wondering, was she really looking for the post office, or was it just a test?

"That's it, I've unmasked another one!" I imagined her muttering as she walked away, "An American tourist, disguised in fausse parisienne!"

So I'll keep practicing my gauches and droites and studying the municipal map until I can pull it off flawlessly.

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