Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I speak French fluently, and it's a good thing, since I'm working on my six year living in Paris.

Yet often I still get that look of incomprehension when I open my mouth. Not from the people who know me well, my colleagues, family and friends, or the nanny, who are used to my accent and my Americanisms. The random people I cross on a daily basis, though, often wrinkle their foreheads and lean an ear ever-so-slightly in my direction in an effort to understand.

When I see it happen it drives me nuts. Worse, it is embarrassing and disconcerting enough that I tend to either talk more softly or lose my train of thought, neither of which helps mutual comprehension any.

This stupid situation often happens to me in the elevator of my apartment building. Here it is particularly annoying because I rarely have time to correct any misunderstandings before we reach my floor. Tonight my neighbor, the one who already must think much of my parenting skills, made small talk about le Petit.

"He must be talking a lot now."

"Yes, he is. In two languages," I said proudly.

"So he's bilingual?"

"Yes, and..."

(I was floundering for something intelligent to say, and wishing I had the nerve to bring up the subject I was really wondering about, which is whether his due-in-April baby boy might share our nanny, since the other family is moving to Belgium this summer.)

"...and soon he'll be correcting both me and my husband!"

He said nothing for a moment, and I could tell he was sorting through the words he understood and trying to classify them into coherence.

"So he'll be learning three languages?" he finally asked.

"Yes!" I agreed. We were passing the fourth floor and I had no time to do anything but go along with it.

After all, it is kind of true. Le Petit is learning English, French, and maman-speak, apparently.


Sophie, Inzaburbs said...

Ouch. I hate this type of confusion...
I have been known to carry on a mild charade for months because I was too embarrassed to correct a misconception when it happened. In my case it can be put down to being plain inarticulate in every language ;-)

caramama said...

While very funny to read about, I'm sure it is terribly frustrating and embarrassing for you to deal with!

If it makes you feel any better, it can be true for english to english, depending on the accent. My inlaws have heavy southern, country accents, and I've seen many people look at them the same way. And they look at others the same way.