Monday, March 15, 2010

Jamais Arretez

15 March 2010 “Jamais arretez” or Never Stop

If you didn’t already know, a few years ago, Hank, Caleigh and I started taking French with Arlette in Topanga. It was a wonderful weekly conversational course taught over a class of Rose (Provence being where Arlette is from) & bon bons and although Arlette was/is an incredible teacher, we definitely did not deserve all of the A++’s she often gave us (well, Hank generally received A- for misbehaving and thinking that saying “voulez vous couche avec moi, ce soir” more than once was actually funny). For one thing, we did not practice or study as we should have, but our lives were crazy and we did what we could. At least we had this weekly family night and also met wonderful Arlette and her husband, Andrew, who have since returned to Provence and have been inspirational to us in considering this move to France.

In addition to taking a weekly French class, I also listened to French CD’s on my drive to and from work for over two years, wrote and emailed in French with our current proprietor, not to mention, a few French schools, visa officials and even tried reading French literature. Okay, “Le Petit Prince” and Caleigh’s children’s books don’t count as literature, but let’s just say I tried. All the while, Hank and Caleigh did not study at all, unless you can call Hank’s daily, “Et, voila!” or “Merde” a form of practice.

So, after arriving in France, one would think that out of the three of us, I would be our “guide,” our French interpreter. I imagined translating menus, and signs and thinking that Hank and Caleigh would be so jealous and wish that they had practiced more. Well, it could not have been more the opposite. Caleigh gets tossed into an all French-speaking school and although there are some bilingual American and British kids to help her with translations, everyone speaks French in class and her teachers make a point not to speak any English and expect her to do the same. Does she complain, cry in frustration or refuse to go to school like I am pretty certain I would? Not once. Yes, she was frustrated since she could not understand anything for the first few weeks, but she eventually began to get it and her grades have continued climbing to the point that she is sometimes scores highest in her classes. Damn, I am proud of her.

Then there is Hank. Oh, he’s going to need my help, I am sure I think to myself. Well, after our first soiree at Isabelle & Thierry’s when we met the carpool parents, he not only pulls what little French he knows out of his ass and has the whole French-speaking table cracking up, he speaks it with a Spanish accent. I kid you not. He is now known as the American with the Spanish-accented-French. What Hank does successfully is remain confident and since he has an uncanny ability to remember everything he has ever heard or read, he really manages to pull it off. So much in fact, I am sure that he inadvertently criticized a winemaker’s process when discussing his filtration process and I doubt we will ever be invited back to his vineyard.

Then there is moi. I have written about my little struggles and of course, the petite successes. But all in all, I have had to come to the realization that I really have not gotten it. When my buddy, Richard in England asked me how my French was coming, I was honest and said, it was just more difficult than I had imagined.

“So you were willing, but not able” he joked while reciting my supposed humorous family motto.

“Yeah, so I was.”

So, once we knew we were returning next month, I initially thought to myself, just give yourself a break and stop with the studying and setting yourself up in these constant situations to fail. It felt like a huge relief for about a second, but then it just didn’t feel right. I did not want to give up. I remembered this expression that Thierry kept saying over and over one night at volleyball when we were behind. “Jamais arretez!” as I looked at him blankly or quizzically or a combination of both as I typically do when someone speaks French to me. Instead, I kept hearing, “ja-may saret-tay” and just could not figure it out. “sarettez?, sarettez?, what the hell verb is that?!” and then I couldn’t remember if “jamais” meant “never” or “always”. I never did end up understanding him at the game (we lost that night). But later that night I looked up “jamais”and confirmed it meant “never”(go with your gut next time Cindy) and that the sound of “SA – retay” was just the “s” blending into the verb “arretez” which of course everyone knows, means “stop.” Of course.

Never stop.

So that’s what I have decided to do. Never stop trying. I found this new BBC series on language that I am practicing every morning. I am going to finally finish reading “Le Petit Prince” and who knows, maybe I’ll progress to a non-children’s book next. I boldly went up to the boucher the other day and ordered 1 kilo of de daube du boucher (special cut for making the most incredible beef stew) and later went back to ask for 200g de petit sale (non smokey or salty bacon product). I almost asked a fellow shopper where I could find a “faille de laurier” (bay leaf), but located it before needing too. We are also preparing a powerpoint presentation in French for a local event in the nearby village of La Sauvetat du Dropt being held later this month. In fact, Isabelle comes by in a few minutes to check our translations so I better get going.

So in the meantime, don’t forget, “Jamais arretez!”

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