I know I make mistakes all the time when I speak French. Hopefully they are becoming less frequent. I’d like to think they are. It really is a lesson in humility when even the simplest of words could be one that you’re mispronouncing. Even simple words, like tabac, are dubious. For some reason that I don’t properly know, I presumed it was pronounced pretty much as it’s spelled, [tabak]. A presumption that I had never really second-guessed. I don’t normally have much cause to say the word, but I know I must have mispronounced a substantial number of times before learning that it is in fact pronounced [taba]. Now I know, and so do you, so don’t say you never learned anything from me (unless of course you already knew this, and can’t think of anything else I might have incidentally taught you).
I wouldn’t say it’s humiliating, but it is humbling. The other day I went to visit some family friends who live in the chic 8eme arrondissement. It turned out that the husband was out of town and the daughter was inundated in the apparently colossal course load of Sciences Po [see-ahns-POH]. But this didn’t pose any problem as Mme Monlong is quite a conversationalist. She’ll talk intelligently about nearly anything, transitioning deftly between subjects and leaving space even for me to clumsily chime in with some grammatically overly ambitious sentence. Sometimes an enigmatic smile would creep across her face as I started to speak. Perhaps it wasn’t because of my “innovative” take on grammar and vocabulary, but it seems the best explanation. I know that the same smile has turned up the corner of my lips when talking to people who speak English as a second language. I know it isn’t malicious or mocking, and is in fact appreciative of the effort that they exert and sympathetic to the troubles they face in seeking to refine the more delicate aspects of language mastery. Yet at the moment I know that that little smile made me self-conscious of my effort.
No offense taken though. Who possibly could take offense when you consider that I got an excellent dinner out of the deal and several hours of speaking practice?
Such generosity seems to be the theme of the week. I met up with a former professor today in Paris. She treated me to an excellent lunch at a cute little restaurant in her neighborhood. It seems like I should be the one making dinners and paying for lunches, since I’m the one who is really benefitting from the conversation. I guess there will come a time in my life when I get to pay the kindness forward. I know that one day I will happily contribute to the karmic balance.
Question: Ça va?
Appropriate response: Ouais, tranquille.