Monday, February 28, 2011
Still learning how to say goodbye
"Ah revwahrr," she calls back to me in that sing-songy French that is reserved for the very beginning-- bon jour-- and the very end-- au revoir-- of a conversation. The tone in the middle does not always sound so friendly.
If anybody ever told me I would still be doubting the authenticity, the correctness, the effectiveness of my hellos and my goodbyes after close to two years of living in France I would have told them they were high.
Yet here I am, three months shy of two years in France, and I find myself muttering "au revoir" over and over and over to myself, like a lunatic, trying to perfect my delivery, and trying to figure out if I'm saying it wrong.
It just doesn't sound the same coming out of my mouth as it does coming into my ears from someone else's mouth.
Esther thinks I'm crazy. Crazy people do talk to themselves. She says I'm imagining it sounds different. She could be right.
Considering all the different ways people can say "goodbye" in English-- with the emphasis on the good, the bye, or both, or none--does it really matter?
Yet, I remain obsessed. Does my "au revoir" still sound foreign and strange? Off somehow?
And how about my "bon jour? " What of those women who say, "bon jouuurrraahh!?" Should I be saying it like that? (The more I think about this, the more I realize this may not be a language problem at all. All my life I've been accused of having just woken up when answering the phone. Apparently my English "hello" could use a makeover as well.)
I'm also learning that it helps to be, or at least pretend to be, angry to speak proper French. When I say a sentence nicely, and sheepishly, it just doesn't get understood. So I tried pretending to be angry, while driving the other day, and practicing a few sentences, sentences like, "the place was not very high"
("CE ENDROIT N'ETAIS PAS TRES HAUT" ) and the difference was remarkable.
I'm getting the hang of this.
I have always known you need to tap into your inner actor when you speak another language. With German, I channeled my inner Schultz (Hogans Heroes), for French, it might have to be every rude waitress or saleslady I've ever come across.
I suppose I could try a romantic angle, and pretend to be Pepe le Pew, but.... that might get me in trouble.
I do know, if you are at all self conscious, and not committed to your role, you are not going to be convincing. In short, you will suck.
My kids are excellent, natural actors. Their French is angry, school-kid French. I think they enjoy the verbal catharsis involved. Attitude is everything:
"Mais arrete! "Depeche toi!" "C'est toi qui est null!" (Stop! Hurry Up! It's you who are stupid!)
Inunciation, and lip curling, and the sounds and body language of constant, exasperated, why-are-you-such-an-idiot irritation seem to be crucial elements to success.
Sometimes it worries me. Are my kids learning French, or are they learning how to hone their inner bitches?
The other night Essie and Isla were engaging in an angry school-girl French conversation at the dinner table, and instead of feeling proud and being in awe of their ease with this new second language of theirs, I felt like shouting,
"Stop it! Stop it right now! Speak English! You are American, not French!"
I don't think I'm imagining that their personality changes depending on which language they speak. They lose some kindness when the French moves into their mouths. I suppose it is important for any girl or woman to learn how not to be nice. Niceness can be overrated. And false. And dangerous.
"Play nice!" we always hear. "Play nice."
So we'll just be actors, for now. Playing not nice. Formidable.