I was a different person. I spoke in monosyllables. I was a wallflower.
I used to enjoy dinner parties and join into conversations easily, but now I sat there silently because it would take me 10 minutes to figure out what was being said and when I tried to join in, it had moved on. AAAGGGHHH!
I knew some basic conjugations, some greetings and no idea how to communicate real ideas when I first moved to France. I missed English. I missed understanding. I missed overhearing bits of conversations and writing whole stories around them. I was unsure of myself. I remember during those first weeks when I asked for a baguette, in a quiet mumbled way, the baker looked down from the counter and said QUOI!?!
I ran out.
When I finally did cobble something out, it had a million mistakes. I wanted to scream - I am much smarter and funnier in English!!!!!
So yesterday, it was interesting to see it in reverse. A few of us were speaking in English and one of the French ladies who I know to be friendly and lively was silent. I realized we had been speaking in rapid fire English and she was lost. Like I used to be. Of course, we changed right away.
That gulf between running out of bakeries and finally being able to express myself in a new language was like trying to jump on a moving train. It was just faster than I could keep up. So for a long time (longer that I care to admit) I stayed on the English grass and watched Friends and other shows in VO and spoke to my husband in English and just blocked French out. I was resisting it. Because I could. There were English options all around me.
The leap on the train came when I spent a few weeks with my husband's parents in their lovely home in the Loire Valley. His mother did not understand English. I did not understand French. What else to do but cook?
The best thing about cooking is that you have to handle physical things - pots, pans, vegetables; And so his mother began to teach me these words. A little seed was planted. After those few weeks, I felt somewhat rooted in the language. Then I began to watch Diner Presque Parfait - a show where 5 people cook for each other and the winner of the best food, animation and table deco is selected on Friday. I watched it in French with French subtitles. And suddenly I began to sprout in French. Well, I knew a lot of food words, at least.
It has taken me three years to get here. I still make a few mistakes when I speak. A ton when I write. But for the most part, I can communicate in French. Even joke around a bit. But I shall never forget those days when, without the anchor of my language, very frustrated, sometimes sad, a lot silent, I was completely lost in translation.