Ever been at the grocery store and wondered why the line was moving so slowly, only to look ahead and see someone frantically attempting to communicate in a foreign language? Yeah? Well, that girl is me.
Contrary to my current display of exceptionally horrible linguistics, I actually took 2 years of French in college. My dad insisted the Spanish was the way to go, but the only 101 classes were at 8am. I went with French at noon. For once my laziness paid off. And despite the fact that Sarah Hall does a frighteningly accurate impression of me in French 101, circa 1994, I did walk away with some basic vocabulary and a phrase or two. Enough to get me by, right? Well, as it turns out, my mastery of the words “goat” and “horse” will not be as useful as I thought.
So far I have attempted to order “salmon cheese” (nope, doesn’t exist in Gabon, either), royally annoyed a grocery store clerk by staring at her blankly for a solid 5 minutes while she repeatedly told me to move my water off the belt and today, the crowning glory, I cheerfully wished someone, “Lunch!” instead of “Have a good day!”
In my defense, “have a good day” is “bonjourneé”, which sounds remarkably like “déjeuner”, which, yes, means “lunch.” I have to say, though, everyone has been very patient. Clearly, these have all been laugh with me, not at me situations…I think.
Overall, I am surprised by how much I DO understand when people talk to me… largely based on recognizing a max of 2 words per 60 spoken. But I can get the gist at least. For example, as I was walking back from dropping the girls at school today, I am fairly certain my “Bonjour!” to a man passing by was met by an equally cheerful, “Hello white girl.” Likewise, I more than understood 3 local school girls asked if they could touch Nora’s hair. The laughing and pointing helped, but I got what they were saying.
But how do I sound to them? Chris made the wonderful comparison to Borat once when we were in Haiti. For example:
I think I’m saying:
Hello, good sir. Could you please recommend a cheese that would go nicely with this delicious smoked salmon?
What the deli man hears is:
Yiz, heelo meester. I vould be licking dah chiz uf simmon fire, pliz. Horse? Lunch.
But I’m trying. And that does seem to go a long way. Of course, it would have been nice if the deli counter man had mentioned that he spoke English before I asked for salmon cheese. And perhaps the grocery store clerk could have done a bit more sign language. But the lunch guy was great. He corrected me and we had a nice laugh…even if I did sounds like Borat.
So I will keep studying and in the meantime, a very good lunch to you…