The French Year Abroad: Week 1

I’m in Paris. I made it. I’m sat on my casting-couch-esque red pleather sofa in my flat in Bastille, exhausted and overwhelmed, my tights still slightly damp from the rainstorm I got caught in from the way home from work. There are already tea mug rings on our white dining table. There’s a fluoresent ‘Dancing Queen – The Official ABBA Museum’ mug sat guiltily next to it. I’ve settled.

In all the excitement of moving abroad I never really thought about the actual French part of France. The 100mph language that I’ve only ever really understood when fed to me slowly by teachers, speaking gently and leisurely, proffering me the odd difficult verb to chew over but WordReference and Google Translate never being too far out of reach. The innerworkings of French theatre? Fine. Cinematographic techniques in French film? Got it. Actual, basic, solid oral comprehension of spoken French? Erm…

It’s sort of like watching TV: you’re witnessing a conversation happening in front of you and understand what’s going on but can’t respond. You’re basically shut out. Everything is said so quickly that by the time you’ve crafted a correct sentence in your mind the conversation has moved from politics to takeaways. I feel like my brain is on buffer, like a dodgy putlocker link, and I’m desperately trying to cling to conversations like a drowning person clinging to a raft – I refuse to drown in your fast-paced verlan and sink to the depths of your confusing vocab! I will not be Leo!

Even when I do manage to get out a sentence that makes sense, the person will somehow see the invisible beads of sweat form on my forehead, somehow smell my terror, and respond in perfect English. It’s so boring for these French people, who speak English anyway and don’t want to waste time over some shaky slow tourist who took three seconds to mentally conjugate the verb boire. It’s wasting their time. It’s altogether much easier to speak in English, though in my mind I’m screaming I’M ONE OF YOU! I’M NOT A TOURIST! I HAVE A NAVIGO CARD! I’LL SHOW IT TO YOU!

I’ve been to 2 Bis Café and drank 2€ glasses of wine, danced away at a club called Garage which is like a smaller, trendier Canal Mills, strolled along the Jardin des Plantes in 32°C heat, drank cheap red wine by the Seine, eaten spaghetti four nights in a row, eaten steak tartare, masked my IP address to satisfy my primal, British need to watch the Great British Bake Off, begun to sprout two painful wisdom teeth and completed my first week of a real, adult job. It’s been whirlwind first week, but, as a small, ginger orphan named Annie once said – I think I’m gonna like it here.




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