One thing I really struggle with in French is getting the masculine and feminine tenses right and it’s quite often a disaster. I always forget that petite with an e is feminine and petit without an e is masculine, the word for friend (feminine) is amie but if there are multiple friends being spoken of (friends plural) then friends become male (ami), enter mes amis- even if there is just one male in the group, the masculine tense prevails. Therefore, I am terrified to write in French because with all of this to remember, I usually write things as easy as ‘little croissant’ as ‘petite croissant’. With a croissant being a male noun, the correct way to write it would be petit croissant, while petite croissant is actually half man half woman croissant, and I’m not sure what that would actually look like.
French is a very sexist language.
In Paris, I’ve made friends (yes plural) in the strangest places. There is the Chinese lady in the Tabac who sells everything from cigarettes, to chewing gum, to lottery tickets, to an espresso had leaning on the bar each morning with mainly men who also lean against the bar, eyes transfixed on the television watching the horses. I walk in each day and she greets me with a ‘bon – jour’ before waving me to the corner and voila, out comes my coffee. Now, I’m no gambler by any stretch, but leaning on a bar with men (they’re all old men – just like this language it seems) and listening to them as they watch the races is very good for my French. I spend ten minutes trying to translate what they are saying before leaving more confused than I was before I arrived.
Then there is the African lady in the supermarket who has extremely neat cornrows and is actually very cheeky – she doesn’t move from her chair as she taps madly on the touchscreen (with very long purple nails) adding up my goods, all while tormenting David who sweeps the floor in the entrance and runs for the hills whenever she opens her mouth.
‘Nameless’ works at Cafe Jade just around the corner who serves up not too bad coffee and speedy wifi and says ‘c’est cool’ (it’s cool) a lot and there is, of course, Nadine upstairs (so kind and all of 70 odd years) with whom I’m dying to go and have another can of Coke with pronto and Dr Heisse, who is so terrifying but I can imagine would be a great person to have a glass of wine with.
Today, I made a new friend in the post office. I really wish I’d asked for her name but I was so busy looking at the boots she was wearing (thinking that they looked a bit like the ankles on a Clydesdale horse or even better, a yetis foot), while explaining that I speak a bit of French and she explained that she speaks a bit of English and from there I decided that I’d use my bit of French because she was about to help me and I think that’s the polite thing to do.
First I needed a registered post bag to send a parcel within France and as I chatted away, only ever in the present tense, her colleague looked over and asked her if she needed any help with the English woman. Her first response (in French) was ‘I think’ which made me quite determined – ‘I can understand what you’re saying,’ I thought to myself before making it my business to turn the situation into a do or die – ‘you can do this,’ ‘one friend in the post office is enough’. After a few moments, she turned back to the concerned colleague, ‘c’est bien,’ and there I was with licence to make a mess of her beautiful language.
The second part of the post office visit came with a need to send three supermarket bags full of clothing back to Australia, which was greeted first with a nod followed by an explanation – if I packed the boxes in the post office, (rather than taking the boxes home and packing them in the privacy of my own four walls), she would make me a saving of 50 Euros per box. I responded in the present tense, (with a daring little nod to the future as I mixed it up for a bit of humour for hers and the noisey colleagues combined benefit only), and agreed that I would arrive on Wednesday with three Carrefour bags and would she mind if I sat in the corner and packed. For some reason she seemed really happy about this and I’m still the slightest bit perplexed?
I can only conclude that she felt as though her and her yeti boots had helped me reach a milestone – which they had.
Then there was Étienne who I met in a cafe two weeks ago and with whom I started to fall madly in love with after two seconds of him speaking to me. We had a further half an hour in ‘Fringlish’ before he disappeared into a bleak Parisian day never to be seen again… (I could write a novel about this man).
All of these people make my days here all the more enjoyable, as do my ‘old friends’ like Miranda from my days at the Australian Ballet who turned up last week and led me to the funniest champagne and espresso martini fuelled night at Hotel Costes – a night which rendered me useless the following day and all the days after; and Sas, my amazing cousin who is here on a years exchange at a local university (all of 21.99 years and incredibly funny and smart to boot); and Paul, who I study with at the Alliance Francaise in Melbourne who is in Paris on a similar jaunt to me. Not failing to mention all of the gorgeous people I spent two weeks with at the Eurocentre trying to improve my French.
Around each corner I’ve found a friend and most of them probably wouldn’t even know how much our daily, or weekly, or twenty minute interactions actually mean to me – but by writing this I feel as though I’ve come one step closer to at least acknowledging them.
On that note, I think I just heard Nadine arrive home – which probably signals time to knock on her door and see if she’s up for one last can of Coke. I don’t even know how to begin with explaining my issue with tenses and cross dressing croissants (and my never ending struggles with this language and, I can hardly even order a croissant) but I have a sneaking suspicion she’ll understand.