I have spent much of the past three years driving to work singing nursery rhymes in French out loud in my car and not stopping for anything bar red lights and stop signs (where I’ve continued to sing). I’ve been thrown only a few odd looks from my fellow commuters who are probably not singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star en Français, more likely listening to world affairs or cash bonanzas on commercial radio. Or even a podcast, for better measure.
Children’s songs and storybooks have been a savior in this mission that is learning a language with a (partially) developed brain.
I freeze when the phone rings in France, preferring to send a text message that I can check and check again, or an email (see what I said about sending a text). I nearly die every time I order duck on the menu in restaurants in fear that I will not pronounce Canard properly and will put an O and a heavily pronounced double N in place of the single A and single N, which then gives our simple feathered friend an entirely different meaning. Some days I whizz through French, others I just fail. Obviously, the faster it is spoken, the less likely I am to understand- with recorded messages being no exception.
On Friday afternoon, in the midst of an 8 hour text message battle with the driver from DHL, my phone ran out of credit which meant a quick dash downstairs to the Tabac where I noticed a new plastic curtain as I ran in, breathless and on a mission- after two earlier failed attempts at delivery, DHL were not going to get away with anything. Madame sold me a card to the value of twenty euros, affording me another month of calls and texts, before she swiftly handed me a receipt with the code to enter upon calling Bouygues Telecom (don’t even ask me ever, how to pronounce that word). Dialing 630 I waited for the prompts and listened with more intent than a cop for a confession. Thrilled with myself that I only had to listen to the instructions four times, I was doubly thrilled when I came to understand I needed to enter my ‘exclusive code’ followed by étoile.
It’s moments like this that I thank my lucky stars (or étoiles) that I’ve listened intently to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and We Can Count to Ten in French, ridiculous as that may sound. Nursery rhymes and singalong’s are my saving grace when it comes to administration en Français.
On Friday night I fell into a complete heap of self indulgent emotional misery, exhausted from a week of administrative tasks which can take me years to understand, and as a consequence of this, further years to complete. I’d had endless phone calls which I’d struggled to comprehend but just had to in order to get things done, followed by endless appointments which were met with endless queues. My head had begun to hurt and I’d started to scratch it in a perplexed state – ‘what on earth am I doing to myself’ I thought as I went to sleep. I woke on Saturday morning to a response to a text message that I’d written the night before which went a bit like this:
Me: I want to move to a deserted island where I can quietly hum and will never have to speak to anyone ever again.
Friend: That island is called Theory, in Theory, everything works.
So the weekend has been spent working on creating my own little place called ‘Theory’. Tomorrow morning I start at the Sorbonne (cause of much of my headache with their archaic enrollment system and endless queues), which is not only one of the most exciting corners on my self inflicted roadmap, but something that I know is going to make ‘Theory’ a much easier place to exist in. With endless hours of phonetics, grammar and conversation, not to mention lectures in classics, politics and French culture, this course will take me through to Christmas, and ‘back to school’ has never felt so exiting. Four hours a day, five days a week I will be working uniquely en Français and I have high hopes and little doubt that this will increase my confidence while obliterating the freeze that I so often experience in this language.
This piece is going to be shorter than usual, as I have a pencil case to fill and note books to label, but part of creating ‘Theory’ has been to put together a timetable of posts for the next three months which will allow me to keep on top of my studies and also continue to contribute regular pieces on pinningmywords.
I’m feeling organised and energized and focused on looking ahead. I am also more inspired than ever to keep writing, keep learning and most of all, to keep enjoying this experience that can be trying at times, but ultimately, it is doing a very good job of teaching me resilience and the importance of being able to laugh at myself and not take it all too seriously.
And, I have every intention of sticking to my new plan stuck above my desk.
Because in Theory, everything works. Right?
Pictured: the beautiful Cafe de Paris where I get regular French lessons from the waiter as I type on pinningmywords.