Silence Is Golden
Or: Lost in Translation: The French Edition.
Sometimes it really is nice to be able to be surrounded by people and not have to worry about understanding them. It’s being awash in the human noise – cats meow, dogs bark, birds cheep – and just being able to enjoy the sound of it. Sometimes I sit in crowded cafes or train stations and listen to people talk over one another and it’s just this low humming of indiscernible noise that hovers at a particular frequency but the only specific thing about it is that there is nothing truly discernible about it. Of course when a baby wails or a man barks orders there is the unique quality of the voice, but as a whole, it is difficult to pick out one from the masses.
And so when I find myself sandwiched tightly against strangers during the metro rush hour, I don’t worry about what they are saying even though they may give me a shifty eyed looks as if I were overhearing some private conversation or idle gossip between two girls. But really I listen to the way their mouths form the words and try to pick out whatever words I can from my admittedly growing French vocabulary. They say that immersion is the only way to learn a language well, right?
Whenever it happens on those odd days when I actually have to hold a conversation in French we talk through body language and hand gestures, and I press on in my limited way but a lot of it is talking in circles trying to get to the point. I swear my voice goes up a notch, high and a little flighty as I’m unsure of myself but earnest in my attempt, and in lieu of proper French, I offer botched translations and hope that the English word is close to the French one.
We were talking about Paris’ arrondissements, and how on a map they take on a sprialing pattern. Consequntly I forgot the word for a shell – coquillage – and in so doing I went from our rollerblading – patinage? – adventures every weekend to the rollerblading organization’s mascot, and the animal that the French are famous for eating for – snails.
– Escargot, ok and what is their home that they carry on their back?
– Okay Paris’ arrondissements are laid out like a coquillage.
Yes it’s talking in a new and creative way and I have to stop and think about how to best tackle whatever specific problem has arrived but sometimes I want to be succinct in my speaking. So it’s either man up or get out, right?
Try telling an English joke – about New Hampshire licence plates and living free or dying, or driving on parkways and parking on driveways; how time flies like an arrow and fruit flies like a banana, why is it that English one climbs up but not down, and how a bicycle cannot stand on its own because it’s two-tired.
– Puns, get it?
– No; you speak French? And bad English? Funny! I speak bad French!
– Never mind then, just know it was a good joke.
With a cocked head and a furrowed eyebrow the joke is lost and you throw your hands up in the air silently muttering “screw it, it’s like giving marmalade to the pig”; which of course is a French saying and not an American one.
Therefore many things are lost, and I talk in circles – or maybe coquillages. I think just not telling a joke is perhaps the simplest course of action.
But when people are all around me its nice to know that I can filter out all the noise without working too hard for it and I am an unwitting witness to whatever secrets the people might share.
At once you hear the language but not understand the majority of it and while you usually can get a handle on the gist of it, much I fear is lost.
Maybe one day I’ll write this blog in French and then we’ll see where I stand.
(Good joke though, French have this pesky habit of putting letters where no one in their right mind would pronounce them. And you thought English was bad like that) Still. A girl can dream.
Until then, I use it as a practice both to hone my writing, and perhaps more importantly a place where I can keep you, the reader, entertained and keep using my English.
And while some would say that grammar rules are more flexible in writing, so I don’t have to be super formal if I don’t want, ultimately this is my blog and I shall run it as I damned well will please, and that will sometimes mean polysyllabic words.
Not jam, because remember what I said about polysyllabic words? That or because while they’re essentially the same thing, Google will try and tell you it’s not.