Before I arrived in Geneva, I had a grand plan. I would use my short time here to learn to speak French. I imagined a time in the very near future where I would dazzle Mr. Deep and visiting friends and family with my ability to exchange witty banter en Francais with the locals. Because I would be the only French speaker in the group, when visitors came, I would be responsible for ordering on behalf of everyone when we went out to dinner. "Poisson means fish you know," I would confidently tell our guests.
Within a week of my arrival I had hired a private tutor and had paid for ten French lessons. Unfortunately the act of signing up for French lessons and having a teacher come to your house once a week doesn't automatically lead to French fluency. It seems that in order to learn to converse in French one has to study, practice and spend time talking with French speakers. Shortly after I began my lessons I remembered that I don't like studying and I don't like trying too hard to learn new skills. Too bad I didn't remember this before we spent significant money on the lessons.
For ten years, Mr. Deep and I lived in a house that had a pool table. Pool tables are difficult to move and so the previous owners of the home left it for us in the basement. In similar fashion I had grand plans. I would learn to play pool over the long, cold winter. My thought was that in the spring I would emerge as somewhat of a pool shark. I would then go to bars, pretend I didn't really know how to play, and school my opponent as I ran the table and defeated him while an astonished crowd looked on and cheered for me.
The mere presence of a pool table in ones home does not a pool shark make. In order to bring my pool domination plan to fruition I would have actually had to practice shooting pool. But the basement was cold and one had to descend a staircase to get there and so my dreams were never realized.
Americans like to kid ourselves into thinking that everyone across the world can and will speak English. While there are people who do speak English in Geneva, a lot of people either don't or prefer not to as many are not confident in their English skills. Even a doctor that I visited recently, who spoke perfect English, asked me if I spoke French, which I took to mean that she would have preferred to speak to me in French. Sadly I had to disappoint her and let her know that I didn't.
Sometimes, I pretend that I can speak French. If a salesperson in a shop approaches me and rattles off a few sentences in French, I will stand there pretending I am following what she is saying, I'll even nod and smile, hoping that suddenly something will click and I'll understand perfectly. Usually, I only understand one or two words. Such as "bon jour madame" followed by a slew of unrecognizable gibberish. Then, after the she is done speaking I'll usually just say "no" or shake my head. Sadly most times the question she has posed is not a yes or no question at which point the French speaker will either begin speaking English or slowly walk away with a confused look on her face.
Below is a list of what I do know how to say in French. You may notice a theme.
Bon jour - good day
Bon journee - have a good day
Bon soir - good night
Bon soiree - have a good night
une table pour deux - a table for two
biere - beer
une pint - pint
vin - wine
demi litre - half litre
cartes de vin - wine list
vin rouge - red wine
vin blanc - white wine
plus de vin - more wine
Le compte s'il vous plait - the check please
cappuccino - cappuccino (in fairness I knew this one before I arrived)
croissant - croissant (also knew this one)
merci - thank you
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- American Expat
- Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.