Can you believe it’s been three months that Jordan and I have been in France? Even as time came to what felt like a stand-still during the lockdown when we didn’t leave our apartment for days, the time has still flown by. We are just now getting settled in Lyon and our apartment is finally starting to feel like “home”.
Jordan and I have been taking French classes for the past six weeks. We are currently taking lessons together and meet with our instructor over Skype. Our classes are one hour each for three times a week. We have come leaps and bounds from when we first started, but we still have a long way to go. Jordan and I try to speak French with each other whenever possible, but our vocabulary is still small and it’s more like broken Franglish.
We generally have no idea what type of conversations are going on around us at any given time. Jordan has had two instances recently where people around him in line at a grocery store have been bickering at each other – but over what? We went to IKEA on Monday and there was a big debacle involving our cashier, her manager and another cashier. The people behind us were conversing with one cashier and started to give some attitude. The people in front of us were conversing with each other and were seemingly getting frustrated. Did we have any idea what everyone was talking about? Not. A. Clue. We could only interpret the non-verbal cues as best we could. We still were able to check out without switching lines, so we considered that a win.
Things that should be simple automatically become very difficult tasks when trying to do it in French. Buying an appliance. Scheduling a delivery. Speaking to someone on the phone. Asking where something is in a store. One motto I have is that “it never hurts to ask”. I am continuing to ask questions, but now I generally still have no idea the answer even after asking!
Speaking French is exhausting. Interpreting what someone is saying is exhausting. Not knowing how to respond to someone is exhausting.
There are evenings where I am just done trying for the day. It is mentally exhausting learning a new language. Having someone speak to me and 1) not know what they said, or 2) know what they said, but have no idea how to respond, is draining. It can be defeating at times. It can also be frustrating when we try really hard to speak French, and the recipient knows that we are not French and switches to broken English. In those situations we continue to try and speak French because we’ve got to practice it. I also find that if I do switch to English, I speak broken English back to them. That’s probably not helpful for anyone!
We have learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. The majority of situations we are put in outside the walls of our apartment are uncomfortable situations. While we both have our moments, both of us are generally at ease with feeling uncomfortable in everything that we do. Even though it would be easy for us to stay in a bubble, it wouldn’t help us. We are in France to grow and push our boundaries. To experience life in another country to its fullest (or as much as we can during COVID-19). To embrace the culture and French lifestyle. We couldn’t do any of that if we didn’t try, even if we do fail a few times along the way.
I will highlight some “wins” that we have had.
- Jordan receives a call every week from a delivery man for our Hello Fresh dinners and is able to get them. Each week he is getting better with his response when he answers the call.
- I asked a store employee if they sold herbs and where they were in the store, and we were able to find and buy the herbs.
- Jordan had been craving a sour beer, so I found a store online and submitted an order in French via email. I was able to get the delivery (even talked to the delivery person a little) and surprised Jordan with beer.
- We’ve both been successfully able to go into a pharmacy and purchase allergy medicine.
- Jordan bought fresh baguettes so often that he became a local where they knew his order when he walked in.
- I was able to order an IKEA chair in the furniture section of the IKEA store.
It’s the small victories that help us build confidence. The thing I am most thankful for is how nice everyone has been to us. Even if we ended the conversation without getting an answer we needed, the general friendly attitude that the French have had towards us has really made a difference in how we leave those interactions. We may be temporarily defeated, but we aren’t scared to try again. If you need the reminder, show some grace to those who are different than you. They are probably trying their best! I know that I will never take for granted the ability to communicate easily with someone again.