It was the excruciating half an hour I spent threading the world’s thickest piece of thread through the world’s tiniest eye, that got me contemplating how I was negotiating my first two months in Paris.
The job has been intense but fulfilling and, thankfully, working in English means I can accommodate slightly more mentally and spend less time communicating with my fingers (still happens). An office formed of both English and French offers the inevitable cultural intertwining. Once I was asked, with a tone of scandalised horror, whether it was true if we put ketchup on our pizza. Yes, we savages. They don’t seem to be offended by my office pot of Marmite, though no one is curious enough to try. There are obviously more complaints aside from our atrocious food, poor football skills, and strange names (if you ever want a giggle, ask a French person to say ‘Harry’ — or any word beginning with ‘h’ for that matter) but the real point of conflict is linguist. Évidemment.
For my first month, I replied every question posed, with: pardon? quoi? or comment? Next, it was the ABC repetition phase: Quelqu’un veux un café? Tu veux me le laisser comme ça? De rien. Now, I’ve developed a minuscule amount more vocabulary so I can sometimes deflect jokes that are obviously being made at me, but to be honest it’s usually with the normal look of bafflement and curt CHUUUT (shhh).
Generally — whether I say the right thing or not — the result is laughter. Said the word pamplemousse — tittering. Pronounce my colleague’s name — sniggering. Ate a raw carrot Bugs Bunny-style — unbridled hysteria. [I’ve started to question my personal behaviour.] And if not laughter it’s “trop mignon!” Apparently.
Today I had an actual tutorial from my French editor in how to say personne so that it did not sound like poisson. Typing that is mortifying evidence of how far I’ve not come.
You’d think that all this ridicule would propel me headfirst into an Oxford French Dictionary, wouldn’t you? Alas, come 8pm, when I’m finally home — having navigated Rue de la Convention like a plucky carrier pigeon with an extremely important message —, the resounding answer is usually wine. Relaxing, soothing, FRENCH wine. And at least, as this great nation would agree, there are several lessons to be learnt there.