It hasn’t been easy living in France. From the beginning I had trouble learning the language. I was and am not able to pay to go to the university as some of you other expats have had the luck of doing. Once we were on our feet enough that we could afford to put the kids in daycare for a few hours a week, Vilay and I felt that my level in French (although not perfect) was too high for OMI. OMI is a foundation but by no means will get someone at a high level of French.
When we came to France we had NOTHING. We came like most others. We came with suitcases full of clothes and I had the smarts to include many toys for the kids. For the first eight months we ate in the living room and watched t.v. sitting at our kitchen table. We didn’t have money to buy a couch. The first six months we walked to the grocery or went by tram pulling babies and groceries along. When my son was born my father came for a visit. My Dad told me our apartment was bare. I told him he should have seen it just six months before he had come. I told him I felt like the apartment was crowded after living so long with it practically empty.
I made doctors appointments for my children speaking in French from the beginning. Vilay didn’t give me the same language shelter he had asked of me while living in the States. I made appointments for him for two years. I want to thank him for that because I was forced out of my English bubble during these short moments and gained confidence in myself speaking French.
As a stay at home mother in a country where you know no one there aren’t a lot of opportunities to ‘practice’ French. I made a few French friends but it still wasn’t enough. One of my friends spoke English so well that at first I was excited because I thought I was living above another American woman. She is French but spent time studying in the States. She must be gifted in learning language as well because she has only a slight accent and speaks English like an American. So, we fell naturally into the speak in English trap that my husband and I are in. My other French friend spoke in terrible English but she would always speak to me in English even if I spoke in French. I think she was happy to have found someone to practice English with. Other than that I was at home by myself with the kids.
In the hospital after having my son I was alone but for one half hour a day when Vilay would stop by and then dash off. I had the pleasure of staying in a room alone until the last day. I spoke in French with everyone and had huge conversations with the woman that was placed with me in the room on the last day. We had many laughs trying to get around the language hump but for the most part we talked freely.
I can speak French. My simple French is good. However, it is impossible to have a conversation in simple French alone. When I am having a conversation with someone in French I am understood but make many errors. Also, I make stupid mistakes that I walk away hitting myself in the head because I know how to say whatever I flubbed up. Like when we were in Colmar a woman dropped her sweater. I stopped and told her, “Tu as perdue ton pull.” I used tu instead of vous. Immediately, I realized my mistake but she didn’t care. She understood me and my French was good except for the tu. Tu is used with friends and family. Vous is used with people you don’t know or show respect to such as a boss or inlaw. Mostly, I speak using tu. Or the time I took Petite Clown to the hospital on Christmas Eve and the doctor told me Merry Christmas. Instead of saying ‘Joyoux Noël” I told him “Bon nuit”. I knew how to say it but my brain loves to embarrass me.
When I cut my finger and had to go to the hospital to get it stitched up the doctor told me I had a good French. She said even though I didn’t speak at a high level I had a very good French.
I even corrected my French children’s French in the beginning. I had to. Vilay was at work all day and they only had me. I still am correcting it at times but they are quickly passing me now that they are with their friends and teacher at school.
Vilay and I had big fights over me not going to the university to learn French. I know that I have to in order to have a high level of French and find a high paying job. He would tell me that if I found the money I could go. I sat playing with numbers and no matter how I worked it there wasn’t enough to pay for school. We needed a couch, mattress for our bed and the kids needed shoes, clothes and we had to pay for Angel to fly from Paris to Strasbourg twice a year. Her father would only send her to Paris even if it didn’t cost more to send her to Strasbourg. Our shared parenting papers stated France. I was stupid and didn’t see that this would be an issue. However, Paris is in France. He did what the paper stated. We bought the computer on credit because I missed my family and my daughter. It would be possible to keep in touch for free.
No matter what reasons there are for me to not be fluent in French they are mine. No one reading my blog knows my life REALLY.
I am not writing this post asking for anyone to feel sorry for me. I am sure I am not the only person living in France that has not been able to pay for French classes. They will appreciate this post knowing they are not alone as well as the fact that my level of French has come up too many times for it not to be addressed on this blog.
I am happy for those of you that had the opportunity to go to the university. I really am. It makes a difference and I hope that by next year I, too, will be able to go. I think I need six months at the university and I will be good to go. Those six months will change my life in France.