Suz – a self-described Francophile writes about her lifelong desire to speak French. Suz lives in the states
with (who she calls) her half French husband. Their running joke is – her next husband with be full
Apparently my French still stinks. After a long time, 30 plus years and numerous visits to France, I still
am only able to use about 15 French words. I can’t believe how difficult learning this language is for me.
If you read my last two articles, you know that I adore France. I love the county, the culture, the food,
the coffee, the wine, the cheese, the people, and the language – however, I can’t understand a thing
these people say.
I had big hopes for this trip to France; I truly thought that all my hard work this last year would have
made a difference. It didn’t. At least not to the one person I really wanted to impress, my French
Father-in- Law, Jean. He and I, as you may recall, have known each other for over 30 years…yet we’ve
never had a conversation. So, during my recent visit to France, I really tried to speak slowly and
deliberately to him. Using phrases and words I felt comfortable with. But apparently even after months
and months (truth be told – years) of classes and practice, he still can’t understand a thing I say.
It was one hilarious happening after another. The latest incident and there were several memorable
moments on this trip, occurred one night at dinner as I tried to make small talk with Jean. I gathered all
my courage and said to him, “il mange beaucoup de nourriture.” I was speaking about my husband or
should I say I was trying to speak about my husband. I was trying to say he eats a lot. I just wanted to
say something simple. It wasn’t even a true statement; I just wanted to engage in conversation with
Jean. I planned the whole thing dans ma tète (in my head). I thought about how to say the sentence
dans ma tète. I said it dans ma tète. Then I said it fearlessly out loud “il mange beaucoup nourriture.”
“Quoi,” Jean quickly responded back to me. I said it again, this time a little louder, “il mange beaucoup
nourriture!” And he repeated with a smirk “Quoi.” I said it yet again, this time a little slower “il mange
beaucoup nourriture…” He then mumbled something in French to me. My husband, Ron, sat there
wide eyed. I sat there thinking what the heck did this man not understand about what I just said – I said
it slow and clear and it was a very simple sentence.
Then I heard Colette, ma belle-mere yell sternly to Jean in French from the kitchen. She was obviously
scolding him. I cringed and thought oh goodness this is not good. I tried to change the subject by saying
in French “regard le ciel,” (look at the sky) as we were on the balcony and it was a beautiful evening. My
husband looked at me oddly and said “what?” I replied with a coy look, “changer de sujet…” Half
laughing he corrected my pronunciation of the word sujet; half crying I took a GINORMOUS drink of my
When Colette, walked back into the room, she continued to reprimand Jean. At this point, I felt really
bad and just kept awkwardly saying “regard le ciel.” Jean responded to her with the typical French
“bof.” We all laughed it off and went back to our typical pattern which looks like this – 4 people are in a
room, but only 3 can talk at any one time…Ron, Colette and Jean or Ron, Colette and Suz.
Although strange, this is our norm and it works. Truthfully, we have a great relationship and get along
for long periods of time very well. We’ve traveled all over the United States and France together – it’s
just that – you know…we’ve never spoken to each other.
Long story short – Jean and I still haven’t had that conversation. We probably never will. As we said our
good-byes at the airport he smiled and hugged me tightly and said something in French – but seriously, I
have absolutely no idea what he said. But I’m sure it was said with love…then again for all I know he
was saying “thank goodness you are leaving and I can have my house back to myself.”
On the other hand, I ordered successfully in the restaurants and I communicated really well at the
market and in the stores. In addition, while visiting my husband’s cousins they seemed truly impressed
and mentioned my improvements several times. Moreover I picked up several new practical phrases to
add to my growing list of words. Most importantly, my sweet half French husband remarked numerous
times how proud he was of me for trying so hard.
I’m hoping for real language growth over the next 6 to 12 months. However currently, I’ve plateaued.
My mind is just exhausted. If anyone has any ideas on how I can improve my French, toss them my way.
Ok come on – truth be told, it’s been 30 plus years – who am I fooling. I’m probably never going to get
any better; regardless, I’m addicted to France – It’s a beautiful country! Where I am able to rest my mind
and simply be me – quiet, still, unrushed and free.