Thursday, January 5, 2012

when you say nothing at all

Paris is getting naked.  In a striptease of sorts, the city is slowly, methodically shedding its holiday attire and resuming normalcy.  As the rhythm of daily life ensues, I find myself with feet planted squarely in the present and I like it.

back to the grindstone

Just last weekend, English was the predominant language on the streets.  Now, most tourists have vacated, locals have returned from their ski chalets and French is once again the language du jour.  I’d better get cracking and learn how to say things like, “Watch out for that pile of dog poo!” and “No thanks, I’m still browsing.” and “Does this orange have seeds in it?”  Last week, the butcher stared at me blankly when I asked him to “papillon” (butterfly) my pork roast.  I need to find out how to say that, too.

I manage alright with my fledgling French, depending on who you ask.  The strange thing is, I’ll walk in one store and have a flawless interaction only to walk out of another wondering why I ever tried at all.  There is  a lot of miming involved.  Occasionally, I throw in the towel and conclude that awkward silence is better than opening my mouth and further embarrassing myself.  Most of the time, though, I risk humiliation in the name of putting forth a concerted effort.

Oh, I’ve been laughed at.  Once, for making up a word for the seeds in oranges.  Doesn’t pitou sound like a word for orange seeds?  It’s not.  Another time, I was laughed at for improperly conjugating a verb.  You’d think bakery workers would have better things to do than make fun of people who are actually trying to speak their language.  Apparently, they don’t.  The good news is, I am unfazed by this mockery and determined to return to these shops, armed with words like ‘seeds’ and ‘browsing’ and ‘baking sheet’ (try miming that).

Today, I am content to take in the soundtrack of city life from the comfort of my apartment, no speaking required.  Rain sputters from the sky at a sideways slant.  Horns honk.  Two construction workers deconstruct scaffolding, piling one tattered metal pole noisily atop another in discordant clanging succession.  Heels click-clack on the sidewalk, water sprays from the underbellies of passing cars and motorcycles whizz by at random intervals.  This is Paris.

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