Nodding is a dangerous habit

Since my French lessons ended a year ago, my French has really gone downhill. I don’t study it at all. Don’t try to learn new vocabulary. Don’t practice conjugating verbs. Don’t bother to look up where in a sentence the pronoun goes when you’re speaking in the past tense, even though it’s something I do actually wonder about. I don’t bother going to the French-English language exchange I’m invited to each week, even though it would be a huge help. I can make dinner reservations, read a menu enough to know what to order (and more importantly, not order), interact at the pharmacy and invite Kaitlyn’s friends over for lunch.

People tell me I speak French well. They are lying. I do not speak French well. I understand ok. Enough to generally respond, but not always. When a woman at the grocery store asked me what an item in my cart was, I did understand and could tell her. Except that it was yogurt and that is just one word I cannot pronounce. Basically, I survive. I do better than a tourist who has studied up before travel but not as well as I thought I’d do after living here more than three years. But I rarely speak French. I don’t really say anything to the other parents at school. Kaitlyn’s teacher doesn’t especially want to talk to me because she figures I won’t know what she’s saying. I don’t watch French tv. I didn’t sign up for tennis lessons this year because the French there wasn’t overly helpful (I already know left and right and that seemed to be about the only thing he said other than “hurry up,” which I also already know.)

This afternoon I went to an art/pottery sale. The woman who holds the sale each year is French. She knows some English but she says she’s too overwhelmed during her sale to be able to use it and sticks to French. I can appreciate that. Anyway, I was standing with her and another French woman. The artist was talking and talking in rapid French. When she finally stopped, the other woman turned to me and said “did you follow all that.” Honestly, I’d stopped even trying not far into the conversation. I got what I needed and let my mind wander. I said “no, not really.” And the woman said “but you were nodding as if you got it.” So now apparently I unconsciously nod in agreement even though I really have no idea what I’m nodding to. And since she said that to me, I’ve caught myself doing it. I don’t realize it, but I’m silently saying “oh, yes, you are speaking to me very quickly in French but I’m good, I get it, every word.” When what the nod is really saying is “well, on my way home I can stop and pick up some milk and still get to the school in time to get Kaitlyn and what should we have for dinner and I need to get the laundry done.”

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