I’ve been finding that expat books and blogs make good company when abroad, for there’s a great deal of solidarity to be found in embarrassing moments. Here are some gems from Rosecrans Baldwin’s Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down, in which he captures the language-learning struggle with humor and cringeworthy accuracy.
“Tactics to learn French via shock immersion: Accept and make telephone calls. Do this despite a crippling fear of conducting phone calls in French, a terror so real you begin to experience it in nightmares about speaking French on the phone–your daily life repeated at night with no embellishment.
At the coffee machine, entrance coworkers with descriptions of your apartment when you say things like, “There is a kitchen,” or “There is a table for the time to eat,” or “There is a bedroom.”
You can try rendering American idioms into French. Coworkers will stand flamingo-still when you so casually drop Moi, je ne donne pas une merde (I don’t give a shit). Because other people might pass along feces as gifts, but never you, cool you.
Finally, when you are unable to indicate what you want, explain what you do not. For example, say you desire a Coke. Specifically a can of Coke, because the can version is colder than the bottle, in your opinion. But the vendor, from his booth near the Luxembourg Gardens, is selling Coke by the bottle and the can. And you don’t know the French word for “can.” So, request un Coca, but specifically un Coca qui n’est pas dans une bouteille. Or not the sandwich that is made of ham, nor its neighbor of tuna, but oui, that one, what? Ah, you call it dinde, which means turkey? Super.”
Oui, oui, oui, and oui.